Some writing tips for author wannabes…

In July I gave a fun workshop on writing at San Diego Writers, Ink.  (Love the name!)  It was a great group with a variety of mixed backgrounds, all of whom came to see different ways they could move forward with their travel writing.  As the workshop went on, I realized that not only do the writing goals I offered them apply to writers everywhere, of all stripes and colors, but even more broadly, to “How to Achieve Your Dreams.”  Creative types everywhere might be able to tweak these and make them work for them.

1)  Realize that deeply and fundamentally, only YOU are going to make yourself a writer.  There’s a mistaken idea out there that somehow someone will “notice” you and then poof, overnight your amazing unrecognized work will go viral.  Perhaps that even happens sometimes, but for the vast majority of us, writing will be about YOU making time to write or YOU putting it off for tomorrow.

So take ownership of this path.  You’re the one who will make it happen and if you don’t get there, you’re the one to blame.

2)  Set short-, medium-, and long-term goals.  I can’t stress this enough, especially when you’re in that awful doldrum of not knowing if your work is worthy, is good, is worth your time, let alone anyone else’s.  Set those goals.

The Short-term goals have to be definite, concrete, achievable steps that move you forward.  Not esoteric leaps.  Good:  “Complete Chapter X by the end of the ____.”  (And the blank isn’t filled in with the word “decade.”  Week.  Month, tops.  If you’re in the middle of December, you can say “year.”  But not longer.  These are 3-6 month (tops!) goals that you will work towards starting TODAY.

The Medium-term goals are 1-2 years out, and need to be the result of your succession of short term goals.  Get the novel finished.  Get your portfolio together.  Get the first 20 pages out to agents X, Y, and Z.

Long-term goals are where you dream big:  Mine was (and still is!) to “Win the Nobel Prize in Literature.”  Though it’s looking ever more like that may have to be a posthumous honor, I’ve still got that in mind, simmering…and have for much of my life.

3)  Now, the beauty of 1 and 2 is that it makes 3 easy:  When you’re given a choice of A or B option, choose the one that brings you closer to those goals.  That may sound easy, but it may mean some hard decisions.  Either way, the answer of “A or B?” comes down to one thing:  which will bring you closer?  If you have the short-term goals, and those are moving you closer to the mid-range goal, and that’s on the road to that dream out there…probably you know which is going to be a step forward and which will move you away.

Far too often people move away from writing (or their creative path) without realizing it because the goals haven’t been defined.  You want to “be a writer” (or an artist, or a musician, or a…) without ever concretely knowing what that is.  So when other opportunities arise (and they are opportunities, often ones with immediate value (like having a girlfriend/boyfriend, or getting a comfortable, decent-paying job) appear, you choose them thinking you’ll get back to the writing.  That it will be a stepping stone.

Instead, stone by stone, you leap further away from writing as a career, as your primary means of income, or your primary form of self-entertainment.  A decade or two slips by with that novel you’ve “been writing” always there in the back of your mind, but as far from done as it was when you had the initial muse-whisper.  Because you can always “put some time aside and get it done” you find that other things always take priority.

This is where those short-term goals help get you back on track.  Achieve one, make another.  Achieve that, make another, like going up a flight of stairs…and you’re back on track to make your mid- and long-range dreams a reality.

Well, maybe not winning the Nobel Prize.  But at least making your creativity a big part of your life again.

The Vasemaker’s Daughter and a trip to Japan

Well, it’s been a long time since I’ve had time for the luxury of a blog post but now that the agony of jet lag is subsiding, I’m feeling like it’s time for a quick post about The Vasemaker’s Daughter and my trip to southern Japan.  It was a great time, mainly a wonderful connection with family and friends, but some key researching happened as well…and I had a great time at Recife Bar doing a reading of Sunsets and also In the Sunlight of Sakurajima.  Both were received with lots of enthusiasm and I made a bunch of new friends and saw some old friends too.

It’s amazing to already be at a point where book two is nearing “birth” and becoming a tangible reality.  Compared to the nearly 10 years that book one too, being this far along with book two in just two years is amazing.  Though due to some other projects, I’ll need to put this aside for a bit this summer and pick it up again this fall.

Here’s my Facebook Post at my author Facebook page about the Recife event.  If you haven’t “liked” my author page yet, please do!

I had such a great time at Recife Bar, in Kagoshima City. Thanks to everyone who came!

