Bobbye Marrs, a world-class publishing assistant, talked me into writing a monthly blog five years ago. She pitched the idea while we sat in a corner of Eric and Pamela Hutchins’ home in Texas at a writers’ conference. “It sounds like a lot of work,” I said. “What purpose does it serve?”
She said a periodic newsletter with a blog post could help build the readership for my novels. I didn’t want to do it, but she persisted, dragging ideas out of me while I did my best to remain stuck in the mud.
When Pamela joined our table and asked how we were progressing, I intended to say, “No way I’m going to waste time and energy on a blog,” but Bobbye beat me to the punch. “He’s got plenty of material. Thoughts about writing. Stories about his family. Funny times with his dogs. He should definitely give it a try.”
“It’ll take too much time,” I grumped. “I can’t write novels if I have to churn out an essay every week.”
“So don’t write every week,” Bobbye said. “Write one post a month or whenever you feel like it. Why not give it a try? See how it goes?”
I continued to resist, but Pamela and Bobbye kept at it until I agreed to write a few draft blog posts. An experiment in futility, I told myself while I sat at the computer banging out three short works. I wasn’t impressed with what I wrote. “I don’t know if I’m cut out for this,” I said in an email to Bobbye, attaching Swanie, Dog Days, and What’s in a Name. “These seem corny to me.”
Knowing she needed reinforcements to break open my closed mind, Bobbye sent my drafts to SkipJack’s social media guru, Abbey Road. “She’s not afraid to say what’s on her mind,” Bobbye told me, “and she’s been doing this kind of thing successfully for a long time so I know we’ll get an honest evaluation from her.”
My expectations were low, so as Bobbye had planned, I was bowled over when I got Abbey’s feedback. “Bobbye, these are WONDERFUL blogs. I could read these all day. They are perfect. Please tell Ken not to feel ‘corny.’ Tell him to run free. This is what blogs are supposed to be. Good short stories. Real life happenings and recollections. Publish these. Just put it out there and keep going.”
They say flattery goes a long way with those who have small minds and big egos. I don’t know anything about that, but all of a sudden, this blogging business seemed like a great idea. We put those first three works out there and kept going, rolling out one a month for the next four years.
The original concept was that I would write about the craft of creating a novel, but I soon discovered I don’t have much to offer on that subject. My “process” is maddeningly chaotic. I write a huge volume of unpublishable blather, cull out the few coherent passages, revise them endlessly, and throw away most of the rewrites. When I’m on the verge of jumping off a tall building in frustration, a story sometimes steps out of the fog of confusion and grabs me by the throat and the writing begins to flow. I don’t understand it; I wouldn’t wish it on anyone; and I sure as hell don’t want to write about it.
Casting around for a different approach, I experimented with short nonfiction pieces about my past. They were fun to write and they received a positive reaction from readers. So I stayed with that. Hitting my stride after a few months, I found myself revisiting events in my life going all the way back to my earliest memories, turning them over in my mind, weighing their meaning, and understanding them much more deeply than I did when I lived through them. From encounters with interesting people like Muhammad Ali, President Clinton, Anna Anderson, who claimed to be the daughter of the Tsar of Russia, and Harold Swanson, Hollywood’s first literary agent, to coming to grips with life and death decisions, the trauma of aging, the heartbreak of dementia, survival during a pandemic, and representing a death row defendant, my monthly writing journey spanned the emotional spectrum and became enormously important to me.
Meanwhile, Bobbye made it easy to publish my stories. She set up my website in its current form and maintains it. She rides herd on the weird dudes in London, who fight off the Russian bots, spam jockeys, and ubiquitous hackers determined to saddle my posts with links to porn, payday loans, bitcoin traders, Viagra vendors, phony casinos, a young woman named Kristina who’s searching for a sugar daddy, and a host of other scam artists. She proofreads the Word document I send her every month for typos and content, synthesizes it with photos, and creates the presentation you find on my website’s blog page. She prepares the format and promotional pitches for my newsletter, maintains its mailing list, distributes it, and forwards all the readers’ comments to me. I’m technologically incompetent, so when I do something that fouls up the entire website, she somehow straightens it out, creating order out of rampant chaos.
Keeping the Promise is the result of our partnership, a collection of my first fifty blog posts, a series of non-fiction short stories in the nature of an episodic memoir presented out of chronological order and grouped under the headings Milestones, Interesting People I’ve Met Along the Way, Growth From Adversity, Murder Most Foul, Faithful Companions, and On Writing. The book’s title is taken from a post about my grandfather published in May 2020, in the early days of the current pandemic. A short time before he passed away, he asked me to promise him I’d always try hard at everything I did. I made the promise, although I wasn’t sure I would keep it, and I haven’t always lived up to it in the fifty years that followed. These posts recall events on both sides of that ledger. The blog post, Keeping the Promise, leads them off because it gives you a good sense of the posts that follow and because I kept my promise with each essay and tried my best.
Since we originally published the stories on my blog for free, I hoped to offer this collection for free as well. Currently, the ebook is available for free on Amazon, Nook, Apple, Kobo, and Google Play. Although I’ve waived the royalties, at some point these sites will likely insist on charging a transference fee, so if you want a free ebook, download it soon. With the paperback, the $6.99 charge is the lowest price we could negotiate with the printer.
Writing these stories took me back in time and gave me new perspectives on the art of living a long life. They made me laugh and they made me cry, sometimes in the same breath. If you read Keeping The Promise all the way through, you’ll know me better when you finish than I knew myself when I started writing it. No guarantee that’s a good thing for either one of us, but hey, in your case at least you get a free book.