The Closeout Kings Audiobook

I talked to Nate Daniels, the narrator for Bad Way Out, and it looks like he’ll be narrating The Closeout Kings. I couldn’t be more thrilled. Nate is an exceptional talent, and as I’ve said many times, if you’re an author looking for voice talent for an audiobook, contact Nate. You won’t find a more talented or gracious person to work with.

Here’s a sample of Dan reading Bad Way Out:

On writing my first stage play

As many to none of you know, I’m adapting an old screenplay I wrote about 12 years ago to a stage play. My wife has encouraged me to do it many times over the years, but I’ve always managed to come up with an excuse not to do it. She finally convinced me after we went to a wonderful play in Laguna Beach called The Pianist of Willesden Lane. The play is nothing like my screenplay, mind you. It was just so inspiringly good that I finally saw the possibilities of adapting my work for the stage.

I have no idea what I’m doing. I don’t know the proper structure of a play, nor do I know the accepted formatting. I’ve searched the internet, but I was surprised to learn that there really is no consensus on what a play should look like in written form. I found myself getting more confused as I researched so I stopped.

Right now I’m just writing, and it has been a blast revisiting these old characters. My adaptation so far includes about 10% of the original material. The dialogue has completely changed. The gender of some of the characters has changed. It’s strange how willing I’ve been to divorce myself from the old material. I honestly feel like I know these characters better now than when I wrote it more than a decade ago. The theme and tone are the same, but other than that it’s basically new material.

In short, I’m having fun. If you have suggestions on the proper way to format a stage play, please feel free to let me know. The Pianist of Willesden Lane is has moved off-Broadway in New York. If you’re in the city, I encourage you to go see it.

Say hello to C. Hoyt Caldwell and his very beardy face

By the narrowest of margins – I’m talking by one vote – this is the new C. Hoyt Caldwell author photo.  And spoiler alert, the new R.W. Ridley author photo may look very similar because I hate taking author photos.  I do not want to waste a day doing that again. Now I know why I’ve had the same series of photos for 4 years.  The good news is I look 10 years older than I actually am so there’s really no need to take a new photo every year.  Soeth endeth the swimsuit competition portion of our publishing pageant.  Clearly there were no winners here.

I should mention that “Option Brad Pitt” got the most votes by an enormous margin, but as I am not Brad, and he has a team of attorneys, I’m afraid his photo was not an actual option. I’ll work on my six-pack and do my best Brad Pitt pose for the next photo.

The winner by default

The winner by default

Confessions of a word criminal

I’m going to say something that a guy who writes for a living should never say. I’m a word criminal, and this post is not meant to serve as an excuse, but an explanation. I don’t see words or sentences the same way most people do. I mean that in a literal sense (and yes Weird Al, I do mean literal). I don’t know if it’s dyslexia or the result of head trauma (I’ve had two diagnosed concussions in my life, and God knows how many undiagnosed ones). I suppose it could even be permanent brain dings I created enjoying controlled substances while making questionable choices as a young American idiot. I see words on a page or screen in a different way than other people. I don’t know how to explain it really other than to say, looking at what I’m writing right now, I see the first word I wrote in this post. And I see the second, the third, etc. I see them all at once. It’s like a 3D jumble that’s going in and out of focus, and I’m constantly putting the words back in their proper places. There are a lot of times I don’t put the puzzle back together correctly. Sometimes when I’m speaking I’ll see the words before they come out of my mouth, and I’ll pull back from saying something because the word doesn’t look right to me. That’s essentially why I’ve been labeled ‘quiet’ by nearly everyone who doesn’t know me. I don’t like to speak with strangers because I have no confidence that what I’m saying makes any sense when I’m talking to them. When I do talk to people I’ve just met, I will go over the conversations I had with them in my head as I lay in bed at night trying to figure out where I made a fool of myself.

I went to a place to get tested not long ago. I spent four hours going through various exercises and brain teasers, but instead of getting answers I got a sales pitch to sign up for brain retraining programs. To this day I have no idea what they learned about me.

