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Building the Novel: One Step at a Time

September 5, 2017

Tags: writing, novel, techinque

When I sat down to write my latest novel, A Fine Line (Chicago Arts Press, June 6, 2017), I wasnít embarking on a new project. The project was old. The protagonist, Sebastian Drake, was old, and the idea for his story had been in my mind for over five years. Over those years, Drake and I had shared some experiences, had learned about each other, and I knew he and his story had to be shared in novel form. He made me do it.

Since my earliest days as a writer, I have always been apprehensive about big and lengthy projects, the novel in particular. Itís been a fear Iíve had, that I would spend months or even years on a project, tens of thousands of words down onto the page, only to realize that the story wasnít any good. That would be a shame, and an unfortunate mismanagement of my time. I had to start small and build an idea over time, one successful step at a time. Iíve been writing that way ever since.

When a story idea is pressing on my mind, urging me to act upon it, I always try to explore and develop the idea quickly and with a minimal investment of time, as a poem or a short story or any shorter form that might work. After a couple hours or days, Iíll have something finished and concrete. If itís good, I can consider publishing the poem or short story. If itís very good, the story idea will not leave me alone; it will nag at me to continue. At that point, I might consider developing the story further as a screenplay or novel.

Thatís what happened with my protagonist, Sebastian Drake, and his story, A Fine Line. In April of 2010, Drake first appeared in a short story titled, Letting Go. The story was my first effort to find out who Sebastian Drake really was, and what he had the potential to become. I needed to know what he was doing at the time, and I also needed to get some insight into his past, his demons, his special skills, and his possibilities for the future. I sat him at a table in a coffee shop, across from a friend he hadnít seen in twenty-five years, and I let them talk. What happened in that coffee shop scenario changed my writing career forever.

When I finished the story two days later, I found that I had created more questions than Iíd answered. Actually, Iím not sure I answered many questions about Sebastian Drake at all. But I was intrigued by what happened in the story and I thought I might want to know more. Actually, I needed to know more.

Subsequently, in January of 2012, I wrote a twenty-two-page screen treatment based upon Letting Go, which outlined the screenplay I was going to write for a feature length film titled A Fine Line. Sebastian Drake was going for the big screen. It took me a year, many long days, and a severe amount of revision and cutting, and when I was finished with the screenplay, Drakeís story had taken another big step forward.

At each step along the wayóthe short story, the screen treatment, and the screenplayóthe character of Sebastian Drake had become more interesting, more challenged and conflicted, and I was compelled to find out what was next for him. He simply would not leave me alone. Iíve often said that as a writer, I donít always get to write the stories I necessarily want to write. More often than not, I write the stories I need to write. Something (or someone?) in my head nags at me until I finally give in and get to work, and ultimately, until the deed is done. Those ideas and characters that repeatedly pop into my mind direct me as to what I will work on next, and Sebastian Drake was on my mind a lot. He still is.

Two years ago, I embarked on a project to bring Sebastian Drake to his ultimate story platform: the novel. In a reverse adaptation process and using the screenplay as a basis (the same process that I used for my first novel, Recalled to Life), the newest chapter in the life of Sebastian Drake took form. His story was complete. The book was published in June and is now being shared with the world. I wonder where he will take me next.

Writing using this building-block process works for me, and when I finish a larger project, Iím comfortable that the story is good, because I have put it to the test at each step along the way. There are other benefits to the building-block process as well. Most important, with a smaller and completed project, I have a basis, a springboard, for moving forward. I also have another marketable product. Itís hard to become a successful writer based upon one book or project. With each new project I complete, whatever form it make take, Iím better able to substantiate my credibility as a writer.

I especially enjoy the process of adapting a screenplay into a novel. Iím a big movie fan, and I love the visual and dialogue-driven aspects of films. I find it beneficial to visualize the characters and story, like I might see it on the screen, and that visualization guides me as I develop a story. When I finish a screenplay, I have a solid plotline in place, along with all the characters and what they have to say, all in 120 pages or less, a reasonable investment of time and effort. Then, to develop the story as a novel, itís a matter of adding the necessary exposition and description, which is no easy feat, but Iím not starting from scratch. Iím building upon my past, completed work.

Are there any negative aspects to my building-block approach? I really have not experienced any, except for the fact that it might take me longer to get a bigger project, like a novel, completed and published. I can live with that fact, because in the end I know the project is well thought out, is more fully developed, and Iíve given the story the time necessary to come to life.

