Friday, December 30, 2011

In Closing

The end of 2011 is coming up fast and so I thought I'd look back and see where I've been this year.

It's been a busy time.  My first novel, Aure the Topaz and gone from being self published to being of interest to a publisher.  While it will not be re-published in 2012, it will be prepared for publication, assuming I agree to the terms of the publishing contract.  That is very much TBD.

At the same time, I completed writing my second novel, Vorn, the Topaz, and began writing the third novel, Telep the Diamond.  I am hoping to finish writing Telep in Q1 2012 and then go back and revise Vorn.  From there, I will probably submit it to my publisher and then begin writing the fourth novel, Calen the Emerald.

I also spent time this year writing short stories.  I released two on Smashwords and I am revising a third which I submitted to my publisher for consideration in a quarterly online magazine.

Poetry has also been in the mix.  I am experimenting more with poetry and wrote several that I like and that other people have responded to.  One, Regret, won a contest on Facebook and was included in an anthology.

I have also kept this blog going, which to me is the most incredible thing I've done in 2011, since I wasn't sure I could.  Guess, there are more words in me than I realized, which is a nice way of saying, I talk too much.

Looking ahead, I have no clue what 2012 has in store.  I suspect more short stories and poems are in my future but much of my time will be focused on my novels.  At least that's the plan.  Life is constantly through me curves; my problem is I keep striking out.  Maybe next year I'll hit one out of the park.

Thank you all for reading my blog in 2011. Best wishes for a happy new year to you all and hope to see you in the new year.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Reruns or Greatest Hits?

I've been tempted to repost some old blog entries for folks who recently decided to subscribe and haven't combed through the 165 posts I've written.  But then I thought, are reruns permitted while blogging?  Isn't the point of blogging fresh new content?

What about a list of greatest hits (posts)?  Again, I don't think so.  I'm reminded of a recent link a friend of mine shared on Facebook about what atheists and christians have in common.  While the post was interesting it was four years old, which upset me.  This wasn't a new thing, it has been collecting dust for a few years.

And it's not that the post still didn't apply, it was that the post was four years old.  I suppose I'm making more of this than I should and but it gives me pause.  What are the rules here?  Are there rules?

I suppose it depends on the purpose of the blog and what you, my audience, want out of this blog.  Why are you reading this?  I know, I invited you.  But besides that.  What keeps you coming back?  Are you too polite to unsubscribe?  Do you think everyone has something to say and you want to hear it?  Are you a friend and you're curious as to what I've been up to?

Obviously, I have no idea why you read my blog.  But I know its purpose and reposting content from last year seems like cheating.  Perhaps when the blog is a little older and I have more like 300 or 400 posts here, revisiting my views on something like writer's block or burn out or handling rejections making some sense.  Perhaps.

But until then I will keep delving into the recesses of my mind hoping to find some nugget or vein not mined.

Hi Ho Hi Ho it's off to work I go ...

Which dwarf am I?  About now I'm sort of mix between Dopey, Grumpy, and Sleepy.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Lightning But No Sparks

I reported about a week and half ago that I had heard from the publisher that wanted to purchase the rights to my novel, Aure the Topaz.  I was told, after supplying my contact information that I would hear from them within two weeks.  That time is nearly expires and I've not heard a word.

This makes my wonder: were they serious about the contract or are they slow and understaffed?  I can certainly appreciate if it is the latter, but without so much as a 'Hello, please standby' kind of message, I'm forced to think that this is a large joke on me.

Does that sound paranoid or like I'm feeling persecuted?  Maybe it does, but in my own defend let me say that I've had nothing but an uphill climb getting my stories written and out to the general public.  Each step is like I'm wearing a lead weight while climbing an incline and attempting to balance a stack of dishes on my head without any of them breaking.

But I'm also angry because as a joke this one is in very poor taste.  I don't want to miss an opportunity but I don't want to get hung up here either with a publisher that will not ultimately produce the book.  This is especially true now that I know the book is good enough to be published by a small press.  If these folks want it, others are likely to as well.  I just need to find them.

But for now I will sit tight and see what happens.  Given it took a week for them to get back to me, after I sent my contact information, I think they may be very slow.  So I'm going to give them a little extra time.  How much time remains to be seen.  It depends on when my patience runs out.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Age Your Stories

I have three books in play at the moment:  the first one, Aure, the Topaz, now has a publisher ready to buy it and that is going to require some of my time to review proofs, discuss changes, work on promotions, revise my web site, etc.

The third one, Telep, the Diamond, is being written.  This is where a bulk of my effort is going now because I need to have as many books as I can drafted.  Without even a draft of a book, nothing will be going out and everything grinds to a halt.

And so the second one, Vorn, the Onyx languishes, mostly because I have no time to focus on it.  But I am not concerned about that.  The story needs to age.  Or more accurately, I need time away from it so that when I return to it, I will see it with fresh eyes.  I call this aging the story because like aging wine or cheese, aging a story let is gain a fullness, a maturity that the first draft will not have.

I've read about Stephen King's suggestion that story drafts should be put away for about six months.  That seems like a long time to me.  So I don't know if I will wait that long.  But I will wait a little while because I'm trying to figure out if Vorn works as a story.  I suppose the only way to know that is to let it out and get feedback, but I need to make sure I've done everything I can to make the story a good one first and I've not done that.  Not yet.

I recently found two of my short stories had aged over a year so I cleaned them up and released them on Smashwords because I'm pretty sure they are ready.  Please are downloading them so there is some interest.

But Vorn will sit while I work on Telep and see what the publisher wants me to do for Aure.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Sometimes I Get Lost

There's a line from the Shelley poem, "The world is too much with us." by which the speaker of the poem laments that far to often we forget to stop and appreciate the things around us. 

I've have frequently felt that; it is easy to get caught up in the world and all the things that come at you.  I frequently lose sight of what is truly important to me and get caught up in the crisis of the moment instead of standing back and taking stock of what's going on.

But that's life.  My task is to stay on the course I've set for myself while the storms of life battered me and threaten to out me off course into some rocks or shoals or coral reef.  And that's not easy.  It requires I remember my plan and a steady hand on the tiller.  It requires strength.  Not physical strength, but strength of character and resolve.  The ability to see something through to the end.

I don't know that I am that strong; I suspect I'm more persistent (a good trait in a writer) and too stupid to know when to quit.  But the effect is the same.  I reach my goal but not after getting lost in unfamiliar territory.

The best advice on this is a line from Hamlet, "To thy own self be true."  Know your mind and stay the course.  Ignore the siren song of intrusions, personal disasters, and emotional upsets.  The writer, in this way, is part Jedi knight, mastering fear, anger, and hatred, and part scientist, seeking to reveal the truth through his or her writing.

That's probably a bit over romanticized but still true, I think.

So hang in there and do the best you can.  After all, each of us is only human.  We will falter and stumble and fail.  And when we do, we need to get up, dust ourselves off and start all over again.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Paraphernalia and Other Things

I heard back from the publisher the other day just long enough to know that they got my contact information and they will be in touch by December 20.  So now I wait.

Meanwhile a friend of mine (the last person I thought would self-publish) decided to release a book on Smashwords.  I spoke with him about this and decided it was time I released my short work on Smashwords while I writing Book 3 and proof Book 2.

So my first short story is on its way.  Long time readers of this blog may remember I wrote this story, Baby Muran, in May 2010.  I re-read it the other day and it still holds up.  So off it goes.

I did struggle to work out cover art for the story.  I'm not artist but Smashwords requires a cover image.  I can't use the artist for my novels because she costs too much to use for everything.  For the novel that takes months to write, that one thing.  So a bunch of small items too, I can't afford her.

So I dug into the clip art collection I have and found an image to use.

Now I'm struggling with Smashwords.  It also lets me upload occasionally.  So it will be a few days I think before the story is available.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lightning Strikes

Back in October I submitted my first novel to a publisher because they claimed to help writers get published.  They've come back now and have agreed to publish it.

That's right binky.  I found a publisher who wants to buy my work.  I have been offered a contract.

They asked from my contact information, which I supplied and I am now wait to hear from them on details.

Despite this development,  I don't feel like this is done deal because these guys are really small.  By my count they have only three novels out with a four due Q1 2012.  In this economy they could fold before they are ready to starting my project.  

Additionally, I have many questions about the deal:  Can I use the existing cover art I have?  Will they be willing to publish the other books in the series when they are ready?  Which rights am I transferring to them and for how long?  If I'm unhappy after six months or a year, will the publication rights revert back to me so can I go find another publisher?  Have they been successful so far with their other novels?  If yes, how do they know?  What measures are they using?  What size will the first print run be or will they use a print-on-demand service?

Notice there are no questions about payment because I'm not really interested in that part.  However, I will insist that I be paid something.  I'm sure they have standard deals when they sign someone.  I just need to figure when that is.

