The Writing Life: starting with words journal entry: by Robert Richter

SanBlas2014017               A Monday.  A familiar morning scene: I’m sitting near an open window with a cup of coffee and this journal in hand; writing here because, alas, I have no Great American Novel in the works; because, at least, this is putting words to paper, which my so-called occupation, profession, avocation, hobby, pursuit of life, whatever.  I’m just doing what I’ve been driven to do: document life around me, no matter how lame and insignificant it is from this perspective of self-imposed exile on the American High Plains.  I’ve simply been doing what I feel that I must be doing: a life passage, or rather, the passage of a life by word.

I didn’t come to writing in retirement, as a hobby, or even as a job to put food on the table.  It came to me much like a disease might, unnoticed, unwanted, incurable, not even clearly diagnosed.  No doctor instructed, “Write two poems and call me in the morning.”  No father admonished, “Be a journalist and take responsibility for yourself.” No mentor advised, “Write a great novel and become a celebrity.”  There were plenty who have said, “Do something with your life.  If you’re going to write, be a writer we want to read.  Be something we can identify and be comfortable with.”

It was never as simple as that.  Writing came to me as a kind of self-definition.  It was not about what and how to write; it was the act itself:  putting words on paper, putting words on paper every day.  Long ago I committed myself to a way of life, not to a profession or a hobby or a self-display.  As I grew up within the American educational system and experienced the (more or less) middle class social, political, and economic way of life, “The Arts” came to hold for me a significant, yet imprecise and inexplicable relationship to human life and human endeavor.  The art and act of writing, plus the imparting of ideas and experience, shape human perception, attitude, and behavior in particular ways.  It’s never had to do with making a living or filling idle time or trying to entertain someone.  I have written a lifetime because I was driven to pursue something else: a self-definition and existence through an indecipherable thing called “Art.”

Of course, generally speaking, what works may come to be defined by (any segment of) humanity as “art,” is not determined by the producing artist.  Art takes decades and centuries to be appreciated for what it is, like history.  An artist’s worldly satisfaction and recompense often never materialize; neither does the art.  Over five decades (and more) of a writing life, I’ve known many an aspiring artist to give it all up when they got hungry, when the world wouldn’t praise their work, when the first kid came and the debt mounted and the spouse said, “Get real!”  I’ve met many an aspiring (and publishing) writer, come later in life to the craft as a profession, who think they should publish everything they write now because technologically they can, and they define what to me has been a way of life (a lifetime) as a strategy of technology, genre, marketing and sales.

I’m not saying those things aren’t elements of a writer’s life.  I sought an audience early in life and published academically and in the small press world when publications were few and acceptance was determined by a handful of editors and publishers and personal connections.  I published in hardback in New York City to good reviews in the “right” industry magazines, and that might have gone on had I listened to others and produced what they wanted and expected.  But I didn’t.  I wasn’t an academic who wrote poetry (while running my own quarterly publication on English department funds); I wasn’t a journalist who could produce an article for Woman’s Day or National Geographic and make a living at it.  I wasn’t a mainstream novelist, producing formula to meet my editor’s and fans’ expectations.  I may have liked to produce more often something common and comfortable enough to fit others’ wishes and be professionally profitable; but I didn’t.  Is a writer’s job to produce what’s wanted, expected, comfortable?  I’ve written more in the vein of the journals of Thoreau and Emerson, something that hasn’t been interesting or profitable for almost two hundred years.

Early on, I made the decision that I wasn’t a professional or a laborer who wrote.  I was a writer who labored at other professions to be able to write as I wanted, what I wanted.  For twenty years I was a writer who farmed.  For another twenty I was a writer who drove trucks, led tours in Mexico, taught part-time, interpreted in the courts.  For all those years and more, I was a writer who wrote.  Every day.

Sometimes I’ve been conscious of audience other than self.  Sometimes I’ve been conscious of form, of voice, of plot, of character, of tension, of dramatic pacing, of intent; in short, conscious of craft and professionalism.  I have published in forms satisfactory to editors and readers, but none of that makes me a writer.  Words on paper, day after day, make me a writer; their necessity like air, water, food, sleep.CFSomethingtoDiefor author page   Amazon author’s page    review of SOMETHING LIKE A DREAM on



The author of ten books, including poetry, fiction, and regional history, Robert Richter has a forty-year relationship with Latin America, and that cultural geography inspires his work. In 2000 Richter won the Nebraska Arts Council’s Literary Achievement Award for nonfiction, and in 2007, he was a Fulbright Research Fellow in Buenos Aires.   Richter has also been a wheat farmer, substitute teacher, and tour guide in Latin America. Besides the ‘Something’ series, Richter’s other books on Mexico include Search for the Camino Real: a history of San Blas and the Road to get there, and Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas and the Roots of Mexico’s New Democracy.