Writing A Fine Line was a rewarding process, but to make the book perfect and ready for publication, I knew I had to have a great book cover. It was essential that my cover be eye-catching and able to both fit in and set itself apart from other covers of published books from my heroes in the mystery genre. Thatís where Reedsy stepped in to help. I learned about Reedsy.com from a friend, and I quickly set up my profile and project on the site. Within days, I had five, interested book cover designers. The process was simple and efficient. I knew what I wanted, and it was easy for me to select Tom Sanderson (www.the-parish.com) to help me design the perfect cover. I live in the U.S. and Tom was in the U.K., but with Reedsy, geography is no barrier. Tom was great to work with. I told him that I wanted my book to ďfitĒ nicely on any bookstore table between the books of Lee Child and James Patterson. As you can see, Tom hit the mark.

The Summer 2017 Newsletter is Here!

August 14, 2017

Tags: newsletter, audiobook, play, a fine line

What? A new play for the stage? And a new audiobook featuring the most prolific and successful audiobook narrator in the world? It has been quite a summer so far. Click on the link below for my summer newsletter and all the details. Thank you for your support!

Read the newsletter HERE.

Writer's Quick 5 - Kelly Weiss Interview with Author Dan Burns

June 27, 2017

Tags: A Fine Line, writing

Originally posted 6/26/17 at www.kellyfumikoweiss.com

KELLY WEISS:

This week itís an honor to bring you insights from author, screenwriter, and poet, Dan Burns. Dan is a fellow Chicago Writers Association member and his fourth published book (third work of fiction) A Fine Line was released on June 6, 2017 by Chicago Arts Press.

Another highlight I want to mention is a short film that Dan wrote, Out of Touch. The film is absolutely worth watching and was named an ďOfficial SelectionĒ for the Chicago International REEL Shorts Film Festival and for the Los Angeles Lift-Off Film Festival.

You can find information his books, screenplays, and MUCH more on his website.

Letís see what Dan has to sayÖ

KELLY: Question #1 - Where do you write and why do you write there?

DAN: Every morning, I walk from my home to my office in downtown La Grange. I have this great, small office above a restaurant, like one of those private eye offices in old noir movies, that provides the quiet and secluded environment I need to be productive. When I'm at home, there are too many distractions and I have no self-discipline, so having a place to get away and get my work done is a necessity. In my office, I'm surrounded by my books and memories of my writing mentors and have no distractions. No phone. No Internet. Just writing. If you're interested, you can check out this short video of my office environment.

KELLY: Question #2 - What is unique about writing for your particular genre?

DAN: For me, what is unique is that I'm not locked into a particular genre. I love the boundless flexibility of being able to write in a variety of forms and genres. My first novel was a contemporary family drama. My second book was a collection of short fiction that really pushed the boundaries of genre. My newest novel is a Chicago mystery. My hope is that every story I write pushes me out of my comfort zone to try and explore something different. Writing a mystery novel was my most challenging project to date. Research was a necessity to make the story believable, and I spent an extensive amount of time understanding Chicago politics and police procedure. My protagonist, Sebastian Drake is an expert marksman, and I had to spend dozens of hours at the gun range, shooting his gun, to fully understand what was possible. Plot also played a big role in my mystery novel, more so than my other stories. Nothing can be left out and every question must be answered. The writing process was quite fun and extremely challenging at the same time.

KELLY: Question #3 - What are some of your grammar or punctuation pet peeves?

DAN: What drives me nuts are all the grammar and punctuation errors that I'm guilty of, and my first drafts are laced with them. The editing process is critical to get my story ready to publish, and I'm fortunate to have a number of editors and trusted readers who allow me to get the story down onto the page and then help me to make it perfect. I find that I just get too close to my work, so close that I can't see the errors. I can edit and revise a story a dozen times, and then my editors and readers help me to realize that I'm not a very good editor. But I'm learning. I find that the editing process is the most important step in helping me to become a better writer.

