I NEED YOUR VOTE!

vote2No…not for anything that has to do with politics (God save us all). I have written an essay about my writing journey and entered it in a contest to be published in a book titled “50 Great Authors You Should Be Reading,” along with some free (always a great thing) marketing/advertisement tools.

And made it to the final round of voting that ends December 4, 2016!

Please:

  1. click here: http://bit.ly/2atHSbH
  2. click on my name to read the essay (I hope)
  3. click on the link in step 1 again (you can close that window with the essay)
  4. scroll down until it says Vote Here—click my name and you’re done.

Simple!

voteAgain, I would like to thank all of you who have read and supported my novel. You know who you are. Without readers buying my writing, submitting Amazon reviews, promoting by word-of-mouth and via social media, I would never have a chance to make a career from all the stories which still lie inside me, begging to be turned into prose. I would like to extend a special thanks to four women who have and continue to go above and beyond: Jean, Sheila, Debra, and, of course…my mother.

Thank you all so very much!

 

What do you like about libraries?

Stockholm Public LibraryI like libraries for weird reasons.

I like that the water fountains don’t shoot a steady stream and you always take one in the eye. I like the random chics who look like they were born in a library, then someone delivered their glasses when they reached puberty. I like the cheap carpet and the echo of inspired thoughts from past readers. I like the security guards who have obviously never read a book. I like the fantasy of a romantic interlude with one of the nerdy librarians—maybe in the Nick Sparks stack, among his sappy books? But mostly, I like libraries because inside all their dust covered, hold-in-your-hand editions, worlds and entire galaxies of imagination and possibilities exist.

