All posts by Chris Norbury

Chris Norbury is a novelist who also writes freelance blog posts, articles, and reviews for many websites. Castle Danger is his first novel. It was independently published with Booklocker.com in April 2016. Chris is working on the prequel to Castle Danger, whose working title is An Inconvenient Death. A sequel to Castle Danger is in the planning stages. In the meantime, Chris continues to do freelance writing. Chris has been a freelance writer since 2014. His areas of expertise include finance, investing, economics, politics, golf, wine, and current events. For information on his rates and availability, please send a message via the email address listed on the Contact Information page. His personal essay on wilderness canoeing, Solo Challenge, was published in the Spring 2014 issue of the Boundary Waters Journal. A second article, titled Soloing for Solitude, appears in the Spring 2016 issue of the BWJ. Chris is a long-time volunteer Big Brother (since 2000) and will dedicate a percentage of all sales of his novels to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern Minnesota. Even if you don’t buy his book(s), please consider volunteering for one of the best mentoring programs in the country and contact your local chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters. During golf season in Minnesota, he works on perfecting his golf game, an impossible dream but also a good excuse to get out of the office. Chris lives in southern Minnesota with his wife and golf clubs.

Virtual Wanderlust

One of the interesting parts of being a writer, advertising my books, and having an active website is tracking from where my website visitors come. Thanks to Google Analytics, I can see (approximately) each visitor’s log-in location. I initially expected most visitors to come from the Owatonna area and Minnesota in general. To a large part, they do live in those areas. But over the last three years, my biggest number of “fans” hailed from someplace called Samara, Samara Oblast in Russia. And this is #1 by a huge margin out of more than 840 locations that have been detected on my website in the last three years.

Samara is a large city (3 million +) southeast of Moscow on the Volga River. Lest you think my books have been translated into Russian and become wildly popular in a town not too far from the NW border of Kazakhstan, the real reason for my seeming popularity is probably something else.

I probably was the target of an intense robo-campaign to hack into my website by a company or an individual who mistakenly thought I had anything of value on my author website like credit card numbers. Fat chance. I don’t handle ANY transactions on my website and don’t intend to! The “Samarians” haven’t checked in with me in the past year or more, which further points to a hacking campaign that was eventually discontinued.

Nevertheless, it got me to haul out my world atlas and start looking up all the strange places where people come from who have checked out chrisnorbury.com for one reason or another. Because I’ve been in love with map reading since I was about four years old, this is a fun diversion for me. I can page through an atlas for hours, noticing towns, states, bodies of water, islands, and mountains that stir my imagination and get me wondering what a trip to that exotic (or not-so-exotic) place would be like.

So I’ve wasted lots of time wondering about other locations that show up on my Google Analytics dashboard: St. Petersburg, Russia; Vienna, Austria; Naples, Italy; Kailua, Hawaii; and Hull, England. All are places in the top 70 locations that have landed on my website over the past three years.

That leads to my question: With what places do you have a strange or unique connection that is not physical OR personal (as in having relatives or friends who live there)?

MONEY IS NOT THE ONLY MOTIVATION

Being an author whose books have “yet to achieve” major bestseller status isn’t particularly rewarding in the monetary sense. Currently, my greatest rewards come from meeting avid readers, advocating for literacy and the love of reading, and making friends with other writers around the world.

That being said, the biggest motivator for me is helping my favorite charity through sales of my books. All these perks are worth far more than any money I hope to someday earn from my book sales.

GIVING DAY

I recently had the privilege of making a donation to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Southern MN for $297 generated from book sales in 2017. I donate one dollar to BBBS for every copy of Castle Danger I sell–print or eBook. I raised additional dollars by asking people to round up the purchase price of the print book to $20 when they buy a copy. I sold 190 books in 2017. Nearly every person who bought a book from me in person gladly rounded up the extra $1.80 to an even $20.

I’m pleased to announce my sales increased from 2016, so I was able to donate more money to BBBS this year. I hope to continue that upward sales trend in 2018. I expect sales will be boosted when Straight River is published (as soon as is humanly possible!!) With steady sales of Castle Danger continuing this year added to new sales of Straight River later this year, I hope to reach a $400 donation for 2018.

(Point of interest: even if I factor back in my BBBS donations, I’ve still only covered about 60% of the total cost of producing, editing, formatting, printing, and promoting Castle Danger. And I don’t even want to think about all the coffee and pastries I’ve purchased to fuel my writing energy! Warning: Think twice before becoming a writer for the income. 🙂 )

What do you do (or what have you done) that surprised you by generating more personal rewards than you expected than financial rewards?

