Monday, December 31, 2012

The Year in Review and a Look Ahead

I began 2012 knowing that I had interested a publisher -- Aziza Publishing -- but without having an actual contract to publish my novel, Aure the Topaz. But we began negotiating a deal which I signed in April. Since then I've been through two rounds of edits and have reviewed a book design brief. I'm expecting book cover designs by the end of this week, after which we will discuss promotions, book tours, and hopefully a book trailer. My novel is due out within the next three months.

I also began 2012 with a nearly completed draft of Book 2, Vorn, the Onyx. I completed that book in September and put it away. I expect to submit the book to Aziza in 2013. The exact timing is unclear but I expect it will be in the second half of the year so we can all focus on selling my first novel.

A draft of Book 3 was in progress when 2012 began and I completed that draft in March. I've gone back since to revise the novel and to clean up parts that were vague or didn't seem to ring true. I expect that process will continue through 2013 and I don't expect to put this book away until Vorn is in Aziza's hands.

Book 4 was started this year and I continue to work on it. I expect to complete a draft of the novel in 2013.

2012 was also a busy time on the short story front. I completed six or seven short pieces over the summer and submitted the best ones into competition in September (four stories in all). I will hear back on these in 2013 and will release them to the public thereafter.

I released three new stories to Smashwords and Amazon and came to realize that I really need to give these stories away for now so that I can get people to read my work and recognize my name. This is all part of an overall plan to sell my novels. Later I will collect my short stories into a volume and sell them through a publisher of my choosing.

And I continue to write poetry. I've got about 25 poems now in my collection and I'm working toward a goal of 50 or 100 pieces so that I can release the work to the public. No date is set for this.

Happy New Year, everyone!

And keep writing.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Clarity in an Instant

I've been working on Book 4 and I finally reach the point where the action picks up and the writing is much easier. Usually when I reach these points I stop and look back, which is exactly what I did here. It was obvious to me that Iriel's reaction to killing her mother was not severe enough. Sure, the woman was a perfect stranger to Iriel after having been gone forty years but aside from a little consternation at the beginning of the book, you'd never know Iriel was affected by her actions.

So I stepped back and reasoned that if I made Iriel moody and unpleasant, a reversal from her normal self, that would suffice. Suddenly in an instant, I realized that this book is about Iriel's journey dealing with her mother's death and the fact that she, Iriel, killed the woman.

You might think that Iriel couldn't possibly have done such a thing. But in fact Iriel had many good reasons for killing her mother, the primary one being she was the enemy. The elves in my world are split by political differences and one group has gone to war with the humans as a result. Iriel's mother was one of these elves. She had to die or everything Iriel believed in and all her human friends -- including James -- would be exposed and at risk.

But that does not change the fact that should be side effects or some consequences to the character should he or she kill a parent. And so I decide that is Iriel's journey in Book 4 and it is resolved when later James nearly dies and she realizes what is really important to her.

In the meantime, all my other plots and subplots remain intact -- more or less -- so all I have to do now is revise the beginning of the book I've already written, add the rest of the story to my draft, and then shake well and serve.

That should keep me busy well into March I'm thinking. But we'll see. I'm just glad I suddenly realized what to do with this book because I had been struggling with it and it was starting to annoy me.

Keep writing everyone.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Hooking your Audience

I'm back actively writing Book 4. I'm about a third into it and the action has started to build. That's good. But as I look back on the whole book so far, I'm realizing my hook is weak. That's bad.

As a rule, you want to have a strong hook to start your story so that the reader will become engaged and keep reading. For example, in Book 2, I start by showing Amanda's attempted abduction by the witch. Afterwards we learn that the witch has already abducted four other children. Since harming children is troubling to most, it works as a hook because we immediately want Evan and his companions to rescue these girls.

In Book 4, however, I have no such hook. The reader may be concerned about Iriel -- she recently had to choose between the mother that abandoned her and her friends. But I dispense with that in a few pages. Iriel is fine -- but not really. She is acting more human than elven. But I'm not sure that's enough to hook the reader. And there's no real action.  Oh sure, each character has his or her own plot but that may not be enough either.

Of course, I'm talking about the fourth book in a series. So maybe I don't need a strong hook. Maybe the characters themselves are enough. But I don't think I'm going to rely on that. Time for some revision I think.

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Week in Review

It is strange how the mind works sometimes. Case in point: many years ago, during my first attempt at writing creative fiction, I began work on a story. As you might imagine I ran into all kind of problems because I was new at this. The biggest issue was how to end the story. I couldn't find one that satisfied me so I abandoned the project and didn't try to writing a novel for another five years.

Now fast forward to the present. I woke up the other day and realized with an epiphany how to end my old story. I couldn't believe it and the answer was so simple. So I've dusted off my old files and have begun to re-read and revise them.

It is safe to say that I'm a better writer now than I was then and I expect some of the writing needs a little work. But the story was never really finished and had other issues that I need to address. So I've made it my back burner project so that I don't distract myself from working on Book 4.

I wrapped up my review of Book 3 last week and it will sit now for awhile. I shouldn't need to look at it again until Book 2 goes to the publisher and that won't happen until after Book 1 is released so I've got about a month or two I think.

I can still waiting to see book cover samples from the publisher. Supposedly they are working on this. And in the meantime, I thought now was a good time to have professional photos of myself taken. I need these for my media kit and for the back cover of Book 1. Fortunately, my wife is a photographer and has connections with other local photographers so she was able to get the use of a studio at no cost.

She is now reviewing and adjusting a few minor items, after which I will pick one for the back cover and perhaps update my Facebook page too. We'll see.

Keep writing everyone.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Violent Society?

Like many people over the last few days I've been watching the news about the event in Connecticut. Repeatedly I am hearing the talking heads say we live in a violent society. That's true but it does not have to be. I think it is time we reject violence we way we would a drugs in our community and find non-violent ways of handling life's challenges.

That will not be easy, of course. We are savages with 100,000 years of blood on our hands. But we can't we stop? Can't have a day where no one kills anyone? Doesn't being civilized means having non-violent ways to resolve differences and handle our internal conflicts? I thought so but the veneer of civilization is wearing thin it seems.

And yet I am hopeful that we can change and stop the killing. And we must change and educate ourselves and others about different warning signs for internal turmoil. We must look for individuals who have forgotten that in our society we often must compromise so that everyone gets something they want as we try to achieve the greatest good for the largest number of people or who do not practice tolerance for others in all aspects of our lives. We must love each other to the best of our ability.

Doing these things along will not solve the problems we have as our society, but I think it is a good first step and is something we can do immediately without the long debate that has already started on how do we avoid another tragedy of this kind.

You'll notice I have not said anything about policy changes or removal of guns. This is for others to examine and deal with. Frankly I am not sure we can do anything about guns and I'm not sure new laws will help. This is an issue of the most basic kind: how we help others who behave oddly? If the mother of the killer had gotten her son help immediately, the killings might have been prevented. But is it obvious to all want she should have done? Did she even have access to the proper healthcare services?

I don't know. But I do know that we must fight against violence in all forms and try to transform our society into one that is more tolerant, more caring, and one in which 6-year-olds can go to school without fear of being murdered.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Cover Art

My publisher did send me a design brief on schedule but for some reason I did not receive the email. I followed up with them and they resent it. The brief showed my the fonts they were thinking of using on the cover and some sample images.

My reply was for them to create a crude cover so I could see the overall effect. They did this and immediately they realized one of the fonts was not going to work.

They are now in the progress of develop multiple cover designs for my review. My only real requirement for the artwork is that it be a scene from the book showing the gem about which all the action revolves. The title is Aure, the Topaz after all. It should be front and center.

That's my opinion; I don't know if the publisher agrees. We'll see.

I am also told that once we settle on the cover art, they will start looking at and discussing with me book promotion, book tours, and that sort of thing.

I can't wait. This is really what the last year has been about. Getting to this point.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Small Presses are a Writer's Best Friend

I read an interesting article in the Dec 10 issue of Time magazine about self-publishing. The article describes a new trend: the recent self-publishing blockbusters that have made lots of money for the writers involved. It goes on to describe how many other writers are trying to emulate that but the article admits many self-published writers are not likely to see that sort of fame.

Several points other were made too that I think are worth noting:

  • Amazon owns the majority of the self-publishing space. If your work in not in Amazon and available for the Kindle, it does not exist.
  • That in order to sell self-published work the price needs to be as low as possible. Making your work free may help you get an audience if that's your initial goal.
  • The audience for your work is small -- smaller than you think -- because there is so much content and so many people are writing and self-publishing now. The readers only have so much bandwidth; so you are a very small voice and a very, very large chorus.
But while the article confirmed several points I had long suspected, it was not a balanced piece. It only discussed two options for writers looking to publish and attract an audience: either traditional publishing with one of the six main publishers or self-publishing.

Obviously, no traditional publisher will look at a new writer (although Harper-Collins did run an event recently in which new writers could submit their work). And self-publishing is a hard road because you have do everything yourself or hire people to edit, create cover art, lay out the book, help with the promotion, and so on. You can end up working long hours with little or no reward to start.

