Follow by Email

Thursday, August 21, 2014


 Travel is one of the motor forces of my writing. The things that challenge me, please me, irritate me about new places also provide the fodder for stories and just thinking about how humans tick. I find it fun to watch other people and see how they respond to new things, but what they do and how they do it only makes sense if I've already paid attention to my own response. I need to know a bit about what they are reacting to.
The top picture I took in Kampot, Cambodia about 14 months ago. It looks pretty tranquil. When it isn't wedding season, or a mjor holiday (of which there are many) it is pretty tranquil. In some ways, it is a great place to write. Humid and hot but with many wonderful qualities. And beer is cheap, which is usually a good thing.

The picture on the left I took in Nevada about one year ago. It has a different kind of tranquility (once you are out of the middle of the road). I could feel a certain desolate peace and a wide open beauty. Beer isn't cheap here. In fact I'm not sure how many miles you'd have to travel to find a cold one. Always travel prepared.

The important thing in looking at these two photos is that they both represent peace and tranquility, but the experiences are so radically different.

I'm often asked what places I like best. The problem with giving an honest answer is that places are changing fast. A place I've been to a few years ago isn't the place I'd be if I landed there tomorrow. Coming back to the US we found a different place than we left. Silver City is hurting from the economic situation (nice word, situation. A wonderful euphemism, but I don't think we are allowed to be honest and say depression.). That makes it more tranquil, although for many that is a poor substitute for a boom time with lots of jobs and food.

I couldn't change the places I visit or even live in for long, even if I wanted to. As an outsider, I can't even offer intelligent or reasonable opinions on what is right or wrong for a people or their place. I try to travel responsibly, helping local (not chain) businesses when possible and not being any more intrusive or annoying than a traveler naturally is. So I stick to observing, and casting my thoughts and observations into stories.

So now I'll get back to writing them.

Fair winds.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Dreams and hopes

In learning to produce my own books I've done a lot to try an improve the covers. Part of the learning process has involved finding the kinds of images that resonate with me. In the process I've discovered (probably tangentially) that I have a fascination with old buildings. The ones that have been abandoned, left to weather and entropy, are the most interesting.

I've decided I'm drawn to these buildings as symbols of dreams. Sometime in the past, someone built these places, or had them built, and they must've had a vision of a life in them, or perhaps a dream of a prosperous business. Now they look like failed dreams, but I'm not sure they are. Perhaps the dreamers lived a long and happy life, enjoying the building and it was later inhabitants who let the buildings go. Or perhaps tragedy struck.

I've decided that the attraction of these places is the way they function as symbols of the hopes and dreams of people I'll never know. Sometime in the past, someone built these places, or had them built, and they must've had a vision of a life in them, or perhaps a dream of a prosperous business. Now they look like failed dreams, but I'm not sure they are. Perhaps the dreamers lived a long and happy life, enjoying the building and it was later inhabitants who let the buildings go. Or perhaps tragedy struck.

As a writer, I can't help but imagine the stories. Of course, the stories I hear in my head aren't the real stories, but ones I am making up. But that's what a writer does--make shit up. 

I took this set of photos in rural New Mexico. Several are from small mining towns in the Silver City area, where the Santa Rita and Tyrone mines have a long history of being driving forces in the local economy. Unfortunately, mining is a boom and bust proposition, which likely means more dreams and more failures than in other places. The boom and bust provide the attraction and the potential for tragedy/ The dreams had to be phenomenal...of wealth, of even better buildings for growing families. And a bust time meant few had the money to take over properties that had been abandoned. By the time the next boom arrived, brought on by a rise in copper prices, it was time for new buildings and new dreams. The old ones aren't fixed. Why live in the shell of a ruined life when the future beckons?

So my interest isn't nostalgic. I don't want to repair these dreams and move in, but to feel them, they way their dreamers manifested them in wood and concrete.

Hey, everyone needs a hobby.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

New audio book

I'm excited that my short story, Imitating Art, is now out as an audio book on Amazon and Audible for only $3.95. Joe Farinacci did a lovely job with it.