So until I hear from them (it's been a week now) and have a signed deal, I'm not breaking open any champagne.  This whole development, while good news, remains a little too much like vaporware.  I can't see it or touch so it does not exist... yet.

Still it does tell me that the novel is good, as I suspected, despite the three star reviews I got last year.  The book is better than that.

Meanwhile life goes on.  Work on Book 3 continues.

You can be sure that more information on this event will be shared once I know more.

Friday, December 2, 2011

It's Your Health

I recently threw my back out.  I've had lower back problems most of my life because of bad posture and little exercise.  I've not so much a couch potato as a computer jockey.  But the fact is, I find regular exercise boring.  Give me a chore, like raking the yard and that's fine, exercise in disguise, but have me do twenty push-ups and I'm outta here.

But the sad fact is I have no interest in writing when I'm in pain and the last few weeks have been painful.  Most of my life has ground to a halt while I nurse myself back to health.   And I've learned a few things in the process that I want to pass along so that you can avoid the same fate.
  • Stiff muscles require stretching.  Figure out which stretches are best for you and do them, daily.
  • Keep your muscles strong; so exercise them regularly to keep them toned.
  • Good nutrition is important so that your muscles and joints work properly; I started taking a multi-vitamin, which my doctor suggested years ago.
  • Watch your weight.  Excess weight can pull your spine out of alignment.
  • If you spend hours in front of a keyboard, stop once an hour (or more) and stretch to relax your shoulders and your lower back.
  • Above all, make a plan on how to keep yourself healthy and strong and stick with it.  I'm now on a routine of stretches and exercise to keep my muscles strong and the pain under control.  I plan to do this for the rest of my life since the pain was quite intense and anything that interferes with my writing needs to be deal with and resolved so that I can continue what I'm doing.
So take care of yourself and keep writing.

Monday, November 28, 2011


As I write and develop Book 3 of the Aglaril Cycle, I find myself weaving in many different threads into the story.  Some of planned and some are not.  The planned threads include providing information to the reader that he or she needs to understand the story and the individual plots of all the characters.

The unplanned threads are the results of character interaction.  Some of these threads I can work into the story easily because they support what I'm already doing.  But some open up areas of the story I had not foreseen.

This happened in Book 2 as well when I suddenly realized that Iriel's mother had sided with the evil elves. I did this so that in Book 3, Iriel could encounter her and deal with all the hurt and pain from her mother leaving her at a young age.  Since I had planned on the main characters encountering evil elven scouts, this was an easy one to fit together.

But I'm now finding a connection between Brashani, my fire mage, and the stranger the main characters rescued at the start of Book 3, Nancy Overton.  Nancy is a sword master and works for Duke MacPherson training the knights in the MacPherson's court.  She was ambushed by brigands on the open road after being separated from the group she was traveling with.  The main characters came to her rescue and since they were all traveling in the same direction, Nancy joined the group so she could get home safely.

But Brashani does not trust her and tells Sir Ahlan this.  Ahlan manages to communicate to Nancy that her recent actions may have upset the wizard so she apologizes and offers to buy Brashani a round of drinks once they reach town.  But Brashani is suspicious and so am I.  Does this scene have any purpose?  Should there be a connection between Brashani and Nancy?  Can she help the mage with his efforts to be more accepted by the others or does she need him for some reason?

I have no answers to any of these questions but I do know that I'm going to leave all the scenes related to this thread in the book for now to see where they go.  At worst, this is just a small side plot which helps character development.  At best this is part of a larger story which I don't see the whole picture of yet.

The moral:  let yourself experience with your character to see where they go and what they do.  You'll be surprised and it will make your story better and take in place you never thought of.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Technology marches on

The other day I responded to a Facebook post from a friend.  He was commenting on the lose of the local Blockbuster video store.  Several people thought it was a shame but I pointed out that once the Internet began to provide all type of media: books, music, and video, to name three, the lose of physical stores selling these items is inevitable.

Software is a prime example of this.  I used to frequently software store often and joke that I loved the smell of new software coming out of the box.  These days most software is purchased online and I never see physical media.

This has become true of music too.  I just read an article online about the death of the CD.  And I can't remember the last time I purchased a physical CD from a store.

Borders -- the physical bookstore -- closed this year because the same trends are affecting books too.  So it is not really a surprise -- or at least it shouldn't be -- that video stores are disappearing.  Newsstands are also threatened because I can get many of magazines online now.

In fact, given the ability to research information on the Internet, I'm wondering how long it will be before financially-strapped towns will close their libraries because the function is redundant.  And that's not all. The Internet provides the function once the exclusive province of TV.  Are TV stations at risk?  And with social media, will people stop going to night clubs and live vicariously through the computer screen.

It sounds like a bad science fiction story doesn't it?  But I'm finding that at the years click by in the 21st century that what used to be considered fiction is becoming fact.

Back in the middle of the 20th century, the perceived threat to freedom was Big Brother and government.  I think technology might just trump that if we are not careful.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Are you Ready?

I have long said that I should have started writing my fantasy series, the Aglaril Cycle, sooner.  That, because of the time it is taking to complete each novel, I should have started sooner so that I can be sure that I will get to my other stories and ideas.

But the fact is (and was until recently) I wasn't ready to do so.  The first draft of the material was completed in 1999.  But that draft wasn't very good.  But I didn't know it and I wasn't doing anything to improve it.  Life has a way of occupying your time if you don't guard against and so a number of years flew by without any action on my part.  Oh I thought about the characters and the story and made some changes they were cosmetic mostly.

Then I woke up (about two years ago) and really began to focus on the story and what I could do to get it published.  That required exploring every avenue I could think of.  Some were dead ends, like join a writer's group, and some proved more fruitful, like reading several books on writing.

But the point is I was ready to commit to do what I needed to do and I still make time for it.  I shifted priorities in my life too.  And all that was vital because the best idea in the world is wasted if the writer who has it isn't able to do it justice in their treatment of the material.

And now, after all that time, I feel ready.  Partly because I approach my work different than I did and partly because the fog about what to do and how to proceed is beginning to lift.  Book 3 is in development after years of delay.  Book 1 is complete.  Book 2 is in revision.  I can see and feel the progress and my own skill now and again.  I know when I've got a good scene and when something is missing.

So when you approach a new project you want to ask yourself are you ready to handle it.  Most writers develop internal instincts about what works and what doesn't and about their own skills and abilities.  So be honest with yourself and trust your instincts.  If you have to wait, then wait.  But if you think you are ready then go for it.  If the results don't work for you, put the story away for awhile and come back to it. But if the writing is good then keep going and see it through to the end.

Example:  After several attempts are writing short stories I've put them all aside because I'm not sure I'm ready to write them.  Short stories require a different set of skills than novels do because so one, the short story needs to be self-contained.  Many of my short stories feel like they are part of something larger (which they are) and that's no good.  I've got to remember on what important in these stories and focus on it.  I've got some ideas along those lines, but I'm not ready to revise the stories just yet.  I will be but first I've got novels to finish.

And that's the challenge of writing; handling all the ideas you get.  Sometimes it's like a flood.  I hope you are ready for it.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Is this the Internet we wanted?

Back in the early days of the Internet (okay, I'm talking about my early days with the Internet, the mid-90s) all I heard was talk about keeping it open and free of commercials and free of regulations.  Threats to the openness and the general freedom it afforded were (and still are)  still challenged by concerned individuals.

But the Internet has evolved into something no one expected.  Back when all you had were web sites, the Internet was a patchwork of places.  Some sites let you buy things, some gave you information, and some were trash exposing views or content best ignored.

Then people began blogging.  Blogging changes the playing field because suddenly instead of straight facts on a web site, you've opinions to which people react.  Next come YouTube, which is like blogging with video.  The TV show, American's Funniest Videos works on the same premise as YouTube, sharing videos.  But YouTube is broader and more encompassing.

Finally social media arrived and we were blessed (?) with Facebook and Twitter.  Suddenly we had critical mass because by contenting Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, and web site, the Internet becomes a very different place.  Now we have technology that is designed to let people connect with other people.  And that's great if they want the connection.  But what if they don't?  Is it an invasion of privacy?  Do we risk being out of the loop if you don't use the technology we have available to us?  It is a little like not having cable in 1985 and not knowing what MTV is.

And yet using the technology opens us up to all kinds of things both good and bad.  Is it worth it?

For myself I know my only reason for connecting with people like I'm running for public office (aside from just wanting to make more friends) is to gather an audience for the books I am writing.  If I were more obnoxious, I would use these technologies to sell my products to you.  But I'm not and I've not got many ready to sell.  So I've not bothered; but others do.

Social media has turned many of us into cottage industries and has turned the Internet into a huge marketplace where everyone is selling something to everyone else.  That wasn't the goal.  And perhaps this is the real reason I've not been more forceful selling my books.  I have information about the books posted in various places.  There are free samples of the book available.  Whether you purchase it is left you to decide for yourself.  I am only making the information available.