But there's another road, one not discussed in the Time magazine article. You can find a small press to publish your work. A small press is like a traditional publisher but isn't, so you won't get a great deal initially for your work -- you are an untried commodity after all. But they will help with many things so you don't have to do them, like the cover art, and developing a promotion campaign, and so on. They will work with you to help make your book a success. You will still have to go out and sell the book. But you'd have to do that anyway if you self-published. 

And frankly, after having a taste of the self-publishing world, I think I prefer using a small press for novels. My short pieces I can give away for now as a sort of advertising of my work. But my novels will not be given away. I've worked too long and hard on them. So if you are not having success with self-publishing, you might try to find a small press and see if you have better luck there.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Following Your Own Path

I've written several blog posts on about writing. In my view, writing is a social thing. You tell a story to an audience and they react by liking it or not. In that way, it is like having a conversation. Writing is also entertainment, of course, and so it should entertain, allow the audience to escape for a time, suspend their disbelief, and so on.

I've also talked about how the business end of sell books for a newly minted author is like having a small business. I'll be the one carrying much of the load to sell, promote, and push my books into the hands of others.

But there's another aspect to all this which occurred to me the other day. Up until recently, I was a victim of fate in the sense that I used by skills and experience to deal with whatever came my way. I wasn't actively charting a specific course, I was just going whichever way the wind was blowing.

Oh sure there were brief moments where I made plans and saw them through but those were the exception not the rule.

But then I began writing and eventually I reach a point where I had a book that was worth publishing, at least I thought so and I began seeking a publisher. I've described some of those efforts here and how they met with rejection until late last year. Now, with my novel only a few months from release I see that I am in fact charting a course. A very specific one. One of my choosing. And this too makes me very much like a small businessman. It is the American ideal come to life, where a man chooses a path and follows it.

I won't belabor that or whip into some romantic notion. But the notion did surprise me because I think of writing as an art but you need to be part businessman too. It also is kind of exciting in a way. I hope it does well. But regardless of what happens I will follow this new path that I created and see where it leads. In a way, that makes me like a character in one of my novels, spelunking some dark caverns or exploring the wilderness to see what treasures might lie just beyond the next turn in the road.

Keep writing everyone.

Monday, December 3, 2012

I'll Keep it Brief

I had hoped to have been able to share here some few details about the book design document my publisher said was coming last week. But I've not received anything so, of course, I can't. I've been told that the document will include information on the font being used in Book 1 and will give me my initial peak at the cover art.

That's where my interest lies. What will the cover of the book look like?

I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised that they are late again with something they have promised. They seem to run late on everything. The contract took months longer than I thought it would. And the first round of revisions weren't started until about a month after I gave them the final draft.

Perhaps that's normal; I don't know as I've not worked with any other publisher. But it seems to me if you set my expectation you had better meet that expectation. On the other hand, a few more days won't make much difference. Still, I think I will prod them a little to see what is going on.

And if I receive something between now and my next post, I'll share what I can.

Keep writing, everyone.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Striking Gold

Sometimes when writing a story, I suddenly realize the best approach to tell it. When this happens, the entire story comes into focus and go off and revise it according to my vision.

That happened this week while revising the first 30 chapters of Book 3. I began reading the story to remember what was in there but as I went I began to see loose ends -- plots not completed, actions not taken, and so on -- so I went in and began making corrections.

But even as I did that, revising for continuity, I began to see where the story was going. I was apparently trying to get the characters to mistrust Nancy. But I was doing it as an afterthought. I decided if that was the goal, it would be better to plant clues early and build toward mistrust.

So I did. Now I start almost immediately after meeting her. The characters notice a few odd things. I also have her try to pry into their affairs -- a total stranger. We might not think much of that but they have enemies and need to be careful who they confide in.

After the third odd comment from Nancy, Ahlan begins to have doubts about her. Then when he talks to Brashani, who does not trust her because he is the suspicious type by nature, that part of the plot ignites and they try to learn as must about her as they can without tipping their hand. None of this helps and so they must wait a little. In the meantime, the tension builds because they are attacked by an evil elf, who happens to be one of the aforementioned enemies they have.

All these revisions are now complete and the novel is better I think but I still need to go back and read it again from the start to ensure these changes work. The important thing is I now have a plan in regard to the opening of the book. That's important because even in Book 4, I need to hook the reader. If I don't he or she won't read Book 5.

The moral here is this: pay attention to what you are doing in your story. If you moving in a direction, then commit to it. Plan for that action from the start and revise the story accordingly. If you are lost, and the story seems aimless, stop and think what changes you can make to get back on track.

Above all, revise, revise, revise. And don't stop until the story is saying what you want to.

Keep writing everyone.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Gear Switching

The plot I created for Book 4 before I started working on it was based on the original draft of the entire story from 2008. In the current revision, I had to add more details and information from the end of Book 3 because the story has changed so much. I finally got to the point where I can connect the draft of Book 4 that I have with the 2008 draft.

But before doing that I thought, I should work on Book 3 a little more to make sure there are no surprises that will impact Book 4. And, of course, as I spent the weekend re-reading Book 3 I began to see that not only do I need to revise Book 4 for continuity, but Book 3 also needs revision.

I sort of knew that last part but with Book 2 waiting for the publisher I saw no rush to revise Book 3. However, it needs some amount of revision so I can continue on with Book 4. So I'm switching gears and fixing Book 3 for one reason: I do not want to write this story out of order. 

I've tried that before and it almost always means more revision than I would have had otherwise because story continuity is all over the map. It is far better for me to stop work on Book 4 and revise Book 3 as needed, noting any loose ends and then move forward with Book 4.

And I've already seen that James realizes he is in love with Iriel in Book 3. In Book 4 Iriel suggests they get married. James's reaction to that needs revision because I had forgotten his realization from Book 3.

That's only one example but it illustrates my point about continuity. So back to Book 3 I go.

And that's one of the biggest challenges with a multiple book series: continuity. Keeping all the details straight is hard and requires that I constantly go back and forward between different scenes in different books to make sure I get reactions and specific facts correct.

And it is not just keeping the facts straight; it is the implications of facts as well so an overall consistency in the world. For example, given the distances the characters have to travel it would be have hard to carry enough water for more than a few days. So I decided that wells would have been dug early in the kingdom's history. Once I decided on this, the implications mean that:

a. the characters do not have to purchase water for their journey ahead of time
b. I need to include scene where they reach public wells for water
c. use the wells as a place to meet others who are doing the same.

And there are other things I can do with this one fact, depending on how far I want to go.

So I dropping back to Book 3 to make sure I get it right. If I uncover other lessons learned from that experience, I'll share it here.

Keep writing everyone.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Spelunking My Characters

As I draft Book 4, I am finding new dimensions to the characters in the story. These are the same characters from Book 3 and several are from Books 1 and 2, and yet as I explore the characters, I am finding new things about them.

That's a really good thing because I want the characters to surprise me and the reader. That will keep them fresh. And it is really easy to do. I just have the characters interact in ways they have not before.
For example, Iriel, the elf, knows the basics of magic. I establish this in Book 1. But she is not a wizard and does not cast spells. However, she is beginning to explore that part of herself in Book 4 and is using Brashani, the fire mage, as her teacher.

Now Brashani has not interacted with Iriel much. So now I get to explore that pairing and built a relationship between them. Moreover, I can explain why Iriel is not a wizard as part of her whole unfortunate background. Her mother abandoned her at a very young age and she was not encouraged to explore her potential -- a result of her father's grief at the lose of his wife.

However, Iriel falls in love with a bard, James, in Book 1 and his central philosophy is to learn new things. This rubs off on Iriel so that eventually she begins to explore her potential and the opportunities she has.

I love the way that plays because it mirrors life. And while she is learning magic, life has other plans for her -- which also mirrors life. And this -- in a nutshell -- is what I'm doing now in Book 4, 16,000 words into the novel. The characters are exploring new aspects of their lives by learning things or exploring a relationship or perhaps planning for the future and somewhere in the middle of that, life -- in the form of the plot -- interrupts and forces them to deal with events in front of them. This causes them to react and will creates new things to explore and planning after the crisis is past.

And that's how life has been for me over the last few years. So I thought I'd do the same to my characters. No rocket science here. Just touch of realism to help the reader suspend his or her disbelief.

And it is something you can try at home. So keep writing.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Giving Thanks

This time of year is always difficult for me. Partly because my first experience with death came when I was a teenager in high school about this time of year. My grandmother died of lung cancer. Such an experience sets deep impressions and I've not forgotten her or the experience.

Another reason it is difficult for me is that in the last year, I seem to have suffered one crisis after another. In such an atmosphere, I don't feel like giving thanks for anything. And there are people far worse off than I. People suffering from a death for the war in Afghanistan, or a loss of the home from hurricane Sandy, or perhaps they are still waiting for the economy to improve so they can go back to work after three or four years. Perhaps they depend on the Gulf of Mexico and are waiting for the environment to improve after the BP oil spill or they are rebuilding from the fires in the west this past summer or they are farmers who suffered one of the worst droughts since the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930's.

