Monday, January 28, 2013

Faster than a Speeding Turtle

I was warning by one of the writers who signed with my publisher that they were slow. I've now found out just how slow. My novel, which I thought was due out by March, is in fact slated for June. I am not happy about this because it delays work on Book 2 and gives me less time this year to sell Book1.

In fairness, the publisher never did give me a straight answer on the release date when I asked months ago. And I was sick in September, delaying by second around of edits. Additionally, Hurricane Sandy dealt my contact with the publisher a nasty blow causing her to be out of contact for a few weeks.

I'm sure all these things have had an effect and a three month slippage is nothing compared to slips in the software industry, where I've worked for many years. But that does nothing to ease the emotional upset I'm feeling.

On the plus side, I did learn that there will be a physical galley proof of the book so I can see what it will look like before the printer gets it. I wasn't sure anyone still did those, but apparently they do.

I have until the end of February for any front or back matter changes I'd like to make. But as I've still not seen the cover draft, my focus is there.

I suppose this is just a curve in the road. I wonder how many more curves lay ahead.

Friday, January 25, 2013


I'm a big believer in improvisational writing. By this I mean, writing without having a clear idea where I'm going. I may having a general idea -- a crudely sketched out plot, for example, -- but I don't know the details before I start writing. I do this to see where I end up. Once I'm done I go back and keep what I like and discard the rest.

This approach is not for the novice writer because it is fraught with pitfalls. For example, you have to have a good sense of your characters or you cannot pull this off. Likewise, you have to know the background of your world well enough that if you invent something new on the spot that it doesn't create an inconsistency. Continuity is king.

I tend to write new scenes in whatever novel I'm involved with in this manner. Sometimes is works and sometimes is doesn't. Other times I can't tell if the new territory I've discovered will work or not. Those are the hardest pieces to assess.

Example: in Book 2, Evan pursues the trail of the necromancer who has abducted Duke Wrightwood by using the portal stone the dark mage used to transport His Grace back to his lair. When Evan arrives he finds a grassy knoll with a building at the top and a murky lake at the bottom.

Now I knew there was something in the lake. Something deadly. But what exactly was not clear to me. So I improvised and before long I had a battle scene on my hands as the multi-tentacled monster reaches out and grabs several of the knights who accompanied Evan to the knoll. The scene by itself is okay but I can't help feel it could be better.

I think part of this stems from the fact the monster is reminiscent of the scene in Lord of the Rings outside of Moria. A multi-tentacled monster attacks the Fellowship as they enter the dwarven stronghold.

I could change the monster, of course, but without a clear idea as to what the monster should be I'd be spinning my wheels. But that's the nice thing about writing. even as I write this a glimmer of an idea presents itself. Which only illustrates the fact that revision is key when using this technique.

Keep writing everyone. I have a revision in my future.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Don't Tell me What Color the Sky is

I was talking to my mother the other said about the first version of my book's cover. She likes to hear about what is happening with my book, partly because she is an avid reader and is interested in the learning about the publishing process, and partly because, like any good mother, she takes an interest her son's life.

I mentioned to her that one of the odd things about the cover image is the sky was an auburn-rust sky which is completely wrong. The sky should be blue. She remarked, since this is fiction, the sky can be any color in the rainbow. I replied, that's true but I wrote the story. I made the sky blue at the outset.

This anecdote illustrates one of the things I expect to happen once my novel is released. I expect people to tell me how reality works. These people will think they know more than I do and will want to demonstrate it but ranting on that a bard would never be hired as a guard especially of something so valuable as a magic gem.

What these people forget is that I set the rules for the story. Sure, the rules mirror the world in which we live. That's necessary so that the reader will recognize enough of my world and hopefully suspend his or her disbelief. But there are differences. So don't tell me what color the sky is or how magic works or whether or not a fifteen-year-old boy can become a master of martial arts. Because if you do I won't be listening. These are details I selected and I'm not changing them. And since this is my sandbox, my rules prevail. If you think you can do better, write your own story.

And there's the rub, you see. It is very hard to write a good story and harder still to get it published. But it is easy to criticize and complain.

What these people don't know is that I've already made many changes to my story. The first draft looks nothing like the one that's being published because I changed the most glaring parts that made not sense to anyone. I did this without being told, "Change that!" Rather I made adjustments as a result of repeated rejections. And yet at no time did the characters change; the plot changed a little and continues to do so as I develop and flesh it out but that's normal in the writing process.

I say this because I know many writers who believe in artistic integrity. What the writer says goes. And that's true, but only up to a point. After all, if your story is so poor the reader cannot suspend their disbelief, it won't matter what the color of the sky is.

Hopefully most people will like the story and the ranters will keep quiet. We'll see soon enough. The novel is due out in about two months now. I can hardly wait.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Photo Shoot

Knowing that my publisher was working on the cover to my novel and having time off last month, I decided it was time to get a few professional photos of me taken. Up till now, I had been using an image clipped from a photo taken in 2008. It's a good one but not a portrait image, which was what I was looking for.

