Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Fan Fiction

There's an interesting trend in the world of fiction among wannabe writers - fan fiction.  Yes, I realize that this will offend several of you, but I despise fan fiction.  I loathe it with a passion one might normally reserve for rapists or Justin Bieber.

Fan fiction is where someone takes a world that already exists, and was created by someone else, and expands on it.  To me, this shows little creativity or effort because you're relying on a world you didn't build.  You saw something that was cool, and you wanted to add your own spin.  I get it - we all love our favorite stories.  However, I see that as little reason to claim that world for yourself.
(PS, I do indeed view this differently than sanctioned writers who expand on certain stories; let's face it - those people have talent, whereas most fan fiction writers don't)

Fan fiction also usually departs from the general storyline and creates bizarro worlds where we find the familiar doing strange things.  Sometimes we're upset that a story didn't turn out the way we wanted, so we look to "improve" on it.  This is the essence of why I say that reading tastes are subjective.

Another thing that irks me is the unwarranted arrogance of those who write this stuff.  Ever met a writer of fan fiction?  Most pretend to be experts on the worlds they write about despite not designing them themselves(this was summed up beautifully in Hot Tub Time Machine when Jacob says, "I write Stargate fan fiction, so I think I know what I'm talking about!").  They're no more experts than you or I, yet they want to be acknowledged as the next coming of CS Lewis.

I see writers of fan fiction as wannabes, ie - hacks who couldn't make it coming up with stuff on their own.  The overwhelming majority couldn't write their name in the snow, yet because they absconded with Edward or Dean, they think they're incredible writers.  In actuality, they have no original creative thoughts and can't even write coherently about the worlds they've stolen.

Am I harsh?  You bet.  I know that some fan fiction has morphed into best selling work, but that doesn't mean it's any good.  It speaks more to our own lack of sophistication than anything else.

If you want to write, then come up with your own stuff.  If you can't, maybe you should find other pursuits.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Merry Christmas To Me!

This was the first of several gift cards I received for Christmas.  When I added them all up, I totaled nearly $250 from Amazon(I'd have been just as happy had they come from Barnes & Noble).  The hardest part of this is going to be observing patience and discerning good books to buy rather than going on a spending spree that nets me 60 books in three hours.
Of course, I've already bought my first...

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Risking Criticism

I've recently delved into an area that frightens most writers - I've given the first little bit of a new novel to people for them to read.  I've asked for feedback, and I now wait with trepidation for them to hack away at my soul...er...writing.

This is part of the process, and a necessary part.  The novel is in its fledgling stages, and I need to know now what's working and what's not.  There is little more discouraging than getting quite a way into writing a book, only to discover that what you've written is crap.  Better to find out up front that you need a complete re-working so you don't waste as much effort.

That doesn't make it any less intimidating.  Giving people your work and telling them to criticize you is hard.  No matter what we say, most folks don't react well to criticism.  It's natural to get defensive and justify why things were written a certain way.  It's even easier to brush off such criticism with the snide, "Well, they just don't get my work."  And while easy, such measures don't help you write a better book.  You must be willing to endure criticism and accept it as an act of love, as well as being constructive, if you want to improve.

Of course, none of this means you have to accept, verbatim, all the critiques you'll get.  Reading tastes are subjective, so no two people will see the same novel in the same way.  I plan to use the critiques as a way to sift for potentially useful ideas.  As always, any criticism that becomes a theme, aka - several people saying basically the same thing, deserves a much closer look.  What one person says, one can dismiss; what four people say becomes harder to overlook.

I expect that having a ready made audience will also keep me motivated.  This book is going to be big, as in the biggest, longest novel I've yet produced.  That's not because I've become some blowhard, but rather due to the nature of the novel.  It takes place over 75 years and is divided into three acts, with each one able to stand alone.  However, the story fits as one, so I'll publish it as one.  That's another big reason to get it right from the beginning.

If you hear me weeping in the corner, you'll know it's because these people have broken my spirit, and I'll have little reason to go on.  Just kidding - I'm too egotistical to let anyone get to me that much.  Hopefully they'll enjoy it.  If not, hopefully they'll provide me feedback to make it better.  I guess we'll find out soon enough.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Third Blogiversary!

This is the third anniversary of my first post.  It's been an eventful three years, and I've learned several lessons along the way.  I've morphed from traditional wannabe to indie fanatic, and I've tried several things on this blog, some of which have worked, and some of which haven't.

The first, and most important lesson, that I've learned over the last few years is that blogging on a consistent basis is...hard.  It takes much more effort to put forward some kind of post that shows effort than I was expecting.  Life has a nasty habit of getting in the way, and there are times when, if you're not ahead of the game, you will miss your deadlines.

The second thing I've learned is just how much you evolve over time.  This blog started out as a way for me to express myself and what I wanted out of the writing business, and it has turned into much more.  I've become a cheerleader for the indie movement, a whisperer of advice on how to run a business, and I've even dabbled in weekly short stories for the audience.  I've abandoned what hasn't worked, and I've included things that were meant as a lark but became much more.  I've re-learned that eternal life lesson that the only constant is change.

Along the way, I've discovered some great writing blogs, both those that are straight out about writing, as well as some that are more about the business aspect.  Some have provided inspiration, some have helped me keep perspective about life, and others have dabbled in taboo areas yet still keep me engaged as a writer.

The next 18 months or so will be challenging for me on a personal level, but I'm hoping it will help me stay grounded and continue to reach towards my final goal - writing for a living.  I'm grateful that you've chosen to stay with me these past few years, and I hope you'll continue to do so as time marches on.  Thanks!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Agent Qualifications

Since my conversion from traditional wannabe to indie fanatic, many have noted my antipathy for literary agents.  I have little use for them, and I consider them to be more an obstacle than a help in publishing.  Lately, I started wondering at my disdain for the crowd.

