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The end of a dream?

I haven’t written here in a while.

For a reason.

When I started this blog it was in the hopes of promoting my three Noah Greene mystery novels, including the latest one, “My Grave Is Deep.” My hope was that I could attract readers by giving them an insight to my personality, my sense of humor or lack thereof, of, I don’t know, baring my soul.

And sell books.

Yes, sell books. Maybe get myself a real publisher, someone other than myself. Maybe get my books on a real bookshelf in a real bookstore, dinosaurs though they may be.

Yes, my books appear on Amazon, the online behemoth that is putting real bookstores out of business. They’re there on Amazon … where nobody can see them.

Nobody. While the number of titles in a physical bookstore, say Barnes & Noble or Books-A-Million, is significant, surely in the thousands, it pales in comparison to Amazon’s millions. Unless you’ve heard of E.E. Williams, or “Noah Greene Mysteries” you aren’t going to find my books. Not without a search party and a couple dozen years to spare.

So, when I started the fourth book in the series, a little voice in my head began to ask this question: Why? Why are you doing this? Why are you taking hours out of your day to write another novel? Why are you doing research? Why are you obsessing about characters and plot?

For the few – make that very few – who will read it?

The few, of course, are my friends and family members who take pity on me when I try to guilt them into buying a book. These are people I care about. People I love. Every time I make a pitch for the book it’s to them mostly. I’m begging them to do something for me: Buy my book! Please! Please, please, please!

If they don’t, I feel bad. Not for me, but for them, for the look in their eyes when they see me and are fearful that I’ll know.

If not for them, then, for whom do I write? Myself?

I’m always amused when I hear someone say, “Write for yourself.”

Um, no.

Writing a book is hard. It’s a solitary activity and it takes a lot out of you. It’s so difficult, it took me 35 years to write the first book, “Tears in the Rain,” even though I knew what I wanted to write and where I wanted the story to go. Thirty-five years.

Understand it’s not just the writing, the actual process of putting words to paper. It’s the thought process that goes into it. Going to bed each night thinking of the right word, or phrase, determining how to write yourself out of the corner that every author at one time or another has put himself or herself in, and then waking up in the morning and going at it all over again. It’s exhausting.

There’s an old saying among many authors. “I like having written,” meaning we like when the process is over, not the process itself.

Why put ourselves through this? Well, because we want people to read our books. Lots of people. Lots and lots of people. Writing for oneself is a futile endeavor. Why put that much effort into something nobody will see?

Or just your friends and family will see?

That’s why I started the blog. Why I starting following many, many people on Twitter. To perhaps gain some traction out there in reader land.

Some of my author friends\acquaintances are wizards at social media. John Scalzi, a man with whom I worked at the Fresno Bee and an author I much admire, is terrific at promoting himself and his Sci-Fi novels on social media. He has thousands of Twitter followers and Facebook friends, and a widely read blog called Whatever. He writes about his books and posts pictures of his cats and his beautiful wife and daughter. He’s even made his burrito making an event to be discussed in great detail.

But he’s a great writer and he’s written some terrific books.

Am I a great writer? Are my books terrific? Well, my friends and family say so, but what else would they say? “Ah, you stink like week old fish on a 100-degree day!” I like to think I’m better than some, but know I’m not as good as others. I’ve written before that I think my novels stack up favorably to some out there. Then there are others that make me think I’m no better than a slow driver in a fast lane.

I always wanted to be a novelist. After putting away the idea of flying jets for the Air Force, I decided being an author would be just swell. I’d be famous and rich and people would like up at those bookstores for my autograph. I’m not ashamed for thinking or wanting that.

Then came life. A wife. A child. Responsibilities. Bills to pay. I was a newspaperman, and a good one. Would I be a good novelist? The gamble was too great to risk it. My father, God bless his soul, taught me many things, the most important of which was to take care of your family.

Dad was a commercial artist and worked for a company that didn’t give him the recognition he believed he deserved. He chafed at doing all the heavy lifting and not getting his due. At one point, he got so fed up that he decided to go into business for himself.  Until my mother reminded him he had a son and a daughter and a mortgage and insurance payments.

That was the end of his dream.

