Thursday, November 20, 2014

Update

Greetings all!  An unexpected business trip kept me out of the loop for longer than I thought, which is the reason I haven't posted this week.  Also, some new work news may have me delaying the release of Akeldama for a year.  On the plus side, I'll have that much longer to prepare the launch.

I promise to return next week with full posts.  Sometimes life gets in the way.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 8 - Cleaning Solution

"If we can't stop the hemorrhaging, he won't survive much longer."

Kurt's pronouncement was bleak, but looking at Assissi, they could all tell it was true.  The point of the arrow did enough damage upon entry into his shoulder, but the wound showed far more than simple carnage brought on by an arrow.  The weapon had been coated in something, and the poison was causing a reaction the likes of which none of them had ever seen.

"You're a healer," Lisa noted.  "You've healed far worse among us while playing the game."

"That was a fucking game!" Kurt retorted.  "I'm not a damn healer, I've never been to medical school, and you all know that the sight of blood makes me nauseous."

Sun was just beginning to break over the horizon.  It took more than two hours for them to lose the goblins who'd given chase, and they were now holed up in a cluster of rocks and scraggly trees several miles outside of town.

Assissi's arm was drenched in red, and black lines ran from the wound across his shoulder and chest.  The priest had yet to regain consciousness, and no one could tell if his sweat was due to fever or the exhaustion of running from the goblins.

"We're going to figure something out," said Varagorn.  "We didn't get sent here to die - I won't let it happen."

"What are you going to do about it?" Pat asked.

Before the argument could begin in earnest, Dan shuddered and closed his eyes.  When he opened them again, his face held a dreamy look.

"Potions and wonders abound in the forest.  A shadowy witch has the means to cure Assissi's wounds, but the price may be high.  You must bring her both the ingredients and the price, but beware her vile treachery, for actions speak louder than her words."

It took a second for the group to realize Dan had slipped back into his role as Storyteller.  Finally, Ray said, "Where can we find her, and what ingredients does she need?"

"She's to the east, in an uncharted canyon.  You'll know it because it is in darkness except when the sun makes its final descent.  Follow the light to her darkness."  He shuddered again, shook his head, and looked back up.  When he did, the dreamy quality on his face was gone.  "What the hell just happened?"

"I'm guessing that your role here has just been identified," Lisa said.

Varagorn jumped to his feet.  "What are we waiting for?  We need to head east and find that cure or Assissi will die."

"I counsel patience," Ray said.  "All we know is that she's to the east, and we don't know what she'll want.  If we go barging in there, we may lose our only chance."

The bickered for another ten minutes before deciding that Lisa and Dan would stay behind to watch over Assissi.  It was mid-morning before they mounted their steeds and headed east.

Varagorn wanted to charge straight ahead, but it was Pat that suggested they find a mountain to get a good look from.  As fortune would have it, there was one close by, and a few tiny paths littered the mountainside and led to the summit.

Pat smiled.  "Back at school, this wouldn't be a mountain.  It might be called a knob or some such."

"It fits for what we want," said Ray.  Looking out across the broad landscape, he said, "We can see for miles up here."

"Yet there are two canyons that might fit the bill," said Varagorn.  "We can't look at both and get back before Assissi dies.  Which one do we choose?"

"We could split up," Kurt suggested.

But Varagorn was firm.  "No.  We don't know the area well enough.  Our strength and diversity are out only shots at this."

"I think I can figure it out," Ray said.  Without waiting for permission, he grew a large fireball in his right hand and hurled it at one of the canyons.  He then repeated the exercise and hurled it at the other.

The ball of flame broke open over the first canyon's entrance, but it split open and died, showering the landscape in sparks.  The second fireball, however, split the entrance and flooded the area, lighting up shadows that looked like they rarely saw the sun.

"That's the one," Ray said.

Varagorn spurred his horse without waiting for the others.  Dust kicked up from its hooves and the others followed shortly behind.  Although they could see the canyon from the mountain, it still took several hours to ride there.  When they finally got there, it was mid-afternoon.  Their horses hesitated as they breeched the canyon.

