Friday, July 24, 2009

The Day of the Cobra

~Sia McKye~
My son, Jake and I both love muscle cars. I've always loved the looks of them, Jake is learning more about engines and what not. A few weeks ago, we attended a small muscle car show.

It was one of those days where the sun plays hide and seek with the clouds, and hints at the coming rain. Muscle car aficionados are serious about checking out cars. I‘ve seen them show up in rain, all sitting around coking and joking under a big old canopy while debating original parts to newer manufactured parts. Kit cars verses rebuilding from one the ground up. Discussions can get heated and you’ll see a couple go out in the rain and check out this car or another—owner in tow vehemently making his point.

There’s a festive air about a car show. There are balloons and banners. Contests for the best…you name it about a car and they have it. People bring lawn chairs, coolers and cameras. Knots of men stand around in baseball caps chatting about everything from crops to car parts. Usually someone has a booth cooking hotdogs, hamburgers and fries. Others have auto parts booths set up, with pictures, samples of paints or parts from yesteryear. Kids get bored and start up a game of some sort.

We weren't able to stay beyond a few hours, but we enjoyed the variety of cars present from old pick-up trucks from the 1930's to various cars from the 20s and 30's to cars of the 60's and 70's. A few kit cars were present and some looked only a little larger than a go-cart. Some cars were well preserved and others in need of a great deal of work. It was fun to watch people arrive in various cars, some I remember my dad or grandfather owning.

I like Camaros. Jake loves Mustangs, Chevelles, and Dodge Chargers. What car show worth it’s salt, here in the south, won’t have a replica (or two) of General Lee?

Interesting side point about the Dukes of Hazard star John Schneider (played Bo Duke in the series). He owned his personal 1969 Dodge Charger also called General Lee. John sold his General Lee in 2007, on eBay for a shock-absorbing $9,900,500.00! That’s almost 10 million dollars and the second highest sale in a car auction. The first place sale? A 1931 Bugatti originally owned by the Bugatti family and it went for a cool $11 million.

We were looking at a particularly fine Chevy Super Sport when we heard the distinctive growl of a car approaching the car show. Jake bumped his head on the Chevy’s hood in his hurry to stand up. We looked at each other and turned in tandem and looked toward the busy highway. You could hear this car approaching a quarter of a mile away. I had to smile when I heard him murmur, “Oh. My. Freaking. God. It’s a Shelby Cobra…”

We were the first to approach the car as the owner parked it. A truly beautifully maintained 1967 Shelby Cobra. While the owner wiped the road dust off the car and opened the hood my son stood, hardly breathing, as he looked at the car.

I knew Jake would never ask, so I went up to the owner and asked if he would mind me taking a few pictures of my son with his car. As in standing by the car. He looked over his shoulder at Jake, who still hadn't moved, his eyes reverent as he looked at the car, gave a little smile and said, "Sure. Let me put the hood down, first."
I walked over to Jake to tell him we had permission to take a few pictures with him and the car. I'm telling you, his face lit up like Christmas morning. Jake walked the remaining four feet to the car and just stood there. "Oh wow."

The owner had been watching Jake and the little smile of his turned into a big grin at Jake's reaction. After the first picture the owner came up to Jake and put his hand on Jake's shoulder to move him out of the way. He reached out and opened the door, looked up at Jake and asked, "Would you like to get in?"

I was thinking, this is a rhetorical question, right?

He warned Jake about the very hot exhaust pipe, and Jake got in. Can we say heaven? I think my son thought he died and went there for sure.

After the photo shoot, he and the owner talked about the car a bit and then Jake and I walked away. He proudly showed me the burn he got getting in the car and asked, “Hey Mom, you think it will scar? Wouldn’t that be sweet?” I had to laugh.

While there were many gorgeous cars at the show, I don't think either of us will forget the Day of the Cobra.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Biting the Nail: The Discipline of Writing

My guest is award winning author, Vincent Zandri. Zandri’s writing has been described as “poignant and shocking” with “depth and substance, wickedness and compassion.” He wrote the critically aclaimed As Catch Can. Vincent's new book, Moonlight Falls will be released later this year.

How does someone who works full time as a freelance writer and photo journalist, a father, and author, manage it all? And do it so well? I hear he has an alluring partner who helps...

“Where do you get your discipline?”

That’s the question I’m asked most frequently about my solitary writing life. Most people who work according the programmed schedule of job and career find it inconceivable that a person can actually roll out of bed, face a blank page, and begin to make words. Yet, as writers, that’s what we do. We create and in order to create we have to have discipline. Discipline to work alone, according to our own rules, according to our own high standards, according to our own priorities and curiosities.

