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Monday, June 18, 2018

Audiobooks and the Sound of My Father's Voice

Even now with Father's Day in the rearview mirror, my dad remains on my mind. He pops up there most days in some fashion—in the ninth inning of a Cubs game, when his and my beloved Steelers play, when the final round of the U.S. Open is underway on Dad's Day, as it always is. When I run the mower on the lawn, Dad invariably comes to me. He taught me to cut the grass in strips, back and forth, and then the next time to go the opposite way. "It helps the grass grow better," he said. Don't know if that's really true, but I do it anyway. Always have. 

This Father's Day, my younger son Graham wanted to make me something in his wood shop. My father's DNA was passed to him. Dad was good with his hands. He made furniture and was once, when he was a young man, a carpenter who worked building homes. Graham makes wooden pens, bottle openers, wine bottle stoppers, and men's hand razors. That's what he wanted to make me, a razor of rosewood, and he wanted to do it with me there as he turned the wood on his lathe. He even let me try it. "I want it to be something we made together," he said. 

Left to right: My father, my great grandfather,
my grandfather, and me as a boy. 
Watching Graham work, I could see my father standing there, smiling. He would have been over the moon to have seen his grandson working with his hands, sawdust flying, crafting wood into a work of art. I could hear his voice, saying, "Graham, that is beautiful work." 

I miss my father. And the one thing I miss most is his voice, hearing him laugh, tell a joke, teach me something about lawn care, groan at the television as the leader at the U.S. Open misses a birdie putt. 

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading about how author Michael Lewis will be offering some of his work through Audible only—audiobook only. Not print. No book. No ebook. Voice only. There was some criticism of this approach. Authors scolded him for abandoning the printed word. I think that's a bit harsh. He's only celebrating a new delivery platform. Nothing wrong with that. Audiobooks still lag far behind print or even ebooks. But it's really not about the sales aspect, I believe. It's about the voice. 

Storytelling began with tales told through speech, not print, not pantings on cave walls, but with verbal communication, not formal language as we know it, but rather grunts or snarls. Still, the stories were communicated through the human voice, and there is no reason why that process, through the modern-day audiobook, shouldn't be continued and celebrated. I'm considering a new project in a year or so that may be offered as an audiobook only because I believe in the human voice—its nuanced tellings, its emotional shades of expression—delicate story elements that could never be duplicated in print. 

Working on audiobook of the book of essays
There's a Hamster in the Dashboard
What I would give to hear the voice of my father tell a story, his expressive baritone working its way through setting, dialogue, character building. My father was a good storyteller. He was part Irish, so that my have something to do with it, right? But Irish or not, the human voice gives us something we could never experience in print. Yes, I love reading. I love writing. I love beautiful prose. But telling a story, voice only, may be the most primal, and at the same time, the most natural way of sharing our stories. 

I think Dad would agree


Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Father's Day Book Giveaway!

GIVEAWAY IS OVER. Winners are being notified. Thank you for entering! 

* * * 

A Well-Respected Man is celebrating FATHER'S DAY. And you can, too. 

We are giving away the novel by award-winning author David W. Berner through his blog -- where you are right now -- in an online raffle. Five gifted KINDLE Editions and THREE print editions (softcover) are up for grabs. This means EIGHT WINNERS selected randomly. FREE to enter. Deadline: June 18, 2018, 11:59pm.

Reviews: "Absorbing.” - Midwest Review of Books
                 "Masterful." - The Jack Kerouac Project
                 "Thought-provoking." - The Hemingway Foundation 

Here's how to enter.

In the email listed below, enter your FULL NAME, FULL ADDRESS, and the EMAIL where you would like the KINDLE EDITION sent electronically if you win. Print winners will have their copies mailed to the address given.


Send all giveaway entries to this email address:

Winners will be chosen randomly and will be notified June 19, 2018 by email. Entries received after 11:59PM June 18, 2018 will be deemed ineligible. Decisions are final.

