Saturday, September 28, 2013

Mixing Business with Pleasure

University of Zurich Library

When I was a young man just beginning my working life, my father warned me, “Never mix business with pleasure.” What he was talking about in the culture of 1950s South Arkansas was not to begin romantic entanglements with women at work. Although I think that Dad’s words are still good advice, I realize that the majority of romantic pairings in America today begin in the workplace. However, in the sense of having fun and moving forward one’s career simultaneously, it is possible to mix business with pleasure.

I am blogging today from beautiful Zurich, Switzerland, where my wife and I are on a tourist trip. Switzerland is a wonderful place to be. The scenic beauty is spectacular; the cities are clean and attractive; public transportation is efficient and plentiful. But most wonderful of all are the Swiss people. They are extremely courteous and friendly. Many go out of their way to help obviously puzzled tourists find their way around.  And very important for many of us, they all speak excellent English; they are also very tolerant of Americans who speak only English. The Swiss make visiting their country a great pleasure.

For a historical novelist who writes mostly about World War II, Switzerland is also a treasure trove of information and descriptive background. Zurich was the headquarters of Allen Dulles and a major office of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. From here, spies were dispatched and ran all over Nazi-occupied Europe. It was at the University of Zurich’s technical university that an OSS agent sat in on a lecture by Werner Heisenberg, head of Germany’s nuclear program, in December of 1944. If the agent determined that production of a German atomic bomb was imminent, he had the authority to shoot Heisenberg on the spot. With all thier actions potentially useful in future novels, my tourist visit has also become a research expedition.

For years I have been cataloging details about countries and cities I visit for possible future use in my writing. Taking lots of photographs of sites I may later use in my writing allows first-hand knowledge of how to write descriptive prose about these places. My favorite saying from the WWII German Field Marshal Rommel is, “Nothing is as important as going and seeing for yourself.”

So it is possible and profitable to mix business and pleasure after all.

Note: Warren Bell's debut novel, Fall Eagle One, detailing a fictitious but plausible assassination attempt on FDR during World War II, (Semi-Finalist in the Kindle Indie Book Review Best Books of 2012) is available for Kindle or in paperback on His newest novel, Hold Back the Sun, has been released for Kindle in advance of the printed book launch on October 25, 2013. This new historical-fiction thriller, set in the Pacific, follows the US Asiatic Fleet in their battle with the Japanese in WWII.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Art of Sensual Writing


“In this class, we’re going to explore the art of sensual writing,” said the professor in introduction. The setting was a lecture room at the University of Maryland Creative Writing Institute.

Great! thought the six students., of which I was one.  He’s going to teach us how to write steamy sex scenes. It soon became evident that the professor had something altogether different in mind. First, he reminded us of the primary definition of “sensual:” Of the body or senses as distinguished from the intellect or spirit (Webster’s New World Dictionary). The senses--hearing, smelling, tasting, seeing and feeling. Then he described what he meant by “sensual writing.”

In our creative writing class, we learned to attempt to let our readers experience the situations we dreamed up rather than just reading about them. Our British friends have a wonderful expression for this, “Putting one in the picture.”  Consider the following two approaches to a situation (from my latest novel, Hold Back the Sun). Fleeing from the invading Japanese, the protagonist is entering a hotel in Central Java seeking shelter.

Unadorned writing:  Frank walked through the open door and went straight to the check-in desk.  A large number of refugees crowded the lobby.

Sensual writing: When Frank walked through the door, his eyes took in a brightly lit, teeming lobby. He had to elbow his way through a throng of desperate Dutchmen, Brits, Australians, and Americans to reach the check-in desk.  Although the high, coffered ceiling deadened some of the sound, their raucous chattering bombarded his ears. The rank odor of countless unwashed bodies brought the taste of bile to his throat.

I believe that the second example gives the reader a much better grasp of the setting.  (I must caution that the paragraph isn’t precisely what is actually in the book. I modified it to include all of the senses). Most of those who have written reviews of my work on tend to agree with my approach. Many praised the descriptive nature of my writing. The few who have been more critical of my work disagree. They feel that the detail makes the story drag. At present, the ratio is about 7:1 in favor of descriptive detail.

I intend to continue, “putting my readers in the picture” to the best of my abilities. I’ll let my readers decide whether I’m on the right track by their purchases.