P.S.–If you’re interested in learning more about becoming a Big Brother, Big Sister, or Big Couple, check out the national BBBS website or click on the Southern MN link above.

Blatant self-promotion: Hey, Babooners, I’ve got several signing appearances scheduled in the Twin Cities and greater MN (and WI) this year. The first one is in Rosemount on Saturday, March 24. I’ll also be in Hudson, WI, and Hopkins, Morristown, Owatonna, Hackensack, and Mankato later this year. To get all the details, go to chrisnorbury.com or like my FB author page.

 

 

Internet Friends

I’ve been thinking about friends lately. As a freelance writer and author, I’ve done a lot of networking online as well as meeting people at conferences, book signings, and out in public during daily life. Some of those people I now consider to be friends, even though often times we first met online and interact primarily online.

In the past ten years or so, the internet has become one of the primary sources, if not the primary source of communication/entertainment/socializing (social media!) for the majority of people. That got me to thinking about the difference between so-called internet friends vs. traditional friends–those we have met in person the first time and developed a relationship with over time based on face-to-face interaction.

At a recent Blevins book club meeting I attended (my first!), the nine other people there all started as internet friends because of our love for TLGMS. When the show ended, Dale started a blog to keep all his fans connected. We’ve taken turns posting blogs (some much more than others. I am a laggard in that category.) The discussions can get quite lengthy. Over the years, we’ve gotten to know each other well enough to feel like we’re friends, even though some of us have never met. (Of course, most of you know this, just putting it in for newcomers).

Until that book club session, I had only met two of the blog regulars in person. Those two, Verily Sherrilee and Tim, were kind enough to come to my book launch celebration last spring. But the others were new faces. Even so, I felt as if we were all comfortable together, as friends should be.

So my question is: What is the difference, if any, between your “physical friends” and your “cyber friends?” Or is a friend always a friend, no matter how you met and the means by which you communicate?

Undeveloped (?) Talent

Van Gogh's Starry Night -(public domain)
Van Gogh’s Starry Night (from the public domain)

Today’s post comes from Chris in Owatonna

My wife and I spent a pleasant week in North Carolina with her sisters and respective families to celebrate Thanksgiving. Our hosts kept us busy with activities such as the Greensboro Gobbler fun run/walk/crawl, disc golf in a lovely nearby park, and a wine-and-cheese-and-art afternoon where we all (15 of us including one nephew’s girlfriend and her family) gathered at a local studio and participated in a group painting class.

Some of you may be familiar with this activity in your local area. Each class member starts with a blank canvas and essentially copies what the teacher is doing to recreate the example painting on display while we watch her technique and follow along. Sort of like painting-by-numbers without either the numbers or the precision.

Each student is free to deviate from trying to copy exactly both the example piece and the teacher’s new rendition. In the end, we all end up with more or less the same painting, but with subtle or not-so-subtle differences based on our personal artistic expression.

I consider myself an artistic person, having performed music at a semi-pro level and taught instrumental music for 6 years. I also fancy myself to be a respectable photographer to the point I’ve enlarged several photos, framed them, and hung them on my walls.Not that they’re good enough that anyone would consider buying, but they please me, so there.

Nevertheless, the visual arts–especially painting but also including sculpture, mobiles, pottery, weaving, collages, metalworking, tree stump chainsaw art, and everything else in between–are not in my bailiwick.The last time I attempted any sort of painting beside the interiors and exteriors of buildings was in 7th grade, almost 50 years ago. It was not anything even a doting mother would proudly display to the in-laws.

Imagine my surprise when, after about two hours of relatively intense concentration, plus a few glasses of wine and some gourmet cheeses and crackers, I produced this, um, specimen:

dsc_0070_523

S-i-L who chose the piece the group would copy made an attractive choice. Not too detailed, lots of colors, relatively easy focal points (leafless, branchless-for-the-most-part trees) and an easy medium to handle–acrylic paint.

The process was easier than I thought, although I’m sure it was dumbed down for we airheaded adults. Ten-year-olds would have been handling their own versions of the Mona Lisa, no doubt.

When we had all finished, we gathered as many paintings as we could at the house and stacked them as sort of a collage/homage to untalented people letting out a bit of a talent they perhaps didn’t know they possessed. Here’s what the majority of the group produced:

dsc_0066_524

The third painting up from the bottom center column paid tribute to Van Gogh’s Starry Night. My wife’s version (lower left corner) added a lake. One nephew is color blind, so his rainbow looks markedly different than the others. Some painted more trees or larger trees. Different artists favored different colors–some had lots of blue, others more red, orange, and yellow. It was fun seeing all the differences and gaining a small appreciation for each individual’s artistic sensibility.

