Give Me Independence

And Maybe a best-selling novel

Don’t you just love Independent Bookstores?

I went looking for a book for Kim’s birthday the other day. (Bonus husband points for not waiting until the last minute). I found something very intriguing from an author I wasn’t familiar with, and the purchase took me down a bunny trail to the Parnassus Bookstore in Nashville, Tennessee. Love it. I’d rather buy from an independent bookstore than Amazon any day. But something about it tickled my wrinkled and aging memory.

Oh yeah. That’s the book store that super-duper, best-selling author and all-around classy lady Ann Patchett opened up about ten years ago. I had forgotten.

You see, back in about 2005 when I decided to produce a series of author interview shows for the local Access TV channel, (Think Wayne’s World meets Literature), we did an interview with Ann while she was visiting Austin. We being Sara Laas as interviewer and me as producer, director, photographer, editor, and best-boy (whatever the hell that is in the movie business). That was when her award-winning novel Bel Canto came out.

The Parnassus website is beautifully done. But, naturally, I was drawn to a number of videos they posted near the bottom of the home page there. And one in particular. In 2012, after her shop had been open about a year, Ann was on the Stephen Colbert show before Colbert moved over to CBS’ Late Show. The interview was funny with a little bit of insight into trying to thrive selling books in the shadow of Amazon.

Give it a LOOK RIGHT HERE and then support your local bookshop.

Back here in Austin we’ve been working with the local indie mega bookstore BookPeople to conduct and post interviews with authors they draw. We posted them on our site Austin Liti Limits. It was all going swimmingly until the Virus hit and BookPeeps has been reduced to doing the author events virtually. We also regrouped and have been Zooming interviews with my good buddy Scott Semegran doing the interviews and I’ve been handling the editing.

We’ve got some good ones, including Owen Egerton and Meg Gardiner. Check those out and the next book you order online, you can get it just as quick and easily from BookPeople or anybody but Amazon.

Until then, stay safe, healthy and virus free.


Before it was History… It was News

While waiting to get the new novel The Printer & The Strumpet edited and proofed, I started looking ahead and musing over the next book in what may become a series of novels, perhaps, The Misadventures of Leeds Merriweather, book 1, 2, 3, and so on. Leeds got great reviews and decent sales in The Patterer, and the new book picks up his life’s story after he’s forced to move to Boston before the American Revolution.

I poked around some familiar blogs and online sources looking for something cool and groovy from that period that might provide inspiration. Then I came across a familiar act of protest that is so much like what is playing out in America today. What if history is repeating itself?

It was July 9, 1776.
After they gathered in the town square to read the Declaration of Independence for Washington’s troops in New York, soldiers and civilians tore down a statue of King George III and carved it into itty-bitty pieces.
And you thought Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the other Confederates are getting their just desserts.

Bowling Green in lower Manhattan, NY

The rebels shipped chunks of the statue to a foundry in Connecticut where they were melted down to make over 42,000 musket balls, ammunition that was later used against the British army. A few pieces of the statue survived, including part of the king’s coat and the tail of the horse he rode in on. Those are now on display at the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia.

But what happened to the statue’s head?
It’s a mystery.

According to some reports, the mob lopped off the king’s head, intending to hoist it on a pike in some future protest. But after the statue had been dismembered and all the pieces piled into a cart, the rebels were waylaid by a tavern where the liquor was flowing in celebration of their deed. The plot thickens!

While the protestors were inside drinking and carousing, it seems that some Americans still loyal to the king took advantage of the moment. That bronze and lead Royal Rubble was left in the unattended cart outside. The Tories were able to run off with the king’s head and bury it in a secret location. Then, when they thought it was safe enough, they dug up the head and shipped it back to England.

No one has seen it since.

What will become of the Confederate statues and monuments that are justifiably coming down today, either at the hands of mobs or enlightened politicians? And will Americans a hundred years from now even know they existed?
Just wondering.