I find that I'll often get stuck on a word, maybe like it too much, and then use it too often throughout a story. I have to cut the repeat offenders. Adverbs also seem to come easily (you see!) as I'm writing, and I have to go back through and search for all the "ly" words and cut them all. Adverbs seldom add value to the sentence. I don't think much of the word "got" and try to eliminate it from my writing. For dialogue attribution, I use "said" and "asked," nothing else, and I try not to use them only when necessary to maintain flow and understanding. Contractions and hyphenated words also seem to find their way into my stories, and I have to go back and review each one to make sure they're correct and appropriate. Spelling is a killer for the reader's flow of the story, so spell-check and people-check are critical steps. The most valuable aspect of the editing process for a book is the Advance Reading Copy. After I revise a manuscript a dozen times and go through several iterations of developmental editing and copyediting, it's important to print the book and get it into the hands of my trusted readers. They are the ones who let me know if it's ready to officially go out into the world.

KELLY: Question #4 - At what point in your writing process do you start to bring other people in to review your work?

DAN: I bring people into the process when the story is finished. Often, there are so many potential roadblocks for completing the story, that I have to focus on that single goal. For me, "finished" is flushing out an idea fully and getting the words out of my head and the story down onto the page. Afterward, I let the story sit for a month before going through and revising to the best of my ability. Then it's time for a fresh look from different eyes and perspectives, from people I trust to tell me honestly about how to improve the story.

KELLY: Question #5 - What advice would you give to a new writer about the writing process?

DAN: Sit down and write, as often and as much as you can. Many people talk about being a writer, but only by actually getting the words down onto the page can you actually be a writer. Read books by authors who you admire and who have been successful writing the stories you want to write. Develop your idea, write your story, and don't stop until you're finished. Don't edit or revise until the story is written, for those activities can develop into insurmountable distractions and roadblocks. Better to have a completed story that you can improve than to have an idea that you never fully act upon that fades away. And keep a journal of all your ideas. If I don't write down my ideas, they tend to vanish, never to return again, and that's a darn shame.

KELLY: Thank you Dan for these incredible answers. I also keep a journal of story ideas! I also love the advice, ďDevelop your idea, write your story, and don't stop until you're finished. Don't edit or revise until the story is written, for those activities can develop into insurmountable distractions and roadblocks.Ē Iím guilty of this all the time, pouring over a passage over and over again when I should move on. Very good to keep in mind!

Please learn more about Dan and his books and works on his website. More importantly, go out and buy his new book A Fine Line. I have my copy! You can also follow him on Facebook, on Twitter, or you can subscribe to his YouTube channel.

DAN: Thanks, Kelly.

Dan Burns Interview with Author Lisa Lickel Plus a Review of A FINE LINE

June 7, 2017

Tags: Dan Burns, A Fine Line

A Brief interview with the Author Dan Burns by Lisa Lickel

LISA: Dan, what do you love about this book?

DAN: What I love most about this book is the path I had to take to see the novel come to fruition. My protagonist, Sebastian Drake, appeared first in a short story, Letting Go, which I wrote back in 2012. My process for the story was simple: put him at a table in a coffee shop, have him meet a person from his past, and see what happens. When I finished the story, I learned a little about Drakeówho he is and where he came fromóand I thought that was the end of his story. But Drake would not leave me alone. He had more to say and forced me to develop his story further. So, I went back to work and wrote a screenplay for a feature film that put him in the middle of a cold murder case in Chicago. The process was exhilarating and fun, and again, I thought that was the end of the story. The screenplay received national recognition and won the Best Screenplay Award at the Naperville Independent Film Festival, and fans at the festival asked, ďWhatís next for Drake?Ē I thought about the question often, and it seemed to me that the story I told in the screenplay was not quite complete. I could not get the story or Drake out of my mind, so I forged on and developed the story as a novel. I love the book and the story, and through the process, I came to the realization that Sebastian Drake is a part of me. Heís taking the lead now, and his story is just beginning. Where he will take us is anybodyís guess.

LISA: Congratulations! What a great way to find a story.

LISA: Introduce us to the character you had the most fun creating.

DAN: I had the most fun creating Sebastian Drake because he needed to be a complex, conflicted, and sympathetic character. He also had to be different, with character traits, experiences, and skills that we havenít seen in other mystery series characters. I feel I accomplished that objective. However, I also feel Iím just getting to know who he is and what he can become. Heís not a typical protagonist or heroóheís really an antihero, since he lacks the conventional attributes of a heroic character. Drake continually walks the fine line between the past and the present, right and wrong, and reality and the fiction he writes. His life is an endless high-wire act, and there is no safety net.