Good luck! And happy Father's Day!


A WELL-RESPECTED MAN: A novel  (Strategic Publishing, Release: 4/5/18)

Chicago Professor Martin Gregory is the author of a critically acclaimed novel of love and longing, a cult favorite among women. The book brings him unexpected status and prestige, but also unwelcome fame.
A love affair with one of his students derails his career and breaks his heart. Coming to terms with a life knocked off balance, Martin retreats to a quiet English village, only to be confronted at his flat by a mystery woman with an unexpected message and an implausible request, one that could alter his life forever.
A cross-country train trip, a visit to his father's grave, and a re-examination of a deep loss will eventually reveal either Martin's greatest character or unearth his most heartbreaking flaw.
A Well-Respected Man is about the hard choices we make to find fulfillment, and the search to discover meaning in both the life we choose and the one thrust upon us.
"Thought-provoking ... a story of how love never goes away." - Nancy W. Sindelar, Ernest Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park, Illinois
"Award-winning author David W. Berner intertwines complex timelines in effortless fashion while creating characters of great depth. Typical of Berner's work, the reader is left to contemplate life's toughest decisions. A Well-Respected Man is a must read!" - Geralyn Hessalu Magrady, author of Lines
David W. Berner is the recipient of the Chicago Writers Association Award, the Royal Dragonfly Book Award, and has been short-listed for the Eric Hoffer Grand Prize. He has been honored as the writer-in-residence at the Ernest Hemingway Birthplace Home in Oak Park, Illinois, and at the Jack Kerouac Project in Orlando, Florida.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

When the Light Shines: Hemingway Shorts

Writing is communal, despite what they say about it being a lonely art. Yes, you can keep a personal journal and you can write in a secret diary, and these can be wonderful things. But being a writer is about getting your work read. Putting your work out there to share with the world. This is what art is about, the communal emotions born from the human condition. Painters need eyes. Writers need readers.

So, when the Hemingway Foundation of Oak Park called for submissions to its annual Hemingway Shorts publication, that is what we had in mind. Writers sharing. And that's what we got. Some 200 submissions were taken. And at the end of a long, tedious, sometimes difficult process, eleven pieces were chosen for publication. One, and only one, was the winner, a beautiful story by Veryan Williams-Wynn entitled The Empty Chair. Veryan is from Devon, England and she signifies the great reach of our submissions. 

She, like so many others, shared the work. And we thank you for the courage, for it certainly takes courage to offer your work to the world, shining a light on wonderful stories. 


The Hemingway Shorts, Volume 3 is available HERE.

Those who were chosen for publication are listed below:

Runner-Up: Everything That’s Something Must Come From Chicago by Jennifer Sears 

Finalists: (in no particular order)

Bairro Portugues by Sharon Willdin 

Last To Leave by Lisa Ferranti 
The Most Wonderful Time of the Year by Genevieve K. Waller
The Crossing Guard by Floyd Sullivan T
The Canalways of Kerala by David Alan Peizer 
Analisa’s Letter by Dottie Sines 
Intention by Melanie Haney 
Bomb Threat by Gregory Joseph Imhoff 
Chardonnay by Rob Vogt

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Review: The Vines We Planted

I always thought it would be fun to pair wine with a great work of literature— a robust cabernet when reading Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, a peppery tempranillo with Don Quixote, or a buttery chardonnay with Madame Bovary. Certainly one should be sipping on a pinot noir when gulping through the pages of the hit novel Sideways, the book about of two friends who head out for one last trip to wine country before one of them marries. 

I consider this again after reading the new novel The Vines We Planted by Joanell Serra, a complex family saga touching on a number of themes—loss, redemption, forgiveness, marriage, immigration, love, adoption, mystery, and yes, wine. Plenty of wine. Like an old vine wine, the story has deep roots, taking place in California’s wine country where generations have tended to a family vineyard. But where family also means complicated realities, secrets, heartbreak, and courage to face tough truths about mysterious relationships.

