Sunday, February 27, 2011

March Workshop For Dallas MWASW


Join us for our March 5th workshop: "Fire and Fiction—part 2." Experienced Fire Scene Investigator Richard Downing will complete his workshop regarding the wide area of basic fire science, fire behavior, investigation and other related topics to help writers better understand and utilize this often misunderstood mix of art and science, and inject a different kind of "heat" into their fiction.

The Dallas MWASW group meets the first Saturday of each month at Texas Land & Cattle, 812 South Central Expressway, Richardson , TX 75080 . Meeting time is 9:30 a.m.-11:30 a.m. There is a $5.00 door fee, cash only. All who attend are invited to remain for lunch. Contact info:

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Guest Blogger William Topek

One Approach to Writing

There are tons of articles on the internet these days about writing. Some of these articles are interesting, helpful, and well-written. Many are none of the above. The best advice I ever came across about taking advice was a quote from Bruce Lee: “Take what is useful, leave the rest.” Writing is an art, and every individual practitioner is going to have his or her own approach to it. There is no one right way to create art, and you should be especially wary of articles that tell you what you MUST do. All anyone can offer are suggestions, and if a suggestion works for you, by all means use it. If it doesn't, ignore it. Probably the writing tip that I've heard most often over the years is that you MUST write every day. I'm not saying that's bad advice at all, but I don't personally follow it. I write when I want or need to. I don't set word count goals, telling myself I must finish x number of words by the end of my session. Again, this tactic certainly works for some writers. For myself, I'd rather write 100 good words than 1,000 mediocre ones.

Awhile back, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. I'd written several short stories and a handful of screenplays over the years, along with essays, musings, humorous pieces, etc. When deciding what to write about, I asked myself one and only one question: what would I like to read? I choose screenplay subjects exactly the same way, asking myself: what movie would I like to watch? I never ask myself what's hot now, what's really selling these days, what would best grab the interest of a literary agent or publisher or film producer. My target demographic is, admittedly, fairly exclusive: it consists of me. If you create art to please yourself, you're an artist. If you create art to please others, especially the bean counters of the world, you're a hack.

I decided it would be fun to write an old-style detective novel. I'd always loved reading (and watching) works like The Maltese Falcon and The Big Sleep. Images usually come to me first. The private detective invited out to a wealthy man's mansion to discuss a job. The detective chatting it up with the client's beautiful young daughter in an idyllic garden. The hero getting shanghaied out of his office by two goons taking him to see the big boss. The hero tailing persons of interest through local landmarks, getting roughed up in a back alley, being drugged. Snippets of monologue and exchanges of dialogue came to me. The detective's cynical view of people and daily life, witty retorts to threats, lively banter with friends and foes. I started making notes. I came up with a name for the hero (Devlin Caine) and a place for him to work (Kansas City). I picked the opening day of the novel: Monday, October 1, 1934.

Now that I had the time and place, I started what would end up being a considerable amount of research. I flagged websites, stuffed file folders full of printouts, put together a reference manual of local history, important figures of the time, events of the day, maps, price lists, and more. The research would continue throughout my work on the novel, as invariably something would crop up that I needed to know more about. But for now, I was ready to start writing.

Some writers prefer to have a complete, detailed outline of their work first. A treatment or perhaps even a flowchart. Nothing at all wrong with that; we all do it differently. I find it works best for me to jump in and start writing. The first draft is usually the most enjoyable part of the process for me. I have a general idea of the story I want to tell. I know where I want to start, and I may even know where I want to end up. So I sit down at the keyboard and begin. It's fun because I often don't know what's going to happen next. Characters appear as necessary. The story takes unexpected turns and surprises me. In essence, I'm telling myself a story, and having as much fun as I hope the reader ultimately will.

I don't go straight through to the finish in this fashion. I had to stop for more research, even for the first draft. I had to back up, even discard a whole chapter because something I wrote either didn't work or I simply didn't like it. I had to stop and think, a lot. Okay, I know where I want to go, but how do I get there? Along the way, I sent out chapters to trusted friends willing to read first drafts, people who gave me honest feedback, telling me what they did and didn't like, and sometimes offering their own suggestions. Eventually, though, I made it to the end. Now I had a completed first draft to work with, and here is where the real labor began.

If my approach so far sounds a bit more laid back, a bit less disciplined than perhaps a writer should be, I make up for that with rewrites. Yes, rewrites – plural. I do subscribe strongly to the view that writing is rewriting. In my early years, I never had the patience for it. Now a more seasoned and mature writer, I love it. Rewriting to me is like sculpting clay. I have the whole body of material before me, and I can go over every part of it, reshaping, redefining, modeling it until the form is exactly what I'm looking for. I don't just look for typos and grammatical errors; I manually retype every word of the first draft, changing and modifying as I go. I did this probably at least twice with my novel, and that doesn't count specific, targeted, multiple rewrites of certain chapters or sections (I think I spent twenty minutes coming up with twenty different sentences to describe one part of a desk). Yet more research, and a lot more intense, focused thinking. What themes materialized in the first draft? How should they be more strongly developed? What opportunities for foreshadowing did I miss? What clues could be inserted that will make more sense on the second reading? What plot holes appeared that must be filled? What parts are still bugging me because they don't make sense or they're not as clearly and cleanly written as they could be? Oh, and it turns out my original title was too close to some already published works. Have to come up with a new one, a good one, and work that into the narrative.

