Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Old Mistakes

Perfection may be the goal, but it’s rarely something we attain in life, whether it’s through our actions or through our writing.  Unfortunately, writing is where our lack of perfection tends to stand out.  Spelling mistrakes, misplaced, commas, and not making sense words here, are what readers notice.  Yes, we proofread and use editors, but things just get overlooked sometimes.  But how do we deal with them?

Prior to publication, dealing with writing mistakes is easy.  Just go back in and fix what you screwed up.  Even after publication, that can sometimes be accomplished without too many people noticing.  Unfortunately, the errors are sometimes orders of magnitude larger, and that’s where things get tricky.

In my first novel, I used a restaurant called Philippe’sThe Original as a plot device.  I went through the process of contacting them and getting their permission to use their name and restaurant.  I promised them a free copy, and they sounded very excited.  This place is in LA, so maybe, I figured, this could be a way to go viral!  However, things did not work out as I planned, and by that I mean that I misspelled their name in my book(Phillipe’s instead of Philippe’s).

I didn’t catch this error until after I sent out the copy, and I was(and still am) mortified.  I have since fixed this grave mistake, but I haven’t mustered up the courage to send them a new copy(along with a note of apology).  Yes, it’s a pride thing, but the shame I feel over this error, when I went to such effort to get their permission in the first place, makes me feel like I let them down.  I know I should get over it, and I will, but that doesn’t make the error any less cringeworthy.

The lesson, I think, is that we all make mistakes, and we have to try to correct them when they’re discovered.  That can be much harder than it sounds.  Human arrogance and ego get in the way as we wonder what the reaction will be.  And I do wonder…what will the reaction, if any, be?

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Favorite Covers Of Mine

I was thinking about the covers to my novels, and I wondered which one was the best.  Car; Graves, my cover artist, has done a phenomenal jobs with all four, but each has different qualities, and each evokes a different memory for each book.  That said, I think I have them ranked…at least for now.

#4 – Schism

Schism definitely lets folks know that there has been a great tear in something American.  There’s a red side and a blue side, and the flames let us know something is burning(in this case, the nation).  I love how it takes some thought to get its true meaning.  Yet it’s not as evocative as the others, in my opinion.

Salvation Day is, in my opinion, far and away my best book, and the cover is pretty simple – a man caught between Heaven and Hell, a mysterious device strapped to his body.  It’s the simplicity that belies the complex nature of the book.  I’d like to know how someone would feel picking it up and looking at the cover without knowing the story.

Undoubtedly the most complex cover in my inventory.  It captures most of the spirit of the book with the flaming car crash and obscured figure looming over top of it.  It gave me chills when I looked at it the first time, and I think it conveys the potential terror inside.

#1 – Akeldama

My first cover remains my overall favorite.  I had an idea of a cross with fangs over the legs against a black background that faded into white at the bottom.  Carl took that idea and outdid himself.  The cross with fangs at the bottom, imposed over the windows of a church, captured everything I wanted it to be and more.  This cover alone shows that I should stick to writing and others should do my covers.  I absolutely love this one.

What are your thoughts?  Do you agree, or would you put them in a different order, and why?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Staying Ahead

One of the traps I’m trying so desperately to avoid is getting behind again.  That was one of the reasons this blog almost died last winter.  I wrote posts right along the edge of the deadline, and when a date came and I had no post, along with no energy to write something decent, I either didn’t post, or the audience got a crappy post.

So I’m trying to stay a month ahead, and as of this post, I’m still there.  That doesn’t mean I don’t change up posts if something newsworthy happens, like my Coffee In Space interview, but I have to be ahead or I’ll get so busy I’ll never catch up.  After all, I’m not sure how readers would take yet another hiatus from me…

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

What Makes Someone An Author?

I recently came across an article written by a man named Michael Kozlowski about self-publishing.  In it, he makes very clear his disdain for those that go the indie route for publishing.  He quotes a pretty uptight publisher of non-fiction economic books(but I repeat myself), saying, “The overwhelming majority of self-published books are terrible—unutterable rubbish, they don’t enhance anything in the world.”  It’s obvious from the rest of the article that Kozlowski shares this view, as he talks about how little indie authors make.

This is not an unknown phenomenon.  In fact, it’s quite common.  Many in the traditional publishing world view independent writers as not “real” authors.  So I thought I’d explore what that means.

To the traditional world, being a real author apparently only means having an agent and traditional publisher validate you in some way by giving you a deal.  Number of sales and size of audience don’t matter because these gatekeepers have given approval.  I gotta say that I think that’s just a bit…narrowminded.