Along with wine, there are also horses. And I don’t say this flippantly. Some of the most beautiful passages in this story center around the Macon family’s young widower, Uriel and his love of horses, the peace and comfort he receives from caring for them. In the first pages of the book, Serra writes, Uriel understood how to coax an angry stallion back to his stall, when to let a horse run hard, and when to rein it in. He knew never to turn his back on a horse or put himself in the path of its temper.” These words come to define much more than the character’s relationship with horses.

Serra weaves a number of storylines into a larger narrative about how we face our challenges and learn to overcome them. Sometimes taking in all the themes makes for a dense read, but when is family not complicated? The layers of any family run long and deep. The Vines We Planted captures that reality. 

So, what wine should one be drinking when reading The Vines We Planted?


The wine has an array of flavor profiles—grapefruit, raspberry, peach, to name a few. And the range of colors includes mango, cantaloupe, and melon, among others. The assortment of possibilities with rosé is like the scope of storylines in The Vines We Planted—complex, but highly drinkable, a book, like the wine, that one can savor.  
THE VINES WE PLANTED, by Joanell Serra
WiDo Publishing (May 8, 2018)

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Muse of Music

I recently read a piece at Literary Hub about the influence Van Morrison's album Astral Weeks has had on writers. It's a tremendous record. Morrison's best, in my opinion. Songs on that album make me cry, make me think. The classic from 1968 is hard to pin down, however. It's an album with a lot of themes running through it. But all together, it's a masterpiece.

Certainly music plays a part in writing. Writers will often name great songwriters as inspiration. Dylan, for one. Even before the Nobel Prize for Literature. Springsteen, John Lennon, Joni Mitchell, Kurt Cobain—to name just a few. Jason Isbell is a tremendous lyricist. Listening to the music of Iron and Wine is guaranteed to trigger a bout of writing. But there are also the songs without lyrics that can spark creativity.

It may be a bit of a cliche, but Mile Davis' Kind of Blue has always been magic for me. It has for others, too. The album is over 50 years old and it still sinks into my soul every single time I play it. There is something new to hear; something new that resonates. It's cool, melodic, romantic, and 
revolutionary. Any one of those emotions could fit the bill. 

                                                                                                      Other Music without lyrics known to do the trick: Beethoven, Mozart, Debussy, and even meditative music like Indian flute.

Writers use music to get in the mood to write, but others have been known to create a "soundtrack" for their work, a song list that helps to maintain a theme or a mood. I read in a Write Life post that writer Chandi Gilbert was developing a personal essay that centered around her early teenage years, so she created a musical list of songs from the year 1994 to help put her in the right frame of mind.

My novel, Night Radio, actually prompted a musical playlist. The story revolves around a period of time when radio had strong musical relevance, and so I created a Spotify playlist for the novel. It was fun and it helped promote the book.

How does music relate to your writing? Do you play it when you write? Do you use it to create mood? When you hear a certain song, does it inspire you to sit down at the keyboard?

Share your thoughts on how music connects to your writing, because. . .you know it does.

Monday, April 9, 2018

A Community of Writers

I'm writing a new series of essays called Walks With Sam, and this post is how you can be involved either directly or indirectly as a reader and/or a writer, how reading the series can benefit pets, and how writing on a subscription-based site can help you as a writer and the charity of your choice. 

If you follow me at all, you know I am not a fan of the plethora of writing "tips" found all over the Internet. Much of what is there is clickbait, and although there are some slivers of good advice, a lot of it leads to formula writing. Think of it this way: There are a lot of good pasta sauce recipes from all our Italian grandmothers, and there are certain things that make all sauces savory, but not every sauce is the same, each is made a different way, each has unique and varied ingredients, each is cooked in a unique way. And in the end, you may not like every sauce, but it's still pasta sauce. All of it. 

