Dictionary Dreams – Books & Writing

I am a novelist published by several major publishers. My novels include historical fiction, literary fiction and some darker fantastic fiction. SINFUL FOLK is a historical novel set in 14th century England, while COEUR D’ALENE WATERS is set in the 1980s. My newest novel THE EAGLE TREE was an international bestseller, translated into multiple languages and has been named a best book of the year


 

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Recent Blog Posts about books: 

October fun – a chilling story

Posted by on Oct 6, 2014 in books, publishing, writing | 0 comments

For the month of October, my alter-ego Nicholas Hallum (who writes horror and strange horror-inflected SF) created a chilling  tale designed to keep you up at night. This is also my first experiment with Kindle PRE-ORDER. The NEW 20-page story “SANCTUARY” will appear on October 25. But if you put in a Pre-Order today, the story will jump to the top of the horror list on that release day. Think you can help make that happen? Pre-Order this eerie little gem of a story, and let’s do this together! Here’s the cover to get you excited. ((Ok, you’ll pardon me, I need to go finish revisions on this story…. hope something creepy doesn’t get me before the story hits deadline!)  Please like &...

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The Forest for the Trees — Writers and Authors United

Posted by on Oct 1, 2014 in amwriting, books, reading, writing | 0 comments

I have a publisher. I like my publisher, although they are smaller than the Big 5 publishers. We get along pretty well, and I’ve appreciated their work on my novel Sinful Folk, which has received great publicity from my publisher’s marketing department. I’ve also self-published other material under the name Nicholas Hallum, and I’ve enjoyed that experience of working on material that I entirely control. However, in this era of increasing chaos and change in publishing, it’s interesting to see some people — like publishing veterans Mike Shatzkin and Aaron Shepherd — fundamentally misunderstand the mind-set of the many authors (both traditionally published and indie-published) who signed the largest petition ever signed by a single group of authors (8,000 and still counting). Fundamentally, I think most authors see themselves as a group united in their obectives of A) Making a living at writing, B) Telling a story to interested readers. The world that currently exists in publishing — mostly comprised of the Big 5 — is enormously unfair to authors and is antithetical to both of the stated goals above. Authors who some see as “attacking” publishers are asking for the rights of all authors — as a profession — to accomplish their goals. Authors as a group — a profession — are finally feeling their power and are trending toward a unity against contracts and policies that will hinder their shared goals as a profession. If you are a plumber, you tend to like things good for plumbers as a profession. The same is true for writers. If you are a writer, you’ll tend to like the self-publishing clarity of monthly payments, control over rights, etc. — those writers who don’t like those things will be perceived as “scabs.” That’s exactly the position Authors United is putting itself in right now. Marc Cabot recently posted a precisely appropriate quote about the recent uproar: “There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.” — Robert A. Heinlein, Life-Line (1939) A literary update from NedNote.com Readers can find my books at these bookstores: To read more of my writing, you can visit NedNote.com. Get literary updates by subscribing to my quarterly newsletter:  Please like &...

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Amazon finally hits back

Posted by on Aug 9, 2014 in books, context awareness, publishing, reading | 0 comments

Dear KDP Author, Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year. With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion. Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive. Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers. The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books. Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive. Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would...

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BookList Review

Posted by on May 22, 2014 in amwriting, book reviews, books, reading, sinfulfolk, writing | 0 comments

Good news on the book front… novel SINFUL FOLK reviewed in 100-year-old BOOKLIST — the magazine the New York Times calls “an acquisitions bible for public and school librarians nationwide.” From Booklist   *Starred Review*   “In December of 1377, five children are burned in a suspicious house fire. Awash in paranoia and prejudice, the fathers suspect it is the work of Jews and set out to seek justice from the king, loading the charred bodies of their boys onto a cart. Unbeknownst to them, among them is a woman, Mear, who has been hiding out in the town for the past 10 years posing as a mute man. It is a treacherous journey, for their rations are spare and the weather is brutal. And always, they are haunted by the question, Why were their boys in Benedict the weaver’s house, and who would do this to them? Mear, ever resourceful, not only watches for clues to unravel the mystery but also provides invaluable aid in finding their way, for she has traveled this way before and is the only literate one among them. The reason for her false identity is slowly revealed as the villagers are chased by bandits and must overcome numerous obstacles, hunger and fear among them. Brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed, Hayes’ novel is woven through with a deep knowledge of medieval history, all conveyed in mesmerizing prose. At the center of the novel is Mear, a brave and heartbreaking character whose story of triumph over adversity is a joy to read.”   — BookList Reviewer Joanne Wilkinson Please like &...

