Speaking of Seniors


Many authors write in a genre that targets a particular age group. We have pop-up books for pre-schoolers. There are slightly more advanced books for new readers. Middle-grade fiction is next on the age progression scale, followed by young adult. There is also, I believe, a genre or sub-genre known as new adult. I have no idea what this is or how it could possibly differ from young adult.

What about books aimed at the vast number of seniors out there? Where are they? I think we need a new genre – I’ll call it OA for older adults – written to appeal to a generation that actually grew up reading. I can’t speak for my entire age group (I’m 68 years old), but I can tell you some of the elements I would like to see in any OA novel.

  • Brevity – Longer is not always better. Read Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 if you don’t believe me. Keep the action moving, and spare me the physical discomfort of wrestling with a six hundred page novel. That’s right – I still read print books. A lot of us do, and we don’t all hate trees.
  • Font Size – No, I’m not ready for the large print edition yet, but I will not read a book with small print. This isn’t the Civil War. There’s no paper shortage, so give me a break.
  • Strong Characters of a Certain Age – If you’re not a reader, think Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, or Meryl Streep. Our youth may be gone, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t capable of brave or even heroic acts. Don’t patronize us with doddering stereotypes.
  • Romance – It’s not just for the young. I happen to like steamy or sensual scenes between older characters. No, it’s not gross.
  • Pace – Nobody likes a narrative that drags. That said, I don’t like a story that barrels along at breakneck speed. I need time to digest and savor the action. Carl Hiassen and Tim Dorsey, two excellent Florida authors, used to be at the top of my list when I was younger. No more – the pacing in their novels is too frenetic for my taste nowadays.
  • Vocabulary – Stay away from fifty dollar words, even if you’re writing literary fiction. Yes, I occasionally read literary fiction even though I dislike the genre. If I want to read something that requires a dictionary, I’ll pick up Ulysses. On the other hand, let’s say I’ve picked up an urban fiction novel by mistake. I’ve never been hip or cool, and if I have to go to Wikipedia or Urban Dictionary to understand the dialogue I won’t continue reading.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. I like the idea of an OA novel. Maybe I should write one.



Nailing the Backstory

Backstory writing , for me, at least, is a tricky and challenging proposition. It’s a literary ball that I have to juggle while deciding how to insert it into the story I’m writing. If I do it well, the reader will barely notice that I’m including background information in a particular scene. If I do it poorly, the risk of losing my reader is heightened. To paraphrase Elmore Leonard, “I try to leave out the parts that readers skip over.”

Why do I even need to include a backstory? Who cares? Why can’t I just write the story and let it stand alone?

Well, if I’m writing a stand alone novel the backstory is probably optional. If I want a previous event to drive the story, I can write a prologue. I don’t write stand alones, therefore my books require backstory writing for the following reasons:

  • It provides historical context and explanation based on events from previous books in the series.
  • It adds depth and muscularity to the current story. Although I prefer the stripped-down writing style of an Elmore Leonard or Robert Parker, I don’t want to short-change my readers.
  • It may entice the reader to read the other books in the series.

So, how do I write the backstory? Can’t I just write the damn thing and be done with it?

I wish. The general idea is to sprinkle elements of the backstory throughout the book, sort of like adding spice and flavor to a literary stew. I use the following techniques:

  • Narrative exposition – Basically, I provide some detail and explanation of historical events that make sense based on the particular chapter or scene I’m writing. I use this approach sparingly because it involves telling rather than showing.
  • Character dialogue – I enjoy using this approach because it provides information while adding another dimension to the characters involved.
  • Internal dialogue – We all have our inner voices and dialogues. This is an intense and personal way for the character to provide historical detail while displaying a range of emotions.

This is how and why I write my backstories. Do I nail them? I don’t know. Read my work and decide for yourself.



Falling Out of Love

There was a time when Pat Conroy and Dean Koontz were two of my favorite authors. I loved everything they wrote. Over time that love withered and died. What happened?

Let’s start with Conroy. I loved the fact that he grew up in the lush, steamy low country of South Carolina as much as anything else. The South Carolina coast is my favorite place on earth, and Pat Conroy wrote about it with a passion and intensity that sometimes made my pulse race. His early books combined powerful characters with wonderful plots. The writing had a lyrical quality that was pleasing to my ear. My first inkling that something was amiss came when I read Beach Music. I had trouble getting through it. Conroy had fallen in love with his own writing. The restrained lyricism had been replaced by full-blown, endless descriptive writing that made my eyes glaze over. The story occasionally re-emerged, gasping for breath, in the form of character dialogue. It seems that Pat had decided to abandon his genre in favor of literary fiction. That’s fine if you like literary fiction. I don’t.

His novel, South of Broad, was even harder for me. I couldn’t finish it.