AND NOW! Another bad sentence from the world-famous Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. A contest for the WORST opening sentence to an imaginary novel, (which we won in a previous century). From Robert R. Moore, North Falmouth, MA:

Emile Zola wandered the dank and soggy streets of a gloomy Parisian night, the injustice of the Dreyfus affair weighing on him like a thousand baguettes, dreaming of some massage or therapy to relieve the tension and pain in his aching shoulders and back, and then suddenly he thought of his Italian friends and their newly invented warm water bath with air jets and he rapturously exclaimed that oft misquoted declaration — “Jacuzzi!”  

A Snarkist’s trip through Gooberville

I swear on my momma’s grave, I will NOT go all political on your heinie, but the Cosmic Librarian whacked me upside the head with His/Her/Its sack of irony and I couldn’t resist telling you about this. Although I’ve had to sit on this newsletter for a few weeks, waiting out Tuesday’s special election in Alabama. It really happened, although the adverbs have been changed to protect the insolent.

I walked into Barnes and Noble looking for some literary snark to post here. I went to the humor section, naturally, and got down on my knees. Not to pray to the comic gods, but so that I couldn’t cheat, drawn in by the author’s name or book cover. I closed my eyes and picked a book off the bottom shelf at random. What I came away with was, The Liberal Redneck’s Manifesto: Draggin’ Dixie Outta The Dark by Trae Crowder, Corey Forrester and Drew Morgan.

Trust me, this all happened before the recent Kluster Kurfuffle over the Alabama senate candidate and his predilection for assaulting young girls, but it certainly provides insight into the mindset of the Alabamans who still support him, viciously, even though the “New South” won out and elected a Democrat by a very narrow margin.

The book was published after Crowder became a YouTube sensation as “The Liberal Redneck,” with his angry rants against the small-minded, hypocritical, alt-right attitudes of the Southerners. That’s where he grew up and he still lives in their midst. I think, even if you are not so liberal, it’s funny stuff.

“If sweet tea is the table wine of the South, Mountain Dew is the house vodka.”

It helped me understand the mindset of Alabama’s governor, and those like her, who said she believed the Republican Roy Moore did molest little girls long ago, but she was voting for him because that was better than voting for any Democrat. The book gave me appreciation for all the Southerners who have to fight back against the perception that they ALL live in Gooberville.

That’s why the book doesn’t cut any slack for the elitist liberals who are politically bigoted and lump all Southerners into the same hand basket of deplorables with ignorant hicks. He’s out to prove them wrong, too. And the book winds up being an intelligent plea for sanity across the board. And how-dee, we really need that these days.


Merry Christmas.
In the spirit of the season I am giving away free copies of my novel, Live At Five, a best-selling comedy of TV news. It’s available at Amazon, no charge, for a limited time. Grab your copy now and hold on to your sides. Cue the laughter.

Bad Sentence Alert!

Our latest bad sentence from the Bulwer-Lytton contest comes from Stan Hunter Kranc in State College, Pennsylvania:

As he girded himself against the noxious, sulfurous fumes that belched from the chasm in preparation for descent into the bowels of the mountain where mighty pressure and unimaginable heat made rock run in syrupy rivers, Bob paused to consider the unlikely series of events that had led him to become the Great God Vulcan’s proctologist.

The Right Kind of Fiction Author Video

Why don’t more authors do video right? I was researching the kinds of things that authors do to get noticed, picking random books off my shelf and picked up one of Lawrence Block’s novels. So I followed him to facebook and found this video on his fan page. As a guy who does video production by day, I couldn’t help but pump my fist for Lawrence.


Every author should have something like this.

What is so cool about this video? First, it’s just plain fun in a noir mystery sort of way. It has a production value that is above and beyond the $$ means of most writers. But throw that out the window. At this moment I just want to tell you that it does the one thing that very few authors even attempt, yet it should be a staple of their facebook/twitter/web page presence. Can you guess?

Lawrence has produced a bazillion books in different genres. He’s best known for crime fiction, though, so this video fits his author image. But that’s only part of what makes it work. You don’t have to have a big budget to do what takes this video to the next level. Authors immediately think video = book trailer. But you see, this is not a book trailer, it’s a profile piece. Time and again the eggheads who study such things, tell us that, as with movie stars, politicians, musicians and anyone else in the public eye, once a reader bonds with a creative culprit like an author, they want to know what makes that person tick. This video answers that for his followers. That’s the key.

