About James Scott Bell

International Thriller Writers Award winner, #1 bestselling author of THRILLERS and BOOKS ON WRITING.. You can be the first to know about his new releases by going HERE.

On Using Landmarks in Fiction

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

Happy Easter! And what better time for the reappearance of America’s favorite vigilante nun, Sister Justicia Marie of the Sisters of Perpetual Justice?

Yes, it’s finally here: FORCE OF HABIT 5: HOT CROSS NUNS. I had the title first. All I needed was the story to go with it. A hot cross … hmm … a stolen cross? But how big a deal would that be?

Then it hit me. Mrs. B and I love going to the Hollywood Bowl in the summer. We bring a picnic dinner and sit in an area that gives us a view of iconic Hollywood buildings, like Capitol Records, The Roosevelt Hotel (where, it said, the ghost of Marilyn Monroe hangs out), and the old, rugged Hollywood Cross. That was it! The perfect MacGuffin for the title.

A little L.A. history is in order:

[T] cross was conceived … as a memorial to one of Hollywood’s pioneers, Christine Wetherell Stevenson, the heiress to the Pittsburgh Paint fortune who helped arrange construction of the Hollywood Bowl. She was also an aspiring playwright who wrote “The Pilgrimage Play,” a pageant about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.

In 1920, Stevenson chose 29 acres across the Cahuenga Pass from the Hollywood Bowl and helped carry stones from the nearby hills to build the open-air Pilgrimage Theater. She died two years later and in 1923, her admirers memorialized her by planting the cross on the hill above the theater.

Within six years, a brush fire destroyed the original theater and in 1931 Stevenson’s drama reopened in a concrete theater designed in what was described as an “ancient Judaic style.”

For many years, the cross was lighted only at Easter and during the annual “Pilgrimage Play” season. But the public’s affection for the landmark grew and soon Sunday school children were donating money to keep the cross lit. Ultimately, Southern California Edison Co. assumed that expense and bore it until 1941, when the theater and cross were donated to the county. After the county supervisors accepted the gift, they renamed the theater after Supervisor John Anson Ford, recognizing his 24 years of service to the district in which the theater is located. The play continued its annual run until 1964, when the first in a series of lawsuits triggered by the facility’s religious uses forced an end to the performances.

The cross was damaged by fire a year later. The county replaced it with a steel and Plexiglas structure and operated it routinely for years. But the tradition came under legal fire in 1978, when a California Supreme Court ruling ended Los Angeles’ 30-year practice of lighting City Hall windows to form a cross at Christmas and Easter. Two years later, a college professor successfully argued in court that the county was violating the constitutional separation of church and state by maintaining the cross…

The cross, however, remained–dark and unguarded, abused and unused. Vandals chipped away at its foundation until a windstorm knocked it over it 1984.

Afterward, a small group of crusaders began raising funds for a new cross by doing a video documentary, recording a song, “The Ballad of the Hollywood Cross” by Mindas Masiulis, and collaborating with the Hollywood Heritage preservation group.

Almost 10 years later, with little fanfare, a new cross was erected on the small hilltop patch after the group purchased the site from the county.

So how could this landmark possibly be stolen? Who would do such a thing? And why? Find out in FORCE OF HABIT 5: HOT CROSS NUNS, on sale now for 99¢. Like the other novelettes in the series, it can be read as a stand-alone. The other entries are:

FORCE OF HABIT

FORCE OF HABIT 2: AND THEN THERE WERE NUNS

FORCE OF HABIT 3: NUN THE WISER

FORCE OF HABIT 4: THE NUN ALSO RISES 

I love seeing landmarks in fiction and film. Who will ever forget the chase over Mount Rushmore in North by Northwest? Or King Kong atop the Empire State Building? Or the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man stepping on Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Ghostbusters, bringing forth Bill Murray’s classic line: “Nobody steps on a church in my town!”

