Wednesday Thinking ....

I sometimes feel sorry for myself when some aspect of life feels difficult or challenging, and then I try to remember how lucky I am. 

I'm loved and healthy and do important work with great people (students and teachers and staff). I live in a house that keeps the cold out (mostly), and haven't been significantly hungry or thirsty or sick in my entire life. My friends and family tolerate or understand or support my particular flavor of crazy. 

 I read an article early this morning about Stephen Hawking, and, as always, am stunned by this man's life and achievements. He was diagnosed with ALS at age 21, given two years to live, and just recently celebrated his 73rd birthday surrounded by family and friends and after a life of unparalleled genius and contributions to the world.

This is my favorite picture of Dr. Hawking. In 2007, he went up in a modified 727 that went through a series of parabolic arcs designed to provide brief periods of weightlessness. Professor Hawking has always dreamed of going into space, and this opportunity got him closer than most people ever get (my fingers are crossed for a future space flight for him). 

 Dr. Hawking's level of awesomeness has nothing at all to do with my occasionally needing a "waaa-mbulance", except to serve as a reminder to me to snap out of it and move forward, in search of my own awesomeness.




"Watcher in the Woods", My First Work of Serial Fiction

I've been thinking, and talking, about it for a while, but now it's finally been released into the wild. My serial fiction project, "Watcher in the Woods", is available for free download and reading. I'm hosting the serial on a website designed for serials called JukePop.

Ari Sigrunson has been hiding from the world in the woods of the Adirondacks for more than a year, following a traumatic event in his life. His self-imposed exile ends when a rifle-shot brings him awake and thrusts him into rendering first-aid after what appears at first to be following a hunting accident, takes him into the lives of the people of the small Northern New York community. Ari is forced by circumstances to shift from watching the events around his woods to action in ways he finds increasingly troubling.

It's been well-received so far, with positive voting and reviews and a good number of reads and downloads (you can read it on their site, or on your iPad or phone or other device). The installments are designed with cliff-hangers and all of the other elements generally associated with serial (check out my earlier blog on the subject of serials). The first few installments are a bit over 3,000 words, and subsequent ones will be closer to 2,000; readers of the first installment are averaging 14.2 minutes to read it, so it's not a major investment in time.

I'll be posting the next installment on Thursday,February 19, and then adding a new one every Thursday until the project is completed.

It's free to read and download, although I would appreciate a +vote and a review once you've finished reading it. Please feel free to get in touch with me with ideas about how you'd like the story to progress, as I would love to have this develop into a collaborative process/project.




A Wash of Winter

The light turns orange in the afternoon,
morning's white light softens as the cold settles in.

The empty sky is so full, so big,
that it paints the snowy ground blue.

A birch log crackles and sputters on the fire,
the acrid smoke tickling noses and eyes with wintry kisses and promises.

Walking with my dogs in the falling/failing light of another cold afternoon,
a wash of winter colors my mind and mood and soul, 
cleaning away the muchness of summer, the rot of autumn;
clearing my palate, or palette, for the spring it promises.


Next Up ... Serial Fiction!

Between the Carries has been out for ten days, and is doing well so far ... and I'm bored. 

I can't watch the screen for sales, I can't write the next book yet (that takes time like I only have in the summer), what marketing I do takes about 43 seconds per day ... most of all I can't not write.

I've been talking and thinking about a piece of serial fiction for more than a year now, I had fun with writing a twitter novel (a work of serial fiction with daily chapter-drops of 140 characters or less) and I'm ready to jump in for real now.  

I've got the first chapter of "Watcher in the Woods" in the can, and I like it ... a lot. I'm going to write another chapter or two this weekend, and then start the release sometime before the end of January. 

