Tuttle’s Influence

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Besides writing the Garison Fitch books (which are experiencing their best sales month ever this March–thanks readers!!), I also draw the comic strip “Tuttle’s” and the on-line comic book “Burt & the I.L.S.”. In addition, I write a column for the High Plains Observer, an on-line newspaper that covers the Texas panhandle, as well as this blog and six columns a year for the Moore County News. Oh, and let’s not forget that I also write a sermon and a Sunday school lesson a week.

I bring this up to ask your pardon if they ever start to run together for you. They sure do for me!

The sermons are the easiest, because I don’t have to come up with the source material. I just have to stay true to it. Thankfully, it’s easy to read and incredibly relevant. Ditto for the Sunday school lessons.

The weekly columns for the Observer (to see them, go to www.highplainsobserver.com and click on “Tuttle’s” in the left-hand sidebar) are about “whatever I want to write about”. Mostly, they’re funny. Ideas I’ve had that I couldn’t reduce to a three panel comic strip. I’ve tried to write seriously for them a couple times, but can’t help being–if not funny–at least snide. The articles for the Moore County News are on behalf of the local ministerial association and are mostly Biblical, with a side helping of humor and as little snideness as I can muster.

“Tuttle’s” is strictly for fun. And each cartoon is a stand-alone joke, though I have given the characters some character over the years; meaning that Picadillo’s the intellectual, Penn’s the conspiracy theorist, Pete’s the dimmest bulb and Tuttle’s the straight man with a penchant for making money. The only continuity I worry about there is to keep everyone in character. Fortunately, I now have enough well-established characters that any time I have an idea, it’s pretty clear who should act it out.

And then there is “Burt & the I.L.S.” BILS (as I call it) is my homage to the old adventure strips like “Terry & the Pirates” or “Steve Canyon.” It was originally conceived as a daily strip, but no one was interested. Eventually, I was asked to turn it into the comic book form you can see (at www.destinyhelix.com) and it’s garnered a small following. The problem is that it may or may not involve time travel and continuity is one of the many things I like to skewer with it.

What makes this a problem is that BILS and Garison Fitch kind of come from the same corner of my brain. I tried very hard to make all the ends tie up neatly in Garison Fitch and all the elements come into play. That said, it’s still just an adventure story. A cliff-hanger matinee in novel form in some ways (especially “Saving Time: The Legend of Garison Fitch – Book 2″).

I always had an idea that there were a couple more Garison Fitch stories out there. I’ve been working on one of them for a long time, and it’s coming along very well (thank you). It’s part of the “All the Time in Our World” saga and fits right in. The other one (which doesn’t even have a title yet [I take that back, at this point it has several titles!]), though, is hard to get my brain around because it is–in some ways–”out there”. It will ultimately be as realistic (if that’s even the right word) as the previous Garison Fitch books, but right now I’m in such a deep hole while writing it that it’s hard not to take the easy way out and just take a Burt Cottage leap and leave logic behind.

I would just stop drawing Burt until this book is done, but a] I don’t know when that will be and 2] I’m anxious to find out how Burt will get out of his fix, too. Maybe I could treat him as seriously as … no. Bad idea.

Return of Garison?

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All of the novels I have written have come to me suddenly, some of them in dreams. A dream about picking someone up at the bus station became “Psalm 88″. A casual comment by my father three decades ago became “First Time: The Legend of Garison Fitch.”

Yesterday, while building a fire in the outdoor grate, another Garison Fitch story came to me. Now, I need to stop avoiding it by blogging and start writing.

Abilene

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Edward and Marianne (the main characters in “All the Time in Our World”) grew up in Abilene, TX. They met at Crockett Elementary School, went to different junior highs, and then became friends again at Cooper High School.

Garison Fitch, in “Saving Time” spends a day in Abilene so he can watch Heather play volleyball at Abilene Christian University.

Bat Garrett, Heather’s one-time boyfriend and Garison’s least favorite person, attended Cooper High School in Abilene, TX.

Joe Whitcomb, one of two main characters in “Psalm 88″, grew up an hour north of Abilene in Haskell. Jason Kerrigan, of “Lost Time: The Legend of Garison Fitch – Book 3″ grew up in Haskell and Paint Creek.

Are you sensing a pattern here? They say you should write what you know about, so many of my main characters are from Abilene, as am I. My parents are from Haskell, TX, so all those years I spent visiting my grandparents there had an indelible imprint on me and my writing.

Notice, though, that all of these characters leave the place they’re from. That’s where you see the most of me. Looking back now, I have fond things to think of Abilene–and even fonder memories of Haskell–but at the time I was growing up there I couldn’t wait to get out. One of my best friends (to this day) once told me he thought about dropping out of school just so he could get out of Abilene. I told him I stayed in school just because that seemed like the best ticket out.