The landmark doesn’t even have to be world famous. For example, there’s Top Notch Hamburgers in Austin, TX. That’s where Matthew “All right, all right, all right” McConaughey made his mark in Dazed and Confused.

So what’s a landmark in your home town? You do have one, you know. Even Takoma Park, Maryland has Roscoe the Rooster. So share yours!

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Smell Your Story

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

I was nosing around for the subject of today’s post, and sniffed out the sense of smell. It is under utilized in fiction. We rightly concentrate on sight and sound, because those are the most immediate and pervasive senses, necessary for the telling of a story. But touch, taste, and smell should be used judiciously to enhance the narrative.

Today, let’s take a whiff of some ways you can use smell in your fiction.

Create a Tone

At some point in the beginning of a scene, use smell to help set the tone. In Michael Connelly’s The Narrows, FBI agent Rachel Walling arrives at a desert crime scene, the work of the notorious serial killer, The Poet:

As they got close to the tents Rachel Walling began to smell the scene. The unmistakable odor of decaying flesh was carried on the wind as it worked through the encampment, billowed the tents and moved out again. She switched her breathing to her mouth, haunted by knowledge she wished she didn’t have, that the sensation of smell occurred when tiny particles struck the sensory receptors in the nasal passages. It meant if you smelled decaying flesh that was because you were breathing decaying flesh.

Boom. I’m there.

Reveal a Theme

In Jordan Dane’s No One Heard Her Scream, San Antonio detective Rebecca Montgomery is ordered into her lieutenant’s office:

Lieutenant Santiago’s office smelled of coffee and stale smoke, a by-product of the old homicide division, before anti-smoking legislation. Central Station had been smoke-free for quite a while, but the stench lingered from years past, infused into the walls. No amount of renovation had ever managed to eliminate the odor.

Not only does this give us an added descriptor of the scene, but it also signifies the conflict between the younger detective and the old-school guard of the department.

Make a Comment

Travis McGee, the creation of John D. MacDonald, is a houseboat-dwelling “salvage expert” who gets dragged into various mysteries. One of the marks of a McGee is when he riffs on some contemporary issue, or makes a generalization that tells us about his view of life. In Nightmare in Pink, McGee is waiting on a bench at a police station, watching “the flow of business.”

It is about as dramatic as sitting in a post office, and there are the same institutional smells of flesh, sweat, disinfectants and mimeo ink. Two percent of police work is involved with blood. All the rest of it is a slow, querulous, intricate involvement with small rules and procedures, violations of numbered ordinances, complaints made out of spite and ignorance, all the little abrasions and irritations of too many people living in too small a space. The standard police attitude is one of tired, kindly, patronizing exasperation.

Now we know why McGee prefers to live on a houseboat, and goes around the cops when he’s on the job.

Show the Inner Life of a Character

McGee again. After the slings and arrows of the mystery in The Turquoise Lament, we have an epilogue. McGee is on his boat, The Busted Flush, with his friend Meyer. They’re playing chess.

I had Meyer crushed until he got cute and found a way to put me in perpetual check with a knight and a bishop. We turned off all the lights and all the servomechanisms that click and queak and we went up to the sun deck to enjoy the September night, enjoy the half moon roving through cloud layers, enjoy a smell of rain on the winds.

I love that smell, too, which carries with it both a sense of peace (which McGee needs) and a portent of coming storms—setting up the next McGee adventure. Nicely done, John D.*

So remember, it never stinks to use the sense of smell in your stories. Does that make scents?

*NOTE: The word queak in the last clip is in the print version I own. I wonder if JDM made a typo and then decided it sounded good, even though it’s not in the dictionary.

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Can You Write Better Than a Robot?