Acquiring discipline isn’t so hard when you are passionate about your work—when you have a desire not only to write well, but to do it better than anyone has done it before. At the same time you have to develop a skin of armor in order to feed the obsession. The first most important lesson of the disciplined writing life is learning that you’re not always going to be successful. Most of the time you will fail and must face the resulting rejection head on. That’s the most difficult thing about discipline: carrying on with your work unabated, even in the face of rejection.

So where does my discipline come from?

As clichéd as it sounds, I can only tell you that it comes from deep inside. It’s not something I have to work up; so much as it’s something I have to feed on a daily basis. Discipline means waking up early every day, day in and day out, and writing. It’s writing everyday in isolation no matter what’s happening in my life. Be it sick kids, angry spouses, insolvent bank accounts, a broken toilet, a terrorist attack… I write no matter what. Hemingway called this sometimes impossible but necessary process, “biting the nail.” And anyone who has the discipline to write every day no matter what, understands what biting the nail is all about. Writing, like the discipline it requires, can be an awfully painful process.

Back in 1992, I wrote in my published essay, A Literary Life, “In the morning, weariness begins with darkness. It surrounds me inside my kitchen like a weighted shroud, cumbersome and black. It continues as my fingertips search and locate a light switch next to the telephone, above my son’s hi-chair. White light stings my eyes when I flip it up. There is a clock above the sink…I interpret a big hand and little hand that have not yet made 6:00AM.”

Those were the days when I wrote in the mornings, worked a fulltime job and received rejections everyday. But still, I crawled out of bed and wrote. I guess all these years later, I can truthfully say, discipline is what I had in the place of sleep, in the place of comfort, in the place of security and success. Discipline was and remains the bedfellow I seek when I am at my most lonely.

Eventually the discipline would reap its rewards.

In the 12 years since I’ve earned my MFA from Vermont College, I’ve published three novels, with one on the way this winter. I’ve been translated into numerous languages. I’ve published almost two-dozen short stories, countless articles, essays and blogs. I’ve traveled “on assignment” to China, Turkey, Greece, Italy, France, Spain, Africa and more. Along the way I’ve met wonderful people, seen wonderful things, witnessed atrocities, unspeakable disease, hunger and corruption. I’ve written about much of it. Some of it, I’ve simply stored away in my brain for some future story or novel down the road.

For all its rewards, discipline demands stiff payment.

Because of my priorities, I’ve failed at two marriages and many more relationships. I’ve lost friends and lost the faith and trust of family members who have come to think of me as unreliable or flaky at best. Because after all, I tend to use a holiday like Christmas as a time to work, and when family events like birthdays come up, I might be traveling or locked up in my studio with my significant other…Well, you know her name. It starts with a D.

I have managed however, to find a way to balance time with my kids. Not that it’s always been easy. Children are a distraction, no bones about it. But they are also fuel for your discipline. I’m not entirely certain that I could have achieved any kind of success without them. Children open up emotional vaults that would otherwise remain sealed shut. You need to expose the contents of these vaults in your prose.

My writing simply wouldn’t be the same without kids. Now that they’re almost grown up, I still keep them as close as possible without smothering them. When it comes to my children, my philosophy has always been, hug them, tell them you love them, and make them laugh once a day. You’d be surprised how well this works. Also, don’t be afraid to tell them the truth. They know when you’re lying. If you can’t spend time with them because you have to feed the discipline, be honest about it. They will appreciate you for it and come to respect you.

Case and point: it’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon and I’m writing this article. My children are home, just outside the closed door of my studio, where I can hear them engaged in some sort of friendly argument. I’m not doing anything with them per se. But I’m here with them, for them.

This month alone I will write and published 36 short architecture and construction articles, three major blogs, present a revised version of The Concrete Pearl (my fifth novel) to my agent, write one or two features, engage in pre-publicity for Moonlight Falls, and maybe, if there’s time, pen a new piece for my personal blog. In between all this, I’ll juggle time with the kids, time for exercise, time to tip some beers with friends, time for a few road trips, time to be by myself and read. Have I mentioned the discipline required to read books?