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Telling a Story

Posted by on May 16, 2014 in amwriting, reading, writing | 0 comments

Written as a participant in the Rainier Writing Workshop, 2014  What does it mean to tell a story? When I think of “telling a story,” I am thinking specifically of the act of verbal storytelling – perhaps around a fire with an audience of people who can leave at any moment. In this situation of verbal storytelling, it’s important to keep your listeners in anticipation of what might come next. It is also helpful to inform them about the world of your story. And to tell them about the kind of story you are telling, and to fulfill that kind of explanation. Digressions that explain the storyteller’s apprehension of what is to come are most welcome, as such pieces of the “story” build towards satisfying narrative and powerful insights into the characters. On the other hand, self-indulgent words or metaphorical flourishes that detract from the flow of the narrative lose the audience that is collected in the light of the storyteller’s firelit circle. If you are sitting with a bunch of 11 year old girls by a bonfire, and you begin by saying “I’m going to tell you a scary story,” you darn well better fulfill that expectation. Also, it’s possible to stop your story part way through, and provide some narrative explanation for what is happening to your character (first person or third person). For example, one might pause the forward momentum to observe that “he was really scared now, scared in a way that cuts right down to your bones. You ever felt that way? I know I have, and my blood turns to ice.” Furthermore, you can even digress entirely from the story, as long as you provide an explanation or connection back to the story at hand – for example, I might pause my plot in verbal storytelling, and describe the street of the “scary story” at some length, until I am sure that it is fixed in the reader’s mind. I’m thinking about this act of verbal storytelling, and how natural it is to “control” our reader’s expectations and inform them about what is happening in your story because I have been reading Donna Tartt’s lovely and rapidly moving literature-as-suspense-novel book The Secret History, in which she describes an insular world of private college upper-classmen who end up committing dastardly deeds (murder of a local farmer, followed by a cover-up murder of one of their own). I began to think about digressions, and how often she undertakes a digression from the “main story plot” in order to tell the reader something else. I started re-reading Tartt because I grew very bored with two recent novels I’ve read. One was a winner of several literary prizes – Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue – and the other was Tana French’s Broken Harbor, a police procedural that died on the vine. I started thinking then about why I was immediately captured by Tartt, and why I was disappointed in these two novels. I thought of Tartt for two reasons. First, of course, was the fact that her new novel The Goldfinch recently won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. The other is that I have had this quote from Donna Tartt above my writing desk for many years now: “The first duty of the novelist is to entertain. It...

