Saturday, January 26, 2013

Return with us now to those daring days of yesteryear—1972

During the early 1970s I worked as a clerk, and briefly as a buyer, for Kepler’s Books and Magazines, a brave and noble bookstore in Menlo Park, California. Kepler’s had an all-inclusive stock and a knowledgeable staff. It was a friendly place, and it was considered the best bookstore on the San Francisco Peninsula.

Kepler’s was also a gathering spot for the counter-culture. And there was a lot of counter-culture back in the early 1970s, what with the antiwar protest movement, black power, gay pride, women’s liberation, and the human potential movement, not to mention the sexual revolution. Some of that summer’s best-sellers were: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, The Joy of Sex, Be Here Now, The Pentagon Papers, Open Marriage, and Another Roadside Attraction. Customers who frequented Kepler’s Books included Joan Baez, Ken Kesey, Stephen Stills, Jerry Garcia, and Wallace Stegner.

That was a great store, and those were fine times. Eventually the time came for me to revisit my bookselling days in the early seventies, and bring them to life in a novel. That’s what I’ve done with my newest novel, Hooperman, which will be published later this year by Oak Tree Press. Of course I made up a fictitious plot, invented a fictitious bookstore, and staffed it with fictitious characters, so you won’t be reading about Kepler’s Books and Magazines. But I hope you’ll enjoy browsing the aisles and hearing from the denizens of Maxwell’s Books in Palo Alto during the summer of 1972.

It’s far too early for me to be flogging a book that won’t be published for months to come. I promise not to brag about it week after week. But since I now have a contract in hand, and I’m thrilled about it, I want to give you an advance peek at my new novel’s plot:

Hooperman Johnson is a tall, bushy-bearded man of few words. He works as a bookstore cop, catching shoplifters in the act. It’s a difficult job for a man with a stammer, but somebody’s got to do it, because Maxwell’s Books is getting ripped off big-time. And, more and more, it looks like the thief works for the store.
         Who’s stealing the books? Martin West, the foul-mouthed nutcase in charge of shipping and receiving? Millie Larkin, who hates the boss because he’s a man? Could it be Lucinda Baylor, the black and sassy clerk that Hoop’s in love with? Jack Davis, the socialist, or Frank Blanchard, the anarchist? Or maybe even Elmer Maxwell himself, the world-famous pacifist bookseller?
         Set in the summer of 1972, the summer of the Watergate break-in, Hooperman is a bookstore mystery without a murder, but full of plot, full of oddball characters, full of laughs, and full of love, some of it poignant, some of it steamy.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Meet Velda Brotherton

Greetings, writers! Today I have the pleasure of introducing a prolific and talented—and multi-published—author: Velda Brotherton. I have asked Velda to write something about what “The Joy of Story” means to her. I know you’ll enjoy reading what Velda has to say.

The Joy of Story, by Velda Brotherton

My dad was a storyteller. He never wrote down a word, but he kept in his memory stories from his youth and delighted in telling them. One of the main reasons, I'm sure, was that his life was filled with adventure. He had three brothers and their mother passed away when he was sixteen, the eldest of the four boys. They followed their dad on jobs in the oil fields of Texas and Oklahoma. Both parents had Cherokee blood, and though that was looked down upon by the elder family members in those days, the boys were very proud of it. He often said they grew up like "wild Indians." Casting no aspersions at all. He enjoyed the role and loved his heritage.

Some people are meant to be the keepers of the story for their family. Writers also have the same role. We are the keepers of stories, both truth and fiction, for don't we develop our stories from the truth that's remembered? I think my dad being a storyteller had a lot to do with my growing up to be a writer. I made up stories in my mind as long as I can remember, tales of wild adventures in which I was always the central character.  The hero. And don't we all want to be the hero? Therein lies the true joy of story. Heroic acts performed by ordinary people. Those years I sometimes thought I might be a little crazy daydreaming those tales. I didn't know at the time that all over the world, other writers were developing their craft by doing the same thing.

Stories carried down through generations are what makes it possible for us to write historical fiction. Most of the nonfiction columns I wrote for 20 years for local newspapers came from oral history repeated to me by family members who kept those stories alive. Stories passed down to them by fathers, grandfathers, and great-grandfathers.  Such tales make up much of what we know about our history. And then there are journals and diaries kept by the women of the family. While men tell their stories, women tend to write theirs down. Those diaries help us write our stories of mothers, sisters, aunts, and wives.