Libraries…what wonderful places.

~~~~Andrew Harkless writes stories for the Everyman about the Everyman. Coming-of-age stories (regardless of age) about everyman characters who reach extraordinary crossroads where change is the only path. No matter how average a person may seem at first glance, everyone holds a remarkable story inside.

Your turn! Leave your library thoughts in the comments below.

One lucky commenter will receive a story inspired t-shirt in July 2015!

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Special Thanks to My Crowdfunding Contributors

champagneI hope everyone enjoyed their Christmas and started their new year off safely, and by proclaiming positive, achievable goals for 2015!

My goal is to entertain potential readers by selling a huge number of U Got to Have U Some Fun so I can quickly get to work on my next novel.

Thank you to each and every contributor to my Pubslush crowdfunding campaign! As a bonus, my publisher invited everyone that participated, no matter the reward level, to enjoy U Got to Have U Some Fun by downloading the eBook on December 6th for free. Of course, you are all also invited to leave a review on Amazon after you’ve read it and I so look forward to hearing from you!

I wanted to express my deepest gratitude to every person who donated to this campaign. Your money is key with helping to format the print copies, pre-order print copies to give away, hire an artist to design the cover art, and hire a PR firm to help brand my name and hopefully sell many, many books!

You all know who you are, but here is the complete list of generous, exceptional, pro-active contributors who realize that many times, artists need a leg-up to create and market our work!

Thank you from the bottom of my heart to each of the following:

Brad & Amy S., Bryan T., Herk S., Lindsey L., Raymond V., Rose P., Christine & Mark S., Chris & Kate R., Doug K., Stephen & Mary N., Ryan S., Erinn F., Tanner L., Michelle N., Heather G., Sean & Margie D., Adam K., Jackie R., Amie S., Jill F., Dave & Kathy N., Toni M., Scarlett S., Jim & Dee P., Eric S., Ellie F., Steve & Patti B., Jeff B., Colleen S., Maripat W., Leona H., Marg B.,  and Tom J.

Thank you, again, everyone, and be sure to follow my website and blog so you can get updates on the exciting adventures to come. We are diligently working on the marketing plans and beginning our work with the marketing and PR firms. There will be things like radio interviews and book signings and I know you won’t want to miss those announcements; after all…you get bragging rights because you helped make it all happen!

Happy New Year!

Life is too short…U Got to Have U Some Fun!

https://www.amazon.com/author/andrewharkless

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@andrewharkless

To Believe or Not To Believe?

starwars shakespeare poseI recently completed my first novel, U Got to Have U Some Fun, and after sending out numerous copies for friends, family, and beta groups to review, I am left chewing on a comment about one of my characters—a 13 year old with a prosthetic leg who is wise beyond his years because of a broken home, work-o-holic father, and the accident that cost him his leg.

“Loved the book,” everyone said. The average star rating is 4.5 stars.

But, one reader said she found Garrett too grown-up for his age and suggested I make him 14 or 15.

“Thanks for the feedback,” I said.

But no.

We have all heard the armchair and professional critics and interviewers say the same thing at one time or another: “Such-and-such has an extreme talent and feel for creating believable characters.”

What does that mean?

If it means an author created a character who, throughout the story:

  • acts and talks in a manner fitting to their environment within that story and
  • makes decisions true to the life that character represents and
  • it comes across to the reader in a way that said reader isn’t constantly scrunching their lips into the side of their cheeks and reluctantly turning pages with scowling eyes,

…then I would agree the author conjured a believable character.

Why then do horror movies sell so well when the college girl, alone in the sorority house and knowing there is a killer loose in the town, goes upstairs and opens the very door where she heard a horrible noise instead of fleeing the house?

I guess because that kind of character used in that manner is believable because, ironically, it’s believable in that genre and context to do the unbelievable (and stupid) thing.

“Boo!” The masked man chops college girls head off. Audience jumps and says, “Never saw that one coming.”

Now, here is ‘my two cents.’ And as the so-named title of my blog clearly implies, this is just my opinion.

Was the young boy in The Sixth Sense believable for his age?

Or how about the boy character acting alongside Kevin Spacey in Pay It Forward?

All the characters in The Lord of the Flies?

I say what makes Garrett’s actions believable for his age are all the adversities I (the author) have developed into his character, mainly through backstory. But here is the thing, and I don’t think a lot of readers will recognize this—many readers aren’t worldly enough to recognize genuine characters directly modeled after real life people, or at least bits and pieces of real people.

All literary fiction authors ask themselves at one time or another, “Is my novel true, honest, technically accurate, and yes, believable.”

After all, literary fiction is different than say…science fiction or romance novels. I don’t mean to take away from those genre writers but, let’s face it, science fiction writing affords the author a starting canvas with virtually no rules or creative perimeters—no reader can say, “Well, that would never happen on planet Platekilt when the Ubliots invaded.” But in sci-fi and romance novels, if the story is entertaining enough, the reader usually forgives any disbelief due to genre leniency.

In a way…really good literary fiction isn’t purely fictitious at all.

If an author created two characters who, at age 13, one was getting drunk at Hollywood night clubs and the other was singing duets with Stevie Wonder in his living room, would the reader find those characters believable? Now what if I told you those two characters were loosely modeled after Drew Barrymore and Michael Jackson?

There are two kinds of character believability—technical and reader relatable.

Technical: Fifty pages in, would such and such a character say that? Would that character do that? Is that character doing or saying something contradictory to how the author previously developed them? If Jack was against exercising and then the author had Jack reading a Men’s Bodybuilding magazine in a bookstore without giving plausible explanation for why Jack was reading a magazine about bodybuilding, then that is technically not believable. If an author created a character that would say “aw shucks” and then had them say “holy shit” out of the blue, they are not being honest with the rules they designed for that character. Of course, those rules can always be broken, but in order to get away with it, the author must reasonably justify why they are breaking the rules.

Now…I suspect reader-related character-believability might be a slightly sensitive topic for some of you. I will do my best to not ruffle any feathers.