You see the list is long and possibly endless. And yet I think the approaching holiday is a good one. It is a time for families to gather, whether you can tolerate your relatives or not. It is a time to remember that despite all the catastrophes you've suffered, you are still here and able to continue on. That, if nothing else, it a reason to giving thanks.

For me, I am thankful that my mother has survived her surgery. She still has much work to do to regain muscle strength, but she is here, alive, and for that's a lot better than the alternative.

I am thankful that my first novel is in production and will be released next year. After years and years of trying to write a story that could be published, I managed to achieve my goal. And now I am told, cover designs should be coming my way in the next few weeks.

But most of all I am thankful that for the life I've had and the life to come. I have no idea what that life will be but I am sure it will someone I could never had imagined. I say that because my life is already something beyond what I thought possible. I never thought, for example, that I would be able to own a home or find someone to share my life with and yet I have. Life is constantly throwing you curves. Most of the time they are things you want to avoid. But sometimes they are gold. 

The important thing is to keep swinging at every pitch and hope for a home run. 

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Deja Vu

One of the things about writing that I keep forgetting is this: if you forget any of the basic lessons you learn, you'll relearn them once you start writing again. Case in point: I was struggling with several scenes in Book 4 the other day. What I should have done (and eventually did) was sit down and figure out the issues facing each character and how they would fit into the plot. The plot also needed a little foreshadowing which would give the characters something to react to.

I say this because I had no action or drama for the characters at the time. So what I did was let the characters react or overreact to see where that would take me. This is a perfect fine technique and I've used to get passed blocks in stories. Sometimes it works well and you end up learning things about your characters you never knew.

But the other day, it wasn't working. The characters were just squabbling among themselves -- much like a modern reality show -- so I deleted all that and started over by taking the troublesome scenes in hand and thinking through what I needed to include and where this book was going.

You see, writing fiction is all about including the relevant things and eliminating the rest. So if the characters are going to face the dreaded Jabberwock, then one thing you can do before that fateful scene is have the characters talk about the awesome creature, its strengths, its weaknesses, and strategies for overcoming it. This gives you something to write about and is relevant since it orients the reader -- especially those who have no idea what a Jabberwock is.

So in my case, knowing what I am planning for the characters, I decided to start preparing them for the challenges ahead of them since the events I am planning for are several days in their future. This is a simple enough thing to do. They know, for example, that thieves live in the forest that they are traveling alongside. And the reason they are traveling alongside it and not through is because of the thieves. So they meet a peddler on the road and ask if he encountered the thieves. As they get closer to the point where they will meet the thieves, they start to see things moving in the forest. Is that a wild animal -- there are wolves about too -- or scout from the band of thieves?

Either way, this adds tension and things for the characters to talk about as they move toward their fateful encounter. And I had to remember all this (again) and rewrite, revise, and arrange the characters and the scenes leading up to these events so that when the reader finally sees the story they see nothing out of place.

And now that I've done this, ideas for the story are starting to come. Which is good because I hate to work on a story without some idea of what's next. So I'm going to keep working the novel.

Hope you are continuing to write too.

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Silence was Deafening

Somewhere in the mix I broke Twitter. Or more accurately I broke the automatic feed of my blog posts to Twitter. I think it happened when I reset my passwords recently but I'm not sure. Worse still, when I went to fix the problem, I found that the blog no longer supports -- or does not seem to -- send the output to Twitter.

So I used another, easier method to fix the problem. But that explains why responses from Twitter went to zero. I thought that odd; now I know why.

The lesson here is this: when you connect social media, make sure you check the connection and update it whenever you change your passwords.

By my estimation, folks on Twitter did not see three weeks of blog posts. That's not the end of the world, but that's not good for me -- the struggling fledging novelist who is trying to build an audience.

I think the other hint about all this was Klout. I'm not a big fan of Klout. I don't think you can measure social influence the way they say. But even so, my Klout score has dropped over this same period and one reason could well be the disconnection between Twitter and my blog.

I'll be watching to see, now that the connection is repaired, whether the score improves.

Meanwhile, I am continuing to re-read Book 3 and write Book 4. That will be my life for the next few months I'm sure.

Keep writing everyone.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Plot and Characters

I've trying to make some head way in Book 4 but it's been hard. The main problem is I have no clear recollection of what's in Book 3. I've been so busy with selling Book 1 and revising Book 2 -- not mention all the short stories I wrote over the summer -- that I've total spaced on Book 3.

The good news is that I can read Book 3 with fresh eyes. The bad news is it makes writing Book 4 a lot harder. I'm faced with revising one and writing the other simultaneously. Still, ideas for Book 4 are coming, if slowly.

I think another issue is I stopped novel writing for too long. It's been at six months since I put Book 3 away and writing new material is different from revising existing text. But I'll muddle through. I always do.

I have a rough plot and I know my characters. I just have to fine tune their actions with the plot in mind.  And I've already begun that process. I'm planting seeds in the beginning of the story that seem harmless but that will be needed later.

I prefer this approach. Just as I introduced the poor relationship between Iriel and her mother in Book 2 because it was important for Book 3, so now, I am laying groundwork in Book 4 for Books 6 and 7.

And I really need to get back to it. So if you'll excuse me, I've got some writing to do.

Hope you do too.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Writing for the Ear

Anyone who has been writing fiction for a few months or more probably knows to write for all the senses. When describing a scene what is heard or felt or tasted or smelt is as important as what is seen. But most descriptions you read are for your eyes because when you read, you visualize the sense, often in your mind's eye. That's only natural, humans are very visual and sight-dependent creatures. But you can write for your ears too.

Perhaps this is just me, because of all the poetry I've written or maybe I have visions of having my novels turned into audiobooks, but it seems to me that writing so that your words sound good when spoken is just as important as writing that reads well. I am reminded here are an interview with Robert Jordan that took place after the first books of the Wheel of Time became audiobooks. He observed that he listened to the books because that give him a different view of his writing and his story.

I think he's right about that. When I listen to a book, my mind is free to notice all sorts of things my eyes don't. And I always listen to my own writing to ensure it sounds good -- or more importantly -- to make sure it sounds the way I want it to. You see, there are two versions of any story: the one in my head and the one on the page. When I'm really lucky, there are the same. But most often than not, the one of the page is a shadow of the one in my head. So by listening to a chapter in a novel, I can bring the two closer together.

But how do I listen? Simple. Most computers now have text-to-speech features. So I let the machine speak it back to me. I had to purchase a human-sounding voice because I couldn't stand the mechanical ones provided. And I had to adjust the pronunciation of some words but was only successful up to a point. The word 'mages' sometimes is 'migs' and 'read' (the past tense of to read) is sometimes spoken as if it is the present tense.

But I ignore this errors on the part of the machine and make adjustments for the ear as I go. I think my work is better for the effort. I hope you will think so too.

Keep writing everyone.

Friday, November 2, 2012

A New Day

It's a new day here. I've completed my second novel and have been thinking about my next project. I love moments like this when the world seems full of possibilities and I have all of them to choose from. Of course, in my case, that's something of an illusion since I already know what my next project is. But still I like to think about the possibilities.

So once I create an ebook of Book 2 for myself I'm done with it until the publisher tells me they are ready for it. They aren't at the moment because my main contact is suffering from post-Sandy damage down in New Jersey and is without power. Consequently, she is having trouble contacting others in the company. But since Book 1 is still in production, I can wait a bit for them to get to Book 2. The important thing is I completed it before the deadline I gave myself and can now move on.

And so I now can begin work on Book 4. That's so surreal to me. I haven't worked on this part of the story in five or ten years. And with all the setbacks I had selling Book 1 in 2010 and 2011 I never thought I'd be working on it so soon. But here I am.

I sketched out the plot for the novel months ago when, one Saturday morning, it all became clear to me. Since then I've been thinking about where to resume the story. You see, I end Book 3 in a very dark place. Iriel, the sweet young elf, who takes in stray animals and is willing to help anyone in need, kills another elf. The elf an important person in Iriel's life -- saying more than this would be a spoiler and I don't want to do that. 

So in Book 4, Iriel must deal with the loss and what she's done. And so I think the story resumes a few weeks later once the group is on the road again. That allows Iriel time to grieve and the group time to go back to town to get supplies before setting out.

But the really important thing here is Iriel's character development. She changes from this experience and I want to show that. At the same time, I had to add a lot of new scenes in the sketch I did to make the book complete and I wanted to take the reader some place they had never been before. That was hard to do but I had one idea along those lines. Now I get to see how well or how poorly that idea works.

So I'm off on a new adventure of my own, drafting Book 4. I've give updates as I go because I think I want to show the readers of this blog what the writing process is like for me. And the best way to do that is to capture it at I go.

