As a novelist, I understand the benefit of creating conflict. Conflict between individuals makes a story exciting. Conflicting objectives can create suspense. Conflicts of values can build emotions. Every successful novel weaves a number of conflicts into an appealing tale that people pay good money to read for entertainment. But should the news media use the same techniques to grow reader or viewership audiences?
This is a question I increasingly ask. First, let me say this is not a “fake news” blog or an article to attack the news media. In principle, I think most news media outlets try to report news stories accurately in an increasingly demanding world. I cringe every time I hear a politician blame a circumstance on the media or use denigrating terms to dismiss or demean the news media.
But, as a writer, I often dissect stories to identify how the piece was structured by the wordsmiths who write and edit the news we read, hear, or watch. And, it’s clear most outlets use the novelist’s technique of creating conflict to make their stories more exciting.
Take the subject of climate change, for example. For more than a decade, the global scientific community has produced a plethora of data and evidence to prove beyond any reasonable doubt that people are creating excessive carbon dioxide which is causing the earth to warm unacceptably fast. Yet, most media stories still work in oblique references to create conflict like “critics of the study say…” or “industry leaders maintain …” or “some experts doubt…”
Now, I understand a media’s desire to remain neutral and present both sides of an opposing argument, but if the “critics” are clearly criticizing because they ‘believe’ something different without compelling evidence, should the media report their position? If ‘industry leaders’ clearly have a clear financial interest in their position, is media reporting their position for any other purpose than creating conflict? And if ‘experts’ are quoted without the media establishing the credentials of a self-proclaimed expert in the article, should we think the media has any objective other than creating conflict?
Look too at the attention given daily to outright lies repeatedly uttered by the president of the United States. When a media outlet knows a politician is making a demonstrably false statement, why report it? What purpose is served other than creation of a conflict where it will then become necessary for someone to counter the false statement and become the opposition in a conflict?
News media might argue a need for balance, and when there are merely opposing points of view, I would agree. But facts are facts. If a statement is factually incorrect, it’s not a point of view, it’s a lie. And why would any news outlet knowingly publish a lie if not to create conflict and controversy?
There are occasions when news media outlets must take a stand to retain their credibility. One of those is the current climate crisis. Science tells us this subject is existential. Humankind’s very future depends on how quickly we can stabilize rising temperatures. In my view, news media outlets would much better serve their audience and humanity by eliminating the conflict of ideology from stories and focus on the only real conflict – people vs. carbon dioxide.
Equally, I think the news media would much better serve its audience and the promotion of civil discourse by simply ignoring comments made by politicians who are serial liars or who seek to destroy accepted values with innuendo or demonstrably false accusations.
The news media around the world has many challenges and is under immense pressure. But I think elimination of the “create a conflict” strategy would be a great place to start rehabilitating its image and winning back its audience. Now that’s my point of view. What’s yours?
In all three of my novels, I weave organized crime into the plots. Organized crime adds some suspense and excitement to the stories, but I can also demonstrate some of the factors that lead people into a life of crime. It also gives me lots of time to think about crime and punishment. Lately, I’ve been focusing on our society’s growing fascination and preoccupation with harsher penalties and sentences related to criminal activity.
Social conservatives seek laws that demand a minimum sentence for certain crimes. Media outlets often recite a range of punishment possible almost immediately after a suspect is apprehended and usually long before any trial or conviction. Politicians often scream “injustice!” when someone convicted of a violent crime is released into society or even transitioned into a different monitoring or adaptation program.
Why? Statistics have long established that very few people actually plan to become criminals. Of course, the very few who become mass murderers or terrorists are the exception. But studies find most violent crimes are acts of passion – often with a single event that escalates into criminal behavior. Studies also established many years ago that punishment is seldom an effective deterrent despite advocates using this argument to justify longer prison terms and confinement that is barely above subsistence.
Yet prisons in North America are overcrowded, and governments devote more tax dollars to build new facilities to hold more people. In the USA, prison confinement has actually become a business with an estimated 18% of all people convicted of federal crimes held in privately owned prisons. Canadian politicians have also openly mused about converting some prisons to “for-profit” facilities.
In all three of my stories, I help readers better understand some of the factors that motivate characters to adopt a lifestyle most would consider criminal. Most of my examples show how family, neighborhoods, education, peer pressure, and economic circumstance often lead to a life of crime. As with real criminals, fear of punishment has little to do with their eventual criminal activities.