Hidden deep against one of the canyon walls was a stone hut, little more than a hovel.  A thin wisp of smoke flittered from a small chimney in the outcropping.  They dismounted and headed over.

Varagorn unsheathed his sword, but Ray grabbed his arm.  "We're here to talk first."

"If she won't help, I'll makae her help."

"We have no idea who or what we're dealing with.  Let's see that first."

Reluctantly, Varagorn re-sheathed his weapon, and Ray put up a fist to pound on the door.  But before he could knock, the door swung open.

A withered old lady in a rocking chair and gray shawl smiled at them from across the room.  "I saw you coming, my dears.  How are you?"

There was an awkward silence at first.  Finally Ray spoke.  "We've come because we've heard of your healing powers.  Our friend has been shot with a goblin arrow, and we can't heal the wound.  Can you help us."

She smirked.  Leaning forward, she said, "Of course I can.  I have the alamite and chrysanthemum blossoms required.  All I need is the purest water from the spring inside the mountain you've just left."

"So, if we bring you that, you'll help us?"

"Of course."  She leaned back, and then, almost as an afterthought, she said, "Of course, I would like to be paid."

"We have money," Varagorn offered.

"Oh no, my child," she chuckled.  "Money doesn't interest me the same way hard to come by items do."

They looked at each other before Ray asked, "What kind of hard to come by items?"

"Several of my potions are lacking in purity, the kind of purity only a pure creature begets.  On that same mountain roams a herd of unicorn.  Bring me one of their horns, and you shall have your potion.  I advise you to be quick, for if it was indeed a goblin arrow that injured your companion, then you haven't much time to waste."

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Should I Abandon My Online Novel?

The title says it all, and I need your help.  Should I abandon my online novel?

I plan to write the next two chapters, but I'm seriously considering calling it quits.  The reasons are manifold, but the basic one boils down to the reason a lot of writers abandon their stuff - it sucks.

Yep, I can be honest.  This thing I've written over the last two months is not very good.  The premise was something I've been playing around with for years - role playing dorks(it's okay...I'm a dork, so I can say that) get caught up in their own adventure and slowly start to become the players they were portraying - but never got around to doing anything with.  I saw this online experience as a chance to see if I could flesh it out.

I was wrong.  Not even close.

To start with, I have no outline, so I'm flying by the seat of my pants on this one.  Outlining is crucial to anything I write because it provides me with direction.  I can foresee where things are going and make correction en route.  Without an outline, I'm kind of just going by whatever strikes me in the moment.

Why am I not outlining?  Because it's time consuming.  In addition to my "regular" life of work and two children, I'm also working on another book that I don't feel I've given enough attention to.  The novel in question is a Homecoming prequel, and I need to give all my outlining imagination to it if I want it to come to fruition.  Outlining a second book takes not only time, but also focus, and I need that focus on one project or neither will come off well.

Next, time is just getting away from me.  I write three blog posts a week, and I normally complete them on Sunday night so that I can post a week's worth of material.  That allows me to focus on other stuff the rest of the time.  However, an online novel is more involved than a 750 word post, and it requires much more effort.  Even at 1500 words, that's not a very big chapter that allows for a great deal of detail.  Am I giving anyone any sense of what's going on?  I know writers must be brief, but I think it's a little too brief here.

Due to knowing what's involved in writing a new chapter, I tend to put it off from the rest of my weekly posts.  That leads to my thinking about it when I'm supposed to be working on my other novel, and so I delay, figuring I have plenty of time.  Suddenly it's Thursday night and I have nothing, so I sit down and slap together a half-assed effort.  I think that half-assery shows.

Finally, I don't want people to judge my talents too much by the mess in my online novel.  I could be scaring away customers who read this and think it's representative of my work.  It's not.  My novels are far more in depth and better written.  Unfortunately, folks might not get through to read my other stuff if they look solely at this.

