Reading does prompt writing



I always quote Gertrude Stein when it comes to talking about my writing:  “I write for myself and strangers.”

Most of my friends and family have never read anything I’ve written.  And if they have it’s only after outright direct threats from me to get them to read something that I wrote.

I write the kind of stories or books that I WANT to read.   So many books are really good but there is always something missing: details about an interesting house, details about an encounter, etc.

I’m reading a good murder mystery set in Provincetown and there are so many problems with the writing.   What I call “fade to black.”  The writer builds up to an intense personal encounter and then writes “The next morning I felt bad about what happened.”   But… what happened?????  The odd thing about t his writer’s book is that he goes on way too long with so many other details that only bog the story down and add nothing to the reader’s insights.

James Fenimore Cooper wrote and published his first novel, Precaution, in 1820 in response to his wife making a wager with him that he could write a better book than the one she was reading.   And he did.  He went on to write the wildly successful and widely read Leatherstocking series, including The Last of the Mohicans in 1826.

When I write I write the details and description and action that I would like to read or hear about.   I often write far too much, but I’d rather write too much and then go back and cut sentences, paragraphs, pages out than to try to go back and pad out a scene or chapter.

In order to do this I do have to let the writing “sit alone” for awhile so that when I go back and reread what I’ve written and I can more easily see what needs to be cut.  Another technique that I do (and am a firm believer in) is to either record myself reading what I’ve written out loud or even making a video of me reading the writing out loud.  If I find myself stumbling over a passage or if the words don’t flow smoothly and easily as I read them, then something is wrong with the writing.

It really is a great way to “hear” the words and what isn’t working.

I am a relentless editor.  Not only with books I read by other writers but with my own writing.   I love what I write but I’m not so enamored with my own words that I can’t bear to be an objective editor (most of the time).   Writing is fairly easy to do.  Rewriting, revising, and editing is the hard part.    But it is in the rewriting and revising that the words really do shine (if they survive) and the story comes to life.

The only aspect of rewriting and revising that I have to be careful with is to not lose the original spontaneous, natural storytelling quality in the writing.   Sometimes the first words are the best.

Working at the drawing board


Ollie at drawing board 2012

Tapping away at the keyboard is not a terribly exciting thing to watch or capture in a photo.  Instead here’s what working on an illustration looks like.  This photo shows me working in my studio at John’s house in Dearborn.

A Ollie antiquing map March 2010

When I draw and make medieval maps this is the “antiquing” process.  The original map is usually much smaller.  I have a photocopy enlargement made (18″x24″ or 24″x36″ or 36″x48″) and then proceed to stain it, distress it, paint it, etc.

Daytime 4

Back in January, when our Spring Spaniel, Molly, had leg surgery and could not go up and down stairs, I simply moved my studio drawing board to the living and camped out there for six weeks while she recovered.  We kept a cozy, cheery fire burning in the fireplace and Molly was happy as could be.   This photo shows the finished artwork for Gemma & Gus in progress (this book will be published March 2015)

Daytime 7

Illustrations being worked on.

ODstudio BEST

Me at the drawing board in the studio at Henwoodie.

4%22 Box

This is the original handwritten journal that I wrote when I was seventeen years old and old photos of me as a teenager.  The box contains the printed manuscript for my novel: 4″

The novel is based on this journal.

Prologue to Book One: The Secret Book of Moolstery


A Myvyrrian Map  5 June 2012I finally posted the Prologue to Book One: The Secret Book of Moolstery in the Lay of Moel Eyris: The Saga of the Bear’s Son mythology/heroic quest to my website!

This is a rough draft and will be revised and rewritten and edited before final publication in the book.  I thought that readers might find it an interesting piece.  Hopefully, there will be feedback.  I am curious as to what readers might think of the style of the narrative.


Writing every day


Bookcase in library Studio Library

When I was twelve years old I started writing my first journal.  I have kept on writing almost every day ever since.   Nowadays I maintain both a professional and personal journal as well as Writing Logs to chronicle ideas when they come in regard to any particular story or book I am writing.

