Buddy Cushman Art

engaging stories of hope and joy


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Oh My Head

A ditty on the near-psychotic state into which I’ve fallen post and pre-publication of my first two books.

I spent various stretches of time within a two and a half year period writing and completing “Ring Around The Rosy”. Make that three years, and even more time/life devotion in the research and writing of my forthcoming “Astoria Strange”. (And when/if it will be forthcoming is a story I’ll get to in a moment.)WB_Cushman_Front

I’ve stated in a previous log that when it comes to understanding and following directions related to anything with even the slightest hint of technology – see, creating PDF files for book covers, formatting to meet print and eBook requirements, assembling a yoyo — I’m lost. And useless to myself.  So I have to find who can do those things and pay them to do them for me and then hope they are done correctly (which I’m discovering is almost never) when I submit them in the hopes that a book will, as if by magic, appear.

Eventually these issues/struggles/headaches were worked out with my first book and my “Rosy” saw the light of day. To date some 50 people have bought copies, for which I am exceedingly grateful, one small step toward my goal of 10,000 copies sold. However, only 20% of those purchasing people have, subsequent to reading it, gone over to Amazon and left a review – and I’m talking three or four lines, not the Gettysburg Address. I don’t know why that is, I honestly don’t, though a dark cloud of suspicion trails behind me and whispers that many if not most of the buyers never bothered to read the book. Seriously. Maybe they bought it to be nice, to be friendly, to support a first-time author. But they didn’t read it because, as has been noted in a previous post on this Blog space, 53% of everyone over 18 years of age in the United States never reads another book – not a one – after leaving high school. Which, I am coming to believe, sadly, includes my Facebook and email and Twitter friends and followers. Like, before this, I thought my friends had to be hipper than the general population. But.

What’s an author to do? I have begged and cajoled, reminded and revisited book-buying friend after friend to take four or five minutes and leave an Amazon review. Because I’ve learned that there’s something called an algorithm, and for Amazon books that magic number is 20 reviews. Twenty reviews pushes the algorithm and that pushes the book in front of a lot more people. And please let me be clear here. Short of a terrific Stephen King endorsement or a call from Stephen Spielberg, he’d like to purchase the rights for his next film, this isn’t about making money. Full disclosure reveals that for each paperback I sell on Amazon I clear a hefty $2.78. For each eBook it’s $2.02. To date my expenses to publish and then minimally market “Rosy” are something around $396. That includes a number of paperbacks I’ve bought in bulk, to sign and sell, and on those I make a little more.

The point is, it ain’t “Show me the money.” What it is, and I’m betting this is true in some manifestation or another with every author, is having the book seen/read by a whole bunch of people. Because I believe in it, think it’s good, think it has positive things to say about life, human qualities we need to be reminded of now more than ever.

This will be true for “Astoria Strange” as well, and in fact, because the number of words are much greater than in “Rosy” – more than three times greater – the book will cost much more to prinfront_covert and I will have to charge more for each book, and after all that make even less per book, like $2.44. It’s not the money. As Salem State (MA) College professor Jay McHale once said — “The tissue is the issue.”

I will have published two books in my 69th year on the planet, and my preference is that people read them, at least those among the 47% who actually continue to read after their 18th birthday. I say “will have published” because this morning I received the proofs back from Amazon’s CreateSpace publishing company for the final check before they become real, tangible, hold them in your hands things, and lo and behold, the “A” in Astoria was sliced in half off the front cover.  Maybe the book should be titled “Storia Strange”, maybe there’s an alliterative spell to be cast. Hopefully they can fix it, I like it the way I wrote it.

The writing is hard, in a way, and also incredibly thrilling – it’s beyond a mescaline trip to watch as things happen completely on their own, and characters show up never before considered. Like three homeless guys in (A)storia, and a junior high girl named Elsbeth Dowd. Never mind detectives from other states that show up in the quaint Oregon coastal town and jump right into the middle of all the hooptedoodle. Yes, there’s magic in being a writer.

The technical stuff, the half-assed attempts at marketing, the chronic begging of friends for support – I’ve come to learn that part of being a writer is what it is. Add it all up. At least for me, it means a self-publishing, rushing toward 70, left coast yippie finally living out this particular dream.


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Interview With Author W.B. Cushman – Part Two

Following is the second part of an interview conducted by Professor Emeritus Clarrisa Everglad, ftierra-del-mar-2-061rom her home in Orleans, Massachusetts, with Cushman in Portland, Oregon. The interview was conducted by phone. Please see Part One of the interview for details about Everglad’s career in journalism and as an author and interviewer of authors.

 

Everglad: Discombobulated by the cover you had designed? And who is Victoria?

