WIN

I read a lot. And by read, I mean I listen to audiobooks. I usually scroll the best sellers list on Amazon and hope something pops up that looks interesting… something that I haven’t read before. Sometimes it’s rough… I read so much, that finding good material is like finding a clean bathroom in a frat house.

The other day I was walking through a Barnes and Noble, and a title that caught my eye in the New Releases section…. WIN, by Harlan Coben. I picked it up and it turned out to be one of the best books I’ve read in years. The main reason that this book had me hooked: humor. It was funny.

Not slapstick funny, or even self-deprecating, but sarcasm with just the right amount of ‘bad.’ In other words, I wouldn’t say it was mean-hearted. But WIN (the main character) is an unapologetic rich guy who happens to be good at solving mysteries, and that doesn’t involve doing everything by the book.

After that book, I searched his other books. I was hesitant to delve into others. I liked the Win character, and the other books had a different protagonist, a sports agent. But once I started it, I was glad I did. It had the same humor and Win actually popped in here and there.

So, why does humor work so well – and when doesn’t it work?

In my opinion. Good books need a likable, but flawed protagonist. Writing in first person helps with relatability and so when humor is thrown in it’s like you’re having a chat with a good friend that you haven’t seen in a while.

The trick is what’s the likable part and what’s the flawed part. The guy (or gal) might make you laugh, but he’s arrogant. The difference with this guy is he knows he’s arrogant. He doesn’t apologize for it, but he warns you. He makes no apology for what he does, it’s just how he operates.

The arc appears in other ways. The guy may mistreat women. This is a less forgivable flaw. One he recognizes, and deep down knows he could do better. And then opportunities arise through the story for him to do better. Nobody’s perfect. And so, the relatable deepens, and the reader routes for him (or her).

The humor allows for character and story development. The way the guy thinks and his mannerisms and how he reacts, and, finally, how he verbally communicates, are all clues to who he is (and was in the past), why he does what he does, and how he fits into the puzzle of the story.

Good writing can be like enjoying a great meal. You love the secret sauce on your Big Mac, and love it when the buns are fresh. The pickles some like, but I prefer my meal sans those nasty green things, not funny or likable.

 

 

 

 

Kenny Rogers Getaway

 

Last week I had a much-needed getaway. It’s been harder to get out of town, but we decided on getting a cabin through Airbnb, and go someplace, like Estes Park.

The hiking/views were great, the cabin… not so much.

I took my laptop, planning on doing a little writing. But plans change. When we got to the cabin it was directly on a busy highway, and there was a small patch of dirt next to the highway (in front of the cabin), where we were supposed to park our car. One slight swerve from a semi barreling down the highway and our car would be toast. The traffic noise was so loud I recorded it, in case we might need it as evidence later.

We knew we weren’t going to stay there but went inside mostly out of curiosity. It was advertised as ‘cozy,’ but it was more like a tiny house or a Winnebago without the wheels. The first thing that hit me was the cooked onion smell. I immediately left, trying not to gag… not successfully.

We wound up getting a hotel room in town, a roomy suite with 2 balconies, each balcony had a view of the lake. It was a little dated, but it was luxurious compared to the cabin. And it was about half the cost of the cabin.

 

 

We had a not-so-great dinner at the hotel. Right before our main course came the lights went out. And they stayed out. Apparently, a transformer had blown. We wound up returning our meals. They were bad, and we could barely see our food or each other. We sat in our room for about 2 minutes (in the dark), then decided to return home.

This type of trip is what I like to call a Kenny Rogers getaway. You gotta know when to fold ’em.

Cold

I don’t like the cold weather. The last 3 days it was -8, and that’s too cold for me. So, I realize I need to look for the pros of the winter season in order for me to get on with it.

Here’s what I came up with:

More time to work, with fewer distractions.

Time to get caught up on cleaning out my sock drawer.

An excuse to buy a new winter coat.

Enjoying the fireplace I put in my refurbished basement.

Watching my dogs roll in the snow.

Catching up on my social media accounts, like GoodReads.

Enjoying a cup of hot mint tea with my wife.

I found this quote about winter that I kind of like (by Terri Guillemets), and I just wanted to share it:

The color of springtime is in the flowers; the color of winter is in the imagination.

 

What Do You Really Want?

As you all know by now, I love my dogs. Sammi is our 6-year-old golden retriever and besides being unusually shy, she is pretty typical for her breed… mischievous, and adorable. And like most goldens, she loves toys… of the stuffed variety.

She especially likes to grab one when she is about to greet someone, a peace offering.

When we go on walks she leaves her toys at home. There are lots of scents, other people and dogs, trees, and other things to keep her occupied. Yesterday we went for a walk on the trail behind our house and we saw that someone had put a mitten on top of a metal post that was in the field adjacent to the trail.

 

Sammi saw it, too. She thought it was a toy. She made numerous attempts to get it off the metal post but couldn’t quite get the job done. Then she saw something else and lost interest. In the end, it wasn’t something she really wanted… it was just a distraction.

Another life lesson from my dog, or just a mitten? Just a thought…

 

 

Happy New Year

Welcome, 2021. It’s been an interesting year. I’m usually a pretty upbeat person, but 2020 was a tough one. Wouldn’t it be nice to turn on the news and hear more positive and a little less negative?