I need feedback.  Lack of feedback will constitute acknowledgement that I need to move on.  Please help me figure this out.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Indie Versus Traditional - Marketing

The refrain I often hear from defenders of traditional publishing is that traditional publishers offer the backing of an established business, especially when it comes to marketing.  Traditional houses have an array of ways to help you get your name out there so more people buy your book.

Bullshit.

Oh, it sounds nice, and I'm sure it even exists with a select few.  However, it doesn't exist with most writers, whether established or not.  Article after article talks about how authors are responsible for doing most, or even all, of their own marketing.  Traditional publishers don't want to waste their limited resources on potential flops, so they reserve what they have for more established names.

The problem with this is that the more established names are the ones who don't need as much exposure.  They've usually built up a loyal fan base that's waiting for the next tome to come out.  This becomes a death spiral when the newbie or mid-lister's work doesn't sell - the publisher uses this as a reason to not spend marketing money, so there is no exposure to new readers, and, therefore, low sales.

The only benefit of marketing offered by traditional publishers is distribution potential, and if you're not selling, they won't distribute it on a large scale anyway(to say nothing of how when it doesn't sell, you have little recourse since the publisher owns your printing rights).  The few newbies that get marketing are those already doing well due to word of mouth, like 50 Shades of Grey.  It's that old axiom of needing to prove you don't need the money in order to get it...

If you have to market yourself anyway, why not go indie?  You retain full control over how you get yourself out there.  No one is going to come along and say, "That's too risky" or "That's not your target demographic."  It's your decision, consequences and all.  Yes, it's work, but you were going to have to do that anyway.  Wouldn't you rather take control and be answerable only to yourself?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No Post Tonight

Sorry folks, but the week got away from me.  As I sit here at 10pm, I'm simply too tired to write the next chapter in my online novel.  I'll return next week and will continue the story.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Background Details

Part of the fun of writing a novel, to me, is researching the various aspects that lend credence of the work.  I get that I'm a total nerd, but I truly enjoy digging into things and finding out about the ways in which energy moves in a vacuum or how cells absorb oxygen into the blood.  However, the thing that balances that out is finding how much detail to put in for the reader, and what distracts them from the story(and looks a bit like bragging about how much I know).

This can be frustrating for many of us who want to essentially shout at the reader, "LOOK AT ALL THIS RESEARCH I WENT INTO!  IT SHOWS I CARE, AND YOU MUST NOW LOVE WHAT I SAY!"  We're all proud of that time and effort, but it makes us sometimes lose sight that the point of such research isn't to showcase our knowledge, but rather to help us tell a good and credible story.

This may even create instances whereby we don't even get to detail the extensive background behind some of our concepts.  I did several chapters in Akeldama around the town of Salina, Kansas, but talking about it having a population of just over 47,000 or how its wettest month is May has no bearing on the novel I wrote.  The reason to do such research, beyond helping set the scene, is credence.  There are lots of readers out there who, upon reading about a place, go out and do extra research on it to see how much real life matches up with their favorite story.  Just ask the folks in Forks, Washington.

It's okay to leave stuff to the reader's imagination.  Hard though it may be, don't go into every detail about the correct way to skin a bear or how the structure of DNA works; just use enough so that it enhances what you want to say.  If it doesn't advance the plot, leave it out, or at least leave it out in the detail you really really really want to get into.

Writers are pompous jerks sometimes(it's okay...as a writer, I can say that), and we often feel that people don't appreciate what we write.  However, it's those same people that keep us employed by buying our stuff, so coming off as a boor turns a lot of them off, to say nothing of putting them to sleep.  Don't.  Know how much to say, and no more.  Find solace in how much you know about a topic and leave it be.  Anything more, no matter how tempting to engage in, risks alienating your audience, and that can be hard to recover from.  Sure, you'll be smug...but you'll be smug with no one to read your brilliance.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Stigmatism

Anyone who pays any attention at all to this blog knows I've chosen to go with indie publishing.  I believe the market has changed enough to allow for it, and the freedom bequeathed by such a choice means I have true control over what I create and how I market.  However, that doesn't mean the public at large understands the choice.