Given this fact, writing seems like the last thing I would ever choose to do. It’s an entire endeavor devoted to words. What the hell am I doing writing books? This is going to sound weird, but I don’t see words when I write. I see people talking and doing things. I see events unfolding. I see towns and forests and mountains. While it takes words to record what I see, it doesn’t take words to create what I see. It’s relaxing and meditative to observe a universe outside of this one and not worry about the words involved. The worry and embarrassment comes during rewrites and even post-publication. The puzzle is very difficult for me to piece together at times.

So, there you have it. Confessions of a professional word criminal. I write this for all the others out there committing word crimes. I feel your pain.

BTW – This post was read and reread at least 20 times, and I have no confidence that I chose the right wording or put the puzzle together in the correct order.

Support the guy who named a villain after me

From The Distance to Dust

From The Distance to Dust

Okay, I don’t know that author Jeremy Robinson named a villain after me, but there is a super genius villain in his Chess Team books that is named Richard Ridley. I kind of like being the super evil bad guy.  I met Jeremy via email way back in the day when we both just had a couple of books on the market. Since then he’s authored and co-authored around 50 titles.

Jeremy has started a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for a short film called Dust.  The film is based on an upcoming book titled The Distance written by Jeremy and his wife Hilaree Robinson.  It’s a post-apocalyptic love story that will scare the pants off you.

I’m particularly interested in seeing Jeremy succeed with this for a couple of reasons.  One, if this movie is a success, maybe he’ll bring one of his Richard Ridley books to the big screen, and two, I’ve been thinking about pursuing a Kickstarter campaign for a short film myself for quite awhile now, but I’ve always been too terrified to do it.  If Jeremy can pull it off, I might have the courage to give the idea serious consideration.

So, checkout, Jeremy’s project and help an author out.  He’s teamed up with a very talented director by the name of Kenneth Dodge.  I was blown away by his samples on the Kickstarter page – DUST – A Sci-Fi / Horror Short Film

#IndieBookWednesday – Jonny Bails Floatin by J. Lee Glassman

A tale that will light up your life!

A tale that will light up your life!

I wrote a blog post for CreateSpace encouraging indie authors to spotlight deserving indie books that would otherwise go unnoticed.  The one rule is it cannot be their own books.  In an effort to practice what I preach, I’d like to recommend an indie book to you today that I found entertaining.

That book is Jonny Bails Floatin by J. Lee Glassman.  It’s a Florida Keys tale of bioluminescence and love.  Musician and ne’er-do-well Jonny Bails is living song to song and joint to joint in Key West.  A late night dip in the ocean and a one night stand with a tourist leave him glowing both literally and figuratively.  He’s picked up a condition that gives him the gift of bioluminescence, and he’s been cursed by feelings of love for Leila, a one night stand.  Jonny struggles to both understand his sudden illuminating talents and his newly discovered ability to fall in love.  What is a poor glowing Florida Keys boy to do?

This is a Sci-Fi book like you’ve never encountered. I’m somewhat reluctant to even call it a Sci-Fi novel. It’s a character driven story that makes it a multi-genre vehicle. It’s got a little Carl Hiaasen feel to it mixed in with a tiny bit of Alan Dean Foster.  Setting and the laid back mood of the book make it a truly fun and unique read.  I give it a big recommend.  If you like debauchery at the hands of a skilled storyteller, this is well worth the read.

How did I find out about this book?  The author “Friended” me on Facebook.  After several months of enjoying his status updates that very rarely had anything to do with his book, I decided to check out his novel.  It just so happened the day I looked it up, it was available for free on the Kindle.  He has no idea I’ve read his book, nor does he know I’ve posted this review.  The only reason you (and he) know I read it is because I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Kudos J. Lee Glassman.  I look forward to your next book.

Why I joined Writers Speaking Out Loud

Bestselling author Dennis Lehane is a member of Writers Speaking Out Loud.  Why aren't you?

Bestselling author Dennis Lehane is a member of Writers Speaking Out Loud. Why aren’t you?

This morning I stumbled upon an article in the Charleston City Paper about the Facebook group Writers Speaking Out Loud. It was a fortuitous find given my post yesterday about censorship. Outrage over insensitive material (whether it’s universally insensitive or simply insensitive to a specific belief system) leads even normally rational human beings to make bad decisions. That’s what yesterday’s post was about. As abhorrent as rape and sexism are, to declare a book offensive that contain such elements without the aid of context is an abhorrent response.

