Books, Publishing, and the Creative Life

Archive for March, 2014

A Word on Fishing from Bill Dance

Here’s a fishing story from Bill Dance, contributor to our new book Why We Fish by Robert Montgomery:        Bill Dance

Sometimes, the “big one” gets away, and that only intensifies the aspiration. Ask Bill Dance.  He would become one of the world’s most famous and successful bass anglers from the late 1960s through the 1970s and then one of fishing’s most popular television personalities. But before that, he was a young man, just married, that day on Pickwick Lake. He used a paddle to maneuver his johnboat down the side of a bluff, where hungry smallmouth bass chased shad.

“I had just missed a 2 ½- to 3-pounder,” he recalls. “It had rained a lot and I was looking at a waterfall on down the bluff.  “When I looked back down at the lake, my little old popper just disappeared. I thought it was a bluegill, at first.”

Instead, it was a bass Bill Dance will never forget.

“He jumped five times,” the Tennessee angler says. “I saw four of them. The other time, he ran under the boat and jumped behind me before I even knew what happened. I saw him four times in the water and four times out of the water.”

“My Uncle Ben used to smoke cigars. He looked like a walrus with one tusk because you could see about an inch and a half of the cigar sticking out of his mouth.

“And when I saw that orange popper sticking out of the fish’s mouth, I thought of Uncle Ben. I could see just a little of that popper. The rest was in the fish’s mouth, including two sets of treble hooks.”

With the fish so well hooked, Dance understandably thought he was about to land the biggest smallmouth bass of his young life, possibly even a world’s record. Based on mounts he’d had seen at a taxidermist’s, he was certain this bass weighed more than ten pounds.

bass   But the next time the bass ran under the boat, the line went slack, and Dance retrieved his fishless popper.

He was devastated.

“I wanted to catch him so bad,” he remembers. “I went back there for weeks and months. I went back early and late. I went back at night. I fished up and down that bluff, knowing smallmouth bass have home-range tendencies. I went for a year, I know.”

And he spoke often of the one that got away.

Finally, wife Diane said, “I know what that fish means to you. It will be imprinted on your mind for the rest of your life. I know how you feel and I’m so sorry.

“But will you please stop talking about that fish?”

Decades later, though, he still talks.  “People ask me about the biggest smallmouth I’ve ever caught, and I’ll say three 8s,” Dance says. “But then I’ll add, ‘Let me tell you about another one.’”

Pro or amateur, young or old, all of us who fish have hooked fish that got away. Fortunately for our mental health, we don’t remember all of them. But one or two stay with us always. Heads shaking, they leap majestically in our dreams and memories. They burn drag. They burrow into brush. They throw baits back at us, and splash us back into reality with a slap of their broad tails.

Often, as with Dance, we believe those lost fish are the largest we’ve ever hooked.  As memorable to Bill as the Pickwick smallmouth is the bass he lost at Clarks Hill in 1973. He believes that fish would have won the Bassmaster Classic for him. Instead, he finished second to Rayo Breckenridge.

Time, though, has tempered the pain of losing both those fish, and helped Dance learn an important lesson about the value of fishing.         WWF_FrontCvr     

“It’s not the pounds or numbers of fish you catch,” he says. “Yes, you can weigh those, but they don’t come close to the memories.”

And among those memories are visions of the big ones caught—and others that got away—both of which help explain why we fish.

Read more fishing tales in Why We Fish!  (And before you ask–all the anglers in our book practice catch and release.

Got any stories to share?

I love reading your comments!  

A Passion for Publishing

This week I’ve been inspired by an article in the March issue of Independent, a monthly magazine from the Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA).   The article by board member Davida Breier is about being a E-book-reader-Books-and-table-30660962for-passion publisher.

If you’re an author who self-published a single book, you’re almost certainly a for-passion publisher.  If you begin publishing work by other authors and pay royalties, that passion suddenly morphs into a business – and that’s when things get tricky.  Indie publishers like us (NorLightsPress) are constantly balancing the bottom line against our desire to print the finest books and make the world a better place.  Here’s what several small, for-passion publishers have to say:

Diane Leigh, one of the founders of No Voice Unheard, talks about how their company was founded:  “We’ve always believed in the power of books to create cultural shifts or change. . . We are former shelter workers and wanted to give a ‘behind the scenes’ peek at what happens and why. . . We initially sought a traditional commercial publisher, and received some favorable responses to the book. . .but they said some of the material in the book was too ‘difficult’ to be marketable.  We did not want to tell only ‘happy ending’ stories from the shelter because that’s not the full truth. So we formed a nonprofit organization to publish the book ourselves.  One at a Time is now in its fifth printing, with about 20,000 copies sold, and it continues to sell.”

