New Year’s Resolution – then conflict, then plot, character, and setting.

If you recognize the above as the five essential elements of a novel, then you’ll appreciate the writer’s resolution. For many, it’s “I resolve to finish that book!” For a thousand times that many, it’s, “Start that book!” And for a much smaller group, it’s “Write a better book!”

If any of that sounds familiar, here’s mine, “I resolve to help writers become authors.

Not just a “gonna get to that someday” affirmation, but the train is already leaving the station, which is an appropriate analogy since I devised the following on the subway. I’ve created a series of online lectures to help writers of any level elevate their craft and get to the next plateau in their careers.

Followers of this blog for the last ten years know my story well, but to encapsulate it: I stumbled into my first manuscript, which became my first published novel and my first number 1 bestseller…by accident. Hence my handle as The Accidental Author. I am, quite literally, the last guy on the planet to have 4 number 1 bestsellers. The route I took was practical, empirical, and devoid of traditional literary frameworks.

Admittedly, what I will be sharing with those who take the 15 classes that I am offering at The Academy of Creative Skills is my journey to the satisfaction of being a published author many times over. This unique perspective on the craft of writing will have many touchpoints and resonant notes for writers who are heading towards authoring commercial fiction, screenplays, and even non-fiction. After all, it’s always about a great tale well crafted. 

As a premier to the course or as a standalone compendium of tidbits, nuggets, and cues, based on my experiences and lessons in developing my craft, I’m offering an ebook on Amazon entitled, Intentional Thoughts from the Accidental Author. Chock full of lots of handy dandy insights and goodies about the art we love so much.

Author-ly Advice

Last month, Tori Eldridge rounded up ten Thrillfest 2014 authors in a powerful hour on Empowered Living Radio. I was fortunate to be asked to take part in the discussion with a group of strong authors. Listen to the whole show or skip ahead (time stamp 1:00:16) to hear me offer concise and effective strategies on staying positive.

Don’t cry for me, Puerto Rico

Tom Avitabile | Don't Cry For Me, Puerto RicoI know that what I’m about to say is going to draw no sympathy, no empathy, no amount of concern from anybody, and that’s the way it should be. I’m at a wonderful, magical moment in the process of The Devil’s Quota, my fourth book. If you’ve been following the blog, you know that from time to time I’ve been trying to bring you, the reader of the blog (if I’m the blogger, are you the blogee?), into my wacky, arcane, never-been-done-before process of writing.

 Here’s another one: The good news about finally getting the first pass of The Devil’s Quota back from my editor is that it coincides with a holiday, and holidays usually coincide with me taking a trip which ultimately winds up with me under an umbrella on a Caribbean beach with a thick, four-inch spiral bound notebook of three-hole punched, 385 page manuscript. Oh, and a red pen.

 In the prima facie case of the ultimate beach read, while bikini clad Bunnies and really buffed Brads wave at some Steves and Bobs who are bobbing in the water, I sit in the shade under an umbrella, looseleaf across my lap, red pen at the ready, attempting to be an unbiased, unemotional, disconnected reader/arbitrator of that which I wrote.

 It’s an interesting process: That progress from the writing phase to the editorial stage acts as a kind of mental sorbet, cleansing the mental palate. This allows attacking the book fresh, and energizes me with very insightful and illuminating powers. The biggest advantage is the modality switch from the extreme high-definition quality of a retina display laptop to reading toner on paper. That, in and of itself, it is a transformational step.

 For someone born before the computer, who learned how to read on paper, there is actually a discernible difference. The skill, the comprehension and the “Oh geez, I didn’t notice that on the screen!” moments overtake you when you are actually holding the book. Somewhere in between, my “workday” on Isla Verde also has a Piña Colada (virgin of course, I’m working) and various friends and curiosity seekers stopping by, wondering why I’m sitting under an umbrella doing my homework when everybody else is playing.

Tom Avitabile | Don't Cry For Me, Puerto RicoI will come home from the Caribbean with not only sand in my bathing suit, but hopefully sand-sprinkled pages of a manuscript. I’ll shake it out—the sand, all those crazy knotted sentences, all those overused pronouns, all those not-defined-well set up scenarios and characters, all shaking loose with them—leaving only a pristine, perfect first draft which will then go back to my editor. As the shampoo bottle taught us: repeat, rinse, repeat.

 *Editor’s note: To that end, there will an Ethan Cross guest blog filling this space- enjoy.

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Tom Avitabile
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Dude, Where’s my car?

imageBy now, I thought I’d be on my fifth Aston-Martin with the other four, starting with the DB-5, in my temperature controlled garage. I fell in love with that car when I sat in the Allerton Avenue movie theater in the Bronx and watched James Bond being cool above cool, ejecting bad guys out of the passenger seat.