Cushman: I have the technical skills of a snail – probably less. When I realized I was done with Rosy, I’d edited and re-edited, had my wife Susan do a thorough editing, which is a significant skill of hers, and received feedback from my official readers Jamie and Pat, now it was time to publish. Initially I went the traditional route, sending applications and copies of parts of the book to five traditional publishers. All that netted was two formal rejections and three no replies. After a couple of months I decided I needed to self publish, and when I discovered that self-publishing through printing houses was going to cost more than I was able and/or willing to spend, then I had to self publish, go the route of Amazon CreateSpace and Kindle Direct, also making use of the ability to reach more on-line and brick and mortar outlets via IngramSpark (a $49 fee) and Draft2Digital. This is probably unnecessary information, the point is I needed a cover and spine and back cover, and I needed the 52K plus words of Rosy formatted correctly for these companies upload requirements. And I could do none of that. So I turned to Fiverr

Everglad: Fiverr?

Cushman: An internet site where you can hire people, starting at $5, for all kinds of different technical and not so technical services. And reading through various people’s pages I settled on a woman in England named Victoria to create the cover art. It cost me $26, likely the best $26 I’ve spent. She offered unlimited revisions, amazinoriginal-rosy-coverg for that amount of money, beginning her process with what I had messaged her about the book and what I felt would be the best images for the cover. Her first image was vastly different from the one that is the cover of Rosy now. On the right is her first image. Too dark, too much of life left, Teddy and Matt much different than how I saw them. Only Rosy felt right. So I gave her feedback and she made another and this went on, back and forth across The Atlantic, for three weeks, maybe a little more, before I felt it was right. Which included having Marvin with brown skin, which wasn’t there through many of the versions she messaged me. But, long story long enough, to get back to the word “discombobulated”, which goes back to your question about how much I knew my characters before they appeared on the pages, to see her creations of Teddy and Matt, after all the changes, it was a little weird. Because now, when I pick up the book and read various sections, the young men on the cover are who I see when I hear them talking. So, it’s really interesting.

Everglad: I can see that. I’ve never actually had this conversation with an author before. It is interesting.

Cushman: Thanks. I’ve already decided to use Victoria again for my next book, “Astoria Strange“.

Everglad: Is this a book you are planning to write?

Cushman: No. It’s nearly done now. It’s a collection of stories, interwoven in their setting and sharing of characters, set in Astoria, Oregon, a small town on the Ocean about 100 miles from where I live. They’re told from the point of view of stories in a newspaper column that focus on subjects outside of what would be considered normal. Anyway, I’m working on the final story. When I’m done there’s going to be a significant re-write and editing process. When it’s all done I’ll hire Victoria again for the cover and back cover art.

Everglad: Is this book something you began after you’d finished Ring Around the Rosy?

Cushman: No. I began Astoria long before I started the story for the submission request that would evolve into Rosy. Close to two and a half years ago now.

Everglad: And you are hoping to have this book completed and published sometime this year?

Cushman: My goal is to have it published before the end of April.

Everglad: Now that would be quite the accomplishment, Mr. Cushman. Not publishing anything until age 67, then having a second book out less than six months later.

Cushman: It will be very cool if I get it done.

Everglad: Will this be a book similar in length to your first?

Cushman: It’s already nearly three times longer than Rosy, just over 150,000 words so far. Three of the stories, including the one I’ve been trying to finish for months now, are nearly the size of small novellas. Fortunately the stories are meant to be read one at a time, and many are, in fact, typical short story length.

Everglad: I’d like to talk more about the new book in a few moments, if we can, it’s a surprising addition to the breath of the interview’s original intention. But, let’s get back to your Rosy.

Cushman: Professor, if you’ll indulge me for just another minute, I want to reference a particular aspect of Astoria to expand on a point I was making a while ago about, what for me is the joy of writing fiction. Not only from creating something from nothing, something that wasn’t there before – a person, a coffee shop, a factitious newspaper – but also getting to play while doing it. Getting to goof on myself, which is really it, to play while writing, to flash on different times in my life and different people I’ve met and known along the way. And to bring those people, I don’t mean them or any of their personality, but to borrow their name as I create someone knew. I keep using the word thrilling because that’s how it feels.  So, to make the point, in the third of my “Astoria” stories I introduced a new character, a female police officer named Ruthie Thompkins. I needed a name for an officer right there in the story and this name popped into my head. But I didn’t make it up. Back in my high school in Wareham, Massachusetts, probably about 50 miles or less from where you live Clarrisa, there was a math teacher, head of the math department, names Ruth Thompkins. Lots of the kids in school called her Ruthie. So, I’m needing the name for a female officer and trying to think up a good one, and the name Ruthie Thompkins flies into my head and I go ahead and type that. So, I borrowed on a piece of my childhood. And that’s what I’m talking about, because there’s something in the doing that weaves my entire life together, make it richer in some kind of way, and, I used this word before, honors a time in my life.

Everglad: I do understand what you’re saying, Mr. Cushman. One of the joys of writing fiction.