I think that's the best use of the technology.  Perhaps I'm doing myself a disservice but I don't believe that just because I can do a thing I should do it.  I think we need to step back and ask how do these technologies enrich us.  What do I want to use Twitter or Facebook for?  Otherwise, we are just mindless chattel being swept away with whatever new thing comes next.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Writing is a Long Slow Process

I'm finding just about everything associated with writing a long and slow process.  This is certainly true of the drafts I'm writing.  Of course, I'm writing novels consisting of thousands of words.  I would expect that.  But the revision process is a slow process too.  Revising my first novel took about two months and revising the second novel will not win any awards for speed either.

Publishing and releasing the novels also takes time as well.  Oh uploading the files is easy and fast, sure.  But getting all the files so they come out right is a huge time sink.  I thought I'd have everything in place to self-publish by the end of August or September but here in November, I'm still fussing with the artwork of the hard cover version of Aure, the Topaz.

Getting responses back from publishers has always been (and continues to be) a process measured in weeks and months.  I don't think that will ever change and I'm not suggesting that publishers rush their evaluations of submitted work.  I'm just noting that here again, there is a long process associated with writing.

Hearing back from readers and reviewers is always time-intensive. too.  It usually takes months (or ever) to hear anything.  Maybe I'm dealing with slow readers or infrequent readers and others don't have this problem, but this is my experience.

And to be clear, I'm not complaining about any of this.  I do, however, find it ironic that in an age of instant messages, tweets, and information overload that the writing process, while it has speed up from the days of typing out drafts on paper, is still comparatively slow.  And I have to wonder why?  Is this one reason why it took so long for e-book readers to catch on?  Is there an inherent lethargy with books and writing?

I don't have the answers to these questions but based on empirical evidence I would say yes.  Which then begs the question, what does that say about us? That art should not be rushed?  I would argue that the creation process cannot be rushed.  But I think that since we have such a glut of things to read the time it takes to go to market does not matter.  Also, I'm finding that what's important is not the time to market but the promotion afterwards that makes all the difference.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Why Writing Good Fantasy Novels are Difficult

I had an important realization while reading Stephen King's On Writing.  His novels work well because many of them are set in the modern world.  The benefit of this is his knows how his characters should react and he can add real elements from the modern world to give the story a sense of reality if he needs to.  That's easy because the real world provides so many possibilities to draw from.

For example,  he tells of how he had an idea for a story in which the driver of a car pulls into a gas station.  After refueling, the driver uses the restroom and on the way out the door he decides to walk around a little since he has been driving north up an interstate highway for hours.  He sees a pile of snow melting and all manner of odd things partially buried in the snow.  He slips on some snow and falls down an incline.  The driver is injured and must wait to be rescued.  How this happens depends on several factors:  How long before the gas station attendant notices that the driver's car is still parked by a gas pump?  If the driver is alone, how long before he misses an appointment with someone in his life? I'm sure you can come up with similar questions.  Eventually the state police would be notified and a search conducted.  But how long would that take?  And what happens to the driver in the meantime?

However, that same situation in a fantasy world is a lot different and it those differences that make writing a good novel much harder.  To start, the driver in this example, has to be changed since there are no cars.  He can certainly be a traveler on horseback who rides into a small town to rest and who disappears.  He might have slipped on snow and ends up hidden in a ditch but if it's the situation you want to keep, then here's a better summary:

A traveler is ambushed by some brigands on the open road.  In the fight, the traveler is injured and presumed dead so they roll him into a nearby ditch and take his horse.  

Now what happens?  There are no agencies to report the missing person as there are in the modern world.  In fact there is almost no way for the traveler to be found unless I add lots of details to the world. These details must come from my imagination and must be explained correctly and non-intrusively so the reader understands them and still enjoys the story.

And that's the challenge in fantasy novels.  The reader still wants the richness available in the real world but that means knowing thousands of details before you even put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard).  That's what I've done and with luck, I've done a good job too.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Report card

I thought I'd take stock of all my writing projects to see where they are.  This will help me get organized and focus on what I need to do.

Aure the Topaz is in the hands of a publisher and I am waiting to hear back.  I've completed a round of edits recently and don't plan any more changes to it.  I just need a way to get the book in the hands of readers.

Vorn the Onyx is complete.  I was proofreading it with the intent to give it to some reviewers but I got sidetracked.  I'm going to have to get back to that.  A cover for the book is in the works too.

Telep the Diamond is being written now.  The writing is slow but it is coming along.  I expect the writing to go faster soon as the action picks up.  Right now it seems mired in character development and soap opera.  I will definitely need to look at all that in the second draft.

The few short stories I have written in the latest few years are collecting dust.  I have no plans to work on them or get them out for publication.  I will defer that work until the Aglaril Cycle is complete I think.

The poems I have are another matter.  I have a poem being published in an anthology.  This is no big deal because it is part of a scheme for me to buy the book and help the publisher defray their costs.  The poem, Regret, was written for a poetry contest and it won first place or third place; I don't remember exactly.  Months later I saw an ad for another poetry contest.  So I entered it and the next thing I know it is being included in this anthology.  Frankly, if I had known what was going to happen I never would've entered it but its too late now.

But I've got enough poems to publish a book of them I think.  So I might do that or I might wait.  I'll have to review what I've got and what's really good.

So it looks like I need to keep writing poetry and Book 3 and I need to resume reading and editing Book 2.

Good to know.  Back to work.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Grand Experiment

I just finished reading On Writing by Steven King.  Great book.  One of the things it reminded me is that writers write, even when they think they are spent and their writing sucks and isn't fit to wrap fish.  Writers write.  Why?  Because that's their job; because if they don't the writing gears in their heads freeze up like cold pipes on an arctic winter morning.

There are probably other reasons too, but for me that last one is definitely true.  The more I write the better my writing is.  What I need to do is figure out a way to write first thing in the morning.  Note that by first thing, I mean after I get the dogs out to piddle and poop and I feed them, I do those stretching exercises that are good for me, and after I eat breakfast.  Although in retrospect, I suspect that eating breakfast is negotiable.

The other thing I need to do is figure out what to write.  I have my blog on Mondays and Fridays.  I suppose my novel can fill the rest of the days of the week.  But I don't think I should be writing on the weekends; I need to rest my head after all.

I think that's what went wrong this last time.  I was working on Book 3 over the weekend and I can't do that.  I need to pace myself.  Which means that if life or distractions intrude and I cannot write when I want to I forego the task.  I'm not sure I like that idea.  I'm going to have to see how the next few days go to see if that's workable.

But the important thing is I'm back in the saddle and ready to resume writing.  I have a clearer idea of how to prioritize and focus on the things that are important to me to make sure they can done.  Everything else will have to wait.  I don't know if that's workable either.  Guess it's time for the Grand Experiment: to arrange my life as I need it to be arranged so I can write regularly and steadily.

Wish me luck; I have a feeling I'm going to need it.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Taking a Break

I think I need to take a break from blogging and a few other things because it is getting increasingly hard to attend to everything that needs my attention.  My stress is up -- I can feel it -- and my temper short.  I feel burnt out and I need to recharge.

This time of year, as the holidays approach, is always bad for me.  Partly because of the added stress our society places on this time, partly because I lost family members during this time and I feel their absence more, and partly because I need more sunlight.  Usually, that last part doesn't hit me until January or February but, just like the winter storm we just had, my sunlight disorder seems to be early this year.

Saying all this, admitting I need a break is hard for me.  I'm not one to quit in the face of challenges.  In fact, I'm the kind of person that, when he sees a problem, tries to fix it and make it better.  It suppose that's part of the issue here.  I've got too many fingers in too many pies.  And yet I've cut back already.  I'm doing  less than I used to.  Still, I can't keep going the way I have been.  Better to admit the truth than keep going half-heartedly.

I don't know what else to say.  So I'll end here.  I'll be sure to write if anything changes.  But for now, so long.

Friday, October 28, 2011


The pace of a story is the speed with which it moves.  The right pace for a story depends on the story most of the time; however, there are exceptions.  One of my main criticism of the Time of Wheel series is that it drags.  Robert Jordan extends scene well past the point I think he needs to.  I'm not sure why.  A simple example of this is in the first book.  Towards the end of the novel, Rand keeps trudging down the road to his destination and every chapter is a new town.  I was left with the impression that either this is a very long road or a densely populated area since Rand is on foot and can't go very far in a day.

Ultimately, the book concludes with a battle and Rand never reaches his destination.  This is very unsatisfying.  If the point was that Rand was never suppose to reach his destination why slog the reader through all those other towns?

I often have the reverse problem.  I am too brief (at least in the first draft) and I never almost always go back and add details and information.  What I try to do is not bore the reader too much.  It can be difficult.  If the reader is looking for action and your scene is one of interrogation that's a problem. Of course if the questioning reveals important information for the reader, that's another thing all together.