And maybe this is the end of mine. I’m maybe 20 percent into the fourth Noah Greene novel. I’ve been at 20 percent for months now. Every time I think I’ll sit down and have at it again, that little voice in my head asks why. “You’re 70 years old,” it says. “You’ve already got three books out in the Ethernet of the world and even if nobody ever reads them, they’re there, and it’s three more than most people will ever have. Why keep beating your head against the wall? Why keep tormenting your friends and family with your pathetic begging? Why, why, why?”

Some of you, you precious few, may see this as whining, and maybe it is.

Or maybe it’s just the dying last words of a dream.

The wrong foot … both of them

Someone asked me the other day if I died.

“Why?” I asked. “Do I look dead?”

“Well, uh, come to think of it … but let’s not go there,” was the reply. “Just wondering why you haven’t blogged in a while.”

That’s true; I’ve been an absent blogee. Blogiest. Whatever.

I have a good reason. Beyond I don’t want to, that is.

I’ve been contemplating.

My feet.

Not long ago, the person who SAYS she loves me look at me while I was splayed out on the bed, which is where you can find me most days, and said, “My goodness, your feet are so cracked and scaly and ug …”

She caught herself before she said “ugly,” but the intent was clear.

“How dare you,” I said, indignant. “These feet … these feet here should be modeling Bombas socks. They should be in magazines. On TV. These feet are … are … well, they’re beautiful.”

She stuck me with a leveled gaze.

“You know Godzilla? Remember the scenes where there’s a close-up of him stomping a building to smithereens? That’s what your feet look like.”

I’m not gonna lie. That hurt. Pierced me right down to my soul.

“I have Godzilla feet?” I asked.

“No, sweetie, not really. Godzilla’s feet are actually more attractive. Your feet … well, you should hide them as much as possible. Nobody wants to see a 70-year-old man’s feet.”

Naturally, this has sent me into a spiral of depression. I haven’t been able to eat. I haven’t been able to sleep. Fact is, I’ve done little else since the ugly feet comment other than examining my feet and comparing them to Godzilla’s.

I gotta be honest, I just don’t see it. I mean, come on, his feet are green, after all. Mine are mostly not.

Anyway, I haven’t been able to write because all I can think of is feet.

So you can blame someone else for my lack of productivity.

The other day, the person who says she loves me noticed my funk and said, “I didn’t mean it. Your feet are just … um … fine.”

“They’re not ugly?”

“I didn’t say that. I think they’re okay. How ‘bout we take a nice walk and you can wear flip-flops. But put on socks first.”

“Okay,” I said. “It’s hot. I was thinking of not wearing a shirt.”

“Oh, no,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “Nobody wants to see a 70-year-old man without his shirt.”

I may never blog again.

E.E Williams is author of the Noah Greene mystery novels, the latest of which is “My Grave Is Deep,” which has nothing to do with feet.

Steve King ain’t got nuthin’ on me!

Whew, the writing I’ve been doing lately, huh?

I mean, you probably thought Stephen King was prolific, but man, my output of blog posts has been staggering even to me.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading them as much as I have writing them.

Because we’re talking a Mt. Everest of work here, a tsunami, a plethora, a deluge, a glut, I’m certain you’ve probably forgotten some of them, so I thought perhaps I’d review some of my own favorites.

Smell under my armpits, office, that’s alcohol!” Remember this one? Where I got pulled over by a cop and had to explain to him that, no, I wasn’t drunk, that no liquid intoxicants have ever passed my lips, except for that one time which I have no recollection of, but that alcohol odor was really coming from my armpits, not my breath. It was difficult to prove the science to him, that my body actually produces alcohol, but in the end, he let me off with a warning. Thought that was funny, didn’t you?

Oh, and how’d you like the one where I grew a 1,491-pound pumpkin in the 4-foot by 6-foot “bonus area” of our condo and then, just to spite the neighbor who complained the behemoth orange gourd squished his yappy-at-all-hours-of-the-day-and-night dog when the ground maybe shifted or someone maybe accidentally (or not) gave the pumpkin a hard shove, I grew a 2,175-pound pumpkin? Both state records by the way. As for the neighbor, my feeling is he should get a dog that can take care of itself. Or keep its yap shut.