This is a story of the blur between art and life, crime and everything else, for a backpacker in SE Asia. A story of guesthouses, bar girls, and obscure personal histories.

Brought to you by

Float Street Press

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The problem of blogging

It should be easy for a writer to manage to blog regularly. And, I am a disciplined writer, at least in the sense of getting my butt in the chair and writing, nearly every day. The days I don't write, I'm editing.

Even when traveling, I write. Sometimes only in my head, but that counts as a draft too, as I recall what I wrote and do get it down, even if I find the remembered text needs work.

But blogging is something else. It's not creating a story in the sense that writing fiction is. It isn't (and shouldn't be) simply announcements about things I want to sell you. It's about sharing thoughts or experiences.

The problem is that often those thoughts and experiences are the grist for the fiction mill. Spilling them out in a blog reduces the storehouse. That's why so many writers write about writing in their blogs. It isn't that they don't want to share other things, but that they prefer to share them in another format.

Sure you can reuse experiences, but they don't taste the same the second time. Some of the flavor goes out of them. So, to blog, I look (and wait) for things that don't suit stories and sometimes it's hard to tell what does and doesn't.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Writing and traveling

Writing and traveling are rather compatible, if you can work in strange places. For me, it is an inspiring combination. Traveling and publishing are less compatible, but as things worked out that's exactly what I'll be doing soon. We are making a trip, a road trip to Colorado to see family for the first time in a while. The timing coincides with the release of my next Martin Billings book DEATH BENEFITS from Float Street Press. Of course, there is never a right time for much of anything in this world, especially not enough time to do things right, and I am trying to get this right. So I am being more methodical than I am normally prone to be.

Jes Richardson put together a wonderful cover for the new book.

I like it because it suggests all the elements in the story. Jes did a good job of winnowing out all the junk I tried to get into it and focused on the key things.

I'm doing some last minute things to the text and getting the formatting done. I'll be doing a pre-release of the book (at a discount) through Kobo and Barnes & Noble while I'm on the road, and then it will go live in both ebook and paperback on July 10th. I'll announce the pre-release when it is up.

For those of you who haven't read the first Martin Billings book, UNDER LOW SKIES, I'll be reissuing it with a modified cover and dropping it to the price for a short time. Naturally I am hoping you will want to read both. And book #3, which takes place on a tropical Caribbean isle, is in the works. It will be out later this year. I want to get you addicted to Martin's adventures in the Caribbean, and to feel the rhythms of life there.
 Meantime, I am looking for to contact reviewers who like mystery/adventure stories. If you have a book blog and are interested in getting an advanced review copy of DEATH BENEFITS, please contact the publisher at

Here is the blurb for the new book.

Martin Billings goes to Venezuela to get some documents signed for a friend, but the man who is supposed to sign them has gone sailing. Martin finds his sailboat burning on a beach but it's too far gone to know if he was still in it. If he was, who left him there? Who is the mystery woman he sees taking pictures of the burning boat? And why is an ex British spy interested in the man's whereabouts? Martin needs to find some answers, and preferably before Ugly Bill gets too tired of him playing detective.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Promoting promotion

I find promotion awkward, or rather I feel awkward promoting my own stuff. That doesn't mean I don't do it, but that it is uncomfortable and never feels quite right. But promotion is part of publishing, which is the logical consequence of writing book you want  people to read.

At the moment I am trying to let people know about my book about Ron Anejo. The people who have read it tell me they enjoy it; it's gotten good reviews. But it isn't visible. I reduced the price, but people don't see prices much. So now I am working other angles. Here is the newest.

My book is being featured on Friday May 9th 2014 at eBookSoda, a new readers' site where they'll send you ebook recommendations tailored to your taste.