All through high school I wrote compulsively in order to stave off loneliness and the utter feeling of being totally isolated.  We lived in the countryside and I had no close friends except my younger brother.  He wasn’t much of a reader but he was my best friend.

Writing was what I did to collect my thoughts, try to figure myself out, where I was going, and how I was going to get there.  For example, the first thing I wrote when I was twelve years old was “My Life Plan”.  I literally outlined what I hoped my life would be and what I would have to do to live the life I wanted to live.   Believe it or not, I have stuck to that Life Plan pretty much for almost fifty years.

I had outlined short term goals as well as long term goals.  And I have achieved nearly every goal I set out for myself.  Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t take some wrong turns or get muddled at times along the way, but for the most part, I stuck to the course I had set for myself.

Today I find myself still writing compulsively every day.  Emails, tweets, this blog, journals, stories, books, website, etc.  Thankfully I’m a fast typist and the actual mechanics of writing takes no time at all.   I simply start writing (typing) and then save whatever happens to come out of my brain and into the computer.

Writing every day helps me not be afraid to string words together and let them go where they will.  It’s an exercise, of course.  The one great thing for writers is that the Internet often allows reader to respond and react to the writing, the words.

Most writers write in total and complete solitude.   It’s the only way to really live with your words and immerse yourself into the story.  Gertrude Stein wrote “An audience is nice but should not be necessary.”   She’s right, of course.  I really do write for myself pretty much.  But, obviously, as a professional writer it is important to let others read the writing at times.  How else would I be able to make a living as a writer?

My mother’s dream for me was to get a job as a waiter in a fancy restaurant and earn big tips.  I could never quite get  her to understand that I wanted to be a writer, not a waiter.  One letter in a word makes all the difference in a person’s life.  Especially a writer’s.   My dream for myself was NOT to be a waiter.  I don’t like waiting on people.  But I do like writing.

I’m not certain whether anyone reads this blog or not.  I don’t even read the entries after I write them, I must admit.  For me this blog is more or less a public diary.  I’m taking the chance to let others see how my mind works as a writer, where my thoughts come from, and how the writing takes shape and becomes a story or a book.

It’s not an exciting process, I’ll admit.  But it’s the honest, true-to-life process as to how I live and work as a writer.

An Idea for Wythe’s End


Henwoodie Christmas 2013 2

‘Henwoodie stood quietly in the snow.  Evening was falling.  The front porch light had been turned on and gave the silent house a warm welcoming glow to anyone who might pass by.  The house held its breath, waiting for the snowstorm to begin.’

Many, many years ago I was involved in an intense email correspondence (the emails are being turned into a book about a desperate romance between two people).   Each email that I sent began with a description of the weather outside my window at the time I was writing the email.  Just a few lines to establish the mood and tone of the email.

I went back and reread quite a few of the emails and the technique really works well.  My thought is to do the same thing with each chapter in “Wythe’s End”.  In that the house itself (Wythe’s End) is a much a character in the story as the people I thought it would be a great way to keep the house in a prominent role throughout the narrative.

These opening lines won’t detract from the main focus of the content and will provide a logical thread between chapters.  If it doesn’t work I can always take it out.

Looking back…


Cover Design 3

Several years ago I wrote an edgy, coming-of-age novel titled 4″ and published it under one of my pen names—-Gabe Hooton.  This autobiographical novel is based directly on one of my journals that I wrote when I was 17 years old.  4″ is the first in a trilogy: 4″, 8″, and 12″.  The three books cover exactly one year in the life of seventeen year Gabe Hooton after a near deadly automobile accident.  Four inches is the connecting thread of the narrative of the story.

4″ covers the period between January-June 1971.  The book is 551 pages long and is divided into four sections: 1″ Mental Chaos; 2″ Mundane Existence; 3″ Mental Calm; 4″ Mental Peace

8″ continues Gabe’s story covering June-August 1971

12″ concludes his story covering September 1971-January 1972

This one year proves to be filled with life changing insights, traveling to Paris, and finding a place for himself in his world.