As I sifted through my thoughts on the matter, one theme kept coming up - they're simply not qualified for the job they profess to do.  Yes, most agents are great lovers and readers of literature, although their ability to discern talent is hit or miss at best.  But are you looking for a fan to represent you to a publisher?  Would Lebron James want a great basketball aficionado to lead contract negotiations between him and potential teams?

Most agents I've run across have a degree in literary studies, or were an English major in college, or just got an MFA.  This certainly qualifies them to give criticism on what looks good on paper...at least the pretense of qualification for it.  And if that was the only thing an author needed out of an agent, then these folks would certainly be the most qualified bunch we're looking for.

However, an agent has to be so much more than a lover of literature - they need to understand business, contract rates, business law, payment schedules, and a load of other things that almost none of them have an understanding of.  Rather, most of them have relationships with those they're trying to sell to, and that could work if not for the atrocious deals they work for clients not named Patterson or Koontz.

Were I looking for an agent, I wouldn't give a shit if the publisher liked them or not.  I'd care more about what kind of deal they could get, and what the legal technicalities of that deal were.  Why could that person not get me higher than a 15% royalty rate?  Why am I only getting paid twice a year?  What's this Exclusivity Agreement bullshit?  Define "out of print" for me.  If the publisher offered a deal less favorable to me, would you fight on my behalf, or would you press me to sign a deal I don't like so you can maintain a cocktail party relationship with that publisher?

I don't care if an agent has a love of books.  Literary taste is subjective, and all your degree does is put your foot in the door, as well as possibly help me fine tune my work.  However, fine tuning my work isn't your job - getting the best possible deal for me is.  I want someone with business and legal savvy more than I want someone who knows the finer points of Moby Dick.

Until writers are willing to demand more of their agents, or are willing to seek out agents truly qualified, they'll keep getting the shaft on contract terms.  You get the deal you deserve.  Don't you want your agent to be qualified to give you the best deal possible?

Thursday, December 18, 2014


Great writing is important.  Compelling titles and riveting covers are important.  A book cover synopsis that entices yet leaves folks wanting for more is important.  However, there's something else that many writers struggle with without even realizing it.

When to release his or her novel.

Summertime is when all the blockbuster movies come out.  Even wonder why that is?  For both people who don't know, it's because school is out, families see summer as vacation and entertainment time, and movies sell better.  Studios aren't stupid - they release for when to gain maximum exposure to the audience.  Although a few other times can also resonate - December to generate Oscar buzz, for example - no one releases a great movie destined for mega-bucks in February.

Writers need to approach the release of their work the same way.  When can you release for the greatest impact?  When will people be looking?

The research I've conducted is in line with what should be common sense if thought is applied.  The first is mid-late Spring(think the beginning of May) because people are looking to go on vacation, and many want a book as a traveling companion.  They haven't gone yet(most wait for June or July), but they're in the preparatory stages.  They're gathering supplies, and a good book to read on the plane or by the pool means one less thing they need to think about.

Late fall before winter sets in is also good(think November).  Winter is harsh in many places in the US, and being cooped up all day is more bearable if you can curl up next to the fire with a cozy tome.  Also, it's the beginning of the holiday shopping season, and an early November release gets you out there for either purchase, or to be ready for those bookstore or Amazon gift cards that people get at Christmas.

Remember, these are generic dates that won't always work.  Sometimes you need to be timely, like releasing that horror book a week before Halloween or that patriotic novel just before the 4th of July.  However, this should be a good guideline to get started.  If you want to release more often, by all means, go ahead, but do some basic research and figure out when is good(the start of the school year?) and when is not(Spring Break?).  Like the high school prom, the right date can make all the difference.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Titles and Covers Reminder

I was at a Barnes & Noble a few days ago - browsing around is one of my favorite hobbies - and I was reminded once again of two of the most important elements of selling a book:  the title and the cover.  Yes, word of mouth is the most important elements of building a solid reputation to new readers, but that usually comes from those who already have a copy of your masterpiece.  To get a complete stranger to even pick up your work requires more.

The title was the first thing that drew my notice.  There were loads of generic books with ho-hum titles, and I skipped over those without so much as a second glance.  However, those titles whose names were just a little unusual without being too crazy won the right for me to look at the cover.

The cover was the second cut line.  Some books were nothing more than a title on a bland grey or red background.  Once I saw that, right back on the shelf it went.  After all, if the author doesn't have enough creativity to have a good cover, what should I expect from the writing?  Other covers were generic pictures of people fighting or a detective with a magnifying glass or some other clichéd garbage.  Those also went back on the shelf because it made me feel like the book would be boring or clichéd.

I realize how completely shallow this makes me sound.  However, I feel like I'm fairly typical of the average reader.  Yes, I can, and have, browsed more thoroughly, but by acting like 90-ish% of the casual buying public, I can get a sense of what it's looking for.  It reinforces how important the perfect title and suitable cover are.  You can write the best book in the world, but if folks can't get past the name or the display, it won't matter.

Writers need to spend time on the title. Bounce it off friends, family, and complete strangers.  Ask them what the title makes them feel.  Does it arouse interest?  A yawn?  A snort?  What?

The cover, although daunting, is one of the many benefits of the age of the independent writer.  Who better than the author to know what the public should see to draw them in?  Since you should know your book better than some faceless editor or artist, you get to decide the right approach.  If you're a traditional and first time published writer relying on a publishing company...well...best of luck.

Spend the time you need.  To get a sense, browse local bookstores and see what entices you.  Think of it as research, and research helps you gain market share.  It's not necessarily sexy, but it will give you a leg up that some arteest who thinks that writing alone will work doesn't understand.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Always On Sale

I was sitting in the GM dealership last week waiting for my 11 year old car to finish being fixed when an amiable woman in the chair next to me struck up a conversation.  She seemed like one of those chatty types who got out nervous energy by talking, and I had little else to do, so I participated.  We talked about her son(he just finished Basic Training), her job(she left teaching to become a real estate agent), and what we liked about Hawaii(it's not frigid).