Seriously, you must have loved the one where I was the bottom layer of a nail sandwich. If I do say so myself, I hammered that one home.

It was tears in my eyes when I wrote about Chris the sheep, the woolliest sheep in the whole wooly wide world, passing away and being turned into 1,422 turtleneck sweaters … because someone has to care.

And of course, there was the one about the Italian astronaut who got so excited about watching the Italian team in the Rugby World Cup he accidentally kicked a hole in the International Space Station. Like a good Italian, and a man after my own heart, he blamed it on the Russians.

My mostest favoritest post though was the piece entitled “Gator horseplay” where I described how I played with the gator in our local community pond until it got tired. Boy howdy that was some fun, especially when it swam right up to me and chomped down on my right hand, though I must admit the loss of those fingers has made tipp … topp … pupoiu … t y p i n g a bit herder … horder … h a r d e r.

Ah, good times.

E.E. Williams is half Italian on his mother’s side, which is fortunate because she still has a health head of hair as does he, and is author of the Noah Greene mystery series, “My Grave Is Deep,” “Tears of God” and “Tears in the Rain.”

Sigh, is the death of SI nigh?

I always wanted to work at Sports Illustrated.

As a young man full of bravado I knew I was going to work at Sports Illustrated. I was convinced, and still am by the way because I’m an old man full of bravado, that I was the best sportswriter anyone had ever read. My name would be among the magazine’s greatest – Frank DeFord, Dan Jenkins, Tex Maule, and Curry Kirkpatrick.

My backup plan was to replace Anson Mount in writing the college and pro football previews for Playboy, but my wife of the time said, uh, no. Emphatically.

Of course, I never made it to SI. I did make it to New York, where I worked at the New York Daily News with some of the country’s best writers and editors. I also worked with Jack McCallum (at the Allentown Morning Call) and Gary Smith (at the Daily News), both of whom went on to noted careers at SI.

But I never made it to SI on my own.

Not that I haven’t held out hope. Just a few weeks ago, when my cellphone buzzed with an unfamiliar New York number I thought, “Hmm, could it be someone from SI recruiting me for a senior, senior, senior, very senior writer position?”

Alas, it was one of those extended car warranty robo calls.

I don’t think I was alone as a young sportswriter in wanting to work at SI. It was the preeminent sports magazine ever since Time magazine’s Henry Luce started it in 1954. For 65 years, it stood atop Mt. Everest as the country’s best and most popular repository of sports writing.

Then it got sold. And sold again. Magazines, like newspapers, have fallen on hard times, as advertisers fled to the Internet for marketing rates that are a fraction of print media’s, no matter that those advertisements also draw a fraction of reader attention. Print revenue at SI fell. Bean counters decided that its future was online.

So when the new owners, a startup named theMaven, took control, they promptly laid off 40 employees, about half of the SI staff still standing. theMaven’s game plan going forward is to replace those 40 fulltime employees, whose salaries were most likely commensurate with their enormous talent, with 200 contractors. many of whom will no doubt be thrilled to work for 3 cents a word and whose work quality will no doubt be worth 3 cents a word. If that.

About 70 percent of startups fail and an executive, Ross Levinshon, with a somewhat checkered history, is helming this particular one.

All of which is to say I don’t have great hopes for the magazine’s long-term survival. I won’t be surprised if, in a year or so, Sports Illustrated vanishes like morning dew. Sad, yes, but not surprised.

Which means I won’t be getting a call to work for them.

But maybe Playboy is still in play, though. The woman who says she loves me now thinks I’m too old for anything other than … she thinks I’m too old.

***

I know you know, but I’m going to remind you anyway. I write mystery novels, the latest of which is “My Grave Is Deep,” which is the sequel to “Tears of God,” which is a sequel to “Tears in the Rain.” I am currently working on the sequel to the sequel to the sequel. The fabulous Fran Allred and Michael Johnson of We Edit Books edited my latest book, which in case you’ve forgotten, is “My Grave Is Deep.”

A life cut short, a toy that never found its crib

Eeyore.