Bond: “Ejector seat? You’re Joking!”

Q: “I never joke about my work, double oh seven.”

Well, apparently it was I who was joking. No Aston-Martins, yet. However, I did get to write books about other cool guys. Heroes, who are guided by an internal navigation, to do the right thing. Unlike Ian Fleming’s masterwork, Commander James Bond, my protagonists tend to be unwilling do-gooders. Usually thinking about something else when circumstances create the need for heroics or for good men and women to do something extraordinary.

It was a relatively short walk for Fleming to capture the essence of the confident hero, having gone through World War II as a British Naval Intelligence officer. If you know the Bond series, then you can see how much of it was based on his experiences, observations, and folklore of the very spy game of which he was a part.*

This weekend we honor other reluctant heroes. Those who gave their lives in service to America. Sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, fathers and moms, who answered the call to defend America. They did so with courage, bravery, and unselfishness. We should all take a moment this Memorial Day weekend and say thank you to those who gave up the balance of their lives so that ours may continue in peace, freedom, and prosperity. Even if it’s only a little gesture, like before you take a sip of beer or coke or a soy latte, just give a little toast, even silently, to those who gave all, for all of us; from Lexington and Concord, to The Trenches, to Iwo Jima, to The Arden Forrest, to DaNang, to Fallujah and right up to yesterday.

Here’s mine: To all of America’s brave war dead, thank you for giving up what I couldn’t ever imagine, willingly risking; every tomorrow, every human experience yet to be had and every love, relationship and offspring you never got to experience. All the good times you missed and the laughs, satisfactions and good cries that could have been. We owe you a debt that can never be repaid but also never forgotten. Here’s to you and God Bless America.

*One last note on Fleming, I was lucky that the DB5 was set up as my dream car because Ian also wrote, and I could have locked in on, “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.”

Guest Author James LePore talks: The Myth of Place

The Myth of Place: Why I Chose Southern Mexico as the Venue for a Large Swath of Blood of My Brother

Mexico, at once magical and diabolical.

—Anonymous

    In 1997, I spent four weeks in southern Mexico, in the city of Oaxaca and on the Pacific Coast between Puerto Escondido and Puerto Angel. I had just read Under The Volcano by Malcolm Lowry, and wanted to see, and photograph, imagesthe country where Lowry (in real life) and the American Consul Firm in (in the novel) had tried so hard, but failed, to commit suicide by mezcal.

    The coast road from Puerto Escondido deteriorated with a jolting suddenness as I approached Zippolite. Earlier, I had picked up a hitchhiker, a middle-aged Brit with bad teeth and a scruffy beard, wearing a bandana like a sixties hippie, who told me, as I was dropping him off at a godforsaken roadside cantina, that he had heard that a busload of American tourists had been hijacked earlier in the day north of Puerto Angel and all were killed. I immediately regretted leaving Puerto Escondido so late—night had fallen as suddenly as the road had turned to rutted hard-pan—but I pushed on. There were two or three large bonfires on Zippolite’s beach, their light reflecting wildly off of the huge waves crashing behind them, the waves that had for years, according to my guide book, attracted the world’s most insane surfers.

    Ten minutes later, I was in Puerto Angel and twenty minutes after that ordering dinner on the veranda of a small but clean and not un-charming inn on a hillside overlooking Puerto Angel Bay, lit to perfection by the moon and stars shining down through a clear night sky. The inn’s owner, a graying ex-hippie herself from San Francisco, had heard nothing of any massacre of Americans. Rumors, she said, it’s what the ex-pats and the paranoid surf bums live on along this coast. The time to worry will be when the rumors stop. She had been running her inn for twenty years, so, relieved, I was happy to take her at her word. So happy that after dinner I had three or four shots of the strong—very strong—and smoky local mezcal.

    There was a couple that I took to be American—in their late twenties, both blond, both good looking—at a table not too far away. The place was otherwise empty. I thought to ask them to join me but there was something about the way they were talking, looking at each other and then not looking at each other, that decided me against it.

    I was asleep within seconds of getting into bed.