To give you an example where such blind indignation can lead, I give you the situation that is currently taking place in my home state of South Carolina. Critical thinking is under siege in our state’s public universities. Now granted, the Palmetto State is not a bedrock of progressive ideas and institutions. We are under the thumb of an extremist political ideology that struggles to extinguish its own gas light dogma and usher in the 21st century. And, that’s the problem. The leaders of this group have inflamed their supporters and bullied politicians into cutting funding to colleges and universities that include what the group deems as offensive material on the educational institutions’ required reading lists. The works they find objectionable are gay and lesbian themed books. Slice it any way you wish, a move to cut funding for presenting ideas that go against your belief system is censorship. It cannot be allowed. That’s what Writers Speaking Out Loud is about. It’s a group of writers across the globe coming together to protest this move to silence and shame those in the gay and lesbian community.

Beyond the gay and lesbian themed material that’s raised the ire of South Carolinians, Clemson University was embroiled in controversy when it invited author Ann Patchett to speak at the university. Parents got wind that freshman at the school were being required to read Patchett’s book Truth & Beauty, and they protested because they considered it so pornographic that no 18-year-old should be forced to read it. Patchett’s response? To put it succinctly, perfect. She accepted the invitation and told the group of students the following:

If stories about girls who are disfigured by cancer, humiliated by strangers, and turn to sex and drugs to escape from their enormous pain are too disgusting, too pornographic, then I have to tell you, friends, the Holocaust is off-limits. The Russian Revolution, the killing fields of Cambodia, the war in Vietnam, the Crusades, all represent such staggering acts of human depravity and perversion that I could see the virtue of never looking at them at all … If I am the worst thing the students of Clemson have to fear, then their lives will be very beautiful indeed.

Her statement echoes what I said in my post yesterday. Out of context, the parents were under the assumption that Patchett’s book is a string of sexually depraved acts punctuated by the glorification of drug use. Put into context it’s not that at all. It’s a book about how society casts out those that are different and forces them to survive in a world that does not want them.

Context. Context. Context.  It always matters.

The only idea that is necessary to shut down is the idea that only a singular idea need exist and guide society, and that all other ideas should be vanquished. If you’re a writer reading this, I urge you to join Writers Speaking Out Loud. I’ve ordered my t-shirt and will be posting a picture of me wearing it soon to show my support.

How to judge an author

A book the proves that story and context mean everything

A book the proves that story and context mean everything

Well, well, well, it’s been a while since we’ve had a decent author on author scrape in the world of publishing but thanks to a recent piece titled Heinlein, Hugos, and Hogwash by John C. Wright for the Intercollegiate Review feelings have been stirred, thoughts have been expressed, and rants have been rendered, most notably those of author Rachel Aaron. I have issues with both Wright and Aaron.

Wright is upset that science fiction authors are being silenced for their personal views. Much like the defenders of Donald Sterling insist he can’t be forced to sell his NBA team for making racist remarks, Wright believes Sci-Fi authors shouldn’t be punished for their statements on race, gender, sexual orientation, political leanings, etc. He begins his argument by insisting the father (oops, sorry if that’s sexist) of modern military Science Fiction, Robert Heinlein, would not win a Hugo Award in today’s Sci-Fi community. Why? Because Heinlein wrote provocative works that challenged the norms of his day.

Wright is making the same argument the generation before him made about the current state of things and the generation before that voiced the same concerns and the generation before that and so forth and so on. I’m sure Neanderthals sat around grunting out complaints about how utterly politically correct the world of cave painting had become.  We old-timers tend to do that. “Why back in my day we used to…” blah, blah, blah. Most of us have selective memories about what actually happened back in the good old days and get it horrifyingly wrong.

But nonetheless Wright sees a trend that worries him and he’s trying to put the wheels back on the bus. The problem is he doesn’t really make his point. He presents two of Heinlein’s books as examples of where the legendary author lays out his views and then Wright states that one title espouses right leaning social think while the other title espouses left leaning social think.  Wright’s intention was to illustrate that Heinlein had free reign to express his views without fear of reprisal.

Do you see the flaw? Heinlein didn’t adopt a social view and then put it in a story. He wrote two different stories that adopted two different social views. How can you judge a man that is a leftist, conservative, sexist, feminist that has a weird thing for bugs? The ideas in Heinlein’s books didn’t belong to him. They belonged to the societal construct of each story.