I'm a big proponent of simply getting after the work. If you want to be a good golfer—go play. If you want to be a good painter—paint. Writers should write, not belabor over tips and advice. It's okay to make mistakes, whatever they are. Mistakes are simply steps along the way, right? The idea is to get to the work. Yes, you need a framework of skills, you need support, you need to read the work of good writers. But there is only one way to be a writer and that's to write.

I have found a wonderful site that keeps you engaged in your writing. It helps you maintain deadlines and supports your work, and best of all, it gets your work out there for others to read and share. Writing should be shared. Personal journals are great. But art—painting, sculpture, music, theater, writing—should be offered to the world.

A friend turned me on to Channillo.

The site is a community of writers on a digital publishing platform that allows authors to share their work in regular installments. The "regular" part is crucial. As a writer, it forces you to stay on a deadline, to populate your "series" regularly, to write, to create. As you certainly know, inspiration alone does not make you write. If we all waited for inspiration, we would all be still waiting. Writing is a job. Go to work. Channillo helps you do that by keeping you "responsible" for populating your series. Yes,  submit to other opportunities—journals or lit magazines. But Channillo, due to its commitment component, keeps you writing no matter what.   

And if you are not ready to write, then read at Channillo. 

There are wonderful stories of all kinds, styles, and themes. Poems and prose. You can follow a novel's progression, or read regular columns, or essays. 

Channillo is somewhat discerning. You can apply to write a series, but only a limited number of writers are accepted each month. That's a good thing. It keeps the quality high and it encourages those who are not quite ready as writers to keep at it, to work at their craft. I was contacted by the founder of Channillo, Kara Klotz, through Twitter to consider writing. I'm so happy she reached out.

I write a weekly series entitled Walks with Sam. I had written a 60,00 word novel about a man who walks this dog every morning after facing a number of life setbacks and begins to rediscover the world through those walks. But after finishing the first draft, I wasn't satisfied. I thought maybe the Walks with Sam concept needed something different. Maybe it needed to be real. Nonfiction. Essays. Memoir. So, to keep me focused on this new approach and to see what kind of reaction I might get from these weekly installments, I found a home for the walking stories on Channillo. The jury is still out on what will come of the series, how the series will progress, and if it's worth more. But no matter what, there it is. For me to work on and for you to read. I'm sharing not only my work, but my writer's journey. 

And that is the beauty of Channillo. 

There is one more thing, although it is not the main reason to use Channillo. Writers get paid. This is a subscription-based site for readers. But I would suggest setting up your work to be a non-profit. This allows you to use the proceeds for charity. It might be a bit easier to get people to sign up for a subscription if they know the money is going to a charity. I have signed up to donate all of my profits from Walks with Sam to PAWS Chicago, which works to build no-kill communities that respect and value the lives of cats and dogs. 

Take a look at Channillo. Sign up. Read the stories. Write for them. 

One last thing...

Here are a few reasonable recent stories about writers working on Chanillo that will give you a well-rounded idea of its benefits and scope. 

Keep writing! 


Sunday, March 25, 2018

What the Hell Do I Know? Thoughts on Writing

Some thoughts from a long-time storyteller, me.

It seems every writer with a computer is blogging advice about this or that, and most of it is a lot of blah-blah. (I'm guilty, too.) Honestly, advice is cheap. Yes, some of it comes from wonderful people, great writers, teachers, people who have walked the walk, many who have walked the walk far more successfully than I have. But, I've been telling stories professionally since the mid-1970s, either in print, online, in literary mags, through journalism, in books, or on the radio. And believe me, my long radio career has helped me be a better writer. "Telling stories" is far different than "writing" them, but telling stories on the radio is a key ingredient of my storytelling life. One has assisted the other.

So, with this background, some thoughts you can take or leave from this storyteller...