My newest novel and the “Something” mystery series:

SOMETHING TO DIE FOR is the fourth in a series of action mysteries, featuring Cotton Waters, a gringo expatriate in illegal exile on the Mexican west coast for several decades now. Known to his cantina buddies as “Algo”–Something in Spanish, Waters scrounges survival money out of the Puerto Vallarta tourist trade as a private hustler of a Mexican Riviera lost-and-found–helping some people get lost and finding others –if the price is right or the client’s cause worth the time and interest.The causes Something takes on lead him from the glitz and glamour of Puerto Vallarta and the Mexican Riviera to the backwater poverty of coastal fishing villages and jungle life, from the modern urban bustle of Guadalajara to sierra outposts of indigenous clans still living in the pre-colonial past. His clients range from the jet set rich and frivolous to poor villagers and derelict friends still struggling to survive the modern world’s hard knocks.

The series also includes SOMETHING IN VALLARTA (1992), SOMETHING LIKE A DREAM (2014), and SOMETHING FOR NOTHING (2015).



In an Era of Social Media, Do I Still Need a Website? By Karen McCullough

Karen_McCullough_2015_200Increasingly over the last year, I’ve seen authors and businesses abandoning their websites and using Facebook or Tumblr or other similar social media sites exclusively instead.


I get the reasons – it’s cheap and easy and provides a good way to keep in touch with your core market to keep them up to date with what’s going on in your piece of the world.
But I think it’s a bad idea for anyone who’s trying to sell a product – like books, for instance. I could be accused of self-interest here, since I run a website business, but in fact, I’m at retirement age and I’m phasing out of that business, so I no longer have a horse in the race.  I have other reasons for thinking it’s a bad idea, particularly for authors.


Boiled down, a website is an advertisement for an author – an extensive and, if done well, an appealing one. An effective website reflects the author’s brand in every bit of it – color scheme, information breakdown, graphics, and content. Plus it provides information tailored to the needs and interests of visitors wanting to know about you and your books.


Facebook and other social media sites have built-in limitations that make them less effective in that role. You can add a nice graphic header to a Facebook page, with a little work, but let’s face it – the biggest percentage of the branding is pure Facebook. And the content most visible is the most recent few posts and comments. Everything else is difficult to find.


A well-done website is a hub for all of the author’s marketing efforts, brought together in a way that gives visitors a full picture of the author and what he or she writes and has available to the public. It sells you and your books. Visitors can (or should be able to) find a list of all your books in order, related material to the books, a bio of the author, a listing of your appearances or events, and how to contact you.


There are ways to display lists of your books in series order on Facebook, but they’re awkward and viewers won’t always realize what they are. You can include buy links in your posts – sort of.  Easy enough if it’s on Amazon only, but including a set of links to other publishers/sites is awkward at best. And including a link with your post, any link, almost guarantees it’s less likely to be seen by a large number of people. In fact, Facebook has gotten much pickier about who gets to see your posts, period.


Part of the appeal of Facebook and similar sites is that it’s so easy to keep the content dynamic and fresh and to interact with visitors and friends easily. It helps keep people coming back. That’s a major virtue and it’s a bit part of the appeal, which is why Facebook is part of so many authors’ marketing strategy.


But it shouldn’t be your entire marketing strategy. A website that can display all your books at the click of an easily identifiable button is an essential for authors who want to improve sales. A site that makes it easy for visitors to find out what books are coming out in the future and when the next book in that series they love will be available can’t help but increase your exposure (and pre-orders!).


Your website should be a hub for all you marketing efforts. An integrated blog can provide dynamically updated content and a way to discuss things. A Twitter widget can display your latest posts. Links to everywhere you have a presence can keep visitors moving through all the places you hang out. But you can maintain more relationship by using your website as a central switching station for all your activity as well as a repository for the essential information you want people to know about you.



Karen McCullough is a web designer by profession, and the author of a dozen published novels and novellas in the mystery, romantic suspense, and fantasy genres as well. She has won numerous awards, including an Eppie Award for fantasy, and has also been a four-time Eppie finalist, and a AGFM_200finalist in the Prism, Dream Realm, Rising Star, Lories, Scarlett Letter, and Vixen Awards contests. Her short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and numerous small press publications in the fantasy, science fiction, and romance genres. She has three children, four grandchildren and lives in Greensboro, NC, with her husband of many years.



Blog: http://www.kmccullough/kblog




Blurb for A Gift for Murder: The Gifts and Home Decoration trade show provides Heather McNeill with the longest week of her hectic life. As assistant to the director of Washington, D.C.’s, Market and Commerce center, she’s point person for complaining exhibitors, missing shipments and miscellaneous disasters. It’s a job she takes in stride—until murder crashes the event.


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