Sunday, July 31, 2011

Nothing but Delays

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, July 29, 2011

Did someone pummel me or am I getting older?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 25, 2011


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And above daydream and imagine.

Friday, July 22, 2011

In Requiem: Borders Bookstore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, July 18, 2011

A Road Not Taken

I'm sitting here at my desk, where I do a lot of writing and letting my mind wander.  I suppose this is one reason I'm a writer.  I've been letting my mind drift since I was a boy.  Maybe someday it will drift back to me...

And as I sit here, I think about roads not taken.  I don't why I do this.  It is pointless really.  I can't change the past, I can only learn from it to change the future.

But here's a simple thought experiment: what if I had started writing seriously sooner than I did?  Would I be farther along toward my goal of being published?  I don't think so because delay, my procrastination, was necessary for me to have the ideas that lead to the initial plot of my novel in the first place.

Let's step back in time for a moment so I can explain this.  As a high school, I was big into thinking up ideas for stories but not big on execution.  I think the reasons for this are many:  most of the ideas were not very good; I had no writing tools (like word processing software) to assist me; I did not very the focus and discipline to do the writing.

All of these things resolved themselves in college.  My ideas got better, I got my first computer and word processing software, I learned how to stay focused on a piece of writing and ultimately learned how to compose at the keyboard.

But even after college, while I wanted to pursue a life of creative writing, I did not have a really good idea for a story.  There were bits and pieces of my fantasy world, random thoughts, sketches of some maps, but no plot, no characters, nothing that would let me take the reader from point A to point B.

What I lacked, as I discovered later, was life experience.  I needed to go out into the world and have some experiences traveling and working in other jobs to understand myself and people.  Oh sure, I studied psychology and different cultures in school.  But there is a fundamental difference between theory and application.  And so I needed to stop reading about people and places, and start experiencing them.

From these few years I learned much and so when I finally had the idea for my novel, I was ready to receive it and recognize it for what it was.  That's sent me off on the writing path I wanted.

William Wordsworth, the English Romantic poet, believed that art comes from experiences recollected when one is calm and passive.  I think I agree with that.  That seems to be what works for me.  So if I had taken a different road, I might not be blogging now or hammering out my second novel.  I might still be groping for a way to put words on the page.

This is a scary thought and a humbling one too.  And it sustains me when words will not come.

Friday, July 15, 2011

What am I Doing Wrong?

With this blog a little over a year old now, I thought I'd evaluate if it is being effective and achieving the goals I set out when I started the thing.  For those who may not have read the early posts, I started this blog to help promote myself, gather an audience, and ultimately help sell the books I am writing.

In reviewing the last year, I think it is clear that I have gathered an audience.  It is bigger than the people who have subscribed because I hear from people about various posts who are not on the subscription lists.  To this people I would ask to take a few minutes to formally subscribe.  It will help gauge the size of my audience.

And since I now seem to have an audience, I have achieved the goal of promoting myself.  The blog goes out to Twitter, Facebook, Google Buzz, Goodreads, and some other sites I don't recall.  I've also posted links in Delicious, Digg, and Stumbleupon, I believe.  All in the effort to get the blog and myself noticed.

The part that seems to have fallen flat is the selling of books.  I'll be the first to admit that I am not actively promoting my novel at the moment because I am waiting to hear back from the publisher I sent it to.  So let's put that part aside for the moment.

The part I want to focus on is that blogging equal sales.  That seems not to be true, unless I'm doing something wrong.  And that may be.  If anyone sees the error, please let me know.  But I think one reason for the disconnect is the audience for the blog is not the audience for the novel.

To correct that, it occurred to me that I might want to start a second blog (God help me!) to attract the audience of the novel.  This blog would focus on the characters from my novels, relate the history of my fantasy world, and describe different places and magic items. A Facebook friend of mine does something similar to this by writing mini-stories with the characters from her novels.

I figure it is worth a try.  However, I would like the opinions of others.  Let me know what you think.  Thanks.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Summer is Here

I know summer is here when...

  • my air conditioners run all day and my electronic bill is over $100
  • a tick from my tree lands on me and I have to flush it down the toilet.
  • all the flowers in my garden are done blooming and now all I have is weeds.
  • I can film the sunset going down over Boston from the boat that goes to the airport.
  • I eat too much over the weekend and regret the next day.
  • I start pulling up weeds from the cracked in the pavement.

And yet even as I write this, thinking about summer, an electrician is hooking up heating cables in the gutters of my house as I prepare for winter.

But I really don't have many good things to say about summer.  The heat and the humidity are things I can live without.  There's more hours of daylight, I suppose that's good, unless you like to stargaze.

I think what I dislike most about summer, though, is it gives false hope.  It tricks you into thinking that everyday will be warm and bright and nice.  If you live in the northern half of the country, you know that's not true.  The cold is round the corner.  At least in the spring and the fall, days are balanced and varied, which is more like life.  Sometimes it's a good day and sometimes not.  There's light and darkness.  Warmth and cold.  With summer you get none of that, particularly during a heat wave.  The days just stretch on in unvaried, unending order.   I need more variety than that.  Maybe that's why I like to see thunder and hail, it breaks up the monotony.

And of course there's yard work.  Lots and lots of yard work.  Grass to mow; bushes and tree to trim.  Weeds to pull.  Seems like I've got more weeds than anything these days.