Write Each Day

Something. Anything. And be dedicated to it. Own it. Write it for you, but, even better, write for others to experience. Writing is a gift to others. The cliche of the lonely writer sitting with his own thoughts in a quiet corner of the world is a tired, pathetic thing. Writing is meant to be shared. Get it out there on social media, a personal blog, anything. Let it fly! 

Read Out loud

You've heard this before. But it is essential. Whether your work is for print, online, or for the speaking voice, reading it aloud will give you a sense of its musicality, its weight, its clarity.

Perform Lit Live

There are dozens of Live Lit groups around the city of Chicago, where I am, and in many other cities everywhere. They are wonderful opportunities to get your writing out there, to see how an audience (your "reader") reacts, how it resonates and connects. And most are open to new voices. Just reach out. 

Be Careful with Self-Publishing

I'm not here to bash self publishing. My very first book was a hybrid-publisher, which is one step above pure self-publishing. That book won respectable awards. My experience was a good one. But not all self-publishing experiences are. There are some awful publishing companies out there preying on writers. Be cautious. Do your homework. Hire an experienced editor and book designer. Hire a publicist. And be ready for bookstores to reject your book, simply because it's self published. All this said, self-publishing can be the right way to go if you are diligent and prepared for its realities and what comes with it. 

Don't Self-Publish

I know, I just suggested self-publishing might be right for you, depending on your goal. For instance, genre fiction does better through self publishing than literary fiction or memoir. So, before deciding to go that route, give your work a real shot with small presses and attempt to find an agent. Take your time and do your research. If you can get a traditional publisher, it's almost always going to be better for you. There will be more chances to get your book in bookstores and the like. I had an agent once. Dropped her. She was good. But I found I was making better inroads on my own, at least with small presses. If you're really going after the Big Five publishers, you will need an agent. Still, you can get published, legitimately, without one. This said, a great agent is just that, great, and along with a good writer, one can create a dynamic duo. 

Get Used to Rejection

You hear this all the time, but it needs to be repeated. It's part of the gig. I have been rejected over and over. Many times, it doesn't necessarily have to do with your writing or your story. Many times, it's a marketing dilemma. Is your story too much like a book the publisher already released? Is the subject matter too risky? I had one acquisitions editor tell me that no one in this business will admit that much of the decision-making process is purely subjective. Yes, the writing is important. You have to be a good writer. So, keep writing, and keep submitting. 

Take All Criticism with a BIG Grain of Salt

Not everyone is going to like your writing, your stories. They just aren't. This goes for other writers and readers of all kinds. Refer to the above about rejection and how so much is simply subjective. Still, one can learn from criticism. Yes, it can help you improve, just don't let it define you. Not all criticism is valid. 

Don't Dismiss Amazon

Too many authors badmouth Amazon. But the reality is Amazon is here and will remain and they sell a lot of books. This is not to dismiss supporting your local bookstore. Certainly not. But Amazon is a reality and, I contend, there is a place in the market for both. Be loyal to your bookstore. But if you are trying to sell books, you simply cannot completely dismiss Amazon. 

Read, For Goodness Sake 

This should be a no-brainer. You must read if you are going to write for print, online, radio, or TV. Reading is absolutely essential. And stretch yourself. Read the classics and read the comics. There is no good writer who is not a voracious reader. 

And Lastly, Forget This Advice

Advice is not always good advice. It's just advice. It's only someone's experience. And yes, what I have done well or not-do-well can be valuable knowledge for others, but still, it may not be what is best for you. Make your goal, aim high, and gather knowledge, but do not take what I say or write, or what someone else says or writes, as gospel. It's not.

One More Thing

Consider stopping when you want to improve. Don't over edit. Sometimes the fourth draft doesn't need the fifth. As Leonardo da Vinci said, "Art is never finished, only abandoned."

Oh, One, ONE More Thing

Take risks. Writing is art. Art is risky. Putting yourself or your stories out there is courageous. Take the leap. It is worth it.