Ciao for now…and see you in the bookstore!  :-)

It’s been a full year since #SunsetsOfTulum hit shelves!

I can’t believe that it’s been a full year since Sunsets of Tulum hit stores everywhere and while I can say I’m a bit miffed that the Nobel Prize committee chose Bob Dylan over me for the Nobel Prize in Literature, well, I can’t say I’m too surprised.

Things have been quiet here on the blog mainly because they’ve been so busy in other arenas of life.  Summer was only partway over when I landed a new gig for Lonely Planet updating their new guide to Japan…so most of August and part of September I was on the road, eating sushi, drinking sake, and exploring Kyuushuu, one of my favorite parts of Japan.



Kyuushuu is also the setting for my new novel, titled The Potter’s Daughter, which is 200 very rough pages in and shaping up to be deeper and (is it possible?) darker than Sunsets was.   I’ve decided my third novel will be where I branch out into the almost happy realm.  Why not, right?

I will try to post some photos of the Japan trip here because they’re so beautiful.  But you can also find them on my Facebook page.  Or my Instagram feed.

If you’re in the Cape/Mass/New England area and have time, come say “hi” to me at the New Bedford Book Festival, where I’ll be selling and signing copies of Sunsets of Tulum for everyone who wants one.  Hope to see you there!

“Does it have any sex in it?”

“Does it have any sex in it?” the man sitting next to me on the plane asked, looking a little stiffer as he peered at the Sunsets of Tulum bookmark I’d just handed him.

I was on the way to a book event in New Mexico and we’d been stranded in Dallas Fort Worth for almost 5 hours. Twice before, they’d loaded us onto the plane for Albuquerque and twice we’d waited at the gate for hours as they’d diagnosed different mechanical failures. I’d noticed the guy next to me had a Dean Koontz book and thought, “heck, it can’t hurt to give him a bookmark.” So as we boarded the third plane and waited (again) for what would be our final time, I took the plunge and handed him one, saying, “I’m a writer, here’s a bookmark, maybe this can be your next read.”

Now I was pretty sure I’d handed it to a religious nut. This was Texas after all.

“Well,” I said, thinking of the 3 or 4 pages of pretty explicit sex and the allusions that were sprinkled throughout. “Yes, it has sex scenes. But they’re not gratuitous–”

“What about the F word?” he said, almost cutting me off. “Does it have that too?”

Ummm…here and there.

“Yes,” I answered, steeling myself for some lecture about obscenity and profanity and so on from some jerk who doesn’t understand the freedom of speech or the difference between literature and porn. Just the perfect ending of a long, exhausting delay-filled travel. It was my fault, of course, for giving him the bookmark. But it upset me to think of someone dismissing it because they were a prude. “But not too much. Just here and there.”

“I know what you’re thinking,” he said, smiling. “But my grandmother’s 99th birthday is coming up next week and she doesn’t have much mobility, and she loves reading. She’d get a total kick out of the fact that I met you on the plane but if it’s got tons of sex and profanity she won’t read it…”

And so I explained that it was a love story, a literary romance about an unexpected, life-changing affair and that the sex wasn’t gratuitous, but was there because it was part of the story. It was graphic but warranted. And I told him the anecdote of one of my friend’s friend’s relatives, in her 80s, who’d read it and said, “My…graphic…but you’re never too old to learn!” And we agreed that she could just skip over the sections if they were too spicy.

To make a long story short, shortly after I was pulling my suitcase out of the overhead and he bought a signed copy before the plane took off. Perhaps this was like that movie Groundhog Day: I had to sell a book before the plane could leave…

Thanks, Don, if you’re out there…I hope “Gram” loves the book and has a great birthday next week, and thanks for the lesson in not jumping to conclusions when someone asks if the book has sexy scenes.

Grab a signed copy now!

Get your signed copy of Sunsets of Tulum here or an unsigned copy wherever books are sold.

‪#‎SunsetsofTulum‬ ‪#‎greatreads‬ ‪#‎bookclub‬

Added an event calendar!

By popular demand, I’ve added an calendar to this site, so you can plan ahead and join me on upcoming future events. Hope to see you all March 29th at Trident Booksellers for a great reading with poets Meg Tyler and Duy Doan! Grab a bite to eat, a beverage, and enjoy some great literature and poetry. See you there!

