It’s Always Darkest Before They Turn On The Lights

It’s been a very long two months since the last time I updated the blog…but hey, it’s only two months instead of two years!

In Memoriam

As I mentioned in my last article, my father’s health has been declining. Since I wrote my last post, he was in the hospital twice. He returned home from his most recent stint in the hospital but passed away the next morning, April 21. Although my father graduated college with an Associate’s Degree in Dairy Technology, he ended up working for a pharmaceutical company and became an analytical chemist, retiring as a Staff Scientist. I found out during his calling hours that whenever anyone needed to figure out to do something, he was always the one who figured it out; that’s a talent I believe I inherited from my dad. He was a lifelong musician, playing the alto horn (think a baby baritone that sounds more like a french horn) in a number of community bands and even a Dixieland combo. I attribute my love of music to him – I remember going to concerts when I was a kid and I couldn’t wait until I could play in the band; something I’m doing to this very day. And lastly, he was the one who started my lifelong obsession with Star Trek. I remember Sunday afternoons watching it with my dad when I was young. Recently, we had started re-watching some of the episodes when I went to visit him in the evening. Although, as one of my college friends said after my dad’s service, I probably would have been obsessed with it anyway, given my college friends. But my love of Star Trek and science fiction is traced back directly to my father.

My father, like my mother, was a voracious reader. When I was younger, he read a great deal of science fiction and westerns. As he got older, his tastes turned more towards mysteries and thrillers. He was a big fan of my books – in fact, when he was at a rehab facility last fall, he had me bring copies of my books so he could re-read them. I’m saddened that he won’t get to read this book; although it’s finished, it’s not in a state for anyone to read yet.

Here’s a picture of the two of us from 2020:

Speaking Of The Next Book…

With my dad’s health, my time to work on the book has been extremely limited. I have managed to go through and get rid of the most egregious typos, spelling, and grammar mistakes. I’m at the point where I really need to read through the book again and work out issues before I fine-tune everything. I should have more time to devote to it, but I also have to start dealing with my dad’s affairs. Time will tell when I can complete this.

That’s all from me for now. Hopefully my next missive will contain happier news.

Happy Journeys!

Mike

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The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Author

The Mysterious Case of the Vanishing Author

Our mid day tea was interrupted by the ring of the doorbell. I roused myself from the chair and hurried to the door where I found a striking young woman. “Is this the home of Sherlock Holmes, the famous detective? I wish to engage him to help me find a missing author. I apologize for being so forward. He’s been missing for two years and I have no idea what happened to him,” she said. “I forget my manners, I’m Joan de St. Leger.”

She was a striking young woman; auburn hair, bright green eyes. “Have we met before? You look familiar to me,” I asked as I ushered her into the house.

“It’s possible; I work for Mr. Mycroft Holmes in the Foreign Service,” she said.

“That must be it,” I said. “This way.” I led her up the stairs to Holmes’ drawing room. “This is Miss Joan de St. Leger. She is asking for your help in finding a missing author. What did you say his name was?”

“I’m sorry, I didn’t. His name is Michael Tefft. The last missive I had from him was over two years ago and I fear the worse.

“What is your relationship to this author?” Holmes asked.

I’m a character in his novels,” she replied. “I’ve been waiting two long years to find out what will happen to me.”

– From the non existent story “The Case of the Vanishing Author”

It won’t take the great deductive mind of Sherlock Holmes to find out where I’ve been for the last two years.

The answer is: Life has kept me busy.

When last I updated this blog, I was trying to decide what to work on – an anthology of horror short stories or the next novel in the Reluctant series. I actually wrote three stories, three quarters of another, and plotted out a fourth. But in the end, I came back to Malcolm, and Joan.

Then COVID.

The week of March 18th, I suddenly found myself working full time at home and then just a day later, making an emergency trip to Canada to get our daughter back from college before the border closed. All during this, I also needed to check on my father on a daily basis. While you would think that this would mean more time to write because I no longer had a daily commute and no outside activities, I found I actually had less time.

But I wrote when I could. I managed to take a writing retreat in 2020, staying at Kate’s Lazy Meadow Motel – owned by Kate Pierson of the B-52s!