Why, then, do we focus so intently on punishment? Of course, we all recoil in horror when we hear of heinous murders, violent attacks, rapes, or other events that are abhorrent to almost everyone. But, too often we also immediately default to comments like “I hope they kill the perpetrator” or “I hope he rots in jail.” Instinctively, we seem to directly jump to the punishment without care or concern about factors that perhaps led to the violent incident.
Compare our punishment driven mindset towards crime with the approach in Germany. I lived and worked in Dusseldorf for almost seven years at the turn of the century and was continually amazed at the low level of crime – particularly violent crime – compared with Canada. I learned that German authorities don’t focus primarily on punishment, nor do the German people. Rather than worrying about how many prison years are meted out as punishment, people and authorities focus on what is being done to prepare a convict for his or her re-entry to society to avoid that person re-offending if at all possible.
A head of the German penitentiary system once told the media he saw his primary role - from the day a convict arrives at a prison facility - as developing and executing a plan tailored to each individual. His goal is to be sure each convict is not only ready to re-enter society when their sentence end but is also unlikely to re-offend.
Which view do you think is more likely to reduce crimes and lower the terrible costs of crime to our society? As certain politicians focus on budgets and expenses, are they taking care to put in place programs and expenditures necessary to create a safer community with lower rates of crime? As we focus on punishment and exacting “some sense of justice" for victims or their families, are we increasing the probability of more violent crimes with higher costs to our society?
These are questions I think about as I write my novels, and they’re issues I hope you'll consider as you read them!
Our mothers usually teach us to share at an early age. “It’s important,” they tell us. “You need to share your treats or your toys with friends,” they encourage. And sharing becomes ingrained in our way of life as we share food with neighbors, donate to charities that help people, and pay taxes to governments who build infrastructure and programs to deliver assistance for people who need everything from health services to military protection.
Sharing takes on an entirely additional meaning in the digital age. With Facebook or Twitter many folks “like” or “share” photos, videos, or articles they enjoy or agree with. We want our friends to know our entertainment preferences, philosophies or political opinions. And we hope our friends will like the things we enjoy or ideas we prefer.
As an author, “sharing” has an even more profound meaning. You see, new and relatively unknown authors don’t have either the budgets or publicity heft of more established writers. So, we use social media to economically spread the word about our stories and the activities we undertake to help make more readers aware of our books.
When you ‘like’ one of our posts, it’s very gratifying. We put lots of time and effort into researching articles and building memes we think will be of interest. But it is even more powerful when you choose to share one of our posts – especially posts that publicize author events or public appearances. Why is that even more important for us?
Your ‘shares’ help us to get our word out to not only you but to your friends as well. Even more important, your friends often like the same things as you and they let their friends know. So when you share an event somewhere, your friends in that area will appreciate you making them aware of an activity you support. They often attend such events because they value your opinion and suggestion.
Every share also helps us grow our Facebook algorithms -those mysterious technology powers that determine which messages you and your friends can see. Surveys show our social media contacts actually see about a quarter of our posts. The rest fall off into a cyber void rarely to be seen again. When you ’share’ a post -particularly when you also make a short personal comment to accompany the post - these algorithms are usually pleased and deliver more of your shared posts to more of your contacts!
More people see our messages. More people act on your suggestions. And more people become acquainted with our names, our books, and our activities to promote book sales. As authors, we thank you for every “like.” We thank you with even more gratitude every time you share a post with your friends. You truly have an awesome power to help us succeed!
People ask me why I spend winters away from Canada. Of course, there's the weather. I've never liked the cold, so I've avoided brutal winters for most of the past twenty years. But as much as I hate cold weather, I love walking. I'll walk indoors if I must, but it's the outdoors that truly stimulates my senses. I escape northern cold mainly to maintain my preferred lifestyle and regimen of walking 3-5 days a week in comfortable climes.
I walk as fast as I can to elevate my heart rate. I walk proper distances to burn calories. But mainly, I walk to think. There are no headsets. No earbuds. Just an opportunity to look, listen and feel the environment, while I process and reprocess thoughts, ideas, and plans.
Mostly, I focus on writing. But every walk also includes time for philosophic questions, political issues, challenges or opportunities, and relationships. This winter, I've had the good fortune to take long walks in Argentina, Uruguay, Spain, and Portugal.