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

It definitely is coming—Artificial Intelligence churning out commercial fiction faster than a thousand James Pattersons typing 200 words a minute for 100 years. In a story titled “The rise of robot authors: is the writing on the wall for human novelists?The Guardian states:

The dream, or nightmare, of totally machine-generated prose seemed to have come one step closer with the recent announcement of an artificial intelligence that could produce, all by itself, plausible news stories or fiction. It was the brainchild of OpenAI – a nonprofit lab backed by Elon Musk and other tech entrepreneurs – which slyly alarmed the literati by announcing that the AI (called GPT2) was too dangerous for them to release into the wild…

The program has been used to generate news reports, but only by cobbling together stories from the wealth of information already out there on the net. But what about fiction? You can’t cobble, for that is called, ahem, plagiarism.

Right now, novelists don’t seem to have much to fear. Fed the opening line of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four – “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” – the machine continued the narrative as follows: “I was in my car on my way to a new job in Seattle. I put the gas in, put the key in, and then I let it run. I just imagined what the day would be like. A hundred years from now. In 2045, I was a teacher in some school in a poor part of rural China. I started with Chinese history and history of science.”

But won’t AI continue to feed, consume, learn, grow, and finally take over? Come on, you’ve seen The Terminator. You know how this ends!

So for now, we have to make the machines bend to our will, which is what I did over at a site called Plot Generator. It’s kind of fun for brainstorming. Indeed, you can ask it for story ideas and it will generate a list for you in nothing flat. I did that recently, and my list included:

In a world where zombies are wealthy, one student has no choice but to save mankind by eating her own great uncle.

Hmm…

Next, I decided to have the program write me a short story so I could fulfill my daily quota by sitting back and sipping my coffee. (Not really. That would be cheating!)

Anyway, all I had to do was click on “Fill entire form with random ideas” and (John Madden voice) boom, there was my pre-planning. Then I clicked on “Write me a short story” and boom, it was done (including the title)! The whole process took five seconds. Here it is. (I am not even going to try to guess at the copyright question. will AI have standing in a court of law? There’s a story idea right there!)

The Sun That Shone Like Rampaging Koalas

A Short Story by James Scott Bell

Tristan Cockle looked at the spotty ruler in his hands and felt active.

He walked over to the window and reflected on his dirty surroundings. He had always loved beautiful Shanghai with its motionless, mashed mountains. It was a place that encouraged his tendency to feel active.

Then he saw something in the distance, or rather someone. It was the figure of Jenny MacDonald. Jenny was an incredible angel with pointy lips and greasy fingernails.

Tristan gulped. He glanced at his own reflection. He was a considerate, scheming, whiskey drinker with scrawny lips and scrawny fingernails. His friends saw him as a long, loopy lover. Once, he had even helped a whispering baby cross the road.

But not even a considerate person who had once helped a whispering baby cross the road, was prepared for what Jenny had in store today.

The sun shone like rampaging koalas, making Tristan cross.

As Tristan stepped outside and Jenny came closer, he could see the quaint glint in her eye.

Jenny gazed with the affection of 5383 courageous grotesque gerbils. She said, in hushed tones, “I love you and I want a phone number.”

Tristan looked back, even more cross and still fingering the spotty ruler. “Jenny, exterminate,” he replied.

They looked at each other with concerned feelings, like two skinny, shallow snakes walking at a very ruthless disco, which had orchestral music playing in the background and two spiteful uncles hopping to the beat.

Tristan studied Jenny’s pointy lips and greasy fingernails. Eventually, he took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” began Tristan in apologetic tones, “but I don’t feel the same way, and I never will. I just don’t love you Jenny.”

Jenny looked calm, her emotions raw like a melted, modern map.

Tristan could actually hear Jenny’s emotions shatter into 4509 pieces. Then the incredible angel hurried away into the distance.

Not even a glass of whiskey would calm Tristan’s nerves tonight.

Pretty awful and absurd, but I’m willing to bet there are actually some readers out there who might find this deep and profound (especially in states that have legalized recreational marijuana). The first line is lousy, but I actually found the last line resonant (just not connected to anything that made sense).