In a mystery novel, there has to be a nasty character, an antagonist, and in A Fine Line, there are many of them. But I especially enjoyed developing the character of Jerry Fitzsimmons: ďan older man, thin and gaunt, almost sickly looking.Ē ďHeís always grinning, like a cat who just ate a mouse.Ē From his ďthin lips pressed together like a cadaverĒ to his ďyellow teeth,Ē I found I disliked him more with each sentence I wrote about him. He gives me the creeps, and he adds a necessary dimension and complexity to the story. Fortunately, Drake doesnít care much for him either and effectively addresses all of Jerryís issues.

LISA: Those are fun characteristics put together in a believable way!


LISA: Share two things you learned either researching or writing-related during the production of this book?

DAN: A Fine Line is a murder mystery set in Chicago. To make the story interesting and believable, I felt it was necessary to make the city a character and include details about the city that would pull the reader in, whether local or not. I grew up on the North Side, but the story had to take place in and around areas I didnít know about, where I havenít beenóunknown places, darker places. The Chicago Police Department also plays a large role in the story, and I had to make sure I understood the hierarchical structure of the organization and the basics of police procedure, especially because thereís at least one character who doesnít follow procedure.

In researching both topics, what I learned is that even though I have lived in the Chicago area for fifty-four years, there is so much I still donít know. I find that realization fascinating. Thereís always more to learn and experience, and I think Sebastian Drake will make sure my education continues.

LISA: Readers--take this and run with it! Explore your own community.

LISA: What are you reading now?

DAN: I just finished reading Speed the Plow, by one of my favorite writers and playwrights, David Mamet. Iím in the middle of a memoir by Oscar Levant titled, A Smattering of Ignorance. He was a talented musician, composer, actor, and writer, and I find his writing insightful and humorous. I used one of his quotes as the epigraph for my book: ďThereís a fine line between genius and insanity. I have erased this line.Ē

LISA: Dan, what's next for you?

DAN: Iím always juggling several projects. I recently completed a stage play script, Grace, and Iíd love to produce it at a Chicago theatre. I am also continuing to write short stories and hope to have another story collection ready for publication next year. And Sebastian Drake continues to pester me. He has another story to tell, and together, weíre in the process of figuring out what that story is.

LISA: Theater is fun! And I'm looking forward to seeing what trouble Drake gets into next.
Thanks for sharing about you and your work.


Review of A FINE LINE by Lisa Lickel

The premise of Burnsís thrilling detective story grabbed my attention. Sure, Sebastian Drake is almost a Sam Spade pulp-alike, a forties-era anti-hero for today, but honestly, how can you not love the wounded but capable man-of-few-words detective with a soft spot for his family? Whoís also an author!

Drakeís initial success has not led to the subsequent best-seller notice he needed to survive in the authorial world. His agent dug deep and found a contract for a book he has yet to complete. Timeís running out and heís desperate. Unlikely help comes through his former secret life. His shadowy employer knows things Drake would rather not remember, but Drake is fascinated by the request to dig back into a long-cold mystery.

Drakeís hefty financial reward for a little detective work isnít necessarily the main attraction to get his hands dirty once again. Heíll hopefully reap the material he needs to finish his novelóif he survives. Combing his acquaintances for help and returning to the scene of the crime as well as revisiting the original police files is not quite like old home week. Enemies and friends are suspiciously hard to differentiate. Drake slowly peels off layers of dust as well as fresh scabs from wounds both professional and personal, until the answers are bared.

Told through Drakeís perspective, readers are pulled into a side of Chicago off the tourist trail. A Fine Line is a tale of winners and losers, and the chance to move forward and find both retribution and redemption. Those who enjoy detective adventures, particularly set in a familiar town, will find much to like about this novel.

DAN: Thank you, Lisa!

A FINE LINE: The First Review

May 26, 2017

Tags: A FINE LINE

Many thanks to Marssie Mencotti and the entire team from Windy City Reviews for a very gracious and on-the-mark review.

A Fine Line (A Sebastian Drake Novel). Dan Burns. Chicago Arts Press, June 6, 2017, Hardcover and E-Book, 294 pages.

Reviewed by Marssie Mencotti.

This fine detective novel is a thoroughly engrossing Chicago experience as well as an engaging tale of the corrupting effect of power and privilege. I went down every street with Sebastian Drake. I understand his loyal midwestern friendships. And you cannot know Chicago without knowing that everyone here is connected by less than six degrees. I was also captivated by the incipient creepiness of old Chicago landmarks and the fact that there is no statute of limitations on cover-ups, personal vendettas, and the machinations of the elite.

