Friday, December 31, 2010

Be Careful What you Wish for

I could kick myself.  Two years ago now, I accepted the help of an 'editor' on the suggestion of a writer friend of mine.  This 'editor' runs a publishing shop in New Hampshire and was willing to help me clean up my first book, Aure, the Topaz.

However, this guy has done more harm than good it seems.  First of all, he told me things that weren't true. For example, he told me that each book I wrote had to stand alone.  I found out later from other fantasy writers that is not true, particularly in a series, which I am writing.

Second, he told me that since my story was about find the lost Aglaril (magic elven gems) I would need one book for each gem.  I'm pretty that's not true either.

Third, he read my introductory chapters, which describe the effort of Michaeline knights to locate some necromancers among some ruins.  Never once did he say, this has nothing to do with the story, why it is here?  More importantly, he also did not point out the impression this opening would have on readers.  Since most bookstores provide a free sample of the first 10 or 20% of the book, all readers see this part and come away with the wrong impression of the book.

God knows what else he told me that is wrong.  No wonder I've had such a hard time selling this novel.

Guess I have to chock this up to experience and do better next time.

The moral:  Be careful who's advice you seek and accept.  You might be better off without it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

It's Like Shoveling Heavy Wet Snow

Once again I think I've been doing things backwards.  If I was smart, I would be put together a plan for selling my novels before writing them.  I say this before it is becoming clear that social media isn't the answer.

According to the reading and research I've done, the way to sell products on the Internet is to provide the customer with content they want.  Content that is related to what you are selling.  For example, if you selling videos on improving your golf game, then you might provide free tips on golf.  If you sell car tires, you might provide free information about how to care for the tire and all the technical stats on your tires compared to tires from other companies.

In that vein, I decided to offer short stories to folks for free.  It is related content and background information on the world.  This has worked to a limited degree but as far as I know has not sold any more books.  The problem is that I'm not well-known.  If I had news that say Stephen King or Dan Brown, or even J K Rowling had a new book out and it was posted to my site, it would be flooded.  But I don't.  All I have is my work and -- as good or bad as it may be -- that sparks no excitement in the heart of prospective readers.

So I need to provide more free short stories or perhaps sell a few.  I could also try posting in forums so that people know who I am but that's not guaranteed to help me sell books.  This, of course, begs the question:  how does one sell books?

Well, one way is to be in bookstores.  That's where people go to find books.  Thanks to Smashwords, I am in many bookstores.  But I am one voice in a chorus of thousands (maybe millions).  So I need to establish myself as a name, like Stephen King.  Social media might help with that (I am not convinced however).

No, I think the real answer is to attend genre-related conventions and try to sell my novels there.  Or perhaps become involved in these organizations and network.  Tell people know I am a writer and have a novel available.  Speak on panels, attend trade shows, and appear at book signings.  Those last three are only going to happen once I can pierce the veil that separates me from being an unknown to someone who is known, if only in certain circles.

And so I need to do a lot of heavy lifting, kinda like digging out from a blizzard.  Hopefully, it will all be worth it.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Book Review: Shades of Green

Since the holidays are nearly upon us, I thought I'd post a review I recently wrote as a change of pace.  Here's wishing all my readers a good holiday and a happy new year to come.

Shades of Green by Ian Woodhead has been described as "a psychologically maddening, convoluted and at times thoroughly disgusting read."  I have to agree with that.

It is like a British episode of the Outer Limits and a little like Dr. Seuss (I'm thinking of Bartholomew and the Oobleck here).   I want to stress the British part because some of the local idiom was hard to follow for me, a poor American.

The story is full of monsters and some of my worst nightmares, like being covered in green growing things to the point you are a plant. Ick.  That's the horror part.  If you like that kind of thing, go order a copy of the book now.  If not, keep reading.

The main characters are well written and you definitely get a sense of them and into their minds but the story does not resolve all plot threads (leaving room for a sequel, perhaps) and the end is anti-climatic. A sort of POOF! everything is all better now.

But the premise is odd too.  Without giving everything away let me just say it involves a blood-eating alien machine that re-sequences DNA.  Now I love science-fiction and fantasy (I even write the latter) but that's a bit much for me particularly since if you are going to go that far, why not have the machine a personality and make it a character I can get to know?

So overall, Shades of Green is enjoyable and entertaining but at the same time odd and convoluted.   Horror fans should love it.  Others, maybe not so much.

Shades of Green
by Ian Woodhead
available on Smashwords and Amazon

Monday, December 20, 2010

Marketing Thoughts

I have been reading a book on web marketing to learn what I can do to promote my novel and boost sales.  So far I've not learned that much, except that I'm probably not in touch with my target market though all the social media I use.

I tend to go find other writers on Facebook, in forums, and even this blog is targeted for writers.  I need readers and more specifically, I need readers of fantasy novels.  I had hoped the release of the Lord of the Rings movies would have sparked an interest in the genre the way Star Wars did for science-fiction.  But I'm not sure that's happened.

I do have a few ideas of my own.  One is to give away the first book in the series to generate interest.  That's not something I'm going to do now since I've only completed one book so far but may be an option once Book 2 is available.

Another thought is to give the reader more information about the book on my web site.  Currently, I only provide the back cover text.  I'm thinking a slightly longer and more in-depth synopsis with links to sample chapters might help.

And I need to experiment.  One of the things I've learned to promote my blog is to post in Facebook and change my status to reflect the current blog post.  That seems to attract more people than having them completely unrelated.  I discovered this by accident while experimenting with the medium.

The same is true for promoting my novel.  I need to try different things and see what works.

So far not much has been successful so I need a way to reach readers that I've not tried yet.

I'll post more once my experiments are complete.

Friday, December 17, 2010

I Have a Hammer, Does that Make me a Carpenter?

One comment I received on my last blog post is: 'Why is a non-writer writing a book?' This person went on to observe that just because one has a camera that does not make you a photographer.

The point is well-taking.  Writing is a skill after all and even the most skilled in the craft can have difficulty expressing himself upon occasion.  And I do know people who think they can write fiction because they can string words together in an email.

Well here's a news flash.  Writing fiction is a lot more complex than writing an email.  There's plot, description, and dialogue to consider.  And let's not forget character development and interaction.  Scenes have to flow from one to the next.  And some people I know don't even pay attention to small items like spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

Of course, I've not said any of this to anyone who wants to try and write fiction because most of them can't find the time to do it and you also have to be dedicated to the task of writing to get anywhere. If I didn't spend copious amount of time on my writing I'd still be working on my first novel.

And that's a threat too.  Life is constantly thrusting diversions in my face.  It takes all my concentration to remain focused on my writing even when I don't feel like it and I am uninspired.  In some ways I begin to feel like I'm chasing a windmill.

But that's where my love of writing sustains me.  Writing is hard.  And if I didn't love the work, I wouldn't do it.  I'm sure many of my non-writer friends don't love it which is why they give up on it or don't pursue it after they realize how hard it is.

Monday, December 13, 2010

When Non-writers Write

I was at a party the other day talking to a non-writer friend who had shown interest in my writing.  Briefly we discussed the fact that my novel was now available.  One point I made to him was that I am busy working on the next book because it takes so long to write a book and get it ready.  Given the number of books I want to complete that the amount of time it takes, I have to wonder if I will finish all the books in my head.

He said to me, he has the same problem.  But being a non-writer he can't even start.  So his plan is to dictate the book into the computer (he wants to use the voice recognition program, Dragon) and then hire an editor to clean it up.

While this sounds feasible, I have to wonder if it could really work.  My concern with this approach, which I voiced to my friend, is that the spoken word and the written word do not obey the same rules.  Well, not always.  Certainly poetry, plays, and good speeches should work both when from the page and spoken aloud.

But short stories and novels really don't have this need -- despite the increased demand for audio books.  More importantly, I'm not sure my friend can pay attention to POV or word choice or dialogue of each major character just by dictating his ideas into the computer.  It is far more likely that he will create something like a fairy tale and less like the action/adventure novel he wants.

Worse still, my experience working with editors has not been a good one.  To date, every editor that I have hired to help me almost always made things worse, giving me advice that I later learned was wrong.  I'm not sure my friend will be able to tell when he is getting bad advice or how to pick a good editor.  And I'm in no position to help since I've not had much luck there myself.

And it is sad in a way because I think, in the right hands, he might have a good story.  But what is a non-writer to do?  I only hope he does not fall prey to the many spams and schemers out there that wait lurking for non-writers.

Let's all wish him luck.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Where Have All the Readers Gone?

I never thought this would happen.  I figured that once I wrote something -- something big -- there'd be people to read it.  It never occurred to me that I'd have trouble getting people to read it.  Why?  Because people have been reading my short pieces for months.  My blog, individual chapters from my novel, short stories, and poems have all been read by different folks on different sites.  But now that I've got a longer piece of writing to read, no one seems interested.