Cushman: Here’s the last thing about that. And this comes more under the idea of seeing where the story takes me, which you asked me about earlier. I typed the name Ruthie Thompkins because I needed a name, a one-time name. But, honestly, to my surprise, Officer Ruthie Thompkins showed up two stories later, again primarily in passing. But, two stories after that, in a story titled “Rat Boy“, not only is Ruthie driving her cruiser onto the pages again, but now, by the end of that story, she’s become a much more important player. So, there’s no surprise to me when, over the final three stories, she plays key roles. She’s become one of the primary characters. And she showed up, originally, because I needed a name and I remembered a name from my high school.

End of Part Two

 


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Just Following Along.

Recently I completed the tenth story in my proposed collection of 11 stories set in the small town of Astoria, Oregon. It’s title20140817_090403d “Texas Two-Step”. All of the stories in what I hope will become my first-ever published book deal with the supernatural – life on and beyond the far reaches of normal. Initially there was no book or collection of stories in mind. I was coming from back a visit to Trillium Lake with my son Cameron, daughter-in-law Alison, and grandkids Logan and Savannah, and we detoured off Route 26 somewhere between Rhododendron and Sandy to follow signs for a “trout farm”. Just to check it out. When we got there, deep into the woods, we found a rather strange setting, and on our way out were accosted by a female worker who was neither warm nor fuzzy. Back on the road we all laughed about it, and brainstormed – spontaneously – about what a story of such a place might be. A few months later I sat at my keyboard here and began writing a short story that eventually became (no surprise) “Trout Farm”.

A month or so later I wrote another short story – “Deprivation Invitation” – about what too much late-night coffee might do to a guy. This story had nothing at all to do with the first, other than this: it was set in Astoria. At some point very soon after the idea showed up to write a collection of stories set in Astoria, and to name the collection “Astoria Strange”, which is the title of the newspaper column the main character in “Trout Farm” writes monthly for the imaginary Astoria Times. Thus began the undertaking.

The first two stories totaled some 12,000 words – they’re short stories – but the third story in the collection – “Art Theft” – blossomed to over 30,000. I didn’t plan that, but a host of new, interesting characters showed up to help tell that one, and the story demanded the space and breadth to allow them their say. These characters – three homeless guys, a part-time artist, and a large African-American Sergeant on the Astoria Police Department – joined my columnist Ted Davis and his niece, and freshman at Clatsop Community College, Darcy Hendricksen, to form what would become, in the later stories, a most strange fellowship of ‘watchers’.

My initial intent, after I accepted the idea and challenge of a collection of weird Astoria stories, was that each would stand on its own, a common zip code the only connection to any other. Like the first two stories. But, it hasn’t gone that way. Against my intention, characters have returned again and again, and I have come to know them better – and appreciate them as people – more with each tale. Reading the ninth story now, “Mary Anne”, a 26,000 word ode to righteous retribution, would lose, I think, a lot, without reading six of the previous eight. They can barely be considered stand-alone anymore.

Which brings me to number ten, and the purpose of this post, which is my after-the-fact attempt to explain my writing process – or lack thereof. Like every other story, after the second, my plan was for Ted Davis to tell the story to you in first person. (The book, when it’s done, will begin with the word “I”.) But like the eighth and ninth stories, Ted never shows up. At all. That’s not what I planned, really, it’s not what I wanted. But it is what happened, which means that “Texas Two-Step” is told from a third person perspective.  The story begins with a paragraph that can be found again much later in the story. (My wife Susan, who is my primary “reader”, says this is confusing at first, cool later on.) I didn’t make this decision to bring this paragraph forward until well into the writing, and I made it 3000 miles away while watching my son Spenser graduate from his school in Florida. The real story begins next, the way I wrote it from the beginning, and without needing the designated spoiler alert, I’ll simply say that it describes a rather old woman way out in the woods of Astoria who does some very nasty things to other, unwilling participants, and the determined efforts of a stranger from Texas to put an end to her evil ways.

I’d just, myself, come back from a trip to Texas, visiting my son at Fort Hood following the birth of my newest grandson, Carson, a trip in which Cameron taught his old man to fly fish. So Texas and fly fishing were on my mind when I began this story. There was, initially, a long introduction about a guy from Massachusetts who hit on a lottery ticket and ended up buying an old motel on the Astoria riverfront, but after a few weeks I cut that out – some 2000 words – because it didn’t matter. Here’s what did and does matter, and what I hope makes a point regarding my writing process. Other than there’s a bad old woman in the woods and a guy from Texas (whose hiding his true identity and purpose) coming to deal with her, I had not one idea how this story would go – or what, exactly, would happen.

I had no clue that the three homeless guys and the artist and Ted’s niece would be part of this story, or that the main character from the sixth story – “Turnaround Place” – would return (ever), never mind take a lead role. Those things just happened. Or that Astoria Police Officer Ruthie Thompkins, a most minor character in two previous stories but a big player in the previous “Mary Anne” would not only be back, but would be a pivotal person here. It just happened, I guess, because it could. Because by now, Ruthie was real, flesh and blood to me, and because – somehow – she had become one of my favorites.

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