Sometimes, some readers just aren’t worldly enough to find a character believable. Did that sting? Sorry. And for those of you who are saying, “I have been to 30 different countries in my lifetime.” Great! But that doesn’t make you worldly if you stayed at a Ritz-Carlton every time you ventured out into the big bad world.

Reader: Have you ever talked to a gang member on their home turf in south central LA? Ever spend the night in a back ally with a homeless person just to see what it’s like for them? How about comforting a terminal Aids patient in a hospital ward because they don’t have any friends or family to come visit? Really good novel writers (and actors) do these things so we can incorporate believability into our craft. It’s a novelist’s job to expose the reader to an environment, situation, and characters that the reader previously had never known, while driving a believable, entertaining story within the guidelines of genre and the authors set rules. A ride…so to speak.

I am not saying readers need to hang out in Compton, CA, or the seediest section of Detroit in order to sharpen their novel reading skills. Let us authors do that work for you. Nobody wants to go fight in a bloody war, but we all like reading about one or watching a movie about it, and if you have never been to war, then you certainly don’t have the right or knowledge to judge the actions or speech of a war story character.

See what I’m saying? Don’t judge if you have never met a person in real life like one an author has introduced you to…not if the relationship you have with that character throughout the story is technically believable.

In an age of home-schooling, over hand sanitized, politically correct, gluten free, phone hypnotized texters, the best novelists are out there looking people in the eye, tasting our own blood, not showering for a day or two, eating wild fruit without washing it or our hands, and just plain anything it takes to gather the necessary tools to create unique, believable characters. Reader: Your job is to sit back, relax, trust the writer, and enjoy.

And to the less worldly reader….if Forrest Gump were speaking to you about this, he might say, “Each one of us is unique and special, like a variety of chocolates in a great big box. Both in a novel and in real life, you might not realize how unique and special…not unless you dare take a bite.”

And my character, Garrett? If changing his age by one or two years would have made him more believable to the reader, then did the reader actually consider his backstory at all? If one or two years would have made the difference, why didn’t his family problems, the harrowing accident that took his leg, and what he went through to cope and adjust make the difference?

I’ve met him twice before. Once as I fabricated him in my story, and once (parts of anyway) in real life. If done properly, the line between whether a character is just a character or if the reader feels that character could actually be “real” should be as thin as the difference between fiction and reality. If we authors leave the reader with that impression…we’ve done our jobs. If readers open their minds to the possibilities beyond their own life experiences, then they will enjoy the ride that much more.

Readers: Please keep reading! We authors desperately need you. Thank you.

Watch for trending hashtag #UGottoHaveUSomeFun and connect with me on Goodreads, Facebook, and/or Twitter:

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“The Everyman” (respectfully: a coed noun)

220px-Everyman_(magazine)Everyman |ˈevrēˌman|  noun [ in sing. ]
an ordinary or typical human being: it is Everyman’s dream car.
ORIGIN early 20th cent.: the name of the principal character in a 15th-cent. morality play.

Welcome to the second submission of MY TWO CENTS! Please allow me, as I’ve asked in my previous post—In the Trash Can—to express my opinion and share a bit about why and what I write—and why and how many of us read.

Why write? Because of the Everyman, I say. Some of you out there might be saying, “It’s got to be difficult to sell books about ‘ordinary or typical human beings?'” Well…yes and no.

A single week of any one grocery store tabloid sells more than all the American novels do in one year.

Why do so many of us waste our time and money on this drivel?

In my opinion, the famous people inside these magazines represent outlets for us to both channel and dismantle dreams about the various ways we, at some time past or present, envisioned ourselves living; but at some point realized, for whatever reasons, were probably not going to manifest into permanent reality. (I have served many famous people in my bartending past, but we never “friended” on Facebook, reciprocated dinner party invites, or dated for a stretch.) Then again, I’m sure many of us (oops, I mean you) just like to look at the pretty pictures while we are killing time. Nothing wrong with that.

But…only around 5% of the American population reads novels with any frequency.

Shame. I don’t know what the percentage is for People Magazine but I would venture to say it’s higher than 5%. Why so askew? Easy. We are a tremendously busy, sensationalized, and picky society. It’s easier to watch the popcorn movie bathed in sex, violence, and non-stop action, versus attending to a thought provoking book or movie with profound plot and themes. Don’t get me wrong…I do it myself, but I think I balance my beer and ice cream portions with high quality fillet of fish and vegetables.

So…maybe we can agree that we as a society have a small cultural problem when it comes to our literary and boob-tube choices—especially in relation to our newer generations? Maybe we could all be slightly better rounded—worldly? And maybe we need to demand better entertainment from our artists?

Change is inevitable…but decisions about choices are our tools to combat what we perceive as societal negativities. Artists wouldn’t pump out crap if publishers and movie producers weren’t standing outside their studios with drool-stained, wet-ink checks. We ultimately have the responsibility to decide what sells.

Well, for those of you who concur, I pledge to do my best when it comes to the sort of novels I manufacture. I want you all to get a well balanced meal with a decent, but not absurd portion of meat, potato, and vegetables. And because art’s main purpose should be to entertain and delight, I will continue to make sure there is a fair portion of dessert. After all, I am certainly no prude. Sex, violence, and profanity are staples, realities of  life. When used without sensationalization—used sparingly and appropriately complimentary to plot and character—they prove to be an invaluable tool.

I write for the same reason I wish everyone worked, because we have to—not economically speaking. I-haven’t-made-one-copper-colored-cent from my writing labors—yet. Writing is an outlet for my innate passion—aka “inner dragon.” Writing is a love, and like any love; frustration accompanies. But even love agitated by frustration seeks an audience…an audience I know is out there. Maybe you are discouraged or awaiting a better meal—without someone reminding you it’s more nutritious.

I love the Everyman; I am he/she.

I wish to work for you in a way that you might discover how extraordinary you are in ways previously unrecognizable. And I want to write for you, to entertain you. Really think about it: the everyman isn’t inside the grocery store magazine. Many of the people we idolize inside those magazines (in my opinion) would gladly exchange their fame for, at the very least, anonymity, and, if honest, a chance at the life of an Everyman.