  • I like the idea of having a solid starting point for the story; beyond that though, some of the point of real/actual serial work is that the author writes and posts the work in progress. 
  • It should be released on a tight and dependable schedule.
  • It should be written without a rigidly defined middle or end.
  • It should be, to some degree, a collaboration between author and readers (based on their feedback).
  • It should be functionally fractal, and the stories should work independently as individual installments, grouped/related installments, and the serial as a whole.
  • Each installment should be short and tight and roughly based on the SPIT concept (Standard Poop Interval Timing, for those not familiar with the industry term).
  • Installments should end with a 'hook' or 'cliffhanger', to pull the reader back in for the next chapter.
Ideally, I would like to have three installments ready to go by the time I release/start the serial. This will give me a firm launching pad, which should help the story get off the ground and on a pleasing trajectory. I would like to release a chapter each week (I'm thinking about Friday release schedule, so people can read over the weekends). I already have a pile of ideas about story and characters and conflicts/challenges, but am trying to keep an open mind about where the story will be going along the way, and definitely about where it will end up. Besides the 'monsters of the week' for the installments, I have some fun thoughts about some clusters of stories and multi-episode themes, as well as a few over-arching elements for the serial work as a whole. The first few installments will likely be longer than subsequent ones, as I'll be setting the stage for Ari and his world and the challenges he faces; the first one is around 3k words, but I see later installments coming in closer to 2k words. I'm practicing working cliffhangers into my writing.

One of the tricky things will be getting/using reader feedback as part of an ongoing formative evaluation to help improve and shape future installments of the serial. JukePop, the website I think I'll be using has some mechanisms already built in to connect writer and readers. In addition, I'll be asking readers to get in touch with me through email and FB.

The whole process is fun and intimidating and exciting and scary and feels awesome ... exactly what I want my next writing assignment to be.

Thanks for reading,



Yeah, you just published your third novel in three years ... So what's next?

I'm very excited about the publication of "Between the Carries", the latest Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mystery. It's fun and nasty and Adirondack-y and takes a closer look at who/what Tyler is, and how he fits in the/his world.

Yeah, but ....

That being said, there's a feeling of emptiness, maybe restlessness, that's already started digging at me ... an urge to move on to the next thing (at least partly because I hate the marketing end of things). This brings me to the point(s) of this morning's blog entry:

What have you done for me lately? 
When's the next thing coming down the pike from Jamie Sheffield, Adirondack Author?

I've got three projects in the jumbled hopper that is my brain (and thanks to the technology I avail myself of at every opportunity, I have emails and voice memos and notes about the ideas for each of them, to hopefully help me keep them straight, and not lose too much before letting it out through my laptop).

My Serial Fiction Project
I've been noodling around with a piece of serial fiction set up here in the Adirondacks for a while, and have the first segment written and beta-read, and 15-20 more segments in various states of readiness, from plans to notes to partially written.

It's written and takes place in Tyler Cunningham's version of Saranac Lake, but the protagonist is a radically different person than Tyler (although they may meet during the course of the series). I'll be serving it up on JukePop, at least initially, and then possibly making the final product available in print and kindle.

The Oasis Story
I got an idea for a story, and posted about it last month ("They Call it Oasis", 12/19/14). I picture the story as something of a genre-mashup (Steampunk/Fantasy/Dystopia), and am currently unsure of the length ... it feels like something that would develop into 30k-60k words.

The Fourth Tyler Cunningham Novel
When I finished the rough draft of "Between the Carries", I had a few days of worry that I was done with Tyler Cunningham (or that he was done with me), but then one morning I woke up with the next story taking up prime real estate in my head.

Based on early reports from the inside of my melon, it would appear that this novel will pit Tyler and a mix of his usual crew against a serial-killer who may have been operating in the Tri-Lakes for decades (something that would/will seem impossible until you, and they, are walked through it during the course of the story).

I've already taken some notes about the story and some new characters and have some fun ideas about a couple of new things to try in the structure of the book.

Marketing and such ...
I suppose that I will have to bear down and do some marketing in the days and weeks to come, but it's not the fun part of what I do.

What I love most is the feeling of grabbing the edge of a new idea, and following it to it's literary conclusion, and you all allow and encourage me to do exactly that ... so thanks!



Another Successful Orbit!

It's a cold and blowy and snowy morning in the Adirondacks ... like many mornings between November and April, but this one is slightly different (at least for me).

Today is my birthday. The Earth and I have have both completed another successful orbit around the star that makes our life possible.