In March 2021, I left my employer for a new position as a Technical Solutions Architect for a software company. I hadn’t been happy in my old job and it had become obvious to me that there were little to no opportunities to do something new at that job. The new job has been challenging, but also very demanding on my time, making it even harder to find time to write.

In August of 2021, my family and I went to Trekondoraga (a recreation of the Star Trek Original Series sets) and I got to live out my fantasy of being a Chief Engineer on the Enterprise:

In October of 2020, we joined all of the people who got quarantine pets, a beautiful cat named Jazz (it was supposed to be Jasmine because we thought when we got it, it was a girl. However, a visit to the vets told us otherwise, so he became Jazz). I was never a cat person before, but now I’ve become one of those people that obsessively reads about cats that have been rescued and thriving in new homes. Here he is in all his glory:

I was able to get away for another writing retreat in 2021 – this time to Honesdale, PA ( in the Poconos) where I got a tremendous amount of writing done and really moved the next novel towards completion.

Which I’m happy to say, on January 6, 2022, I completed the first draft of the next Reluctant novel:

So What’s Next?

I’ve been letting the novel sit for a few weeks and I’m just beginning to start reading through it, so that I can figure out what needs to rewriting. I really hope that I can get this novel published this year, but between my job and looking out for my father, I’m not sure if it will happen. But I intend to work on it, bit by bit, much like how I wrote it.

I hope this solves the Case of the Vanishing Author to your satisfaction. I plan to offer more frequent updates, but you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men….

Until next time,

Happy Journeys!
Mike

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There And Back Again

There And Back Again

Where the heck have I been for the last four months? After months of semi-regular blogging, nothing.

After the launch of The Reluctant Agent, I thought I was gung-ho to start the next book in the Reluctant series. And I was. I wrote the first chapter fairly quickly and things seemed like they were on their way.

Until they weren’t.

Admittedly, I have been busy over the summer. Band season was in full swing and I typically played in at least 2 concerts a week. But I had time to write, oftentimes having hours at a time.

And I couldn’t bring myself to write.

Almost any activity seemed preferable to writing. I simultaneously looked forward to and dreading writing.

And it seemed pointless.

While my sales of The Reluctant Agent were great at the Sherburne Arts Festival (and I’m so grateful to everyone who purchased copies), I’ve sold only single digits of copies since then. I tried playing with Amazon Ads to boost sales – the first attempt ended with no impressions (so it cost me no money), the second attempt garnered some impressions and two sales, but that’s it. I tried to set up a signing with a local book store and after providing my information, I heard nothing. I emailed them twice more and got no reply. An attempt to sell my books at another local store has likewise been answered with silence.

I began to wonder: what’s the point? I felt like the more I pushed, the less the universe cared. I spend all of my free time trying to fit in writing. Was it really worth it?

Fast forward to this past weekend…

Cabin in the woods

This past weekend, I went on my (nearly) annual writing retreat. I set myself up in the cabin in the picture. Since I had driven two and a half hours to get there and spent real money to rent the cabin, I felt like I really had to write whether I wanted to or not.

And so I did. I wrote on and off from 3:30 Friday afternoon until about 9:00 that night with a break for dinner. The next morning, I wrote from 9:00 to 9:00.

I just kept at it and at it and while I can’t say I wrote a ton of words, I made substantial progress. However, something more important happened:

I remembered why I like writing.

It’s the act of building the story, of researching the stupid little details I put into the book that brings me joy.

With the lead up to The Reluctant Agent, I was busy with editing, building the cover, creating the print and ebook editions, and marketing. Everything about the business of writing, but not the actual writing.

And when all of that work seemed to result in nothing, I got discouraged. I wasn’t consciously blaming my lack of success, but it certainly fed into my ongoing battle with Imposter Syndrome (see this post for more details). If all that work wasn’t achieving results, why bother?

The answer came to me this weekend: the success is in the act of creation, not the selling of the creation.

Now please don’t mistake what I’m saying: I very much want my books to be successful. I want everyone to buy copies of my books. But the reason I do it is for the creation – the process. I confused the success of the product with the success I had already achieved – writing a book.

So now what?

I think I have my writing mojo back.