The leading character, Sebastian Drake, is making his living as a writer and as we are reading about him in this novel, he is writing about his alter ego in a new novel for which he has received an advance. I enjoyed the book within a book device. It was interesting to see how much of the real case Drake was adding to his novel and how much he was leaving out.

Which brings me to the perfect title of the novel: A Fine Line. Every event we experience has its outcome differentiated by a fine line. It is the fine cut that was made to sever the young womanís hand from her body. It is Drakeís persona wavering on a tightrope between boozy self-indulgence and disciplined sobriety. It is a fine line of demarcation between right and wrong and knowing when to defend and when to attack.

Drakeís character is slowly revealed. We are presented with a seasoned specialist skilled in a variety of professions. He is a spy, a journalist, a detective, a bookstore proprietor, a husband, and a father. His qualifications for the jobs he is being asked to multi-task are spot on. This makes his work seem effortless. To be fair, Chicago people do not usually flaunt their abilities. Better to let people find out the hard way. The internal monologue that Drake keeps regarding his work, his family, and his past is stated in a very sober way. Even the way in which Drake deals with the tragedy in his past life is private and personal.

Drakeís sense of justice may sometimes seem more like poorly handled anger management but he does put the bad guys away without hesitation. For a character that is so qualified in all of his professions he only does what he feels like doing and leaves the management of his empire to others, making him to seem cold and indifferent to one or more of them. Someone else runs his beloved bookstore. His ex-wife cares for his children. His friend Scotty manages the guns and the gun range. His agent manages his book business, and so on. So although he is a superstar, he is dependent on many others. Perhaps this is the fine line between who he is and who he appears to be.

He is not always ďemotionally available.Ē Two instances of this come to mind. First, his burgeoning feelings for Angie, a Chicago Police detective, spike and deflate in just a day or two. Once sheís out of the picture, he starts to think about his ex-wife again. Later in the book when an incident involving his daughter occurs he is less emotional than mechanical. True, he feels more effective seeking her with his brain and not his heart but we never feel that he truly considers the dangerous consequences if heís wrong.

This is a compelling read on many levels. How does a man so qualified for success manage to fail at the things that are personal and succeed beyond expectation on the things that are public? To read this book merely as a detective story is not to see that the underlying tension, the ďFine LineĒ is the key to Sebastian Drakeís true nature. He lives for the tension in the taut moment of the reveal.

On the Brink of Discovery

May 3, 2016

Tags: Poetry, No Turning Back, Book Cover, Book Cover Design, Sheep

An image can make quite an impression.

I still remember clearly the day I received the book cover image for my recent story collection, No Turning Back: Stories. I had received the email from world-renowned graphic artist, Hugh Syme, and the image attachment was hanging there, taunting me to open it. I tensed with excitement and clicked on the icon. The image flashed in my mind, seared it with a bolt of lightning. Decision made. Changed forever.

Since that day more than two years ago, the image has taken the driver's seat in my mind, taking me places I would not normally go, making me think beyond the boundaries of my imagination. I might even say the image has haunted me, for I still struggle with the meaning and the implications it conveys. What the hell does it mean?

A few weeks ago, I was mulling over poem ideas and the sheep popped into my head, as they often do. The damn sheep. So, I took the opportunity to look at the world through their eyes, in an effort to maybe, if I was lucky, gain some greater perspective and understanding. All I know for sure is the words leaked from my pen on to the page and I was left with the following poem.


On the Brink of Discovery


Two sheep stand at the edge of the precipice,
A lush green pasture under their cloven hooves,
Blue skies off into infinity but
Over the edge and down below lurks
A blackness broken only by a
Million blinking stars and a lonely moon
Lit by an unknown source.

The sheep seem to know that to
Step over the broken, rocky ledge
Will mean certain death, but
They are torn, for they are creatures of instinct,
Followers, but there is
No one left to follow but each other.
They look around, curiously, and wonder
Where the shepherd and the
Rest of the flock have gone.

The precipice represents the great divide
Between reality and dreams,
Between logic and facts and
The irrational delusions of a madman, and
The sheep struggle to make sense of
Their perceptions, but
They can assess for they are smarter than
They think, or we know, and
They pause and contemplate:

The fine thread between day and night.

The heart-flutter of hope and despair.

The inherent comedy of their daily lives.

Were the earliest Greek Philosophers insane and
Was Columbusís course misdirected?

