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“I actually could not put the book down. It is well written and kept my interest. I want more from this author.”
Reader review of Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead on Amazon.com 

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Sunday, February 26, 2017

Being There

I am happy to report that I have only a few more chapters to go on the first draft of the Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead sequel. (Yes, it has a title and one that is much shorter than repeatedly calling it “the Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead sequel,” but no point committing to it publicly until I have to. After all, I might think of something better in the meantime. Also, no harm in maybe building a little suspense?)

When I say “a few more chapters,” I do not actually know for sure how many. My target page count is around 300, and I estimate that I am at about 278 but with still a lot of story to fit in at the end. My wife always says that my books feel to her like they are rushed at the end, and maybe this is why. Personally, as a reader, I like a bit of accelerating narrative pace coming down to the climax of a story, but that is just me. Anyway, either the final few chapters will be packed with story or else this book will be a bit longer than I had planned.

I hope to have the first draft wrapped up fairly soon, once I get back to it. As usual around this time of year, I have been interrupted by the midterm school break, which this time around will end with the annual all-nighter to obsessively watch the Academy Awards in real time.

As with the first book, this one has been, alternately, an exercise in jogging the old memory and spending a fair bit of time in research. Both books deal with eras that I remember well, but the story in each case brings my protagonist Dallas to places that I happen to know and also to places that I do not. For example, in Maximilian and Carlotta Are Dead the locations in California are all places I know well, including Tijuana across the border. His journey with his pal Lonnie as far as Guaymas also traces a journey I myself made, although to get there my friend Rich and I actually traveled there from Mexicali by train rather than by driving a ’65 Chevy. South of Guaymas, however, that part of the journey was entirely concocted from research and imagination. I like to hope that I got away with it since a number of readers have indicated that they assumed I was writing about a road trip I had actually taken myself.

In the new book Dallas travels to France. That was pretty easy to write about—and in fact quite a bit of fun—since I have been to France several times and lived there as a student in the early 1970s. I was never there, however, in the year 1980, which is when Dallas goes, but that has not been hard to deal with. Much of his time is spent, though, in the resort of Deauville, which is a place I have never been. So back to the research and imagination. From there he travels to the city of Bordeaux, which is precisely where I myself lived so that was, relatively speaking, a piece of cake. I spent many months walking the streets of that city and its suburbs, although a few years earlier than Dallas. And, I should note, that Dallas has a few experiences there that I most certainly never had. It is important to get that on the record at the outset.

So the question that comes to my mind is this one. Is it better if a fiction writer has actually been in the place (and at the time) he is writing about, as opposed to going the research/imagination route? Or does it matter?

Armed with the above information, readers who care about this can judge for themselves when they read the book. I can tell you one thing, though. After I have written about traveling to these places in Dallas’s first-person voice, I end up having the strange feeling that I have been in those places—the same way any reader feels that she or he has been to a place after reading a vivid description of it in a novel. This is not meant to be a sneaky way of praising my own writing. It is the combination of researching, going through the imaginative process and writing it all down in another person’s voice that makes me feel as though I was in these places—kind of in a dream world or alternative reality sort of way.

It is really interesting what the mind can make itself do in the process of telling a story.