I allow myself bits of both because in a fantasy novel I often have a lot of information to convene to the reader.  He or she does not know the world.  So if they are traveling to Ravenhurst, I need at least a scene or two where the characters discuss the town's history and what to do their and things like that.  But not too much.  I also need to keep them in the moment and keep the reader awake, say with a band of goblins who are out scouting for food.

But interweaving both elements I can (hopefully) keep the story moving and pass along good information to the reader.

Of course, I've got other things to tell the reader too.  There's character development in there somewhere and with six main characters, I have no shortage of feelings, thoughts, and dialogue.

What's the right pace for your story?  I have no idea.  I've not read your story.  But you can find out by letting others read it and but looking for scenes and paragraph where the story bogs down.  Most people like a quick pace or even a modest pace.  Say what you have to say and move on.  Don't linger on a scene needlessly.  And above all, don't bore the reader.

Monday, October 24, 2011


Back in college, I took a course in Romantic literature.  The focused on the six main romantic English poets from the late 1700's until about 1825 or so.  I don't remember why I took the course exactly except I don't think there were any writing courses being offered.  

It was in this course I was introduced to the poetry of William Blake.  For those unfamiliar with Blake's poetry let me say, that's unfortunate.  On the other hand, he is an acquired taste I think because much of his poetry revolves around the use of symbols, most so than other poets I think.

But I got the message and years later I have found symbols in my own work. For example, Evan Pierce, the main character in my first novel, as a priest, functions as the moral center of the story.  Later, in Book 3 Evan has been written out of the story and the moral center is far more vague.  I replaced Evan with Sir Ahlan, a knight from Evan's own order.  While Ahlan is a great character he has a harder edge and the moral center takes on a more Old Testament feel.

Using symbols in writing is just one of many techniques available to the writer.  But like a master chef cooking with a rare ingredient, you had best know what you are doing when you attempt to use a symbol or you'll ruin the story.  Heavy-handedness with symbols is like playing a delicate musical phrase blaring and loud.  

My recommendation is that you don't try to use symbols.  Let them come to you.  I never intended Evan to be the moral center of anything, but as I wrote my novels and got to know Evan, it suddenly occurred to me that he was a very honest and moral person; in fact, he was a good deal more ethnical than many others in his religious order.  That sudden shock of realization happened in while writing Book 2 as I was writing about several of the priests.  And when I realized that Evan was the more moral I used that knowledge in a subsequent revision of Book 1 to adjust Evan a little.  

My other recommendation is to re-read your own work and look for any symbols you might already be using.  Since the world is full of symbols, I'd be surprised if a few of them hadn't spilled over into your work.  But if you can't find any, don't worry.  They aren't required.  They're just a nice surprise when they are there.

Friday, October 21, 2011


To my knowledge none of my novels or short stories have a theme ... unless it is the general one of good over evil.  That one sort of comes with the fantasy genre in which I write.  But I doubt there is any other theme -- at least I don't think there is.

I am told that there probably is a theme but I'm too close to see it.  I'm not so sure of that.  Because as I look at the entire series and I see how it unfolds, I notice a few patterns.  I have three characters who are orphans from a young age.  Is there a theme there?  I don't know.  If you count the magic gems as a character, that's four characters (I'd rather not count each gem individually because they all act the same way and are intended to be a unit).

I also have two characters that have estranged relations with one of their parents.  Theme?   No, other than it happens.

I suppose one theme of the series if you work hard you succeed, but that's not always true and I know it.

I do touch on and show racial tensions (between humans and elves, humans and goblins, and elves with elves; they are a divided race), refugees from war, and abducted children, but in the fantasy settings they look very different and are handled in a different way.  Plus I don't know that I say anything about them other than these things are in the world.  Be careful.

In one draft of the series I did make the point that humans are mostly driven by fear; I think I'm likely to make that point again if it works in the revise, but point comes later in the cycle, book 6 I think and I'm nowhere near ready to even think about that yet.

I suppose this all begs the question:  is a theme required or necessary?  No, not in fantasy novels and frankly I'm not trying for one, nor would I know how to construct and reinforce a theme even if the wind blew one into my story like a lost dandelion.  On the other hand, if you can find themes in your work great; water them.  Nurture them.  But for me I've got a black thumb not a green one.  Themes entering my domain are like Frodo in Mordor, I'm afraid.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Drama Kills Writing

Remember the rock-paper-scissors game you played as a kid?  I've got a new one and it involves reading, writing, and life.  Reading trumps writing because in order to write you must read regularly.  Writing trumps life because when writing, you have no other life.  But life and the drama that goes with it kills both reading and writing because you can't focus on reading or writing if you mind is focused on something else.

I suddenly realized this the other day because I've been trying to keep up my focus on my third novel but can't because so much else is going on in my life.  It is a huge distraction from my writing and so the work is stalled.  The only good part is that it has given me a little time to think about what I have written and let me identify new scenes to add.  But without time to add them, it's a little frustrating.

I'm sure this is only a brief up tick for me, like increased sun spot activity.  And I'm hoping other areas of my life will quiet down so I can resume my writing.  If not, I'll have to make some changes because now is my time for writing.  I've already shifted priorities in my life to focus more on my writing.  Shifting a few more won't matter if that's what I need to do.

Part of me wishes I could just jettison the things that are distracting.  But that's the equivalent of running away from them.  I really need to deal with the situations that are distracting and hope they do not become an issue in the future.

One never knows about such things.  Life is predictable in that way and it seems that the more books I try to write the harder it becomes to keep going.  I'm not sure why that is but I do seem to have more things to deal with that I did before I started Book 1.  That might be my imagination, and a faulty memory but I don't think so.  I'm pretty sure I resumed writing initially as a hobby, to fill my spare time.  But it has become a passion because, if truth be told, it is the one thing I want to do more than anything else.

But I need quiet time to write and lately I've not had that and I need to find some soon because as this point, I cannot stop writing any more than I can stop breathing or sleeping.  Time for the old thinking cap and brainstorming some ways back to writing.

Friday, October 14, 2011


I stumbled over a few improvements to my various workflows.  So far, they seem to be working out.

One is using my iPad to write my first draft.  Up till now, I've been chained to my desk to write a draft.  That's not always practical and since I'm trying to cobble together my third novel, it is important to keep writing (daily if possible).  The iPad makes this really easy.  The only issue is I like to know my word count and the app I'm using (QuickOffice) does not support this.  

The great thing about this approach is I can type fast and get my ideas out almost in real time.  Later I will transfer the file to my desktop computer and refine the story.

In terms of blogging, it turns out that the Blogger app does work better than I thought.  So I have an optional variant workflow when I want it.  I'm sure what cause the first blog post I wrote with the app to vanish but I tried it again and it worked just fine.

For my second novel I am changing the workflow for the release process I follow.  For Aure, the Topaz (book 1), I floundered all over the place because I was learning as I went.  I knew that and it was okay because I promised myself whatever lessons I learned I would apply to the next novel.  

Now fast forward to the present.  One of the things I could never do for book 1 was have it reviewed before I released it.  For book 2 (Vorn, the Onyx), I need to change that so I know if the book is good and solid or if not, where I need to revise and rewrite.  And once I learned about a service to help books get reviewed, BookRooster, I knew I had to try it once.  They will see that the book is reviewed by 10 people, if I understand their process correctly.  

I hope it works as well as I want it to.  It was a risk, however, because I don't know what I'm opening myself up to.  But, on the other hand, Aure is waiting for the publisher to start reading for 2013.  And assuming she takes it I'll submit Vorn to her as well.  Might as well take the time to make the book as good as I can.  And getting feedback will help me do that.

So it's busy here like the downtown intersection at rush hour.  More changes are coming too, I'm sure.  I just don't know what they are yet.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Juggling Novels

From the title you might think I'm talking about throwing books in the air and catching them.  Sorry, I'm not.  I'm talking about having lots of writing tasks to do at once.

I used to think having multiple projects all at once wasn't a bad thing because it kept me busy.  And I've never had a problem with rotating among my projects.  But more recently, say the last few weeks, I changed my mind.  I begin to see that if I'm editing Book 1, work on Book 2 suffers.  So I really need to focus and work on only one thing at a time.

The problem I have is Book 1 has a higher priority for me than Book 2 and Book 2 has a higher priority than Book 3.  I have interrupted work on Book 2 to revise Book 1.  I think what I need to do is complete the work in progress and let new work wait.  So if I'm revising Book 2 and I realize I need to edit Book 1, those editing tasks will have to wait until Book 2 revisions are complete.

I don't know if I can do that or if it will work but it sounds good in theory.  Frankly I can see all kinds of extenuating circumstances that could throw a wrench into these plans.  For example, let's say while writing Book 3, I receive a review of Book 2 with specific comments to improve it.  Does it wait or do I jump ahead and make these changes?  Or here's an even better one, while doing some writing task, I receive comments from my publisher on Book 1.  Let's say she wants more changes than the ones I made earlier this year.  I think in that case, I drop everything and do as requested because that way lies the path to publication.