Keep writing everyone.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Mergers and Markets

The big news this morning in publishing circles is the consolidation of Random House and Penguin. It appears book publishing has started going through the same merger process that other industries have faced. There seems to be speculation about the mergers of other book publishers too. It appears you have to be very big like Amazon or very small. Although size does not appear to be a factor. Amazon just posted a loss for Q3.

And this raises questions in my head. How can any small press survive? How does someone like me, who is just about to have his first book reached, make any sales -- or enough sales -- to keep going? Or are the large publishers essentially dinosaurs waiting for the meteor to strike the planet?

And what does this mean for the available markets to which writers submit their work? Sure, there will be few places to submit work but for someone like me, a newcomer, those markets were already closed. If there is one less of them, I don't think it matters, at least not now.

For me, and people like me, who are trying to establish themselves, build an audience, and acquire a reputation, the markets are small presses and magazines will to read and accept stories from unknown writers. They solely judge the work because it is the story and its ability to be sold that matters. For magazines, the story has to fit what they are looking for too. For publishers of small presses that not as much a concern.

Some years from now, perhaps, I'll be able to turn my attention to a large publisher or perhaps they will seek me out. But that's very hypothetical and I've learned not to try to guess the future or make plans too far in advance because life throws curve balls that not even Babe Ruth could hit.

So I will continue writing the best stories I can and preparing for the release of my first novel. I will seek the guidance of my publisher for things that I am unsure of and wait to see how the book sells. That alone will determine my future in this industry.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Embrace the Human Experience

I take the subway into Boston twice a week when my schedule is normal and not full of the things that keep me home. During that time, I think about many things. Sometimes I think about the book I'm reading or the book I'm writing. And other times I watch the people around me, noticing their appearance, describing for myself so I can use it later in a story.

The other day I was thinking about people in general and how many of them waste their time with pointless worries and concerns. I call them pointless because half of what we worry about never happen and so we waste energy worrying about nothing. I was thinking I had the makings of a poem you see when I realized that these people need to embrace the human experience.

The thought came and went and then I was left to ponder what is the human experience. And I answered myself: it is experiencing art and theatre and movies and a zillion other positive human activities the enrich our lives, such as learning new things, playing a game or a sport, and social gatherings of all kinds. The human experience is about exploring one's potential and interests to see where they will lead and not sit cloistered in front of the TV watching reality shows or posting on Facebook. (the irony here is that this post will end up on Facebook, but that's accidental and not because I put it there).

Indeed, the human experience is universal. It is experience shared by many, such as raising a child or owning a dog, or buying a house. And it is about helping others, giving of ourselves to the benefit of all.

Speaking for myself, I've done some of these things in past lives. I used to volunteer my time, for example. And I've certainly engaged in many activities that are universal, such as owning a dog, several in fact, and buying a house. But these days, I am more isolated that I probably should be. But I made that change so I could push my potential and write more. The experiment has been a partial success since my novels will start being published soon. But I think I can do more and I need to explore ways to make that happen.

And yet, as I read this post, I'm not sure I've communicated my point well at all. English can certainly be a blunt instrument for explaining complex ideas. But hopefully, you have a glimmer of what I'm talking about and you will embrace all the variety and diversity that you have access to. I know that I will try a little harder to do the same. Maybe if enough people do that, we can improve ourselves, help others, making our communities better, and connect with other people. Ultimately, I think connecting with others is the goal of the human experience because humans are social creatures. We tend to forget that what with all this technology. I think it might be time to rediscover just who we are and reconnect with ourselves and others.

Monday, October 22, 2012


National Novel Writing Month starts November 1 (in 10 days). This year I thought about participating since Book 4 is only a glimmer in my eye at the moment. But I don't expect to be able to write everyday. My schedule won't permit it.

I should be working on Book 4 by then regardless. That sounds so weird to me. Just a year ago, I had little hope of selling Book 1 and now I'm preparing to write Book 4. Maybe the Hell did freeze over.

And as I consider the plot and characters for the novel I begin to be concerned about character continuity from book to book. I never had to deal with this before but I need to now because I'm seeing some shifts in my characters. I'm not talking about character growth and their natural evolution as a result of the events they live through. I'm talking about a lack of continuity where no growth or change has occurred.

For example, Sir Ahlan, the knight who leads the other characters is an expert tactician, but I'm not sure he behaves as such all the time. I think that was a lapse in Book 3 that I need to correct. I also need to prevent such lapses in the future. I have notes on all the characters; I may need to refer to them more as I write. Or I may need more detailed notes so I don't have to remember everything they've done.

But that's not the only problem in Book 3; another is the characters rehash the same points over and over again. Some of it may be legitimate and some of it may be an excuse for me to fill pages. This is one reason the draft is only a draft and it sits waiting for me until I complete a draft of Book 4. My plan is to write Book 4 over the fall and winter and in the spring of 2013 began revising Book 3. That assumes I've sold Book 2 and don't need to revise it too extensively.

But that plan may be too ambitious. That's how Book 3 was written and it needs a good shakedown. Perhaps writing in an assembly line manner won't work for me. I don't know but I'll figure out once I revise Book 3 next year.

Keep writing, everyone.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Roller coaster Ride

With my mother in the hospital last week, it's been like riding a roller coaster. First there's good news then not-so-good news. Finally she was released Monday to a rehab facility for physical therapy.

About the same time something unexpected happened. I started thinking about new poems and revisions for Book 2. My mind is eager to return to writing and I don't think I want to hold it back. So I'll be getting to that soon.

Meanwhile Book 1 is in layout and I am eagerly waiting for work to start on the book cover. That should be lots of fun and answer several questions regarding how they see the book. I expect this to be a wild ride too.

And to top it off we had an earthquake just north of us the other day. I felt the floor underneath me ripple once as the shockwave went by. No damage to the house that I can find and no gas leaks, fortunately, but what an odd experience.

I think I will stop complaining about snowstorms if my choice is snow or earthquakes.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Expressing Views

This feels like a Jerry Seinfield question: what is the proper etiquette for writers? Is it appropriate for us to express any view on any subject? Or do we risks offending potential readers with a controversial opinion?

These questions were posed in a Facebook group I belong to and it raises a good point. I know from experience that the cardinal rule of selling products is: always be positive. Part of that includes not being judgmental or expressing an opinion that might send the consumer walking out the door.

Writers with published work are part salesmen. Therefore it follows that we should not express any opinion that might anger or offend someone. However, writers are human. We have opinions and, in this country at least, we have the right to express those opinions.

The other important thing to remember is that if you do offend someone and they complain and go to the press and the internet and so on, it could be really good publicity. Because people are curious and will want to know what is going on. Of course, it could also mean you’ll never sell another book in your lifetime.

So let me offer one small piece of advice on this topic: if you feel strongly about something, then express it. But a little tact might go a long way, especially on controversial topics, and keep you selling your books.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Vivid Recollections

It’s funny how the mind works sometimes. You hear a song and memories from long ago come flooding back. Or someone dies and you remember all the special times with that person.

When my father died that’s what happened to me. I remembered the one Celtics game we went to together. He was a huge Celtics fan. And that sparked a memory of a Red Sox game we went to years before.

I remembered his pacing when he talked on the phone, the little speeches he liked to gave at special occasions, his fondness for old bad jokes, and how we would come down on Saturdays and say, “What fun and exciting things are we going to do today?”

The question was rhetorical because he worked most Saturdays and my brothers and I had schoolwork to do usually.

Now it’s happened again. I’ve been remembering my first day in college. My mother helped my find my way in downtown Boston. I was enrolled at Northeastern University that September.

And the reason this memory came rushing back is my mother was taken to the hospital. She hasn’t been hospitalized since she gave birth to her children. The good news is she is not dying. But she had surgery to remove a gallstone and must recovery from that.

Additionally, she has an ulcer caused by bacteria in her small intestine. That is treatable but -- taken with everything else -- creates a serious situation one that requires my utmost attention.

The exact table time for release is TBD but when she is back home I’m probably going to have to stay with her and take care of her, putting my life on hold, which means no blogging, or novel writing, or other extracurricular activities.

So consider this a heads up. If the blogging stops, you’ll know why.

In the meantime, I’ll try to keep writing; but in all honesty, my heart’s not in it just now.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Effective Tweets

What make an effective tweet? Good question. I read an article on CNET that suggested it depends on the subject of the message. Topics such as 'Facebook hits 1 billion users' aren’t as interesting as 'a billion people go hungry daily; wish the world would paid as much attention to that as the numbers of Facebook users'.

The author of the article goes on to show how his second tweet (on hunger, paraphrased here, btw) gets retweeted and earns him a bump up on his Klout score.

I know from personal experience, the people I reach are more interested in my publishing exploits and my fore coming novel than just about anything I post in my blog, unless I post that I signed a publishing contract or that the novel is available for purchase.

So I decided to test the theory in the article and tweeted about the poverty rate in 2011. The Census Bureau released the figures for 2011 last month. But no one seemed to notice that (of course it is almost impossible to tell). And I think one reason for that is no one is really paying attention to my tweets.