My problem with Koontz is similar in that, like Conroy, he is a superb wordsmith who knows how to turn a phrase and sometimes sacrifices the narrative in favor of pretty writing. As I read more of Dean’s work I began to notice his unfortunate tendency to intrude on the story with flowery, excessive scenes that had a stream-of-consciousness feel and seemed faintly ridiculous in a suspense novel. I did enjoy his Odd Thomas series, but that enjoyment was marred by elements of moralizing as well as some deus ex machina plot contrivances that were disappointing.

Don’t misunderstand – I have immense respect and admiration for the talent and achievements of both these authors. I just don’t love them anymore.


Writing On Spec

Writing a novel with no assurance that it will ever be published is a hard thing that never gets easier, at least not for me. I’d like a nickel for every query letter I’ve had to write before I found a publisher for my six novels. Make that a dime for my seventh novel which continues to languish on top of a stack of rejections.

It’s increasingly difficult to find traditional publishers that are even accepting submissions from authors. Many have already filled their publishing slots for the next year or two. Some have restrictive reading periods of as little as one or two months out of the year. More and more require submission through an agent in an effort to upgrade the quality of submissions while cutting down the size of their slush pile. By the way, if you think it’s hard finding a publisher, try getting an agent to represent you.

Self-publishing is not an option for me. The tepid enthusiasm for my work from the buying public would turn such an endeavor into a vanity project. I don’t write for the money, but I also have no interest in losing what little I make.

Meanwhile, I’ll continue to look for a home for Pieces of January. The good news is that Tears at Sunrise has sold a few copies and is now available in trade paperback. I’m grateful to everyone who has bought or plans to buy the book. It’s my favorite of the John Howard series. I hope you enjoy it.


New ReleaseFor Immediate Release John Howard Is Back! Tears at Sunrise: by Ronald Paxton The popular series that began with Winter Songs, http://tiny.cc/namn7x continues with the new novel from author Ronald Paxton. An aging John Howard, owner of Wild Pony Ranch, returns for one more ride. Readers that enjoy richly-drawn characters, mystery, suspense, and romance, will love this book. Newport News, VA. – March 2017 – Tears at Sunrise is the third novel in this heart-warming series that features retired national rodeo champion John Howard and his family. Once again, the setting is a small, rural community in the pristine Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. All the main characters are back, along with many new faces. The tension and unresolved issues between the Howard family and the local residents from the second book, Haven, come to a head in Tears at Sunrise. This book deals with loss and acceptance as the lives of John Howard and those he loves take a drastic and unexpected turn. Be prepared to shed some tears. Tears at Sunrise is available for purchase on Amazon and through the publisher’s website at www.pioneeringpress.com. About the Author: Ronald Paxton is the author of five previous novels and over forty short stories. His short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net awards. He lives in Newport News, Virginia. For more information visit the author at www.facebook.com/ronald.paxton.3 or https://www.amazon.com/author/ronaldpaxton. Please e-mail Mr. Paxton at dianepaxton@bellsouth.net to request a review copy of Tears at Sunrise or to schedule interviews and appearances. # # #

Chasing the Title

Writing is easy. Good writing is hard. One of the hardest things for me is coming up with titles for my books. I ponder; I vacillate; I tear up my notes and start over. If I could spare the hair, I would pull some of it out. The problem is, I can’t begin writing until I have the title. That’s just the way I work.

Here’s what I require in a title:

  • I don’t like long titles. All of mine are between one and three words. Long titles are harder to remember and potentially problematical when it’s time to design the book cover.
  • The title should connect to the book in some way. Whimsy is fine, as long as it’s not misleading or irrelevant to the actual story.
  • It should be creative in a way that will spark the interest of potential readers. There are about ten million books out there. A creative title is one way for an author to stand out.
  • The title should be unique. I’ve rejected more than one choice simply because there were already books out there with that title. I always check Amazon before I make a final decision.
  • A good title paints its own picture and facilitates the design of the book cover. I want a title and cover that are complementary. That’s powerful.

I have my title for the next Salem Matthews novel…I think. I’ve already changed my mind twice, but I love this one. My legal pad is filled with notes for the synopsis. The rest of the story is still in my head. I’m not going to tell you the title – not yet. Soon.




Can You Hear Me?

I love the sound of the English language…the distinctive Scottish burr, a rich Irish brogue, the precise diction of the British, and the slurred enunciation with dropped consonants and elongated diphthongs that can still be heard in the American South.

As a reader, one of my great pleasures is listening to the voices of the characters. If I’m merely reading the words without hearing them, either the author or I have failed. I just finished reading a wonderful memoir by a British author. I heard an English accent the entire time. When I read Stephen King, I hear the clipped, laconic speech of New England. The characters of Charlaine Harris speak to me in a thick, syrupy southern accent.