At first I thought it was because no one wanted to pay for a copy.  Silly me.  That's not it.  I offered to give review copies away and still no one is interested.

Then I thought, it's because there's no paper copy.  That might be true -- up to a point -- but no I don't think that's it either.

Is the novel no good?  Maybe.  But no one will know that until they read it so if it's not been read who can tell?

Are people too busy?  Yes.  That's more likely.  I spoke to several people I know who have expressed interest but who have not purchased the book yet.  They have some story to tell all them.  The fact is people have lives and my book being published is just one more thing in a flood of events that make up our lives.

The other factor, I think, is I'm not famous.  If this was a new Stephen King novel or even another J K Rowling, Harry Potter book, I'm sure lots of folks would have dashed out and got a copy.  But it's not and I'm still working on building my audience.

I'm told it takes time to build an audience and be recognized by name so I'll just have to wait and keep looking for ways to get my name out there.

In the meantime, if anyone reading this wants a review copy, let me know at  Thanks.

Monday, December 6, 2010

eBooks: You can't live with them...

I've been having a debate with folks online about the publishing industry and its current state.  I will try to recap it and provide my perspective.

The general sense is the future is here.  Paper books are passe and eBooks are the way to go.  I think this is not quite true.  It seems to me that the future of eBooks seems bright.  eBook sales are up and since there is a lot less risk with publishing an eBook, the number of new eBook titles is rising fast while the number of new paper titles is flat.

However, not everyone has an eBook reader.  Not yet.  Someday soon this probably will not be true.  Cell phone, MP3 player, and eBook reader will be standard equipment for everyone. But that hasn't happened yet.

Also note there's an entire generation of readers (people) who want to read books by holding them in their hands.  So I think the main difference here in my position and that of the people I was chatting with is one of timing.  Some believe the brave new world of books is here now and I'm saying that the wave has started crashing down but we have to wait another year or two to see what the landscape looks like once the water finishes washing up on the beach.

This is why in my last posting in this blog, I suggested we will need to produce both paper and electronic versions of our work, at least for the next year or two and then re-evaluate.

Not that I think eBooks will disappear.  They won't.  There is too much money to be made on them.  And frankly, book publishing is now undergoing the transformation the music industry went through in the '90s with MP3 and digital formats. The main difference here is that no one eBook format has caught on.  There is no one standard.  So it remains to be seen how eBook technology will play itself out.

Also of interest is the issue of security.  I suspect a lot of writers (particular fledgling ones like myself) would feel better if there was a security standard that prevented theft.  One in which purchases are tracked so that if multiple copies of the some tracking information start to appear the book does not open.  Or if the tracking information is modified, it does not matter because it does not match the data in the central database.

So love them or hate them, eBooks are here to stay.  I'm just wondering what they will look like in 10 years and what new features they might offer.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Paper or Plastic?

When I self-published my novel, Aure, the Topaz, I had to decide what form (and format) to use.  The choice seemed obvious and yet difficult because I know eBook sales are rising fast.  Traditional paper book aren't.  Yet I'm not sure most of my audience (or at least my initial audience) has an eBook reader.  This complicated the decision.

I finally decided to go electronic only, at least to start, mainly because that's the direction the market is going and because making revision is easier.  Since this was my first book, I accepted a few wrong turns as I sorted out the Smashwords service and the whole eBook technology thing.  

And I was right.  I had to submit the book twice to Smashwords to get what I wanted and revised the description (the marketing/packaging) at least three times before being satisfied.

Sales have been slow so far and that has prompted me to revisit my initial choice.  Paper or plastic? (By plastic I refer to the eBook reader, not the book itself)

Am I losing opportunities because there is no paper version?  Probably and there is only one answer for that.  I need to create a paper version.  I don't think there is anyway around that.  Not yet.  Maybe in 5 years or 10 years the need for a paper version will evaporate. But right now, today, people still want a paper version and so I need to give the consumer what he or she wants.

So I uploaded a copy of the book to Lulu and a test copy is on its way to me now.  Hopefully, there will be a paper version soon.  In the meantime, I'm identified markets and bookstore to place my book into.

But more on that next time.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Price of Success

Now that my first novel, Aure, the Topaz, is released and being read, I am reminded that with success comes a price.  I was browse a torrent site I like to frequent.  I use the site to see what others are reading (or stealing) as a way to know what to read or consider reading.

As I browsed, I saw the book of a friend listed.  I wrote to her to let her know.  Let me stop here and explain that torrent sites are places where people upload files to share.  Often this is fine when the files being shared are public domain and not protected by copyright.  In this case however the book is under copyright protection.  So sharing the book is theft.  My friend's book hasn't even been out for a month and already people think it is good enough to steal.

I've known this has been a risk in this line of work for some time.  Writers, musicians, software publishers, and filmmakers all have this problem.  When a product is good, people want it and will find anyway they can not to pay for it.

Worse still it is very hard to stop them.  You can go after the site, of course, but they aren't really to blame.  It is the individual users who share the illegal content that are to blame.  Most folks don't try. But for a new writer each book not paid for is like a drop of blood out of the writer's veins.  Pretty soon, you've got enough for a transfusion.  No long after that, the writer is weak from blood loss and unable to write any more books.

And that's the real shame here.  My friend's success depends on everyone who is interested in her work paying for it.  And I'm in the same boat with her, having just released my first book.

So please, if you receive illegal content and you like it, but yourself a real copy to support the writer.  Thanks.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Promoting Yourself

It's been a busy time here as I promote my book and myself.  So far I've:
  • Posted announcements to Digg, Delicious, Buzz, and Technorati.
  • Posted announcements in Facebook and Goodreads
  • Sent out a press release
  • Emailed friends and relatives
  • Added links to the book here, on my blog, and other sites I have accounts
  • Adjusted my email signature to include a link to my book
I'm also in the middle of answering some interview quotes.  Hope to get some reviews of the book in place soon.  I've also got one or two other ideas to work through.

The nice thing about Smashwords is they provide a marketing guide to help me reach others.  As part of that effort, they suggest I include the following presentation.

Hope you like it.

These are all things you may want to do too if you need to promote your work. Food for thought.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Facing my Reviewers

After many months, my first novel, Aure, the Topaz is complete and published on Smashwords.  It is the first book in a series called the Aglaril Cycle.  For additional details go to

Now that the book is out and I am promoting it, I have to face facts: people are going to read it and make comments.  Like it or not, I have face my reviewers and hope for the best. I feel very much like an innocent man accused of murder wait for the sentence of the judge and jury to be handed down.

Frankly, I've been dreading this moment.  I think I've been living with the fear that the story is no good and no one will like it and that I'll be stopped before I start.  This is an irrational fear to be sure.  Many people have read the samples I've released and they have liked them. So the book should sell right?

Maybe.  One thing you'll notice if you follow the link I provided earlier:  the book is self-published.  The reason for that is partially because no small press has picked up the book and I'm tried of waiting.  I near to move onto book 2 so I can get the entire story told.

The fact that no small press has offered me a contract for the book does not mean the story is bad, of course, but it does cast some doubt for me.  Overcoming that doubt is hard.

But I am not letting that stop me.  I need to test the market.  I need to promote and sell my work.  I need  to get this story out so I can move on.

So I've published it as an electronic book for now.  A paper version can be provided later if there is interest for it.

Please keep your fingers crossed for me and if you can spare $4.99, buy a copy too.  Thanks.

Friday, November 19, 2010

In Memorium

My dog died.

More accurately, my wife and I had to put him down.  He bit her and drew blood and that's not good.

He was an old dog and a rescue from the local shelter so we don't know his really age but we estimate he was about 15 maybe more.  We had him for 9 years.

His name was Lucky and he was a good dog.  I loved him, of course, but biting others is a line no dog should cross.

And that's all there is to say really.

Now if you'll excuse me, I think I need to grieve.


Monday, November 15, 2010

Adventures in Self-Publishing

It has been an interesting few days here.  As many of you may know, I am close to completing (for the umpteenth time) the first novel in the Aglaril Cycle.  Over the last few days, I uploaded a version formatted for hard cover print and software print to Lulu.

I then turned my attention to ebooks.

I knew I wanted a version in Kindle format, PDF, epub (for the Apple iBooks store), and one for Sony reader.  So I set out to determine how I can produce all these versions.

I started with Lulu because that's where my print version will be coming from unless a small press publisher picks me up.  The problem with that approach is Lulu wants you to pay for a conversion to epub format.  My goal is to try to do this myself.  So I scratched that option of the list.

Next, I hit the Internet.  I knew from previous research that Amazon provides instructions for creating a Kindle version.  I reviewed those steps and moved on.

