Saturday, April 20, 2013

Sweet Caroline

A long time ago, the Boston Red Sox adopted Neil Diamond's classic, Sweet Caroline, as their anthem.

After canceling yesterday's ball game, the Red Sox played today to a sell out crowd.  The pregame ceremonies included a number of tributes to both survivors and victims of Monday's bombings near the finish line of the Boston Marathon.

One tribute the ball club had not counted on turned out to be one of the most memorable.  Neil Diamond, on his own volition, flew from his home in Los Angles, called team officials as soon as he arrived in Boston, and asked if he could sing Sweet Caroline, which is always played mid-eighth inning.  Of course, they agreed.

I won't try to describe what happened, but I will share one of the many videos uploaded by fans afterwards:

If there is any comfort in tragedy it is that we love and support each other.
We love you Boston!

Blogging for Merri McEdlerry

Blogging is more akin to professional speaking than it is to writing a novel.  When a speaker steps onto a stage he or she has an audience to speak to, to interact with, to guide his presentation.

A novelist, on the other hand, works alone for months, sometimes years, with no idea whether the book is on track or hopelessly lost.

A blogger pens a post in less than hour (most cases), hits publish, and in a matter of hours knows from the page views and comments if the message hit the intended target.

This blog is about the last two words of the previous sentence - intended target.

I've spoken to hundreds, probably thousands of groups.  They ranged in size from under twenty to over two thousand.  I learned early in my speaking career that I couldn't speak directly to everyone in my audience, so in the first five minutes of every presentation, I found a few people scattered around the room, and I spoke to them.  I made eye contact with them, talked directly to them, and became one with them.  With the connections established, I spoke from my heart to theirs.  I knew we were connected when they began smiling and nodding their agreement.

I've been blogging for a few years now, and recently I've come to realize that I'm doing the same thing when I write a blog post.  There is a group of people who seem to read every one of my posts, and if I connect with them the way I intend to connect, they reward me with a comment - which I've come to equate with the smiles and head nods of the members of an audience.

Understand, the ones I blog to are a tough audience.  When my words fail to connect, they don't comment, and I don't get another chance to stare in their eyes, as it were.  A good many of my, until now, secret group, commented on my last post - David always gets the first shot, because he lives his life seven hours ahead of mine.  Then there's Christina, who walks every step with me, comments on every blog, and cheers everything I do.  There's Caleb who lives in Texas and never sleeps.  Stephen and Jo are in Texas, Jack is in California, Claude in Italy, and there are a couple of others who didn't comment on Friday's post, but I know they are there, and I was writing for them too.  And I was writing for Merri McEdlerry, who did leave a comment, a memorable one as she often does.

I've singled Merri out of my select group because we've never met, emailed,  or been on a hang out together.  I've never had a Facebook or Triberr conversation with her, but I'm always thinking of her when I write, because I know if I get it right, she will nod, smile, and then leave a comment that means more to me than she can imagine.

I write novels for anyone who wants an inspiring read.

I blog for David, Jack, Caleb, Stephen, Christina, Mary Kathryn, Emma, Claude, Beca, Lavella, Bob, and Merri McEdlerry.

Who do your blog for?

Friday, April 19, 2013

The First Key To Writing Success

by Bert Carson

It's 3 AM.  There is sandpaper behind my eyes.  It's not the stack of paperwork that is on my desk that is bothering me; it's that I haven't written a blog post in five days.

That means that no one will stumble over me in my rather dark corner of cyberspace, because I haven't lit so much as one candle in the last four days.

Forget about the two novels I'm working on and the third one that is 98% finished.  What kind of writer am I if I can't find time to knock out at least one 300 - 400 word blog post every other day?

You don't know, or care, about my day job.  You have your own day job and pile of work.  You read blog posts, books, and cereal boxes, to forget about your day job for a few moments.  Yet, in my self-absorbed concern over piles of paperwork, job overwhelm,  and a flawed GPS that always takes me the long way around, I've let you down.

I'll tell you what kind of writer I am.  I'm exactly like Heather, of the old dumb blonde jokes.

Do you remember Heather?  She was the sweet young thing who fervently prayed, many times every day, "Father, let me win the lottery.  Father, let me win the lottery..."

She prayed that same prayer every day for years and years without results.  And then, one beautiful spring morning, exactly like this beautiful spring morning, her prayers were interrupted by a booming voice calling her name.