We eventually got around to our interests, and I casually mentioned that I like to write.  Her eyebrows shot up and she asked if I'd been published.  Not yet, although I told her the schedule I was on to do so.  I finally talked a bit about each of my books, and her interest doubled.  It turned out that she liked similar stories, and she asked what it would take to get on my fledgling mailing list.

That round about story was the lead in to remind all of you writers in the audience that you're always on the market.  Perhaps once you've made it big you can sit back and allow your reputation to sell books for you, but if you're just starting out, be prepared to sell yourself and your work at every opportunity.

The catch is that you can't be an overbearing prick about it.  Don't walk up to random strangers and shout, "I'm a writer, and have I got a story for you!"  However, you'll be surprised how often the chance to hawk your wares presents itself.  People love to talk about interests, and writing should be one of yours.

The trouble is that you can't just talk about what a great storyteller you are - you have to show it.  How do you do that?  You talk about your story.  What is it about?  How is it different than what else is out there?  Can you make a favorable comparison to something well known in popular culture?  Do you know what your book's 30 second spiel/book cover synopsis is?

When discussing your story, do so with enthusiasm.  No, not the rah-rah cheerleader crap you see coming out of motivational speakers - just show that it's interesting by knowing what it is and be able to tell just enough to whet the appetite without giving away the farm.  Potential readers will know if you're not enthusiastic about your work, and if you're not into it, why should they be?  You have to strike a balance between being passionate and needy, so expand beyond "My book is sooo great" and into why it's "sooo great."  For Akeldama, I like to start off by tapping into public disgust over sparkly vampires by using a line I stole from the internet - "My vampires only sparkle after the human hero has set them on fire."

If you're not willing to expand your potential base of customers, then you're not ready to do this for a living.  It takes more than writing a great story.  Great stories are nice, but if no one buys them, they won't bring you an income for neat goodies like food and heat.  Always be on the lookout for a new customer, for you never know which one will bring enough referrals for you to break out.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Predictable Unpredicability

Readers seem to like being kept on their toes.  A story that's too predictable is one where interest is quickly lost, for no one likes to know exactly where a tale is headed.  However, in our zeal to keep people off balance, I think that we, as writers, try a little too hard.

M. Night Shyamalan has become a running joke for his overreliance on the twist ending.  Rather than allow a strong story to stand on its own, Shyamalan seems to feel it necessary to head off in a totally bizarre direction, undermining the storytelling he has engaged in.

We need to remember this as we write our novels.  A certain amount of unpredictability helps keep readers coming back, but there is also a modicum of security in a story playing out as the reader feels it can or should.  As a reader myself, throwing me for too big a loop actually pisses me off, taking the emotional investment I've made and playing it into something purely for the purpose of being out there.

Further, when such twists become a habit, readers start looking for them.  That's the great thing about a real twist ending or unpredictable moment - the reader should never see it coming.  If they look for it all the time, it loses impact, and it decreases the impact of the story when it doesn't happen.  Readers feel torn between "I got robbed" and "Thank God they didn't try that stupidity again."

Unpredictability doesn't always have to engage in the most overarching parts of the book.  While impactful, it can be applied more subtly, such as a character having an unexpected relationship to others, or perhaps a trail being followed leads to an unanticipated destination.  It needn't result in something that totally upends the story and makes the reader roll his or her eyes.

Stories need to, usually, make sense in the end.  And an unpredictability that folks look for means it's more of a shock effect that can be anticipated instead of something truly unpredictable.  Resist the urge to always go for the big shakeup, and look for other ways to surprise your audience - you'll be surprised by the way that creates anticipation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Re-reading For Study

As recently mentioned, I've noticed a certain amount of sterility creeping into the way I write.  I've lost some of the storytelling aspects of the craft in my zeal to be that perfect writer.  By doing so, the tale itself has gotten less fun to tell.

In order to find ways to fix this, I've gone back and decided to re-read some of the writers that have had an impact on me.  I first went back and re-read A Call To Arms by Alan Dean Foster.  It's a silly little sci-fi book that makes no excuses about being a fun story designed for the amusement of the casual sci-fi reader.  I then re-read Guns of the South by Harry Turtledove.  Another fun story that let me become part of the world without interrupting the story.  Finally, I re-read the entire Thrawn Trilogy by Tim Zahn.  Once again, a terrific story that, although serious in its storytelling, didn't take itself so seriously that it forgot it was about enjoyment.

When I got back into these books, I noticed these writers breaking all kinds of so-called rules drummed into us by the traditional publishing world.  They told us instead of showing us on occasion(although not all the time), and many of them began by dropping us into scenarios of conflict without telling us why we should care; we simply did.  The flow of the book swept us into the narrative before we had the chance to ask the indignant, and, in my opinion, pretentious questions about whether they were doing things "by the book."

Character descriptions weren't done through lengthy paragraphs that described that scar down the person's cheek or that they were into 60s fashion.  Instead, we got to figure out what the characters looked like and sounded like by their actions and, more importantly, their words.  They left a lot to the imagination without chirping about it.

There was also a sense of grand adventure that so many "serious" works seem to look down on.  The authors made no apologies about being part of a thrilling tale that allows a person to escape the tedium of the real world.  They all said, "Come on in and forget about society for a while - let us entertain you!"

In short, I could feel the enthusiasm of the person writing the novel.  They just had to share the story, and if you didn't listen, that was your problem, rules be damned.  That's what I need to get back to in order to produce the work I want to produce.  I'm going to go back into my Homecoming prequel and apply this newly returned enthusiasm.

Finally, left unsaid up to this point but glaringly obvious, is that a good writer must be a prolific reader.  What you read doesn't have to follow a certain set of guidelines, but you must read.  Find someone you enjoy reading and get into them.  Figure out what style you like and go from there.  Without it, it's hard to get any sense of self because you've got no one to compare to.  Sounds great in a vacuum, but don't we all need someone to emulate?  More importantly, don't we need something to enjoy?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Hitting the Mark

I've had my ups and downs as a blogger.  Some of my posts have several hundred hits.  Some of them have less than five.  It's not like there's a huge degree of consistency.  The sheer randomness of the numbers is maddening.