Creating a PDF version was not an issue either.  I've been creating PDFs with Word and Acrobat for years.  The real issue was how to create formats about which I knew very little, like the epub format.  From what I discovered on the Internet, I could use Pages (an Apple word-processing application that is part of iWork) to export to epub.  I happen to have a copy of that application so that seemed like an answer.

Then I read a little further and learned about  They take Word files and create multiple ebook and electronic formats for free, including all the formats I wanted.  So I decided to join.

Let me stop here and say, I had heard of Smashwords before, but didn't really understand why so many people were using that service.  Dopey me. I really need to pay more attention to things like that.

But I digress.  Once I joined, I went through their process of formatting a Word file according to their style guide.  Then I uploaded the file as a test.  Several hours later, all the versions were available.  They look pretty good too.  The one I like the best is the epub version because I dropped it into iTunes and synced my phone with it and Bamph!  My book is on my phone.  That is very cool.

I'm not done exploring Smashwords.  They have a premium catalog that I'm waiting to get into.  And they all have a marketing guide I want to check out.  They will assign an ISBN to the book too it seems.

So that may be the way I start.  I don't know.  I am still investigating.  I'll post updates in future blog entries.

Stay tuned.  And if you are interested in checking out my book, go to

Friday, November 12, 2010

Is Self-Publsihing About Vanity?

I am very close to completing my latest draft of my novel.  This draft should be the final version, but I've said that before and it wasn't true.  One of my friends thinks I need to stop trying to make it perfect.  But that's not the reason I revised it.  I revised it because I had feedback that the characters were flat.  It can't be published with flat characters because the reader will not care about what happens.

Now that I am close, I bundled up the files and made a PDF which I uploaded to Lulu.  I decided to put a copy of the book there in case I decide to sell it on my own while I seek a publisher.  But a very odd thing happened when the process was complete.  I had the strong urge to order a copy of my book.

And why not?  I've been working on it for months.  I would be to see one possible incarnation of it.  But I had to remind myself it was not complete and not ready yet.  I still have edits to make the last few chapters. And it makes me think: is self-publishing about vanity?

How you answer that question says a lot about you and your goals in the writing field.  If you answer yes, then, I can say is good luck.  Obviously, for you writing and entertaining the reader is not your primary focus.  For me the answer is no.  Self-publishing is not about vanity; if I choose that path, it will be because I cannot find a publisher to take a risk on me.  In that context, self-publishing is about providing an alternate outlet for writers so they too can be heard.

Frankly, I hope it does not come to this.  But it could.  And I want options.  It could very well be that the publisher who does accept my work will only publish me electronically to start.  If that happens, I'll would a service like Lulu to offer hard cover and soft cover editions too.

We'll see. It should be much longer now.

Wish me luck.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Book Festival

I received a mail the other day about the Los Angeles Book Festival.  Here's what it said:


LOS ANGELES (November 3, 2010) _ The 2010 Los Angeles Book Festival has issued the call for entries to its annual celebration of books deserving more attention from the world publishing community.
The Los Angeles Book Festival will consider entries in general non-fiction, fiction, biography/autobiography, children’s books, cookbooks, science fiction, business, spiritual, genre-based, how-to, photography/art, spiritual, poetry, foreign language, romance and mysteries, teenage/young adult, how-to and the wild card (anything goes!) categories published on or after Jan. 1, 2007.
Entries can be in English, French, Spanish, German or Portuguese and can be from major publishers, self-published or issued by an independent publishing house.
Our grand prize for the Los Angeles Book Festival is $1500 cash and a flight to Los Angeles for our gala awards ceremony on February 25, 2011.
Submitted works will be judged by a panel of publishing industry experts using the following criteria:
1) General excellence and the author's passion for telling a good story.
2) The potential of the work to gain a wider audience in the worldwide market.
TO ENTER: Entry forms are available online at or may be faxed/e-mailed to you. The Los Angeles Book Festival is part of the JM Northern Media family of festivals, which includes the DIY Convention: Do It Yourself in Film, Music & Books, the New York Book Festival and the Hollywood Book Festival. The Los Angeles Book Festival is sponsored by eDivvy, the Larimar St. Croix Writers Colony, Westside Websites and the DIY

I've received mail like this before and I do plan to enter... when I have a book completed to my name.  That might be soon and it might not.

Regardless, I thought I would pass along the information in case you have (or someone you know has) a book to enter.  If that is the case then I would enter.  You've got nothing to lose and you might even win.

Friday, November 5, 2010

In the Beginning...

As you probably know, one of the basic tenets of good creative writing is to vary word choice and sentence structure to keep from putting the reader to sleep, if nothing else.  But this idea is also good practice for the start of any story.  If all your stories begin in much the same way, you might want to mix things up a little.

For example, do all your stories start with your hero riding down a dusty road for one reason or another?  Or perhaps you are using the variation of the same basic opening.  For example, in story 1, the main character is trying to join an organization but can't; in story 2, the character belongs to a guild, church, or cabal, or other group and wants to advance but cannot.   While the story can go anywhere from this common beginning, why repeat yourself in this way?  More importantly, by using a common beginning, you set up an expection in the reader that the current story will be much like the last one and who wants to reader the same story twice?

Rather you need to try and find a unique opening.  For example, if your hero is riding down a dusty road in one story then don't have him or her do that again.  Next time open in a tavern drinking with his friends or camping out in the wilderness or engaged in a heated argument or waking up in the morning.  Anything but the opening you already used.

The point here is that your opening matters... a lot. It determined whether the reader will continue to the end or stop before the story gets going.  It is up to you to enthrall the reader to the point where he or she cannot turn away.  When that does not happen, your story fails to do its job.  When it works, you've got a winner.

How do you do that?  There are lots of ways but the main thing is you need a hook.  The hook is something to engage the reader, like a mystery or some conflict that will be resolved by the end of the story.  Example:  in one of my stories, the main character finds a baby in the ruins he is clearing out.  The story ends when the readers learns who the baby is and what she was doing there.

Example: The main character wants to unveil a statue to honor the victims of a horrible attack on the town.  The resident ghost doesn't like this idea and plans stop the proceedings.  The story ends when the ghost is defeated.

So pay attention to how you start your stories.  Mix it up a little and have fun with it.  And by all means, don't repeat yourself.

Monday, November 1, 2010

National Novel Writing Month

These days we recognize and honor all sorts of people for their role:  for example, Father's Day, Mother's Day, Grandparent's Day, Veteran's Day, and even a day for administrative assistants.  We also recognize large sections of the population with observations such as Black History Month and Hispanic Heritage Month.  But none of this prepared me, a few years ago, for an event called National Novel Writing Month.

I discovered the event while I was trying to get the first version of my novel published.  The event's web site describes it this way:

What: Writing one 50,000-word novel from scratch in a month's time.
Who: You! We can't do this unless we have some other people trying it as well. Let's write laughably awful yet lengthy prose together.
Why: The reasons are endless! To actively participate in one of our era's most enchanting art forms! To write without having to obsess over quality. To be able to make obscure references to passages from our novels at parties. To be able to mock real novelists who dawdle on and on, taking far longer than 30 days to produce their work.
When: You can sign up anytime to add your name to the roster and browse the forums. Writing begins November 1. To be added to the official list of winners, you must reach the 50,000-word mark by November 30 at midnight. Once your novel has been verified by our web-based team of robotic word counters, the partying begins.
Where: You write wherever you’d like. On your computer, on your iPad, on a typewriter---anywhere is fine, just as long as you’re writing! 

If you want more information go to their web site,

The reason I mention it is today (Nov.1) is the first day of the event.  So if you want to participate, you'll want to register at the site.

I am not participating this year.  I'm deeply engrossed in revising my first novel so I can put it back on the market, begin revision of novel #2, and start writing novel #3.  I may participate some other year as it is looks like fun.  So if you've been wanting to start a new novel, and need the structure of the event to get started, go for it.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Being Responsible

Here's a scene we've probably all experienced: you are in the market going down the aisle when someone comes along and cuts in front of you.  She says, "I'm sorry" as she whizzes by, but doesn't really decelerate and is gone in two seconds.

When this happens to me I think, "Where's the fire?" And then I get pissed off because it seems to happen a lot or maybe I just notice it more. It seems to me that lots of folks do this and I have to wonder why.  Is the pace of life so fast that they can't wait a few seconds for someone to go by?  Do they think their needs is more important than mine? Or do they think they can cut corners with no consequences?

I suspect that last reason is closest to the mark.  People try to cut corners and shun responsibility whenever they can.  I don't know why. They are adults; they know how to handle responsibility, don't they?  Does cutting a corner here or there help them cope with life a little better?  Or do they think following rules doesn't apply to them for some reason?

As I said, I can't say. What does occur to me is this: they would make poor writers because as a writer I am responsible for everything in my story from the opening word to the final period.  Me and no one else. If something is wrong with the story it is my fault. It is fails to satisfy  I'm to blame.  I can't hide and I can't take short cuts and I don't like it when others do.