I’ve talked at length about my disdain for traditional publishing.  Even decades ago, when there were numerous publishers, they were still elitist, missing out on many works and promoting others that were garbage.  The most famous case involved Steps by Jerzy Kosinski, an award winning book that Chuck Ross retyped verbatim and changed only the author’s name.  Yet publishers still rejected it, not knowing it had already been published and won awards(although many of their rejection notes were encouraging).

Today, the lack of publishers out there makes the claim of not being traditionally published even more of a joke.  Are lots of self-published books bad?  You bet!  So are lots of traditionally published books(Pregnesia comes to mind).  Do lots of self published writers make very little money?  Also very true, but so do most traditionally published writers.  In fact, nearly 80% of authors do not make enough from their books to earn a living from writing alone.

So what does make an author?  To me, it’s pretty simple – did you write and publish a story that someone outside of your family enjoyed?  If you can honestly say yes to that, then you’re an author.  I have to qualify it with “outside of your family” because, truthfully, your family is probably being nice.  Also, you probably enjoyed your own story since you wrote it and it conforms to your vision.  However, if you can get another person, a disinterested party, to enjoy your work – or, better yet, pay money to read your story – then you’re an author.  Being an author involves writing books – not stories on notebook paper with no cover – and getting others to enjoy them.  That’s it.  Yes, you put a lot more into your writing, pouring your heart and soul into the book, but that’s all the behind the scenes stuff most don’t care about.  What they care about is your story.  So tell it.  Be an author.  And to hell with what snotty elitists think.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Worthy Awards

Every writer likes adulation.  No matter what they say, writers want to be adored.  It’s one of the reasons we tell our stories in the first place.  One of the ways we feel adored is when we win awards.  For example, winning the Indie Discovery Award for Paranormal Fiction for Salvation Day gave me a sense of validation, and I still brag about it to anyone who’ll listen.

Unfortunately, in recent years, awards are given less for good stories than they are for the “right” content, or if they were written by the “right” author.  Take The HugoAwards.  In years past, it served as a nod to some of the best science fiction and fantasy writers of the day, from Neil Gaiman to JK Rowling to Octavia Butler.  Yes, there have been some exceptionally talented writers to not win one – Madeleine L’Engle(A Wrinkle In Time comes to mind) – but most of the awards went to sci-fi giants whose stories captured our imaginations.  In the present day, however, stories are awarded for their agenda and how “woke” they are rather than for appealing to a larger fanbase.  Writers like Mary Robinette Kowal and NK Jemisin write stories that are more agenda driven  that founded in a good science fiction storyline.  Even Among Others by Jo Walton(the 2012 Hugo Award Winner) was more about an angsty teen writing about daily life that just happened to have a sci-fi setting, but sci-fi wasn’t necessarily the main thrust of the story.

Some folks have tried to shine a light on this with a campaign called Sad Puppies.  Now, admittedly, this campaign is not really designed to win the award, but rather to create disruption.  In the past, it nominated actual science fiction stories from authors like Larry Correia and Sarah Hoyt, folks who due to some of their political leanings never got a fair shake from the newly politically active Hugos.  The campaign demonstrated massive issues with the Hugos, such as block voting, and it demonstrated its adherence more to ideology than to good stories.
(I won’t go into the Rabid Puppies campaign – a totally different slate with a completely different objective)

Recognizing that the Hugos were unlikely to break from the woke-scold movement any time soon, some writers organized The Dragon Awards as an alternative.  Winners have included Brad Torgerson, Claudia Gray, and Naomi Novik.  Yes, the award doesn’t have the prestige of the Hugos(or at least what the Hugos used to have), but at laest it is presenting an alternative where folks can find good stories and not books with political agendas.

That got me wondering if other genres needed to follow suit.  The Bram Stoker Award(horror) and The Edgars(mystery) seem to be doing just fine, but The RITAs(romance…see a previous post for context) could sure use an alternative.  Much like RWA, the award seems to have been taken hostage by the woke-scolds who view it as a way to advance a cause rather than as recognition for stories that excite fans.

Awards should be for good writing and captivating stories, not for those with the right worldview.  After all, haven’t we spent a good portion of human history trying to get past that kind of prejudicial bullshit?

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Straight And Narrow

In days of yore, our heroes flashed perfect smiles while rescuing the princess, all human faults cast off as they showed us how wonderful they were.  From Errol Flynn’sRobin Hood to Don Quixote, these noble heroes had nary a flaw and were written as themes to aspire to.

Talk about making me want to vomit.