Or is it sheer randomness?

Looking back, there appear to be three factors that contribute to some posts getting more traffic than others.  One of those factors is within my control(if not my apathy).  The other two are...well...a little more complicated.

Like any blogger, I market myself.  I try to put every post up for my friends on Facebook.  That way, my "friends" can see it and click over if they like.  I also comment on the posts of other blogs.  I don't do this solely out of a cynical desire to drive traffic - if I didn't enjoy the post and/or have something to say, I wouldn't say anything - but it doesn't hurt when someone looks at what I wrote and decides to follow the trail on over.

This part of driving traffic is completely within my control...even if I've slacked off recently.  My computer time has become severely limited over the last year and a half, and I don't have the time to spend roaming through blogs like I used to.  Other events may also hamper my ability to browse come next summer.  Nevertheless, I could expend more effort on this front and visit my blogging buddies with a little more regularity.  This excuses I have are just that - excuses.

The second element is a little more focused, and it's both good and bad.  I've noticed that my posts get more traffic when they involve the writing business, and they go way up when they involve ranting about the traditional aspects of that business.  I suppose this shows I have a knack for creating some level of emotion, but I don't know how healthy this is.  For starters, it will eventually start sounding like a CD stuck on a continuous loop.  I mean, how many times can I talk about why I think traditional publishing is stuck in the dark ages or why I took Amazon's side in its recent dispute with Hachette?  These things are novel when done infrequently, but relying on such righteous anger can easily get tedious.

The third thing I took notice of is that my short stories, for better or worse, also seem to get a lot more traffic.  This made me cringe.  Don't get me wrong - I love writing them.  However, the effort required to create a decent one involves a significant investment of time and energy(I believe the appropriate response here is "duh").  Therefore, I plan to write a few more short stories, but at not nearly so rapid a pace.  These things may go in the once or twice a month category rather than the weekly one.  Maybe that will help people forget the awful train wrecks I've produced.

Oh, and generate more traffic.  After all, that was the point of the post in the first place.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Online Learning

Now that I've abandoned my online novel, I've gone back and looked into what lessons I learned from the failed attempt.  Although success feels a lot better, I learn a lot more from failure...and believe me, this was a colossal failure.

First, I can't just write on the fly.  I didn't outline this story like I usually do.  Yes, I had a general idea the direction I wanted to go, but I never jotted it down in order to flesh out the details.  That's the biggest way I put meat on the bones of my novel - I outline.  It helps me explore threads before I put them on paper so I can see if they're viable.  Without it, my story wanders aimlessly.

Second, I need to be enthusiastic about what I'm writing about.  I came into this trying only to put something together for the blogging audience, and nothing more.  The books I've completed are all stories I've had some degree of obsession over.  I've played with them for months, if not years, on end, and they've become a part of me.  This novel didn't fit that pattern - I simply came up with an idea in front of the computer and decided that it would be the main idea.  I'd have had just as much luck and enthusiasm by putting ideas on scraps of paper and throwing a dart at them.

I also can't write anything great at one sitting.  Each chapter felt rushed since I usually put it off until the end of the week.  Then, in a mad scramble, I'd type furiously and hope it was something coherent.  It wasn't.

Finally, it reinforced that writing is hard.  Don't get me wrong - I love it.  However, that doesn't mean you can put forth minimal effort and create a grand masterpiece.  Good writing requires time, passion, and effort.  Without those boundaries, I could only poop out something a high school senior could do overnight.

I was and am ashamed of the crap I put out the past few months in this sham of an online novel.  I hope the quality, or lack thereof, didn't scare away too many people.  Still, I learned a lot about both writing and writing habits that will make my next real story even better.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Don't Do This!

A writer friend of mine wrote to me and said something along the lines of, "I'm just gonna start putting my book on the shelves at Barnes & Noble.  Once people snatch enough off the shelves, they'll be begging me to supply them more."

I shook my head...and laughed.

Don't do this.  Please don't do this.  It's tacky, it's petty, and it can frustrate potential customers.  When someone takes one of your books to the counter, and it doesn't ring up, the reaction isn't, "Gee, what talented author is this?  I must check into it more!"  No, the reaction is actually, "Well, that asshole struck again.  I'm sorry, but this is not one of our titles."(Usually followed by an eye roll)

It's not like it's hard to get your stuff out in this day and age, but please don't do it like this.  It's not even remotely imaginative, and it will piss people off.  Barnes & Noble employees will just laugh at you - the corporate office won't even hear about it - and people who were willing to take a chance will just sour on you.

Talk to independent bookstore owners and offer copies for free for them to sell, with them getting all the profit.  Get your message out on social media.  Get into reading clubs.  But don't do the dance of the desperate.  We all have images of our book with its own display at a place like Barnes & Noble, but just sticking your book on the shelf and hoping people discover your brilliance is like that dork at the school dance who is dancing with himself.

Just say no.

Sunday, November 30, 2014


I've had no choice but to come to the conclusion that I'm a storyline snob.

I say this because I've looked at the stories I've seen recently that have been re-imagined, and I hate them.  Several of these have gotten critical acclaim...and I still hate them.  Take Maleficent - this is the retelling of the story of Sleeping Beauty in an entirely different way.  It re-makes the story so that Maleficent isn't an evil witch, but rather just a misunderstood dark hero who was wronged.  It has won praise from lots of critics, yet I see this as a corruption of the story.

The tale itself could be wonderful...on its own.  Unfortunately, the filmmakers had to coopt the original because they relied on it to draw in business.  Using Sleeping Beauty as a context, they knew they could count on all the folks who saw and loved the first movie to come see this new version.  To me, the new version twists the story into something it was never meant to be.

This isn't the first movie I've had this reaction to.  Star Trek Into Darkness had the affect on me since it took one of the greatest villains of all time, Khan Noonien Singh, and made him one dimensional, even taking away his raison d'etre by not having Kirk strand him and his wife.  This event was what made Khan so terrible, yet the filmmakers treated it like just another plot device, easily discarded if it was inconvenient.