I am in orbit (and am orbited by) lots of people and places and things ... with longer or shorter orbital periods, depending.

Some, my wife and son and dogs and students and coworkers and bed and coffee and post-office and reading chair and cooking, are so tight/short that they are a blur and it can be hard to distinguish which is orbiting or being orbited.

Others, family and friends I wish that I saw more often or paddling my boat or sleeping in a hammock or visiting beloved places (like Key West and Iceland), have long and irregular orbital periods.

One orbiting phenomena that seems to be in sync with my birthday for the last few years is publishing my latest novel ... the third Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mystery should publish today (assuming the machinations Createspace and Amazon and KDP all work according to my plan, which they may).

I love writing, being a writer, and getting a chance each year to see what the next year is going to bring ... my plan is to live forever, and so far it's working quite nicely. I love the people and places in my life, and am both eager and anxious to see what the next year has in store for me (and yes, I do know what happens in the next Tyler mystery already, although I don't get to write that until July or August, so we'll all have to wait awhile to see it).

Thanks for being a part of my life, my writing, and being within my orbit!



Oasis, they call it ...

I got ahold of the edge of an idea the other day, and it's been knocking around in my head for a few days, and when I woke up this morning, I knew that I had to write a story about this person I've gotten to know (made up) who got dropped (literally) into an impossible situation.

Oasis, they call it

Prison without cells, without guards, without walls, without horizon or edge or end.

Water and food and shade, all free for the taking, enough for all, enough forever;
that's the trap, the anchor, the walls, the cell.

An endless sea of sun and sky and scalding sand,
stretching to horizon after horizon after horizon after horizon.

I'm here, with them, the others, the forgotten, his discards;
they wait, for nothing more or less than life, or time itself, to end.

I was dropped into Oasis a month ago.

You can't escape, because you're free to go.

I left twice, with all the food & water I could carry;
both times I defeated myself, caught myself, returned on my own ... on my knees.

It takes a horrible mind, a horrible man, a horrible power,
to make a man his own jailer.

My reality is this desert, this deserted life,
but I dream of the woods and waters and beasts of my home.

Dreams are strength and power, especially in this place;
I still dream of home, I still have power.

I will escape Oasis.


On writing and editing and sharing one's work

I think about this, and how true it is ... a lot.

Writing is hard and often thankless and stressful and frustrating work (I was going to specify and say for indies, but I think it's true for all writers, so ignored that impulse). 

Creating something from nothing, much less something worth reading, something worth writing and reading, is slogging uphill all day, every day. But sometimes we produce a story (or a part of a story) that says something interesting or beautiful in a way that hasn't been done before, and that makes the piles of waste-words littering the floor and you brain worth it.

I love writing. I love the way it feels, even on the bad days, to reach around inside my head and feel for ways to put words together to express a feeling or paint an emotional picture.

I like this quote, but think that Nabakov's metaphor extends beyond the main character to entire stories. We write stories and then put them up a tree and throw rocks at them with the help of our beta-readers and editors, trying to find the weak points and fix/strengthen them.

It's a scary business writing stories, sharing thoughts and dreams and imaginings with the world outside your head.

It's a scary business editing stories, letting other people kill and maim your darlings, and then trying to put them back together (hoping that your ideas still come through, even when the words conveying them have been altered by someone else).

It's a scary business sharing stories, giving strangers an invitation to the way you mind works, and asking them to love or hate or ignore the words and ideas.

All of this is scary, but writers keep writing because stories are powerful magic. A string of letters, then words, then paragraphs, then pages, can change the world, or make an entirely new one.

Once the storytelling bug has bitten you, it's in your blood for the rest of your life, and while for some people it may lay dormant, for most it grows and grows in strength and volume and production with each story told.

I love to share stories ... I'm almost done work on the my next novel, have just submitted a story for an anthology that will be out in the next week, am working on a twitter novel (fun and silly), and am pushing on the next installments of a piece of serial fiction I've been having dreams about for a while.