Who are you? We want to know
Very few authors post profile pieces. Hell, even I don’t have one, exactly. Though in my video trailers for Live At Five and The Patterer I talked about how and why I chose to write those novels. And that gives you a glimpse into my snarky outlook on life.

If a novel is really good or if a fiction series becomes popular they will sell. Sometimes a lot. But writers should make at least a minimal effort to reach out and connect with their readers face to face (virtually), be that one reader, a dozen or a million. Let your voice be heard (and your face be shown). I swear, it will be more interesting than your typical book trailer.

I’d love to see more of my friends on facebook / Linked In / Twitter use short videos so I can see and hear them, and connect better whether they are a writer or not. If you’d like a couple of tips, simple ways to do that without making your video look like nothing more than a moving selfie, shoot me an email. Advice is free.

Drum roll, please. And now, another really great bad sentence. This is the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest winner for 2017. It comes from Kat Russo in Loveland, Colorado:

The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening.

A Genie, A Wish & A Retreat to Better Fiction

My Novel-In-Progress (NIP) is full of baby-boomer nostalgia. Do you remember the TV show I dream of Jeanie? You are showing your age. But if I could conjure up a genie, and a wish to be granted by a hottie like Barbara Eden, I’d have one for writers. It would be to give them the time and resources to attend an extended retreat and escape their daily lives for a week or a long weekend and focus on their craft.

That nasty day job that pays the bills pulled me away early from the Writers’ Retreat Workshop in San Antonio this year. So I asked the very talented, soon-to-be published author, Camille Di Maio to fill me in on what I missed.



Writers Retreat Workshop 2015
By Camille Di Maio

The Setting

We were psychologists, realtors, nuclear scientists, grocery store cashiers, and ex-cons. We hailed from Texas, Utah, Florida, Canada and Korea. We wrote romance, horror, suspense, literary tales, and in a category all its own – stories of psychic pet birds. We understood the battles – the rejections, the procrastinations, the writer’s block. We understood, too, the prize – publishing a novel.

For eight days and nights, we lived in a lush retreat setting, and thrived in a boot camp of words. Writing is often thought of as a solitary event. But, like any endeavor, a community of those who understand is an essential component to success and to keeping your sanity. WRW proved just that.

The latest Writer’s Retreat Workshop was held at the Oblate Renewal Center in San Antonio, Texas, amongst record-breaking rains and saintly surroundings. This was my first time, and it won’t be my last. WRW was packed with a schedule that was aptly described as “stunning”. Early birds were treated to pre-breakfast discussions about writing. Morning classes consisted of excellent instruction in characters, scene, and themes. Afternoons were free time to work on our novels, but were interspersed with excellent opportunities to meet one-on-one with people who had the compassion and experience to help us become better. Our post-dinner haze was welcomed with wine and cheese and shop talk about dark fiction, writing sexy scenes, and analyzing “Thelma and Louise” as a model for scene details. And, night owls competed far past bed time for word counts that encouraged our fingers to fly without the obstacle of over-thinking.

The star of the show was New York super-agent, Donald Maass. His instruction was nothing short of genius, and under his guidance, my mousy little protagonist might just start a riot in her pivotal scene. I didn’t know she was even capable of it. He gutted our writing down to its deepest emotional level, and like a magician, showed us how to produce feelings in our readers like a rabbit out of a hat.

Carol guided us in writing prompts that were so useful, that I don’t think I can ever write about a character again without taking them through these steps. I remember when…I broke when…

Jason honed in on story problems during our one-on-ones, and brainstormed with us. Each writer walked away with a stronger plan under his guidance.

Richard instructed us on a variety of things, but my take-away was information about the publishing industry, and what intrigues editors.

Matt brought a history with short-stories, and helped us understand how they can be important even when we are writing novel-length work.

And Les. Well, I never thought I’d read a book called “The Bitch”, but it now sits on the top of the pile of books on my nightstand. Les Edgerton is a legendary writer, with a rap sheet, nationwide hairstyling accolades, and eighteen published books published. He didn’t sugar-coat his opinions about writing and publishing, but he definitely engendered a friend-for-life enthusiasm among this band of artists.