"Heather, Heather, Heather..."

Sure she was about to win the lottery, her voice trembling with excitement, she managed to answer, "Yes, God, I'm here."

There was a deep sigh from somewhere above her head, followed by, "Heather, help me out here.  Buy a lottery ticket."

So while Heather is buying a lottery ticket, I've managed to find thirty-three minutes to do what I know that I have to do every day to be a successful writer - WRITE.

Thanks Heather... and thanks God... and thank you for finding this candle in the darkness.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Writing Storybook Endings

Justin and B.J. Upton
by Bert Carson
We are thirteen days and twelve games into the new baseball season, and I haven't written a single baseball blog - until now.

Since I can not think of a more fitting way to lead into my idea about the creation of  storybook endings than to share a couple of them, let's go to the ball park.

Frank Wren, the Atlanta Braves' General Manager, is the wheeler dealer behind player acquisition, and he made some key ones in the off season that have played out like a storybook.

One that has caught the attention of baseball fans everywhere is the Brave's acquisition of two brothers, Justin and B.J. Upton.  Justin, formerly with the Arizona Diamond Backs, and B.J., formerly with the Tampa Bay Rays, haven't played on the same team since high school.

Playing together in the pros is a storybook for the Uptons and for Brave's fans. One of the first chapters of their storybook was written last Friday.  Five games into the season, the Braves trailed the Cubs by one run in the bottom of the 9th inning.  B.J. came to bat and hit his first home run as a Brave tying the game.  Minutes later, Justin came to bat, and, you guessed it; he hit the game winning home run.  If you think that was storybook, add two more parts - their parents were in the stands watching - and they became the first brothers to win a game with solo homers in the same inning in two hundred years of professional baseball.

Evan Gattis
And then there's Evan Gattis, a 26 year old rookie who gave up baseball for four years.  During that time he was a cart boy at a golf course, a ski lift operator, and a janitor - today he uses his janitor badge as his twitter ID.

Three years ago, satisfied that he had found the answers to the questions that sent him wandering, he decided to give baseball another shot.  The Braves, in an amazing moment of spiritual insight, signed him in the 23rd round of the draft for bargain basement price of $1,000.00.

Today he's the number one Braves catcher, at least until Brian McCann returns to the line up from the disabled list.  In his first game, he hit his first major league home run while his father was being interviewed in the stands.  Twelve games into the season, Evan is batting 333 and has hit 3 home runs and knocked in six runs.  Oh yes, he played first base Friday night in Atlanta's win over the Washington Nationals.

I shared those stories about three young men who play baseball to make a point about story book endings.   From my experience, I've discovered there is only one way to write a storybook ending.  That is to do what Frank Wren has done - create powerful characters, characters with heart and desire, then put then in situation where they can do what you know they are capable of doing, then let them do it.  That's the secret:  authors don't create storybook endings, characters do.

When I wrote Another Place Another Time, I created two characters, Leonard Jacobson, a very intelligent loner, who was dismissed from his high school three months before graduation because the principle said he was a disturbing influence, though he never created a disturbance and his grades were perfect.  With his diploma in hand, Leonard, a much-loved only child, went home and worked in the family grocery story until he was drafted.

After three full cycles of the Army's eight week basic training, his First Sergeant told him he was a disturbing influence and he was sent directly to Advanced Infantry Training without graduating from Basic Training.

Two hours after arriving at AIT, Leonard met his new Company Commander, Captain Kennedy, a recent returnee from Vietnam.  Kennedy recognized Leonard's potential and introduced him to the possibility of becoming a Scout Dog Handler.  Leonard decided that was what he wanted to do.  Months later, after meeting all of Scout Dog Handler training requirements, Leonard was accepted into the program.  He arrived at the training center before any of his classmates.  That's when he met K9 #68-77, a black German shepherd who had arrived at the training center just moments ahead of Leonard.

Here is that scene, told by Leonard Jacobson.