Lots of stories, and as fast as they come, I have desperate hordes behind pushing for primacy, rattling the bars of my brain for egress and attention and their moment on the stage.




Talking about Writing

Yesterday I was lucky enough to be invited to present to a series of three English classes in the Middle/High School that I work in (day job) ... it was fantastic fun for me, and the children (60 eleven and twelve year olds) were interested and listened and asked great questions.

The best thing about the sessions, better than assuming my writer's mantle for a few hours was that I felt a spark ignite in more than a few of those kids ... some of them will give themselves permission to write.

I talked about the mechanics and process of writing/editing my novels and novellas, my favorite authors (when I was twelve and now), where ideas and characters and stories come from, how to push through difficult writing, and the general awesomeness of sharing stores with a worldwide audience.

One of the things that I was careful to stress (am always careful to stress when talking about writing) is that my methods work for me, but may not work for them. The only effective way to write that I know is mine, so that's what I talk about, but the truth is that I don't fully understand how I do what I do, and/or why it works for me.

The future writers in the audience looked at me and my books differently than did the other kids. They listened to me more intently, asked more nuanced questions (and often follow-ups).

I think the fact that they knew me as a teacher first, and only then met me as a writer was a benefit to me, and them, in my talks yesterday; it reinforced the idea that writer's aren't different than the rest of us ... they are us (I almost typed 'they walk among us', but thought it would be creepy and grandiose).

One kid raised his hand at the end and said, in a completely earnest voice, "You bein' a teacher and a writer ... it's like you have a secret identity."

I might have puffed up a bit when he said this, but was able to recover after a few moments lost contemplating costume options and plans for my lair ... I said, "I didn't become a writer after being bitten by a radioactive spider, I just made the decision to start writing, and did it."

I explained that everyone starts out writing stuff that's not as good as they wish it was, but that with practice it gets better, I got better, they'll get better. That the important thing is to start writing, and not stop ... to try new things, read as much as you can, take chances (in both reading and writing choices), and eventually find your path in writing.

I hope that my time in the classroom as a visiting author, inspires the kids, some kids, one kid ... I know it inspired and reinvigorated me.




Update on Current and Future Projects

At this time of year, about six months after writing the first draft of my summer novel, I start to get antsy ....

I'm ready for the new novel (this one is titled, "Between the Carries") to be done, out, published, but I know that the editing process is at least as important as writing the thing in the first place ... so I wait, and work, and write, and wait.

I've been working with my beta-reader and editors on the book since a few days after I finished the rough draft in July, adding and chopping and polishing what will be the third book in the Tyler Cunningham Adirondack Mystery series ... but it's not enough.

I need more writing stimuli in order to keep things rolling.

In the months since I finished the rough draft of BTC, I have worked on a variety of writing projects, and have been enjoying all of them immensely ... I love the feeling of having written something that nobody's ever seen/read before.

Each of these projects offers me another way to experience writing, to tell a story, and I can feel the pull of the words as I explore these different ways of writing.

I've been working on a piece of serial fiction, "Watcher in the Woods", that will likely be available in January.

I am still working on a short story for an anthology, it explores the concept of metafiction, along with a character/story the likes of which I've never tried to write (including, gulp, a sex scene), titled "Now is the Winter". The anthology should be available early in the new year.

I've been blogging more frequently than ever ... at least once, sometimes more, each week. I set a goal for myself, and find that forcing myself to blog, the pressure of a looming (if manufactured) deadline is good for my writing muscles.

I just began a #twitternovel, which is written in 140 (or less) character "chapters" ... it's fun, and supplies yet another challenge in writing in a new and different way.

All of these experiments in writing force me (inevitably/unstoppably) to grow, to change, to improve. The action of writing in all of these differing forms is stimulating/enervating/inspiring, and I constantly find new ideas for stories and characters coming to me (thank goodness for my iPhone's memo app).

I find that the toughest thing for me now, in my life as a writer, is finding the time to write all of the stories I have struggling for primacy in my brain ... they're all treading water, waiting for me to scoop them up and give them life on paper.

I have to be patient and fair, and give each one its turn/space/time on the stage of my brain and laptop.