Why am I like this?  I wish I knew.  I wish I could mindlessly accept stories, but a large part of my enjoyment rests on a story's consistency.  If a story is nonsensical within its own universe, I have trouble.  I think part of this is due to the implied laziness of it - it requires effort to maintain the same plot elements so that a universe makes sense.  Another part is the suspension of disbelief - the story must work for us to enjoy.  I have to be able to say, "I could see that happening within that universe."

Perhaps I'm the only one.  Maybe others can accept these things and think I just overthink them.  I could be in a company of one.  Does anyone else have this problem?

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Abandoning My Online Novel and News

First and foremost, I've decided to abandon my online novel.  Simply put, it sucks.  I've put no effort into outlining in advance or spending the time needed to make it worthwhile.  As such, it's nowhere near my potential, and I'm loathe to continue working on a novel that gives people the impression that my writing is shit.  This could make people think the rest of my work is shit, and that's not something a writer who depends on quality wants people to think.

I plan to go back and look at it, parsing it here and there, saying what stinks about it and what I've learned.  That shouldn't be too hard since it's easy to learn from bad work.

As an adjunct to this, I've also decided to stop doing Short Story Friday.  I don't know yet what will replace it, but the quality I like just isn't there.  It was easy in the beginning since I already had a few short stories done, and they could be copied and pasted into the blog.  Unfortunately, as time wore on and I had to come up with new short stories, the quality suffered.  I stopped outlining and editing as the demands of time pushed me down.  I just started throwing things against the wall, and it felt like a chore.  If I've learned anything, it's not to write when it's not enjoyable.

On other news, there may be a year delay in the release of Akeldama.  Originally set to come out in May 2016, I think I'm going to have to push that back to May of 2017.  The reason for this is that I think my job will take me away from the country for a year starting next summer.  I won't return until the summer of 2016, and I want about a full year to finish putting together the business aspects of my work, as well as marketing it.  Don't worry - I think I'll be able to continue this blog from my new, and temporary, home, but it'll make putting something out difficult.  If any of that changes, you'll be the first to know.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Conflicting Advice

Although I've committed myself to the indie market as a writer, I still read what comes from the traditional houses regarding how to write because one can always learn something useful.  Besides, if I don't think what they're saying is right, I can always ignore it.

A case in point is the continuing assertion that you should always "show, don't tell."  I think this is fine advice...to a point.  The problem is that literary agents and editors in publishing houses want to stick to this like biblical canon with regards to new authors.  I say new authors because some of the more established authors I've read violate this all the damn time.

Yes, you should always paint the picture when you can.  However, there are times when telling helps do that.  You sometimes need to say a character is anxious rather than portraying the beads of sweat rolling down his face or the flips his stomach is doing.  Not only does overdoing the showing aspect increase the size of the book unnecessarily sometimes, but it can also make you look like a pretentious asshole.

Go back and re-read some of your favorite authors.  Stephen King and JK Rowling do a great deal of work in allusion, but they also just come out and flat tell you what is happening sometimes.  If you pay attention, it's not hard to figure out that they do this when they need to get a point across but don't need it to delay the story.

It's okay to say that you're main character is hungry.  It's okay to say that the hero stabbed the villain in the chest.  Intersperse this with more vivid descriptions when applicable, but don't beat yourself up if you don't always tell us that, "Greg ran his blade across the fleshy part of Tyrone's throat.  Blood spilled from the wound, drenching everything in crimson."  There's a time and place for this, but it isn't all the time.

I came to this realization on a plane recently while reading over someone's shoulder(yes, I'm nosy, but I was also inconspicuous).  The man was reading a Jack Reacher novel.  Now, anyone who reads this blog regularly knows of my antipathy for Lee Child.  However, despite what I may think of the man personally, he has great talent and sells a lot of books.  The passages I caught were lean on the showing and long on the telling.  The pages used words like "hungry," "nervous," and "clumsy."  That's because the point of the pages was to focus on the conversation between the characters in order to propel the story rather than on individual emotions - that came later.

It made me understand that too many writers agonize over rewording to eliminate telling when that might not be necessary.  Get your story out there.  Go back and edit some, but don't stress.  If you achieve the effect you're looking for, then don't worry about the doctrine Nazis who will scold you.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Burying the Hatchet

Well, the scuffle between Amazon and Hachette appears to be over...for now.  Both sides are claiming victory in a moderately complicated legal argument and business dispute.  Hachette will continue to charge more than is reasonable for ebooks in an attempt to protect paper sales, although Amazon is providing financial incentives for them to discount the work.

The folks who make millions of dollars in this, like Doug Preston, are thrilled, although that won't stop them from telling the DOJ on Amazon.  Something about monopolies, even though you can also buy books online from Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Google.  I did a quick search for anything Preston said about the collusion amongst ebook publishers and couldn't find it, but no matter, because Amazon is the big baddie here due to big profits or something.

The press, who has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo - they all go to the same cocktail parties - is playing this up as a big win for Hachette.  Of course, they're also leaving out some very important facts on the case - facts like how Amazon wasn't delaying shipments(how do you delay shipment on books not in stock?  If you have no contract, would you stock a book on the off chance you might someday get paid?).  Facts like how traditional publishers pay 15% royalties to authors, and only then twice a year(whereas Amazon pays 70% of the sales price and does so monthly).  It's always so funny to watch some folks portray themselves as protecting the little guy when the people they defend are in the habit of screwing the little guy.  Yes, millionaires like Preston are fine, and if that's the way they want to do things, that's okay, but they should stop pretending it's about anything but self-interest.

Meanwhile, Amazon has Hachette books back in stock again and is chugging along just fine.  Their publishing market continues to grow as more and more writers question the need for a traditional publisher.  I still think Hachette needs Amazon more than Amazon needs Hachette.