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The Writing Process

Posted by on May 15, 2014 in amwriting, writing | 0 comments

I was invited by Steven Hendricks (author of Little Is Left to Tell) to participate in a “writing process blog tour.” Thanks, Steve! Each person on the tour tags three others to answer questions about creative work and their writing process. My process comments are below. I’ve tagged the following writers: author of paranormal fiction Mark Henry (Random House), historical novelist Jan Moran (St. Martin), and perennial historical romance best-selling author Kathryn Le Veque. My WRITING PROCESS.  1. What am I working on? I am currently working on three different fictional works, in various stages of the process for each. First, and top of mind for me right now is a new book in a new genre for me — a work of fantastic/weird fiction that is essentially a John Le Carre spy novel about the War on Terror (but with sorcery) called Wilderness of Mirrors.  I’ve been working on the structure and the story, and the characters for this book for nearly two years now, off and on. However, I’m furthest along on the process for this novel, as I have over 100,000 words on paper for this work, and I’m in second draft stage on several portions of the novel. It’s a complicated novel though, that moves in and out of time, and breaks the “straight” chronology, and I’ve also complicated it by working on the book in fits and starts, rather than straight through. I’m also part way through a wonderful short novel called Eagle Tree. Yep, I can call it “wonderful” because I’ve never completed a first draft — yet — of this novel, so it’s this beautiful conception in my brain that is not written down, and thus perfect in my own mind. Eagle Tree focuses on the inner life of a 14 year old boy with Asperberger’s and his perceptions of trees. I abandoned the current draft earlier this year to focus on Wilderness of Mirrors, but I hope to get back to it next year. Finally, I’ve promised my faithful readers a sequel to the novel Sinful Folk, my first historical novel that appeared to some acclaim earlier this year. The novel has sold very well, and yet that’s not the only reason to do a sequel. I continue to be fascinated by the medieval period, and the character of Mear is endlessly fascinating to me, and I know precisely where her trajectory takes her — smack dab into the middle of the Peasant Revolt of 1381. So I have a solid outline for the book Garden of Earthly Delight, and I’m personally intrigued to see what happens. I’m further back in the process on this novel, although I can regularly hear Mear asking me to tell her next story… so this one has to come out of me, sometime soon! 2. How does my work differ from others of its genre? I write in multiple genres, but let’s focus on just the stuff I’ve published to date. I’d like to think that my first novel Coeur d’Alene Waters brought a more literary perspective to a pretty standard mystery/noir story. After writers like Scott Turow (only in Presumed Innocent, not so much in his subsequent books) Pete Dexter (in Brotherly Love and Pete Dexter) and Dennis Lehane (in Mystic River) showed us the way towards that kind of...

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Writing “realistic” magic — a post on Tim Powers & John Bellairs

Posted by on Apr 23, 2014 in books, reading, writing | 0 comments

LAST CALL and HOUSE WITH THE CLOCK IN ITS WALLS Tim Powers and John Bellairs In my spies+sorcery novel Wilderness of Mirrors, I’m trying to write a grounded fantasy that builds on known facts about the Cold War, the War on Terror, 9/11 and the WTC. I am attempting to construct a fantasy that feels as intricate and realistic as the spy novels of John Le Carré. I think I can write a pretty good spy plot, with gun battles, secrets passed in the dark, cryptographic codes to be broken, etc.  The tricky part of the novel for me is writing the “fantasy” part, as to this point in my writerly life, I’ve written “straight” contemporary or historical fiction. I also have no desire to craft a world utterly divorced from our reality – a la J.K. Rowling, Tolkien or George R.R. Martin. Instead, I’d like to take the curtain that lies over some 9/11 related events, and simply lift it a little bit, to reveal the edge of “sorcery” behind the scenes. I want any “fantastic” elements to feel as if they are genuine to our reality, and could exist if only someone looked closely enough. So I am looking for models of how to do this effectively. One model can be found in Tim Powers’s Last Call, a book I re-read and marked up in detail this month, specifically because I was in search of his technique of how he did magic+history in a believable way. Powers is the winner of the World Fantasy Award, and one reason that his books stand out from the general glut of fantastic fiction is that he does deep research into history, language and historical style. He also occasionally includes actual historical figures in his fantasy, but carefully written in such a way that they appear quite realistic and grounded in the period. For example, one of his historical fantasy masterworks is The Stress of Her Regard, in which Mary Shelley, Lord Byron and other poetic notables of the period are primary characters. The novel Last Call is only peripherally about the history of the gangster Bugsy Siegel and the founding of Las Vegas. Instead, it is mostly about a seemingly vagabond poker player who finds his lost step-father and has to undertake a bizarre quest back to Las Vegas, where he was abandoned as a child. En route to Las Vegas, Scott (the vagabond), a friend, and Ozzie (the step-father) are pursued by persons unknown. They find a way to evade them, and this is where the magic enters in for the first time in the book. This is the scene I was interested in, because I found the scene very believable, but it violates every natural law I know about. I didn’t have any suspension of disbelief, because my disbelief was accounted for in the scene. Here’s the scene in a nutshell: Ozzie without much notice stops the car and asks Scott and his friend glue plastic deer whistles all over their vehicle, and put playing cards on every other surface, including the wheels. Then they have to prick their fingers and put blood spots on flags and stick the spotted flags out the window. Ozzie doesn’t even tell them what it is for, or why they are doing...