But I'm managing.  The second novel progresses slowly because of interruptions from other sources.  Perhaps I should weed out the interruptions next.  Now there's an idea...

Friday, July 8, 2011

Editing with an iPad

As I mentioned in my last post, I tried to work a new revision process, one that let me edit away from my computer.  I wanted this because I find I edit better when reading in a more relaxed venue.  For example, I've lots of errors in text when reading from my Kindle.  I wanted to replicate that for myself during the writing/revision process.

I could have converted my draft to the Kindle, of course, but I'd have no way to edit the text directly.  The Kindle only lets you leave notes so that's like adding comments to a Word or PDF file.  That was not what I was looking for.

I decided I needed a tablet with an app that let me edit my text and the iPad seemed like the logical choice since I work on a Macintosh computer regularly.  The trouble I had was find an app to do the job.  Ultimately, after discarding the notion I would save my story in RTF format, I settled on QuickOffice.

I chose that app because I had used it before on my old PDA and had experience with it.  I also chose it because it could save text in Word format and after discard RTF as my preferred format to work in, Word is the next logical format to use.

Using QuickOffice is easy and editing the text is straightforward but clunky.  This is not because of the app.  This is because of the iPad.  I am so used to having fine control for cursor placement with my mouse, that on the iPad, I really don't.  This is why I think all touch interfaces should use a pen or stylus like my old PDA.

The other odd thing is the auto complete feature is very strange.  Sometimes it works and sometimes it is a place in the ass, introducing errors.  I introduce enough errors of my own when I type, I don't need the machine adding to it when I get it right the first time.

Typing at the keyboard is different too.  A hard press on the keys isn't needed creating more typos than normal.  I also find I can't always type with two hands because certain keystrokes are being missed.  That has everything to do with how I hold my hands and pressure I use.

So it is a different model and the shift it like the one we went through when mice and GUIs were introduced to the computing world in the 1980s.  Still, I think tables may replace laptops because content creation apps are available and more will be coming.  And since tablets are smaller and easier to carry, why use a laptop?  All the tablets need is a port so I can plug in a real keyboard.  Of course if they do that, I can probably go back to using a mouse since most keyboards provide a port for a mouse.

Regardless, I think tablets are another tool in the writer's arsenal and should be used to their fullest advantage.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Revision Process

I've completed a second pass on my second novel.  As soon as I did this, I realized I needed to read through it and start revising for a finished product.

The thought of printing the whole thing and marking it up seemed too daunting.  I didn't want to use all that paper or ink that would be required so I decided to look for another solution.

I have been wanting a way to revise stories away from my keyboard.  A tablet seemed like a good way to go.  That's when I decided to get an iPad and find an app to edit my stories.

Finding the app was the hard part.  My authoring program, Scrivener, syncs with mobile devices but only supports two flavors of text:  plain text and RTF.  I need RTF to preserve the formatting of the stories.  But there is no app that I can find to that edits RTF without showing all the RTF codes.

So I was forced to rely on exporting to Word format and editing my chapters that way.  This is less than ideal because when I bring the files back into Scrivener they are converted back to RTF so I have to check the format and apply styles as appropriate.

This is not the workflow I wanted, but it is what I've got to live with for now.  The technology just isn't there for RTF files. 

But here's the ironic part:  once I did all this for the first ten chapters of the novel, I decided I needed to print them out and copy edit them anyway.  I even got out my red pencil, which I've not used since I was 10.

So much for the hi-tech solution.  I should have known better.  Very often low-tech beats hi-tech and that is certain true here.  Sort of making me feel like the silly rabbit in the Trix commercials.

Friday, July 1, 2011

The Writer's Curse

The curse of most writers (and certainly all writers when they first start practicing their craft) is that they write without knowing how their work is received.  Once a story or poem or even a blog post goes out into the world, it has its own life separate from the person who wrote it.  This is much like what happens when a child leaves home to make his or her way in the world.

For me, this is very true because I almost never get feedback so I never know if my writing is achieving the effect I am seeking.  This is very unfortunate because more than anything else, I crave that feedback.  If you've read the early posts in this blog, you'll know that I believe writing is for sharing.  It is only when the words are read and have an effect that the circuit is complete and the mission accomplished.  The effect might not be the one I want -- the reader may hate my work -- but any effect means I'm done.  If I'm lucky, the reader likes my story and if I'm really lucky I get feedback.  And that is the moment I want, not frame or riches or anything else; I just want to connect to my readers and share my ideas.

And I'm not looking for validation either.  If someone doesn't like my story, fine; that's their opinion.  But if the reader does enjoy it, so much the better.  Then I've happy because I am trying to entertain with my stories so I want people to enjoy them.

I say all this because I discovered two mentions on Twitter the other day.  One person liked the blog which made me quite happy to hear.  I don't think this person is subscribed to my blog directly, I think he picks it up through the automatic Twitter repost I set up, which reinenforces my point.  The blog is out there and anyone can find it and read it and enjoy it.  The lesson for me is to check Twitter more often.

The other mention was someone checking out my novel.  I wish I had seen that back in Decemeber when the tweet was posted.  But again the book is having a life separate from mine, so no harm done.

In both cases I tweeted back to these folks expressing thanks and my hope that they enjoyed the work.  In both cases I got no reply back (not that I was expecting one).

And so life continues.  Work on Book 2 progresses.  I wait patiently for word about the revised novel from the publisher.  And I look for feedback on my work, hoping to hear something.  The silence is definitely deafening.