One word of warning, the discipline, no matter how beautiful a bedfellow, does not always respond lovingly. Even after you’ve scored a major book contract or two. During my second marriage, I suffered through a writer’s block that lasted five long years, a period during which I published not a single word. The block just happened to coincide with my oldest son’s nervous breakdown and the onset of severe depression (see “Breakdown,” At that time, as I neared bankruptcy (after receiving a mid-six figure advance for As Catch Can), I never once stopped working, never once veered from the discipline of waking up every morning and trying to write. “Trying” being the key word here.

Looking back on those difficult years, I realize I wasn’t writing so much as I was just typing, but the process helped me cope with some very difficult and serious issues in my life. If nothing else, the discipline to write can be a mighty powerful therapy.

Eventually the damn breaks, as it did in my case, and I made a return to good writing and publishing. I’m not making millions by any means, but I make a decent living as a freelance journalist and novelist, and that’s all anyone can honestly ask for.

The late great Norman Mailer also understood about the financial ups and downs of being a fulltime writer. But more importantly, he understood about the discipline of biting the nail. He wrote 2,500 new words a day right up until the end when his kidneys failed him. It wasn’t the disciple or the talent or the mind that gave out, it was the 84-year-old body. I’m told he died with a smile on his face. Not the kind of smile that accompanies peace of mind, sedated painlessness, or “going to the bright light.” But the kind of smile that only a disciplined writer can wear; the sly grin that means you’re about to embark on a brand new adventure, and that you can’t wait to write about it.
Vincent Zandri is the award winning author of the critically acclaimed As Catch Can, Godchild, and Permanence. His new novel, Moonlight Falls will be published this winter by RJ Buckley. A full-time freelance writer and photo journalist, he is also a Stringer for Russia Today TV. An avid traveler and sports enthusiast, Zandri plays drums for the New York based punk rock band, The Blisterz. For more information on Vincent Zandri and his publications, visit,, and

Monday, July 20, 2009

A Writer's Perspective~Bud Connell

I’m pleased to have debut author, Bud Connell, as my guest Over Coffee. Bud is a fascinating man of many talents. He’s written a new contemporary thriller, Peak Experience.

Today, Bud discusses his perspective of the writing process. His thoughts on writers' block, conflict, characters, and recharging your writing. The satisfaction that comes from being able to create entire worlds that begins, continues and ends the way he wants them.

Thank you, Sia, for this forum. The gift of the Internet and the freedom to express and expound that it provides continues to amaze me. It’s a privilege that we must protect at all costs.

I’m new to fiction writing, but not new to writing. Over the years I’ve written an estimated one hundred thousand pages of business materials, television scripts, radio scripts, commercials and jingle lyrics. My background provided the discipline, attention-to-detail, wide interests, and perseverance necessary to become a fiction writer. After the morass of exteriorly directed clichéd bunkum, it’s a gift to create complete worlds populated by people of choice. Control... it’s all about control; and in the world of fiction, although my characters do what they do, and I follow, I have the on-off switch. If I don’t like the direction a story is taking, I can kill the power and start another world. I will elaborate in my forthcoming book, The Writing of a Debut Novel.

Writing, more specifically writing fiction is primarily a lifestyle decision driven by a desire for complete freedom. I write fiction anywhere, anytime and about anything; it’s not a job, it’s a joy. There is nothing as completely satisfying as creating a completely satisfying world... completely.

I’ve never had writer’s block. To me, that’s a manufactured term for a phony malady. There’s only writer’s laziness, or writer’s barrenness, or a combination of both. When I observe that I am not writing, I write! If I am unable to write, my mind is telling me that it needs filling up again. Then, I go somewhere or do something different and replenish my mental warehouse, after which, I return to the keyboard and write. It works every time––a simple solution for a natural condition.

If I don’t have the option of physically going somewhere, I get on my computer and go research/traveling to find out about places I’d like to feature in my current or next book. I make notes of specific locales and thoughts of how I want to incorporate them into my work. Then, I go back to the place I left off in my current project and write one scene... just one scene, and see how easily it leads me to my next scene, and to the next––and the next.

Someone asked me the other day how I come up with situations for my characters. I answered, “I don’t. My characters come up with their own situations.” If I know who my character is, and what he (or she) thinks he wants, he’ll do next what he wants to do. I have little to say about it. All I have to do is observe his actions and describe them. This is not to say that I don’t have some sort of loose framework in mind when I begin a project, I do; but it is subject to revision, and often to extreme revision... albeit still a loose outline. The main danger in the tight, rigid outline is production of predictability, which I avoid like a menacing pandemic.