Perhaps I do things the hard way.  Perhaps I'm too logical, too rational, or thinking too much. Perhaps.  But it seems to me that we have rules for a reason.  We ignore them at our peril whether in society or when writing a story or at any other time.

Think about that the next time you want to run a stop sign or cut someone off. Happy writing.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Are You Listening?

I've heard for a long time that people don't listen to each other.  I don't know that I believed it until recently. I've been noticing people on conference calls repeatedly asking for the speaker to restate their question because the person being spoken to wasn't paying attention.

I always shake my head in disbelief at this. 

Another version of this is asking for an opinion and then not listening to the response.  A friend of mine does this.  She works on a brochure or a web site and then asks for my opinion.  Before I can even answer, she answers for me, negatively.  When I do answer and say "It's good" or "Nice job" she still thinks I don't like it.  She wants me to gush and rave, but that's not me. Sorry.  I have repeat myself several times in the hopes she's heard me.

Writers get this way too, I've noticed.  I don't often have the occasion to comment on another's writing but when I do, I never sure if they hear what I am saying.  I do get a lot of reason why the story can't be changed.

I understand that reaction. I'm the same way. At first, I resist any modification to my story because it will change too much and cause to many rewrites. But then, after thinking about the comments I've received and realizing what was really meant, I begin to see how I can incorporate the change and keep the story the way I want it.  Often when that happens I begin to see the story from another perspective and by making the change I improve the story and make it better.

But to do that I have to be open to receive the comment and understand what was meant by it.  Often this means ignoring the literal meaning of the words and paying attention to the spirit of the remark.  I need to step back and see the bigger picture.

I also have to remember that the rules for telling a story have not changed since Aristole.  Stories have beginnings, middles, and ends, and that readers care about characters to get them through it all. Tension for the characters and frustrating the character is essential because it keeps the reader interested. When I see my story deviating from this path and I need to change it.

After all, I want to write the better stories I can and then share them.  If I'm not going to do that then there no point to promoting my work or trying to get published.  This goes back to an earlier posting of mine: writing is sharing.  Writing that is not shared is like talking to yourself and God knows I've had my fill of that!

So if you receive comments on your work, try to dig under the surface to find the intent of what the reviewer meant. It might be worth your while to do so.

Friday, October 22, 2010

One Hand Washes the Other

I've had feedback on several blog posts and it appears I've left some people with the wrong impression.  I'm going to see if I can clear it up.  I've been writing about the importance of characters and plot in my stories. Characters make my stories come alive but only when they react and interact with each other.  Plot is usually where I start in a story so that I know where the story is going.

From this, some people have assumed that for me plot is more important.  That's not true.  Plot, the way I use it, is like an outline.  It tells me what happens, when it happens, where it happens, how it happens, and to whom.  The characters tell me why it happens.  The character-plot connection are like two hands, one washing the other.  Even when I plot, character decisions get made and when I develop characters, plot usually changes.  Once I've worked out the rough plot details, I go back and focus on the characters to make sure their goals and motivation fit the story.  I can't do that without knowing where I'm going.  But the plot does not rule; if something does not fit, it is changed.

Could I start with the characters and seeing where the story leads?  Sure I could but what I've found is that wastes time.  It's like writing an essay (or a blog post) where you don't know what your point is.  Generally, you figure that out by the end of the piece and then go back and revise.  While that approaches is workable in something short, like an essay, or a blog post, or even a short story, I find it is not a feasible approach in a novel that is hundreds of pages long.  It is much better for me to know where the story is going so I can take the reader there.

That also does not mean, I've plotted out all the details.  Far from it.  I've only got the basic points down so that the characters can tell me things I didn't know in the process of writing.  In this way I can still surprise myself in the early drafts.

This, of course, is not the only way to go about writing a story, but it seems to work for me and the way I think.  I doubt it will work for anyone else, but you are all free to try it if you wish.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Blog Tour: Son of Ereubus

I know the blog is a day later than normal this week.  But that's because, I agreed to be a stop on a blog tour for J. S. Chancellor's first book, Son of Ereubus.

The book is the first book in the Legends of Guardians trilogy and is due out November 1.

If you've following the tour, you may have already read some or all of this text.  My apologies if that is the case. Otherwise, enjoy.

Q: When did you realize you wanted to be an author?

A: The moment that I realized that all of the stories I’d been making up in my head could be written down is the moment when I realized that I wanted to be an author. My earliest memory of writing is going to a reception hosted for every student at our school who was nominated for the Young Georgia Writer’s Award. I didn’t realize I’d won in my age division (first grade, I believe) until I got home and my mother asked me if I was proud of myself.

Q:  What does your family think of your writing?

A: My family, for the most part, has been very supportive. Though I will say that the genre I write in isn’t universally appealing. Naturally, this means that not everyone will read it. My dad, for example, threatened to do a word search and replace names like ‘Laionai’ with ‘bad guys.’ To each his own. He reads historical novels that would put me, an insomniac, to sleep.

Q: What do you love most about fantasy books?

A:  Classic escapism. They’re better than any drug or drink.  I love the ability to build a story around anything my mind can conceive. The limitations that are present in nearly every other genre (save sci-fi of course) aen’t there.

Q:  What can you tell me about your style of writing?

A: I’m an elemental writer, pure and simple. I learned long ago to say what I mean, exactly how I mean it. The worlds, the stories I’m guiding you through are intricate enough on their own that it doesn’t feel natural to write about them with complex prose. I want you, as a reader, to remember the story — not how it was told.

Q: What would you say is your interesting writing quirk? Aside from the odd hours I keep, I’d have to say that the physical positions I put myself in while I’m typing could be rather entertaining from an outsider’s perspective. Usually, after a longer bout of writing, I’ll emerge from my office with limbs half asleep andunable to feel anything from my knees down.  Music is a must. I can count on one hand the number of writing sessions I’ve done without my iPod or iTunes running on my computer. I’m listening to Amethystium as I type now.

Q: What is your work schedule like when you’re writing? Speaking of odd hours. I write best after the rest of the world has gone to sleep … so from about midnight to five in the morning.

Q: What inspired you to write the Guardians of Legend trilogy?

A: My ideas usually come from dreams and Guardians was no exception. I was eleven when I first saw the swod that is depicted on the cover of Son of Ereubus. That dream eventually became a specific scene in chapter two of the book. Then, when I was fourteen,I saw chapter one and even wrote down a rough, rough, ROUGH draft of both chapters one and two. I also drew a picture of a Dragee and yes, I still have all of it.

Q: How long did it take you to write the Guardians of Legend trilogy?

A: I wrote the first draft in a little under a yea. I wrote it as one really big book and didn’t break it up until after I’d finished

Q: How many books have you written?  Which is your favorite?

A: I’ve written seven books to date, with more than that in the works. They are all so different from one another, but if I had to pick a favorite it would be Guardians of Legend (1-3) as one cohesive book.  It’s my firstborn, so its tough not to favor it a little.

Q: Are you working on a sequel or any other books?

A: Yes and yes. Guardians of Legend is the first trilogy (it can stand on its own) in a series of three. However, I have several single-volume fantasies that I’m polishing right now for possible publication in between my larger works.

Q:  What advice could you give to other authors wanting to start out?

A:  Have fun. No, really, I mean this. Enjoy your time as an unpublished author. Revel in writing only for yourself. All of it changes when you begin to involve other people in your work; publishers, editors, reviewers, readers … it’s a good thing, I don’t mean to put you off from accomplishing your goals. But, don’t take for granted where you’re at now. Those earlier experiences are what shape you later on. Think of this time as your foundation. You’ll only build on it from here, but it will never be unimportant or wasted time.

Q:  What was one of the most surprising things you learned in creating your books?

A: Ironically, it was about myself. The most surprising thing I learned through the process of writing is that I have a thing for bad guys. It wasn’t until I was in the midst of working on Icarus, my only urban fantasy thus far, that I realized it. The “bad guy” is a vampire named Trinity and, despite his narcissism and lack of pity, he’s my favorite character in the book. This surprised me because he’s usually a total jerk. The guy you love to hate … yet I don’t hate him. I can’t.

Q: When did you write your first book and how old were you?

A:  I wrote my first fantasy novella when I was 14.  It was the original Icarus, actuall. I rewrote it last year for kicks, though the original has nothing but the characters in common with the new version.

Q:  Where do you get your information or ideas for your books?

As I mentioned earlier, as trite as this sounds, dreams. I’ll see a scene first — a touch of ahand, a glimpse of a face, the feel of some world beneath my feet and by the time I wake up it has either claimed its place as a story-in-waiting, or not.

Q: What is your life like outside the literary world? Hobbies and other passions?  Is there life outside of this?