I've told a few people about my work, and when I mention the May 2016 release date, they inevitably say something like, "You have a publisher?  That's awesome!"  Then, when I detail my decision to go indie comes up, their face falls and they say something along the lines of, "Well, I'm sure you will still do okay," when their expression is easy enough to read.  It says, "Your work wasn't good enough to get a major publisher?  I'm sorry.  You must suck."

There's still a stigma attached to indie publishing.  Most have no idea that Fifty Shades of Grey started as an indie book, just like their eyes will widen in surprise when you inform them that The Shack was and still is an independently published work.  While I love Hugh Howey and JA Konrath, the vast majority of casual readers have no idea who they are.  However, both have hit the New York Times Best Sellers List.

The perception remains that only those who couldn't land an agent or find a "real" publisher go indie...and most of the public still calls it "self publishing."  Visions persist of awful books hard bound with heavy staples that look like a 5th grade book report.  Never mind the advances that have come along in the last ten years, or the changes that the digital market has made to publishing whereby it's hard, if not impossible, to tell a traditionally published e-book from an independently published one.

This is a tough nut to crack in the minds of our readers, and it necessitates that we not always publicize the publishing nature of our work.  Yes, I wish we all lived in a world where indie or traditional wouldn't matter to folks, but as long as we're wishing, I'd kind of like to have a pony.  Whether we like it or not, we start a step behind in the minds of the casual reading public when it becomes known at the outset that our work isn't traditionally published.  I think we can get past this if we establish an audience from the get go, but we must first get past the mental barriers.

The way to get past this in the end is to put out quality work.  People enjoy reading challenging, fun books.  Every time we put out crap, we reinforce the negative stereotype of indie work.  Again, it doesn't matter that some traditional work sucks balls - it's the public perception still that if you are published by a large house, then you are good, but if you go indie, you weren't good enough.

What has been your experience?  Do people in your critique groups and writing classes automatically write off indie works(sometimes with a touch of pity)?  Or do they give it a chance?  And what are you doing to affect that perception?

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 7 - Jail Break

The grunting made no sense to him, but Chris suspected he wouldn't have been listening even if he could understand it.  His sense of fear was simply to high.

Something else distracted him from figuring out what was being said - the stench.  They all joked around the table while playing DragonLore what the smells would be like, but saying something smelled bad was nothing like experiencing it in person.  If a sewer could vomit and then drag itself through a pile of dog shit, this is what it would smell like.

The goblins milled back and forth around the fire.  Their camp looked spartan - a piece of torn cloth on sticks for shelter here, a large communal water bucket there.  Large slabs of some kind of meat were spit over the fire and roasting, although Chris was in no hurry to find out what kind of meat it was.

One of the goblins came over, grabbed him by the hair, and lifted his head, snorting in his face as he did so.  It's green face was streaked with dirt, and its needle-like teeth had chunks of flesh in them.

"What do you want?" Chris asked by instinct.

It grunted and snorted at him, its putrid breath ravaging Chris' nostrils.  It walked away after slamming his head on the ground.

After a few seconds, Chris regained vision and looked around again.  Most of the goblins were either ripping pieces of flesh from the bones they'd taken off of the fire, or they were sharpening blades on rocks nearby.

Chris struggling against the ropes, but they were too tight, even digging into his wrists every time he moved.  It sounded so easy in their games to use something to cut such ropes, but real life was far harder.

One of the goblins came over to him and pulled out a knife.  Chris' eyes widened when the creature held it against his arm, and those same eyes winced when the blade was pressed into his skin.  The goblin held a goblet against his arm and filled his cup.  It raised its nectar high into the air, grunted something(likely a toast), and swigged it down.  As it drained the goblet, the rest of the goblins cheered.