Is there a god, and if so, why has she waited so long
To lead us to this new, promised land?

Shall we remain in the pasture of comfort or leap
Into the adventure of the unknown?

The sheep rested in the tall grasses and ate.
Distraught that their brethren had left them,
They took comfort in knowing that
They at least had each other and could wait,
Together, for as long as they wished . . .
Until the answer came.


The Montana of Author Dan Burns: Part Time Home, Full Time Muse

June 29, 2015

Tags: Montana, inspiration, No Turning Back, Come Out Wherever You Are, Writing



I first traveled to Montana with my family in the summer of 2001. As an avid angler, I had read about the famed rivers and heard the stories of endless trout and big sky, and realized I had to go. We rented a home outside of Bozeman and spent a week exploring all that the area had to offer. We experienced the majesty of Yellowstone National Park, took a step back in time in the quaint small town of Livingston, fished the Gallatin River every day, drove hundreds of miles under the biggest and bluest sky we had ever seen, and spent quiet evenings on the deck playing games and cherishing our time together.

We fell in love with Montana and it became a part of each of us. We returned the next two summers to continue our explorations and then decided to buy a small place of our own. It has been fourteen years now and while our home outside of Bozeman on the East Gallatin River is a part time residence, it is a full-time member of our family. We long to get back there to take in the mountain air, walk the river rock shores of our favorite rivers, and spend quality family time together.

The nature, culture, and people of Montana inspire me. When Iím in Montana, Iím freeóunencumbered by the usual distractions back in Illinoisóand able to explore ideas and easily get the words down onto the page. When Iím not in Montana, Iím always thinking about that glorious place, and my experiences there end up finding their way into my writing. What follows is an example of how Montana became part of my short story, Come Out, Wherever You Are.

These days, our world is enmeshed in technological connectivityó twenty-four hours a day, seven days a weekóand many people spend the majority of their days searching and texting and updating their networks of people on every minute detail of their existence.
I think we need to be forced away from our devices every once in a while to relish the simple pleasures in life: reading a book, taking a walk, or just looking around and taking in all that is happening around us. For without the break, we might get so distracted that weíll miss out on what is really important.

What if a person decided to walk away from the technological tether and live his life in solitude, and what if while he was away, something happened to the social network? That, very simply, was the seed of the idea, and it was all I needed to get on with writing the story, Come Out, Wherever You Are.

In the story, the protagonist, Verne, had forced himself to break away. During his career as a politician, he was always in the spotlight and always in the news. Privacy was not a possibility and he understood that the absence of it came with the job. So, as he came to the end of his career, he made a wish to live in Montana, and then when he retired, he made the wish a reality. What he didnít expect was for the circumstances that nudged him into exile to end up being the same circumstances that made his exile permanent. I had the main character and I knew exactly where to put him. Since falling in love with Montana on my first visit there, I have been pursuing my own temporary but regular exile there ever since.

The sky is big, the rivers are endless, and I think the people there are likely the nicest people in the world. Add to that, regarding the people, there are only about one million in the entire state. There is one square mile of land for every six people. Itís open and easy to get lost there, and I liked the possibilities. Montana was where Verne needed to go. I knew Verne would start and end his story in Montana, and at the end, I expected him to simply head off into the sunset to finish out his remaining years in solitude, as he had wished. However, since that time, I find that Iím often wonderingómaybe even worryingóabout Verne and what his future holds. Who knows, maybe I will run into him again somewhere down the road, in Montana.

Traveling to Montana? If you are in the Bozeman area, be sure to wet a line on one of the many famed and local rivers. If youíre looking for a great dinner spot in Bozeman, you canít go wrong with Daveís Sushi and their creative and inspired sushi creations or Copper Whiskey Bar & Grill and their classic cocktails, hip crowd, and inventive menu items. Plan a day for a side trip over to Livingston for shopping, breakfast or lunch at Gilís Goods, a drink at the Murray Hotel bar, and dinner at 2nd Street Bistro.


Bringing the Words to Life

February 19, 2015

Tags: Short story, short film, screenplay

A writerís goal, his reason for being, is to get the words down onto the page. If heís lucky, the words and the story are good. If heís exceptionally fortunate, someone makes the effort to read the words. So, what is the writer to think when a cast of talented actors and a crew of skillful filmmakers agree to invest their time to bring the words and characters to life? He thinks heís the luckiest person in the world and witness to the magic of film.

