Category Archives: Tips and Hints

Reading E-Books Without an E-Reader

Did you know you can read books published via Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (AKDP) without having a Kindle? Not a lot of people know it, but it’s super easy.

CLICK HERE for a full list, with links, of free Kindle reading apps. It features a huge variety of devices, including smartphones, other e-readers, laptops/PCs, tablets, and more.

Once you do that, you can read my published works for super cheap; my black humor anti-Monsanto political revenge thriller Orange Rain is just $2.99 (also available in paperback). Redwood Falls, an epic coming-of-age environmental thriller brimming with over 400 pages of thrilling literary fiction, is only $1.99. Finally, Kiss Me Like You Mean It–a poignant, funny, entertaining, and heartbreaking narrative nonfiction look at some of my experiences doing Hurricane Katrina relief work in New Orleans, featuring about a dozen photographs I took there–is a mere $0.99!

Happy reading!

Length DOES Matter (When it Comes to Books)!

The entire back-breaking first draft of THE LIBERATORS, 1600 pages handwritten!

The entire back-breaking first draft of THE LIBERATORS, 1600 pages handwritten!

I’ve always been a fan of well-rendered novels that push (or even shatter) the norms of scope and length. The standard advice is that a novel should be between 80,000-120,000 words. For a printed book, that tends to fall in the range of about 250-400 pages. Good advice. Given the feverish pace at which life runs these days, a lot of readers may shudder just at the heft of a book much longer than 400 pages. But not me. I like a story that I can really sink my teeth into, with a complex and ambitious plot, an extensive cast of memorable characters, in which a detailed, full-hipped world is erected—a place you don’t want to leave any time soon. This is probably why I vastly prefer novels over short stories (for reading and writing).

So it’s no surprise that Stephen King’s The Stand (~1,053 pages) was my favorite novel from the age of 14 through well into my 20s. Another King epic topped it in length, and upended it from my top spot: 2010’s Under the Dome (~1,074 pages). I read the latter three times over the course of just 18 months in prison! And even on the second re-read, I still found it a thrilling page-turner. That’s indicative of a spectacular tale, indeed. Also in my top five is the late genius David Foster Wallace’s unequaled masterpiece Infinite Jest. That one exceeds 950 pages if you include the extensive endnotes.

Given the above, I guess it’s also no surprise that I’ve become a page-cranker myself. The third novel I wrote, Redwood Falls, was well over 600 pages in the first draft. My sixth novel, The Liberators—which I handwrote in prison because there were no accessible word processors—turned out to be a staggering 1,200-plus pages when typed. Over 360,000 words. And my current project, a fiercely unique prison memoir called Rebel Hell: Doin’ Time for Barely a Crime, is already over 500 pages. And I’m not even close to done with the first go-round.

Don’t worry; I cut a significant portion in the subsequent drafts (usually about 20-30 percent). During first drafts, it seems like I’m feeling around, writing my way to what it is I want to say. During revisions, I cut unnecessary scenes, shorten others, and sometimes eliminate entire subplots or characters. Some great writers—notably Kurt Vonnegut and Tom Robbins—weren’t/aren’t heavy editors. They work on a page until it’s as close to perfect as they can get, so after a draft is finished there’s little editing to be done. Other juggernauts—like David Foster Wallace and John Irving (who’s said that something like 75 percent of the time spent on his novels is in the edits/rewrites)—were/are feverish first-draft-revisionists. Infinite Jest, which as noted is still a carpal-tunnel-danger, was at one point about twice its final-draft size.

One thing is certain: whether you crank out massive tomes or minute, straightforward speed-reads, length should be an important consideration both for burgeoning writers trying to break through, and for already-established scribes. We need to consider our subject(s), our intended or probable audience, costs of production, and a multitude of other factors. In any case, the adage Length Does Matter happens to be true when it comes to writing novels.

***What are some of YOUR favorite heavyweight tomes?***

NaNoWriMo, Week 2!

Oy, I’ve been SERIOUSLY derailed on my feverish prison-memoir-writing spree.  Something came up that has made it extremely difficult to get much of any writing done the last week.  Right now–with 20/30 days of the month up, I’m at 128,000 words on Rebel Hell: Doin’ Time For Barely a Crime; I started the month at 96,000 words.  Grand total thus far is about 32,000 words.  I’m actually still on track to meet my low-end goal, which was 40,000 words on the memoir.  But what I really wanted to accomplish was getting in a novel’s-worth of writing done in November on the current book.  50,000 words.  It’s still possible, but unlikely–I’ve reached the end of the time period for which I’d hand-written notes and diary-type entries while incarcerated.  I no longer have much of a skeleton–except for that which is in my mind already–to work from.  Which means overall slower-going.

I’m still loving what I’m writing, I just haven’t been doing enough of it.  This book is my most experimental narrative BY FAR.  I’m employing all kinds of different techniques to try and create in the reader feelings that are similar to the ones was experiencing while locked up.  These include footnotes, jumbled chronology, flashbacks, flash-forwards, dreams, and tons of foreshadowing.  I’m happy with how it’s going.  I had no idea as to whether or not I’d be able to pull off what I’m attempting, given that I’m juggling so many different techniques and variables, all while trying to maintain a coherent, compelling narrative.  But I think I’m managing to do a pretty damn good job with all this weirdness–it’s necessary weirdness, to me, because it’s such a weird and unusual and unique story!  Hoping I can get back on track and finish out the month strong!  Here’s a tasty little tidbit I wrote today:

     In any case, I get fed up with busing tables after 5 days.  I can’t take it anymore.  The pain is accruing.  I’m not miserable just during the actual work; it also carries over into my non-working hours in the unit.  Finally I decide to do something about it.  Every night, I ask the nurse at Medline if my records have arrived yet, so I’ve got at least a weak pulse on that.  On workday 6 in Dietary, I check in and then immediately head to the supervisor’s office at the back of the kitchen.  The blonde female supervisor, Mrs. Wilson, is in there, as is Watson.  As I mentioned, the former is fairly nice.  But Watson—he’s a serious dickwad.  He’s tall and ugly with a wild thatch of dark gray hair; his sagging face has that constant morose look of the unhappy, middle-aged man with the potentially-unconscious suspicion that his life is a pitiful waste.  I’m not even looking at him.  I’m speaking directly and only to Mrs. Wilson.  Explaining why it’s too difficult for me to bus tables.

     “Ohh, what’sa matter,” Watson says with thick sarcasm, “you got back problems or somethin?”

     “Well, a little bit, but my knees are the real problem.  I’ve had 5 surgeries on them.”

     “I got bad knees too.”

     Finally I look at Watson.  He’s a heavy smoker—I can tell because he always emanates that ash-smell.  Being around him and his unbearable smarminess and lack of compassion makes me alternately yearn to smoke a cigarette, and yearn to put out a lit cigarette on his eyeball.  “That sucks,” I tell him.  “Knee problems are no joke.”  At this point I’m still trying to be cordial to him.  Already it’s a struggle.

That’s it for this week.  Good luck with the rest of the month–finish strong, you’re rounding 3rd base! 🙂

May the Writing Gods fill me with inspiration and motivation to get back on track!!

May the Writing Gods fill me with the inspiration & motivation to get back on track!!