Wright goes on to give examples of modern day Science Fiction authors who’ve been attacked and ostracized for their personal views on topics that include homosexuality, immigration, racism, and sexism. His mistake is that he doesn’t recognize that these authors weren’t held accountable for their books. They were criticized and in many cases punished for their opinions expressed outside of their books. As is their First Amendment right, they spoke their minds, and for doing so, they were not thrown in jail nor did the government ban them from publishing a work of science fiction or any other material ever again. Yes, they were boycotted by groups, and they were kicked out of organizations and denied consideration for awards, but there is no constitutional amendment that guarantees you a nomination for a Hugo award or acceptance into a genre based literary association. Like it or not, it is fair and legitimate to judge someone for their personal opinions.

Wright’s final misguided notion is that he is of the opinion that an author’s ultimate value depends on how many awards he or she wins. If you’re writing with awards in mind, stop writing because you’re cranking out thin, worthless crap that no one wants to read, and it won’t win an award as a result. In fact, don’t write for the reader either. I love my readers, but I don’t write for them. In the case of my Oz Chronicles books, I write for Oz and Lou and Wes and all the way down the line to poor lowly Gordy. Those are the people I care about when I write an Oz book. It doesn’t matter to me that they’re fictional. My readers’ views and those of awards judges, even my own views don’t come into play.

Which brings me to my beef with Rachel Aaron. While we both agree that Wright’s views are a tad off-kilter, we do so from very different perspectives. She’s applying the argument that Wright thought he made but clearly didn’t to inform her opinion. That is that authors should not be punished for views expressed in their books. Wright fell short of making that argument because he never cited an example of an author being punished for views expressed in their books. Instead he gave examples of authors being punished for personal opinions expressed outside of their works.

That aside, here’s where Aaron went a little off track.

Authorship is an opinionated business. The very act of writing puts your core values and world view front and center. Your characters, your plot, your moral conundrums, the way you build your world–these are all reflections of you, the writer behind the curtain. If you hold and put forth opinions in your writing that other people find repugnant or offensive, they’re going to offended. And since you, the author, put those opinions in a public medium widely distributed and sold for money, otherwise known as bookselling, these offended people are going to criticize your work publicly. They’re going to say that these stories don’t deserve awards and/or public recognition because of the ideas espoused therein, they might even band together to get you booted out of your genre organizations, publications, and/or fan groups so they don’t have to put up with your crap anymore.

Only in the smallest possible part are my books reflections of me. They are by in large a reflection of my characters and the fictional world they’ve been placed in. True, I am at the helm of the story. I carve out the starting point and the stopping point, but that stuff that happens in between, I stay out of that. That’s left to the DNA of circumstances. The moral decisions made within the pages of my book are made by my characters. In Bad Way Out, E.R. Percy, the protagonist, is responsible for feeding a man to pigs. I would never make that choice nor would I encourage anyone else to make that choice. In The Takers, there are passages where it’s revealed that Oz was a bully in school. I wasn’t a bully in the least little bit. You can read every book I’ve written to date, and you will never be able to figure out my political leanings. Take away the author bio and photo, and you wouldn’t know if I’m black or white or Asian or gay or straight or a man or a woman.

Aaron in particular is not a fan of books “where women are nothing but sex objects and rape victims”. My C. Hoyt Caldwell books contain sexist passages. They don’t contain rape scenes, but that doesn’t mean I won’t write a rape scene in the future. I will if it serves the story.   And to be fair to Aaron, I don’t think she’d be horrified by that statement. The “nothing but” in her objection indicates that she’s not opposed to that kind of material as long as it’s not glorified in any form or fashion.

The problem is Aaron steps into dangerous territory when she writes:

I don’t care if you wrote the freaking War and Peace of sexist rape books, I’m not going to read it, I’m not going to vote for it for awards, and I’m going to tell other people to stay away as well if they don’t want to read sexist garbage.