That is passion. And in this case, it turned into profit as well.  Often, that’s what happens when we do what we love and let the money follow.

MaryAnn Koh, founder of Bright Ring Publishing told Davida, “And so my books are a passion; publishing them is a passion; meeting my readers is a passion, and seeing the impact of my books is a passion. Profit is appreciated, but it is not my goal or passion as a publisher. . . Luckily the profits have followed, but I’d still publish even if they didn’t.”

Kelly Dessaing, publisher at Phony Lid Books says, “. . . while the mainstream publishers will continue to churn out books for general consumption, there will always be publishers catering to those readers who are looking for something more authentic.  We may be in the minority, but I think the audience is growing and will continue to grow. “

At NorLightsPress, we started with a single book in 2008 and now have about 60 books in print.  We’re proud of every single author and happy that the quality of our books continues to improve every year.  We aren’t rich or famous (so far) and we don’t hang out in New York City with the literati, but we LOVE publishing books.  I guess we’d do it for free.

As for success, sometimes we need to use a different yardstick than other industries.  As Davida points out, “changing lives, enriching thought, and self-expression never appear on balance sheets, but perhaps they should.”

Postscript:  If you’re a self-published author or working with a small publisher, I urge you to join IBPA and receive their excellent magazine every month. You’ll find their web page at:

“A” is for Attitude — and Author Success

AttitudeLast week an artist I’ll call Krista held her first show in our local art gallery.  Krista served delicious food, brought in an amazing crowd, sold four paintings, and made $600.00. Everyone was impressed and I (the president) declared her show a huge success.   But yesterday someone told me Krista is disappointed and bitter about her show. “What am I supposed to do with all the paintings that didn’t sell?” she asked.  “I spent time and money preparing for this show, and it didn’t sell out.”

 Sell out?  No one sells out around here. This is redneck country, where people buy art at Walmart or Costco, not from galleries.  Most of us have filled our walls, closets, and studios with unsold paintings. Selling four works of art in one day is something we dream about.

I’m deeply sorry to hear Krista isn’t celebrating her success – and I see this same attitude with certain authors. They work hard, get published, follow the rules, and then wait for fame and riches to rain down upon their heads.  When that doesn’t happen, they give up.

Every artist has a personal definition of success.  If we place the bar too high, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment, bitterness, and failure.  At NorLightsPress we’ve worked with authors who gave up on marketing when they didn’t achieve best-seller status after a couple of months.  Writing books was a passing fancy, not a lifelong passion.

Define Success

Before you decide to write a book; before you publish a book; before you begin marketing a book, you need to decide how you define success.  If you think only in terms of book sales, dollar signs, and fame, then success will be elusive. You are not going to become rich and famous overnight.  Expecting that outcome and trying to compete with famous authors will only bring frustration into your life.  You can achieve fame and riches – if you persevere and grow your talent.  But don’t expect these things to fall into your lap.   Try using a different yardstick to define success, such as:

  •  meeting readers and finding new friendsCommunity College Cover-5
  • making a difference in people’s lives
  • helping people solve problems
  • contributing to change in the world
  • publishing a book people talk about
  • learning and growing
  • . . .and yes – selling books!            Isa_Adney_on_Personal_Branding

Author Isa Adney (Community College Success, NorLightsPress, 2012) finds joy in helping college students succeed.  Isa  is now a role model and mentor for thousands of non-traditional students across the country.  Having this translate into book sales makes her life even better.

We were the first publisher to recognize Hugh Howey’s talent (Molly Fyde and the Parsona Rescue, NorLightsPress, 2009), and now he’s a well-known author with legions of fans – but still humble. Here’s what Hugh says about success:

The biggest advantage I had as an aspiring writer was my prior experience as a bookseller and a book critic. I knew going in that making a career out of writing was highly unlikely. This was a huge advantage. It allowed me to approach my writing as a hobby, as something I loved, rather than something I needed to pan out. Knowing my chances also prevented me from wasting years pursuing agents and publishers,

"Luck favors the well prepared." best-selling author Hugh Howey

“Luck favors the well prepared.” best-selling author Hugh Howey

I spent that time writing as much as I could, and writing the stories I wished were already out there. Being relaxed, prolific, and making my works available to readers gave me a chance. The rest was a mix of luck and word-of-mouth.