Let’s face it. AI can defeat the world’s best Chess and Go masters. Do we really think it won’t eventually write a commercially successful genre novels? Or create a social media presence for its “author” pages? Or refuse to open the pod bay doors?

Not yet! Fight on!

On this date I am confident in saying I can write better than a robot. Indeed, I can teach you to do the same. I’m happy to announce that I’ve partnered with The Great Courses in a 24-lecture series, “How to Write Best-Selling Fiction.” It’s at a special launch price right now. Check it out…before the machines come knocking at your door.

What about you? Can you write better than a robot? Would you buy a novel written by HAL 9000? 

You’d better, otherwise:

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From Beer to Bookshelf

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

In keeping with last week’s post on risk-taking and writing what pleases you, I’d like to tell you the story of a dead lawyer.

Back in 2008 my agent, Donald Maass, and I were at a writers conference in the midwest. One evening we slipped away for a beer to talk new ideas. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had just come out was going wild. I was thinking, why not combine zombie fiction with a legal thriller? And to make it more interesting, let’s have the zombie be the hero, a lawyer practicing in L.A. What if this lawyer specialized in defending outcasts like vampires and werewolves? Maybe Frankenstein’s monster has been denied health insurance because of a pre-existing condition.

We started laughing, and then Don said, “Write up a proposal.”

So I started my development process. All I knew was that I wanted to write in the hard-boiled tradition I love and make them true legal thrillers with a paranormal twist (example: if a vampire is accused of murder, doesn’t she have the right to have her trial held at night so she can be present in court?). I was inspired, too, by the mashup vibe of the Harry Dresden books by Jim Butcher.

Things started bubbling, and I came up this concept:

TAGLINE:

In L.A., practicing law can be hell. Especially if you’re dead.

PITCH:

In an increasingly hellacious L.A., zombie lawyer Mallory Caine defends a vampire hooker accused of the crime Mallory herself committed, even as a zombie-killer closes in, and the love of her former life comes back as the Deputy D.A. she must oppose. At the same time, Lucifer begins setting up L.A. as his headquarters for a new attack on heaven and earth, as Mallory slowly discovers she may be the only one who can stop him.

Well, doggone if Don didn’t go out and sell it to Kensington. I was happy with the deal. I’d always wanted to be in mass market originals. But we had to make a decision. Should I use a pseudonym? We decided yes, so bookstores wouldn’t be confused on where to shelve me and because it was jumping into the entirely new genre, one in fact I’d created: the zombie legal thriller!

That’s how I went from beer to bookshelf. Three books, fun to write, with a complete arc.

Time and Kindles march on. I got the rights back to the trilogy and have now published them myself. This time with my own name attached. Because in the indie-digital world, you can easily cross-pollinate. New readers discover you and loyal readers might try out something new.

In celebration, this week I’m making the books available for 99¢ each.

Are you a risk taker as a reader? You’ve come to the right place. And while it is a requirement that zombies eat, um, us, to stay alive, I don’t go graphic…nothing more than you might have seen at a drive-in horror movie in the 1950s. Here are the Kindle store links:

PAY ME IN FLESH (#1)

THE YEAR OF EATING DANGEROUSLY (#2)

I ATE THE SHERIFF (#3)

 So how do you go from beer (it can be root beer if you prefer, or even that writing staple, coffee) to bookshelf?

  1. Sip and come up with concepts

You should do this periodically anyway. Spend time in pure creation. Generate several ideas in a session. Put them all in What if? form, e.g., What if there is a boarding school for young wizards? What if a Great White shark feeds in the waters during tourist season?

  1. Pick the concepts you enjoy most for further development

Assess your ideas later on, when they’ve had a chance to cool a bit. Which ones give you the most excitement? Prioritize them. Come up with a tagline and a pitch for the top three (as shown, above). Tweak these until they really shine.

  1. Write the first three chapters of your favorite concept

This is really fun. You can write without fear because you haven’t yet made a long-term commitment. Use all your craft to make this opening as gripping as possible. Let the pages rest for a week (while you do other writing), then revise and refine them.