For the first time in forever, I was eager to write a blog post. Tomorrow night, I’m looking forward to spending more time writing. Because that’s where I get the joy in this.

That being said, tomorrow, I have an opportunity to sell my books at an Art fair at work. I would love to sell out of the supply of books I’m bringing, but you know what? Even if I don’t sell anything tomorrow, I still get to come home and write. And that sounds pretty damn good!

Happy Journeys!

Mike

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A Peek​ Behind the Curtain

I was at dinner with my father-in-law and I told him I was in the middle of publishing The Reluctant Agent . He asked, “How do you publish your book?” to which I replied, “With a lot of cussing.” (Note: That is no exaggeration…more on that later). I’ve been thinking about that ever since, and I thought I’d share what I do.

1. Finish the damn book – This means getting the book edited, proofread, and proofread again.

2. If you’re using something other than Amazon for print, get ISBN numbers – If you only use Amazon for print, you don’t need an ISBN number for your book. Likewise, you don’t need an ISBN number for e-books. But if you use another service, you WILL need an ISBN number.

3. Format the book – Here, I have a bit of a secret weapon. I use a piece of software called Vellum that only runs on a Mac. It does all of the heavy-lifting of formatting my Word document into something that looks professional. I didn’t know about it during the first printing of The Reluctant Captain and the difference between the two editions is night and day. Vellum costs approximately $200.00, but I think it’s some of the best money I’ve spent as a writer. There is also a free alternative at reedsy.com. One drawback to both of the tools is that you don’t have complete control over the formatting (for example, I wanted to use the cover font for the chapter titles, but that wasn’t possible). The reedsy tool only has three choices of book styles, while Vellum has anywhere from 3-7 styles for each element of the book.

4. Create the print and e-book versions of the book – I opt to try to sell my book in as many places as possible, so I have to come up with e-book versions for Amazon, Apple, Nook, and Kobo, as well as the PDF for the print book. Here is the other reason that Vellum is worth it – I can push one button and generate all of these formats AT ONCE.

5. Create the cover for the e-book – This is relatively easy. Once I have my scanned cover art, it’s pretty straight forward to make the cover for the e-books – the only trick is making sure you have the correct size, resolution, and format for each platform.

6. Create the cover for the print books – This is where the cussing occurs. To produce hardcover and paperbacks, your cover has to fit in a specific template provided by the printer. In my case, I use Amazon for the paperback version I sell on Amazon and I use IngramSpark for a wide distribution paperback and the hardcover edition. Each platform has its own requirements for size, positioning, print resolution, and format. The only tool I have for this is GIMP, an open source tool that pretends to be like Photoshop. It is not very easy to use (selecting and copying a section of a picture seems to only work on a whim). So that’s the beginning of the cussing. Then you upload it. And it’s often rejected immediately because the resolution wasn’t correct or it’s the wrong format. So you fix it and re-submit. And it works…except you get an email in a day or two that tells you that something is too close to the edge or not close enough, and it’s back to the drawing board. To give you an idea, I have 9 copies of The Reluctant Agent hardback cover on my computer. As you can imagine, there was a whole lot of cussing going on!

7. Upload the files and information to all of the platforms, set your prices…and wait – You would think after writing one hundred thousand words for the novel, writing the sales description would be easy…and you are wrong. It is tough. On some platforms, you have a limited number of characters (not words) for your description. But eventually, you wade through it and if you’re lucky, everything is accepted in a couple of business days. If not, you’re back to any step between 3 and 6…and repeat ad nauseam.

In the end, it really is worth all of the cussing. I’m very happy with how the hardcover editions of both The Reluctant Captain and The Reluctant Agent look. They look like real books! Which reminds me…the links to buy The Reluctant Agent are over there on the right. You can also sign up for my occasional newsletter. It’s an easy way to keep updated on what I’m doing!

Until next time,

Happy Journeys!

Mike

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All Over But The Shouting…

All Over But The Shouting…

This past Saturday marked the release (finally) of The Reluctant Agent. I opted to release it on the day of the Sherburne Arts Festival. Here are a few actions shots of my day:

All dressed up and ready to sell!
The author in action

For my local arts festival, I think I did rather well. I sold 18 copies of The Reluctant Agent, but also sold 7 copies of The Reluctant Captain, which has been out for 4 years now! I want to thank everyone who came out and supported me by buying my book. It really meant a lot to me. After breaking down the tent and hauling the 6 boxes of books home, we went out for a celebratory dinner at Ray Brother’s Barbeque:

Enjoying an adult beverage in celebration!