Not too long ago, I spent a day on the set for the short film, Out of Touch. After writing the short story of the same name, an old friend and filmmaker suggested that the story would make a great film and he asked me to write the screenplay. Sure, why not, I told him, knowing it was a minimal additional investment on my end and not expecting much to come of the wishful suggestion. And then there I was, on the set and watching as these people who I had never met before, actors, spoke my words and brought the characters to life.

It was unbelievable.

I arrived on the set at 4:30 a.m. at a local bar up on the northwest side of Chicago. It was a Saturday morning and the bar had just closed an hour and a half earlier. The smells of the night still lingered in the air. At a time when the place should have been dark and dead, when the rest of the world was at home and dreaming, the place was buzzing and alive with crew and cast members preparing for the shoot. I was there, awake, but dreaming as well.

After I introduced myself to the cast and crew, I took my place in the back, out of the way and unnoticed, and I stood there for more than ten hours with my eyes wide and mouth open in awe as I watched the artists engage in their craft.

I feel I'm the luckiest person in the world and I want to thank everyone who was involved in bringing Out of Touch to the big screen. A special thanks to our director, Danny Ahlfeld, for making it happen. You are a fine and passionate filmmaker. I also want to thank Michael McDermott, Julia Kessler, Paul D'Addario, Ron Dean, Frederick Husar, Samantha Bailey, Tom Moore, Bill Boehler, George, Gene McElligott, Lauren Stasio, Zach Ruddell, and Gary Gordon. The filming was a great experience and I can't wait to see the final cut.

Iíll see you at the theatre!

It's Been Quite a Ride

October 26, 2014

Tags: Newsletter, Screenplay Award, Free Shipping, Poetry, No Turning Back, A Fine Line

Greetings!

A lot has happened in the last few months, and Iíd like to take a moment to share the highlights:

A Fine Line Wins Best Screenplay Award

My newest screenplay, A Fine Line, won the Best Screenplay Award at the 2014 Naperville Independent Film Festival (NIFF) Awards Gala on September 20th. It truly was an honor just to be nominated, but taking home the trophy was pretty darn cool. At the event, I had the opportunity to meet many film directors and producers and who knows, maybe weíll see the screenplay produced into a feature film sometime soon.

Want to see the award presentation? CLICK HERE .

A Fine Line is a story about a struggling writer with a secret government past who is hired by a wealthy philanthropist to investigate an old and unsolved murder case. The best part: itís all set in Chicago.

Audiobook of No Turning Back is Now Available Ė Narrated by Yours Truly

With my first novel, Recalled to Life, I hired a narrator and audiobook producer to create the digital audiobook for me. The narrator, Dan McGowan, did a wonderful job. This time around, for No Turning Back, I had to take a different approach. In No Turning Back, I accompany each story with my personal notes regarding the thoughts and ideas that inspired me to write the story, and I felt it would sound strange having someone else narrate those parts in the book. So, I decided to narrate and produce the entire audiobook myself.

I want to send out a big "Thank You!" to the entire Chicago Arts Press team who urged me to narrate the book myself and who helped to edit and produce the audio. It was a great team effort and I love the result. Consider listening to the audiobook edition, which is now available through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes. Check out the free sample at each of the sites.

No Turning Back Receives Honorable Mention

My short story collection, No Turning Back: Stories, received an honorable mention from the judges of the 2014 Chicago Writers Association Book of the Year Award. Itís a great honor to be a member of CWA and recognized along with the other award finalists.

If youíre not doing anything on Saturday, Jan. 24, 2015, consider attending the CWA Book Award Presentation event at The Book Cellar, 4736-38 Lincoln Ave., in Chicagoís Lincoln Square. I know Iíll be there to cheer on and support the winners.

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Word of Art

Earlier this year, I submitted one of my poems, A Song of Reason, to the annual Word of Art program, produced in cooperation with In Print Professional Writers Organization. Iím humbled that Rockford artist, Jim Simmons, selected my poem as a basis for his artwork. His art and my poem were included in the published 2014 Word of Art hardcover edition.

A Song of Reason

I wonder what comes first, the
thought or the reason, the
melody or the words, and realize
I donít think it matters,
as long as they come.

The composition of music, of life, is a
miracle best to be cherished,
rather than explained, or rationalized, or criticized.
But most of all, it must be nurtured.
The words and dots are the seeds to sow.
The instruments are the tools used to cultivate.
But it is the passion and the feelings and the love that
brings the words to the high heavens.