My favorite authors have a strong sense of place in their novels. That’s important to me, because it helps me hear the characters. A good story is critical to holding my interest, but it’s not enough. Reading words on a page, no matter how well crafted, is no good if I can’t hear the characters speaking them. It’s like watching a television program with the sound off.

My books are all set in a small, rural county in the Blue Ridge mountains of southern Virginia. The characters speak to me in a southern accent. If you read my work I hope you can hear them.



Invitation to Authors

Authors are invited to promote their work on my Facebook page today through Thursday, May 5th. All fiction genres, poetry, and non-fiction are welcome. This is a monthly event that I host.

I invite readers to consider this your online bookstore for the next five days. You will see an eclectic mix of excellent writing from a number of talented authors. You’re just in time for Mothers Day.



The Storytellers of Tomorrow

Most of my favorite authors are either old or dead. John Sandford, James Patterson, Stephen King, Nevada Barr, Jonathan Kellerman, and Randy Wayne White are old. John D. MacDonald, Robert Parker, and Elmore Leonard are dead. Where are the storytellers of tomorrow?

They’re not in an elite MFA writing program and they’re not enrolled in James Patterson’s writing course. You’ll find them in elementary schools across the country. The question is how many of tomorrow’s storytellers will survive the sometimes joyless public education experience with their imaginations and creativity intact.

The answer depends largely on the local school budget. If we continue to eliminate or de-emphasize art, music, band, and physical education in local curriculums, our society will pay a price. There will be few, if any, James Pattersons and Stephen Kings in our future. That’s nothing short of a tragedy, because great fiction can stir the mind and the spirit in a way that solving for X can never do.

Why do I think that art, music, band, and physical education are key ingredients in the development of future generations of storytellers? Think about it…a child that draws a picture is telling a story. They’re using their imagination and creativity. As a writer, I’m more interested in the story that child is telling me with crayons or paints, than I am the quality of the art work.

What about music? Certainly songs tell a story with their lyrics and their melodies. More importantly, the music can stimulate creativity in young minds. I write novels and short stories, but if I could choose one additional talent it would be the ability to write song lyrics. I love the idea of telling a story set to music.

School bands, choirs, and glee clubs are basically music taken to the next level. Children that love music should have the opportunity to practice their storytelling through their instrument of choice. If you don’t hear a story while listening to a soaring vocalist, a perfect string section, a shrieking electric guitar, or a thundering back beat, you’re dead inside.

So, what does any of this have to do with physical education? Physical activity makes us stronger and healthier. It clears our minds, relieves our stress, and frees our imaginations. Endorphins are amazing things, and they’re only obtainable through exercise. It’s a habit children need to develop if they hope to maximize their creative potential in whatever field they choose to pursue.

There’s a lot of good writing out there now, but I wonder what the world of fiction will look like in twenty years. We’ll see.




Rogues Gallery

I signed my first book contract in the summer of 2012 for the publication of my debut novel, Winter Songs. The publisher was a small, traditional press that continues to sell three of my novels. At the time I didn’t realize how fortunate I was to sign with a publisher that offered a fair contract and lived up to it.

There are an amazing number of unscrupulous and unqualified publishers that are interested in little more than picking an author’s pockets. A visit to Preditors & Editors, Absolute Write, and similar Internet sites will help an author steer clear of the worst of these scoundrels. Unfortunately, these sites don’t catch all the bad guys. The rest is up to the writer. Sometimes it’s a matter of reading the contract and just saying no to an unacceptable offer. There are several red flags that are deal killers for me:

  • Vanity publishers – These aren’t publishers; they’re vendors. All they want is your money. I ignore them.
  • Stealth vanity publishers – They may try to sneak in a fee or require an author to buy a certain number of copies of his own book. They lack working capital and confidence in their ability as publishers. They’re hedging their bets. I ignore them.
  • Miserly publishers – This is a traditional publisher that may try to lowball the author on royalty percentages and payout frequency. Instead of the usual 40% for e-books and 10% for print, they may offer 30% for e-books. By the way, I know this from personal experience. I swallowed hard and signed a contract like this. I’m sorry I did.
  • Greedy publishers – They will try to take an author’s film rights even though they have no connections in the film industry and no chance of ever selling the movie or television rights to the author’s work. This prevents the author from independently seeking a film agent that actually has connections. Any small, traditional publisher that does this is unethical, in my opinion. Again, I speak from personal experience.
  • Hobbyists – These are usually micro-publishers that have few, if any, employees, lack capital and expertise, and hold regular jobs. If they get sick or die, the press is likely to collapse and the author is screwed. Actually, the author is already screwed because his work is in the hands of amateurs for whom publishing is a sideline. Avoid them.

The publishing landscape is littered with  minefields. That’s an unfortunate fact. If you’re an author, be careful.