  1. Get feedback

Ask your beta readers (or agent) for their assessment. Put your idea through a grinder. Pretend you’re an acquisitions editor. Would you buy this book? Is the concept be attractive to a sufficient slice of readership?

  1. Write with joy

If everything is positive, and you’re still excited about the idea, finish the thing. Write hot, revise cool.

One of the ways to do this is by making the book a NaNoWriMo project. In fact, the second of my Mallory Caine books began as a NaNo. After I finished the draft I let it cool until January, and then began the rewrite.

In all my years practicing law I met, in court and out, many a lawyer. To the best of my knowledge, not one of them was a zombie. But you never know…

Is there a wild idea sitting on your back burner? What are you going to do with it? 

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You Can’t Please Everyone

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

It was October 15, 1971, and former teenage idol Rick Nelson was one of the performers at an oldies concert in New York’s Madison Square Garden. Other acts included Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, and Bobby Rydell.

Nelson, who’d had a string of hits in the late 50s and early 60s, sang a couple of his oldies, including one of his biggest, “Hello Mary Lou.” But then Nelson, who had been stretching his songwriting wings into country music, tried out a country-fied version of the Rolling Stones’ “Honky Tonk Women.”

Which is when the boo birds came out.

The unnerved Nelson gamely tried one more song, got more boos, then promptly left the stage. In fact, he left the building and did not appear onstage for the finale.

Back in California, Nelson holed up in his music room, and three weeks later came up with a song about his experience. “Garden Party” appeared in 1972 and reached number six on Billboard’s list. It was Nelson’s last hit song. He died in a plane crash in 1985 at the age of 45.

“Garden Party” tells the story of the concert in amusingly cryptic terms. Out in the audience, for example, “Yoko brought her walrus” (obviously John). And in the corner was a “Mr. Hughes,” the name used by Rick Nelson’s neighbor, George Harrison, whenever the quiet Beatle wanted to go out incognito.

But mostly the song is about being willing to pay the price for your artistic vision.

 

If you gotta play at garden parties, I wish you a lotta luck,
But if memories were all I sang, I’d rather drive a truck.
But it’s all right now, I learned my lesson well.
You see you can’t please everyone, so you got to please yourself.

As Rick’s son Gunnar later put it, “After a lifetime of pretending to be a character he wasn’t—wearing the sweater on Monday on the set of Ozzie and Harriet after being a real rock star on the weekends—he was writing and performing for his own pleasure and satisfaction. The song was based on his experience at Madison Square Garden. He turned what could have remained the darkest day of his life into his brightest shining moment. Just when the music industry considered him a relic, filing him away as yesterday’s news, he had the biggest hit of his career and it was totally autobiographical.”

The point is that every artist has to realize you can’t please everyone. Indeed, as the noted journalist Herbert Bayard Swope once said, “I cannot give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure, which is: Try to please everybody.”

My advice to writers (the ones who want to make a career out of this gig, at least) has always been to find that sweet spot where your love for the material meets commercial viability. Where your voice and vision lap onto the shores of reader expectation. Whip your story into a recognizable form, but fill it with the unique touches that can come only from you.

And know that when you do, there will be naysayers and critics. That comes with the territory. But if you’ve truly pleased yourself, it’s all right now.

What risks have you taken in your writing? How did it turn out? What did you learn from it? 

 

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Get Grammatical or Get Lost

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

No, I’m not telling the ungrammatical to take a hike. But I am saying that without a basic understanding of certain rules of our language, your thoughts will be in danger of getting lost on the reader.

As a public service, here are a few of the errors I frequently come across so you, dear writer, may avoid them:

Uninterested v. Disinterested

Uninterested means not interested in something. Disinterested means objective.

“Many young people today are disinterested in marriage.” WRONG.

A good umpire is disinterested in the outcome of a game, but he should never be uninterested.