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Withholding and Hinting at the “True” Story — a Post on Toni Morrison’s Beloved

Posted by on Apr 13, 2014 in amwriting, reading, writing | 0 comments

  (written as a participant in the Rainier Writing Workshop)     Toni Morrison’s Beloved              I’ve been pondering writing a new novel that illuminates a horrific period in my family’s heritage. As I re-read Toni Morrison’s Beloved this month, it became clear to me that her techniques of emotional withholding and surrealistic storytelling would be quite useful in telling the story that I’m tentatively calling A Mercy Upon Us. The verifiable family history I would use in my novel is the story of my grandfather’s parents. They were two young immigrants from Holland, with four children in tow, and one in the oven. They brought with them their elderly grandmother, to help with the children and the new baby about to be born. However, the only English speaker was the father. Shortly after arriving in this New World, the father contracted tuberculosis and died. The mother had just given birth, and alone, alienated, and bereft in this strange land, she sank into post-partum depression, and shortly thereafter committed suicide. The oldest child, Sue, assisted the elderly grandmother in adopting out the other children to families who gave them new names and new histories. Twenty-five years later, Sue went back and found each of the children, and told them who they really were, and where they came from. She gave them their true story – which was both a curse and a blessing. My grandfather may have never recovered from the knowledge that he was not who he had thought he had been, and seemed to carry it as a dark weight his whole life. Although this story has not a hint of magic about it (except perhaps the magic of memory), I found in Toni Morrison’s work a number of techniques that may help me to understand how to think through this book from the perspective of my narrator Sue. First, one technique I find quite useful is the way that Morrison describes events and persons through a lens that is unusual and lends a patina of strangeness to a scene, hinting just barely to her readers that all is not as it first appears. I could use this technique to give alternate versions of what happens, in a Rashomon type of multi-valent storytelling. For now, though, I think I’m going to just focus on Sue’s perspective, and let the story come out naturally as she tells it to the siblings she finds in her long quest to tell them the truth. In Morrison’s novel, the dead ghost of a child re-emerges into the lives of the main characters as a grown fully fleshed woman who has “willed” her way back into existence. At first, they do not know who she is, or what she represents in their lives. Morrison mirrors the characters’ lack of context for “Beloved” by providing an the initial introduction of Beloved as a character through poetic language that paints the situation as strange and imaginatively unreal. No one reacts to the scene, but the description is strange and compelling: A fully dressed woman walked out of the water. She barely gained the dry bank of the stream before she sat down and leaned against a mulberry tree. All day and all night she sat there, her head resting...

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Nikki McClure and Sinful Folk

Posted by on Apr 2, 2014 in books, geekdad, reading, sinfulfolk, writing | 0 comments

New York Times best-selling illustrator and author Nikki McClure and I know each other through our children’s school and our mutual interest in locally sourced art and supporting local artists. Nikki’s son and my children both attended the Lincoln Options Elementary School, and we are both very involved in the local arts community in the South Sound area in the Pacific Northwest. We first met at a Solstice Celebration that featured local children in an impromptu theatrical celebration of the season.   Nikki created the cover of Sinful Folk as one of her signature papercut pieces, but went in a new direction for the internal illustrations, which were created with charcoal. After reading the book in 2012, Nikki created her own graphical interpretation of SINFUL FOLK, which was accepted as the cover in late 2012.   I love the way that Nikki used papercuts and charcoal as the medium for illustration, as both are art forms that were used in the Middle Ages, and both styles of art were well known in the medieval era.     A literary update from NedNote.com Readers can find my books at these bookstores: To read more of my writing, you can visit NedNote.com. Get literary updates by subscribing to my quarterly newsletter:  Please like &...

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Sinful Folk – Interview on BookNote

Posted by on Apr 2, 2014 in book reviews, books, reading, sinfulfolk | 0 comments

Video interview on BookNote (w/ Riana Nelson)   SINFUL FOLK by Ned Hayes, illustrations by Nikki McClure  Please like &...

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