Chris could've sworn he heard a whizzing sound in the air, but it was hard to distinguish against the cheering monsters.  A second whizzing sound went by, accompanied moments later by a goblin roar.  He looked towards the fire as much as the pain would allow him to and saw a pair of goblins on the ground.

That was when the fire in the center of the camp exploded.  A shower of embers rained down on him as goblins raced for their weapons and headed away from him to meet whatever the threat was.  A mountain of a man filled the shadows and began slicing goblins in half.

It took him a second or two to realize that his hands were free.  Chris looked up to see Lisa kneeling beside him.

"Come on, Assisi," she whispered.  "Tucker has them distracted, but even he can't take on the whole camp.  We need to move."

Struggling to his feet, Chris was surprised by how much the pain in his arm hindered the movement of his feet.  The arm hung limply at his side, blood running off the end of his fingertips.  He staggered towards the perceived safety of the woods just a few feet away.  He and Lisa were about halfway there when he heard a couple of the goblins shout, their feet trampling the ground and getting closer.

"Shit," Lisa snarled.  "We've gotta move."

She grabbed Chris by his wounded arm and pulled him into the forest.  The priest cried out in pain, but he could do little except obey as he went.  The goblins were getting closer until Chris heard another sound nearby that reminded him of his younger days with his dad as they killed chickens on the farm.

Tucker had raced through the crowd and cleaved the pair of monsters cleanly in two.  His shoulders heaved as he panted, his helmet covering his expression.  "Get the hell outta here, now!"

Lisa took Chris by the belt and threw him onto the horse nearby.  She leapt onto her own steed in a single swift motion, and the barreled into the trees as a green mist went up behind them.  The whizzing he heard were now goblin arrows that raced by their heads.  Some of the shouting got closer as part of the horde pursued them while the others tried taking down Tucker and whoever else was back there.

Despite his limp arm, Chris nearly managed to straighten before an arrow pierced his shoulder.  He yelped and then slumped on his horse before the pain blacked him out.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Muse - Breathing Once More

Blip.

-----

Blip.

-----

Blip.

Her pulse was growing stronger as I set the latest paragraph on paper.  My Muse had been ill for quite some time, and I wasn't sure if she could ever fully recover.  It was my fault, of course.  Months of neglect turned her into a shadow of her former self.  It was going to take far more than 3,000 words to get her back.

Looking to her sickly form lying on my bed, I asked, "How do I make it clear how he feels about his wife?"

Blip.

-----

Blip.

-----

I thought she'd slipped back into that ever-present coma and went back to staring at my screen.  However, she soon stirred.

"Talk about how he got into this marriage, about how he both loves and resents his family.  It'll create depth."

Nodding, I wrote, David got Jen pregnant in college, and she joined him as he began his Army career.  He never got to be one of those "single guys" in his 20s, and he wondered what he missed out on.  Yes, he loved Jen and Tyler, but he had, at the tender age of 23, very grown up responsibilities.  Jen was at home with their son, and the boy took a lot of effort.  She didn't seem to appreciate that he had a full time job that was more than working at a bank, and the boy...

"No, no, no," the Muse chided, her voice growing stronger.  "You need to show those things, but don't do it all in one paragraph.  Drop hints as he escapes the initial attack.  Make it clear in how he worries, as well as in the guilt he internalizes over those feelings.  Do what you're doing now and you won't create empathy between him and the audience."

I went back and deleted the paragraph.  Instead, I described his desperation at getting away from the enemy and making his way back home.  I put in but a single line about how he abandoned his comrades, but I knew I'd revisit that over the coming pages.

Looking at the clock, I told her, "It's getting late, and I still need to spend time with my kids.  One of them has a dance recital coming up that I can't miss."

The Muse nodded and smiled, a brief flush of color returning to her skin.  "I understand.  Just do me one favor."

"What's that?" I asked.

"Don't leave me alone for so long this time."