It's worth a try. They reach readers who don't know me or my books yet.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Making money on the road

I've spent a lot of time (years) traveling around the world, living in a fascinating variety of places, to the extent that the question "where are you from?" flummoxes me. (Okay, I've been looking for a sentence to put that word it for a long time, but it is apt.) When I explain that the answer is sort of confusing, and I'm not certain what they are asking, things get murky. But the place I was born was one I lived in for only a few weeks. Am I from there? Am I from one of the many places I grew up in? Are they asking what country issued my passport?  

Once through that nonsense, people often tell me they'd like to travel like that too--try living in other places. Unfortunately, x gets in the way (x being money, relationships, time, a new job, a recent bout of the flu, more money...).

For most of us, the issue is money. So they want to know how to make money while living on the road.

I'll explain that as best I can, from the perspective of one traveler. But first I want to mention something I've come to realize over time. The truth is that, for the majority of the people who say they want to try the traveling life, it just hasn't been as much a priority as it has been for me. I don't mean that they don't honestly and sincerely aspire to the traveling life, but they are unwilling to engage in some of the tradeoffs. You only have so much time and energy to expend in this life. If you are traveling, then clearly you aren't doing something else. Believe it or not, this goes to the heart of what it means to make money, the money it takes to live on, no matter where you live.

Note that I'm not saying I thought traveling was a better way to live, or even that it was a better use of my time than other things. I'm only saying that, for my own reasons, I have always given it a higher priority than other things. For example, we don't have many accumulated possessions. Traveling around, unless you are wealthy, means shedding things, even things that mean something to you.

The thing people ask most about the traveling life is how to make money. Not get rich money, but enough to live on in strange places. Well, the answer is complicated. The short version is that you work at whatever jobs are around you that can earn money.  Obvious, right? The next thing I often hear is, "Well that's okay for you." 

I think I know what that rather cryptic comment means. Our culture urges people to cling to labels about themselves, to think of themselves as an architect or a banker. That is limiting. You can certainly work a lot of places around the world within a label like that, but narrowing your focus can make it hard to go where you want, when you want.

Consider. I have a degree in Economics. I've never worked in that field. When I think of myself, I see a writer and musician. I've done those things for love and profit since before I was an adult. Those haven't always been useful in the places I wanted to be, at least when I wanted to be there.

So I've done office jobs (editing magazines) in Asia, put in the electrical wiring for a new restaurant in Venezuela, played music in waterfront bars in the Caribbean, and repaired things. My wife is an artist, but she is also a good carpenter, and I've assisted her (played gopher) when she built things for people (wooden shutters for a nice home, for instance).

We didn't plan any of it. (We don't even like the word plan.) Many times the work found us. Not always. Sometimes we failed. Different places have their own rules for the kind of work you are allowed to do, if you can do any at all. In places we visited that didn't allow us to work, we couldn't stay no matter how much we wanted to. In other places you need to take some time and meet people and get into the system to be allowed to work.

And all the time I wrote and my wife made art and we lived cheap.

One year, during our ten on our boat, our work time was consumed with important boat repairs. That year, my major source of income (ironically) was selling poetry. Not that I set the world on fire with my poetry, but it was an extremely good year for poetry and extremely bad for everything else. But selling a poem to Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, and writing a lot of poems and nonfiction for Caribbean Compass. I managed a lot of very small sales to other magazines as well and the proceeds almost kept us afloat, so to speak.

You might have noticed a (possibly pathetic) lack of a coherent vision here. That's because the dream was traveling, living on a boat, living in Asia and so on, rather than earning a living. Thus, the answer, unexciting as it might be, is that to live out on the road you do the same thing you'd do anywhere that you are having trouble getting a job. Get creative. Find someone who needs your help.

You look for activity that might require your services.

You accept what people might see as demeaning work, because eating gets to be something of a habit. And you have a great time doing it, because it means you are living the life you want to lead.

Living a traveling life has been my dream (and expectation, I should add). Being a writer has been part of that dream. The lives of writers and travelers have always fit together like a hand in  a glove in my fuzzy brain.  Sometime maybe I'll figure out how that works.