Liar! Liar!

I hate vanity presses. I really do. They prey on their victims, bleed them dry,  and then toss them aside. Are there exceptions? I’m sure there must be a few, but not enough to invalidate my point or change my view of the execrable creatures operating these businesses.

The only thing I detest more is a vanity press masquerading as a traditional publisher. They can be hard to spot, especially when they hit all the right notes about not charging authors for editing, proofreading, cover art, printing, and marketing assistance. You have to read closely to discover the red flags. Here are some that I’ve found:

  • They require the author to buy a minimum number of copies of their book, maybe as few as 10 or as many as 50. If you do that, you’re paying to publish.
  • They hold back earned royalties until their publishing expenses are covered. They might as well drop the charade and charge you upfront.
  • They charge a reading or submission fee. Run the other way! They just want your money.
  • They will include language in the contract that says they can drop you after a specific period of time, say six months, if you haven’t sold a certain number of books. When you’re 20 books short of the goal at the 5 1/2 month mark, guess what you’re going to do.
  • They will try to cross-sell you special services like a personal publicist or marketing consultant. These so-called services are worthless. If it’s a small publisher, they lack connections and will just do the same things you’re already doing on your blog, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on. If it’s a Big Five publisher, congratulations! You can stop reading now.

Submitting to publishers is a time consuming and emotional process. More than once I’ve received a contract offer, only to discover the publisher was a well-disguised vanity press. That’s an awful feeling, but I’m learning to spot the flags. I wish Preditors and Editors was still around. Thank God for Absolute Write.


Reader Reactions to Silent Waltz

“I really liked this book. It had murder, mystery, humor, loving relationships, and more. The storyline definitely caught my interest and held it throughout the book. The characters were easy to relate to and the scenery sounded beautiful. I would recommend this book to anyone, as it was very entertaining.”

” Ronald Paxton’s smartly written takes us into the hidden underbelly of Shenandoah County and its residents. Flawed, quirky, and often with secrets to keep, the characters spring to life as the story unfolds. And how it unfolds!”

“…well written and pleasing to read…”

“…The clouds are building in Shenandoah County, but Salem Matthews loves a good storm!”

“Just when you think the bucolic resort community in Shenandoah County has settled into normalcy, author Ronald Paxton’s new novel, Silent Waltz, picks up where his Soul Man leaves off…with a new set of scheming and murderous villains.”

Praise for Haven

Looking for some fast-paced mystery and suspense to spice up your summer reading list? Haven, the second book in the John Howard series, should fit the bill. Nothing but 5 star reviews on Amazon for this sequel to Winter Songs. Here’s what some readers are saying:

“…another inside the park homerun for a great writer.”

“…The author’s ability ( and talent ) to describe the scenery, smells, lighting, and everything else about the Shenandoah Valley is remarkable.”

“…I loved the imagination and vocabulary in this book.”

Resuscitating the Muse

The scariest thing for any writer has to be the prospect of having nothing left to say. We’ve all been there, haven’t we? Sometimes our muse goes on vacation without notice and without any indication when or if it will return. Nobody is exempt from this problem. The magnificent Philip Roth announced his retirement from writing five years ago because he had nothing left to say. Scary stuff.

There is some good news. An author’s mind is fertile. The muse will almost certainly return, but it can’t be forced or coerced. That said, there are ways to facilitate its return. Here’s what I do:

Music – Nothing inspires me and refreshes my spirit like music. For me, it’s southern rock, classic rock, and Carolina beach music. Give me thirty minutes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, AC/DC, and the Band of Oz, and I’m ready to tackle the world.

Diet – If you want to send your brain into hibernation I recommend a steady diet of Nachos and chips. A healthy diet of fruit, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat sets me up for a productive writing session.

Snacks – Don’t worry, you’re going to be rewarded for gritting your teeth and eating those vegetables. You know when you want to swallow a quart of ice cream and the nutrition people recommend something like a bowl of strawberries and blueberries instead? Ignore them. If you don’t, you’ll eat the fruit and still polish off the quart of ice cream. Let’s compromise. How about some peanut butter and graham crackers? It’s satisfying, the peanut butter’s good for you, and you won’t be filled with indigestion and remorse when you’re done.

Exercise – Back in the day it would have been a ten mile run. Now it’s more like a fifty minute walk. Either way, it keeps me healthy and gets those endorphins moving. I have some of my best ideas when I’m out walking, particularly if it’s early in the morning when things are quiet.

Sleep – Some people need more than others, but if you’re regularly operating on five or so hours a night, you may be sleep deprived. I have trouble thinking, much less writing anything coherent if I haven’t had enough sleep. I know some writers stay up half the night cranking out eight or ten thousand words. I’m sorry, that sounds crazy to me and I don’t think it’s a sustainable approach to healthy living or writing.

Thanks for listening. I hope your muse never takes a vacation. If it does, don’t despair. It will return.

Lost for Words

As a writer my constant challenge is to find the exact words to convey the feelings, emotions, and tension I’m striving to bring to a scene. I never fully succeed. I’m not sure any writer does.

Don’t misunderstand…I’m a good writer and I know how to write strong scenes, but I’ve never found a way to take the white-hot images in my head and write about them with the same intensity. The scenes turn out all right because I keep working on them until I’m satisfied. But they never fully capture what my imagination has developed. They’re good, but somehow less.

I’m not a wordsmith, but I do have a good vocabulary. I can’t write the soaring prose of a Faulkner. I’ll never match the magnificent opening paragraph of The Haunting of Hill House penned by the incomparable Shirley Jackson. What I can do is build a compelling story using the skills I have. I find the use of character dialogue and inner monologue particularly effective in bridging the gap between what is in my mind and what I’m able to actually get down on paper. It gives life and dimension to the characters and the story.

The English language is a beautiful thing, but it is lacking in some respects. There are no words to adequately describe what I feel when I hear a certain song, when I see the image of a father holding his new baby or sharing a special moment with his child, when I see a frightened animal starving and alone. Maybe that’s why I’ve never written the perfect scene. There aren’t words for everything I feel.

A final thought…the president of the United States doesn’t read. I have no words for that either.



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.