A Horse Doctor’s Guide to Literature

As a general rule I avoid books that are labeled ‘literary.’ By so doing, I have no doubt deprived myself of some excellent reading. My problem is that I’ve read – or rather, have started to read – too many literary novels that yearned to be admired for their ‘profoundness’ rather than for being a good story well told. One literary book I have read is Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, and I found it to be extremely profound in its observations about love, courage, friendship, betrayal, war, life, and death. But it never shined a light on itself to announce its profoundness. There was never a sense of Hemingway doing anything more than telling an emotionally honest love story based on his deep observations of life.

Further, I find too many ‘literary’ books taking the horse doctor approach to their main character’s primary problem. Here’s what I mean. There was once a Far Side cartoon where a character was studying a book on horse medicine. Down one column on every page was listed a variety of horse afflictions and in the second column were the remedies: Broken leg – shoot the horse. Mangy tail – shoot the horse. Droopy ears – shoot the horse. Milky eye – shoot the horse. Etc.

In my limited experience, too many literary novels take the same approach. No matter what the hero or heroine’s complaint, just like Far Side’s horse doctor, there is always the same remedy. Here is how Far Side would portray it. Workaholic husband – illicit sex. A wife who doesn’t understand – illicit sex. Ungrateful children – illicit sex. Bored housewife – illicit sex. Sacrificed career to have children – illicit sex. Etc.

But maybe it’s the genre that is the problem. If a book is literary, then the characters, gosh dang it, better darn well have a more emotionally tangled, angst filled literary way of solving problems than pulling out an automatic and blowing a hole through somebody you could paddle a canoe through. Otherwise, the book might slip into the thriller category. My category. And serious writers don’t write thrillers. Or do they?

Three words: John le Carre’. Enough said. Also, three more words: Martin Cruz Smith. I just reread Smith’s Gorky Park – the first in his series of thrillers based on Moscow police detective Arkady Renko – a book that, in my opinion, is truly ‘literary’ in all the good sense of the word. Also, Olen Steinhauer – a masterful writer of literary thrillers, particularly his ‘Tourist’ series. Barry Eisler and his John Rain series are also particularly well written. Are they literary? Not as much as le Carre’ or Smith, but then, who is? But read Mr. Eislers first few books and see if his character’s descriptions and emotional ties to Tokyo are not literary enough for you.

In one place in Einstein’s Trunk, while I wasn’t paying attention, my hero Rulon Hurt, slipped into profoundness. He and Yohaba were forced to share a hotel room together, and it was causing Rulon all sorts of moral anxiety. To ease the tension, Yohaba asked him to sing her to sleep, and he, without thinking, chose For My Lover by Tracy Chapman. Afterwards, Yohaba from the bed, reminded Rulon who was laying on the floor, that they weren’t lovers. Rulon replied that she had a very narrow definition of the word lover. So we see, even Idaho cowboys can be profound when there’s a pretty girl involved.
But lest readers think I’m a total Neanderthal, I’m open to the possibility that there are a lot of great ‘literary’ books out there, and I’ve been depriving myself of some great reading. So, if anyone has any literary books they think I might enjoy, I’d be happy to hear your suggestions.

Best regards,

Zurich, Switzerland

What I wished I’d known before my first book got published – by Stephanie Connelley Worlton

From Jim: Stephanie Connelly Worlton is the author of two excellent books, Hope’s Journey and Everything You Need to Know about Girls Camp: The Essential Planning Guide for Leaders – both available from Amazon and other book resellers. In the post below, Stephanie shares what she’s learned on her epic journey to become a published author. To get to know Stephanie better, check out her Kreating Krazy website at: http://stephanieworlton.blogspot.ch/

Now here’s Stephanie,
I’m going to admit a secret (and I suspect there are many new authors who share the same experience) – When I dove into the publishing business I was undoubtedly naïve. There it is, simple, yet so common. I suppose like many of my peers, I had this illusion of world tours, marketing stampedes, and huge royalty checks. I thought all I had to do was write my masterpiece, get a contract, and then everything else would fall into place. It was only a matter of time before Hollywood would be banging down my door for movie rights….

And then reality hit.

In all fairness, I know there are aspiring authors who’ve spent years researching the craft as well as the business and are in a much more informed place than I was when I sent off my first manuscript. In hindsight I probably should’ve done a little more homework. Nonetheless, most authors I meet seem to have been in my same boat, wishing they’d known just a few basic things before their first book came to life.

As they say, there is no better teacher than experience, and I hope that my experience will be a great teacher to someone. Here are the top five things I wished I’d known BEFORE my first book launched:

Writing is the easy part. – When you’re up to your eyeballs in developing characters, advancing your plot, and then editing and re-editing, it’s hard to believe that the real work hasn’t yet started. The biggest misconception I had as a newbie author was that my job was simply to write the book and the publisher’s job was to do everything else. Makes logical sense, right? A writer writes, a publisher publishes… but what about everything else? Lucky for me, my publishing company has a great editing staff and an amazing team of cover designers. Because of them, the final product comes out beautiful, with no stress on my part. But then the work starts. Marketing, networking, getting reviews, scheduling book signings, coordinating blog tours, interacting with fans (not really work, but it does take some time), and more marketing.