I, for one, am happy to say goodbye to the past 12 months. GOODBYE.

I’m not much for resolutions, but this year, I would definitely like to travel more. As a writer, I rely on travel, seeing new places, and meeting new people as a way to gain a new perspective, which helps with my process.

Where would I like to go? Italy is way up there. And although I may travel by plane sometime this year, I’m not sure Europe is on the agenda for this year. Tuscany is calling my name, but I remain cautious when it comes to infectious disease.

Another place on the top of my list is Kauai, Hawaii. I got married there almost 15 years ago and it is (and I don’t use this word often) magical. It happens as soon as I step off the plane – the feeling of calm washes over me. It doesn’t hurt when you’re met with friendly islanders offering leis. But, again, that’s a long flight… I’m not quite ready for that yet.

A road trip is definitely in my near future, though. This winter, my wife, Kim, and I will probably go to one of our new favorite destinations, Sedona, AZ. From Castle Rock, CO, it’s about 11 hours. Sedona is perfect between 40 and 60 degrees in the winter. The sun is usually shining and there are a ton of hiking trails.

Traveling will be a little easier this year because we found the perfect dog sitter, who will stay with them most of the time. Yes, I admit, our 3 dogs are spoiled. Kim and I both work from home and besides writing, my life pretty much centers around them. It’s all good, as the rewards far outweigh the responsibility.

 

 

Happy Trails, Mark

 

Inspiration

Hi Everybody,
First off, I’m sorry that I haven’t written a post in a while. A lot has happened…. A pandemic, racial unrest, an uncertain economy, and a new election. Through all of it, I’ve still been writing, kicking out a book every 3 to 4 months. My wife, Kim, lost her job after COVID hit and is now doing the marketing for my books.

Even though it’s approaching the middle of November, I kind of feel like it’s the beginning of a new year. And, I, for one, would like to do better, to become more connected to my followers, and utilize the tools that are at my disposal.

So,  I will be posting regularly now… once a month. Which makes this first post is a declaration of sorts. Please feel free to hold me accountable.-)

 

 

This month’s topic: INSPIRATION

First of all, I’d like to share a problem I have…. insomnia. I have a hard time sleeping sometimes. I’m up reading (listening, actually, to audiobooks) late into the night. And then I’m up at 2 am. My mind is reeling with ideas, stresses from the day, or… just reeling. I do look at this as a curse sometimes, but other times, it’s in these sleepless moments that I get inspired.

I recently saw a Netflix mini-series, Queen’s Gambit (based on a novel by Walter Tevis). The protagonist, Beth Harmon, lives in an orphanage after she loses her parents. During her time there, she discovers chess. At night, unable to sleep, she’d lie in bed and stare out at the ceiling, imagining over-sized chess pieces moving in various scenarios. Her passion and curiosity about the game became so much of her life that it became a part of her.

I could relate to this. Some of my books come more easily to me than others. With some (Ship Wrecked: Stranded on an Alien World and The Simpleton), I got clear messages. I’m a visual person, I see the story play out in front of me like a movie. And when the message begins to fade away, I grab my iPhone and feverishly begin to make notes.

I also get inspired when I’m immersed in water…. My jacuzzi or bathtub. I recently got a giant clawfoot bathtub, and when the blizzards start here in Colorado, my outdoor jacuzzi is retired for a couple of months. I find this practice especially helpful when I’m experiencing writer’s block.

My wife, Kim, helps with inspired ideas, as well. I love the back and forth of bouncing ideas with friends and family. They may come up with something that isn’t quite right, but that leads me down a way of thinking that can result in pure gold.

Being a visual person, it is very important for me to get out of town. I spend a lot of time at home, here in Colorado. This is especially true, since the pandemic. So, recently, we take road trips. Even after living in the state for over 10 years, there are many little out-of-the-way places we haven’t discovered. The last place we visited was Manitou Springs, Colorado, near Colorado Springs. The town’s 19th-century Victorian frame houses and businesses against the mountain setting was unexpectedly interesting.

Movies are a source of inspiration for me, as well. Sometimes it’s the photography or a certain villain who is strangely likeable or it’s a situation that arises that is completely different than anything I’ve seen. It could also be a reaction or a setting or the way a character carries himself. It takes me being engaged for it to happen. If I’m paying attention and open, I’ll find it.

I have 3 dogs, and they provide me a certain kind of inspiration, as well. Rika is 16, a Chow/German Shepherd mix, and Lilly (2) & Sammi (6), Golden Retrievers. Don’t tell the others, but Sammi is my dog. She’s super-mellow and incredibly sweet. She offers little expression on a normal basis, but when we take her to our favorite dog park, she lights up. Sammi especially loves climbing the up-and-down bridge. Her expression and energy level visibly change. It creates a shift in me, too. Sammi is the inspiration for a book I’m working on now, tentatively called Cob.

 

Inspiration can come in different ways for me, from in-your-face to subtle. My challenge is to stay open and let it happen. I feel incredibly blessed to make a living as a writer. I acknowledge the responsibility that comes with it… to not go on autopilot and crank out formulaic stories. I am grateful for my fans, and I owe it to them to pass on the best I have to offer.

Till next time… Mark Wayne McGinnis