My question to you: Tell me about a talent you realized you may have had for a very long time but for whatever reason never used that talent because you either thought you weren’t very good, had no interest, or never had the time to nurture.

On Being an Expert

 

Header image from the public domain; source: Andrea Rauch

Today’s post is from Chris in Owatonna

Most of us go through life developing talents, skills, and interests that add to our enjoyment of life or pay our expenses. Some are happy doing relatively simple jobs, happy with their high school diploma or G.E.D., happy to be in the middle of the bell curve of expertise.

But some of us strive to become an expert at one thing: a field of study in college or beyond, a sport, a career, a hobby, a craft, an artistic discipline. Some earn a degree, or a license, or a certificate, or validation from adoring fans if they become rock stars or award-winning actors or world-class athletes.

The other group of strivers usually become experts by default. Often it’s simply for the love of the subject.  Who doesn’t know someone who’s a walking encyclopedia on a certain subject, like a woodworker who can build furniture as good as the masters of centuries past? Or the good cook who tried new recipes, developed new ideas, found a passion for feeding people and then opened their own restaurant without even knowing there is such an institution as the Culinary Institute of America?

Intentional or not, I seem to have earned my expert stripe in an area I hadn’t thought possible until about six years ago–writing fiction.

Yep. Fiction. A novel in fact.

“Big deal,” you say.

And you’re right. There are millions of people in the world who have written a complete book but aren’t entitled to call themselves experts.

“Why?” I hear you ask.

Because they haven’t published the book.

For better or worse, I took that step and published my novel! For people to actually purchase and read. I still shake my head in wonderment as to how and why I came to this point in my life.

I didn’t earn an MFA or Literature degree. I didn’t take master class after master class and earn validation from other experts (most far with far more expertise than I’ll ever have).  I didn’t even answer an ad in the back of a tabloid and get an online degree from “How ta Write Good University.” Nevertheless, I’ve earned the right to  pretend to be an expert in the field of fiction writing because I crossed the line from talking about it and dreaming about it to doing it.

My novel Castle Danger is now available in print for order through your favorite local bookstore ( my preferred  way to purchase books), Booklocker.com, the Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or the trunk of my car. And I am available for book clubs, bar mitzvahs, coffee klatches, neighborhood block parties, or hardware store grand openings. 🙂

Now that I’ve written a novel I suppose I’m qualified to teach classes or give interviews  on “how to write a novel.” Strangers may regard me with a modicum of admiration or envy or jealousy or dubiousness (THAT guy wrote a novel?? Sheesh!) But I don’t feel any more an expert on writing than I did before I decided to put the darn thing out into the world for public consumption. I wonder if other experts with real degrees, validation, or money in the bank earned from their expert endeavors feel like a true expert. And can anyone ever know everything there is to know about a subject or field of study? I doubt it.

So my question for Babooners is: In what subject, job skill, artistic or athletic endeavor, or hidden talent have you become a de facto expert? Meaning no official recognition by governing bodies, licensing boards, piles of money in a Swiss bank account, or public acclaim and accolades?

 

Letting Go

Today’s post comes from Chris in Owatonna.

I have spent most of the day putting in a comma and the rest of the day taking it out.  –Oscar Wilde

I’ve had it! Enough is enough! I can’t change one more word!

While working on the final draft of my suspense novel, Castle Danger, those thoughts built up over the past few weeks until I reached a breaking point. It’s time to let go and send it to the proofreader, and ultimately the printer.

There comes a time during every creative process that the creator must pronounce his work “finished.” A painter finishes a painting; a sculptor chips off the last piece of marble and sands it down; a composer inks in the final note on the score. Then the artist lets go, releasing his creation to the world for its consumption and subsequent pleasure, displeasure, or indifference.

So I’m now at the letting go stage. I realized I can change a word here, switch sentences there, intensify an expression in a third place, but to keep doing so indefinitely is a sign of fear, doubt, and uncertainty. Is the story good enough? Will anyone buy the book? If so, will they like it? And by extension, will I feel validated for spending several years of my life on creating something from nothing.

I’m glad I waited until this point, though. To have deemed Castle Danger to be finished any earlier would have left me with nagging doubts about whether I gave it my best shot. Now I am confident I gave it my best shot and can face whatever comes in the way of “success,” positive/negative reviews, and feeling good about myself. I feel good about myself right now, and the novel’s success or failure won’t change that.