Each locale had stimulants and distractions – everything from potentially lethal traffic to almost isolated boardwalks where the only sounds were ocean waves lapping against sandy beaches or birds cheerfully calling out from hiding spots in trees. Regardless of the environment, I returned from each outing recharged physically and creatively.
One recent day, I remembered hearing some people claim great writers like Hemmingway or artists like van Gogh become masters, in part, because of their travel experiences. The American lived twenty years in Cuba, and the Dutch painter lived a year in the south of France after two years in Paris. Both produced works that have become classics. During that recent walk, it occurred to me that while I'll probably never be mentioned in the same paragraph as those geniuses, experiences away from Canada have influenced even my own modest works.
You see, each year my wife and I choose different places to make our temporary home. And every year we experience towns and cities that are sources of information, background, and inspiration.
I try to impart bits of knowledge about places I've lived or visited, weaving them into my stories as seamlessly as possible. In "Three Weeks Less a Day," a favorite passage involving Suzanne Simpson probably would not have been as captivating if I hadn't spent considerable time in Japan. My long stays in Ft. Myers, Florida added color to John George Mortimer's company in "The Multima Scheme." And in ‘Unrelenting Peril', I would never have marooned Howard Knight in a town as exquisite and intriguing as Colonia del Sacramento if I hadn't lived there for a few weeks while I was writing the story.
Much of the knowledge I've accumulated about villages, towns, and cities around the world came while walking. Even moving as fast as I can, I see more. I notice details often missed from a car or tour bus. I hear the heartbeat of a town's activities. But most important, at some time during a stay, I invariably feel the place has become a part of me. As you read my stories, I hope you detect and enjoy some the personal attachment I've made to locales around the world from walking their streets and trails.
I looked at the date of my last Rendezvous Blog and was astonished to see it was more than a year since my last communication. For that I apologize. I owe readers and site visitors more frequent updates. And for 2019 I’ll be here more often.
First, what happened to 2018? When I last communicated with you, it was to announce that TellWell would publish my second novel “The Multima Scheme”. Naturally, I was inundated with a myriad of small details from January to March as I worked with the team from TellWell to publish the book. Thankfully, we released it on schedule in April.
Meanwhile, I wrote the first 30 chapters of Unrelenting Peril. Mixed into the finishing touches for one book and starting to write another, we squeezed in a trip to South America, followed by 2 months in Costa Rica. There, several family members and friends visited for a week or two at a time. I loved their company and enjoyed our sightseeing but neglected my blog.
Back in Canada, it was time to start promoting The Multima Scheme. For the first time, Canada’s largest book retailer was interested in working with me and we scheduled 30 personal appearances in the greater Toronto area. It was a real pleasure to meet so many new readers and sign copies of both Three Weeks Less a Day and The Multima Scheme. Books started to sell, reprinting became necessary, and I continued writing Unrelenting Peril through the remainder of the year. Meanwhile, the blog was forgotten.
We slipped into 2019 almost without realizing it as preparation for publishing Unrelenting Peril took over. Last week we announced that mission accomplished—one month ahead of plan—and now it’s time to work on sales of the books again.
As you may know, unknown authors get very little support from publishers. So, this time I decided to self-publish and take ownership of not only the rights to the book but its commercial success. For 2019, I plan to take a break from writing another novel to concentrate on sales of the existing three. I’m delighted support from Chapters-Indigo continues and grows. Already, we have 35 signing events planned in the GTA for the period April-August. I’m expecting to schedule at least that number for the following five months throughout other cities in Ontario.
So, in 2019 I have no excuses. There will be adequate time to share thoughts and ideas with you and I plan to do that every month, right here in the Rendevous Blog. I’ll explain some of the joys and tribulations of an author. I’ll let you know about some of the great people I encounter during my personal appearances. And I’ll probably share a thought or two about other things in our world.
In return, I ask only for your continued interest and support. I’m profoundly grateful for every social media ‘like’ and ‘share’, every visit to a signing event, and every recommendation about my novels to a friend, family member or neighbor. Thank you for every one!
It’s been over three months since my last blog communication. Apologies, faithful followers! It won’t happen again. But here’s where we are with preparation for Novel Number 2.
I always try to craft a good story that readers will enjoy. My methods may differ from other authors because I actively seek and welcome input. During August, I asked two professional editors to meticulously review the latest manuscript of my second novel and suggest ways to improve the final product. I also asked six readers whose judgment I value – male and female, young and not so young – to swear confidentiality and read the manuscript. From them too, I encouraged feedback and critical input.