And that's the real point I think.  When I'm working without deadlines I can do as I see fit, but when something from the outside world intrudes it needs attention I think.

I suppose I'm just trying to organize chaos; I suppose I would have my luck throwing book into the air.  Nah, I'm all thumbs.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Character Reaction

I've been in the throes for the Jewish New Year, a time of reflection and introspection.  This year, I decide to re-read part of the Book of Genesis, to get back in touch with a part of myself that tends to get lost during the normal routine of writing, editing, and revising.  I specifically focused on the stories of Abraham because scholars believe there is evidence he actually lived thousands of years ago.

The one story that resonated with me was the binding of Isaac and Abraham's reaction.  Clearly the story is about God testing Abraham and Abraham's reaction.  As I read the story I could help think in my writer-ish way, 'Gee, isn't life a serious of tests?  And how we react to them determines the kind of people we are.'

If that is so, then I reasoned I could use that simply fact to sketch characters for stories the same way.  For example, I could create a character who filters everything through a specific lenses.  Say he feels persecuted so everything that happens to him must be related to those feelings.

Or I could create a character with several general reactions to the trial in life.  That would have the character a most round and realistic feel.  But as I thought about, if I want to give my characters a realistic feel I really need to look at the character from many perspectives.

People are complex after.  A realistic character with going to have views on lots of different things.  For example, religion, politics, education, government, taxes, money, sex, food, art, music, books, age, women (or men), children, life, work, and so on.  All the things that you and I have opinions one.   Some will be shared by the society, others unique to the person.  Plus I need to consider the views in my fantasy world.  So I need to add views on elves, dwarves, and other races.  Also views on humans of other traditions.  View on magic are equally relevant.

What this means is you first work out the general world details and the details of a given society and then you put people in them.  You can go in the other direction too, but it is probably easier going from the general to the specific.

Now, much of the general info in my fantasy world is worked out: I've been writing novels using that setting after all.  If I didn't have the general info complete, I'd be in big trouble.  And some of the racial/societal views are known too but I've got some work there too I see now.

Lastly, I think this technique can help me create new characters faster.  I just need to work out the reactions.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Social Media Strikes Again

I've been investigating social media to get more use out of it and to my surprise, a few simple changes in my Twitter account has got me receiving unsolicited follows.  That really a surprise because up until about a week ago, my Twitter account was kind of like my appendix: it's there but largely ignored.

What changes did I make?  Mainly, I changed my profile to reflect what I'm about: that I am a writer of a fantasy series with a link to Smashwords in case they want to purchase a copy.

I also changed the background to include a custom image.  This image is the cover of Aure the Topaz, my first novel, with the text of the short pitch over it.  I don't think that has done anything however because you can't search on this image.

For each follow, I reciprocate with a follow of them and a thanks, tweeted directly to them.  The end result of this is that more people see these posts since all my blog posts are automatically tweeted to my Twitter account.

So the reach of this blog is much broader than I realized.  The odd part is that none of this generates sells for my novel.  The reason I began investigating social media in the first place is to see how I might use it to generate sales of my novel.  But there does not seems to be a correlation.  Just because you've got followers and they read your posts don't mean they will buy your book.

This makes me think I'm doing something wrong or I'm missing a piece.  Guess I've got to dig deeper into the murky depths of this technology.

Friday, September 30, 2011

They meant well, I'm sure

Google released a Blogger app for my phone and I tried it last night.  I wrote a short post to see how well it worked and I thought I saved it as an unpublished draft.  But it is not here and it is not in my phone.  So it is gone like the morning mist.

It's really too bad it did work.  I gotta think that the one app that will work the best is the one made by the folks who host the blog in the first place.

Very strange and very curious.

There is another app I can try is the Blogger app doesn't work out.  I found an app for the iPad that looks interesting, called Blogpress, I think.  It costs $2.99.  That's not much but I'm trying not to spend money on apps if I can avoid it.  So I've not gotten that app.

To be honest I'm being lazy about it.  The need for blog from my phone or iPad is more a whim and a luxury than anything else.  I don't really need this capability, but it would be nice.  And isn't that the point of technology?  To make our lives easier or better.

The problem, however, in most cases, is we substitute the interact with the machine for interaction with people.  The reason is obvious, human interactions are complex and varied.  You never know if saying hello to someone else will get you a hello back or a some other response.

The computer, on the other hand, is predictable and we need that, especially in the chaotic world we live in.  A little predictability is welcome.  When you add to that the fact the computer also serves as an entertainment source (and we are all entertainment addictions) it is easy to see why people replaced face-to-face interactions with surfing the web or watching videos online.

Well, I'm going to go check out the Blogger app a little more.  I'll write again soon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Time to Face the Music

Book 2 has entered a brief production phase.  I'm doing the work needed to get the novel to reviewers so I'm collecting the front and back matter and thinking about a cover.  When I'm done I will create a Kindle version of the book and send out to review.

At the suggestion of someone on Facebook, I've decided to try BookRooster.  They charge a small administration fee and put in front of 10 reviewers.  This is perfect for me because I really want to keep writing (Book 3 awaits) but I also want to know where the story is weak.

Most of the comments aren't likely to bother me since this isn't while a finished draft but I am nervous about taking this step.  I mean, I think the story is complete and really good, but I could be wrong.  If people hate it then what do I do?

I think I had these same concerns for Book 1.  But Book 1 is a much simpler story.  Aside from some character development (which is a matter of opinion) Book 1 does exactly what it sets out to do.

Book 2 is more complex with one story morphing into another and then a twist at the end.  It's the twist, I'm worried about; people may say it's contrived.  And to a certain extend that's true but it is the characters contriving for other characters.  Wheels within wheels.

Still, I really have no choice.  The book needs reviewers so that I have the feedback I need to write the best novel possible.  I need to know what does not work so I can revise and fix those sections.  Hopefully no one will hate it.  But unless all the reviewers think it sucks I'm probably going to release it as soon as I can.

I just wish those damn butterflies in my stomach would find another home.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Saturation Point

I never thought I'd live to see the day when I had my fill of technology.  But I think it's here or just around the corner.

I've always been something of a technology fan, mostly focusing on computer technology, since I bought my first computer, an Apple IIe, all those years ago.

What I like about it is there is always something new to learn about.  Once I had the basics down, I began focused on graphics, then networking, then the different technologies in the computer like USB and Firewire.  Most recently, its been about wireless technology and all the devices that are now proliferating like missile in an arms race.

But increasingly, as I began to drip a toe into Windows 7 and Mac OS X 10.7, the new operating systems from Microsoft and Apple, I'm seeing (or hearing about) issues and problems that make me shake my head and say, 'they aren't really for prime-time yet.'

What's even more frustrating, in this age of information, when I try to find out about a problem, like corrupted Windows profiles, or report a problem, say on Apple's VoiceOver utility, I can't find a place to go.  It's like there is so much information that is clogs the way so simple requests, sort of like wet leaves in a storm drain.

It makes me want to break out my old typewriter and through away all the social media crap we are saddled with these days.  Actually, as I think about it, the last typewriter I used was my mother's.  I'd have to go buy one.  Can I still do that?  I don't remember seeing any in Staples or OfficeMax.

Maybe I can't do that.  Figures.  Just when you think you can escape, they get rid of the exit.

Sigh.  Okay.  Guess I'll go back to writing. Maybe by the time my third book is done they'll have gotten the technology right.

Monday, September 19, 2011

The Third Time's the Charm

To my great surprise, I began writing Book 3 this weekend.  That may not seem like much but I've not touched that material in five or six years because I've been struggling with the events in the first two books.  Book 1 was particularly hard to get right and I've been feeling like I'm in a time loop of some sort repeating the same tasks on the same text over and over.  A sort of writer's version of Hell.

But last Friday afternoon, I broke through the curse, like the 2004 Red Sox, and gained new ground.  Book 2 is mostly done -- the last three chapters just need a few more reads to ensure I have no more edits-- and then I send it out for reviews.  In the meantime, I can work on new material: Book 3.

So I am actually making progress.  Slowly.  Steadily.  Pain-stakingly.

It's like driving around a very gentle spiral curve with a very gentle slope.  Eventually you get there but you have to travel a long way to do it.

Book 2, by the way, came out to be around 100,000 words, which also surprised me since Book 1 is more in the 67,000 to 68,000 word range.  I have no idea how long Book 3 will be and that is really my biggest concern for the novel because I need at least 50,000 words, 70,000 would be better.  But I'll be watching the word count as I go so we'll see if I've got another novel in me.

And now the reality check, which I hate paying: this does not mean the books will sell or that I'm about to become the next big thing.  And obviously, when reviews on Book 2 come in, I'll be revisiting it.  But it is good to finish up Book 2, at least for now and move on.

With luck I can still release Book 2 by the end of the year.  If not, then as soon as I can.  And let's not forget that I've still got Book 1 under consideration for publication in 2013.  The good news there is if it sells, I've got the next one all set to go and the third one should be well underway by then.