Abilene is a big part of who I am, even though I haven’t been there in 15 years. When I think of school, I think of it in terms of Crockett, Jefferson and Cooper. Even though I have been preaching for almost 20 years now–in churches in Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado–when I dream about church (which I do almost every Saturday night), the setting is always the building there in Abilene. When I think of grandparents, I think of Haskell (which I actually saw about 6 years ago).

My parents moved out of Abilene about when I did, so I don’t think of it as home. But it will always be my hometown.

The Lochs

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Drove to Amarillo and back today, crossing the Canadian River each way. Whenever I do this, I picture Edward and Marianne as they cross the great lochs.

I honestly don’t know how “engineeringly” possible this concept is. A few miles up the river from where I crossed, is Lake Meredith, which was created by damming up the Canadian River at a place where there’s a very pretty canyon. As I hiked the canyon, one day, I got to thinking what it would be like if the dam were as tall as the canyon walls, thereby making the water level with the surrounding prairies.

From there, the idea just grew. What if someone were to dam up not just the canyons, but the wider valleys? What if someone did that every few miles, creating a giant water barrier, like a moat? I know it would take a huge engineering feat, maybe larger than we are currently capable of. That’s a lot of water and that much water will push mightily on its banks, let alone a man-made dam.

Still, it’s an interesting prospect and, as I drive Highway 287 and come to the point where the loch would be about 4 miles wide, I imagine I’m driving under water. Or, I imagine what it would be like to just have a bridge that goes straight across the expanse. It’s a dry place, and some days you could jump across the actual water part of the river, so it’s interesting to picture what the area would be like with a body of water as big as what I’ve written.

Musing on Time Travel

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I have to tell you: I don’t believe in time travel. I’ve read the articles about how a super-sonic jet traveling from New York to L.A. actually travels backwards in time something like 2 seconds. And I read the book “Elegant Universe” (by Brian Greene) and almost understood the part where the front end of a dragster is traveling at a different speed from the back end of the same dragster.

Still, those issues are to traveling backwards through time to your grandad’s day what me eating a single undercooked piece of battered fish is to the entire commercial fishing operation of the whole world. Sure there’s a correlation, but not what you’d call a noticable one.

The simple reason I don’t believe we (or anyone in the future) will ever be able to travel back in time is that if it were ever to become possible we’d know about it. Someone from the future would come back and monkey with our time, or tell us about the future. Or, as in my book “Saving Time”, time itself would become so unraveled as to be unlivable. (Though, I suppose if that happens, we either a] won’t be able to notice or 2] won’t notice for long!)

Whoo-hoo!

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It’s official: I have now sold more copies of my books in the month of February 2010 than in any other single month! 31 Kindle copies and 2 paperbacks, in case you’re wondering.

This is appropriate as I always look forward to February as it’s when pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training. As a die-hard Houston Astros fan, this is usually the last full month of the year when we still have a shot at the playoffs. And this year looks especially hopeful as we’ve signed more no-name has-beens than usual, leading to a sense across Astro-nation that this mist be the year we make it out of May still in contention. (Then, the team will put on a great push in September that falls just short, leading us to think “just wait ’til next year” like we always do.)

Anyway, I still don’t know who is buying my books. And, in all honesty, the numbers for this month are somewhat “padded” by my “strategy” to release “All the Time in Our World” in four parts. Whether this is a marketing strategy that has been successful will be determined over time, but someone is reading all four parts (though, oddly, part 3 is selling the best!?!?!).

Continuing to lead the pack, however, is “First Time: The Legend of Garison Fitch” which still accounts for about 1/3 of all my sales. It is clearly my best seller, but it does make me wonder why more people aren’t buying it’s sequels (together, the other two books ["Saving Time" and "Lost Time"] account for about another 1/3 of my sales). The final third of my sales are the “All the Time in Our World” segments.

In just over a year and a half, I’ve sold exactly 1 copy of my novel “Psalm 88″. I really like those characters and that story, so it makes me feel kind of sad for them. Like when one of your kids wins a prize at school and the other doesn’t.

Thanks to whoever is buying these novels. Let me know what you like about them.

Released!!

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The complete text of “All the Time in Our World” is now available to everyone through Amazon Kindle! All four parts have been uploaded and are for sale (though it may be a day or so before part 4 shows up on the web site).

The entire novel will be available as a single Kindle novel in April. Don’t worry: you’ll pay the same price for the complete novel as you would for ordering all four parts individually. So why not order now!?!?

Don’t have a Kindle? You can read Kindle books on your iPhone or you can download software (for free!!) that will enable you to read Kindle books on your PC.

If you haven’t read any of this novel, yet, you can read a sample chapter at garisonfitch.com. This is my wife’s favorite novel, so it’s coming to you highly recommended from a source I have the utmost respect for!

Psalm 88 and Garison Fitch

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“Most writers don’t make a living at writing.” I’ve heard that many times. It’s meant to be discouraging and, yes, it is. As a young writer, one sees the writers who are obviously making a living at it and it’s natural to think to oneself, “I want to do that.”