Although fictional role models are great, a hero without flaws is one to whom nobody can relate.  One of the main reasons wrestling crowds turned away from Hulk Hogan’s “Eat-your-vitamins-and-say-your-prayers” routine was that no one was that perfect.  What we want, in the end, is to see ourselves in our heroes, for there to be a chance that we just might be able to do great things in spite of our less than noble natures.  Harry Potter shows us teenage anger issues.  Jack Torrence shows us we all have demons.  Even Deadpool shows us self-loathing.  These are things we all carry inside of us, and pretending they don’t exist makes certain characters unrelatable.

Maybe society has just grown too cynical.  A century ago, we wanted the heroes to wear white and live by the rules of the church, daring not to even touch a lady or swear, since those traits were undesirable.  They were also real.  I know literally no one on Earth who has no flaws and things they don’t regret saying or doing.  No one.  So how could In relate to a hero who always makes the right decision and is never overcome with selfishness, jealousy, anger, or lust?  Even the Apostles had issues they had to overcome, so why wouldn’t anyone else who wasn’t the Son of God?

Heroes with issues help create storylines with conflict and depth.  Without being challenged, without finding depth, I get bored and would rather daydream.  Don’t force that choice on your audience.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Grammar And Spelling Scolds

I see your doing fine.  Is that sew you can tale everyone about the affects of you’re new job?

Who amongst us just went into a silent – or maybe not so silent – conniption fit regarding the small paragraph above?  Did you have an overwhelming urge to fix all the mistakes?

I ask this because we writers are prone to be spelling and grammar snobs.  If we see something spelled improperly, be it online or in print, it is just our nature to rush to correct it.  Part of this is because we want people to properly spell words and use correct sentence structure, but a larger part for so many of us is how much it irritates us.

A few of the problems above are obvious.  Sew is different from so, and that’s not a mistake many make.  Such a poorly written few sentences tend to lend us to thinking that the writer in question is pretty stupid.  And if it stopped there, folks might accept us as simply being educated.  However, it doesn’t, because of the worst offender of the lot – your versus you’re.

I freely admit to snarkily correcting folks who use the incorrect version of the word.  I sit on my high horse and judge their educational prowess as subpar because they obviously don’t understand the proper form.  Why, if they were as smart as I, then they’d know that your is possessive and you’re means you are.  Yet that attitude is part of the problem, is it not?

Most folks not completely gripped in the throes of OCD would look at the first paragraph outside of your versus you’re and rightly judge the intellect of the person who wrote it.  Language is a basic guide to intelligence, and most judge those who don’t use it properly, especially when the mistakes are so outlandish.  However, there are a few, such as the aforementioned your, that set us off and get us to unfairly judge others because we’re nitpicky.

Don’t get me wrong – we should be nitpicky to an extent.  After all, we write for others to consume, and if they stumble over our words, then we suck at our job.  But most folks don’t write for a living, and they’ll make mistakes.  Rather than look to the meaning of what they wrote, we tend to focus on that one glaring/annoying error and judge them solely off of that.  And that lends itself to people believing, quite rightly in many cases, that we’re effete snobs who can’t get past a word.

Your isn’t the only one(others being their versus there and would of versus would’ve), but it is undoubtedly the most common.  We’re scolds over this because, dammit, shouldn’t people known how to use the right word?  But we miss so much and grate on so many when we do this.  Our scolding isn’t winning us any friends, and I suspect many continue to do this precisely because they know it gets under our skin.

We’ve got to let go.  If you want to judge someone silently, go right ahead, but ask yourself just how much openly calling them stupid has gained you?  You win many friends that way?

(PS – I called this grammar and spelling scolds, but this is mostly about spelling, despite so many saying that spelling correction is being a grammar nazi.  I mean, grammar and spelling are two very different things, aren’t they?  But hey, you knew that.)

Sunday, May 17, 2020


The Apocalypse.  It holds a fascination for all of us for some unknown reason.  Maybe it’s because it’s seen as some kind of culminating event, the apex of history.  But even beyond the Apocalypse, we seem to want to know what comes after the Apocalypse.  How do people handle the end of time?  Books like World War Z, I am Legend, and The Road catch our attention like few others.  They stand the test of time, becoming classics we return to over and over.  It’s one of the reasons writers tend to write stories like that, and continue to do so.

However, after the recent Coronavirus event, I wonder how possible it will be to maintain that kind of genre.  No, this wasn’t The Black Death or a Carrington Event, but it has affected, and will continue to affect, millions of people worldwide as we try to cope with shutdowns on an unprecedented scale.  With that in mind, what will the public’s appetite be for post-apocalyptic struggles?