Pretty cool, huh?

Friday, September 16, 2011


I seem to have a problem finishing my own work.  Every time I read a chapter in a novel or a short story, I always have edits?  Why is that?

I sometimes think that all writers automatically edit everything they read, but I doubt that's true.  Still, I would like to know why I'm constantly making changes.

Case in point:  I found a section in my novel, Aure, the Topaz, that wasn't quite right.  Brashani's, the wizard,  reaction to being chased out of town by the local necromancers should've been anger not a grim determination to go fight them.  His anger leads to the idea that he should fight them, but he shouldn't just jump there.  Additionally, I need to show the reader the reaction and transition Brashani undergoes at that moment so he or she can follow the scene better.

It was a small point but I felt I had to revise and clarify the scene.  Do I have some underlying need for perfection in my work?  Or is it merely that the scene wasn't as good as it could've been and I knew that.  So I improved it.  Of course, good and improve in the case are subjective.  As I said it was a small point; I wonder how many readers would've even noticed.

But as a seasoned writer I know nothing is perfect.  And the pursuit of perfection can drive one mad.  Of course, the publication process can do the same thing, and mostly for the same reason.  When the time comes to get something out the door, the text needs to be free of typos and grammatical errors.  The writing needs to flow and be engaging.  That alone can make you nuts.

Then there's the cover for the print version and map I include so you know where all these places I refer to a in relation to each other.  The map took three tries before I figured out to make the text small and legible.  The cover, on the other hand, has been a lot tougher to get right.  And that's something that does need to be perfect.  I see now why lots of folks don't bother with a print version.

But I have to wonder, am I the only writer edits released work?  If I'm not, I'd love to hear from you.  That way I'd know, at least, I'm not completely crazy.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Site review: Authonomy

Authonomy is a web site where writers can go to post part or all of a book they want to here published.  Once posted, people on the site are expected to see and comment on the work.  The best works are supported (backed is the site jargon) and rise in rankings.  Writers are also ranked.  The most you read and comment on the higher your personal ranking is.

The site is run by HarperCollins.  Every month they take the top five books and review them.  In some cases this leads to a publishing deal.  Most often it doesn't.  And in my experience, the entire site fails to achieve the promise set out by the publisher.

Initially I used the site on my first novel is get some feedback to see if I could get high enough in the rankings to warrant a review from the publisher.  As it turned out, I couldn't get above 1000.  Additionally, what I found was the site is more about wheeling and dealing, making bargains with others so that if they back your book, you back theirs.

So the more you play that game the better off you are.  Ultimately I gave up on that because that's not how I want to spend my free time.  I want to write not play politics.

So I don't recommend the site.  It seems pointless.  I've had better luck elsewhere.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Off to the Faire!

I'm off to the Faire tomorrow.  That's King Richard's Faire, a Renaissance faire held annually in Massachusetts.  I go every so often because it inspires me to see people dressed in period costumes or joust a little or even shop a little.

This year my wife has some business at the Faire and I'm only tagging along for the ride so I can do as I please, but it's a good excuse to get out of the house.

This time of year New England is full of fairs and activities and after almost a full week of rain on top of what Irene gave us, it will be nice to walk about in a small grove and people watch.  People watching is really the main thing because the event attracts so many types.

You've got the people who come in costume, you've got the people with their kids, you've got the people who have never been to a Renaissance faire, and you've got people like me who have and keep coming back for one reason or another.

Still, I'm sure I can find some interesting characters or costumes from which to draw upon for a story I might write in the future.  I'll have to rely on my memory or a notebook because the local Sheriff will fine you for the use of a camera.  The fine is for show, by the way, and is for the use of an unauthorized magical device.

Nevertheless, my goal is not to be seen while people watching so that the people I'm watching act naturally.  This can be a fine line because if people notice you watch, they can get hostile and that's not the intent as all.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Climb isn't just Uphill, it's Steep too.

Readers of this blog may recognize this theme.  I've written about this before: namely how hard it is to write and publish a novel.  But I think this bears repeating.  Plus I keep finding new potholes in the road.

First, you have to have a good idea.  That's hard enough.  It doesn't need to be an idea for a story.  It can be an idea for a character.

Next you have to develop the idea into a story.  The story must be well written and must be satisfying to the reader.  Some people have told me it must be exceptional, but this is subjective.

Then you have to sell the story to a publisher or publish it yourself.  If you publish it yourself, you must be sure the production value is top-notch and that it is priced properly.  Electronic distribution makes this easier but I don't think you can distribute exclusive in electronic formats.  You need a paper form too and getting that right can be a huge time sink.  The paper version will also be more costly.

Marketing the story is also an issue.  You'll need to spend the word yourself and that's a lot of work, making hard to find time to write another book.  But you must continue to write.  One book from one person is like a lightning strike.  It's a fluke.  But if you can write two or three or more books than readers (and publishers too) will know you have the right stuff.

This is why many famous and well-known modern writers started by writing short stories and then graduated to novels.  They proved they could do it.  But short story writing and novel writing are different and I have no interest in writing short stories, at least not at the moment.

What this means is this even if you have a good story that is well-written, it may go nowhere because you have not marketed correctly or you've priced it too high.  Or maybe your sample is not interesting enough.  In my case, I know my sample, before I revised the novel this year, was misleading.  It gave the wrong impression of the story.  The new sample from the revised novel should work better, but it has not helped from what I can tell.

So I am forced to conclude that the marketing of the novel is insufficient or poor in some way since I know the story is good (from the reviews I've had) and it has been professionally edited.  Maybe I need a thicker skin.  Maybe I shouldn't let this concern me.  Maybe.  But it does.

I think I need to attract the right audience.  And I need to find a way to do that.  I have some ideas on that score which I've not enacted.  Perhaps it is time I get off my ass and do something.  And perhaps I will once I am ready to announce and relaunch my first novel.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Sometimes Luck is Your Best Plan

Many years ago, before iTunes and online purchasing was common, back when CDs were purchased in retail stores -- I know, the Dark Ages -- I went looking for a CD with a specific track on it.  It was for my brother.  I don't remember the song, but he wanted it and I remember wondering how I was ever going to find it for me.

He was a student then and had no car to go places, where as I did have a car and was working in one of the jobs on my resume, before I started focusing on novel writing.  It was late in the year and he had asked for the song as a present.  The problem was the band that did the song was a one-hit wonder so they didn't have an album of their own.  Worse still, I am terrible remembering who recorded what song.

So with the odds stacked against me I went to browse in a music store.  I remember feeling lost and adrift and after a few minutes decide to look at the CDs with a complication of songs.  After a quick search I happened to stumble across a CD with the exact song I was looking for.

I couldn't believe it.  In such a circumstance, luck is your best plan.  This is also true when a hurricane is bearing down on you.  Only luck will keep your house intact, the power on, and the flood waters away.

However, luck is not the best plan for selling books, or even writing them or for many other things that require effort and planning such as exercising to stay fit, mowing the lawn, repairing the car, shopping for food.  I say this because I know please who think otherwise.  They rely on luck regularly for everything when they need to buckle down and get working.

But I shall not preach here.  That would be too easy.  Rather I just pose this point as something to think about when, say, you are resting from some hard work you have completed.  With luck, you'll find such a moment and reflect on this post.

Monday, August 29, 2011


There was a very interesting broadcast of 20/20 last night focused on people lying about themselves in chat rooms.  And it made me stop and think.  Don't we all lie to one degree or another?  I'm pretty sure we do.

For example, I'm probably lying to myself that my books will sell.  And yet I continue to write and work of them.  I often wonder why?  And the answer is because I know my first novel is a good one.  So what if is does not sell, I am satisfied with it.  Additionally, I've not been promoting it much so it is possible that the book will sell with the right promotion.

We will wear masks too to hide from others what we don't want them to see.  These masks are lies.  They do not tell the whole truth of who we are or what we think or what we can do.  I don't think people will ever be ready to show themselves full and raw to others.

But the real issue around lying in many cases is perception because what many people believe as true is based on what they experience.  If you see someone shoot someone guess, you assume that the person doing the shooting may have killed the other people.  You are no idea if the shooting was staged for your benefit or maybe there are blanks in the gun.

The 20/20 program wasn't about these kinds of lies.  It was about posing as someone you are not.  So a middle-aged man becomes a 20-year old marine.  A middle-aged woman becomes a 19-year old model.  These lies are not open to interpretation since it is hard to dispute the fact of age or occupation.

This sort of lying -- to escape the dreary reality of life -- has gone on well before the internet.  Con artists have always posed as someone they are not.  Shades of Professor Harold Hill.  It is just earlier to pose as someone else and often it is earlier to debunk the fraud too.  It's just we get caught up in the online experience and assume everything we read out there is true.  It isn't.  We need to remember that.

A good bit of skepticism goes a long way.