Yet virtually every time I see disinterested it’s misused. Maybe people think it sounds more sophisticated. That excuse doesn’t interest me at all.

Begs the Question

You’ll read or hear this almost every day. Like on the news, when a talking head spouts, “He said cows should be outlawed, which begs the question: Where will we get our steaks?”

No! Begs the question does not mean demands that the question be asked. That doesn’t even make sense on its face. If a question demands to be asked, it isn’t begging, is it?

Question begging is actually a fallacy of logic. It means someone has assumed, rather than proved, a premise. Thus, in a debate, you might hear, “My esteemed opponent has begged the question.”

This is a fight we’ve probably lost, but I can’t help digging in my heels. Whenever I hear someone on TV casually drop “That begs the question…” I always beg to differ.

The Wandering I

It was drummed into us as kids that using me instead of I is wrong.

“Me and Henry rode bikes today.”

“No, dear, that’s Henry and I.”

So the kid starts saying things like:

“That belongs to Henry and I.”

Wrong-o. But it’s a mistake made all the time. I heard this on TV the other day: “That means a lot to my wife and I.”

Ack!

You can easily determine the correct usage by removing the first noun from the sentence. Would you say, “That means a lot to I”? Of course not. “That means a lot to me” is correct, so stick the wife back in there and you’ve got it right.

“Henry and me went to the store.” Would you say, “Me went to the store”? Only if you’re Tarzan. Otherwise, “Henry and I …” is correct.

Its v. It’s

It is so easy to make this mistake, because it’s looks like a possessive since we use the apostrophe that way in other places. The cat’s mat is on the floor can easily become, in another context, It’s mat is on the floor.

It’s (did you see that?) tricky because it’s is really a contraction, a combo of it and is; and its is possessive, but without the apostrophe.

When I’m typing fast, I sometimes make this mistake, and its it’s irritating. Just train yourself to take a little pause and ask, “Do I mean it is?” Then type accordingly.

i.e. v. e.g.

E.g. is short for the Latin phrase exempli gratia, which means “for example.”

“There are lots of ways to lose money in Vegas, e.g., blackjack and craps.”

I.e. is short for id est, “that is.”

“The police who violated the Fourth Amendment—i.e., busted down the guy’s door—should have secured a warrant.”

In other words, e.g. sets up one or more examples, while i.e. supports just one clarification.

An easy way to remember this is to think of the e in e.g. as standing for example, and the i in i.e. as standing for in other words.

Also, when you use either of these babies in a sentence, they are lowercase and followed by a comma, e.g., The boys will get to pick among their favorite games, e.g., Bone Storm and Gilstrap’s Revenge. 

Literally

My head literally explodes when I hear people misuse literally.

No it doesn’t, for literally means exactly, in a factual sense. People misuse literally because they think it provides added force to their point: He was literally as big as a house! 

Don’t use literally unless you are trying to make clear an actual fact. And you don’t have to use figuratively at all. When you say He was as big as a house people will understand what you’re trying to convey. You don’t have to gild the lily, as they say (which reminds me that you should avoid clichés like the plague).

Complement v. Compliment

When something goes with something else and produces a nice effect, it complements the other thing. “Her orange scarf complemented her ensemble.”

A compliment is something nice you say about somebody. “The speaker paid Mrs. Hanson a compliment.”

You most often find this error when these words are used in their –ary form, as in this example I came across recently: “If you’re not sure where to begin, try taking a picture of a single book against a simple, complimentary (but not overpowering) background.”

No, the wallpaper is not paying the book a compliment. 

Now, I admit I am no grammar expert. I still think a gerund is a fuzzy pet you keep in a cage. But when I’m unsure about some usage rule, I’ll pause to do a quick search on the internet, or look up the issue in one of my reference books (my favorite is Write Right! by Jan Venolia.)

So what are your pet peeves of language blundering?