Most publishers are aware of the value of story, too. If they receive two manuscripts of equal writing skills, they will choose the one with the better story. Often, the better story with lesser writing skills will win out over a perfect manuscript with a weaker story line. So it's  important that we develop good, solid stories because without them our writing skills may come to nothing in the marketplace.

What makes a good story? Strong but flawed characters, unusual and fascinating settings, tidbits of back story (character's history), intriguing and twisting plots and subplots, and most of all that well distinguished voice we hear so much about. All editors look for a special and unique voice. But there's something else, isn't there? Something difficult to put words to. When we as readers open a book, we feel an excitement much like that of opening a gift. What will we find? Where will the author take us? Who will we go with? What will we discover? There's a promise of adventure, learning, experiencing new and different things. Take me somewhere I've never been with someone so wonderful I'll hang onto their hand as they lead me through this truly unusual experience. A new, shiny world, or one so frightening I shiver, or so delightful I giggle, or so horrible I cringe, or so unique I can't wait to tell others about it. This is the promise of a good story.

There's evidence that readers value good stories over all else. Just look at the best sellers today. Some of them are not that well written, but something resonates in the story that attracts millions of readers to buy the book.
So, should we neglect our writing skills in favor of good stories? Of course not. The best writer should produce both and do it with pride of accomplishment.  I don't want to be the writer of whom it is said, "Well, the writing is lousy but it sure was a good story." Do you?

About our guest…

Velda Brotherton writes of romance in the old west with an authenticity that makes her many historical characters ring true. A knowledge of the rich history of our country comes through in both her fiction and nonfiction books, as well as in her writing workshops and speaking engagements.  She just as easily steps out of the past into contemporary settings to create novels about women with the ability to conquer life’s difficult challenges. Tough heroines, strong and gentle heroes, villains to die for, all live in the pages of her novels and books.

A Sample of Velda’s writing:

Here's a short excerpt from Wolf Song, a paranormal mystery/romance ebook published by SynergEbooks and available on Amazon as well.

Olivia finds a terrifying surprise, a warning to stop supporting the Gray Wolf Restoration Program by the U.S. Fish and Game:

“With shaking fingers, I twisted the knob on the lock and eased the door open. Still not turning the flashlight on, I held the screen open just far enough to slide through the crack. Back against the house so no one could sneak up on me, I flicked the light on and began to sweep it back and forth across the porch. Nothing, nothing, more nothing. Then the beam moved to the swing, and lying in the still-swaying seat, blood-smeared teeth bared in final agony, lay a half-grown gray wolf.”

That’s good writing! Story-telling at its best. (Great cover, too.) You’ll want to read more, and here’s how:

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Writer's Envy, redux

I almost have some good news to tell you about. I’ve been offered a contract from a publisher I like, for a novel I wrote, and it may be coming out in the fall of this year. I’m almost thrilled, but I’m too superstitious to say more at this point, because I don’t yet have a signed contract in hand. So I won’t tell you the title of the book, or what it’s about, or who the publisher is. I hope to be breaking all this news to you soon.
The prospect of having another book published is always an upper. It makes up for the downside, the steady trickle of rejection that tends to erode the spirit.) This brings to mind an essay I wrote a couple of years ago, and I’m taking this opportunity to rewrite it and re-present it. It’s called “Writer’s Envy.”

Disclaimer: the intended audience for this essay, when I wrote it, was my students in an adult ed creative writing class. I realize that many if not most of the writers who read this blog probably don't need my advice, or anyone's advice, on this subject. 

Uh…congratulations. I mean, CONGRATULATIONS! I mean….
Okay, so your friend (your ex-husband, your old girlfriend, your colleague, your client, your dentist…) has just had a book published. How do you feel about that?

Terrific! Isn’t that great! And to think he’s come so far in so little time. Whoever thought she’d….

No, really. How do you feel?


How come she got published before I did? I’ve read that manuscript and I even offered some good advice on how to make it better, which he ignored, by the way. So why is she in print, why is he on the New York Times bestseller list, when here I am, every bit as good a writer, still….


Okay, okay, I hear you, but stop. Be cool.

Let’s face it: you are a writer, so naturally you want to be published. You have a friend who got published. You wonder what that will do for you, once you get over feeling jealous. Of course you do. The entire world is about you, right? I don’t mean that as a put-down. It’s just part of human nature.