I think the moral of the story here is that unless the “right” people see your tweet, post, or message and think it is important to pass along, it will languish in cyberspace along with terabytes of other content. And who are the “right” people?

I have no idea.

Friday, October 5, 2012


Having good reference books handy while writing is essential, so I thought I would spend some time talking about them. A dictionary is an obvious place to start.

These days you can find dictionaries online, embedded in word-processing software, and as stand-alone apps for smart phones and tablets. Many of them are quite good. I use the dictionary bundled with my operating system (this is a Mac OS thing, folks, I don’t believe Windows has this feature). I also refer to a dictionary app on my phone.

But even with abundance of dictionary software, I still refer to a hard cover dictionary now and again. I do this because when one source or another does not have the word I want, I need to confirm that the word I’m thinking of is not a word or is perhaps two words and not one.

This happens because Word will flag a word or phrase it wants me to change. I never accept Word’s suggested revision without external verification that it is correct. That’s when I go to my other sources.

I know people who think a paper dictionary is obsolete and see no point in having one. That’s their choice, of course. If you aren’t one of those people, then I suggest the classic Webster’s Dictionary is a good reference book to own. I don’t recommend buying more than one dictionary, however, because the books don’t always agree on spelling or hyphenation of words and can confuse you more than help you.

So pick a dictionary — be it a web site, phone app or other — and stick with it. Use it whenever you have a question about a word’s spelling or meaning. If you can't find a word, check another source, but remember, some dictionaries leave out words to save space, so try to find a source that is as complete as possible.

And above all, keep writing.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Words to Avoid

As a writer, I’ve come across many lists of words to avoid or phrases that can be reduced from many to one. Most recently I’ve read that adverbs should be omitted and that the word 'very' is useless.

But this is silly. Adverbs are necessary when you need to describe an action (a verb) more specifically. For example, you can say, 'he walked down the street.' But that’s a little flat. How did he walk? Did he walk slowly? Lethargically? Confidently? Nervously? Of course, you can change the verb, ‘he glided down the street' or 'he danced down the street' or even 'he walked down the street, pausing even few feet to see if he was being followed.'

Likewise, the word 'very' can be helpful, mostly if you are writing the dialogue of children. I am reminded of the comic strip 'Peanuts' here. They are given an assignment to write a 100-word book report on Peter Rabbit and Lucy uses 'very' to pad out the end. That is humorous sure, but also something a girl her age – how old is she? – is likely to do, which makes it funnier. I could even say it is very funny.

My point, of course, is that for every 'rule' I see, I can probably think of exceptions. And even that point has an exception: which is the rules in Elements of Style are not open for discussion, unless you need clarification on any points in that book. Interestingly enough, Element of Style does not have a list of words to avoid, just a little of words that are misused. Read that list and learn the proper use of those words. It is the best thing a writer can do to write well with the exception of writing often.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Technology Updates

I’m getting a little tired of major technology updates that either I cannot use because my equipment is out-of-date as a result of the update's release or updates that change the world but don’t quite work as advertised.

For both of these situations I have one piece of advice to the technology companies everywhere: slow down. Do we really need all the stuff being thrown at us? Is the quality of my life greatly improved by any of the new features offered by any technology company in the US today? I’m thinking, no, not really. And the effort to keep up in terms of time is enormous. Frankly, my time is at a premium. I need to spend it writing, revising, or promoting a story.

And when I’m not writing, I have a house, two dogs, a wife, a car, and several other personal projects/hobbies to tend to. Who has time to learn about new features or change a workflow that they know well?

In fact, even through I’ve spent a lifetime learning and keeping up with personal and computer technology – it was one of my hobbies – I’m about to bail on it because I’ve got other things to do. Even now, the operating system on my computer is two versions out-of-date because the unit needs more memory and I’m not about to crack the case to change that. I’ll probably buy a new computer next year if I have the money. If not, I’ll solider on as well as I can.

And I’m probably in a minority here but I’d like to see one major update a year instead of several. One. That’s then I have a whole year to get used to it before the world changes all over again. I doubt that will happen. But I can dream.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Rough Draft

It was pointed out to me that many blog posts of mine have grammatical errors.

Okay, sorry about that. I know I complain about self-published work being of poor quality for just this reason so it may appear to be double standard but lets keep in mind one important fact.

These posts are essentially rough drafts -- stream of consciousness if you will -- because I barely have time to compose them never mind proofing and polishing. And yes, there will be sentence fragments. That's part of good creative writing. If that offends or bothers you, that's unfortunate. That said, I have gone back to clean up the last several months of posts and I will be taking steps to improve the quality of new posts.

But errors will skip by. I hope you will forgive and understand.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

A Few Writing Lessons

The whole experience of getting my novel accepted by a publisher has left me thinking about it and what I would do differently if I could.  Here are a few of my items that have bubbled up to me:

Lesson 1:  If I had to do this over again, I would not do it.  Writing a novel of a professional quality is hard work.  Much harder than I thought and not for anyone who is easily frustrated.  Writing of this type requires that you write and revise until the words you've removed all the wordiness and convey your meaning.  As the same time, there needs to be a cadence to the words and flow through the story.  The plot has to make has and the characters need to be real -- or nearly so.  Talk about dancing on the head of pin.

Of course now that I've started my series I'm going to complete it but I expect some amount of pain as I cobble together six or seven more books.

Lesson 2:  Listen you the feedback you receive.  Very often it is right and tells you what your next step is.
I received all kinds of feedback on the various drafts of my novel and all of it was right and help me figure out what I had to do to fix the story so it could be published.  Now that said, sometimes a comment isn't exactly right but has a kernel of truth to it.  For example, one comment I've gotten is the characters are flat; I disagree.  I am just taking my time revealing each of the main characters.  I've seen this done by well-established writers and I am doing the same thing.  Okay, I'm not Robert Jordan by I can use one or two of his techniques.

Lesson 3:  Check your ego at the door when receiving feedback.  The comments are not about you, they are about the work.  And anything that prevents a story from being its best needs to be attended to.  I learned that lesson back in college bur you'd be surprise how often I have to stop and force myself to pay attention to it.

Lesson 4:  Trust your instincts, they are often correct.  And when they are not, the feedback you receive will let you know what sort of adjustment you need to make.  I don't know how many times I've received feedback that justified some original idea of mine, which I ignored in the current draft.  When that happens, I stop and listen to myself.  The story is almost always better for it.

That's enough for now.  If other lessons become clear to me as my book makes its way through the publishing process, I'll be sure to post again on this topic.

Keep writing, everyone.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Looking Ahead

The second set of revisions went back to the publisher this week, much delayed because of the flu-turned-sinus infection that I'm fighting. So now I wait to hear back from them about the next step, which I don't even know what that is. It might be the book trailer or the cover or both.

In the meantime I should turn some attention back to Book 2 and the short stories I've been writing. I was planning to collect and self-publish these so I'd have more than just my novel to show when Book 1 launches next year.  But I've lost interest in that. Plus several of my stories are tied up in contests that I entered. I have to wait until January to do anything with them.

I'm continuing to write other stories but the time it takes for a story to marinate -- which is Richard-speak for put a story away for awhile so I can look at it with fresh eyes -- means that anything I do now probably won't be ready in time for the book launch.

But I'm finding that I have little interest in Book 2 at the moment. The reason for that may be that the middle of the novel isn't as good as the start. Or I may just need a break from all the writing I've been doing. This year I put final touches on Book 1 and then reviewed it twice, I've wrote half a dozen short stories and at least as many poems, and revised about half of Book 2. That's a lot of work.

At the same time, I can see holes in my process. I still need reviewers to provide feedback. I may have found a way to do that, but it is too soon to tell and I don't know the quality of the review. Additionally, I can only use this new workflow for short stories.  My novels, if they are to be published by my publisher, will have to go to them to review.

I am also trying to get involved more in forums and to make my presence known. I've no interest in that at all and I'm going very slowly. But I am told this will help when my book launches. We'll see.

And so I wait and write and do what I can while I feel spent and a little bored. It's the being bored part that bothers me. I've worked very hard to get to this point; I shouldn't be bored.

Maybe I'll shift gears and go clean out the junk out of the back room. That might clean out the cobwebs from my mind too.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Picking a Genre

So you have this idea for a genre or you've written a story and are ready to sell it.  Now what?

Well, you need to know what genre the story belongs in.  Why? Because knowing which genre a story belongs to can help you sell it because publishers (and readers) use these classifications to make some assumptions about the story. For example, in a science fiction story I can expect to see alien races or plausible future speculated. Depending on the type of science fiction, the writer may adhere to science facts as much as possible with only a slight deviation, such as faster-than-light spaceships, or they may use many of the accepted conventions in the genre to create a story that is both interesting and enjoyable.

Orson Scott Card makes are great point in his book on writing speculative fiction that genres are more for bookseller and publisher and less for you.  Nevertheless, you should have a rough idea which genre best describes your story if only so you can identify your audience (always a good starting point when writing anything). And knowing the genre helps me to know what conventions I can alter. For example, if the audience is expecting aliens maybe I write a first contact story.  Or if they expect faster-than-light spaceships, maybe I restrict the technology to star gates only.