Despite my best efforts to provide these people a clean, well-written, and error-free manuscript, they’ve managed to identify lots of little issues that I, Word spellcheck, and Grammarly all missed. They also offered some good suggestions about ways to thicken the plot or improve the storyline. Some wondered if I went a little heavy on sex. Others simply loved the story without changing a thing. I take all feedback very seriously, so for the next few weeks I was busy touching up typos, spelling, and grammar. Then, I read every word from cover to cover again – six times in all -- considering each suggestion for improvement. With each reading I re-wrote or tweaked passages to incorporate ideas I decided work well for this novel.
Since November, I’ve been negotiating with publishers. I’ll be changing publishers for this book because I’m determined to work with one who will offer more competitive pricing. Within a few days, I’ll make an announcement. In the meantime, I value your support to boost sales of Three Weeks Less a Day. Reviews are especially useful. It seems with almost every new review on Amazon, GoodReads, Indigo, or any of the online book retailers we see a few more sales. If you can make a few moments to post a review, I’ll be grateful.
Please also share this post with your friends so they can keep pace with progress on the coming story. And be sure to let them know they’ll find the new novel even more enjoyable if they’ve read Three Weeks Less a Day. I can tell you some of the characters you enjoyed in that story will play even more exciting roles in the story to come!
Some of you have been wondering what I’ve been up to since release of Three Weeks Less a Day. Regular followers know that we had a surge of promotional activity immediately after publishing the novel, then some publicity and signings in Florida.
In Spring, I built some selling momentum around Mother’s and Father’s Day advertising. Next, I’ll be arranging some book signings and publicity for the autumn book selling season. I value your support to help spread the word about Three Weeks a Day. And, I particularly appreciate all who have made time to rate and review the book on Amazon, GoodReads, and other popular sites. Thank you!
Throughout these promotional activities, I’ve also been hard at work on a second novel! Many of you know I don’t like questions about a book while I’m writing, and I especially appreciate those who don’t ask “how’s it coming?” But I can share a bit.
Progress has picked up significantly since I’m back in Canada. Over the past sixty days, I’ve managed to expand the output to more than 235 pages and read, edited and improved the entire work twice. My target is to complete an acceptable first draft by early August. Then, I’ll be asking professional editors and a few ‘beta’ readers to review the manuscript. I’ll be looking for their critical impressions of the early work and, by September, I should have an idea how much additional work will be needed.
I can tell you this. I’m really enjoying the story so far. If you enjoyed reading Three Weeks Less a Day, I think you’ll love this new story even more!
Still untitled, my new novel involves a few characters working at Multima Corporation and several new ones. The story takes place across North, South and Central America. It will again be quick-paced -- with short chapters, short paragraphs and short sentences. There will be more action and more mystery. And, that’s all I’m willing to share right now!
Thanks again for all your help to make family and friends aware of Three Weeks Less a Day! I couldn’t do it without your support. If you haven’t yet ordered your personal copy, now is good time. It’s also a great time to remind your friends they’ll want to learn all about the fascinating characters of Multima Corporation before the new story is released early next year!
Despite many good wishes, flowers, and thoughtful gifts from your family for Mother’s Day, I expect some of you may still be a little disappointed today. Despite all your helpful hints, my Facebook promotion, and positive reviews everywhere, you didn’t find a personal copy of “Three Weeks Less a Day” among the generous bounty you received! It seems you now have only a limited number of options available.
The first option is to do nothing. Just wait and hope family or friends will buy a copy for you on an upcoming birthday, holiday or some other special occasion at some time in the future.
Another option? Purchase a copy of “Three Weeks Less a Day” for your significant other for Father’s Day! Once you give him a copy, it would surely be easy to ‘borrow’ and read for yourself. And if you order it quickly, you’d still know you’re not only giving a great gift both will appreciate, you’ll also know all royalties for purchases in May still go to Cancer Societies.
The third option – and my preferred course of action – is simply to get out your favorite credit card and order a copy for yourself from one of the many online retailers who can deliver a copy within just a few days! That way, you can be immersed in this great story quickly! To help you with this third option, here’s a useful link to several of those retailers. Enjoy!
Dictionaries might define the word ‘rendezvous’ as a meeting with someone that is arranged for a particular time and place (and that is often secret); or a place where people agree to meet at a particular time; or perhaps a place where many people go to spend time. Here, Rendezvous is a place where we can share information and get to know each other better.