"I won't," I promised.  Of course, I'd said that to her before.  I had a schedule that would revive her, but it was going to take months, and there would be bumps along the way.  I hoped my promise wasn't more in a long string of empty words.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Stalking

No one is going to love all of our work.  It could be because our stuff isn't good, or the person didn't get it, or maybe just because such things are the essence of subjectivity.  Our work won't appeal to everyone, not even if we've written the greatest piece of literature since Shakespeare.  And some of those folks will leave negative reviews on sites that others go to for recommendations.

All of this is part of being a writer and putting our work into the public sphere.  Bad reviews may sting, but hopefully we can use them to either create better work, or laugh about because the reviewer was so obviously a moron.  What we shouldn't do is engage a bad reviewer, because it makes us seem petty and pouty.  And what we should never ever ever do is stalk the person who wrote the bad review.

Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened recently.  An author named Kathleen Hale decided to go beyond the pale and confront one of her bad reviewers.  Well, she didn't just go beyond the pale...she jumped across that line and started slam dancing over there.  She even wrote a nearly 5,000 word article about it trying to justify her actions.  I read this with increasing alarm.  Most of us would, hopefully, respond to any such person by carefully backing away and calling for the folks in white coats.

Hale makes a number of laughable points, the first of which is that she was bullied.  She links over to a site that calls the big bad meanies at Goodreads Reviewers bullies if they don't say their stuff nicely.  I wish that people could respond constructively, but it demeans the word bully to even put these things in the same ballpark.  People online are mean, but they're not beating you up, they're not coming to your house, and they're not calling at weird hours to harass you - they're saying shitty stuff about your work.  Guess what?  You've asked for folks to do that!  Okay, maybe not specifically, but these kinds of people are part and parcel of the gig when you put your stuff into the public sphere.  Mean people will say mean things.  Most of us learned to ignore assholes like that around the time we left high school(and some even earlier).

However, Hale decided to get all butt hurt about it and engage in a Twitter War.  She and her reviewer began tweeting in tandem, and she got even more upset that it continued(for the record, I've never "gotten" Twitter - it seems a bastions of true hate on the internet, and rarely do I ever read anything besides someone's emotional reaction to some issue or circumstance they don't understand; btw, no, I don't have an account, and things like this are why...well that, and the fact that I'm not that important(and neither is anyone else)).  Once that ended the way anyone over the age of five could have predicted, Hale acknowledges she engaged in some "light stalking: I prowled Blythe’s Instagram and Twitter, I read her reviews, considered photos of her baked goods and watched from a distance as she got on her soapbox."

At this point, normal people could have written this off as a little deranged, but mostly harmless.  We've all gotten hurt, and some of us don't handle it well.  We engage in fantasies of revenge and how the unscrupulous person who hurt us will eventually acknowledge their mistake and let us know that they were wrong.  That's not what Hale did - instead, she paid money to do a full background check on the reviewer(creepy), called her at work pretending to be a fact checker(creepier), and went to her house(IN THE NAME OF GOD, GET SOME HELP!).

The conversation she engaged in with the person who may or may not have been the reviewer was surreal, as if she was fishing for the woman to admit she was the reviewer so she could communicate how badly her feelings had been hurt.

First of all, if some crazy person showed up at my house or tried calling me on the phone pretending to be someone else, a restraining order and consultation with a lawyer would be the first thing that would happen.  At this point, the woman in question would have been perfectly justified in claiming she felt threatened.  A word of advice - don't go to another person's house over a bad review.  Depending on what state you do this in, there are self defense laws on the books that you wouldn't be on the happy end of.

If you get a bad review, laugh it off.  If you can't, then cry about it for a day or two, and then get over it.  You make yourself look immature and a bit psycho(a bit?  Who am I kidding?  This is WAY BIG psycho) by tracking down a reviewer.  When I read reviews, I look for trends.  If someone writes a bad one, but that's the only bad one, I write it off as an outlier.  Those who use a single bad review as reason to not buy something aren't what you'd call "reliable" readers anyway.  To go as overboard and insane about it as she did, Hale indicates that maybe she should write about mental instability, because you should always "write what you know."