I'd love to give you a list of genres but alas they are subjective and I have not found one that is inclusive enough to satisfy me. Suffice to say that fantasy, horror, science fiction, romance, historical fiction, and mystery are the main categories, although I'm sure others would amend and modify this list.

But here's the good news, unless you are trying to write serious literature that will stand the test of time like Joyce or Faulkner or Hemingway, your story will probably fall into one of the genres I listed. And generally speaking, you will not have to explicitly pick a genre. Your story will do that for you.

But here's the bad news, sub-genres make the whole process of determining a genre a little like order coffee at Starbucks.  In my case, for example, is my fantasy novel, an epic or traditional or swords and sorcery or something else?  It is clearly not contemporary or urban fantasy, but it could be light fantasy depending on how you define these terms.

Personally, I think of my novel as an epic fantasy because it will span eight books and the result changes the world in which the characters live. In that sense it is no different that many of the epic fantasy novels I've read. Frankly, so long as you know the main class your story belongs in you should be okay. Don't worry about the sub-genres unless you are submitting a short story to a magazine.  And then look for the magazine to define their terms.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Unexpected Consequences

In college, I was an English major with a concentration in writing.  By concentration, the college meant that I took more elective English course in writing than in anything else.  I did that so I could spend much of my time writing.

My hope was to get a good portion of a novel written, which I did by that work has never seen the light of day and probably won't.  It is very silly.

After graduation, I focused on the only type of writing that I could be paid for: technical and instructional writing. Getting a job in the field took some doing but I succeeded (having a Masters degree helped) and some years later I decided to try my hand at creative fiction again.

That experiment didn't work so well.  It was too hard to keep the rules for technical and creative writing separate.  So I abandoned the project.

A few more years went by and slowly I acquired the skills to do both.  So by day I could be the mild-mannered writer of help and instructions and by night the masked avenging novelist.

Now let's skip ahead to early in 2012 when my publisher awarded me a publishing contract. That had been my goal for years and one in which I thought was unattainable.  But with that hurdle crossed, sometimes else happened.  I discovered I really wanted to write creative fiction full time.

That really took me by surprise.  I thought I had this dual life thing well defined.  Guess not.  Problem is I can't give up the job that pays for my house, gives me medical insurance, and allows me to live at my current lifestyle, not unless I'm prepared to make some drastic changes and probably suffer through a divorce too because my wife will not be happy if I were to go that way.

In short, I've painted myself into a very small corner, one without much wiggle room.  My only hope is my forthcoming novel sells well -- and by that I means sales in the thousands of books per month.

I'm not expecting that.

So what will I do?  Make some changes in both my creative writing schedule and my regular work schedule so I can cope and keep everything in balance.  It wouldn't be easy, but then nothing about this whole process has been, why should this be any different?

Monday, September 10, 2012


One skill a writer needs to learn is how to be objective.  Objectivity is important so you can describe the world and make seem real or true.  This is true even when you story is from a distorted point of view because if I don't believe the events a plausible I lose interest and read something else.

Exercises for being objective are straightforward.  For example, find a spot where you can observe something and describe it. If you take public transportation, you can practice this on the bus or subway. Observe the people around you; describe them in a few words.

Or go further, give them fictional backgrounds based on what you see and observe about them. This one is a little more interesting and requires a little deductive reasoning along with observation.

So the man in the corner of the subway train who is always reading his Kindle seems to lead an ordered life.  His ID badge to a local hospital shows his shows is quite busy and his 15 minutes on the train reading is probably the only peaceful he has.

This man follows a deeply set routine, probably because his job is very fluid or because his job requires he follows a strict set of procedures, possibly both.

He dresses well and since his hair is going gray, I assume he has done his job for many years and his acquired some wealth as a result.

He sits in the corner away from everyone else so he is not disturbed while reading.

I have no idea if he is married or divorced but he is a very orderly man.

That's a quick sketch of one person from the subway train is sometimes ride in the morning. It gives you an idea of the man and is enough to round out if I want use him in a story.  I still need to describe his mannerism, his appearance, and so on.  I need to give him a name and set him somewhere plausible so that as a character in a story, he is believable.

That's no small task because such an orderly man probably doesn't lead a very interesting life, at least from the perspective of telling a story.  There's probably no action or drama in his life, which means no story. Oh I can probably think of something to change that but I have to be careful because too much drama and I change who this character is.  Not enough and I bore the reader.

So observe, describe, and be objective about world and everything around you.  And above all, keep writing.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Being a Nail

Some of you are no doubt familiar with this line from an old folk song, "I'd rather be a hammer than a nail."  And that would be my preference too.  But just now, I seem to be the nail. It has been one thing after another for months and I've lost track of when it started but I've had nothing but bad luck and have been a victim of circumstance for a long time now.

Some highlights include:

  • Unexpected repairs to the house as a result of a bad winter
  • My dog gets lyme disease and dies
  • My other dog gets a cancerous tumor and must have surgery
  • My wife and I both get sick, requiring antibiotics

And the only bright spot in all this has been my novel being accepted by my publisher.  But given my streak of luck maybe that was bad luck too.  Maybe the book will not sell.

I keeping hoping that I'm about to turn a corner but that hasn't happened yet and I'm not sure that it will.

Life is hard and people suffer -- much worse that I have -- and the only reason for the suffering seems to be to remind everyone that we need to be compassionate toward each other.

That's hard to do when misfortunate and bad luck are only a few steps behind you. Compassion, like so many other things, requires having money more often than not.  And I, for one, don't have nickel to spare because all this bad luck has cost me thousands of dollars to deal with.

But I'm going to dust myself off and keep going and hope -- pray -- that life is done treating me like a nail.

Monday, September 3, 2012

I Seem To Be Repeating Myself

Over the last few weeks -- while recovering from the ailment that keep me in bed for over a week -- I had time to review my blog posts to date.  And it seems clear to me that I've been repeating myself, at least on a few topics like revising stories and getting started.  Prior to finding an editor, the subject of publishing was a frequent matter of discussion too.

I suppose this is to be expected since the blog is not a well thought out comprehensive book on writing.  It is far more a stream-of-consciousness kind of thing.  Which is not to say I don't give thought to my blog posts.  I do.  But I don't remember them all and so I'm bound to repeat myself a few times.

But now that I am aware of what I've been doing I have avoid this pitfall in the future.  Besides, I have this feeling that the blog will be changing soon, focusing less on writing and revision and more on my experiences in the world of publishing.

For example, I'm expecting work on the book cover to start soon.  I want to share what I learn from that experience because I don't think any new writer entering the world of publishing has provided insight or observations about the process.  Maybe there's nothing to say.  And maybe there is but people are so busy they don't feeling it is important enough to share.

I am not going to try to decide what is important for the reader and what is not.  Since my audience is mixed and diverse, I think my best plan is to share new information and let you figure out what is meaningful and what is not.

But until that process starts, the blog will remain as it is.  I will try not to repeat myself but that's really hard since I've been blogging for over two years now and the list of unexplored topics is really short -- somewhere between 0 and 1.

Nevertheless I will do what I can and hope for the best.  In the meantime, I have the final edit on Aure, the Topaz to complete and I need to finish getting over this disease that stole my voice and still hasn't given it all back yet.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Nursing the Muse

I have often heard writers refer to their talent or ability to write as courting the muse.  That's truer than one mine think but not exactly right.  A muse is a fickle thing if we believe mythology and one's writing ability can be equally unreliable.  But the muse is said to be the source of inspiration and has none, at least as far as I know, with the ability to string words things. If you can't do that, all the inspiration in the world isn't going to get you very far.

During my months of being burned out, it was exact the ability -- stringing words together -- that was missing and had to be relearned.  I had to remember how to play with sentences, words, phrases, metaphors, and all that good stuff to express myself.

If you can do that but don't know what to focus on, that's more a muse problem.  Perhaps, you are a new writer looking to get started, or an established writer who is dry spell.  What do you do?  Well, attracting a muse is like a wizard summoning a familiar, although the wizard will probably have better luck because the muse will often ignore any attempt at being summoning.

And you can't put out food the way you would for a mouse, or perhaps Santa, and hope something will happen.  Rather, I find the muse goes where he or she will.  Your best bet is to keep a journal and do a lot of free writing.  For those who don't know about free writing, let me explain.  It is a technique where you write for five minutes to fifteen minutes non-stop.  You don't worry about spelling, grammar, punctuation, etc. You just write.  Later you can go back and see what you've done. Sometimes you get stuck and repeat the same word half way down the page.  Other times you hit gold and you make a connection you never saw before.  That's the calling card of the muse.  That means the muse is in the area and ready to help you.

The best way to reciprocate is to keep writing.

Of course this is a little over simplified and each person will be different.  I say this because the writer in a dry spell sometimes has a much harder time regain old skills that the new writer starting out.  The reason for this is simple; the experienced writer knows how the work on a story should go when everything is working right and this person may self-censor too soon.