Here is something true about making it as a writer, whether you define “making it” as getting on “All Things Considered,” selling out to Hollywood, taking up long-term residence on the New York Times bestsellers list, or simply having your pieces published in small press literary journals or church bulletins. There are three ingredients to success in writing: talent, hard work, and luck.

Don’t doubt your talent. If you love to write, you are talented.

Hard work is something you can do. If you can’t (if there’s always something that comes first—a garden to weed, pencils to sharpen, kids to drive to soccer practice, a sick husband who needs to go to the emergency room), then you’re probably not a real writer and you don’t have talent. But if you place writing above all else, then you will put in the hours.

What about luck? You can’t change your luck, but you can increase your odds. One way is to listen to coincidences. If you have a friend who’s lucky, maybe some of that luck will rub off on you. So don’t feel jealous. This coincidence is an opportunity in disguise.

But don’t blow it.

Here are a bunch of rules, do’s and don’ts under the circumstances. A lot of these rules are worth knowing even if you’re not an envious writer. A lot of them are just common courtesy and sensitivity to people’s feelings.

1. Buy your friend’s book. Buy it in its first edition, even if that means buying a hardback book. Spend your money. You have no idea (actually you probably do have an idea) what a gesture of friendship that simple act is.

Extra credit: buy the book from an independent bookstore or directly from the publisher, rather than from Borders or from Why? Because you’ll be supporting independent bookselling, which is good for writers, readers, and modern culture.

2. Having bought the book, go to your local library and make sure they have the book on their shelves. If they don’t, request that they acquire it. This is a bit underhanded, because you don’t really need it to be in the library (you already own a copy), but it will be good for the author and think of all the other people who will enjoy the book.

3. Read the book. That’s the reason you bought the book, right? Even if it’s not the reason, read it anyway. You might really like it.

Extra credit: Go out and buy more copies of the book to give away as gifts.

4. If you like the book, let the author know you like it. Be generous with your compliments, and make sure the praise has no strings attached. You’ll be winning points in heaven by giving this friend of yours the thing he or she wants most: appreciation.

Extra credit: Write a charming letter, note, or e-mail to the author’s agent and editor, complimenting them on their taste and express your thanks that they have done such good work for your friend. Do this without mentioning that you, too, are a writer.


1. Don’t ask the author for a fee copy of the book. Don’t even hint: don’t say, “Gee, I’d sure like to read that book,” or “What do I have to do to get an autographed copy?” Why? Because the author has had to pay for every book in his possession (except a few freebies specified in his contract with the publisher).

2. Don’t offer to buy the book from the author and then ask for a discount or a “bro deal.” An author is in business now. He’s a professional. Don’t ask for special favors. He did you enough of a favor by writing the book.

3. Don’t ask the author to introduce you to her agent or her publisher or her editor. Don’t even hint (“Are you happy with your agent?” “How is that publisher to work with?”). The author may wish to be generous with such information; after all, she’s your friend so she knows you’re a writer. But if she hasn’t done so yet, she may not be so inclined.

4. Don’t use your friend’s name without his permission. Don’t say, “My friend likes my book and since you represent him, you might like it too.” You may say, if it’s true, “My friend speaks highly of you, so I thought I’d ask....”

5. Okay, so you’ve read the book. Maybe you don’t like it as much as you wish you did, or, to be honest, maybe you don’t think the book is as good as your own. Or maybe your only way of responding to somebody else’s book is to notice where it could have been better. These are all examples of human nature, and especially of the writer’s nature. Nevertheless:

Don’t tell your friend that you didn’t like the book, or that you liked the book except for that part about..., or that the only thing wrong with the book was..., or anything, anything negative about his book. Don’t even point out typos. For one thing, there’s a good chance your motives are not pure. What you’re offering is not helpful criticism, even if you’d like it to look like that. Think about it: even if your motives are pure, and you’re offering suggestions for improvement that the author should be grateful for, what good are those suggestions, now that the book is already in print?

6. If you haven’t read the book, don’t try to fake it. Don’t give the author generic meaningless praise that you don’t mean. You won’t get away with it. If you say, “I couldn’t put it down” or “I read it in a single sitting,” and the book’s 100,000 words long, your pants will be on fire.

Finally, a few reminders:
Remember that friendship is far more important than getting published. If you exploit a friendship to advance your own ambition, you’ll be risking something of great value.

Remember that the writing game is not a competition. The fact that your friend got published does not decrease your chances of being published too. Your association with your published friend may even help your career, but only if you put friendship before career.