Yes, it is possible to rewrite too much. I know this because if I haven't done it, I've certainly come close. At some point, you have to stop second-guessing yourself and call it a day, swallowing the bitter pill that your book will never be perfect. Stopping short of going too far relies on constantly asking yourself why. Why should this be changed? How is this change going to make the book better? The only advice here is to stay on a true course. Don't change things to show off your writing skill, or to make your book more appealing to an agent or a publisher or a film producer or some ridiculously artificial target demographic. You serve one and only one master here: the story.

This is how I approached my first novel. There are many different approaches just as good, perhaps better. As I continue to learn, I'll likely modify or even change my approach. The result of all this work was Shadow of a Distant Morning. Right now it's a modest new e-book among hundreds of thousands on the market. I'm happy with it, and so far I haven't had a single reader express disappointment (though I'm prepared for that to happen at some point). I'm satisfied because I know I created a good story and told it well. Whatever happens after this point, well, as Devlin Caine would probably say, “Don't sweat over it. Take a breather, have a drink, get some sleep, and tomorrow be ready to move on. You've got more work headed your way.”

About the author

William Topek is originally from the Midwest, but has lived and worked throughout the United States and overseas. His widely varied career has included active duty service in the U.S. Air Force, teaching in a foreign middle school, and conducting regulatory seminars and security training as an employee of the federal government. He is a graduate of the University of Kansas and received his MBA from Willamette University in Oregon. His interests include film, fiction, history, and the art of storytelling.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

E-Book Review: Shadow of a Distant Morning

E-Books!!! There seem to be a lot of these lately. As a matter of fact, this book was specifically published by an independent publisher who specializes in digital publishing.

Let me tell you a little about the book. The title of the book is Shadow of a Distant Morning. It is the first book by William Topek. It is set in the 30's when gangs / mobs were very common. One of the fictional private investigators of the time was Devlin Caine and he was in Kansas City.

Reading this story was kind of like watching the old Dragnet series. The story was told from the investigators point of view and in my mind the voice telling the story almost sounded like the voice from the old Dragnet series. Oh ... by the way (and just to be clear). I READ this book - not listened to it. The voice was something I imagined in my head. You know how sometimes we get influenced by things in our lives. My perception can be different from yours.

What was our PI's background before he became an independent PI? Well.., during the war he was was involved with messages and coding. After the war he started working for Pinkerton's - an agency well known in the investigative world. He decided he wanted to get out on his own so he started his own small time agency.

Most of his work has been typical small time investigative stuff - tailing spouses suspected of cheating, looking for missing people, and stuff like that. But his life is about to change with his next job. He is asked by a rich business man to get information on a prospective business partner. At first it seems to be a simple job but things do not add up. Why is it the successful business man does not use his own private investigator to do the investigation? And why does the other private investigator end up dead?

There are red flags but the PI Devlin who sometimes likes to be called "DEVIL" gets sucked into continuing to work for the rich business man. You see - there is a young beautiful girl involved as well - the rich man's daughter. Devlin tries to keep things professional but can't help wanting to protect her from things that are happening. Things get pretty mixed up when the guy he was investigating also ends up dead and he is hired to protect the rich man's daughter.

Devlin is a pretty interesting person but he by no means is the only one. There are several different story lines blended together and it is one book you should not miss.

Incidentally ... one of the bonuses for me was a mention about Texans. Devlin is telling about the best barbecue Kansas City is known for. He goes as far to say it is probably the best in the world - but he adds - you wouldn't say that if a Texan was around. That tickled me a bit because Texans do have a huge pride. I guess I should know - I'm a Texan.

To learn more about:
The author Willian Topek click here
The publisher ireadiwrite Publishing click here

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A Reading Lesson

I recently saw a traffic warning sign and took note of it. It caught my attention because I saw it but I did not at first exactly read it word for word. You may have seen it and I will quote it word for word - WHEN FLOODED TURN AROUND DON'T DROWN. When you know word for word what the sign says it certainly makes sense. But as I was driving along (and flooding was not on my mind due to the current conditions), what I read or comprehended were -WHEN FLOODED DON'T TURN AROUND DROWN. That was what caught my attention. So the next time I passed the sign I paid more attention to it and caught the whole message.

So is this something limited to me - only catching a part of the words when I read? I've discovered through conversations with others that this is not unusual. As a matter of fact I have heard similar observations about the SAME sign.

When we read there are different things that affect how and what we read. That probably explains why there are differences in what we read as well.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


If you recall, I recently discovered I could check out eBooks from my library and get them downloaded to my NOOK. SEE

This presents a question - what happens when my checkout period expires? Well ... the checkout period occurred for the book I checked out. Here is the message I got when I tried to open it- The lending period for this eBook has expired. Earlier, I asked the "friendly" nook expert about how to remove stuff from my nook and he explained it had to be done from the computer (in my case a laptop) in order to prevent accidental removal.

So here is what I did in order to remove the book from my "NOOK".

1 - Connected my NOOK to my laptop.

2 - Went to Internet Explorer, found my nook drive, and opened it up.

3 - clicked on the Digital Editions file folder and displayed it's contents.

4 - Right clicked on the book I wanted to delete and selected the Delete option.

5 - Bingo!!!! It was done.

6 - NOW I just want to make sure I properly disconnect my NOOK from my laptop by first closing Windows Explorer so it is still not using my NOOK. Then I go down and left click to safely remove hardware from my laptop. When it tells me it is safe to remove the device from my computer, I disconnect it from my computer.

BUT WAIT!!! I go to My Documents and it is still listed. I'm a little confused. Then I think to myself, maybe I need to turn off the NOOK and turn it back on??? So I do and 'Viola' - the book is gone. "HooRah!!!"

Incidentally (and in case you are interested), here is a link / help about ADOBE Digital Editions Help.