This is understandable but unnecessary.  Chances are good that writing for the experienced writer will not be the way he or she remembers them; they might be better or they might not.  And the reason for the difference is the writer him/herself. The important thing to remember here is that writing has takes time.  Time to draft, time to revise and revise and revise.  It takes a commitment to the writing, which is kinda like maintaining a large web site raised a few orders of magnitude. Work on the writing only stops when it goes out into the world.  Until then most writers will want to hone and craft what they are writing.

But above all, writing takes time to reflect. It is in reflection that a writer sees when he or she is going and sometimes how to get there.  Without reflection, the writer walks blindly in a darkened room without a light source hoping to find his or her way.

I say all this not to scare anyone but to information and remember all writers about the essential element that our craft requires.

So if you have a muse, nurse it, feed it, and take care of it.

If you are looking for one, good luck.  And while you are searching, keep writing.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Out Sick

I've seem to have come down with a cold in the middle of summer.  So there'll be no pearls of wisdom from me today.  My mind is muddled.  I think the best thing for me is to go back to bed so I can sleep this off.

Hopefully by the end of the week I'll be more like myself again and able to put together a blog post on something.

Until then, keep writing.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The P is for Personal

In my recent post on poetry I forgot to mention that poems need to tell a story just a novels. The way they do this is very different because often the story being told is a much smaller one and a very personal one.

Often the story of a poem is focused on a moment in time or an image that sparks a memory and a set of feelings that the speaker of the poem releases and resolves in the space of the poem. Or tone of voice and the monologue of the speaker tells the story.

And the fact that I only realized that a poem needs to tell a story came crashing down on me the other day.  I suddenly realized why some of my poems work and some do not.  The ones I'm struggling with drift and meander without telling a full story.  Oh, there are some images perhaps or an interesting observation here and there but that's not enough.

An example here will probably help. Here's a short poem that illustrates the idea.

The trees burn with color.
And while there is no smoke or smell of soot
the leaves still drop like cinders
and make the grass beneath the trees

The wind cannot squelch the flames, nor can the rain.
Instead they only fan the fire, igniting entire groves.
And once the flames die out,
a gray-brown ash descends
on the skeletal remains.

The trees now chatter in the wind speaking in code
waiting like giant hands
to catch whatever they can.

I wrote the poem when I saw some very vibrant colors on some maple trees one autumn.  The red and oranges of the leaves made the trees appear to be on fire so I decided to use that as a metaphor and extend the metaphor in the second stanza but treating the brown leaves that fall to the ground as cinders from the fire and by imagining that the wind spreads the color change -- the fire -- somehow.

But notice that the story starts with the trees on fire and concludes when the fire is out and the trees are bare. The third stanza is necessary to complete the story because without it all you have is an image of trees with bright leaves.  Big deal.  It leaves questions: what happened to the trees? And the leaves?

The poem doesn't focus on the leaves after they have lost their leaves but clearly there has been a shift in time from the second to third stanza and that passage of time help to tell the reader that fire is over and now bare trees chatter in the wind as their branches collide.

I have other examples of poems telling stories but they are long and not easily provided for a blog post, so I encourage any poets out there to go read the poetry of Wordsworth, Keats, Browning, Shakespeare, and others and see how the masters tell stories with their poems.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Novel Writing

So lets say you've got this idea for a novel. What are the next steps? Well, the first thing to consider is: do you have enough writing experience to actually complete the project? I ask this because even Steven King tells the story of how he put on idea away until he felt he was ready to tackle it. So if you answer my question no, then pull the idea aside and work on other things until you are ready.

But lets say you answer yes. Then you've got a few tasks ahead of you before you start writing. For example, you'll need to know your main characters very well. What makes them unique? What's their background? Their motivation in your story? Who do they fit into the world? Is their action consistent with a person like the one you describe? Do they like each other? If not, why not? If yes, why?

You get the idea.  You'll also need the background story so you can relate these points as needed. If you set the story in the modern world, you can probably start writing at this point but watch out for thing you don't know about. For example, if you're main character is a spy for the CIA, you'll need to do some research on the CIA so you can get certain details right. Of course, you'll probably need to make up a few things too because much of that information is classified.

If you set the story in a historic period, you will definitely need to research that period in time. On the other hand, if the story is speculative fiction, you'll need to create the world (or worlds for a space-faring yarn) yourself. This can be as much or more work as writing the novel.  So if you answered no to my opening question, a good next step is to fill in the world information you need.

This can include making maps (of cities, regions, the world), designing coats of arms and guild badges, creating new languages, describing and understand different races, like elves and dwarves or vulcans and klingons. You will also want to give through to the use of magic (for the fantasy novel) and the level of science and technology (for the sci-fi book).  The absence or presence of psionic abilities or superhuman traits is another thing to consider.

But above all, if you are writing in a specific genre -- you must know it. What conventions are acceptable and what are not. Is the point to confound the reader with a mind-twisting mystery, or make their pulse race with non-stop action?  Does the reader expect to be lost in an all-consuming romance or thrilling to swashbuckling feats of your character?

As you can see there is much to do and to know. Be sure you put in the effort into all these things because if you don't, your story will suffer and feel flat.  Oh, and don't expect to include any of this in your story.  This information is for you so you can make your fiction seem real. Snatches of this information might bubble up into your story, but most of it will never see the light of day.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Practice, Practice, Practice

According to medical research, people who suffer strokes can relearn skills they lose by practicing them to re-establish connections in the brains for those skills.  There's a very good series on PBS about how elastic the brain is that goes into this in a great deal of detail. This explains how I was able to recover my writing skills after I suffered from burn out.

Burning out is like a very localized stroke in the sense that old skills are lost. But by practicing my craft I was able to regain my writing skills to the point where, now, I have a novel in the process of being published.

What that means for new writers is: you must practice your skills regularly.  Keep a journal if you have to.  And don't expect your skills to materialize overnight.  It takes months or years usually depending on how sharp your mind is, how well read you are, and how much you practice your writing skills.

For me, I had to recover my general writing skills so I could string words together before I could focus on a specific type of writing.  I found reading helped a lot, especially clearly written non-fiction, just so I could see the proper way to put words together again.

Once those skills were in place, it took years to hone my creative writing skills because I did not practice them often -- life has a way of intruding -- and because I was not thinking clearly about my material.

Several years and several rejections later, when I really focused on this work, I made several major changes in characters, plot, and the very way I told the story, all of which yielded the result I wanted.

Of course by then I had all made several life changes so I could write more regularly.  I increased my reading too.  I even did a little reading about writing creatively just to make sure I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

So practice, practice, practice.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Road Ahead

I haven't written much about what's going on with me these days so I thought it was time for an update.

Book 1, Aure the Topaz, is in the second round of editing with the publisher.  I've got the feeling this will be a more extensive edit.  But I could be wrong. I took many of the edits from the first round.

Once the edits are complete, the publisher will turn its attention to the book cover, the book trailer, and other matters of this type.  They have already reviewed by web site.  They gave the content two thumbs up, but the design they said was lacking.  I disagreed but knowing I had still some issues with the site, I did a little rearranging.  The result -- now live -- is a site that addressed all issues.

They currently are looking at my media kit.  It is only partial complete.  There were items that they said I should include, like the demographics, that I had to guess at.

Meanwhile, Book 2, Vorn the Onyx, is in revision.  I'm about half way done with it.  The publisher like the beginning of the book so I'm hoping they will pick it up once it is ready.  I don't know when that will be but my target date is by the end of the year. It might be ready soon that that. Hard to say.

I continue to write poetry as the mood hits.  I plan to collect it all into a single volume but I probably won't have enough poems for some years yet.

I've spent much of the summer writing short stories. I want to have more that Aure ready and available for sale for the book launch. This will show people there is more in this well than one novel.  That's important because one-hit-wonders are common. People who can last and go the distance with multiple books are less common.

At present I'm planning two collections of stories using characters from my fantasy series.  Stories for the first collection are already on Smashwords and now available in print from  Stories for the second collection will trickle out over the fall.

Looking out a little further, I begin writing Book 4 as soon as Book 2 goes to the publisher.  But in all honesty, with so much going on now, it is hard to think that far ahead because by then the promotion of Book 1 will be taking up some of my time too -- I just don't know what form that will take yet.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Thinking in Novels

A friend from Facebook admitted the other day that she thinks in novels.  By that I think she meant that story ideas come with big, involved plots that require novels to resolve.  I have the same affliction.  Much of my fantasy world is involved with very involved plots and would take many novels to describe and resolve.  Hell, the Aglaril Cycle, my current series has a very simple premise but to do it justice, I'm estimating eight novels: one to find each gem and then one to wrap it up.

But not all story ideas require novels, obviously and I have been trying to think in short stories. That's a lot harder. A good short story has to be self-contained. If it is not, it has a novel-feel to it. I have written stories that I thought were complete but the readers didn't think so. They wanted more, expected more. And I have written stories that are complete. The trick is to determine if all the questions raised by the story are answered.