I will say that the authors who experienced some luck put themselves in a good place by sitting down and pounding out the words and crafting the best story possible. Luck favors the well-prepared.

  Give yourself time to grow and learn. Give your book time also.  More about this in the next post.    



The Rosie Project and Writing in First Person

The Rosie ProjectI am SO delighted when I find an amazing book to read — and that’s exactly what happened last weekend.  I don’t often fall in love with books, but I tumbled hard for The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion of Australia. This novel was Amazon’s book of the month for October, 2013, but somehow I missed it.

Professor Don Tillman, the main character, is a genetics professor with Asperger’s syndrome who micromanages his life and has never had a serious romantic relationship (for obvious reasons).  He launches a Wife Project that includes a hilarious questionnaire meant to weed out imperfect women.  Then he meets Rosie — his complete opposite — and begins a journey of the heart that causes readers to think about love, being different, and how it’s never too late to change.  I felt oddly compelled to read sections of the book aloud to my husband, who finally asked me to stop interrupting him.

My immediate thought upon finishing this book was: Where’s the movie?  A visit to the author’s web page reveals the screen play has been optioned by SONY pictures.  And more good news: Graeme is working on a sequel to the novel. (

One joy of The Rosie Project is the first person narration — something I usually don’t care for because so many books with that viewpoint fall apart. Although it seems deceptively easy, first person is a huge challenge. Everything in the story must be filtered through a single character who does not have access to the thoughts and feelings of anyone else.  Because readers are stuck inside one person’s head for a long journey, that character’s voice must be fascinating, unique, and definitely not a clone of the author.

In The Rosie Project, Don Tillman is a perfectly formed character.  I don’t want him to be fiction — I want to meet him and have lunch.  I want him to move in next door.  Don’s unusual brain makes him both exceptional and socially deficient:  presenting a dead flounder to one of his students; wearing the same clothes every day for efficiency; obsessive thinking; learning to dance with a skeleton. . . the quirky behavior seems natural when we understand how he thinks.  And mightn’t that be true for all the strange people in our lives?

Conversely, in another first person book, I stopped reading midway through when the main character began making stupid decisions that did not fit her level of intelligence. The character’s actions were obvious ploys by the author to enliven a plot that had already gone flat.  No such problem in The Rosie Project, where even the strangest events unfold organically from Don Tillman’s personality.   I was delighted to follow professor Don Tillman’s odd mind for 300 pages, and I hope Graeme Simsion will come along soon with a follow up book.

Bar Bands, Books, and Art

rock n rollMy brother Bill is a part-time musician who began playing bass guitar when we were in high school back in the late 60s.  Music has been his hobby for years, and right now he’s on a quest to join a new band. It seems finding the perfect band is akin to seeking the Holy Grail. His stories about huge egos and eccentric behavior fueled by alcohol could easily fill a book. Yes, musicians are crazy.   

 An email from him this morning struck a chord: “A lot of these band people are such idiots.  They are so particular. I even saw an ad where they wanted guys in their band to have certain tattoos! Unbelievably unrealistic about finding the perfect people. There’s a guy on the south side who’s been running an ad for a bass player for about five months. I applied but didn’t quite fit his specifications.  His project is one that’ll never get out of the basement. But, you can’t tell them that. They can’t see it.”

Aha! I thought. He could be talking about writers.  So many writers come up with ideas that will never appeal to the public. When we, the publisher, try to tactfully say this, the authors are shocked. Some of them respond with insults, which is why we stopped writing detailed rejection notes.  I know we’re stepping on their dreams, and I know that hurts. Like musicians and artists, writers are dreamers.

Hey, it’s good to dream, but if we want to actually SELL those dreams, we must be practical as well.  I run into exactly the same issues with my painting. An artist friend of mine creates rustic painted saws that sell like crazy at a local state park.  She was lucky to find a niche that works for her. I’m still trying to balance what I like to paint versus what art lovers want to hang on their walls.  And sometimes art just needs to match the  #$#% furniture.

Getting back to music: Bill says, “It doesn’t matter to bar owners whether the music is any good. If a band can bring 50 customers into a bar, they’ll always be able to get gigs.”  That’s true for artists and writers as well.  Bring lots of people with checkbooks into an art gallery and they’ll let you have your own show.  Develop a loyal following of readers, and publishers will come looking for you.

It’s all about business, you see.

Why We Fish

WWF_FrontCvrAuthor Robert Montgomery just alerted me to a new review on for his book Why We Fish: Reel Wisdom from Real Fishermen.  It’s heartwarming when a book we published (and I edited) touches someone in a meaningful way.  That’s why I’m sharing this review.