Note: Warren Bell's debut novel, Fall Eagle One, detailing a fictitious but plausible assassination attempt on FDR during World War II, (Semi-Finalist in the Kindle Indie Book Review Best Books of 2012) is available for Kindle or in paperback on His newest novel, Hold Back the Sun, has been released for Kindle in advance of the printed book launch on October 25, 2013. This new historical-fiction thriller, set in the Pacific, follows the US Asiatic Fleet in their battle with the Japanese in WWII.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Writing vs. Marketing-the Indie Author’s Dilemma

When I published my debut novel, Fall Eagle One (FEO), I immediately faced the reality that Indie authors only sell books if they market the works themselves. This is a really big deal, especially if one has no background in either publishing or marketing.  Naively, I at first assumed that all I needed to do was advertise the book on all the World War II forums to which I belonged to get instant sales. This proved to be a fallacious idea, so I joined all the Kindle Community forums and posted FEO there. This achieved only modest success.

I became very frustrated. Like any serious author, I wanted to pursue my art, not immerse myself in the mundane details of commerce. I was face-to-face with every Indie author’s dilemma—how to balance time spent writing against time spent marketing. Then it finally got through my thick head that writing was sort of futile if I attracted no readers. With a lot of help from the younger members of my family, I gave myself a crash course in marketing e-books.

Those who read my last post on starting a new career in your mid-seventies might question whether an older person could possibly master the new paradigm.  I have news for you—some old dogs can learn new tricks. My daughter, Karen Williams, showed me how to use Facebook and Twitter, and I plowed in. After studying the activities of other authors on Twitter, I realized what a marvelous tool this site is. Getting others to re-tweet (RT) your advertising is as easy as re-tweeting their posts. I have followers who have send my tweets to as many as 50,000 of their own followers. 

My daughter also got me into writing this blog, and this proved to be another gold mine.  As many as half the hits on my Amazon catalog post now come directly from my blog.  Another effective marketing tool she built for me is my Author’s Webpage. Alone, I could never have put together such a sophisticated effort, with links to Pinterest pages with photo essays about the historical characters, events, and equipment portrayed in my novels.

I began to have success in selling my work. Sales of Fall Eagle One climbed into the upper one percent of Kindle sales and have hovered there for several months. The Kindle version of my second novel, Hold Back the Sun (HBTS), soon rocketed into the upper one percent also. FEO has an Amazon review rating of 4.6 stars (30 reviews) and HBTS has a rating of 4.5 stars (2 reviews). Social media marketing has really paid off for me.

So, how much time does all this marketing take. I spend about three hours per day on marketing. That leaves several hours a day for writing and editing. This is a balance I can live with. My next novel, Asphalt and Blood—U.S. Navy Seabees in the Battle for Hue City, is already in the works.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Why Start a New Career in Your Mid-Seventies?

Many people ask me why a person of such “advanced age” as I am would start a new career as an author. They want to know why I don’t “lean back and enjoy my ‘golden years.’” The short answer to those questions is, “To stay fully alive.”

I observed the men of my parents’ generation retire and slowly fade away once they lost the motivation and satisfaction of earning a living. Those who farmed seemed to fare best, and I think I know the reason. After turning over responsibility for their farms to their sons, those old men just kept on working. They might not be able to do the heavy work anymore, but they were always busy doing something to make the enterprise successful. I suspect that older women live longer because they have always done this.

The men who spent their lives laboring in the mills, refineries, and oilfields weren’t so focused after retirement. Many took the approach that it was time to “rest up” from their years of labor. The advent of television exacerbated their decline. Sitting and watching the magic screen for hours at a time led to muscle shrinkage and loss of strength. The less they did, the less they could do. However, those with active hobbies were less prone to fall into this trap.

I resolved when I retired from my City Engineer job that I would stay active. I have a number of hobbies, woodworking among them. Building furniture and built-ins kept me involved for a number of years. Then, after two months-long projects, I began to lose interest. I found myself plowing through five or six novels a week, spending far too much time in my recliner chair. My strength was definitely fading. I was succumbing to getting old.
My daughter-in-law, Susan, refocused me when she pointed out a long article on e-book publishing in the Washington Post. I’d been writing novels as another hobby for years and had a manuscript that had been polished by an agent but not sold to a publisher. My wife, Annette, said, ”Go for it.”

After reading up on the subject, I uploaded Fall Eagle One to Amazon Kindle and put it on the market.  A year of learning the electronic book marketing game quickly followed. My daughter, Karen Williams, introduced me to Facebook and Twitter and built for me a wonderful author’s website.  I began writing a blog on a regular basis. As word about my novel spread, it climbed into the upper one percent of Kindle sales.  My second novel, Hold Back the Sun, achieved similar status after just a few weeks on the market.

I look forward to getting up each morning and checking on the status of my books. I have twice daily advertising periods to take care of. My creative juices flow and carry along the progress of my next novel. My mind is definitely sharper than it was two years ago. I am also more physically capable.  Earlier today, I was laying new sod in my front yard. In other words, I am much more alive than I felt a few years ago. It’s nice, of course, to watch my modest stream of royalties continue to roll in. But the most important result of my writing is my improved quality of life.