For example, a baby is found in a ruined tower.  How did the baby get there? Once that question is answered, the story is complete.

Example 2: A brave -- or foolish -- warrior seeks out the oldest dragon in the world for battle. What happens? Does he win because the dragon is so old? Or has he underestimated the beast's power?

Example 3: A struggling writer discovers a magic pen. Does it help him achieve his dreams of success or force him to write things he would never consider putting his name to otherwise?

How you answer these questions will determine the story you get.  For example, my answer to the first question was the baby is the regression form of the alchemist that had lived in the tower. Facing death, she experimented with a potion that would place her in stasis and heal her wounds. But the healing also aged her in reverse so when she is finally found, she is a baby. To make the story more interest I also decided that the potion had no effect on her mental abilities. So she is an adult woman trapped in the body of a baby and she's not a nice person.

You can see how I embellish the idea a little. Then I let it take its course and write down the results, which in this case was a 4500 word story entitled Baby Muran.

I did similar things with the other examples.

The more questions a story has, the longer it is.  Likewise, if you start adding questions about the characters you end up with a novel. Short stories don't have time or space for character-specific questions.

So regardless of what you are writing, try to determine the questions you need to answer and make sure you answer them because satisfying the reader is job 1 when writing fiction.

Keep writing everyone.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sales and Promotion

I asked my publisher the level of sales they were expecting for my book.  I did this because I had no idea what they consider a successful book.  Sales are, after all, relative.  Major publishing houses want thousands of copies sold in a month.  My publisher is happy with over 100 copies; 300 copies or more would make them happier still but they don't expect much more than that.

That gives me a range to shoot for which I didn't have before.  My focus this week is identifying different methods of promoting my book to yield the 100 to 300 copies a month they want.

Some methods are obvious: they will be interviews and book signings to be sure.  Other methods are less so.  Giveaways and contests are popular but I need to ask if I need to fund the prizes or if the publisher will.  Ideally the publisher would be give away some free copies of the book to generate interest.

I've got a media kit in the works; another way to promote the book is to get this information in the hands of people who review books routinely.  Their word of mouth is critical.  I could also have the book reviewed, but my publisher is not keen on that and even though they explained their reasoning I still don't see why I can't hire a review service.

Blog tours are another option and press releases and a book trailer are a must.  I also have business cards for the book (yes, for the book) and I'll have postcard-size takeaways with the back cover text on the reverse that I can give people in large numbers or leave behind somewhere.

I expect I'll be using social media too.  Tweets and forum posts about different things are likely in my future and will an adjustment to my email signature. I've even revised the start of my bio along the lines suggested by another writer who is focusing on book promotion for writers.

I can only hope that all these things -- or at least some of these things -- make a difference. I'll be talking with my publisher more on this subject I'm sure because the road here is murky and unclear. I'll have to experiment to see what works and what doesn't.

In the meantime, I need to keep working on Book 2.  Nothing kills a book faster than being written by a one-hit wonder.

Friday, August 3, 2012

What No One Can Teach You

So you want to be a writer?  Or is it that you are writing but not getting anywhere?  You read books, take classes, attend writer groups, read blogs about writing, and still something is missing.  What can I say?  That happens.  Writing is a skill and some people are better at it than others.  I play the guitar, but I'll never perform for anyone; I'm not good enough and I know it.

What can you do?  Write more.  You'd be surprised how much writing you need to do before your skills develop to the point where they are good. You need to read a lot too and notice how sentences are put together. How does the writer get your interest and hold it. How are characters sketched and developed.

But even after all that, there are some things you are going to have to learn on your own.  For example, you need to know what tone a story should have.  I can't teach you that.  And you need a voice all your own.  I can't teach that either.  These come from experimentation and experience I'm afraid.

Use of repetition is another one I can't teach. Oh, I can tell you not to be repetitive and you'll be able to do that.  But sometimes you need to break the rules.  I can't tell you when or where to do that; you have to feel it -- yes, this is the writer as Jedi school of learning, thank you -- and know that you've got a good place to use it.

You also need to develop an internal sense of when your story is good enough.  Most writers don't have this to start.  I certainly didn't.  But you need this so that you know when to send it out for others to look at. If you send it out too soon you'll get rejected and discouraged.  But if you send it out when you know it is ready, then each rejection you get can be weathered and not throw you off course.

I had this problem. Publishers want to see your work but not until it is ready.  If you've got flat characters, it is not ready and you need to fix that first.  Of course, when you think the story is ready but the publisher doesn't, you wonder why the universe is conspiring against you.  The simple truth is: you need to revise your story.

Of course once it all comes together, writing a good story is great.

So keep at it.  Writing takes time and patience and a clear head. Know what you want to say, know your characters, and know the world your characters are in.  And try writing some non-fiction first to get all the grammar, punctuation, spelling, and mechanical issues out of your writing.  When you've got that down, you'll be ready to starting fiction.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Is There a Camera in Your Mind?

Often when I am writing a scene for a novel or story I can visualize it in my head.  It's like there a camera in there filming the scene for a movie.  This helps me a great deal because it lets me simply record the scene as I see it. I refer to this as the camera in my head.

Having a camera in my head also lets me step through a scene frame by frame and examine what's going on.  Remember the scene in Bladerunner where a photo of the crime scene yields all sorts of evidence?  The camera in my head works like that too making revision easier because I can stop the action or rewind it and fiddle with a specific bit or other.

The other benefit is I know when to revise a scene; when I am not visualizing it, it needs revision.

I don't know how I developed with approach; some person a visually oriented and others are not.  Writers tend not to be.  We think with words not pictures, as opposed to painters or sculptors. But like any generalization that is true only up to a point. I learned that sometimes you need a picture, like a map, because words just won't do.

On the other hand there are times when I only want to use words.  Poetry relies on this and so do good descriptions. The right words in the right order to convey precisely what you want to say.  I've hit the mark, or come close a few times.  You can too if you are willing to practice, practice, practice.

An exercise to develop a camera in your head, try reading a lot of fiction and watching movies that tell a story about a set of characters.  That's harder to find these days than it used to be so don't be afraid to rent some old movies.

And above all, keep writing.

Friday, July 27, 2012


When it comes to developing a story, the devil really is in the details. You want to pull out all the details  that enhance the story.  What happened?  Describe it. How did the character react? What happened next?

The longer you can keep this going the more developed your story will be.  If you get stuck, try changing an event.  For example, my first novel was originally a 40-page chapter in a larger book.  When broke the book into pieces the chapters had to undergo some major revision and development.

To develop the first chapter I changed the ending.  Instead of catching the bad guy, I let him get away so the heroes must chase him.  But they had no way to do this so I had to think up a way.  All of this adds details and events to the story.

Then I throw roadblocks in their way during the chase to keep the journey interesting.  Then they arrive at their destination and proceed cautiously until they find the thief and then more obstacles because the thief doesn't have the item he stole any more.

Later I added new scenes where the heroes are betrayed by one of their own.  More details and events.  All of these allowed me to turn a 40-page chapter into a 70,000+ word novel.

None of this was easy and added months of work to completing the book but it was worth it.  So think about the scenes you are writing.  Add the details and action that will help propel your story forward.

And don't forget about character development.  You can have a great story and flat characters that will turn off many readers.  Get the characters involved.  Show how they react.  Have them draw on their experience and offer suggestions.  Of course, this means you must know your characters well.  But that sorta goes without saying.

And above all, keep writing.

Monday, July 23, 2012

How Many More Must Die?

This post is not about writing or technology or social media or anything else I typically blog about.  It is about us and our society.  America and the people who live it in.  And my one question is: how many more must die before we learn to live together without killing each other senselessly?

In my lifetime, the number of national tragedies that have played across the national stage is greater than at any other time in our history.  I suppose part of the reason for that is the mass communication we now have. But it is more than that.

Americans have always needed to be violent; shooting and killing was how the frontier was settled. But the frontier is gone now and we need to stop shooting -- especially when the urge is to shoot our fellow citizens.

That won't be easy.  Human nature can be extreme and violent; God, I have my own demons with which I wrestle; I have moments -- like everyone else -- when I want to lash out because I am angry, but I don't act on them. Similarly, we need to find a way to deal with whatever it is that drives people to kill others.  After all, we have enough people outside our country who want to kill us, do we have fight with each other too?

And it is not as if the answer on how resolve differences is news. We have laws for this and when that is insufficient, we have the right to peaceful assemble and protest, to make our voices heard to our government so that new laws can be enacted.  That is the American way.

If you feel you need to go further, passive resistance is also an option.  But under no circumstances should you kill another person.  Never. I don't care if you don't kill the other person's politics or religion or sexual preference or ethnic background. And if you are just plain anger, go work it off at the gym or tennis court please and spare the lives of innocent people.

So what will it be?  How do we stop the killings and the madness?  How many more must die before we can love our neighbors?

I don't know, but I hope it is soon.