What does this mean to you?  Not much.  Your Hachette titles will no longer take as long since books will now be in stock, and those titles will also be much higher than necessary, thus pushing people into the indie market and protecting paper sales for those who still really want books by the writers selling ebooks too high.

So go out and pop some bubbly, for the great war has ended!

Thursday, November 20, 2014


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.


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


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






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?"





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


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."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 6 - Engaging The Mob

"What the hell was that?" Ray whispered to Pat.

The room was dark...very dark.  Back at the dorms, it never got this black since there was always some extra source of light, no matter how faint - a computer monitor, a light pole from outside, even the light from the hall creeping in under the dorm room door.  Here only more darkness crept in through the shutter that led outside.

Something else crept in - grunts and shouts, plus what sounded like the occasional muffled scream.  It sounded a bit like two in the morning on a Saturday night, with people shuffling back to their beds after a night of keg stands(except for the muffled screams, that is).

"We should get the others and find out what's happening," Pat said.

Grabbing his crossbow, Pat headed out the door, Ray close behind.  Dan was already in the hall, his hands gripped around Chris' robes.

"What is going on out there?" Dan asked.

"Your guess is as good as mine, Dan," Pat replied.  "I almost didn't hear it...and I wish I hadn't.  I'm so friggin tired."

The door to Tucker's room opened and the burly knight peered out.  "Keep your voices down.  They'll hear you."

"Who'll hear us?" Lisa asked, her and Kurt now joining them in the hall.

"Come see for yourselves.  Just be quiet about it."

They filed into Tucker's room, crouching as they moved.  Tucker had his shutter opened a sliver, and even from across the room they could make out movement outside.

That wasn't all.  Apparently it wasn't as dark as they'd originally thought, for light also flickered into the room.  As they crouched by the window, they could see why - torchlight was wafting inside from the crowd.  Of course, it was what the crowd was made of that nearly made Lisa scream.

"Goblins," Tucker noted.  "Real ones."

He wasn't wrong.  There were a couple dozen of the green skinned beasts.  A few carried torches, and all carried blades of some sort.  They were also clad in brown leather garments and wore sandals.  Several of the bigger ones carried burlap sacks across their shoulders...burlap sacks that seemed to move.

Those sacks were also the source of the muffled screams.

"There are people in there," Tucker noted.

"This is so cool," Pat said.

"No," Lisa corrected.  "The game is cool.  This is real."

"We have to save those people," Tucker said, as if it was obvious.

"Are you insane?" Chris said.  "Not only are those real monsters, there are over 20 of them.  We wouldn't stand a chance."

"Our group has taken on more than this," Tucker replied, never taking his eyes off the goblins.  "Whoever the goblins took, they don't deserve to be cooked and eaten."

"How do you know they'll do that?" Chris asked.

Now Tucker took his eyes off the mob.  "We've been playing DragonLore long enough to know what they do.  Goblins take humans for food, and we're considered a delicacy."

The group stirred uncomfortably.  Finally, Dan said, "Not sure I'll be of much good.  I'm blind, remember."

"The rest of us have enough power to do this.  Let's go."  Tucker skulked out of the room, grabbing his armor as he left.  The rest of the group looked dumbfounded as he went.  However, knowing they couldn't leave him alone, they reluctantly followed, grabbing what they could from their rooms.

Tucker's armor glistened in the soft moonlight, his silver sword in his hand.  He was about to charge out into the mob when Lisa grabbed him.

"Hey, big guy, let's think of a plan of attack, okay?"

"What do you have in mind?" he sighed.

"More than just charge in and take on all at once," Lisa replied.  "Think of this as one of our quests.  We'd make a plan beforehand."  She turned to Ray and said, "You've got your fireball spell, I'll bet.  Set those trees over there on fire.  Once that creates a distraction, Pat can lay down one or two with his crossbow, and Tucker can then slice a few that get separated.  I'll pick off one or two with my dagger, and Kurt, we'll need you to start healing us as soon as they attack."

"What about me?" Chris asked.

"None of them are zombies," Lisa observed.  "Stay with Dan and pray."

"Wonderful," Chris murmured.

As Ray brought his hands up, he said, "I really hope to God this works."

His hands started to glow orange, and his eyes widened.  As if he'd fired a gun, recoil struck his body and an enormous fireball leapt from his fingertips and lurched across the road.  Of course, it came nowhere near the target and hit an old barn in the street instead.

"Shit," Ray stammered as the barn went up.  He brought his hands up again and aimed for the trees.  His second shot came closer but still landed in a field short of the target.  Still, he created the intended effect - the goblins were surprised by the fireballs and temporarily stunned.

Before they could catch their bearing, Pat fired off a crossbow bolt and impaled one of the goblins through the skull.  He yelped in glee as he took aim with his second shot, but the bolt missed wildly and embedded itself in the wood of the burning barn.

Tucker leapt from the cover he was using and cleaved one of the stunned goblins in half.  As another approached him from the rear, Lisa came out of nowhere and jammed her dagger into its throat.  She pulled it out just in time to whirl around and catch another in the chest.

Pat was reloading as fast as he could, but he was having trouble getting the bolts properly situated.  Meanwhile, Tucker cut another two across the waist.  Ray was trying to raise his hands again, but nothing would come up.

"My magic is gone," he exclaimed.

"Dude, you used your magic points," Pat said.  "Remember, it takes a couple of turns for you to get them back.  Try a minor spell."

Sticking his hands out in front of him, he blew out his breath, a mighty wind now kicking up and blowing back the attackers.  Tucker aimed for the head of one, but the wind caused him to fall over.

Goblins were now running in all directions.  Several had dropped the sacks they carried, although none of the group could tell if they'd dropped all of them.  Nearly a dozen goblins lay dead or dying as the rest disappeared into the town and the woods.

Breathing heavily, Tucker asked, "Everyone okay?"  Once they all nodded, he continued, "Let's get Chris and Dan and get these folks out of these bags."

They made their way back to the wall of the inn to find Dan on the ground, his right eye bleeding heavily and him on his side.  The rise and fall of his chest told them he was alive, but he'd been badly hurt by the fleeing mob.  However, there was someone missing.

It was Lisa that voiced their concern.  She knelt by Dan and asked, "Where's Chris?"

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Challenging Your Ego

It takes toughness to get involved in the business of writing.  You're putting your work out there for others to see and critique, and no matter how much we smile and say we can shrug it off, critiques hurt.  Someone telling us about our flaws makes us naturally defensive, with the tendency being to pout about how mean that person is, even if we asked for the critique and it was given in the right spirit.

However, critiques are necessary.  No one, no matter how experienced or lauded, gets it right all the time.  Very few get it right at all on the first try.  We need these critiques to hone our craft and become better writers.  Still, few of us take them well.  Why?

Mostly because we have egos of crystal.  We're so convinced of our superiority in writing that we scoff at the notion that anyone else could tell us what to fix.  There's some benefit in this ego since a good writer writes with confidence.  Unfortunately, it can also make us bristle when someone brings up a legitimate point.

It's this tendency that makes some of us clam up.  Like that gawky teenage boy who is so afraid of getting told no that he never asks anyone out, some of us refuse to share our writing with others.  I've been to a few critique groups where many are willing, even eager, to say what needs work on someone else's writing, but they clam up and stare at the floor when asked who else has brought something for the group.  Some get so afraid that they'll find all kinds of excuses to not let others in - "It still needs work;" "The people here don't 'get' my style;" "I need more time before it's ready for a reading."

This hurts us as writers, for it covers our weaknesses and doesn't let us work to fix them.  Only the rarest, most objective among us can honestly evaluate his or her work, and I'd say that even then it happens properly less than 50% of the time.  That's why we need others.

You can shield yourself by knowing that taste is subjective.  Ten different people will read your story ten different ways.  What one person says can be dismissed; where you need to listen is when four of those ten are making basically the same point.  Also, we all know when someone hits a point we should've seen, so be willing to take that point to heart rather than get upset that it was pointed out.

Yes, there are some mean people out there, even in critique groups, but these folks are easily spotted and written off.  Learn to discern between those trying to help and those looking to assuage their own bruised egos.  Once you can break through that barrier, you'll get better.  After all, won't that help you sell more in the end?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Shields Up!

A quick stroll through the ranks of Amazon will reveal a bizarre dichotomy.  Look first at the ebook titles from authors you know well - Harry Turtledove, James Patterson, Stephen King, and so forth.  Then head over to the ranks of indie writers like Amanda Hocking, Hugh Howey, and JA Konrath.  Anything stand out?

Yup - the prices.

This dichotomy exists from traditionally published mid-list writers to those who might be considered mid-list(or lower) in the indie ranks.  Traditionally published writers' ebooks are consistently higher, with most topping at least $11, while indie writers tend to keep ebooks in the $5 range.  I originally thought this could be explained by the way that traditionally published writers are still having to cover fixed expenses - like editors, secretaries, warehouse, etc - that indie writers don't, and I'm sure that still accounts for some of the discrepancy.  However, I've always been big on "follow the money," and this circumstance should be no exception.

It struck me out of the blue that a big part of the reason for this is that traditional publishing is still anchored to its paper book sales.  They're so anchored, in fact, that they have to artificially inflate ebook prices in order to not lose customers to the digital marketplace.  The thinking is that people will still want the books, but many(most) will opt for traditional books if prices between the two mediums are comparable.  Even I prefer paper books if given the choice, so it's people like me they're after.

Yes, I feel like an idiot that it took me so long to realize what should've been obvious from the start.  That revelation also leads me towards feeling that traditional publishers are making a HUGE mistake if they think they've found a winning strategy.

First, no matter what fantasy we want to live in, most readers are casual ones.  They can read or not and be just fine with that decision.  In fact, it's precisely because they're casual fans that they can move on from reading altogether if finding what they want becomes too bothersome.  Few find an ebook price they don't like and move to find a bookstore - getting harder and harder to find anyway - to pick up their tome.

Second, by artificially inflating prices, they're discouraging those who might otherwise be intrigued.  If prices were, say, around $6, someone otherwise inclined might take a risk on a new novel.  However, certain price points will cause people to walk away(there's a reason why prices end in .99 rather than just going up to the next round number).  However, in the mind of a traditional publisher, since their sales are anchored to print, they have no choice but to keep ebook prices so high that it won't make a dent in their margins.  Instead of seeing potential new customers, they see an interchangeable person who will buy regardless of price.

On the plus side, this artificial pricing model has helped the indie ebook boom.  People are much more willing to take a chance on someone whose prices are so much lower.  Were JK Rowling and Joe Smithy the same price, JK Rowling wins every time.  However, with Rowling at $12 and Smithy at $4, the analysis changes, and Smithy becomes much more appealing.

I guess this means we should actually thank traditional publishers.  By doing what they're doing, they've helped create the very competition now causing them so many headaches.  Well done!

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Online Novel Chapter 5 - The Adventure Begins

It was mid-afternoon when they stepped into the sunlight.  Nothing in the natural scene said anything about this being a fantasy scenario - birds chirped, bugs buzzed, and sweat trickled beneath a large sun.  Only the dusty roads and thatched roof buildings said this wasn't their home.

Tucker jangled when he walked - a product of his armor rattling around on him.  It complimented his frame well, and the sword on his hip seemed a part of him.  Unlike the others, he was the only one who didn't look back.

"Uh, anybody have any idea how far it is to this Wostrom place?" Ray asked.

"Three or four leagues, Mouline," Dan replied.

"What did you say?" Ray asked.

"I said three or four leagues, Ray."  Dan blinked.  "I did say that, didn't I?"

"You called him Mouline," Lisa observed.

"Well, that's his character's name," Dan stammered.  "I'm just trying to get into the spirit."

Some of the group looked at each other, but the rest shrugged it off.  They looked hesitant still...except for Tucker.  No matter the group's pace(or lack thereof), he continued walking down the road, dust being kicked up by his boots dragging the ground.