A week has passed, and I am back in my real life. My four children need me for this and that and my husband encourages me to take time off from our active business to write. He jokes that when my career takes off, he can be a kept man. The friends I made at WRW are special to me in a way that no one else could understand, and I am grateful for the social media that makes it easy to keep in touch.   I will rejoice in their successes, as they will celebrate mine, and together, we will produce fiction that will make you cry, make you scream, make you feel. We will come together again in a year, along with those who will join us for the first time, and create new memories that will feed our souls and strengthen our craft. Until then, happy writing. We’re rooting for you!

Camille Di Maio is a Realtor in San Antonio, and a homeschooling mom of four. Her life-long dream of publishing a novel came true when her agent called and said that she had gotten a book deal with Lake Union Publishing, an imprint of Amazon. The contract arrived while she was at WRW, and she signed it among her new friends. Her novel imagines the lives of Eleanor Rigby and Fr. McKenzie from the classic Beatles song, and will be released on May 31, 2016. Follow her on Twitter @camilledimaio, or on Facebook at

And now, another really great bad sentence from the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, circa 2016. It comes from Stephen Lewis Davis, Sacramento, California:

“Penguin, damnable penguin,” Cooperman muttered bitterly, staring hard into the maelstrom of cheap gin and bargain basement vermouth swirling hopelessly in the low ball glass he held in his pale, doughy hand, the shards of rapidly melting ice crystals cruelly reminding him of those endless winter nights in the Antarctic weather station, and of Kwakina, with her lithe, lubricious figure, and tuxedo-feather form.

A Writing Retreat with Donald Maass

Literary agent and novel guru Donald Maas spent time with writers in San Antonio last week (May 2015) counseling, critiquing and instructing for the Writers’ Retreat Workshop. It’s a fun, but intense week, for Fictionistas. Since video is what I do when I’m not involved in literary malfeasance, I decided to put together this clip about the retreat with the one, overriding take-away from Donald’s workshop.



It’s all about making your readers feel.

Click Here.

The thought about how the art of fiction is all about what you make your readers feel struck a chord with me. And Donald wrote about it as the key to creating The Great American Novel that truly is great, in his book Writing 21st Century Fiction.


As for writing Bad Fiction, at least that one bad opening sentence for the Bulwer-Lytton Contest:

With her interest in dime-store novels finally fading and Christmas just days away, little LIzzy Borden sat quietly in the corner and crossed “tomahawk” off her Christmas list, writing instead the word AXE, carefully in her best penmanship, which made her mother and father so proud.

An Awesome Retreat for Fiction Writers

If you don’t count my attempt to write a total ripoff of the Hardy Boys at age twelve, I started getting serious about writing fiction shortly after moving to Austin twenty-five years ago. That’s when I discovered writing instructor Gary Provost in the pages of Writers Digest. WD We lost Gary back in 1995, but the writers’ retreat workshop he co-founded is still going strong and going on this week in Texas.

I am a graduate of the workshop from a couple of years back, shortly before publishing my first novel Live At Five. I wish every budding author could experience something like that, a week of writing and socializing with other writers. It’s fiction summer camp for adults. So on this 20th anniversary of Gary’s passing, I created this short video tribute to Gary with Writers’ Retreat Workshop co-founder Gail Provost Stockwell and current director Jason Sitzes.

It also provides one of Gary’s favorite tips for new fiction writers:

I will grab more video from the 2015 version of the Writers’ Retreat Workshop in San Antonio and share some newfound knowledge from one of the instructors next week.

In the meantime really great bad sentence to start your novel:

Hard-boiled private dick Harrison Bogart couldn’t tell if it was the third big glass of cheap whiskey he’d just finished, or the way the rain-moistened blouse clung so tightly to the perfect figure of the dame who just appeared panting in his office doorway, but he was certain of one thing…he had the hottest mother-in-law in the world.

Sneakers, Panhandlers & Why I Play the Lottery

People who are not afflicted with the DNA of serial dreamers are smart enough to avoid playing the lottery. The odds are astronomical. Not quite as bad as the odds of getting an agent and certainly better than getting a New York publisher to bite on your novel these days. But I play the lottery and I can blame Freddy.