Friday, August 26, 2011

It All Depends on Where You Start

I was talking to another writer the other day about some instructions she was writing, trying to offer useful comments.  She was pointing out the three paths and three sets of instructions she had to write to explain how to get started with the product she writes about.

I pointed out common information should go in one place to save on the writing.  And she quipped back, it depends on where you start.  By this she meant, it depends on how someone might use her product.

I thought she was saying it depends where you start writing and that's certainly is true for instructions and creative writing.  I was remembered of an exercise I did back in a high school English class.  The assignment was write instructions for making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

I did this.  It seemed simple enough.  You put the peanut butter on one slice of bread and jelly on the other.

Then the teacher had someone follow the instructions.  Putting peanut butter on a slice of bread meant taking the jar of peanut butter and placing it on the bread, rather than what was meant: take a knife.  Open a jar of peanut butter.  Take a slice of bread and place it in front of you. Scoop some peanut butter onto the knife.  Spread it on the slice of bread in front of you.

And so on.

Point taken.  This is true in story writing too.  My novel, Aure, the Topaz, has had at four different opening as I worked out where to start.  First it was Evan riding into town.  That was too soon.  Then it was with the major characters arriving into town, showing what had brought them into town.  That was misleading.  Evan is the main character; I needed to start with him.  Then it was Evan just before coming to town.  That was too far.  So I settled on Evan getting permission to visit his hometown for a very specific reason.

So watch how you start and try to determine if it is clear and to the point.  Does it set up the story properly?  Does it introduce the main character?  Does it engage the reader?

If you answer no to these questions, go back and revise.  You're story will be better for it.

Monday, August 22, 2011


I've always like using my imagination and get lost in some fancy that I would dream up.  This is one reason I write fantasy novels in the first place.

But the flip side of that are nightmares.  I don't generally remember my dreams but one thing I've found is as I do more writing, my imagination is more active and I remember my dreams more.

Often this is fine.  The dreams I remember are bizarre and could not possibly happen because in many case physical laws are suspended.  My imagination apparently never heard of Newton or Einstein.

But when the dream turns dark and taps my fears the following morning is not pleasant.  I keep remembering and reliving the dreams, haunting by feeling that are irrational.

Today is one such morning.  Perhaps I should just take a few notes and fill these dreams away as story ideas.  Or perhaps, I'm trying to tell myself something.

I'm not sure I believe that all dreams mean something.  Some do and I've had a few like that.  But these latest ones are so unsettling and so bizarre that I think the real world is invading my dreams and turning them upside down.

Perhaps I'm working on too many things at once.  That's possible and it wouldn't be the first time.  But simplifying one's life is hard.  We all can't go walking into the wilderness and living in a log cabin for awhile, mostly because there is much less wilderness than there used to be and most of would be lost without our cell phones, tablets, and wireless internet.

Perhaps I need to turn off the technology for a while and see how I do.  Of course, that could be a bigger nightmare than the ones in my dreams.  We'll see.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Second Time Around

I'm closing in on completing my second novel.  I didn't think I'd get here what with all the interruptions and delays.  But I'm revising the last third of it now so it should be complete in about six weeks, eight weeks at the outside unless I stop working on it entirely.

This time around I've tried to learn from my mistakes in the first book.  So the plot is more complex.  The characters are more developed.  The book is longer.  Seeds are planted for the third book.  All kinds of goodies are in this novel and yet I face many of the same issues I did in the first novel.

For one, there is no one who I can give the book to for their reaction.  I have to hope everything works as I intend (and I'm sure that's not true).  To address this issue, I've been looking for reading groups.  Goodreads comes to mind but I've had little luck there.  I think I'll try Scribd and see what happens.

Notice, I'm not looking for writing groups because I want to put the novel in front of readers for their reaction.  I don't need writing snobs telling me the book isn't any good because the writing stinks.  Personally, I've had my fill of writing snobs.

Someone on Facebook pointed me to Meetup which has all kinds of meetings but nothing of these meetings seem to fit my needs.

I surprised it is so hard to find someone who is willingly to read the story and give my feedback.  I must be looking in the wrong places.  Well, I'll figure it out eventually.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Writers Waltz

One of the first things I have learned in my prose creative writing class is this:  check your ego at the door.  The instructor wanted to make sure all the students could take constructive criticism.  His point was simple: the written work is a thing by itself.  It is not the writer.  Criticism of the work is not criticism of the person who wrote it.  That is true even if the book is not very good.  It just means the writer fails to execute or satisfy the reader.  God knows politicians fail to satisfy constantly and they still get elected and re-elected.  But I digress.

I say all this because it is important to remember for both writers (who might receive a bad comment) and readers who may be tempted to blame the writer for such a lousy story.  I think in such circumstances, it is important to remember a few things:
  • Just because one or even several readers don't like a story does not mean the story is bad.  Such things are subjective; they are entitled to their opinion.
  • Just because you read a story you didn't like does not mean the writer should be damned to Hell.  Writers are people and people are fallible.  Maybe the story is bad or maybe the story is just not for you.  Maybe you missed the subtle foreshadowing or the intent of the writer.  
  • Reading a story is like a waltz; the writer leads and the reader follows.  Make sure you (writer and reader) stay in step.  If you don't the music goes sour and no one is happy.
It is also good to remember where both sides are coming from:

The writer is a hard-working person trying to write the best story possible.  Often what can happen is that the writer works on a story so hard and so long that he or she identifies with it.  The story is personified and an extension of the writer.  When that happens, the writer needs to step back and take a break, maybe a long one, until his or her perspective is restored.

The reader, whether causal or avid, wants a good story and to be entertained.  He or her may be looking to escape from the world for an hour or more or may want to meet the characters in the story.  If they have never written anything long or if they dislike writing completely, it is easy for them to marvel the talents of any one who can string words together and weave a story.  The problem here is that this is where the reader can lose sight of the fact that the story and the writer are not the same.  When that happens it is important to remind the audience of this fact and move on.

But above all the writer and the reader need each other.  The writer without an audience might as well talk to himself.  And the reader with a writer has nothing to read.  So respect the partnership of the reader and writer and above all keeping dancing.

1-2-3... 1-2-3...

Friday, August 12, 2011

Pricing Books

With my revised novel in place and ready to go, I decided to review its price.  On the print side of the house, the price is pretty much setting for me.  Lulu, the print on demand service I'm using, tells me the cost of the book to print it and lets me mark it up from there.  Other print on demand services I've looked at do the same thing.

But on the electronic side of the house, I can go as low as zero because it costs very little for Smashwords to convert my book in all the formats they support since the process is automated and used by thousands of other writers.

And since I only have flexibility on price for the e-book, I've been considering dropping the price because it does not seem to be selling at $4.99.  As an informal test, I asked the question on Facebook if the price of the book matters.  And some people confirmed they are reading free e-books, partially to see what is out there and partially because they are free.  Others confirmed they purchase fewer books these days because money is tight.  I have no idea as to the percentage of folks who fall into each category but it does bear considering, especially for the self-published writer who can set his or her own price.

And it also confirms my experience.  I've got a lot of free downloads for the e-book on Smashwords but only 10% of those result in sales.  Part of that is undoubtedly because I'm an unknown writer, or they didn't like the book, perhaps.  But I think the majority of downloads are from people who want to see what is out there and have no interest or desire to pay for anything.

This has been happening in software for years.  The whole shareware/freeware business.  Once upon a time, I would try shareware or freeware and if the program is good I would pay for it.  These days I only look at freeware because the cost to upgrade commercial software runs in the hundreds or thousands of dollars depending on what upgrades are available in a given year.  The end result is I only upgrade one program at a time and then wait a month of more until my budget permits me to make another purchase.

If other people are doing the same thing with books, this explains a lot.  They are saving their money for the next book from well-known writers and in the meantime, read the free stuff because they are avid readers.

In such an environment, I don't see how can new writers can compete.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Why Do Something Once When You Can do it Twice?

When I think back on how my fantasy series, the Aglaril Cycle, got to its current state, I just shake my head.  It seems to be I've been caught in a time loop, constantly rewriting the same parts over and over again.

I wrote the original draft of the entire series, as one book, about five years ago.  It came to about 1000 pages and I said to myself no one will print a book that big.  I revised it once, trimming it to about 750 pages.

But still no one wanted it.

I decided to split the book into two parts.  The first part came out at about 300 pages and I uploaded it to for sale.  And it went nowhere so I never finished the second part.  Of course, I didn't advertise much and that's my mistake.  I don't think I understood the whole premise of self-publishing.  Self-publishing also, self-marketing, and self-distribution.  It is like have a small business where you sweat the small stuff.  But I digress.

After a year in Lulu, I took the first part and divided it into two books again.  The first book, Aure, the Topaz is in Smashwords and Lulu ... and by extension Amazon, Barnes and Nobles, Kobo, Apple, Sony, and a few other places.  This version I have sold and the second book, Vorn, the Onyx, is due out by the end of the year, ending the dreaded time loop.  With book 3, I'll be exploring new ground because of all the changes in the first two novels.