Marketing is mostly the responsibility of the author. – No, I’m not kidding. Doesn’t the publisher employ a publicist/marketing agent? Yes. Isn’t his/her job to market your book as their title implies? No. The job of a marketing agent is to help an author market their book, not do it for them. They support you and try to keep you on track, they encourage signings and help set them up with the book stores, but ultimately selling your book is your responsibility. There are many ways to market a book, but in today’s high-tech digital world, it shouldn’t be surprising that the most effective tools are internet based. Every author should have a website and/or blog, a Facebook page, and a Twitter account. They should also take advantage of other networking tools like Google+, LinkedIn, and even Pintrist. They should make sure their author information is up to date on book sites such as Goodreads, Amazon, BarnesandNoble, and any other site that might carry or recommend your book.

Have a webpage/blog and a following BEFORE your book launches. ¬– Timing really is everything and it’s never too early to start building an audience and creating your brand. It takes months and sometimes even years for a book to grow from manuscript to finished project. Don’t sit idly by waiting for that surreal date when your book finally becomes real! In fact, you don’t really need to have a contract or even a finished manuscript before you start building your brand. If you’re serious about writing, start sharing your talents via a blog or other method. Don’t be shy about talking about what you are working on and occasionally share tidbits of your work(s) in progress. Start following other authors and book bloggers and develop a relationship with them.

Other authors are your best friends. – There’s a weird dynamic in the publishing world that seems almost contradictory in most business models: your competition isn’t really your competition. They are in fact, your biggest cheerleaders, marketing supporters, and promotional helps. Develop a network with other authors. Support them. Encourage them. Consider joining a writing group or an author’s guild. Interact with them online and, if geographically possible, attend writer’s conferences.

Don’t be afraid to talk about your book. – Seriously. Talk about your book. Not in that annoying, every word that comes out of your mouth is about your book kind of way, but in appropriate settings at appropriate times. You know your book and its contents better than anyone else, so when you stumble upon the opportunity to say something about it, do. Don’t be embarrassed or overly humble. Most people want to know… and many of them are so thrilled to be friends with a “pseudo-celebrity” that if you’re excited about your project, they will be too.

I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of the amazing publishing community. Over the past few years I’ve had the privilege to get to know many fabulous authors and I consider it an honor to be numbered amongst their friends. I’m so thankful for the help and advice they’ve shared with me and I hope as I tuck more titles and experience under my belt, that I can be an asset to others as they have been to me.

Thanks for A Thousand Suns

 Today A Thousand Suns was officially published, and I wish to thank all those who read the manuscript at various stages and suggested helpful edits. In no particular order: 

·         Grey Titmus, my long time Boise friend and resident expert on all things Idaho.   

·         My agent Donna Eastman whom you can thank if you liked the fight between Rulon and Boris in the Rockin’ Rooster. Originally I had planned to cut off the scene right before the fight started and leave the actual fight to everyone’s imagination. But Donna encouraged me to actually write it out, and I did. Good call, Donna! 

·         Margaret Habelt-Pattison, my Zurich editor, who not only has an excellent eye for detail, but gives helpful suggestions on plot and characterization. She was my sounding board while writing the book. Everyone needs a Margaret when they’re writing a book – an editor who is detailed oriented and unfailingly honest in their feedback but never tries to take the book away from the author. 

·         John Franklin, an old high school friend with whom I’ve reconnected after many years. By the way, John has a couple of extremely talented daughters who can sing up a storm. They’re called The Franklin Girls and have just recorded their second pop album. 

·         John Solosabal who owns a ranch near Glen’s Ferry and Jerry Butler who ranches several thousand acres in the Owyhees are both longtime Idaho ranchers who were immeasureably patient in answering all my cowboy related questions. Having been born in Brooklyn, New York, all I knew about ranching before I talked to them, was, well, actually, I didn’t know anything. And certainly nothing about the vagaries of Idaho ranching. 

·         Melissa Caldwell, my editor at Cedar Fort, who did her job professionally and made the editing process so very, very easy. Also, she did a great job of laying out and setting up the book for publication. 

·         Martin Bingisser, American hammer thrower, now living in Zurich, who I once plied with Mexican food at Tres Kilos, Rulon’s favorite Zurich restaurant, and who suppled all the hammer throwing details in my books. Over that meal and in subsequent communications, Martin taught me lots about hammer throwing including the fact that world class hammer throwers don’t ‘pull’ the 16-pound ball through their spins as one might expect but rather ‘push’ it. That little fact pops up in ATS out of Rulon’s dad’s mouth. 

·         Google and my laptop’s backspace key, without which I would still be working on the first chapter of Einstein’s Trunk.   

·         And finally, last but not least, Kimmy, my loving wife, who reads my chapters, always gives honest feedback, listens to me working out scenes while on our walks to the gym, hands out my bookmarks to all her business acquaintences, and keeps my feet planted firmly on the ground.  
My most heartfelt thanks to all of them, 
Boston, Mass.    