More than fifteen years ago my wife and I took a trip to New Orleans. Somewhere near Cafe Du Monde we were approached by a skinny little panhandler in a dirty and torn t-shirt who said, “Five bucks sez I can tell ya where ya got your shoes.” I looked down at my generic Converse sneakers and wondered what was the catch. So I negotiated with the guy, who said his name was Freddy, and told him that I wouldn’t commit to the bet, but I’d grease his palm if I liked the answer.
He said, “Ya got them on your feet.”
Lame as that was, I gave him the three singles in my pocket. (It wasn’t worth the $20 bill I had left.)

Five or six years later I was visiting the folks in California. My buddy Dave and I went up to The City for lunch on Fisherman’s Wharf. We strolled along the Embarcadero and stopped at a plaza on the edge of the San Francisco Bay to gawk along with all the other tourists at the jugglers, the mimes, the human statues and musicians. We were standing there, trying to get a smile or even a blink out of the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz when I felt a tap on my shoulder. “Ten bucks sez I can tell ya where ya got your shoes.” Apparently inflation had hit Freddy the panhandler too. It was the same skinny little dude in the same t-shirt.

I cut a deal. Ten bucks, but he’d have to give five to the Tin Man if I could tell him where he got his shoes, and I would get to go first. I studied his battered Nikes and said, “Ya got them on your feet, dude.” I won’t repeat what Freddy said but hey, I got a smile out of the Tin Man at last.

I am not making that up. So what are the odds of getting hit up by the same panhandler with the same schtick more than five years and 2,275.8 miles apart? What are the odds of being in exactly the right place at exactly the right moment in time to have that experience just once, let alone twice in a lifetime? Imagine the thousands of possible deviations, delays and decisions that could have come between me and Freddy 2.0. Really, now?

I don’t have a clue what the odds might be, but Freddy made a believer out of me. And so I buy lottery tickets and hope that one day, as I am handing my dollar to the convenience store clerk, little Freddy the panhandler will be sitting on my shoulder and whispering in my ear. Let’s get lucky; baby needs a new pair of shoes.

As the foeman’s axe descended, Ragnar Thyorvaldsson thought — quickly, but with uncannily prescient anachronism — that his paltry contribution to this raid would not be recorded in the great sagas, or even a minor tale, but at best he might be remembered centuries hence only as “third oarsman” in the Boys’ Own Book of Viking Adventure Stories.

Paul Dawson, Vancouver, BC, Canada

Putrid Prose @ 20

Twenty years ago this month I penned the following sentence for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. The goal is to intentionally write the worst opening sentence to imaginary novel. And, twenty years ago, I won the contest with this:

As the fading light of a dying day filtered through the window blinds, Roger stood over his victim with a smoking .45, surprised at the serenity that filled him after pumping six slugs into that bloodless tyrant that had mocked him day after day, and then he shuffled from the office with one last look back at that shattered computer terminal lying there like a silicon armadillo left to rot on the information highway.

D&Stormy3The contest was inspired by the work of Victorian author Sir George Bulwer-Lytton who wrote the line that Snoopy made famous: “It was a dark and stormy night….”

Along with winning the contest in 1994, my sentence was published in one of the anthologies covering the contest’s thirty-something years. So if you don’t count the thousands of TV news reports I did over the years, that was my only publishing credit until my novel Live At Five made it to the bookstore shelves last year.

And now, on the anniversary of that infamous assault on literature, the local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, did a very funny column on it by humor writer John Kelso. And the paper sent a video producer/cameraman out to create a video news story about my quest to reach the bestseller list and be the first writer to officially go from worst to first. It’s only been a handful of times, but it’s always a weird feeling to be the interviewee rather than the interviewer. And I can’t help thinking “I would have phrased that question like….” or some other such distraction to staying focused on the answer I’m giving. Now I’m waiting to see what the producer does with the twenty minute interview to cut it down to two minutes or less.

Been there. Done that.

As for the 2014 Bulwer-Lytton contest, we’re waiting to hear about this year’s winners. As we used to say in the TV business, “Stay Tuned”.