~~~~Andrew Harkless, writing coming-of-age stories (regardless of the age) about everyman characters who reach extraordinary crossroads where change is the only path. No matter how average a person may seem at first glance, everyone holds a remarkable story inside. My goal is to write stories for the Everyman about the Everyman.

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In the Trash Can?

Trash_Can_FullMy first “two cents” post is about the increasingly outdated and aggravating task of obtaining a literary agent. I am not just using this blog to rant, but to offer my experience, as well as an opinion and amicable, yet, partial, solution for both authors and agents. Think of this as my version of Jerry McGuire’s mission statement.

In pre-internet times, obtaining a literary agent was the only way for an unknown author to make a name for themselves and sell a ‘pay rent/food’ number of copies. If you had an agent, you could, in most cases, obtain a deal with a publisher.

I reference Thomas L. Friedman’s books (The World is Flat and That Used To Be Us—co-authored by Michael Mandelbaum) in my novel about how and why the world is changing so quickly and what we all need to do in order to keep-up and stay competitive in a world market—that’s right America, it’s not just about us anymore. And agents and publishing houses are not the exception. It’s not just about the union factory worker—who is in competition with equal or better technology, tax breaks, and lower wages from an equally competant overseas counterpart—who is forced to go back for additional training or sacrifice part of an overinflated wage.

We all need to accept that stopping change is out of our control and personal comfort zone.

Reinvention is a positive thing and what better tool for reinventing but an imagination? Certainly people who deal in the artistic field of book publishing have a plethora of imagination?? Maybe they are just like the rest of us, overwhelmed and resisting change with every fiber in their traditional business bodies?

“So tell us a better way, smart guy,” you say.

I certainly don’t think I can fix the system because I don’t think it’s broken, just outdated—needing a tune-up, like a car with half-flat tires, rickety exhaust, and dirty oil. But I offer suggestions on behalf of both sides.

Agents/Publishers: Both of you would admit that the bottom line is book publishing is a business, and I would agree. But there are countless people out there, including many from your own ranks, who believe the way that business is conducted could use some updating. I understand many agents have left the field entirely because they are overwhelmed with submissions and their “gatekeeper” position is being circumvented by authors self-publishing. I will begin with one suggestion today: open your doors to unknown writers with a completed manuscript. That’s right…I want to be able to make an appointment, drive to your office, and discuss what pay services you offer to read my work and provide feedback. This, instead of wasting a writers time making them sit around month after month, first sending a hundred individually catered queries, then waiting for form rejection letters, if anything.

This is a realistic starting point that is mutually beneficial to writers and agents/publishers. On one hand, writers get to have their work read and critiqued; on the other, literary agencies are generating new income for their firm and have a more personal, hands-on approach with potential clients. Win-win!

“You couldn’t handle the line around your office everyday,” you say?

Go to an a-la-carte menu of services for manuscripts—complete reads, per page, overview, ect. Charge what you want. If your firm does not want to stay competitive and possibly hire more staff, charge 20$ a page so no writer in his right mind (well, you know what I mean) would consult your agency.

Struggling writers: Now…for all the me’s out there, I say this: Make sure your manuscript is as polished as it can be before pursuing an agent or self publishing. The publishing world and Amazon is bombarded by sub-par work. This makes it harder on everyone. I can’t stress this point enough. Do yourself a favor—save up your money and hire a professional editor.

I spent years on research for my books, wrote full-time for 14 months to finish my first draft—185,000 words. I then spent two months cutting and editing. Then I spent 3 months to find the right editor for me (Debra L. Hartmann—fantastic). We spent 2 more months editing the manuscript, synopsis, and query letter. I spent countless hours researching literary agents to query. In the end, I sent (individually catered for each agent) 100 queries…and waited…and waited. After three more months passed and after a few personalized, flattering responses, but no request for further reads, rejection emails stopped coming in. All in all, 38 out of 100 agents had the courtesy to respond, mostly with a form letter.

Don’t take it personally. They don’t.

The game has changed and so must we. Advocate for yourselves after your work is as perfect as it can be. These days it’s going to take a lot of self promotion if you want to actually make a living at this. If you simply want to get your work out there for sale on Amazon, I still say, polish it until no one can fault the basic technical side of your work—grammar, punctuation, plot holes, contradictions. These alone certainly won’t guarantee your success, but being lazy with them will certainly sabotage any chance for success.

Agents/publishers: Open your doors and charge a fee so your potential clients can be heard and professionally critiqued.

Writers: Take charge of your own destiny…and EDIT! EDIT! EDIT! Read Stephen King’s book: On Writing: A Memoir Of The Craft. Then, spend the money to hire a professional editor.

The days when Nicholas Sparks queried an agent and received a million dollars for his first novel are all but over. And if you read his website or hear him lecture, he will tell you how lucky he was and what a random fluke it was in obtaining the now famous literary agent, Theresa Park. She found his query where most of ours go—in the trash can.

That’s all for now…more thoughts worth at least two pennies apiece coming soon.

~~ Andrew Harkless

What do you think about my suggestion? Do you have other ideas or suggestions for how the traditional publishers and agents can update their system?

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