One Year Ago Today
Precisely one year ago, our small family group landed in Vietnam. I’d already been to Saigon for business a few times, and knew about the bizarre strategies for crossing streets, the plethora of scooters in the roadways, and wonderful hospitality of the people. But I looked forward to exploring cities like Hanoi and Hue for the first time.
Within hours of arrival, I knew a major character in my next novel would visit Vietnam.
It turns out that visitor in novel # 5 is Howard Knight. His time in the fascinating country is short. He’s a fugitive after all! But his fear of detection gives me an opportunity to work into the story a few settings and details that are anything but a travelogue.
Howard sees parts of Saigon that are far from the luxury hotels where western tourists stay and part of his story takes place in the Mekong Delta where much of the war with the Americans was waged. I think you’re going to like his taste of Vietnam when you read novel #5!
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A Story Without a Title
Some writers choose titles for their stories before they start research. Others know before they complete their outline. A few finalize the title with the first draft. I’ve never been able to choose until the very last version and sometimes only days before the story goes to book layout.
Three Weeks Less a Day came easiest. As I mulled over possible names and descriptions, on a whim I wondered how long it took to tell the story. I subtracted the dateline of chapter one from the date on the final chapter and calculated the difference at twenty days. One day less than three weeks I thought. Three Weeks Less a Day was another way of looking at that time period, and I immediately fell in love with the title.
The process was longer and more painful for each of the following stories. So, take a guess at my current challenge. You’ve got it! Novel # 5 is almost ready and I’m still struggling for just the right title to draw in readers. So, I’m asking for your help.
I can’t tell you too much about the story yet, but let me share these insights. Howard Knight returns. Suzanne Simpson plays a larger role as she copes with unimaginable challenges in her leadership of Multima Corporation. And Fidelia Morales becomes a major character. Some of you may remember Fidelia as Howard’s lover in The Multima Scheme where her actions were completely at odds with her given name.
The first page of novel #5 also portrays a famous quotation of Sir Walter Scott more than 200 hundred years ago: "Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive!"
Novel #5 creates suspense and raises deceit to new levels as more than one character weaves chaos into the inner workings of Multima Corporation at precisely the time a global pandemic starts to unfold. I think you’ll like the story. But the novel needs a title and I need your help. Please tell me your preference.
Here are titles I’m currently considering:
1. A Thoroughly Entangled Web
2. A Web of Deceit
3. A Tangled Web
4. A Jumbled Web
5. None of the above
Please tell me your preference by entering the number of the title you prefer in the "Comments" box. If none seem like a winner, choose #5 and I'll keep searching!
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A Slightly Different Winter
A few days ago it suddenly struck me that I’ll spend this winter entirely in Canada for the first time in almost a quarter-century!
In the winter of 1996, I was asked to spearhead expansion of a new business into Europe and spent several December days in the beautiful city of Geneva. Most days were in meetings, but I still had a chance to experience picturesque Swiss winter weather nestled near the Alps. Of course, I saw snow, but the atmosphere was different from most of Canada.
A few weeks later, I enjoyed a delicious lunch with a prospective customer in Mandelieu on the French Riviera. It was a surprisingly warm and sunny February day. Glancing up from our business conversation, the alluring blue Mediterranean dominated a picturesque background. But in a pool steps away, several topless young women frolicking in the sunshine caught my eye. I think it was probably at that moment I decided winters in warm places should become a fundamental new life goal!
In the intervening years, I’ve had the good fortune to spend winters in Europe, Asia, Florida, and the Caribbean, with only extremely brief intervals to touch base with folks back in Canada. Much of the research and settings for my stories resulted directly from those warm winters away from Canada.
This year is different in almost every respect. In April—when I first realized personal appearances in bookstores to promote my novels would be improbable for the remainder of the year—I started to work on story number five. Using self-isolation and limited social interaction to advantage, I wrote steadily throughout the spring and summer and started the editing cycle in October.
The manuscript is progressing well, and I think readers will really like the new story. I’ll be polishing it until January with my expert editors. By the end of February, it will be released.
The next few months mean promotion of a new novel and building on sales of earlier ones. I plan to use the dreary days of a Canadian winter to learn new digital selling skills and develop a better online presence, increasing penetration into the eBook segment as well as traditional print versions. I invite you to come along on that adventure with me.
If you choose to subscribe to my VIP List, I’ll start sending monthly newsletters directly to your email box. Starting in January, I’ll talk about writing, promoting, and selling books, but I’ll also talk with you about how I’m managing to cope with Canadian winters after being away for more than a third of my life!
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This Message is for You!
My 2019 author promotional events have finished. It’s been an extraordinary 7 months meeting new readers all across the province of Ontario with a bonus weekend in Montreal! I’ve had an outstanding time interacting with thousands of new people and feel gratified with book sales for each of my novels.
I thank each of you for your unfailing support. Without your purchases of books, Facebook’ shares’, book reviews, and recommendations to friends and neighbors, such success simply could not be possible. As a writer working without the benefit of celebrity, name recognition, or the publicity machine of a large publisher, I rely on you.
You’ve probably grown tired seeing Facebook Events publicizing my store promotions. I get that. But it’s really the only cost-effective tool we writers have to generate awareness and interest. You might be surprised to know how effective it is. Know that visitors to stores often commented that they had “heard about this book” or asked if I had recently been featured on TV because “it sounded familiar.” Facebook publicity works.
You may have noticed my events and posts always highlighted the name of the store location with an underline. That underline means the message also appeared on the Facebook page of that individual store. This tool let me reach a thousand or more regular shoppers at that specific store about the upcoming event and directly contributed to both traffic and book sales.
The good news? I won’t be posting any more Events this year! In fact, don’t look for any event posts until well into 2020.
Right now, I’m working feverishly to complete novel number 4. As you might imagine, writing time has suffered with 3-5 days per week dedicated to promotional activities. So, I’ll remain focused on finishing the new story so my editors can go to work helping me make it better. If all goes well, the new story will be the best yet and appear in late April or early May next year.
I can’t reveal details yet, but I will tell you the next story features the four naughtiest characters from the previous three novels and will be my fastest paced and most entertaining yet!
If you haven’t read Three Weeks Less a Day, The Multima Scheme, and Unrelenting Peril, you might want to finish them before spring. Of course, I’ll also appreciate you continuing to recommend my stories to your friends. Even better, you might consider giving books to family and friends as holiday gifts.
Whether you are a family member, friend, reader, or interested follower, please accept my heartfelt thanks and unending gratitude for your unwavering support!
Time for Some Media Reassessment?
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?
Why Fixate on Punishment?
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!
The Awesome Power of Sharing
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!
What Comes from a Walk?
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!
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.
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