A: No, in all sincerity I love the outdoors and enjoy camping. My husband and I bought an Xterra for the sole purpose of taking it camping and using the tent that attaches to the back. I’m also quite fond of my two dogs and try to spend as much time with them as I can.

Q:  Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

A: Yeah, I do, but since this is my first published novel the readers I hear from are those who follow the blog. They rock. I have some really talented, insightful folks commenting on the posts that I leave at The Asylum. It’s geared towards crafting fiction, so most of myreaders there are also writers.

Q: What do you think makes a good story?

A:  I can only answer this for myself, since “good” is subjective. But, ironically what I quantify as a good read isn’t in the genre I typically write in at all — it’s horror. I love to read horror, but dark fantasy is as close as I’ll ever come to penning it. Reading it though, I want to follow a story that has me on the edge of my seat, horrified, with a littlebit of romantic tension thrown in for good measure (however slight). It has to appeal to all of my senses. I read a lot of Christopher Pike and R.L. Stine as a child and never got over the need to eat books like that for dinner — all in one sitting. Love them!

Q: As a child, what did you want to do when you grew up?

Well, in the second grade I announced that I was going to be a stand-up comedian. No, I’m not kidding. Then, after growing infatuated with Batman around age 12, I announced to my best friend at the time that I was going to become Catwoman. So, I suppose I sort of compromised and became an author, where I can be any number of impossible, ridiculous things.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Show and Tell: Less Talk, More Thought

I'm in the process of adding life to my characters by having them react to each other and the world around them.  In the process I discovered something:  narration and exposition, even when it can be attributed to a given character, doesn't seem to count. At least that's my assumption from the feedback I've gotten.

I do this all the time apparently because the bulk of the feedback I've received is along these lines. Rather than actually get into the character's mind, the narrator relate the character's thoughts.  I suppose this is a show vs tell error.  The fix is easy, revise those paragraphs and add more of the character's personality to it.

Example -- original text

Brashani spent a few hours looking around Clearbrook.  The people seemed friendly and pleasant.  Otherwise, the town seemed like any average-sized town in the kingdom.
He noted that there was only one jewelry store and no magic shops.  Likewise, there was no one in town of appreciable wealth, other than the gem merchant and the town mayor.
That’s good thought the wizard.  That means the necromancers won’t be coming here.  Unless, the gem merchant is hiding the jewel they want.

Example -- revised text
Brashani spent a few hours looking around Clearbrook.  The people seemed friendly and pleasant.  Otherwise, the town seemed like any average-sized town in the kingdom. 
He noted that there were no magic shops in town.  
Figures.  These people of mana phobes.  He shook his head.  On the other hand, I won’t have to pay the high prices I usually find in a magic store. 
Looking around further, the wizard observed there was only one jewelry store and no one in town of appreciable wealth, other than the gem merchant and the town mayor. 
That’s good, thought the wizard.  That means the necromancers won’t be coming here.  Unless, the gem merchant is hiding the jewel they want. 

Notice how I've added Brashani's thoughts and revised the text to bring out what he is thinking and feeling about what he sees.  I can do more and probably will.  I only provide this text as an example of what you might try if you find yourself in a similar situation.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fictional Spice

I'm sure you've all read a story that spans multiple books.  The kind of story I'm talking about is the kind where book 2 picks up where book 1 ends.  Harry Potter is like this; so is Lord of the Rings, to name to popular examples.

Very often this type of story is hard to write because it is usually longer and takes more time.  Additionally, you generally need more than one installment in the story completed before you can even get the first one published (unless you self-publish, of course).  This is the issue I face now, with only one novel completed and several more to go.

It would have been smarter for me to write a story about a character and then if the book was successful to write another book with the same character.  But I didn't do that mostly because I wasn't planning to write a series of books in the first place.

My original idea was one book and one story.  But what I found as a revised it and pulled it apart was that the original two chapters (40 pages) could be made into 70000+ word novel.  All I needed was a slight adjustment to the plot and avoid my tendency not to explore any given moment in a scene. 

Example:  A stranger enters town.  The main character is suspicious of him because he is a stranger and has intelligence that a precious gem will be stolen.  Putting two and two together, the stranger is suspected.

There are many ways to go from here, but I took the conventional path, as this was my first novel.  The stranger is the thief and when the gem is stolen, the protagonist pursues the thief and captures him.  Not much of a story, but then it was only meant to be part of a larger book.

But when I changed my assumptions and didn't let a proscribed plot dominant the story, the thief gets away.  Now the main character must catch him, which he does.  When he catches up to the thief, the gem has been sold to the person who hired him in the first place.  Now the hero must retrace the thief's steps to reclaim the gem.  But it's not that simple.  The new owner isn't about to let it go without a fight...

You get the idea. I complicated the plot considerably and in the process end up telling a much interesting tale.  If in fact, I'm told that you can use frustration to plot out any story.  At every turn, you can frustrate your characters so that they have some new challenge to overcome.  I'm not sure but that, although it is true that each complication I added did frustrate my main character.

So if your story is dull and needs a little flavor try adding a few complications and see what happens.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Plotting Along

The thing that drives me forward in a story is the plot.  I love a good one and I'm always thinking up new ones.  Sometimes they comes from characters sometimes they don't.

For example, my favorite wizard, Brashani, decides to clean up the ruined city of Marngol, which was destroyed in an invasion when he was a young man.  Since the city was home to many wizards, I figured that there must be many different things lurked in the home's of the wizards, good and bad (mostly bad for plot reasons).  So stories about the clean up effort focus on what he finds and how he deals with it.  So some of the stories are more mystery (he finds a baby in a tower; he follows clues to a treasure) or straight conflict (the ghosts of the slain wizards are angry with him, he tries to accommodate them but it is not enough and they clash).

Notice in all cases, the stories derive from Brashani's motivation to clean up the town.  These are character driven.  Other stories are not.  For example, the characters find themselves in circumstances beyond their control.  They try to correct or influence the situation but cannot.  Or they can, but it is really hard and they risk dying.

In such a story, the plot is is center stage.  The characters and the personal ambitions are irrelevant.  They have motivation -- to stop or change the circumstances around them -- but other goals, like getting a promotion, or writing a great novel are, for the purposes of the story, out the window.  They might be mentioned in passing to flavor the characters but no development of these goals is possible because the circumstances they find themselves in keep intruding.

Example: Bobby wants to write a novel but there are too many distractions and interruptions in his life to make that feasible.  There is work or school.  A constant barrage of email, IMs, and online chats to deal with.  If Bobby is a college student, say, then there is also his coursework to focus on, studying.  In fact if he's studying to be a lawyer, he must immerse himself in his courses and study groups or risk washing out the first year.  He still wants to write but his wants other things too.  And, of course, he needs time for a social life too.

These days character-driven plot seems to be preferred because when the plot is driven by characters and their actions we can identify with them and root for them and that makes the story far more enjoyable for the reader.

So if you find yourself in a plot that is not character driven stop and look at your characters.  Make sure they have reasons to do what they are doing.  If not, change characters.  If they do, follow them and let them guide the story to see where is goes.  You might be surprised what you find.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Publishing Strategies

Some weeks back I wrote about self-publishing, saying that it wasn't for me mainly because I want to work with publishing professionals when my novel goes out into the world.  My theory on this is I will learn from them all the little nuisances of publishing and promoting books.

However, nothing is ever as clear-cut or monolithic as it might first appear.  In this case, I was basing my discussion on the assumption that to publish you need to use the same source to publish every version of your book.  And that's not true.

For example:  last month I submitted to a small press that only wanted the electronic rights.  Had they accepted the book, I would have had an ebook of my novel but not a paper version.  Since people still read paper copies, and some people prefer them, I realized I needed to find a way to offer a version in paper.

Suddenly self-publishing seems like the perfect answer.

I also made the mistake of not considering my overall marketing plan.  Don't make that mistake.  Think about an overall marketing plan and, as you consider how to publish, think outside of the box.  Consider whether you want to self-publish and, if so, will it be electronic only or paper or both?  If you want more of mix look for a small press that wants only the electronic rights (this is increasingly more common) and do the paper edition yourself.  Or if you don't want to even consider self-publishing, look for a more traditional small press that will handle both the paper and electronic publication.

And don't forget about an audio book.  (don't laugh; several friends suggested that I do an audio version first to promote the book.  If the effort wasn't so high I might have considered it)  Chances are you'll need to do that yourself or with until your work is wildly successful.  If you do it yourself, your main enemy is background noise.  So you may have to record the book at odd times.  The good news is you can find good theme music for the opening and there are services that will podcast it for you, in case you don't want to do that yourself.

So spend some time, do some research, and plan out how your book will go to market.  It is worth the effort.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The Word Count Trap

Last year while revision my fantasy novel for the umpteenth time, I began to pay attention to the word count.  I did this because many publishers have minimum word counts for novels. For fantasy novels it is starts at 70,000 or 75,000 words but some places have minimum word counts of 100,000 words.