This has been a long road and I've learned a lot about writing, myself, and the whole publishing end of the business.  The moral to my tale is: plan ahead.  I did some planning, but not enough.  And I was not prepared for the whole marketing effort that is required.  This time out, I've got a few ideas on how to get an audience; I'm sure it is going to be as slow (or slow) as building an audience for this blog.

And even with all I've learned I'm sure there is still more to learn.  Things about the business of a small press or the market that I don't know or fully appreciate it.

That may come in time or it may not.  We'll see.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Seize the Day

When my first novel was published late last year, my nephew promised to read it.  We was very excited to do so and expected to get to it as part of an assignment for school.  Apparently he was expecting his teacher to assign an independent reading assignment.

That never happened.  So I suggested he get on it now, as summer is the perfect time to read, especially since he has little to do with school out.

I immediately realized I'm not one to talk.  I waited two months to hear been from my publisher about my revised novel in the hopes she would take it only to find out all the slots for 2012 are taken.  So I now have to wait another year to hear back from her.

I never should have waited.  I should have seized the moment and re-published immediately.  The good news is all the production work is complete I just need to see a few proof copies and I'll be back in business.

In the meantime, the second novel is about half way done and I am looking for test readers so if you are interested please let me know.  I'm planning to have this book completed by the end of the year.

So let's all learn from this experience: seize your opportunities when they arise.  And keep writing.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nothing but Delays

It looks like I'm going back to self-publishing my work again.  That's not because I was rejected by the publisher I had hoped would take me.  It is because she had a limited number of slots open for 2012 and I didn't make that list because I had to revise my book.  So I either wait another year and hope I make it or I move on.

I'm moving on because:
  • I hate waiting.
  • I feel like time is short and I can't waste another year hoping for something that might not happen.
  • Some other publisher may want it.
I gave her the right of first refusal but she won't even get to it this year so it is time to pack up and move on.  If she ever gets back to me and says, yes she'll take the book then I'll can stop self-publishing.

Meanwhile, I can see how far I can move the book forward into the arms and ebook readers of the general public.

This is the worst possible outcome too, from my perspective, because it is a non-answer.  A rejection I could handle (sort of) but being in limbo is like taking a final exam and then never receiving a grade.  It is also bad news because I'm lousy at promoting my own work.

It would be one thing if everyone reading this blog would go out and get a copy of the book.  But that's not likely to happen.  I need to find people who enjoy reading fantasy novels and I need to provide both paper and electronic formats simultaneously.  So that when I spend the word, people can go to Amazon or Barnes and Noble and order a copy.

I wish there was a clearinghouse for paper books that did what Smashwords does for electronic books.  But there isn't.  The best I can do is purchase a service from to help infiltrate bookstores or go with CreateSpace (an Amazon company) so at least the book will be in Amazon's listings.

Worse still, because I'll be self-published, some places will not review me.  In fact, the only reason for providing a paper copy of the book is that far too many folks will not even consider reading the electronic version.

If my frustration and loathing for this whole process is coming through then I'm glad; you'll have a sense of what it is like for me.  I have half a mind to forget about promoting the work and just write my novels for my own enjoyment.  Obviously no one cares if I write them or not so why should I try to move mountains?  But then why write them at all?

And I know why I am writing them:  so I can share them and entertain others.  But that task just got a lot harder.  In fact everything I'm doing got a lot harder.  Now I have to find time to do the production work for Book 1 while finishing Book 2.  I'll probably need to remake my whole web site for the both books and the series this time.  And I can't announce or promote all the new work until all the versions of the books are ready to go.  And all this just delays Book 3.

Delays, delays, delays.  That's all I'm dealing with.  Have I mentioned how much I hate waiting...?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Did someone pummel me or am I getting older?

I'm probably getting older.  But I feel like I've gotten 15 rounds with of boxing champ and loss.  Or maybe its just the end of the week thing.  I don't know.  It seems like life these days is resembles the climate of the planet, extreme highs and lows.  Highs in my case are lots of things to do all at once and lows are just the reverse, very slow times.  I think I prefer the latter because it lets me focus on my writing.

Just now I've got to get the dogs to the vet, have the car services, complete lots of yard work, clean up various messes of my own making to reclaim desk space, and resume clearing out the basement, while holding to my writing schedule.

You and I both know that's not likely that I'll do all that.  I'll hold my writing schedule and I may get to a few of those other things but most of the work will go undone.  I will be forcing myself to take a break in a few weeks so hopefully I'll be able clean up the yard, basement, and desk.  If not, there's Labor Day weekend, I suppose.

One change I've decided to make to reduce the mess and clutter in the future is accept all those 'Go paperless' links on the websites I use to pay my bills.  My reasoning is goes like this:  I track my expenses so I know when to pay my bills.  I don't need the extra paper (it is in fact stacked on one corner of my desk with my laptop on top of it.  I should be using my laptop as a paperweight).  I don't have time to fill all the bills away, which is what I used to do.  So going paperless makes sense.

My bank just forced me to go paperless to avoid $3 surcharges.  And I've been thinking about it seriously for a while.  So I'm going to take the plunge, slowly, one bill at a time and see how it works out.

I doubt I'll be able to go back but if I have a problem, but storing all the bills isn't working so hopefully this will be better.

Okay, looks like I'm out of time.  Back to work.

Monday, July 25, 2011


I was watching a TV show the other day on chimps in the wild and comparing them to humans.  The show was asking the questions what qualities do humans possess that make them human?  One might think it is the ability to use tools, but it's not.  Chimps use tools.  And they can learn language so that's not it either.  The answer is: humans care about each other and about their environment, which chimps, or any other animal cannot.

That surprised me because I would have said it is our imagination that makes us human.  For me, the imagination and the ability to create something from it is the most human thing, humans do.  Personally, I can't imagine (no pun here) a life without my imagination.  I used to (and still try to) daydream where I let my mind go where it will.  Sometimes I end up in odd places that I like and sometimes I don't.  But even my failures, if you can call them that, are saved because I never know what I'll need for a story in the future.

But imagination by itself is not enough to write.  It has to be tempered and honed like a muscle.  You need experience to draw from and enough command of the language you are using not to embarrass yourself.  Reading helps with this more than anything else.

Specifically, you want to read in the genre you plan to write and you want to read the stories in that genre so you know what the masters of the genre have done already.  You want to read philosophy for ideas and debate of questions humans have tried to solve for centuries.  I also find well-written books on science (physics mostly) help to so you know how the world works and what new discoveries science is unlocking.  Lastly, books on history are great because you can learn how people lived in by-gone age.

If I could add one more category of book to read it would be books on writing.  I love to read the advice of John Gardner or Ray Bradbury or Stephen King on writing.  I review it now and again to keep me fresh.

But you have to write too.  And in the early stages it does not matter what you write about.  Write about what you have been reading, write about the bad day you've had, write about this one person who pisses you off because she sends unrealizable request by email and you don't have the heart to say no.

Then when you are sick of writing whatever pops into your head, do a little planning.  Think of a story line and a few characters.  Develop them.  Then repeat the process.  Share them with others, get feedback, revise, rewrite, and try again.

If you are brave and have no ego, try to have one published.  And keep writing and reading.

And above daydream and imagine.

Friday, July 22, 2011

In Requiem: Borders Bookstore

I'm not a big fan of many things, although some things touch me deeply and got to the very core of who I am.  I do, however, love book stores.  I love to browse and to find new things.  I love the smell of a new book.  I love to lose myself in a good story.

I suppose these all reasons I decided to pursue fiction writing one day.  I was hoping to talk a place on the bookshelf with well-known, lesser-known, and mostly unknown writers (put me in that last category, thank you).

But as you probably all know the book store, Borders, is no more, at least as a physical place to go.  Their website is still there and you order books from them, but it is not the same.  Worse still, as a CNET article noted, the loss of Borders means that it is will be harder for new writers (like me) to be discovered.

I read that and sighed.  This is not something I want to hear.  It may be true; but don't tell me.

Borders is the victim of changing trends in the publishing world and too much debt (that seems to be a trend these days).  They were going to file for Chapter 11, but they couldn't find a buyer so they decided to fold instead.

What a shame.  This leaves only Barnes and Noble left standing and some independent small stores.  If I take a very selfish view here that probably means my books will never be on the bookshelf of any store because I suspect CNET is right.  If I take a broader view, as to the value bookstores bring to society as a whole, I see we are diminished because bookstore serves as a social gathering place.  For Borders this was true.  It was a place to get coffee, read a little, and browse book, movies, and music.  We need such places to learn, socialize, and enjoy ourselves.

You might argue there are other places like this, and that's true, but most libraries are most like museums than places for social gatherings and the bookstores that are left will find it harder to keep going I think.  They may even take fewer risks, offer less variety.  None of that is good.

So let us mourn the loss of Borders and try to support remaining bookstores we have.