What’s Next?

I’m a bit at a loss as to what to do next, so I may leave it up to you, the people who read my blog. I mentioned before that I had started a horror story anthology that’s maybe a third of the way completed or I can dive right into the next story in the Reluctant series (if you’ve read The Reluctant Agent, you’ll already have an idea of what it will be). I just put up a poll on my Facebook page so you can vote and tell me what you want!

I’ll be taking a vacation shortly and I plan to buckle down after that. And you can help me decide where I should focus my efforts.

Contest Results

And the winner of the signed copy of the hardcover of The Reluctant Agent was…no one. I didn’t receive a single entry. I may decide to run this contest again at some point, so I won’t give away any clues. So read (or re-read) The Reluctant Captain. I tell you that if you are moderately exposed to geek culture, you can at least come up with one reference.

Thanks

I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank everyone who is responsible for The Reluctant Agent:

  • My Beta Readers Keven, Melanie, Michael, and Donna – Thanks for your feedback on the early draft. It was instrumental in making the story better
  • Emilee Jayne Janitz – Thanks for a cover that was better than I imagined
  • Jeannette Armstrong-Collins – Thanks for a wonderful job of editing my manuscript!
  • My family – Thanks for your support and love.

And finally, thank you to everyone who bought a copy of my book! It means so much to me!

If you haven’t gotten your copy, you can buy it in multiple formats:

  • The ebook is available in many formats here
  • The paperback is available here
  • The hardcover is available here

I’ll let everyone know the results of the poll in just over a week’s time.

Until then,

Happy Journeys!

Mike

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Long, Long, Long

Long, Long, Long

It’s been a VERY long month since I last wrote.

First, The Good News

Today I received the first print of the hardcover edition of The Reluctant Captain! Forgive the bad picture:

It’s So Hard To Say Goodbye

My mother, Myrtle Tefft, passed away on February 21. My mother was an intensely private person, so I’ve only alluded here to the fact that her health was failing. Although it wasn’t a surprise, it was a shock that she went so quickly. Thankfully, she passed away in her sleep.

I owe much of who I am to my mother. My mother was born in 1930 in London, England and grew up during the Blitz. My mother was tenacious (which is the polite way of saying she was stubborn) and never afraid to stand up for herself if she thought she was being treated unfairly. I get those traits from her without a doubt.

Although my mother immigrated to the States in 1958, she kept many traditions from England alive. Until I went to college, I drank tea far more extensively than coffee, starting on tea with large doses of milk and sugar. Every year, my mother made Christmas Pudding and, for my birthday, Steak and Kidney Pudding (Note: For my American friends, a pudding means a steamed cake – in the case of Christmas – or pastry in the case of Steak and Kidney. It is NOT the pudding we eat out of cups). On Sunday dinners, if we had roast beef, we always had Yorkshire Pudding (popovers). We would often play an English pub game called Shove Ha’penny. The board is a slate with several lines engraved on it. You would “shove” English Ha’pennies (half pennies) and try to get them in between a set of two lines. It’s rather like shuffleboard.

With this comes a change for me. For nearly the last year, Mom was either in a hospital or nursing home at distances ranging from 10 to 50 miles. I tried to visit as often as I could (about every other day). As a result, most of my evenings were taken up with travel. Now, I have to adjust to having time and knowing what that really means – my mom is gone. I’m still coming to grips with it. I’ve found ti hard to conecentrate on anything. In fact, this is the most meaningful amount of writing that I’ve done since she passed.

I know that I will make peace with this, be able to move on, and start writing again. My mother would want that. She often asked me how my writing was going when I visited her. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I didn’t have time to write because I was visiting her, so I would say, “It’s going,” or some other non-committal answer.

Before I sign off, I want to share one of my favorite pictures of my mother and I. It was taken on Mother’s Day in 2015;

Until next time, Happy Journeys!

Mike

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