Unfortunately, you must also remember that there’s a good chance you won’t be published, not ever. I’m sorry to write those words, but it’s just a matter of reality. Not every writer gets published, and that’s a good thing. Not even every good writer gets published, and that’s a shame. If you, unjustly and unfairly, fall into this group, does that mean you lost, or that you’re a loser, that you should take up macramé instead, that you should have been envious after all?

No. As long as you are a writer, writing because you love to write, you’re a winner. The real joy is in the writing itself. Being published is wonderful, but the true high is in the creation, not in the marketing.

If you don’t believe that, then perhaps you’re not a real writer after all.

But if you’ve read this far, I know you are a real writer, and I know you have talent. So work hard, and good luck

And Now a Word from Our Sponsor!

In the post you’ve just read, I warned against telling a newly published author “I read it in a single sitting.” That comes out of my personal experience. An old friend of mine, who happens to be a distinguished writer published by Knopf, told me that he read my novel Geronimo’s Skull in a single sitting on his new Kindle. The book is 102,138 words long. Either my friend is feeding me a baloney sandwich, or he graduated magna cum laude from Evelyn Wood’s speed-reading course, or he has the world’s biggest, toughest bladder. I’m betting on the baloney sandwich.

So if you happen to read Geronimo’s Skull, don’t tell me you read it in a single sitting. But…I hope you will read Geronimo’s Skull, because it may be the best book I’ve written. Please check out the brag sheet:'s_skull.html

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Happy New Year! Be it resolved...

Welcome, old friends and newcomers, to my blog, which I call The Joy of Story. I post approximately once a week, usually on Saturdays. I try to post at least one essay each month about the craft of writing. I also plan to write one book review each month. I intend in the coming year to invite one published writer each month contribute a guest post to this blog. If you’d like to appear on The Joy of Story to express your thoughts about writing, or to plug a book or two, please correspond with me via email:

Another monthly feature of this blog consists of 99-word stories written by fellow writers. Each month I post an assignment and invite folks to write stories and send them to me by email: The story must be inspired by my assigned theme, it must be exactly 99 words long, and it must be a real story: with plot, character, scene, and conflict. For the February story collection, see the assignment given at the bottom of this post.

For more information about me and my books, see


The new year has arrived, and it’s time to take advantage of the yearly option to reboot our talent and our luck. Here are some New Year’s Resolutions I declare for myself. The ongoing work of becoming a better person is beyond this list. For this list I’m thinking of ways to be a better writer. Self, take heed. Here goes:

1. Write.
2. Write more. Remember, this is fun.
3. Read critically what you’ve written. Even you know you’re no genius.
4. Show your work to readers you respect and trust. Listen to what they say.
5. Rewrite.
6. Revise again.
7. Feel proud. Maybe you are a genius, after all.

So far, so good. Do all of the above and you may call yourself a writer. If you want to call yourself an author, proceed to step two.

8. Research the market.
9. Submit.
10. Endure rejection.
11. Submit some more.
12. Celebrate acceptance. This will happen, I promise, if you’ve followed resolutions 1-11.

Now you’re published, which makes you an author. Want to be a successful author?

13. Promote yourself and your work. Let people know.
14. Write a blog.
15. Visit the blogs of your colleagues, and leave comments.
16. Use Facebook gracefully.
17. Meet your public in public places, smile, and sign copies.

What else?

18. Read the works of writers you admire. Read voraciously.
19. Read the works of writers you know personally. Read selectively.
20. Let these writers know you like their work. Plug them on Amazon.


21. Write.


Have your stories published on my blog!

So much for resolutions. Time to put those New Year’s resolutions into practice: Write me a story and I will publish it on this blog! Remember the rules:

1. 99 words exactly.
2. A story needs plot, character, scene, and conflict.
3. Your story must be inspired by the theme I assign.
4. This month’s deadline: February 1, 2013.
5. Send your story to me at

The February theme: Make up a story about a relationship that changed someone’s definition of the word “Love.” Hints: the story doesn’t have to be about you, it doesn’t have to be true, and not all love stories have happy endings.


And Now a Word from Our Sponsor!

Every good writer needs a good editor. That’s why I established John M. Daniel Literary Services. As your free-lance literary professional, I offer editing, ghostwriting, manuscript evaluation, and ongoing mentorship. For more information, see While you’re there, be sure to check out “Writers’ Resources,” a collection of informing and entertaining articles about writing and publishing.