Two minutes later, I was at the kennel.  I saw Captain Cox peering into one of the runs.  “Where is he, Captain?”
As soon as I spoke, a shadow detached itself from the back of the run and moved rapidly toward the fence.  Henry pointed and said, “There he is, all eighty-five pounds of him.  Watch out.” 
Just before reaching the fence, the shadow reared on his hind legs and stopped with his paws pressed lightly on the wire mesh at my shoulder level.  It was the black German Shepherd that I had been waiting for.  He looked right into my eyes.  I could hear the sound of his breathing, which was easy despite his all-out dash to the fence.  After a moment of intense staring, he wagged his tail.  Then I noticed that he hadn’t made a sound; no barking or whining, the normal sounds you hear from new dogs.
I turned to Captain Cox.  "What's the matter with him, Sir?"
"He's too young, Leonard.  Look closely and you'll see what I mean.  You know that a dog has to be two years old to go through the training unless there is a special exception, and there has never been one for a dog this young.  Leonard, he is only thirteen months old.  I just called the Vet who sent him.  He confirmed the dog's age and admitted that he lied on the paperwork he originally sent.  I asked him why he had lied and said there were two reasons.  He told me the first reason was this dog is the smartest dog he has ever seen."   
  Captain Cox hesitated.
“And the second reason, Captain?”
“He said that if we didn’t take him, there was no other place for him.  He’d have to put him down.  He told me the dog had belonged to an old rancher who lived just outside Missoula.  One day the old man came up missing, and his neighbors began searching for him.  The next day they found him dead, thrown by his horse.  Your dog was guarding him, and he wouldn’t let anyone near him.  They had to call the animal control unit to get him away from the body.  All the ranchers around Missoula have heard the story and they are all afraid of him, so no one is willing to take him.  The Vet said that if we didn’t take him, then he would have to put him down.”
I looked at the big dog still standing on hind legs and still silent.  “Sir, maybe he can do it.”
Captain Cox turned toward me.  Looking straight in my eyes he asked, “Leonard, do you know what will happen to you if he doesn’t make it.”
“Yes, Sir, I know.  I wash out of the training.”
“Do you know what will happen to you if you wash out of this training?”
“Yes, Sir…I’ll go to Vietnam… without a dog.  I’ll be assigned to a Ranger unit.”
“Do you want to risk that, Leonard?”
“If I say I don’t want to risk it, what happens to him, Sir?”
Captain Cox didn’t hesitate.  “I don’t like this, Leonard, but we’ll put him down tonight and start trying to find another dog for you.  If we do that you won’t lose your training slot.  You’ll wait here at the school until we can find another dog for you.”
I turned to the dog, touched his nose through the chain-link fence and whispered, “Can you do it, Boy?” 
He wagged his tail and, suddenly I knew he could do it.  Understand what I’m saying here.  I asked him a question, and in a couple of seconds, I knew the answer.  I wasn’t making something up or playing mind games with myself.  The dog had actually communicated with me.  
I turned back to Captain Cox and said, “He says he can do it, Sir, and I believe him.  If you’ll issue the exception, we’ll go through the training together, Sir.”
Captain Cox looked at the dog, then back at me.  “Leonard, if you’re sure that’s what you want, I’ll do it.”
“I’m sure, Sir.”
Only then did the dog make his first sound, a soft bark.
Captain Cox laughed and said, “Good luck to you…to both of you.”

Late that night, I asked K-9 #68-77, my dog’s official Army name, if he liked the name, Whispers.  I’d picked that name because he seldom barked or whined.  He wagged his tail, and in that moment he became Whispers. 
I knelt beside him, put my arms around his neck and, since no one was around, I cried a little bit.  I knew that everything that I’d done to get to that moment had been worth it.

From that point forward, Bert Carson was just along to record Leonard and Whisper's story.  

That's how I write storybooks.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Branding – Another Look

by Bert Carson
January 19, 2011, was a memorable day, for me, and, unfortunately, only me.  That was the day that I published my first Kindle book, Fourth and Forever.  I worked on the book for years, literally.  I sent query letters to nearly five hundred agents and received over four hundred rejection letters in return.  Believing that I wasn’t going to get a publisher, I parked the book for six years, and then Jeff Bezos created Kindle and a platform for writers who needed one.
Two years ago, I clicked the Amazon publish button for the first time; I thought a number of things. At the top of the list was, by this time tomorrow I’ll probably have sold a thousand or so copies.  If you are a writer, you know that didn’t happen.

After a few months of nothing happening on the sale’s front, I began to look for a solution to my sales problem.  That’s when I found John Locke’s book, How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months!  Minutes later I bought it, opened it on my Kindle and began reading it like a drowning man going for a life preserver.  When I was done, I believed that John Locke had sold one million eBooks in 5 months.  I also believed if his way was the only way, then I would not be a million-book-selling Kindle author.