    At three AM I was wide awake. My room was among a half dozen or so situated along a wide terrace facing the bay. I took my cigarettes out to this terrace, found a comfortable chair next to a thick potted palm tree of some kind, and sat, to smoke and look down at the bay and the dark Pacific beyond until I felt I could fall back to sleep. Before I could light up, I heard the crash of glass on tile floor quite nearby, followed immediately by the voices, at first constrained and then getting louder, of a man and a woman arguing. A moment later, the young blonde woman from the restaurant came out of the room two doors down, stepped quickly to the terrace’s sturdy wooden railing and began vomiting over it. Her husband, or boyfriend, or whatever he was, came out and put his hand on her shoulder, but she shook it off violently. She was wearing a thin cotton robe or wrap, knee length, which she had been holding closed while she retched. It came loose when she shook off the man’s hand, and I could see a breast exposed, and a portion of soft, beautifully rounded abdomen, before she pulled it tight again.

    Leave me alone, she said. I’m leaving tomorrow.

    What about your share? the man asked. He was wearing jeans and no shirt, his hairless, sculpted arms and chest bathed in moonlight.

    The woman did not answer. She pulled her wrap even closer, then she turned and looked my way. I was in deep shadow and had not lit my cigarette, so I was pretty sure she couldn’t see me. I could see her face full on now. She was very beautiful. I stared at her. Your share of what, I said to myself?

    Fuck you, she said, then turned and stepped past the man and into their room. He followed and pulled the door shut behind him.

    I waited a moment or two, then lit up. And listened. But all was quiet. Like the scene I had just witnessed had never happened.

    Mexico, I thought, Mexico.

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James LePore is author of ‘A World I Never Made’, ‘Blood of My Brother,’ ‘Sons and Princes,’ ‘Gods and Fathers,’ and ‘The Fifth Man.  He currently lives in Salem, NY and is collaborating with screenwriter Carlos Davis on  his sixth novel. Click here to visit his website.

The Precocious Writer

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I am a big fan of precocious children, you know, that point right before they become judgmental teens. When you can still have a fun, multisyllabic conversation without them interrupting the moment, looking down for a text message.

What happens? How does an engaging, surprisingly aware 7 to 10 year-old, firing off word use and ideas in a seemingly random fashion, with each truly important to them, change with the onset of social puberty? Why do these wonderfully rich observations and conversations children have with inanimate objects or real people, disappear? In a mysterious way that an adult could never understand, these creative impulses are thematically connected to a stream of consciousness that makes total sense to their internal logic.

If you haven’t guessed yet, this blog was written right after Thanksgiving and the temporary immersion into family that comes along with Turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie. However, copious amounts and second helpings of Tryptophan cannot diminish the fascination I have with these young minds, situationally aware, yet full of imagination and not inhibited at all. Hence the delightful conversations which if attempted with a texting-teen would take 3 times as long as you pull teeth to get more than one word answers, i.e. “yes, no, what-ever, maybe, I duuno, yeah.”

What do I get out of all this? A method to spark creativity and a model to emulate. The precocious child is the essence of creativity and observation, without filters or the self-consciousness that later in life devolves our ability down to “safe,” tried and true methods of not taking any risks in conversation or our writing.

I was once involved in an effort to foster a better path to creativity and curiosity for young minds. It reversed the normal paradigm of teaching writing (creativity) to elementary school kids. That being; to let their minds go, unfettered by grammar spelling and the traffic cop adherence that stresses form over content. This resulted in more mental exercising, yielding stronger, more elaborate and involved concepts.

This was not just simply a matter of flipping the old way around to see what happened, instead it was based on a study that seemed to indicate that at early ages, mental activity and imagination are forming and active, yet the ability to grasp structure and grammatical laws actually develops later in life. So it is an educational model that better fits the natural expansion of the human brain.

This to me is a great lesson to writers, be as free with your thoughts, observations and conversations as a 7 year old. Resist the grown up internal governors that stop or stem a creative arc before it’s left the barn. Allow imagination to once again rule the roost. Be fearless in the reality that, in the end, they are all imaginary characters anyway, and not bound by physics, logic or flesh and bone. You can always find a “grown up” to clean up the grammar, usage and punctuation later – (and pay them well for it!)

Tom Avitabile’s “It’s Only Fiction..’til It Happens” T-shirt Giveaway

Authors and other writers alway seem to hold a definitive key to the future. Remember how Jules Vern wrote about space, air, and underwater travels well before it became possible. Well, Tom Avitabile’s work with the House committee on Science Space and Technology allowed him to see ideas emerge as fact. His “Wild Bill” Hiccock thrillogy will take your breathe away as Bill Hiccock embarks on a gripping fear-filled, all-too-realistic thrill ride where science and homeland security are tested beyond consideration.

From Nov. 19-Dec. 23 you can enter below to win one of ten of Tom Avitabile’s famous slogan T-shirts, “It’s Only Fiction… ’til It Happens.” Win this eye catching T-shirt in midnight black, navy, burgundy, and heather grey! CLICK below to enter.

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