How Does an Elephant Talk to a Crocodile?

     CAN an elephant talk to a crocodile? The answer is yes, as I discovered one day while sitting on the patio of our family ‘donor’ home in Kruger Park, South Africa. Previous to that day, I had spent many hours on that patio, under the shade of its huge spreading tree, reading books, watching the wide languid Sabie river flow past, and listening to the sounds of Africa. Crocodiles basked on the opposite shore and elephants and grunting hippos abounded.     Normally, I was out there with my step-son Henry who has since passed away. He and I would talk for hours about every subject under the sun. His curiosity was constant and so was his sense of humor. Invariably, as we sat together overlooking the slow moving Sabie, and I was engrossed in a book, he would break the silence by asking, “How much would I have to pay you to swim across that river?” It was a running joke between us. I would look up and scan the far bank, see a dozen large crocodiles laying like logs and say, “For a dollar I would throw you in the river,” and then the negotiations would begin. Eventually, the negotiations would reach $10 million dollars and the use of a marksman with a high-powered rifle and Henry would question my manhood. But I always wondered how deep the river was.

    One day as I sat on the patio, I found my answer. An elephant came close to the house and began to walk ever so slowly across the seventy-five meter wide river. To my surprise, at its deepest point, the water didn’t even reach his stomach – at most it was about four feet deep. It turned out I wouldn’t have to swim at all! But as I watched, the biggest crocodile I had ever seen surfaced slowly into view and fell in behind the elephant. The croc was a good fifteen feet long and stayed about a body-length away, his speed matching that of his enormous target. What was the croc thinking? Surely he wasn’t stupid enough to attack the elephant! I watched.

     Though he hadn’t turned his head, you could tell by the agitated flapping of his ears that the elephant was immediately aware of the crocodile. But the croc continued to follow. The elephant stopped. The crocodile stopped. The elephant continued. The croc followed. The elephant stopped again and let out a resounding angry trumpet. The croc stopped too but then continued when the elephant resumed his walk. After a few more steps the elephant turned and faced the crocodile. The big croc held his ground. For the next thirty seconds, the elephant proceeded to furiously beat and thrash the water in front of the crocodile with every ounce of his strength. His tusks, head, and trunk churned the water into a boiling white froth, the water leaping high into the air. I stood up and leaned over the wooden rail that separated me from the electric fence that lined our property on the river side, fascinated by this enormous display of power.

     When the elephant was finished, he turned slowly away and continued his patient journey to the far bank. The crocodile, having gotten the message, peeled slowly off and eventually disappeared under the rippling water. Elephants can talk to crocodiles. In fact, they can be quite eloquent. 

     The pictures below were all taken from the patio of the house in Kruger. The second picture is of Kim, my wife, and my step son Henry. The third picture isn’t showing a log in the river, but a crocodile. Despite obvious similarites, hairy chest, prehensile tail, etc., the fourth picture is not of me scampering on the wood railing around the property.

         Reminder: someday soon I will be moving this blog to my official website:  www.jimhaberkorn.com
Best regards, 

Where did the title ‘A Thousand Suns’ come from?

     The other night a friend asked me how I came up with the title A Thousand Suns.  Here’s the background: The title is not taken from the Linkin Park album ‘A Thousand Suns.’ And it’s not from the Iron Maiden song ‘Brighter than a Thousand Suns.’ Both of those musical creations got the phrase from a statement by Robert Oppenheimer, the leader of the Manhattan project, who, after seeing the first atom bomb go off at Alamogordo, New Mexico on July 15, 1945, said that it reminded him of these words from the Bhagavad-Gita: “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky that would be like the splendor of the Mighty one…”

And then a minute later when he saw the mushroom cloud rise high above the earth, he said it made him think of the rest of that poem: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of Worlds.”

But this is how it came to be in my book. Just as they were ready to fall asleep, Yohaba asked Rulon how much did his enemies hate him. This is the rest of the scene: 

Half asleep, without opening his eyes, Rulon mumbled, “Oh…I’d say with the heat of a thousand suns. Yeah, that sounds about right…”

After a few minutes, Yohaba propped herself up on one elbow and looked at Rulon sleeping like a baby. Moonlight breaking through the clouds streamed in the window and made moving shadows on Rulon’s face. Her love for him stirred and her heart gave a leap. She looked around the room and up at the ceiling trying to focus on something, anything, to keep from crying. She managed all right except for a single tear that ran down her face into the corner of her mouth.

The salty tear mixed with the lingering feel of Rulon’s lips acted like an Oracle’s potion. It set her mind to racing and conjuring up memories of their life together, the love and violence they had shared so far in equal doses, as if a cosmic scale needed to stay in balance. Yohaba gasped, suddenly overwhelmed with a portent of the future – this will not end well. She knew it without a doubt: There will be blood.

The moment of realization quickly passed and was replaced with a terrible calm. Looking down at Rulon’s kindly face, she whispered into his ear, “What a coincidence. A thousand suns. That’s exactly how much I love you, Cowboy.” She rolled over onto her side away from Rulon and now the moon shadows spilled across her face. “But mine burn hotter,” she said into the night.