John’s system is simple.  Before he wrote a single word, he found a genre that accounted for a lot of Kindle book sales.  Then he wrote a number of books in that genre.  When the books were written, he created a large twitter following, and from that following, he developed a large list of email friends whom he knew would not only buy any book that he wrote, but would also promote his books to all of their friends.  That worked just the way he expected it to work, which is fantastic for John, and I salute him.  However, I can’t do that.  I write for me, not for a specific market.
So where does that leave me sales wise?  I don’t have exact figures, but this is close.  My four books, Fourth and Forever, Maddog and Miss Kitty, Another Place Another Time, and Southern Investigation have combined sales of about what John Locke’s books have sold since you started reading this blog.
Have I given up?  Nope and I won’t.  I just didn’t have a clue how to sell my books for a long time.  Now I do.  Now, I understand what branding is and what it can do for me, thanks to a video by Simon Sinek, which I will insert below.   Until I saw Sinek’s presentation, the possibilities of branding, true branding, hadn’t crossed my mind.  I got it when I heard him say, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.”

When I heard that, I knew that I had to let people know who I am, and what I write about.   That is essential for me because I don’t write “John Locke books.”  I write about men, and women, and occasionally dogs, who do the right thing.  I write books that inspire because I believe that life should inspire.  I’m a Vietnam Vet, so most of my characters are Vietnam Vets.  In addition, I’ve spend 65 of my 70 years, searching for truth, so my current writing project, The Sages, is an esoteric novel – in fact, it’s the first of three that I call The Mystic Trilogy
Since esoteric novels and inspirational novels that feature Vietnam Vets aren’t high on most Kindle book lists, I have to let people know who I am and what I write.  In other words, I have to find people who believe what I believe.  That is true branding.   Believing there are readers out there who want to read about people who do the right thing, and in the doing inspire us by their example, isn’t enough.  I have to find them.  And that is exactly what I intend to do.  In fact, this blog is the first step in my branding adventure.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Ray Charles and The Three Bells

January 30, 2013, I posted a blog about my friend Ralph Miller.  I haven't seen Ralph in a few years, but he's always with me, right there in the back of my consciousness, where I couldn't forget him if I tried, but to be honest with you, I'm not going to try.

Ralph is on the email list for my blogs.  I post an average of three times a week, and it's seldom that Ralph acknowledges one of them, unless I make a mistake or need further education on on the subject of the post.

Regarding my last post, Between The Bells, Ralph furthered my education by sending a couple of versions of The Three Bells that I had not heard or even suspected existed.  The Roy Orbison version is good, however, Ray Charles took the song to a level that I could never have imagined had I not heard it.

Once again, I owe my buddy, Ralph, which is a debt I can live with.  And now, take four minutes and experience once again the wizardry of Ray Charles.


Monday, April 1, 2013

Between the Bells

I was playing around with the newest iTunes interface a few weeks ago, and before I knew what was happening, I created a new playlist.  I called it 2013 #1 (that’s original).  About halfway through the process, I realized it would be a good list to run with for a couple of reasons. 

First, it has forty songs.  That means when I set it on shuffle, even on my longest run (7.5 miles), I won’t hear them all so there’s less chance of me tiring of the songs.

And second, it is about the most diverse selection of songs I’ve ever put on a single playlist.  The artists include Pavarotti, Little Richard, Bob Segar, and Peter, Paul, and Mary, with a number of others stuck between those.  The years covered by the forty songs are 1959 – 2012.  The genre ranges from classical, to soul, to movie soundtracks, to rock, to country, to gospel.  

One of the songs on the list, The Three Bells, by The Browns, has been a favorite of mine since it was released in 1959 when it sold over a million copies and was the first number one country hit to cross over and become a number one pop hit.   It was recorded by Jim Ed Brown, and his sisters, Maxine and Bonnie.  

The song tells the story of Jimmy Brown, from his birth, to his marriage, and finally to his death - each event being marked by the ringing of the bells in the chapel.  For me, The Three Bells is a powerful reminder that our life is what we make  of it.  Whatever that turns out to be, it is constructed a moment at a time.

Here are the Browns to perform their gold record hit for you: