Sunday, June 30, 2013

Writing Well Versus Reality In Traditional Publishing

I have several friends - some who've been picked up by an agent and/or a publisher and some who are still trying to become so - who continue to tell me to stop attempting to go indie.  I've been told by more than a few that I have the talent to draw interest, and more have told me that there's no path to success that includes indie publishing(someone tell Hugh Howey and the $125,000 he picks up per month).  The traditional publishers, after all, hold the keys to the distribution channels, and they have the expertise to let us know what will and what won't sell.
(Hard to make it without help from the big guns...or so I hear)
However, I haven't bought into this for over a year now, and this recent post from Kathryn Kristine Rusch caught my eye.  It encapsulated everything that I think is wrong with the traditional publishing world and why I can't recommend it to anyone, regardless of talent level.

The first point that so many writers forget is that writing is a business.  Yes, we all want to weave magical tales and get audiences enraptured by what we write, but in the end, it's still a business.  We have to sell what we write if we want to do foolish things like eat and sleep under an actual roof.  Most of us envision that once we've sold our work, we'll be able to live the good life of producing our next masterpiece, confident that we've left the rest of the world behind.  Unfortunately, when we prostitute ourselves out to a traditional publishing house, we become little more than just another employee - we have a bottom line to contribute to, and our success if no longer in our control.

Control - that's what the indie movement is all about.  Rusch's experience with her Smokey Dalton novels were an unmitigated disaster.  From everything to cover design, over which she had no say, to the marketing and being told where she could and couldn't market, she had no control over her work.  Her publisher made decisions based on suppositions, many of them flat out wrong, and when her books didn't sell as well from the beginning as that publisher wanted, they stopped promoting and printing the work.  This didn't just affect that book, but future books within the series as well.  And due to the copyright belonging to someone else, she had to fight like hell to get the rights back.  Had she not done that, her ideas would've just died.

In other words, she could've written the greatest book ever, but if the traditional publisher didn't push it or accept it, no one would ever know.  This is what writers give up in traditional publishing.  Yes, there are writers who've had their meal ticket stamped and ride the gravy train to stardom, but those are mostly now established writers who've proven themselves in a different age.  New writers that have no track record get no real push, and they have even less control over their work.  Covers are decided by boards with little input from the person who wrote it, and eggheads in marketing decide how to push a book(if at all), and usually do it in ways that the author knows to be against the best interest of the target demographic(which usually isn't understood by the publisher).  If sales were robust with what they did push, they might have a valid argument, but book sales from traditional publishers have been in the toilet for years, mostly because I don't think they have any more of an idea about what the public likes to read than anyone else(remember how many times both Harry Potter and Twilight got rejected).
(Are there more sales in there?)
I implore you to read Rusch's post, especially those of you who are quick to dismiss indie.  If you're comfortable yielding that level of control to someone else, then please keep pursuing it.  However, I can't give that kind of ownership to anyone but myself.  Yes, I might fail, but I'll succeed or fail on my own terms, based on the decisions I make, rather than giving that to another person.  If more writers remembered that rather than giving such control to a traditional publisher so they can focus on their "ahhhrrrtt," I think we'd have a better variety rather than the same stale stories we're seeing on shelves today.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

He Is Legend

(Inspirational for generations...)
The literary world lost a giant this past week.  Richard Matheson, horror writer extraordinaire, died at the age of 87.  Matheson wrote a number of novels that have been influential, but the biggest of them was I Am Legend.  First published in 1954, I came across this work about a decade ago while browsing through a bookstore and nearly read the whole thing that afternoon.  I Am Legend is about a man trapped in a world populated by nothing but vampires, and he(Robert Neville) is trying to find a cure while killing as many vamps as possible.  Yes, this book is about vampires, even though it helped inspire the zombie craze.

There have been several adaptations of this work, and the most recent was an abomination that trashed what Matheson had in mind.  In the novel, Neville didn't know that there were two classes of vampires - one that was mindless, and one who'd regained sentience and was trying to rebuild society.  By killing all of them and not making any distinctions, Neville had become the monster of the vampires' legends.  So, basically, the Will Smith version shit all over the meaning of the novel.

This was one of the most influential novels of the last century and established Matheson as one of the greatest horror writers of all time.  Stephen King has even pointed to Matheson as a major influence on his life and work, no small compliment.  However, horror wasn't his only talent.

Matheson also wrote What Dreams May Come, which later became another movie(this one not nearly as bastardized), during which Matheson had done considerable research into the afterlife.  He's also responsible for one of the most famous Star Trek episodes of all time - "The Enemy Within," where Kirk splits into two parts(a good Kirk and an evil Kirk).  These writings made a tremendous impact on what we've read and watched, and they're still referenced today.  Without Matheson, who knows what the landscape of horror and sci-fi would look like.

Not many writers of Matheson's caliber come along, and I hope that we can all pay him the tribute he deserves.  I'm sure he's somewhere telling the angels stories for them to weave into our history, and his spirit will continue to inspire us.  Rest in peace, Mr. Matheson - you've earned it.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

RD Meyer - Book Critic

As most of you have deduced, I love books(as I would suspect most of the readers of this blog do).  That means that I can't focus exclusively on writing new novels - I have to read as well.  Okay, I say "have to," but truth is that I love reading.  In addition to an escape from the realities of life, reading other authors gives us an understanding of aspects of the craft and see what might mesh with our style.

This can, however, lead to a busy schedule.  There are a few books I've been reading that I've been dying to get through, and pushing them off just creates a larger workload on the back end.  In addition, I've been asked by a few friends to read their work and provide some feedback.  This is an incredible honor, and one I take to heart.

The problem, of course, is time.  One of my friends sent me a mystery novel with several paranormal elements, but it's very long, so I've had to digest it in pieces.  Another friend and reader of this blog sent me his new novel, and I still need to begin.  I feel terrible that I haven't done more, but I promise to get into it as soon as I can.  I take promises to help very seriously, even if the time to get engaged is drawn out.

What qualifies me to critique someone else's work?  Two things, in my opinion - first, and not modestly, I think I'm a pretty good judge of a smooth read.  I realize the hubris it takes to claim to have the chops that can help someone's work get better, but if I don't believe in my ability to help someone, why even put myself out there?  Second, I just like books.  I've been reading them since before I can remember.  I'm excited to get hold of something no one else has seen so that I can peruse the raw form.

Of course, the biggest qualification is that someone asked me.  It takes courage to put yourself out there, and these friends have done just that by asking me to look at their work.  They're not the only ones who've done so, and it's humbling every time.  The tough part of the balance is to critique and give both positive and negative feedback.  Constructive criticism helps writers mold our work by giving us the opportunity to incorporate(or not) what the target audience may think.  However, we also need to know what works, as well as reassurance that we're not complete shit, so positive feedback, focused on specific areas, is also useful.  This isn't ego stroking - it's giving an idea of where they're on track so they can use other feedback in a way that makes the overall story better.

So, what does all of this add up to?  Not much beyond whatever credence the authors give my feedback.  I've said before many times that criticism is up to the reader, but whether to use that feedback to shape the story is the sole purview of the writer.  So it really comes down to how much the writer values my opinion, and my level of credibility is affected by how I give that criticism.  I could say, "You suck," or "That was the best thing I've ever read," and it'd be about as useful as a bike with no wheels.  Real help comes from specific feedback, and I owe it to those who've entrusted me with their work.

If only I could be faster about giving it...

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Completing in Pieces

I took a business trip last week to Arizona, and the flight from Hawaii gave me an opportunity to get some work done.  Additionally, there's not a lot of nightlife in Flagstaff, so I had plenty of time to work.
(Spread your wings!)
Now, I've mentioned before that I've started yearning to write my next novel, but I really want to wait until near the end of July to begin.  That gives me plenty of time to recuperate from my last book, as well as finish the editing process on Wrongful Death.  However, that doesn't mean I didn't want to write at all.  I needed to write for two reasons - first, because it's always a good thing to practice and hone the craft; and second, because writing is like going to the gym - skipping one day makes it easier to skip the next.

How to keep writing yet not get so engrossed in something that it consumes my life?  I found the answer - write short stories!

One of the works I plan to put out is a short story collection, somewhere around book nine or ten(after I've managed to build a base of readers).  The great thing about a short story collection is that I don't have to do it all at once.  The very nature of a short story is such that I can write one or two, come back to write more, and I don't have to remember where I left off because the next one is a whole new story.
(Short stories - always open for business)
The first one was an idea I've had for a while now, and it's very personal in nature.  I wrote it from a first person point of view, and it's kind of a self-confession of feelings I had from an earlier point in my life.  There are paths open to us in life that we can exercise that may seem noble but are really cowardly, and this story helped me express that.  I can't write tales like that too often, for they can be emotionally draining, but I hope it makes an impact on people.

The second one I wrote is a prequel story to the novel I'm going to start in about a month.  It's a fun sci-fi romp through a period of intergalactic travel and the settling of new worlds.  It's silly and was a nice respite from what I'd written earlier in the week.  Doing stories like that help me figure out the world I'm going to explore in a future novel, so they can be of great help.

I wish I'd written at least one more, but I didn't.  My goal is to have between 25-30 short stories for a collection of near 90,000 words when it's done.  Great thing is that I can chip away at it over the next year or so and still get a break from what I'm working on.  I'm already a third of the way to the goal, and best of all, the stories have all been edited already(some have even been entered in a few contests).

Maybe I can get another few done prior to the end of July, but I've got something to edit too.  Sheesh, when did life get so crowded?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bookstores in the Digital Age

Most writers I know, myself included, have that dream of walking into a Barnes & Noble and seeing their latest masterpiece on display out front.  We want to see people stop and browse, as well as possibly mutter some comment about how they've been waiting for this to be published.  Sure, we enjoy writing, but seeing others look for our work like that gives us the feeling of validation so many of us search for.

However the demise of the large bookstore, begun by Borders' bankruptcy, has made that dream ever more difficult.  There simply aren't as many of those stores anymore.  Then there's the reality of the indie movement.  Those of us who are doing what we can without the constraints of traditional publishing still have dreams of being prominently displayed, but we have to reconcile this with reality.  We wanted independence, so we have to accept all that goes with it, and the sad reality is that most large stores, or even most small stores, want established authors on their shelves.  To too many, that still means traditionally published.  I'm sorry, I wish it wasn't that way, but it is.  Trying to find a good indie published books at a brick and mortar bookstore is like trying to find your soul mate - it happens, but it's rare when it does.

So does that mean we're relegated to POD at Amazon, as well as the novels we store away in our garage so that we can sell them at a whim to friends and family?  Not necessarily.  What it means is that we have to work that much harder to establish a relationship with the bookstores we target, all while understanding it's with the more independent bookstores that we're most likely to find success.

First of all, as indicated above, forget about Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, or airport bookstores.  That may be something to shoot for down the line, after you've had great success, but you can't start at the most visible.  Find a local bookstore near you and get to know the owner.  Most are small affairs run by book lovers, so get to know them on a personal level.

Second, be prepared to accept total loss if you want to make a deal.  We make so much money by giving our work away for free at the beginning, and this has to translate to brick and mortar bookstores.  Offer the store you like 15 free copies.  Don't ask for any share of what the owner sells - just give them to the person and say they belong to him or her to sell or not as they desire.  Even then, you have to be ready for rejection if they don't want your stuff cluttering up shelves.  Don't take it personal(yes, I know how hard that is) since it usually boils down to physical space.  Try someone else, again with the free offer.

Third, exploit any personal connections you have.  Try the bookstore of the college you went to.  Most schools love to feature work from folks who went there.  Target local libraries and high schools to see if maybe they want to take a monetarily risk-free chance on you(the chance really only involves their space).  If you grew up with someone who now works at a local bookshop, ask them how amenable the owner would be to taking you on at no financial risk to themselves.

After you establish yourself as someone people look for, then you can work out a new arrangement for either more copies or your next work, all while continuing to give that bookstore a better deal than they can get with a traditionally published book.  Remember, it's about exposure early, so you have to be willing to not see real sales in exchange for word of mouth that will eventually lead to more people coming to your work.  Yes, some of this sounds crass, but that's business at times.  You can sit around your house and hope someone will discover your greatness, but mostly you'll just whine about how unfair the literary world is.  Book selling has changed, and we have to be willing to change along with it.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Blog Varieties

Howdy - I'm back!  Sorry about missing the last post, but the past few days have been crazy, in keeping with the wild month - now more than a month - that began at the end of April.  I'm hoping things slow down as we approach the 4th of July.

At any rate, I was thinking the other day about the blog roll on the right side of my screen, and it got me to thinking about why I read the writing blogs I do.  Obviously they don't all say the same thing or I wouldn't be reading so many.  When I really thought about it, I figured out it was about the variety they present.

There are, in my opinion, four basic types of blogs:
1.  The News Feed - This is probably my favorite.  Like The Passive Voice, this type of blog takes snippets of news about writing from around the Internet and links to them, often with some comment about the content.  These blogs invite the reader to click on the links provided to gain more information.  I think I like them so much because they open up a larger world and allow me to get snippets of news, and then decide which ones to pursue.  The comments sections of blogs like these are entertaining as writers and non-writers from all over debate the impact of whatever news feed was presented.  These discussions usually remain civilized, but since writers have egos like crystal, they can get out of hand the second a slight is perceived.  I try to keep my own comments on blogs like these to something civil and on topic, but I've been known to stir the pot just for fun.  That often depends on the snark of the thread.

2.  The Story Blog - Like DeAnna Knippling's site, these are the places you go to read a good story.  These writers put out samples of either their work or the work of people they know, for free, and they let the reader enjoy the content.  Sarah Hoyt often does this by posting samples of her free Witchfinder novel.  I enjoy going to these sites when I'm looking for an escape, as well as to get an idea of different writing styles(you never know what tips might prove useful).  Sometimes there are some real gems posted, and they're always enjoyable to see.

3.  The Tipster - We're all trying to break into the writing world, and lots of blogs help by giving aspiring, or even established, writers tips on what works and what doesn't.  Write to Done and The Write Practice try to steer writers in the direction of success by pointing to methods that help capture the attention of the reader.  They'll often discuss plot, character development, and setting the scene, and some even offer mini-contests that give us a chance to practice without having to risk our money(just public embarrassment...which hopefully we can overcome in an effort to get better).

4.  The Business Blog - These sites talk about the state of the profession of writing.  Bloggers like JA Konrath, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, and Dean Wesley Smith regularly venture into the intricacies of what it takes to be successful on the business side of writing.  They discuss trends of the industry, as well as details on what to do once you're ready to take the plunge.  When I want to work on my own business plan, these are the sites I visit.

Now, none of this is to say that these sites are exclusively devoted to this kind of content.  Most sites dabble in several areas(Kristine Kathryn Rusch, for example, also posts a tremendous amount of free fiction), but most have an area of focus, and this provides readers with an idea of what to expect.  I consider my own site to concentrate on how to be a better writer, although my secondary focus would be on the business aspect.  Readers would be confused if I stopped posting on what makes a good villain and started talking about how to make cheeseburgers.


Sunday, June 16, 2013

No Post Today

I've posted before about the need for consistency, but a wild day and week have conspired against me, so I'm disappointed to report that there will be no substantive post for today.  I promise to return first thing Wednesday morning with all the jovial banter you've come to expect.  Until then, my apologies for slacking off today.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Consistency - Star Trek: Into Darkness

A while back, I wrote a post about how stories need to remain consistent.  Consistency within a story is important, so today I wanted to demonstrate how it can hurt a tale if it isn't adhered to.

I finally managed to see the new Star Trek movie.  I'm a huge sci-fi geek, and I look forward to sci fi movies like most people look forward to Thanksgiving.  Unfortunately, the problem with sci fi is that it rarely falls in the middle - it's either great or it's terrible.  I really enjoyed the Star Trek reboot a couple of years ago, so I had high hopes for this one.  Sure, a few of the reviews were hit or miss, but I'd avoided them until I could watch the film, because I didn't want anything to bias my enjoyment.


Personally, I hated this movie.  When I first got out of it, I was simply disappointed.  However, the more I thought about it, the more I began to despise the film, and the main reason was that it lacked consistency within the Star Trek universe.

I know that right now some people are rolling their eyes and saying, "C'mon Russ, it's just a movie - lighten up!"  Others will just call me a Star Trek geek and be done...and they may be right.  Had this story been a stand alone film that wasn't connected to Star Trek in any way - change a few details and a few character names - it might've been awesome.  Unfortunately, it strayed so far from what we've come to know in Star Trek that it became nearly unwatchable.

I realize that with the destruction of Vulcan in the first movie, the entire timeline had changed.  However, what that should've translated to was the same characters in different situations, not a wholesale re-write of who they were.  For starters, Kirk has gone from the great leader he was to some immature and bumbling jackass that I'd follow into combat only out of sheer curiosity.  In the old TV shows, Kirk had his aggressive and playful side, but he was also shrewd and cunning - he knew how to play the situation to his advantage, and he took calculated risks.  In this new form, Kirk launches into reckless gambles that pay off out of sheer luck rather than planning and foresight.  He has more of a "let's throw shit against the wall and see what sticks" mentality rather than intellectual cunning and daring.

And the relationship between him and Spock is much more adversarial than it ever was during the original run.  They argue over everything, to the point where you expect them to start fighting at any moment.  Spock giving counter-advice is natural, but Zachary Quinto does it in a way that brings out his psychotic side and makes us think he's on the verge of stabbing Kirk.  Kirk's non-concealed exasperation with Spock infers that far from friends, Kirk hates this guy and only tolerates him because he's proven useful.  It is much more akin to the relationship Spock and McCoy had in the old TV series and movies than Kirk and Spock.

Speaking of McCoy, he became a caricature in this film.  He had utility in the old films, both due to his medical expertise and his ability to act as Kirk's conscience.  He also kept Spock on the straight and narrow by balancing the Vulcan's logic with human compassion.  In this film, he was reduced to yelling out various McCoy catchphrases and generally being useless.

The biggest problem with consistency came down to the villain - Khan, and this happened in several ways.  First of all, in the original series, the Enterprise stumbled across the Botany Bay in deep space.  In the new timeline, Starfleet somehow figured out not only where the Botany Bay was, but who was on board and how to bring them out to help in their preparations against the Klingons.  Where would they have even known where to look?  I get the desperation in trying to find out where one of the greatest genetically altered minds in history was so the Federation could use them, but it would be like looking for a needle in a stack of needles.

Second, in both the TV show and the movie, Khan was exceptionally menacing.  In the show, he was cold and calculating, understanding how to manipulate people and using his superior intellect to take control.  In the movie, he was affected by the insanity of isolation, but he was still smart enough to commandeer a ship and threaten the Enterprise.  In this new version, he used mainly his strength and fighting skill, and one got the sense that if you could just beat him up or shoot him, the threat would be gone.  There was never that sense of "what's he gong to do next" that made Khan so scary.

Thirdly, in this film, he was focused on killing as many people as possible.  Khan fought as a means to an end in the original, not as an end unto itself.  He wanted to rule, not destroy.  He may have been brutal, but he genuinely believed his way was best for mankind.  In this new version Khan was simply a beast and could've easily been replicated by inserting any number of tough monsters.  I get that he wanted to free his people, but the original Khan would've used deception and guile, not just tried to bust his way through obstacles head first.

Finally, the best part of the Khan menace was the personal animosity between he and Kirk.  In the show, Kirk bested him, and in the movie, Khan was insane from the loss of his wife and his exile.  He and Kirk hated each other, but you got the impression here that maybe they'd heard of each other, but, meh, no big deal.  The lack of that relationship led to a total lack of tension and sapped the magic the original created.  In short, it reduced Khan to just another bad guy, and not a particularly horrible one at that.

Like I said, this all boils down to consistency within the world we'd come to know.  If this wasn't in the Star Trek universe, it could've been a good movie, but jamming it into a world we were already familiar with destroyed the story.  As a sci fi geek and Star Trek fan, I've come to expect certain elements from the story, and this failed to deliver...miserably.  The lesson for we writers to learn is that consistency in the worlds we create is very important, and we break with that consistency at our peril.  Some might embrace such things, but our most hardcore fans will throw us away in disgust.  If we're lucky, they'll give us another chance in our next foray.  If we're unlucky...well...we might just lose those fans that brought us to the dance.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013


It's been over a month since I completed my last novel, and I've taken some time to get my head screwed on straight again, discovering along the way that it gets easier and easier to not write.  My goal is to write a few short stories before starting my next large project, mostly to do something different, but also to start getting stories together for the short story anthology.

My challenge is that I've started getting that itch that all writers can sympathize with - the itch to start writing that next novel.  If it was only in the abstract, it'd be a piece of cake to ignore.  However, I've known for a while now what I'm going to write my next book about, and the general framework has already made it into my head.  Once that happens to me, it tends to consume me until I get the story out.

I started my fascination with writing by reading science fiction.  I loved the far away worlds and fantastic technology, and it always made me dream about the possibilities of "what if."  I've had a fantasy running around in my head for some time about our world being attacked and us fleeing the threat(yes, I know it sounds a little like Battlestar Galactica at this point...just give me a few seconds to run with this).  We find a far off world that we re-settle, but we never stop dreaming about returning to reclaim our home.

The idea I have is set about 5800 years after we've left Earth.  Our species, once down to just over 12,000 at the point we landed on the new world, has grown to over 850 billion scattered across almost 400 worlds and outposts.  We ran far(don't worry - I'll explain how far we went and how we did so during the course of the book), and we crossed several galactic strings to put so much distance between us and the enemy.  One of the things we did was cross the territory of an empire that was at war with our enemy, and even though we should've been on the same side, we didn't part on the friendliest of terms.

The human race has to cross back over that territory and use it as a supply line to push our fleet back to Earth, meaning that we'll have to come to some kind of understanding with our not-so-willing allies.  At the end of that, we have to fight a menace that every child in the new Terran Confederacy has been taught to fear since birth.

What does all this build up mean?  It means I'll focus on the impending war for all of about two chapters...and then I'll move onto the real story, because a war in space isn't what the book is about.  The real meat happens after we reclaim our home.  In my timeline, we couldn't take everyone, so we had to leave folks behind.  Those left behind developed an entirely new way of doing things in the absence of the rest of humanity, mostly because the reason we were attacked was that we possessed a different form of technology than our conqueror.  As a result, what remained survived by becoming feral and developing an inherent distrust of all technology.  The retaking of our world and dealing with feral humans is the bulk of the story.

There's also a side story involving a contingent of humans that we left with the aliens we passed through on the way to our new home.  One of the bones of contention between our races was that the aliens agreed to house whoever wanted to settle in their territory, but those who did had to agree to live life by the way the aliens dictated, and nearly 6000 years of doing so has so radically altered their culture that we're left to wonder if they're really human anymore.  It introduces a dynamic that should create friction from a new angle.

Much like with Wrongful Death, I plan to write this from a first person limited perspective.  I intend to do this through a series of journal entries based on the observations of one of the Soldiers who is involved in the Reconquista of Earth.  I wanted to try a new technique to see if I could challenge myself with a different style.

I still want to hold off until August before I begin writing, but I might have to start mapping this out sooner just to satisfy the itch.  I'll be on several business trips in the next month, so I'm hoping to write my short stories on the airplane, but I know that this new adventure will be calling my name the whole time.  Can I ignore it until I feel really ready?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Dream a Little Dream For Me

I mentioned a little while back that I have some of the strangest dreams of anyone I know.  I kept meaning to put a dream journal next to my bed so I could record something that might eventually prove useful in writing.  We forget most of our dreams, so even those that seem so vivid usually fade away until only pieces remain.  According to legend, Samuel Taylor Coleridge's famous poem Kubla Khan was inspired by a particularly intense dream Coleridge had, but he was forced to suspend writing halfway through.  When he returned to pen the rest of the poem, he couldn't remember anything.

I finally got off my lazy ass about a month ago and put a pad and pen next to my bed, ready to put down the craziness that pops into my head at night.  All I had to do was jot down what happened the moment I woke up.
(All monitors are on and working perfectly, Captain!)
However, I discovered a few annoying things about trying this recently.  First, I haven't had as many vivid dreams as I remember in the past.  I've woken up on many occasions convinced that I've had a dreams but the particulars always faded into vapors.  On the rare occasion that I've woken up from an intense dream, it's been in the middle of the night and I'm I rolled over and went straight back to sleep, confident that I'd wake up in the morning and still be able to record what went on.


I finally managed to get one down the other day, and looking back at it makes me freak out a little bit.  Anyone remember the episode of Friends where Phoebe gave Monica this really hideous and terrifying painting/sculpture of a mannequin?  That piece of art made a very prominent appearance in a dream that went everywhere from inside a sewer where Sarah Palin and I were sifting through burnt rat bones, to the hotel suite(converted from my parents house) that I was running through like it was Game of Thrones.  And everywhere I turned, that damn Gladys painting/sculpture was present, either on the wall or in someone's hands.

I'm sure there's a nugget of an idea in there somewhere that I might be able to turn into a winning story, but I'm going to have to get over the overall weirdness factor of what I've been reading, as well as understanding that this was probably one of my more "normal" dreams.  My buddies have said for years that I need to get myself checked out over what comes in and out of my head, and re-reading the dream I had on Friday night, I'm starting to wonder if maybe they were right.

If I can find the energy to record my next few dreams - hopefully they'll start coming in more frequently - I wonder what I'll find...

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Out of Habit

The past month has shown me just how true the analogy of writing and the gym is - skipping a day writing makes it that much easier to skip the next day as well.

Ever since finishing Schism, I've taken a break so my mind can recover from the task of writing a fairly sizeable novel in barely four months.  I've spent more time with my family, caught up on reading, and generally pursued other interests.  However, that doesn't mean the creative process has shut off completely, and I have several ideas swimming through my head.

After publishing a few of my works, I plan to put out an anthology of short stories.  Several stories are already done, including a few that have gotten me some recognition, but there needs to be more so that it'll be worth buying for the average reader.  My plan is to write seven or so short stories prior to August, which is when I plan to start my next novel.
(Short stories provide a great deal of variety)
However, having taken a break, I find it difficult to get revved back up.  Most of the short stories will be on the order of 4,000 words or so, but there are a few that I plan to be 2,000.  Even a 4,000 word story is easily doable in a day(just under two hours if I'm in the zone), but starting is proving problematic.  I initially wrote off my laziness as the challenging month I'm in the middle of, but I've had time...time that I've really just spent fucking off.  Just like with Schism, I need to sit my ass in front of a computer screen and start.  I can always find an excuse not to write, but it's the same litany of excuses I use to not go to the gym.

Writers write - it's what we do.  Yet the longer we write, the easier it becomes to keep not writing, as I've discovered time and time again.  Even though it's not January, it's time to make that resolution again and get back in the habit.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Only One Star?

Lots of people want to write a book, but how many want to write more than one?  I ask this because most aspiring writers I meet have a great idea, but when you question them on their novels following that, they usually just stare back at me with a dumbfounded look on their faces.

"What do you mean?" they'll ask, their eyes wrinkled.  "This book is going to reshape the world and make me famous."

When I, either because I'm concerned or callous, ask what happens if that book doesn't make it big, the person gets defensive and tells me I don't know what I'm talking about.

I've come to realize that most people who say they want to write have that one big idea they're putting all their hopes on.  As professional writers, we have to look beyond that.  Yes, it'd be great to have our first work break through, but even Dan Brown's first book didn't go much of anywhere.  Does that mean that if our pride and joy doesn't take off that we're failures?  Hardly.

A professional writer understands he or she will grow through the years as new mastery of the craft is attained.  We have to understand that there will be other "big ideas" that are out there.  We simply have to find them.

It's hard when others think what we've poured our heart and soul into isn't super important to them.  I've seen some writers cry and carry on that they'll never write another novel, that the well is dry, but that's loser talk.  We have to find another great idea and reject the premise that there's only one great book in us.  Much like Brown or John Grisham, it's important to keep in mind that we have to keep cranking out quality stuff, and once we catch on, loyal readers will follow us back to our backlist.  Think about it - if you're anything like me, once you discover a good writer, you seek out other works from that person.  That, among other things, is why we have to keep going, even if we think everybody is wrong for not appreciating our masterpiece.

Did Stephen King stop at Carrie?  No - he considered The Shining to be the book where he tried to really put out something special.  Brown went ahead with The Da Vinci Code even thought Digital Fortress was virtually unknown.  These outstanding authors knew that they had to have more than one Big Idea if they were to find success with a fickle public.

I put all of my heart into Salvation Day, but I know that if that doesn't take off, I need other books to have a career.  The public isn't always going to agree with me on what my best work is, and as much as I'd like that decision to rest with me, I know where the power in my potential career lies.  Without the public deciding which of my books they like, despite what I might think, I'll be writing for no one but myself and my wife.  Not that that would stop me, but it could make doing it full time a little low on the staying-fed side.  That's a lesson we should all remember, ego be damned.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Rewriting/Novel Expansion

I have a problem - an overabundance of imagination.  While this is usually a good thing for a writer, the problem comes from always re-writing my work.

Oh sure, I don't always go into the computer and hack out large parts of what's been done and then spend countless hours putting new pieces in, but that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about it.  I walk my dogs several miles four days a week, and I bike to work(5(+) miles) a couple of other days a week, and I use that time to run through ideas.  This is great when my imagination uses the time to come up with something new or expound upon ideas that aren't yet whole, but that's not the only place my mind goes.

I have two works right now that I'm thinking about seriously reworking.  The first is almost a given - Canidae.  Having re-looked at it, I now know, painfully, that it needs work.  I let the first part of the story - the part that's supposed to entice the reader with a mystery - be very shallow and give up the ghost far too easily.  Then, in the second part of the book, I got overly ambitious and went way too far in the consequences of that mystery.  I'm going to have to go back in and pare down the second half while figuring out how to expand the first half.  I'm not a big mystery reader, so that will be challenging.  Paring down the second half will also be difficult since I liked each part of the action, but it just seems a bit much.  Better to make it small enough that the reader doesn't say, "Okay, next Gate to Hell...oh wait, there are over 150 pages will the heroes screw this part up?"
(We only need one villain...the second one has to go)
My other idea is both painful and exciting.  The most recent novel I completed was challenging at times.  I was very proud to finish Schism, but I've started wondering if I cut it off too short.  The last act seems a little rushed, and I've been contemplating splitting it into two separate acts.  That way I can really show the consequences of a second civil war without rushing the conclusion where, hopefully, the country comes together.  The last act is over 40,000 words as it stands, and I'd probably add about 20,000-25,000 by splitting it and expanding on each idea.

The problem, of course, is it feels like going backwards and can be tough psychologically.  After finishing a novel, I like to feel like it's done.  However, I also know when it needs work, even when I'm loathe to admit it.  Sure, I could just publish it in the form it's in now, but that's the way an amateur does things, and if I want to be taken seriously as a professional, I have to act like a professional...even if that means polishing stuff I thought was done.

I haven't made a final decision on Schism, but I have on Canidae, and I'll start re-writing it down the road once I've started publishing my first few works.  I just need to let it breathe so I can put forward my best efforts.  I only hope I don't have too many more of these bursts of inspiration - they can really be taxing.