5.0 out of 5 stars A remarkable read that could change our world! March 2, 2014 by Blake Muhlenbruck

My eyes are a blur as I write this review, stinging from the countless hours of nonstop memories that flooded my brain at 4:00am. Why We Fish solidified why I fish, from the beginning of my outdoor life to where I am today. I could relate to each and every tidbit shared by the wonderful folks who contributed to Robert U. Montgomery’s masterpiece.

By 5:30 a.m. my wife asked me if the red of my eyes was purely from sleep deprivation or if I had been crying. I said, “Me cry? No way. . . it’s natures way of removing unwanted skirt glitter from a long day of skirt designing.”

Yes, Why We Fish made me cry, along with many other emotions. Sadness for the simple things lost over the years, simply being reaffirmed by so many of the observations I have gained and shared with others, and understanding that others will never step outside of the asphalt jungle in which so many live today. Nature is no longer a priority in our lives. We have given it up for technology; the latest and greatest games. You’d think that with all this information at our fingertips we would be smarter and have a better understanding of the world and the wonderful treasures it holds.

I was brought back to first fishing trips shared with family and friends. A curtain rod, string and a hook was how I got my start. Robert lets us, his readers, immerse ourselves self in personal moments that may seem trivial to some, but are priceless for others. By 6:00am I was overcome with emotion, the smell of the ink and paper whiffed through senses and my four squares of T.P. I used for a book mark collected the dampness from my eyes.

I am blessed to have Robert as a dear friend although we have never had the pleasure of fishing together. We have had many conversations over the last seven years about not just fishing, but everything under the sun. Pretty amazing that fishing can build friendships that last a lifetime by simply getting back to our natural ways and sharing with others our observations of how wonderful our world is.

Why We Fish could by far be the most useful tool to use to help us save ourselves from ourselves. Education is the key to not repeating history; we as humans manipulate our biology while all other species work by a natural biological rhythm. Observe and learn, and you will gain wisdom.

Who knows, Why We Fish could just be the one pebble that creates a ripple that could change all of our lives. After all, Why We Fish was put together by some of the most brilliant stewards of our time.

Grand Openings for Novels


In this age when readers download the first pages of a book, nothing is more important for authors than a strong opening.

Last night, desperate for a good book to read, I browsed on Amazon for half an hour and downloaded five book samples to my iPad.  Three of these books were written by famous authors, and each had over 200 five-star reviews, which helped me decide what books to consider. I truly appreciate folks who read a book and then make time to tell others all about it. However, I seem to be more demanding than the average reviewer.  I’m careful about how I spend my precious reading time, but if an author can grab me with the first few pages I’ll buy the book and read to the end.

Of the five books I considered last night, only one made the cut. James Patterson is a perennial favorite, but he lost me with the opening of Private LA, published this month.  The book opens with four surfers on the beach, where nothing happens except a boring conversation and too much explaining by the author.  When does the actual story begin?  I have no idea, because I deleted the sample after reading three pages.

Then I tried a new book by JD Robb: Concealed in Death. This book opens with an incredibly boring explanation of why one character decided to purchase an old building.  I slogged through five pages before deleting this one.

What’s up with these famous, successful, and talented authors? They should know better.  Yet, their books always get rave reviews.

The fourth book I opened was a delightful surprise: Come Home by Lisa Scottoline, published in 2012.  This story opens with action, suspense, and quick dialogue.  The first few pages are filled with the short, choppy conversation of people in distress.  Scottoline lets dialogue carry the story while she seamlessly adds telling details. The actual murder mystery doesn’t surface until about page ten, but so what? I was already attached to Lisa’s characters.  She hooked me by page three, where I stopped reading long enough to purchase the book.  When I finish this one, I’ll download samples of her other books.

Here’s my theory on grand openings: I believe established authors can get away with weak openings, because they already have fans who will read anything they write. Those of us who aren’t famous need to follow the rules for strong opening scenes:

  1.  A compelling hook to grab attention.  Cut those long, boring passages that describe the scenery and what someone is doing.
  2. At least one character readers can relate to.
  3. Conflict, tension, and suspense. Please!
  4. A strong hint that things are going to get much worse before they get better.
  5. Something must be at stake.

05-ernest-hemingwayHere’s a quote from Ernest Hemingway:

“. . .All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.  So finally I would write one true sentence, and then go on from there. It was easy then because there was always one true sentence that I knew or had seen or had heard someone say. If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.”

And here’s a toast to more grand openings for all of us!


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