My personal writing rules also apply to conflict. I place two or more characters whom I well know in a place of their misfortune or of their own choosing, and the conflict naturally erupts... or erupts naturally. If my characters don’t conflict, I have not chosen the appropriate personalities to people my story. Thank God, though, that has not happened to me... so far.

And the details... ah, the details. Truman Capote said he believed more in the scissors than in the pencil–––but it takes both, with the computer thrown it as a great codifier of words. At one point in the writing of Peak Experience, and to support Capote’s position, I had little snippets of paper all over every flat surface in my living and dining rooms. These were the loose ends; and every one of them had to be addressed, developed, and resolved before I could rewrite.

Plot difficulties only occur when one forgets important, or even not so important details, so I immerse myself into my plotline and subplots so completely that every nuance is continuously in front of me as I write. It’s a mental foreshadowing and it’s all there, much like the buildup of water in front of a ship’s bow and the wake flowing off to the sides and left behind as I plow into the incidents my characters create. On a re-read, I can easily see what portends from the direction the tale is taking, and I can examine the damages left in the water and on the shore by the waves of the wake. All of the details are addressed and handled before and during my denouement. The only issues potentially left hanging are those that may lead into a sequel; and, paraphrasing Mickey Spillane, the first chapter promotes the novel; the last chapter promotes the next book. The seeds of sequel are sown in several places among the pages of my thriller, Peak Experience: A Novel. I challenge you to find them.

Rewriting? Rewriting is where the polish is applied, and applied, and applied again. Then I put the manuscript away for several months, take it out and reread it, and brush it to a fine shine. But, there are always overlooked mistakes. Therefore, I solicit readers before submitting a manuscript for publishing or even consideration by another set of eyes, and it’s amazing how many little errors are discovered... missing punctuation, extra punctuation, missing words, extra words, misspellings... errors that make me wonder where my mind was when I read my manuscript the thirty-ninth or the fortieth time. If you’re a writer and can afford it, there is no better money spent than for a line-by-line editor.

Sia, you asked, how do I keep my writing fresh? Simple, I pay attention to what is happening worldwide. The old axiom “truth is stranger than fiction” is alive and well, and there is freshness, and putridness, wafting out from the continuous blare of twenty-four hour news. Flipping through my pile of current events magazines and punching among the cable news channels provide all the freshness I need for any given project. Although I may not use the current events per se in my current story, they provide an attitude that informs where my characters direct themselves and what they do. To me, it is important that I reflect the times; and it forever amazes me, that when I write a story, or a section, how prophetic or foreboding it may become. Take for example how my Peak Experience novel parallels the Bernie Madoff scandal, or the recently publicized alleged R. Allen Sanford fraud. The financial atmosphere that produced my novel eventually produced the real life villains. So, I was no prophet... but merely observant of current conditions, and the purveyor of what-ifs.

So, amid all my pronouncements of how and why, I lead a normal life, with two old Jags in the garage and two cats asleep on my desktop as I write. What’s the message here? I am only now beginning to live life as I’ve always envisioned it should be. I do what I want to do when I want to do it. But, fiction writing provides a deeper dimension: I can now create entire worlds that begin and continue and end the way I want them to... and in that there is no greater satisfaction.

Bud Connell is a media expert. With a background in entertainment and business, he was employed on-the-air by major broadcasting chains, holds some of the highest audience ratings ever recorded, was the programmer/creator of benchmark radio stations and later a consultant to over a hundred broadcasters nationwide. He produced numerous live events and major talent shows, and executive-produced network TV specials.

In 2001, he was inducted into the Media Hall of Fame in St. Louis along with Harry Caray, Jack Buck and Paul Harvey. A dozen years prior, he formed BCTV Productions in Los Angeles and has written, produced and directed hundreds of commercials, films and videos for top corporations, educational and public service organizations. His background also includes a number of writer credits. He was a monthly contributor of articles to a major celebrity magazine, lyricist for more than a thousand jingles––and, as an on-the-air personality, programmer and newsman was the writer of countless news stories, editorials, features, commercials, promotions, comedy bits and presentations. He has written hundreds of video and non-theatrical film scripts, several TV series concepts and radio specials. He's also been widely quoted in books about broadcasting such as Talking Radio by Michael C. Keith.

Bud recently authored Peak Experience, which tied for the Gold in Best in Popular Fiction Category for 2009's 13th annual Independent Publisher Book Awards. Peak Experience is available on, on Amazon’s amazing Kindle,, and through retailers and distributors nationwide.

He is currently at work on his next novel and a non-fiction book called The Writing of a Debut Novel.