The artist feels the beat and
beats the feeling.
She makes note of the notes and
sings the song, right or wrong, and
gets it all out before there is no more.
Itís part inspiration, part perspiration,
part reflection, part projection, and
all introspection.

The path is clear, yet not without
a thousand doors, heavy doors, with
many locks and many keys.
The soul is untarnished and
the keys are there for the taking.

You canít get it out unless youíre willing to go in.

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The Writer's Handful

May 5, 2014

Tags: bad workshop advice, giraffes, the School of Prolific Writers, writing

Many thanks to acclaimed author, blogger, and educator, Patricia Ann McNair, for allowing me the opportunity to participate in her "Writer's Handful" discussion. Learn more at www.PatriciaAnnMcNair.com.

May 5, 2014

Questions:

Did you write today? If yes, what? If no, why not?

I did not write today, and it kills me to say so. I just released my new short story collection, and I am in the throes of a full-on, all-out publicity push. So, I set aside the day to promote my book, make some contacts, and set up some future publicity events. I certainly realize the importance of the publicity and promotion aspect of a writing career, but Iíd much rather be in my office, writing. Only when I am getting the words down onto the page do I really feel a sense of accomplishment. Itís a good thing that Iíll be back at it tomorrow. Iím in the process of revising my next novel, A Fine Line, which is a crime mystery thatís set in Chicago, and my year-end deadline is fast approaching.


What's the first thing (story, poem, song, etc.) you remember writing, and how old were you when you wrote it?

Itís hard for me to think back that far. However, I can remember the first ďrealĒ short story I wrote after I made the decision to purse writing as a career. I wrote the first draft of the story, No Turning Back, in August of 2006. In coming up with the idea for the story, I tried to think about what might be one of the most difficult acts a person might be forced to do in life, and then, what would it be like if the person had to do it twice?

I was 43 years old at the time and I remember how excited I was after completing the draft. I read the story and revised it at least a dozen times and I really liked it. I also remember the criticism I received after sharing the story in a writing workshop. Instead of providing guidance on how to improve the story, the instructor suggested that I change the story, and quite drastically. I remember she said, ďIf it were me, I would change the plot altogether and . . .Ē

Well, needless to say, I didnít feel very good after that discussion. I thought about the instructorís comments and I re-read the story many, many times. In the end, I decided that I liked the story just the way I wrote it. I can live with that decision. It may not be the best story I ever wrote, but itís important to me in that it really defines the beginning of my writing career. Iím happy to say that the story is included in my new short story collectionówhich also carries the title, No Turning Backóthat was just released on April 29, 2014.


What are you reading right now?

I tend to have a number of different books going at the same time, and Iím juggling a bit right now. Iím reading The Tenth of December, the new short story collection from George Saunders. Iím also reading Brown Dog, the new collection of novellas by Jim Harrison. Lastly, Iím reading the new novel, Lost in the Ivy, by my friend and fellow Chicago Writers Association member, Randy Richardson. Each of the books is so very different, and I like switching back-and-forth between them based upon how Iím feeling on a given day. Diversityóitís good for me.


What's the most important advice you ever received? (Writerly or otherwise.)

I am a student of The School of Prolific Writers. I find that I am able to learn the most from those writers who have come before me and who have produced the most successfully published stories. You can take your pick of your favorites and there are a lot of them, but they will all suggest the same advice: get the words down onto the page.

We can talk about writing, plan for it, and study for it, but in the end, the only way to become a successful writer is to actually sit down and write.


If your writing were an animal, what animal would it be? Because...

Iím going to stick my neck out (did I really say that?) and say that my writing is most like a giraffe. I donít think I necessarily do it intentionally, but sometimes when I am finished with a story, it seems that what Iíve written ends up being a bit outside of my comfort zone, that Iíve stretched out and reached beyond what I thought I might do as a writer. As a result, I might question myself on occasion. What will someone think of what Iíve written?

I write about ideas, topics, and things that interest me and that come to me based upon everything that Iíve crammed into my head over the years. I write what I feel I am supposed to write. In the end, itís important for me to just go with it, to finish the story and share it. Every writer has likely encountered the situation where he or she has questioned the validity of his or her writing. I know I have done it, and I think itís healthy. Itís good to evaluate yourself and your writing. However, you have to push your own boundaries. You canít let what anyone says, or what you think someone may say, stop you. You have to keep sticking your neck out.