Now, that might seem unfair. What about the story? What about the context?! But deciding I don’t want to read yet another sexist book full of women being violently raped for plot is my right as a reader, as is calling those books out publicly for what they contain. The same goes for racist books or homophobic books or any other form of bigotry, because I don’t want that poison in my genre. I don’t want it in my world, period. I can’t stop you from writing it or thinking it–that’s your right, your free speech–but just because you wrote it doesn’t mean we as readers and fans and members of the genre (which, by the way, belongs to all of us, not just those you anoint as “real fans”) have to read it or take it seriously.

This doesn’t just seem unfair to me. It seems like she is lurching towards censorship territory. Firstly, story and context matter greatly. As she indicated, she wouldn’t “read yet another sexist book full of women being violently raped for plot”. She’s judging a book she hasn’t read, and making an uninformed opinion about the author based on what others have said about the book. By this logic, she’d not read A Clock Work Orange because it contains depictions of rape and sexist passages. Secondly, by not wanting it in her world does she mean that she wouldn’t want her children to read it? What if a book like A Clock Work Orange was assigned reading in her child’s school, would she then go to the school board and demand that her child not to be forced to read a book with ideas she objects to? Would she fight to have it banned at her child’s school? Do you see the slope Aaron is perched on? Do you see her having trouble finding her footing?

The problem here is that Aaron and I have two different writing philosophies. Obviously, she puts a great deal of herself into her books. The ideas, opinions, moral decisions, etc. are all hers. Only a smattering of mine make it into the stories I tell, and that’s usually a coincidence.

My point is that I have no problem with people objecting to and staging a protest against an author for personal beliefs outside of his or her work. If an author makes a homophobic or racist statement in a public forum that angers you, do not read his or her material. Encourage others to not read his or her material. Why would you want to lend financial support to a person like that? But don’t assume you know an author is racist, homophobic, sexist, or holds any offensive beliefs based on what they write in a work of fiction.  Despite what Aaron says, story and context should be how you judge the use of any loathsome material.

Works of fiction have to be honest to be worth reading. If you remove references to sexism, racism, homophobia, or any objectionable belief system from your story because you don’t want to offend anyone, you’re writing something that is dishonest and truly offensive. A lot of the time the truth is messy and ugly. Don’t be afraid to go there because of it. Write all the abhorrent material you want, and I promise I’ll judge it based on context, but I won’t make any judgements about you.

Shhhh! I’m studying Breaking Bad

No half measures

No half measures

I’ve been re-watching Breaking Bad to bone up on my character development skills.  I know I should be reading, and I am.  Unfortunately, I’m just not as inspired by my current reading choice as I am by Walter White.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – Watching Breaking Bad is like taking a Master’s Class in writing, particularly when it comes to story structure and character development.

My chosen material of study has sparked an idea for a pivotal scene between Wes and Oz in Book Seven.   I count that as a win.

BOOM! The first draft of The Closeout Kings is done!

I just typed “The End” on the first draft of C. Hoyt Caldwell’s next book, The Closeout Kings! And, it is such relief! This one has been hard because of the subject matter.  Trying to make a story about human trafficking enjoyable is as hard as it sounds.  Is it any good?  No.  Not at this stage.  This is the first draft.  First drafts are normally dreadful.  I have some rewriting to do, but the story officially has a beginning, middle, and END!

You’ll notice two things about this post. One, I called the book The Little Deputy and the Closeout Kings in a previous post.  The little deputy has been pulled from the title.  Not because she’s less important than the closeout kings, but because graphically I couldn’t pull off the long title when it came to designing a cover.  Plus, The Little Deputy and the Closeout Kings sounds a little like a children’s book.  It just doesn’t fit the genre.

The other thing that you’ll notice is that I’m talking about C. Hoyt Caldwell on my R.W. Ridley blog when in the past I said I wouldn’t unless something big happened.  Well, completing a first draft is big so there.  Stop judging me.  There’s a possibility that I may rescind that rule anyway.  I haven’t made a final decision yet, but I am leaning that way.

Now for the fun part.  I created a couple of cover options for this book, and posted them on Facebook.  I was stunned and pleased by the great response I got from my Facebook Friends.  They gave me some really good feedback and based on that I’m down to two possibilities.  Take a look and let me know which one you like better.  I’ve made them about the size they’d be on an online retailer’s website because that’s where about 99% of my sales come from.

Do you like cover A or cover B?

Do you like cover A or cover B?