I don’t know why but I looked up the book on Amazon this evening.  You can imagine my surprise and pleasure when I read the following two reviews from total strangers.  Sometimes it takes an objective eye to really make sense of someone’s words.

A review from a reader on Amazon:


Gabe Hooten experiences great physical trauma in an automobile accident, as he exhaustedly wends his way home from a marathon drive to visit his grandmother in Virginia. The way home, detoured by his recovery, is longer than he expected it to be, and he takes us through the winding roads with him, on his way to his REAL home–to college, to Paris, to writing, and to love.

When one is told that this is a “coming of age” tale of a young gay man, one would think that it is full of angst and soul searching and heartbreak as he “discovers” being gay, and coming out, and dealing with the surrounding drama of such a thing. But the charming thing about Gabe is that his being gay is the very LEAST of his worries–it seems that he is BORN knowing, that he never considered this anything but what he is. Oh, he’s angsty and insecure, but his real worries are about being smart enough, sophisticated enough…GOOD enough. Being gay has little to do with it. His driving passion is to be a writer–to be intelligent enough and successful enough at life to be able to live his dream. And while he wrestles with his crush on the aloof and elusive object of his desire, what drives him is the pursuit of that dream. Being gay is just what he IS, and he has no doubts about it, no desire to change it, no drama surrounding the “being different” of this particular aspect of his person. “Being different” involves growing up in a down-home family that falls short of the sophisticated life he dreams of. “Being different” involves being smarter than anyone around him, and yet wondering if he’s actually smart ENOUGH, because the bar is set so low among his peers that he can’t help but jump it with ease. “Being different” involves being short, and longing for just that four inches….

This book is painful at times, hilarious at times (Gabe’s love/hate relationship with chickens, which anyone who knows chickens knows is true to the bone), always charming, always whimsical, always optimistic, always enthusiastic and always TRUE. It is a glorious tale of a very unusual young man, one that you can’t help but love. And when one learns what actually pushed him to make that fateful drive to Virginia, what was so important for him to accomplish that it drove him to exhaust himself behind the wheel and cause that terrible accident, you will know why you love him, because it is impossible NOT to love such a loving heart.

If I had more than two thumbs, then they all would be up. Bravo, Gabe–please tell us more!

Another review from a reader on Amazon:


I must say I am not a fan of e-books. I read the first few pages of 4″ and I was sucked right into Kindleville. This is a very well written book that keeps your interest from start to finish. I enjoyed it very much.
I do hope there will be more books in the series.

These two readers have no idea the hope and encouragement they have given me to go ahead and finish writing the trilogy.  Once a writer puts his words out into the universe he rarely knows who reads them and how readers react.  Thanks to Amazon it is now to get a bit of insight into how readers respond to the words written from the heart.

Still Writing!


Wythe's End Front 1  WYTHE’S END

I have written 18 of 26 chapters in a matter of a few weeks.  I still have not finished the illustrations for “A Bed for Little Cub” and am trying hard NOT to keep working on the new novel — “The Wythes”.   The writing is coming along beautifully!

John and I spent a week on Cape Cod and in Provincetown where I did the final research and fact checking for the story.  So glad I did!  When you set a story in another time (1994) and use real places you have to do the research and fact checking to make sure businesses, street scenes, views, etc. are accurate to the year.

We had the best time and I got all the research done that I needed to get done.   And I learned more about commercial fishing and Macmillan Wharf’s construction than you would imagine!

As soon as I get the illustrations finished I will wrap up writing and revising the first draft of the novel.

Meanwhile…Dollywood is adapting my book “Old Bear and His Cub” for a live stage performance that will open in mid-June 2015!  John and I will be flown down for the opening and I will do a rare book signing event—something I haven’t done for nearly 20 years!

Walking on the deserted beach at Race Point

Walking on the deserted beach at Race Point

Fisherman's Wharf in Provincetown

Fisherman’s Wharf in Provincetown