At the time, my word count was 50,000 words.  I found a place that required only 60,000 words so I made that my target since I had no illusions doubling the size of the book.

I managed to add 10,000 words by filling in missing scenes and revising the end so that I needed to write several more scenes.  This is a torturous process because I didn't want to add fluff but I needed add more words to make the publisher's minimum requirements.

Big mistake.

I say this because I recently I found out that my characters needed work.  When I started fleshing them out more I suddenly discovered an untapped source of material.  Their reactions and comments and fears and goals and hopes and dreams to events and information already in the book has added lots of words and pages. More importantly, it has been the story far more interesting. I am finally reading my own and saying, "Damn that's good!" and "Oh, I guess I know more about character x than I thought."

So if you are looking for things to say in your stories look no further than your characters.  I'll bet you'll find all the words you need from them.

Monday, September 27, 2010

It's a Question of Character

For me, the story's plot is the most important. I like to work out the details and construct an interesting story with twists and surprises if I can manage them.

But for readers (and publishers) it is the characters that take center stage. Knowing them is what captures the reader's interest and so that is where most sources on writing tell you to start.

So let's look at what knowing your characters means. In a nutshell, you need to know what motivates them. What are their goals, hopes, dreams, ambitions? What are they afraid of? What do they like to do and what don't they enjoy?

Equally important is how they express themselves? How do they show anger, fear, doubt, confusion, or suspicion? Note that by 'express', I don't mean just their dialogue. Facial expressions and body language are equally important.

Frustration is another key element. How they react to it controls how your plot unfolds. For example, character A is frustrated that the guild will not hire him. What does he do? He could work harder to convince them. Or he could practice his craft without their approval (risky and dangerous; if everyone did that why have a guild?) Or he could move on into another part of the realm and see if another guild will hire him. Each of these decisions changes the story. The choice you select depends on what makes sense for the character and the story you are trying to tell.

Keep in mind also that a character can react to an emotion in different ways and still be consistent. It depends on the situation. If setbacks make the character angry and want to lash out, perhaps in one situation he or she is warned against doing this. Knowing this ahead of time permits the character to temper the reaction expressed.

So experiment with your characters. Write small scenes that show your characters reacting to different situations. Use these efforts as exercises to learn about your characters. Doing so will help you write them in a more realistic way when it comes time to put together your story.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Double Standard

It seems to me there's a double standard in publishing. All the small presses I've submitted to reject my work but the work they publish is just as good and in some cases, in my opinion, inferior. And yet others get to live my dream while I'm left scratching my head.

I'm pretty sure my work is good. I've had various people read it. Some are writers like myself. Others are my target audience. How can they be wrong and the publishers right?

The answer is: they aren't wrong. It's the publishing industry that's messed up. They refuse to take risks on new writers. I say this not because I am rejected. I know many writers who had tried to publish but can't. They are all talented and produce good work and yet, years later, they remain unpublished.

I realize, of course, there are a lot of competition. But the law of averages suggests that they should have had at least one success by now.

No one wonder so many people self-publish. Frankly, I'm nearly in that camp myself. I've spent about three years crafting my first novel. If it does not find a home soon I'm going to self-publish and move on to book 2.

I really can't wait for the publishing industry to sit up and take notice. I've got a lot more novels to write.

Monday, September 20, 2010

So What's This Blog Thing All About?

I've been blogging now for four months now and I am still scratching my head over it. Is it really necessary to blog in order to sell books or attract an audience? I'm guessing the answer is yes but it is probably a lot harder without one because the technology reaches deep into our society and our lives.

Another benefit of blogging is, I suppose, based on the premise that if enough people gather round the electronic campfire of their computer screens to read what I have to say, one can assume there's a certain level of interest my opinions and musings.  Although writing fantasy novels is very different from writing a blog; being able to do either does not necessarily mean I can do the other.

I can also see that a blog is a form of self-expression. What better way for someone to prove to others he or she knows what he/she is talking about than to show it? For me, however, the way I prefer to do this is give them a book I've written and say, "Enjoy."

And, of course, there's the rant posting too. I've done a few of these myself because getting my book written, ready for publication, and sold has been a roller-coaster. I've hit potholes the size of  watermelons on more than one occasion and have been angry at the setback. Of course, better to make these mistakes now so that I never make them again.

But these points aside, there is something about blog that bothers me and I'm not sure I can put it into words. In its simplest form, I think what concerns me is this: blogs make private information public, by their very nature.  Depending on the blog, you can find anything from very private posting to items that more befit a newspaper column. And it is the sharing of overly personal information that bothers me. We already have more content to deal with in a given day than we can deal. Sharing personal information inappropriately just adds insult to injury.

There's more to it than that I think. Increasingly I see the average worker is busier than ever before. At the same time, the technology that makes all this social networking possible is everywhere. We are forced to squeeze out social connections in short bursts because we don't have time for anything else. Humans are social creatures by nature; we need to interact with others but socializing takes more time that we don't have. Is it any wonder that social networking is now huge.

And so blogging is one way for the writer to make a connection with his or her readers. The blogger must find a way to pierce the veil of the computer screen can grab your attention in order to connect with you. Ironically, I never know if I succeed. So I keep pitching and hoping at least one of these topics goes over the plate so you can hit it out of the park.

If I succeed, I'll let you know.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Code of Silence

I recently received another rejection on my novel. It was the standard sort of rejection. "Your novel needs work. We are going to pass."

Angry that they didn't say more and curious as to what they thought needed work, I asked to do something I've never done before. I asked for specifics. My reasoning here was simple: if I don't know what was wrong I can't fix it.

They responded and told me what they thought was wrong. I won't bore you all with the details suffice to say it stung, worse than the original rejection. But I thought about it overnight and the next morning got to work on my revision.

As I worked, I realized the comments were correct. And then I got angry again because no one told me this before. Let me pause here to say that my novel has been read by several people, all of whom are suppose to be professionals in the publishing world. One of these people, I've come to realize really isn't very good at his job. But the rest of them should have given me some concrete feedback. They didn't and that just fuels my anger.

There appears to be a code of silence among publishers not to give writers the feedback they need to improve. We are suppose to guess or learn by osmosis or something.

It's ludicrous. I could have fixed my novel months ago if someone, any one, had spoken up. I know why they don't. They don't want to be responsible for crushing my dreams of publication. And I understand that. What they don't realize is that I've been writing for years and rule 1 in writing is you check the ego at the door. The critique is on the work not the person. If the writing is not working, then I need to know, I need feedback, to make it better. Vague replies like, "You novel needs work," are equivalent to not responding at all.

So I am now going to make it habit to ask what is wrong so I can improve my work because for the first time in a long while, it feels like the novel is finally on the right track.

Caution: If you decide to do the same, make sure you can handle the truth. I don't handle rejection well at all and it took me about a day to get past the hurt. And if truth be told, I nearly junked the entire novel and gave up.  What stopped me? My own stubbornness and a few good Facebook friends.  If your support system isn't there you might want to wait or have someone  else read your work. Someone who is tactful but honest. That way, you get the feedback you need and don't give up either.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Fictional Truth

Truth in fiction is an interesting idea. It sounds like an oxymoron but it's not. A story needs its own truth: a set of facts that are true. They don't need to confirm to the physical rules of our universe but they need to be consistent by themselves. For example, rules for magic, rules for jump drives, that sort of thing. You also need a consistent history that makes sense.

Once upon a time, I made the rookie mistake of not defining my history before I wrote my story only to find it changing out from under me as I edited. Later I developed a backstory and stuck to it, refining as I went but not modifying it greatly.

How detailed does all this information need to be? Enough so you can answer any question about that might come up. For example, when casting a spell, what happens? Does the spellcaster lose a body part or just gets tired? In terms of a backstory, you should know the major characters, their goals, ambitions, and so on. In general you will need far more backstory than you think. Most of it will be off-camera but it is important because it drives things that are on camera.

Example: In my fantasy novel, the main character fights necromancers. This requires me to develop rules around necromancers. How are they organized? What are their goals? Why is it that never seem to go away? One group is captured or killed and two more spring up. What's that about?

How I answer these questions determines much about the story in which they appear and the reaction and approach the main character takes in combatting them. For example, in my first novel, they seek to steal a magic gem to create a mind control device. But in the second novel, they abduct the local nobility on a hunting trip and have him possessed. Their hope in that case is to have the demon possessing the noble rule the land.

But I chose the title for this post for another reason too. The fiction you want must reveal the truth as well as have it's own truth. As I mentioned in another post, I have a scene with two lovers based loosely on my relationship with my wife. The scene shows the man's reaction much the way I would react, and I think, much the way most men would react, to this woman. In that scene it is universal and most people can identify with because it reveals a truth about relationships.