That was the first toy we bought her, the lovable but gloomy old grey donkey from Winnie the Pooh.

This one was soft and rubbery.

It was to be the toy that kept her company in her crib.

That would make her giggle and laugh at the sight of him.

That she would chew on when she was teething.

That she would snuggle next to in bed.

That she would cry over when she couldn’t find it.

That she would place on her windowsill when she got older.

That she would maybe take to her college dorm room with her as a reminder of home.

That she would pack away and then give to her own child. Her grandchild.

That maybe she would want buried with her when it was her time, a reminder of a life well lived.

Eeyore. Our favorite Pooh character. So much riding on one little toy.

But Eeyore never made it to her crib, never sat on the windowsill, or her bed, or her dorm room.

Molly Lynn, our daughter, died one day after she was born. Before she could ever hold Eeyore in her tiny hands, or giggle over it’s hangdog features.

A disease and a doctor killed her.

The disease was diabetes. Jane, my wife, was 16 when she learned she was diabetic and that she would spend the rest of her shortened life shooting insulin into her stomach or her thighs twice a day. Diabetics have a difficult time carrying a fetus to term. Her pregnancy was a risk. We knew that. But, we so wanted a family. Molly was to be the first of three, maybe four.

We were careful, so very careful, following every instruction of her doctor in minute detail. But still, five months in, Jane went into labor.

It was going to be a difficult delivery anyway, but it was made more so by a delay in reaching the doctor, who was playing golf when he finally got the call. By that time, Molly was on her way. But it was a breech baby, which meant that she was coming out feet first, not the typical head first of most births.

The doctor could have done a caesarean and delivered Molly that way. He opted to use forceps to pull Molly from the womb.

And crushed her skull.

They rushed our baby to an intensive care fetal unit at another hospital, and hours passed before I got a call at 3 a.m. telling me that our daughter was dead.

Exhausted and sedated after a difficult birth, Jane remained in the hospital and I was alone, in the dark, and I couldn’t stop sobbing. I never cried so hard and for long before and never have since.

Life was never the same after that, particularly for Jane, who blamed herself and her disease for Molly’s death, and especially after we nearly lost our next child, our son Seth. Our marriage suffered and eventually we drifted apart. In the end, more than our daughter died that night. So did our lives together.

Whoever first said that time heals all wounds, never lost a child. That wound never heals. It’s raw and painful and unceasing. The “what ifs” haunt you every single day of your life … for the rest of your life.

September 26, 1974 the day Molly Lynn came into this world. September 27, 1974 the day she left it.

January 2, 2007, the day another Molly came into this world. Our grandchild, Molly Jane. The person Jane never got to see, or hug, or … love. Diabetes claimed her three years earlier.

Eeyore, meanwhile, sat alone in a toy box for a time, until Jane and I decided to donate him to Goodwill.

It was hard saying goodbye to him, but we hoped that someday, the floppy-eared, sad-eyed little donkey could find his way into some other crib.

And make a child giggle  and laugh at the sight of him.

How to lose 0.00001098 of a million dollars without really trying!

An interesting article has been causing quite a buzz in the publishing circles. Not any circles I stand in, mind you, but I’ve heard about it while loitering on the fringes.

It’s titled “How To Lose A Third Of A Million Dollars Without Trying.” Written by author Heather Demetrios, it chronicles how she managed to squander two huge advances in a short time and wound up nearly bankrupt.

I had to look up the word “advance” because in my publishing experience it’s been mostly “reverse.” Instead of people paying me to publish my books, I’ve been paying them. “Sure, we’ll take that book off your hands … for $10,000.”

Anyway, Ms. Demetrios signed one book contract for $100,000 and a second for $250,000.

She starts off her piece with the following:

“If just one person had sat me down when I signed my first book contract and explained how publishing works, how nothing is guaranteed, and how it often feels like playing Russian Roulette with words, I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions. I would have set a foundation for a healthy life as an artist, laying the groundwork to thrive in uncertainty, to avoid desperation, panic, and bad decisions that would affect me for years to come.”

Here’s how it works on my side of the fence.

“If just one person had sat me down when I wrote my first book and explained I might have to beg anyone not named Williams to read my books, I would have made much sounder financial and creative decisions and become a professional dog food taster.”