The reality is that the old cliche is true and most of us who aspire to be writers won’t be living in Breckenridge anytime soon. Colorado, anyway. I might could live in Breckenridge, TX … no, I’m not making enough money off writing to live there, either.

So, what are we encouraged to do? Many times, I was told to look out at the world and see what sells and try to learn from that. What I was supposed to learn was pretty ambiguous. Was I supposed to copy the prominant authors and write a legal thriller like Gresham, or a spy novel like Ludlum, or a western like L’Amour? Or was it a more nebulous piece of advice and I was supposed to tap into some perceived sensibility of the crowd: like greed in the 80s or an inability to vote for competent leadership in the 90s?

I went another direction. I didn’t know what people wanted to read, or how to find out, and I wasn’t entirely sure that it mattered. I knew what I wanted to read, so I have written accordingly. It may be selfish and, if you’re wont to point out that it isn’t likely to lead to fortune I can only say that I noticed that some time ago.

Still, I write what I want to read. And, whether it’s time travel or Christian relationships (see “Psalm 88″ or any of the dozen other unpublished novels I’ve written), the main thing that interests me is: how do people think? When I watch the news, I frequently find myself asking, “What was he thinking?!?!” From the criminal who does something really boneheaded during the commission of a crime, to the lab assistant who has just discovered something that will benefit us all, I’m wondering what they were thinking. Was what happened an accident or did they know what they were shooting for? Is this person, who is going through something really momentous, married? Do they have kids? Are they really good at their job but stink at talking to their teenager?

So I put people who are dealing with other people in a situation that makes the stakes of the deal higher and see what happens. I do hope someone else will enjoy reading about these people–they mean a lot to me–but the first audience is still me.

What was George doing in the road?

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People who have read “First Time – The Legend of Garison Fitch” have often asked me, “What was George doing in that street anyway? He’s eleven, for crying out loud!”

The crazy thing is: I have an answer. The problem is: there was never a good place to put it in the book. Every time I’ve tried, it just interrupted the flow. So, here’s the passage that explains why little Georgie (who was almost 6 foot tall at age 11) was playing in the street that day:

“Wait a minute,” Heather objected, placing her hand on Garison’s chest. “Why was George in the street? It’s not like he was a little kid, too little to know better.”

Garison nodded and told her, “You know, I had that question too, but not at the time.” At her look of skepticism, he explained, “At the time, I was just … freakin’, as your friend Bat would say. I saw a kid playing in the street, I saw the giant dray with the corner of my eye, and I grabbed him. And then, the worst headache in the history of the world hit me.

“It’s rather like my life is bifurcated cleanly: before that moment and after. I’ve relived that moment-the actual moment where I pulled him out of the way-a thousand times, now that I know,” he smiled, recalling some other phrase, “Now that I know what I hath wrought.”

“‘Hath’?” Heather chuckled.

“I don’t know where that came from. Anyway, about a month ago I was going over it all and I asked myself why he was there. I had known him from town-everyone had, it was a small town-and he wasn’t known as a flaky kid or anything. ‘Flaky’?” Garison asked, confused sometimes by where his own various turns of phrase came from. “He was always just this big, rather outgoing kid. Little obnoxious even.

“So I started thinking about it. Trying to picture it all in my mind. I think I’m right in picturing him with rocks and sticks laid out on the ground.” He looked at Heather as if this answered her question.

Finally, she prodded, “So?”

Garison smiled and explained, “It was like a kid today playing with toy soldiers. But I think George was planning out a battle. A military battle.”

Heather hesitated, then shrugged and agreed, “That explains so much.”

Seeing the Written

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There is a moment in “All the Time in Our World” where Marianne and Edward have gotten into a newlywed’s battle over something that started very small. As anyone who is married–or has been married–those little things can become big things until, eventually, they explode. In the fortunate instances, the warring parties look back and chuckle, “We were fighting over THAT?!?!”

When Edward and Marianne finally reconcile, they are in a field at dusk, the music of a party wafting gently over them, and they begin to dance. When I write–or when I do almost anything, for that matter–I have music going. When cartooning, I play all sorts of music. When writing, though, I usually only play instrumental music because I’ve learned that if I play music with lyrics those lyrics work their way into my writing.

Sometimes, as I write a passage, the music that was playing when I first created the passage will become so engrained in me that, each subsequent time I work on the passage, I still hear the music that was playing the first time.

This passage is unique in that I wrote it, but some time later I heard the song that is now permanently engraved in my mind as it’s companion. It’s called “A Song for All Lovers” and was written by John Denver. It speaks of two people slowly dancing together in the moonlight. The song is set on the steppes of Alaska, but whenever I hear it I picture Edward and Marianne dancing in the moonlight on that field outside Trahlad. When I read that passage, I’m hearing Denver’s song in the back of my mind.