That's said, I don't often find places to include such scenes. But they do present themselves. Watch for them and take advantage of them. The reader will appreciate it I think.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Mommy, where do ideas come from?

Ideas. Few things give me as much joy as a good idea. When a story goes along and there's a such twist that makes sense or the bigger picture is revealed, I usually get a chill and that's the sign of a great idea.

But where do they come from? It varies. Different people are inspired differently. Many people credit their muse. I don't. I have no muse. Or if I do, then she is a sneak thief that comes in the night, wearing all black like some special ops unit. Ninja muse, shall we say.

That point aside, my ideas are the result of my past and my experience; books I've read, movies I've seen, even music I've heard. It is all one and it all comes to bear when I create something. I purposely do research by reading widely. History is critical because I borrow heavily from the medieval period for things like how did government work, how did guilds works, the life of peasants, the size of the population, that sort of thing.

Plots for stories cook in the crucible of my mind. Some arrive fully baked; others skip the cooking process and arrive raw like sushi. For example, the original plot for the Aglaril Cycle, my fantasy series, arrived raw. I've had to put it in a kiln to blast away all the silly bits. One example of this is the main character, Evan Pierce. Originally he was a former demon hunter who was cursed and returned to his home town to live out his life. His former friends come looking for him because they have no idea what happened to him.

On reflection, that seemed silly to me. It is too melodramatic. So I simplified it a bit: Evan is demon hunter. He returns to his home town to rest after a series of hard missions. When he arrives in town he learns something that drives the plot forward.

Other ideas come at the moment of creation. For example, the map of Thalacia, (see the map link in the toolbar for the visual) was a doodle on graph paper originally. I wasn't trying to create a land mass for the stories I would write. In fact at the time, writing wasn't even a twinkle in my eye. Later, when I needed a place to set the stories, I remembered the doodle and filled in the terrain and vegetation.

Like many good writers, I also draw from my past when I need verisimilitude. For example, there's a scene with James and Iriel, a pair of lovers, in my first novel told from James's point of view. Much of his reaction is essentially my reaction to my wife because I gave Iriel, an elf, the same love of animals and desire to help others that my wife has. That's not too much of a stretch for an elf, I know but it fit so perfectly that the scene is great because it feels real. Anyone whose been in a relationship should recognize the feelings.

What will work for you? I have no idea. Everyone is different. You'll need to experience and try different approaches and different techniques. Most likely it will just happen when you least expect it. Suddenly an idea will seize you. Or you'll wake up from a dream and realize you had a great idea. Pay attention to these moments. They are rare gifts; jewels to be savored and enjoyed. Then run with them and see where they take you.

Monday, September 6, 2010

If You Want Something Done Right...

I promised myself I wouldn't blog on this topic but I can't ignore it anymore. There are just too many vaguaries around self-publishing and I am torn about it myself. So I want to layout the facts, list the pros and cons, and assess the results. I'd also like your input. If you've got anything to say on this subject I'd like to hear it.

Let me start by saying that by self-publishing, I mean Print on Demand (POD) using a service like, CreateSpace, iUniverse, or similar service. I am not talking about a vanity press where you pay all kinds of money to get your work published. Print on Demand is better because the reader pays to have the book printed when he or she orders it. Your cost should be very low to set this up. However, if you go to a convention or trade show or even a flea market and order 50 copies to sell there, you'll need to pay for them up front.

It seems to me that the benefits of self-publishing are clear:
  • You retain all rights.
  • You control all aspects of the project so it gets done your way.
  • There are plenty of good services you can use. As I mentioned before, Lulu, CreateSpace, and others let you create a really nice, professional-looking book.
  • There are plenty of distribution channels you can use to promote your work. Smashwords, Amazon, Apple's iBook store, and others let you post electronic version of your book. Lulu also lets you set up a web site to help you sell your book. You will have to convert your book to Kindle and iBook format but that's probably worth the effort to get the book in wider distribution.
  • No rejections; yet least no explicit rejections. The reader may still reject your work and not purchase it.
The drawbacks seem pretty clear too:
  • You control all aspects of the project so if you don't have an eye for detail, quality can suffer. This can manifest itself in the form of poor editing, poor cover art, and poor production value if you go with a service that yields a low quality book.
  • You assume all the risk for the project; if it does not sell you can lose a lot of money. Even using a POD service, you'll probably have to pay for artwork and maybe editing or proofreading and then any copies you order to sell. If the book does not sell, this could cost you thousands of dollars.
  • You miss out on having the experience and expertise that a publishing house can bring to your project. This is a huge one for me. I don't assume I know all the ins and outs of publishing or selling books. Being able to work with folks who know this stuff would be a tremendous asset for me personally and the overall success of the book, it seems to me. I'm sure I could learn much from working with such folks.
  • There is a bias against self-published works; after all if the work was really good wouldn't some publishing house/small press have picked it up? There really a false argument, I know. So let me rephrase that. For many readers, a self-published book is a big risk. What are the risks? That the story meets some general minimum standard of fiction in the genre, that the book has been edited and proofread by professionals. Without these, who knows what you will get?
Let me also dispel a few myths. The following items are not relevant to the discussion because you have to deal with them regardless of how you publish:
  • Promotion, regardless of how you publish, you need to promote your work youself.
  • Reviews, regardless of how you publish, it will not affect your reviews; chances are you will need to give to someone to review.
So what does that leave me? Well, the first two drawbacks I can mitigate. Using Facebook, I found a really cool artist for the art cover and someone to proofread my work. I'm pretty good at editing and proofreading too so these are not issues. 

As for the last bullet point, there's really not anything to be done about it. I can't control what the reader thinks. What I can do, it get some reviews and use the best ones to promote the book. That will show someone else read it and liked it. 

But I can't get passed the third point. I want to work with publishing professional as my first books go to press. I want to learn from them. I think that's the main reason for me not to self-publish. That may be silly and given the way life works, I may have to self-publish so that someone sees how good my novels are. But for now, I think I'm on the path of submitting to small presses and hoping I can sell my work.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Anticipating the Future

Like most major cities, Boston's residential areas are divided into neighbors. As a boy, I grew up in Mattapan, at the southern end of the city. I was happy there for eleven years living in a two-family house. My grandparents upstairs and my father, mother, and brothers downstairs.

The summer before I entered junior high school we moved to a suburb south of the city. There I discovered my ability to weave tales and focusing on writing. It is amazing that I did this because we were not welcome by the town we had moved to. That fall, my two older brothers and myself were harassed mostly for differences in our religious beliefs, but partly also because we were outsiders and the neighbor was quite xenophobic. That Halloween our house was egged and overall we were made to feel very unwelcome.

I remember dreading going to school each day, fearing the harassment I would have to endure. But most of my fears never materialized. One of the curses of having a good imagination is I can always envision something far more awful than reality actual produces. I suppose that's one reason I write fiction; my reality is by far more uneventful than my stories. But I digress.

The moral of that experience I realized many years later: anticipating the future is pointless. Worrying about the future is equally useless because mostly of our fears never come to pass. Life has a way of throwing curves and when you least expect it. These are little tests of character. I usually failure at them but I don't worry about them. I learn from each experience so that the next test is easier to deal with.

I also try to stay focus and deal with the present. If I'm lucky I plan a little for the future too. I don't plan too far ahead because often, when I do, it is for naught. Something happens to make those plans impossible. For example, I plan in October my vacation the following spring. My wife and I decide to go to Atlantic City. But that winter a bad storm damages part of the house and the money that would've gone to vacation must now go to repair the damage.

Moral 2: We need patience. As writers we need a lot of patience because we wait a lot of the time. We wait for stories to be accepted. We wait for them to be printed. We wait for reviews. We wait for our careers to take off. The anticipation can be as crushing as fear or doubt, two of my best friends and two of my worse enemies.

This is another reason why I deal with the present because if I get too far ahead of myself, I waste time planning for things that never happen. However, I must admit I'm terrible at waiting. I really hate waiting  and my only trick to get through it all is not to think about it. That's not hard; usually there are lots of other things that need my attention.

Most of us have a thick skin since we deal with reviews and critiques regularly. We also know how to focus on our work or we'd never gotten anything out the door in the first place. Using those skills, you should be able to cultivate a new one: the ability to ignore the irrelevant. By 'irrelevant' I mean things beyond our control or things we cannot change. For example, once the story is out of my hands and published I am forced to accept the comments of others good or bad. I am forced to accept the publication schedule of the publishing house that I submitted my work to. So there's nothing for me to do but stay focused and keep writing, promote the book, show up for blog tours, or a book signing, or whatever else I plan to do to sell my work.