Exciting note from the Midwest Book Review!

I was thrilled the other day to wake up and find the following review of Sunsets of Tulum in my Inbox:

“All the more impressive considering that Sunsets of Tulum is travel writer Ray Bartlett’s debut as a novelist. Sunsets of Tulum is an impressively written and exceptionally absorbing novel from first page to last. Very highly recommended and certain to be an enduringly popular addition to community library General Fiction collections, it should be noted for personal reading lists that Sunsets of Tulum is also available in a paperback edition (9780988939035, $14.99, 328pp) and in a Kindle format ($4.99).”

It’s not the New York Times book review (yet!) but it’s both thrilling and humbling to see a review praise it unprompted and (unlike Kirkus!) with not payment exchange.

And a librarian friend recently told me that their two copies have been in permanent circulation since they got them last fall!

If you know anyone in Hollywood who wants to option the movie rights, send them my way! :-)

What a trip!

Been having such an amazing time here in Yucatan.  The readings of _Sunsets of Tulum_ went well, and there’s been plenty of great wildlife to see along the way.  Some of the road signs we passed are below:

On I titled this “Four Reasons to Visit Yucatan.”

Most of the time we’ve stayed in relatively cheap motels, with a few notable exceptions. The Hacienda Blancaflor was lovely and cost $79/night. It’s out of the way, so we ate dinner and breakfast there, and it was great food. Our total bill came to 2000 pesos, which is about $160 or so with the exchange rate. Not bad!

Lovely time at the Hacienda Blancaflor, north of Campeche

More pics and comments at — hope to see you there!

Back in Yucatan!

It’s amazing to be back in Yucatan! Not just because it’s 80 degrees here and was 29 when I left. I’ve already had 2 lovely book signings in Cancun and Puerto Morelos. Needful Things Used Bookstore hosted me the evening I flew in, Saturday the 16th, and it was a bit dicey because the flight from EWR to CUN had a medical emergency. A woman passed out right in the next aisle and that probably helped us arrive early. We breezed through immigration and customs (for once!) and our car rental company Avant is worth mentioning: they’re kind of under the radar because they meet you outside the airport in the parking lot, but they charged EXACTLY what we were quoted, they drop off and pick up anywhere, and they even include a big plastic ice cooler.

The reading at Needful Things was less attended than we’d hoped, but the people who came were so interested and enthusiastic it was impossible not to have a great time. We drank Tulum Sunsets, we talked about writing, I signed books (see here!) and it reminded me again how much fun the publicity side of writing is. Books matter.

Tulum Sunsets at Needful Things
Enjoying great conversation and excellent author-made Tulum Sunsets at Needful Things bookstore!

Then to Puerto Morelos, where Alma Libre Bookstore and Layla Guesthouse co-hosted me for a wonderfully attended evening. 30+ people and some old friends, including the hammock-maker, Mauricio, who in a vague way inspired the hammock scene in Sunsets of Tulum. Had great questions from the audience and sold a number of books at the signing.

Sunsets of Tulum at the Layla Guesthouse
Me at the Layla Guesthouse. Such a great time.
Croc infested lagoon
Nothing says you’re not in Boston anymore like “Warning: Crocodile Infested Lagoon!” signs.

Today we head to Tulum, where we’ll be floating down Mayan canals, hopefully seeing parrots and toucans in the jungle, and visiting the youth hostel in Tulum that inspired some of the book! Can’t wait!

Banned from Facebook Ads and Amazon Ads…what’s a poor novelist to do?

Okay World, I’m not sure whether to be honored or appalled: Sunsets of Tulum, despite what everyone has said is a tasteful, beautiful, and very perfect-for-the-book cover…has been banned for both Facebook and Amazon ads. Yes, you guessed it: for violating the nudity/obscenity clauses.

“Just change the cover,” said a helpful email-center person in (probably) Bangalore.

Well, the problem is I really LIKE the cover. And I think if someone gets an ad that doesn’t have it, it’s a bit deceptive, right? Here’s the cover:

Is this worthy of being a banned book?

So my question to the world is what’s the best course of action at this point? Do I try to get the word out elsewhere? Tell the publisher that I want to change the cover? Or just dig my heels in and say “This is a great book, the world will find it, and the prudes don’t have to read it if they don’t want to.” Thoughts?

If you like it…why not order a signed copy? You never know, it might be worth something somday! :-)