If it bombs, I’ll be disappointed, but hey folks, I wrote a damn novel! Not the most earth-shattering achievement, but at least, I didn’t sit around for the rest of my life and talk about writing a novel. Seriously, I’m proud of having gotten to the point of completing a  monumental project (for me). It’s something I never imagined myself doing this late in life.

For a Neo-Renaissance practitioner like me, new experiences are always good, but seeing a project through to completion is just as important as trying the new activity.

When have you finally let go of a project or creation and what brought you to that decision?

Miles

Today’s guest post comes from Chris Norbury.
Chris blogs at A Neo-Renaissance Writer.

This is my good friend, Miles.He's reached the age where he's comfortable about his appearance

He’s got Japanese roots, but was actually born in Georgetown, KY. He was named after Miles Davis, one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.

He's reached the age where he's comfortable with his body.
He’s kind of blue, and he’s reached the age where he’s comfortable with his body and his looks

Miles has visited each coast, been to Canada several times, and almost been to Mexico. He’s traveled nearly the equivalent of a one-way trip to the Moon. He’s gotten a few bumps and bruises along the way, suffered a few minor internal ailments, but otherwise has aged pretty darn gracefully for being 23 years old.

He's an interesting person with many and varied interests.
He’s into the Neo-Renaissance thing, and has many and varied interests.

He’s been a good friend for all the right reasons: faithful, reliable, and dependable. He also gets along great with my wife since he spent a lot of time with her the first half of his life, and they’re still on good terms with each other. He can keep a secret better than anyone I’ve known (when we’re out together with the windows closed and I rant about bad drivers or outrageous/stupid/ignorant things I hear on the radio). Based on a few close calls we’ve had, he’s always been willing to put himself in harm’s way to protect me.

He's Health conscious but also has a sense of humor
He’s health conscious, but also has a sense of humor.

Sometime in the next year or so, Miles will retire, hopefully to a good home that will take care of him in his last years. I don’t want to be the one to pull his spark plugs, so I’d like to either sell him to someone who will use him gently for his remaining time, or donate him to the radio station he learned to love after all those years, Minnesota Public Radio. His favorite show was Leigh Kamman’s The Jazz Image. Yeah, late Saturday night drives home while listening to all those great jazz tunes were some damn good times together.

He's interested in politics and able to discuss it in a civilized manner
He’s interested in politics.

His politics were always a little bit different, but he’s a live and let live kind of car, so that’s cool.

He's a long-time supporter of worthwhile charities
He’s a long-time supporter of worthwhile charities

But his heart (engine) has always been good and true, and he believes in helping those less fortunate, (maybe getting a good meal out of the deal after taking the Big Brother (owner) and his Little Brother up to the BWCA for some canoeing and camping.)

When he slowly rolls to his final stop, I hope he’ll be c(a)remated rather than tossed into an open graveyard with hundreds of other rusted old heaps. Better to recycle his useful elements ASAP than have him slowly decay and pollute the ground water.

As his final day approaches, I find myself feeling sad and melancholy. I took him for granted for the first twenty years or so. I always assumed he be there, start on command, get me where I wanted to go fast and efficiently. I would let him go weeks, even months without a shower; throw trash in his backseat; let dust, dirt, mud, and a multitude of food crumbs accumulate in his cracks and crevices; and delay taking him in for regular checkups. At least I made sure he got his annual or biannual oil transfusion. I wasn’t nearly as good a friend to him than he was to me.

He loves to visit wild places in order to connect with his spiritual self, and he's a firm believer in self-reliance and personal responsibility.
He loves to visit wild places, and he’s a firm believer in self-reliance and personal responsibility.

Yet Miles never complained, always had a smile on his grille, always purred like a tiger when I started him up each day. But only rarely would I pat him on the roof and say, “Nice job, Miles. That was a bad storm you just got us through,” or “Thanks for a smooth ride.” Even though I ignored him a lot, I was grateful for every safe trip we ever took, even the shortest trips down to the local convenience store for gas, or bananas and milk, or a late-evening summer ice cream run.

So thanks Miles. For everything: Every new mile. Every new road. Every new town. Every new vista. And all the old ones, too.  I’ll miss you when you’re gone. Ashes to ashes, rust to rust.

My question: Why do we anthropomorphize and befriend inanimate objects such as cars? Tell me about your most trusted and rusty friend.