"Tucker," Lisa called, "that's quite a ways."

"Is that a problem?" he called back over his shoulder.

"Kind of.  Shouldn't we have horses or something?"

"Did we have horses in the game?" Tucker asked.

They all looked at each other anew.  It wasn't something they ever really thought about.  Their characters usually just answered a poster in a town or were already at the scene of their adventure.  Travel between towns wasn't something they gave a lot of thought to.

"A horse or two would be nice," Chris ventured.

"So would a BMW, but we ain't got either," Tucker said.  "So let's keep moving.  I want to get to Wostrom before nightfall."

The group trudged after Tucker.  The knight seemed almost to pull them after him, for he didn't look back.  All but Pat were lightly dressed - as a woodsman, Pat wore heavier leather and carried a crossbow - yet it was Tucker, clad in his armor and heavy helmet, that set the pace.  His growing silence was almost as unnerving as his speed.

Dan was the one who slowed the group.  Although he knew the town and was the one with the directions in his head, his blindness prevented a quick stride, and only his grip on Chris' robes kept him from stumbling.  He paused to wipe the sweat from his brow once or twice, but he kept his complaints to himself.

Although Tucker wanted to make it before nightfall, the sun was long down by the time they finally reached the tiny Hamlet of Wostrom.  To say the place was small would be an understatement - most rural towns in Texas looked like bustling metropolises next to it.  Flickering torches lined the main road - one of only two, the other being the intersection in the center of the village - and ramshackle wooden buildings were interspersed throughout.  All were tired when they arrived, except for Tucker who seemed to have gained superhuman endurance.

A tavern on the side of the road named "The Boar's Head" had a wooden sign hanging from chains over the door.  Into the wood was painted a large black boar's head, its tusks gleaming in the moonlight.

"A tavern," Kurt panted.  "Thank god.  I need something to drink."

"Get your head out of the clouds," Tucker chided.  "We have a job to do, and getting hammered isn't on the list."

"Listen, Varagorn, you might be able to go all day and night, but the rest of us are beat," Kurt squeaked.  "If I don't get some food and drink, as well as a night's rest, I'll be no good to you.  Good luck beating the dragons by yourself."

Tucker looked annoyed, but he finally nodded.  Relief spread through the group as they opened the front door to the tavern.

Inside were a dozen wooden tables watched over by twice that number of candles.  A dirty bar was perched against the far wall with a scruffy man in an apron wiping out a wooden cup with a rag.  His brow furrowed as the group walked in and found a table.

After a few minutes, during which the barkeep gave the distinct impression he was hoping his lack of attention would dissuade his newfound patrons from staying, the man finally made it over.  He snarled, "What'll it be?"

Getting into the groove of things, Pat said, "I could use a good stout ale."

"Sound good," Chris said.  "One for everybody."

That earned him a quizzical look from the barkeep.  "Aren't you a priest of Dimala?" he asked, pointing at Chris' robes.  "I didn't think you guys were allowed to drink ale."

Chris was at a loss for words when Dan leaned over.  "Don't stand out," he whispered.  "We don't want to draw questions."

"But I'm thirsty," he hissed.

"Then get some water," Dan hissed back.

Clearly annoyed, Chris looked at the barkeep and said, "Water, then.  And any food you have.  What do you have?"

"Some leftover cheese and bread.  I'll bring it out.  Ale or mead for anyone else?"

The rest of the group piped up.  Most ordered ale, but Ray and Dan asked for mead.  It didn't take long for the barkeep to return with the drink, and a second trip saw him return with two loaves of bread and a slab of cheese.

The group tore into the food.  After much slurping and smacking, Dan said, "Uh, don't we have to pay for this?  Anyone got any money?"

The barkeep over heard them and started making his way back to the table, his face growing red.  However, his march was stopped when Lisa pulled a pouch of gold coins from her belt and threw it on the table.

"Lisa, where did you get that?" Pat asked.

"We each have something," Lisa said.  "At least each of us should except Dan.  He wasn't a character in the game, but our characters had money."

Each member of the group felt in his or her belt and packs, each one eventually coming up with something.  They flipped a couple of coins to the barkeep who now looked considerably more relaxed.  As the man scooped up the coins, Kurt asked, "Is there any place to stay around here?"

"Sure," the barkeep replied.  "The Weary Traveler Inn is just two doors down.  For rich folks like yourselves, they've got good accommodations."

They thanked the barkeep, swigged down the last of their drink, and headed for the door.  Only Tucker looked annoyed; the rest of the group just looked beat.

They had to get the innkeeper out of bed, and he looked frazzled and a little frightened when they did so.  Even the money they showed didn't mollify him, but he gave them four rooms for a piece of silver each.  Once he passed out keys, he headed back to his tony room.

"Sleeping arrangements?" Pat asked.

"I would think it obvious - I get the sole room, and everyone else can share," Tucker said.

After a second of shock, Lisa said, "Um, I'm the only girl.  Shouldn't I get the single room?"

"Kurt's a girl too," Tucker said, barely concealing a snicker as he did so.  "I need the room for my armor."

"Come on, Lisa - it'll be fun," Kurt said with a leer.

"Bullshit.  Just because you have tits now doesn't make you a girl."

"Does in every anatomy textbook I've ever read," Kurt replied.

"You women bicker all you like," Tucker said.  "I'm going to my room to take my armor off.  I want us up by sunrise to get back on the road."  Without looking back, he swiped a key and headed to his room.

The rest of the group looked stunned.  Tucker wasn't normally like this.  Yeah, he was a jock and a brute sometimes, but he'd always been cool.  Still, most were too tired to care at this point.

They worked out the rest of the sleeping arrangements - Kurt and Lisa would share(reluctantly on Lisa's part), while Chris and Dan shared a room, and Pat and Ray took the last one.  They fell onto beds of straw sleep overtaking them as quickly as the dark.

Unfortunately, it was only three or four hours later when a loud noise awoke them.  It sounded like grunts and screams, and it was coming from the main road through town.