Ms. Demetrios rightly thought that after those first two advances that she was now “one of the chosen few,” and, as such, she was free to move into an expensive neighborhood in Brooklyn, order pricey meals and cocktails when dining out and generally not worrying if she would have enough in the bank account to pay the water bill.

(Sidebar: After the Kent State shootings, my friend Scott introduced me to James Michener, he of “Tales of the South Pacific” fame, who was in the area to write a book about the tragedy. Waiting several minutes after we knocked on his door, we finally saw the room curtains part slightly and a single eyeball, seemingly floating in midair, peer out at us. Minutes more passed before Michener, dressed in an undershirt and baggy boxers that showed way too much of his skinny legs, opened the door and Scott, who was doing research for the famous author, introduced us. “Oh,” said Michener, “I thought you were the water guy from back home here to collect,” and I thought, “James Michener is worried about paying his water bill?”)

Back to Ms. Demetrios. After her much praised novels failed to sell as many copies as publishers had hoped for, the royalties got smaller and smaller, at one point dipping as low as, EGADS, $20,000!

I’m here to tell you that if I ever, ever, ever get a $20,000 advance, every single penny is going into the savings account.

Until I can sneak out of the house and put money down on a new Porsche.

Now there are some things I can agree on with Ms. Demetrios. You’ve got to pretty much be your own marketer these days, even if you are signing six-figure advances. You need to stay on top of social media, like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram, which takes time away from your writing.

And that’s why I don’t update my blog every day. Yeah, that’s why. I’m busy writing. Other stuff. Book stuff. I sometimes write, one or two sentences a day. I can’t be bothered with all that bloggy, Facebooky, Twittery stuff. The French have a word for how I market my books. L’azee.

But enough about that. As I say, my writing career is kinda in reverse. Ms. Demetrios complains that some of her foreign rights were sold for as little as $2,000. At last check, I think my royalties totaled $10.98.

I wish I had made much sounder and creative decisions about that money, but I blew it all – without really trying – on a full Chick-fil-a meal. I could have gone for just a sandwich, but those waffle fries are so darn tasty I can’t say no.

Now you might be asking yourself, “Why in the world does ol’ E. E. continue to toil in obscurity and the edge of financial insolvency?”

Because one of these days, if I keep at it, those publishers that keep ignoring me are going to pay me big, big bucks.

Just to go away.

E. E. Williams’ latest novel is “My Grave Is Deep.” Buy it and help him afford a Diet Coke with his next Chick-fil-a meal.

The hurricane whisperer

I’m what you might call a hurricane whisperer.

They follow me like a hungry hound.

A few years back, we moved to Hattisburg, Mississippi. A few months later along came Katrina.

Wonderful girl, Katrina. She howled and moaned and in a fit of temper, threw things all over the place. I was relegated to stay in our new home and watch 60-foot pine trees bend over backwards and touch the roof of our home.

Then there was the rain. Water shot underneath every door in the house as if someone was spraying them with a power washer.

I’d run from one door to the next with a dry towel until I ran out of towels about 10 minutes into the storm.

I think maybe I cried, but please don’t tell anyone.

So, I survived Katrina and moved back north where they had nor’easters, but no hurricanes.

Then I moved back south, where they do.

Apparently Dorian, Katrina’s brother, found out that I’m not living in Bluffton, South Carolina and is now headed this way.

“Get out!” yelled the Governor, which, come to think of it, is something I’ve heard a lot of over the years.

“Don’t wanna!” I yelled back. “I ain’t afraid of no Dorian. What kind of  sissy name is that anyway? I’m stayin’.”

“No you’re not,” shouted the governor.

“Yes I am!” I said.

“No you’re not!” said the person who says she loves me.

“You can’t make me,” I said meekly.

“Yes I can,” she said.

“Yes, dear.”

So, we’re tucking our tails between our legs …

“You’re tucking your tail between your legs,” said the person who says she loves me. “Don’t be blaming me if you’re an idiot.”

“Yes, dear.”

So, yep, I’m runnin’. Cause I’m more scared of her than Hurricane Dorian.