Won't go into my childhood except to say I was an oil field brat. My dad drilled and pushed tools for Shell Oil. He tried to enlist in every branch of the service during WWII, but was turned down because he had a critical occupation. So, I attended 21 grade schools in seven states. We finally stopped long enough in Gainesville, Texas so I could finish high school ('59).
Got a full football scholarship to Stephen F. Austin State in Nacogdoches, Texas and majored in Speech and Drama…always been somewhat of a ham. But, after I got out of the Marine Corps, instead of acting (then) I did what I knew and formed my own drilling company…a Texas wildcatter, if you will.
Bought a ranch and started raising Beefmaster cattle and quarter horses in east Texas. I was dating a girl in the Kim Dawson Agency in Dallas and Kim would keep saying I had a good look and she could get me a lot of work. With an oil company and a ranch, I had all I could say grace over. Long story short…came in to the agency with this girl one day, Kim rushes up to me and asks, "You ride horses, don't you?" I replied, "Well, been thrown off of one or two, yes, ma'am." (I had been around horses and cattle most of my adult life) "Well, we don't have anyone in the agency that can ride." I looked around at the pics of her 'guys' on the wall and said, "I can believe that."
"We need to send someone to represent the agency for a Dairy Queen commercial that can ride. Can you help me out?" Now I had never told her I had a degree in Drama and didn't then, I just said, "Well, I don't have any pictures." She replied, "Doesn't matter, they'll take a Polaroid." I finally said okay, went over…and what do you know? Got the gig. Paid me seventeen hundred dollars to sit on a horse and eat a hamburger. Who knew?
That was some fifteen major films, over fifty TV shows and I quit counting commercials at 250.
My favorite movie to act in was "Silverado".
I soon found I had a knack for dialogue as almost every director I worked for gave me carte blanche. "Just say what you want, Kenny, you know the story." As time passed, I began writing scripts (that's a whole 'nuther story). Finally retired to my ranch in Cooke County back in '90. Just doing the occasional movie, TV show or VO. A couple of my acting buddies, Robert Fuller and Alex Cord had also moved to Cooke County, Texas.
I went in to our local gun shop in Gainesville, Lone Star Shooting, to buy a new semiautomatic handgun to take the concealed/carry course. The owner, Buck Stienke, asked to read some of my scripts. I finally gave him a few. He asked how much it would cost to make one of them. Well, I had always been a big western fan—own the full sets of Zane Grey and Burroughs as well as most of L'Amour's—and a western was financially out of the question, what with rolling stock, livestock, sets, wardrobe, ect. I showed him a '50s piece I had written called "Rockabilly Baby", a fictional look at the birth of Rock and Roll. He liked it, so I directed and Buck produced.
A few months after its release (won a few festival awards, but never got distribution), a Marine Corps buddy of mine called me from Pennsylvania and said, "Kenny, I wrote a novel." "Hell, good for you, John." "Can you guys adapt it to a screenplay for me?" "Sure, send it down."—He sent a 967 page, 350,000 word novel.
"Damn, John, why didn't you just send 'War and Peace'". Well three months later we sent him back a 120 page screenplay. (It's still making the rounds at Disney). Buck and I turned to each other and said, "Shoot, we can write a novel."
That was twelve novels ago. We have written six military/action/techno (The Black Eagle Force), two SyFy and four historical fiction westerns, including our current WIP, "Across the Red" (The Bass Reeves Saga). We have won numerous awards including the Laramie Award for Best Action Western of 2013 for our second western, "Haunted Falls", just released also in Audio.
See all at my Author Page. Ken Farmer - Author
The upshot is, I wrote my first novel at the age of 69 and am working on number twelve at age 73. I'm also adapting all of our novels for Audio release…forty years of acting and VO work is coming in handy. I can only say, "It ain't never too late."
I've added teaching writing to my plate as well as teaching acting, with focus on believable dialogue. Below are a few of my teaching points I call WRITING NOTES because it all boils down to one thing…STORYTELLING.
WRITING NOTES: Assume everyone has ADD. There are certain external factors contributing to a population of diminishing attention spans - video games, text messaging, IM, and the Internet to name a few possible culprits. But it is safe to say that the attentiveness (or lack thereof) of the reader is directly related to their ability to make a successful emotional connection—that's emotional connection—and that connection must be made quickly, or you will lose your reader even more quickly. Readers, like moviegoers, expect to be entertained very quickly. Therefore; spend most of your time on the first ten pages of your novel. To put it simply…If you can't get them on the train, rest assured they won't make the trip.
WRITING NOTES: On the nose dialogue. What is 'On the nose dialogue?' It's a term from another writing venue…screen/teleplays. On screen, dialogue is at a premium; less is more. Don't say it if you can show it. It's the same with writing novels. The point is to make the audience/reader work a bit for the information – not too much (we don't want to frustrate them) – but enough for them to feel emotionally involved in your story without spoonfeeding. Give them two plus two…Not four. Don't over write!
How do you write dialogue, that moves the story along without being 'on the nose'?
First, you, the writer, have to lose your 'tin ear'. That's writing dialogue like a writer…not like a character. Learn to 'hear' the characters talk, and each character will have a separate and distinct voice. Believe me, if you don't hear the voices, neither will the reader and then you have lost the reader. After all it's the characters who tell the story…not the writer.
WRITING NOTES: What's the best way to promote your books? There are many ways, but far and away is that followed by the best selling writers around; Cussler, Coonts, Dale Brown, Clancy, L'Amour, Dennison, Griffin, Rollins, Roberts, Patterson...They all agree the best way to promote your books is to keep writing and publishing new ones. New books stimulate interest in older books and keep your (hopefully insatiable) fans happy. Of course that's following the dictum: Content is always King.
If you write good stories, you create a fan base. That fan base will buy whatever you put out until you start putting out junk, that is. Every novel you put out reduces the amount of PR you have to go through to generate sales...the books do it for you.
What's a writing to PR ratio? I like an 80-20 format. Spend most of your time writing. Finish one book, start another, then another until they become your army and do your work for you. To quote my friend, Amanda Thrasher...Writers write.
I have just recently added Narrating to the mix. Looks like it's going to be around 50-30-20—Writing-Narrating-PR. Subject to change, of course.
My second audio book went live today on Audible.com and Amazon.