I liken it to the tales of avarice in the 1980s and 1990s regarding those who cheated and stole their way to mass fortunes.  Gordon Gecko was great to read about, a savvy villain some of us secretly wished to be like…right up until the 2008 crash and recession.  Suddenly reading about a greedy Wall Street wasn’t so satisfying.  It was as if such events personally impacting us quelled that hunger.

Perhaps this Coronavirus event will be similar.  People coming face-to-face with their own mortality, real or perceived, as well as some of the discomforts it creates in real life, may dampen the enthusiasm many have for the end of the world.  Personally, I’ve always said that most folks who envision themselves as the great survivor while everyone else perishes would, in all actuality, die pretty quickly themselves, and current events give me no reason to doubt that.

Since I think there will be little excitement for more “OH MY GO EVERYONE IS DYING” stories, I wonder what the next big thing in genre fiction will be.  Who knows…we don’t have a lot of stories about mankind creating new worlds instead of discovering them – perhaps that’s next.

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Technical Competence

One of the reasons I like science fiction is because of the bold worlds and dramatic storylines it allows.  It’s a future we see as possible but not yet having arrived, and it helps us strive for it.  We tend to think that if only we keep on pushing ourselves as human beings and as a society, we’ll reach the potential the story is prophesying.

While those kinds of visions are great, since the technology used within is more advanced than what we have, we also seem to think that we need to explain that technology, as well as the scientific prowess that created it.  Although some generalized descriptions are fine, it starts to get tedious when we read page after page about the inner workings of a fusion reactor, or how the design of a starship allows creatures of different atmospheres to work side by side.  Maybe some hardcore sci-fi nerds like this kind of techno-babble, but I don’t happen to be one of them.  Yes, give a general description so we can believe it, but I bought a story to read, not a technical manual to figure out.

Why do so many sci-fi authors feel the need to delve into descriptions better left to stereo instructions?  Maybe because in our attempts to create believable worlds, we worry that some folks won’t believe it unless we show off how we got from A to B.  Maybe it’s because we put so much work into figuring out how our stories could be believable that we feel we simply have to show the audience the magic behind the curtain.

In fairness, science fiction isn’t the only genre to do this.  Fantasy worlds sometimes go into great detail about the inner workings of a dwarven smelter, and crime dramas will often give us step by step forensics knowledge.  Perhaps I’m an outlier, needing only enough to set the stage while the story develops.  However, I think that a story all too often gets caught up in technicalisms that it can lose the reader.  The best science fiction doesn’t need everyone to know how to build a particle laser.  Star Trek, for example, uses just enough techno-babble to let us know it’s really super-smart sciencey stuff without sitting us down for a physics lecture.  After all, do any of us really know anything about that outside of Star Trek to begin with?

I think that getting too bogged down is a way of showing intellectual insecurity.  Some of us want so badly to believe we can create the things in our worlds that we think pages of babble that no one really understands will make us smart.  What it really does is open us up to criticism from real scientists who understand that stuff.  I can attest to this from another point of view – as a retired military officer, I always laugh when authors or shows try to cram in military knowledge and show how little they truly understand.  It makes the story less fun since I can nitpick it to death.  I much prefer someone who demonstrates just enough to show the competence required to let us get into the story, but who doesn’t stray off into places they don’t belong.

The story is paramount.  The fluff can help, but it runs the risk of turning off readers.  Don’t sacrifice story for fluff.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Editing Unconventional Styles

Any author that is halfway competent knows never to edit or proof your own work.  Yet that same competent author knows that such work must be edited or proofed.  As we read that with which we’re already so familiar, our mind tends to overlook errors, filling in the gaps of where we’ve screwed things up.  Sure, we can catch some stuff, but it takes an outside eye to find what we can’t see.

Yet how do we handle edits and proofreading when the style within is so unconventional?  I’m running into this problem with Schism, and it’s driving me mad.  I know I need to have someone look at it, but any “normal” editor is going to get very frustrated with what I’ve written.  The novel isn’t written in any kind of conventional style most would recognize – it’s a series of news articles and blog posts in lots of the body, and those are intentionally not conventional.  How would an editor handle looking over something so wildly disconnected?  How does one correct that which is intentionally wrong?

My editor has done a terrific job with my previous novels, but I’m wary even getting her involved in this one.  I know I should, but I don’t know if the results could be usable since so much “wrong” is supposed to be that way.  It’s not like there’s an editor on the internet – no matter how much we may want one at times – so things can’t be corrected without removing authenticity.

This conundrum is driving me crazy, both from the standpoint of usefulness and that of time, for although I’ve pushed back the date for the publication of Schism, it has to be out by mid-August if I’m to take advantage at all of the November election and the climate surrounding it.  I have no choice but to figure it out, but being unlike anything I’ve written before, the answer isn’t so obvious.