We need this ability because without it we are likely to stress over things that are out of our hands. And, speaking strictly in medical terms, stress is far worse than fear or doubt. Stress can kill if you do not control it. Stress can keep up at night when you should sleep and stress can eliminate all coping mechanisms you have turning you into a non-functioning mess. Consequently, if you don't have this ability yet, I recommend trying to cultivate it through regular practice.

So stay focused and keep writing. The future will take care of itself.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Embrace the Dark Side -- Gently

As a writer, I try to encourage and enjoy a person's more positive qualities: their creativity, their ability to reason, to problem-solve, and appreciate the contribution that these qualities they make our culture and society. These qualities allow us to maintain and develop our civilization. Conversely, I'm not a big fan of the darker side of human nature, the side that seeks to destroy and tear down things. It likes strife, and hatred, and war, and violence, and anger.

And yet, in one of those supreme twists of irony, without strife and conflict, my career path of choice -- writing fiction -- is not possible. I need people to have a dark side or I have nothing to write about. It reminds me of -- of all things -- a Star Trek episode, where Captain Kirk is split in two and learns that without his dark half he cannot command his starship. And to that point, I, as a writer, need my positive qualities and my darker side to create fiction, hone it, and temper it like a blacksmith making a fine sword.

That doesn't mean I'm a big fan of humanity's darker nature, just that I've learned to accept it and work with it. This was no always so. I spent many years hating my darker side or denying its existence. Doing so was pointless and self-inhibiting; I realize that now. But at the time I thought it was possible for people to rise above their more base and debauched nature. Silly me. If that were possible we'd have done it already.

Then I thought it serves no purpose in stories and wrote adolescent tripe about characters with lots of internal conflicts but not much plot or action. Very juvenile. Once I matured I realized just how bad those drafts were and never looked at them again.

About the same time I realized that good stories need conflict, they need a hero, and they need a villain. And if I was going to write good fiction I'd need to embrace humanity's darker side, my darker side. The problem I had with that was, as I've said, I really didn't care for the darker side of human nature. In a story, it's one thing; it helps more the story along, and if I'm lucky helps to reveal a hidden truth about people. But in the real world it means someone is suffering for whatever reason, whether through circumstance or not. 'Life is pain' says the Man in Black to Princess Buttercup. He's right, of course, and that's a sad thought.

Of course that's the way the world works. Someone is always suffering and my pragmatic side stepped in at that point and reminded me that unless I was God (which I'm not) someone in the world will probably be always be suffering. I can try to help and contribute and entertain folks with my stories but I can't end the suffering. I don't think any one person can.

Many publishers will accept some level of violence too but, according to the submission guidelines I've read, don't want it to be excessive or glorified. Enough for the story but not so much as to sicken the reader. I agree with that. But that raises the question how much is too much? When do you cross the line? More importantly will all my readers, especially the younger ones, the teen set, be able to distinguish between the violence I include in a story (or work of art) and the violence they see in the world around them? I've certainly read reports of psychological studies that point out children having difficulties distinguishing between real world violence (from the nightly news, let's say) and violence from a cartoon or movie.

This is where the ratings for movies and TV comes in and is partially the reason publisher want violence used more like a spice to the dish and not make it the whole entree. So I needn't describe the gruesome details of how the villain dies went his own magic dagger is turned against him and his withers away as his soul is eaten by said dagger. I envision it much the way the Nazi turn to dust at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark. But rather than give that much detail, which I think is excessive, I merely say, he aged quickly and turned to dust. I leave the rest for the imagination.

And I think that's the point. We, as writers, need to write with a bit of vagueness, I think, particularly when it comes to violence. Being a little vague or implicit is a spice and it leaves the reader room to use his or her imagination in a way that being explicit destroys.

So embrace your dark side but do it carefully, responsibly, and respectfully. Do it to become a better person and a better writer, not to go off half crazed and become the next mass-murderer or manipulative cult leader. Do it to lift up our culture and our society. That is our role as writers and artists. Any thing else is a disservice to our readers and, more importantly, ourselves.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Don't Just Sit There -- Network!

Over the course of my life, my father, while he was alive, tried to give me advice about certain things. Most of it made no sense to me; however, one thing he told me about looking for work that has stuck with me was, "You've got to sell yourself."

At the time I had an immediate reaction of "Blah! That sounds awful." I didn't say that to him but I thought it and spent many years giving very bad interviews because I ignored that advice.

In the world of writing and publishing this advice is even more true. You've got to sell yourself and your work or you go nowhere. There are many ways to do that, but one of the most effective is to network with other writers and the people who can publish your work.

These days networking is easier than at any time in the past. Social sites, such as Facebook, make it easy to connect to thousands of people. You, as a writer, should get in the habit of connecting to some number of people in a given week. How many is enough? Hard to say and, since some sites put up blocks if you try to connect with too many people too quickly to guard against sexual predators and others with less than honorable intentions, you probably want to start small and connect with two to three new people a week. Look at their online profiles, see what they post. Respond to the post, get to know them.

To some this will seem like an invasion of privacy to the person you are connecting to. But they can reject the connection so it isn't really. Others may say, 'I'm prepared to network once I have something to sell.' Let me suggest that a good network is as important (or in some ways more important) than the stories you are writing. 

If that thought strikes you as odd, think about it for a minute. What is the function of your network? Answer: it is there to support you, just as you support the people in your network. The support comes in several ways. For example, it may come when you hit an issue in your writing or it may give you some leads for new markets that open. Often it will spark interesting discussion points about writing. But primarily if they are there to support you when you sell something, they will buy your book, or electronic magazine with your story in it, just as you should to the same when they sell something.

I'm sure some people don't like that idea because it means the only reason I am connecting with people is so I can sell them something. That's not entirely true. As I said, you want to get to know them personally. You want to get to know the people you connect with and support them in lots of ways that don't involve selling anything to anyone. You want to make them friends. Once you've done that, then the rest should happen naturally. I fully expect that whenever my books go on sale that my friends, my real friends, will go out and buy a copy. Some may read it, some may not. But they will buy a copy and that's the important part. Will I ask my network to buy my books? Sure, of course, I'd be stupid not to, but I will ask only once and then as politely as possible because I know what an enormous favor they are doing for me.

Of course, that's the theory of how it should work. Some people won't want to make friends with you; they just want to connect to you so they can sell to you. So be it. That's their choice. Others will try to get whatever they can from you and ignore your selling efforts to them. That's their choice too. But I think these people forget about human nature. I'm far more likely to help and support people who help and support me. It's like the song says: 'Nothing comes from nothing, nothing ever could'. 

That may sound hard and cruel but in my opinion, that's the way it is. So if you've been content to sit and write and let the world go by, get up and get out there. Network!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Preparing to Sell Your Work

It seems I've reached stage two of the journey toward publication. Stage one is the initial part all about writing. You know this part, where you have an idea for a novel or story and you write it. You work hard for weeks or months to complete your writing project, polishing it so that it is ready to go out into the world.

Stage two is all about selling your work. The selling process changes a few things. For example, during the writing phasing I kept the draft of my book in a single file.  Now, however, I need to give out pieces to editors and publishers so that approach isn't the best. What I need is a way to write individual chapters so I can send them out when needed and still create a single complete copy for anyone who want to see the whole thing.

I also need to single-source the novel so I don't have multiple copies of the novel floating around. Microsoft Word won't do for this, which is unfortunate because the distribution format still needs to be .doc or .rtf since that's what most places want.

InDesign would good except it doesn't export to .doc or .rtf. I need something else.

Enter Scrivener. On a whim I decided to check out this software. It meets all my requirements beautifully. The only problem it is not cross-platform. It is only available for Mac OS X. (Now there's a switch). For me, that's not an issue. My Macintosh box is my primary writing machine. For others, it will be. However, Windows users can use FrameMaker which can support this same workflow once you add an extension to export to RTF. One caution: FrameMaker requires a lot of time to learn to use it properly so if you can't do that, look for another authoring tool. FrameMaker is also pricy. Scrivener is only $40.

Another change, as least for me, is patience. I hate waiting and it seems to me that in the submission process that's all I do. I suppose, that gives me more time for other things since simultaneous submissions is generally frowned on. 

And then of course there's the promotion aspect. I need to promote what I have, my blog, my ideas, my skills and experience. That means surfing the web looking for places and ways to sound the trumpet and let people know I'm here. That's a huge time-sink. Guess, I know what I'm doing between sending out submissions.

However, before I do that I need to get all my house in order. The blog just got a small makeover. I added a menu bar at the top, and added some images to a few older posts.

Next, I need write about my fantasy world to show it's depth and breath. I started a web site for this information last year but abandoned it in favor of completing the first book in my fantasy series. Now I think I need to reverse that a little and give it some attention while I complete book 2.

What else do I need to do to prepare for selling my work? I don't know,  but I'm sure I'll think of other things. For now this is enough. After all, I still working in stage one too creating new stories and working on new ideas and I don't won't to overload myself.