Now as it happens, my wife is a photographer. She takes pictures for the State House and freelances in other areas. She networks like crazy to both people who want photos taken and to other photographers. One of her contacts her a photography studio so I asked her if she would take pictures of me for the cover of my book. She agreed. Then I asked her to work her network so we could use her friend's studio. She asked and we were in.

The day before the shoot I went and found the clothes to use. I wanted some casual and some formal images so I would have a variety of images to select from. The day of the shoot we went to the studio and she took the pics.

She'll tell you that I was a cry baby during the whole process but the truth is I had no idea what to do exact except sit there. I made the mistake of not eating breakfast so by the time the pictures were being snapped, my blood sugar was low and I was tired, but you can't explain that to anyone.

Regardless we got a few good images. One is being used with my social media accounts. I updated my Facebook and Twitter accounts the other day. The more formal one went to the publisher and my mother -- so she would have a nice updated image of her son. This is something mothers always want and that sons are obliged to provide.

Both images will also go into my media kit. I've still got a few holes in that but I'm going to have to wait until next month, I suspect to fill them. At that time, the publisher should be ready to start talking about the promotion of the book. I can hardly wait.

Keep writing everyone.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Writing Traps

I've finally been making progress in Book 4 again. Part of the reason I keep getting delayed is I keep hitting one of my writing traps. This trap makes me go back after I write fair number of words to see how the story is going. In this case, I went back twice because I was dissatisfied with what I had written. The good thing about this approach is I figured out what the book is about. The bad thing is it delays me from getting on with the story.

And it is that second part that makes this a writing trap. Like most traps, mine is a delaying mechanism. Writers create these for themselves from fear of failure or fear of success or for some other reason. They would rather procrastinate than write. The most severe form of a writing trap is the well-known writer's block. But traps come in all shapes and sizes and back in graduate school when I taught freshmen English, I saw all kinds.

I'm sure any writers reading this post have their own traps that they fall into to delay and avoid writing. Some may be harmless in that you can get out of them eventually. Others may be more debilitating. Whatever traps you may have, my advice is to avoid them the way you might avoid writing so that your work can continue uninterrupted. 

That can be hard. I know that I'm not likely to avoid mine because it is part of my process. I need to know that what I've written is solid so that next chapters are on a firm foundation. I do this to avoid massive revision later. But I am always looking for a better way of working. So if I find a way to avoid my trap, I'll probably take it.

Try to do that same for yourself. And above all, keep writing.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Book Cover Update

After my last post, I confirmed with several folks that the book cover should in fact reflect the story it is representing. I explained this to my publisher and they went back to the drawing board. I gave them four possible choices for a new series. I suggested them as possibilities only. They came back with a variant of the cover I have, courtesy of Michelle Ramos, the artist I found on Facebook and who I paid about two years ago when I was planning to release my novel in paper.

Because they dropped back to this default position and because they first suggested the use of a mountain scene for the cover, I'm wondering if they've read the book. Some certain hasn't. On the other hand, they tell me it is more about typography, colors, and font choice.

And since I'm no expert in these matters, I have to suppose that's true. I suppose it is like an oil painting; it is in the eye of the beholder whether it works or not. I just find it odd that they come full circle after rejecting my original cover as not being professional.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Book covers

Late last night, my publisher finally sent me a copy of the book cover they want to use. I will spare you a detailed list of all the changes I want and focus on the front cover image. It is an image of mountain in the background cover in light mist with a river crawling serpentine-like forward toward the reader.

As an image, it is fine, but does it belongs on my novel? I'm thinking no because it has little to do with the story. Oh sure, the main characters find themselves on the side of mountain looking out across the surrounding land but that's it.

I would have thought an image of the magic gem would've been more appropriate. But then it got me thinking about other covers I've seen. There are many that have little or nothing to do with the content of the book in which they are apart.

But more often than not, as I review the books in my possession, the cover reflects some key moment or some scene of the novel. The one exception of that is a collection short stories and that's understandable since there are so many stories from which to choose.

So if the cover of the book should reflect its content and the draft I received does not do that really, that begs the question, how do I get a better cover? And the answer is I don't know. I've stated that the cover should be more connected to the novel but unless they have read the novel, and I'm not sure the artist has, it will be impossible for this person to pull a scene from the book and bring it to life.

I suppose I will have to be more forceful and tell them that a new image is required. But first I will see what they think about the comments I've already given them.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Web site review: Fantasy Faction

I stumbled into the website Fantasy Faction the other day. What caught my eye was the series of posts about writing fantasy novels and stories. I found the series too high-level. But then I realized I know more than most about such things. I clearly was not the audience for those posts, so I poked around a little more.

Another post about making maps for fantasy stories got my attention. That post was good as far as it went but it discusses how to create maps by hand. By hand! I've not done that since some time in the 1990's. C'mon folks. If you are going to make a map, use Photoshop or one of the specialized applications available to handle the job.

Still, the site is a good one. It aims to be for fantasy novels what IMDB is for movies. I think they still have a way to go. But they have lots of folks contributing to it. Check it out. I'm definitely going back for a second helping.