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One of the Joys of Indie Publishing

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

We are well into the second decade of the self-publishing (now more preferably termed indie-publishing) movement. The flame wars of the early years (“Death to traditional publishing!” “Oh yeah? Self publish and you’ll ruin your career!”) have been replaced by the calm ruminations of business-minded “authorpreneurs.”

And while reports of the death of traditional publishing have been greatly exaggerated, the industry’s dependence on A-list stars has left a void in what used to be called the “midlist.”

It is a vacuum productive writers abhor. So they have filled the void with indie product.

Of course, most of the product is, shall we say, not good (see Sturgeon’s Law). Nor is all of it legit. Perhaps you’ve been following yet another plagiarism scandal that recently broke out, this time in that part of the book kingdom where romance flowers. A USA Today bestselling writer apparently hired a ghostwriter from, of all places, Fiverr. That’s a site that has all sorts of freelancers who’ll work on the cheap—five bucks is the baseline. This author was hiring said labor to put together “books” in the romance genre so she could be slapping them up on Amazon at a heart-pounding (notice my genre-specific adjective!) pace. Problem: the freelancer was snatching passages from published works to fill out the pages.

Kris Rusch wrote about this, and has these wise words:

The smartest thing…is to write your books at your pace, and stop flooding the market with mediocre books, written by people who don’t care about your worlds or your characters as much as you do.

If you got into this business because you love writing, then write for heaven’s sake. And if you’re worried about maintaining your income, then the real key is to cut expenses, not add to them. If you can’t survive without gaming the system, then maybe consider a part-time job until you have enough money put away to augment your writing income in the lean months. Then live on a percentage of what your writing earns, not on the entire amount.

Indie writers (who are true writers) want to feed the system. Indie scammers (who are not true writers) want to game the system. You have to live with yourself. Unfortunately, with the death of shame in our culture, cheaters are often able to look in the mirror with a satisfied smile. But know this for certain: they will never experience the true joy that only comes from honest applied effort.

I’ve been a happy indie since 2011. Coming from the traditional world, however, I am appreciative of the “grinder” my books were put through, meaning the editorial process. I worked with some great editors who helped me get better. As an indie, I seek similar feedback on every book I write.

And when a book is ready, it’s published in ten minutes. Boy, do I love that!

Here’s another joy—getting to publish something written by my late father.

Art Bell, Lawyer

Back in 1972 my big brother, Bob, was having thoughts about becoming a lawyer like our dad. Bob was, at the time, a teacher at an elementary school in northern California. So he wrote Dad a letter—a real letter, on paper, with an envelope and a stamp!—asking for Dad’s counsel.

And Dad, never one to do things (like represent a client) half way, wrote a long letter in response.

Dad thought his modest epistle might be something other lawyers would find of value. So he paid to have it published in installments in the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the city’s legal newspaper.

It was a huge hit. The demand for copies proved so great that Dad had the whole thing printed up and paid for it to be included as an insert in a later edition of the Journal.

It hit me recently that Compendium Press, my indie publishing company, ought to publish the letter once again, this time permanently in digital form. But I couldn’t locate any copies in my dad’s files.

So I asked my brother if he had a copy. He did, and sent it to me as a PDF file. I then sent it to a scanning service, and now it’s up permanently as A Lawyer’s Letter to a Son.

Why publish it again? It’s not because I think it will make a lot of money; it won’t. It’s because I believe its message is relevant today for anyone considering going into law—or maybe who went into the profession for the dough and are starting to wonder if that was the right reason. The letter represents a view of the law that is rare today: as an honorable profession, not just a way to gain money or power. (And no lawyer jokes, please!)

My dad was a great L.A. lawyer, highly respected by his peers, and a colorful character in his own right. He loved a good fight in court, a good cigar in his leisure, and a sporty bow tie with his suits. I love hearing his voice again in this letter.

If you know any law students, or wannabe law students, or even young lawyers, maybe you can recommend this little letter, which I’m making FREE for the next several days.

Now to you, TKZers. What brings you joy in your writing?

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