Sunday, January 26, 2014

One Week Hiatus

I'm sorry for this, but the blog will be on a one week hiatus.  I'm swamped this week, and all of this, coupled with a business trip to California, means I will have exactly no time to update.

I promise to return a week from tonight on my regular schedule.  Until then, please enjoy the archives!  ;-)

Thursday, January 23, 2014

First Chapter, New Book

Well, I finally started on my newest novel.  It's tentatively titled The Onyx Cluster, although that could change if I discover something more appropriate over time.  The first chapter is posted below for your amusement.



            John Forsythe smirked.  It was something he did a lot, especially when he felt he was dealing with an idiot.
            He waited several seconds for the windbag to burn himself out before responding.  After a pause designed more to create the impression of weary patience rather than that of thoughtful response, Forsythe said, “I’m not surprised by your close minded view of things, Dr. Strassen.  However, your insistence on Presentisim, as well as your adherence to the outmoded belief that time is illusory, ignores the basic fundamentals of Relativity that have guided physics for the past century.”

            Forsythe was a young man, at least insofar as how those in the Eastern Mountain University’s Physics Department measured age.  At 32, he was far more accomplished than those more than a decade his senior.  He was published in several journals and recognized as one of the leading minds of the next generation of physicists.  Unfortunately for him, his was not a field that appreciated youth.  Such adherence to rumpled old men in horn rimmed glasses was one of the reasons he maintained a light beard and wore sports coats with the patches at the elbows – they gave him the appearance of being older and more distinguished, helping him gain street cred in a world dominated by dinosaurs.
            Still, not all dinosaurs approved.  One of them was the gasbag seated in the auditorium’s first set of seats, and his name was Jim Strassen.

            “What I think you’re forgetting is that even Einstein said that time is illusory.  Our perception of time can be altered by the curvature of space, but the passage of time itself cannot be altered, for it is not a force that truly exists.”  Strassen was a fat old man, with thin wisps of hair combed over a shiny bald spot.  He and Forsythe had been sparring ever since the younger man arrived four years ago.
            “The curvature of space/time here is not an illusion, and its existence is acknowledged in any number of competent journals.  I think it’s the uncertainty of overlapping strands of time and the implications of that which makes you uncomfortable.”

            Strassen chuckled.  “I can hardly be made uncomfortable by that which is not real.”
            Forsythe knew he could continue sparring here for another hour, but that would drive the audience to boredom.  Granted, there may not have been many here today – the auditorium held over 600 seats, but everyone who attended today’s lecture could easily fit in the first few rows – but Forsythe knew they were eager for a show, so a show he would give them.

            On the stage behind him sat his white boards filled with the calculations he’d made, as well as a rectangular table where his department chair and two other colleagues sat to help with questions.  It was his department chair, Dr. Harold Liscewski, who broke in to calm things down.
            “Dr. Strassen, I don’t think this is the forum to continue your feud with Dr. Forsythe.  His equations are here for everyone to see, and if you have issue with where he’s going with them, then I suggest you take issue with that.”

            Forsythe’s smirk returned as Strassen looked briefly nonplussed, though he quickly recovered.  Strassen remained standing and adjusted his glasses before saying, “Okay, let’s assume for a moment that I bought into this outlandish theory of the curvature of space/time allowing for travel along its axis, absurd though it may be.  The equations themselves are fuzzy even in accordance with the theory.  For example, you’ve calculated the variable coefficient too high.  Even if you could produce the power necessary to warp time and travel through the breach, the point in time you’d reach would be in motion, making it impossible for you to return to the present.  Further, the power levels as shown are insufficient to store enough for the return trip – temporal radiation levels, if they existed, would drain what you had.”
            This was the moment Forsythe had been waiting for.  Scratching his chin, he said, “You know what?  Let’s find out.”

            The boards behind him split, and a spotlight from the rafters lit up on the platform now advancing towards the front of the stage(at least Carol, his graduate assistant had gotten that one right; she might not grasp String Theory, but she had a penchant for the dramatic).  On the raised platform stood a thin silver sphere suspended by metal poles between a pair of curved metal rods.  A series of wires ran from the back of the poles and towards an unseen destination.
            Without waiting for Strassen, or anybody else, to say anything – their bewildered silence was enough for the moment – Forsythe announced, “Allow me to introduce you to my latest project, a device that will change the way we perceive time.  I call it TADS, or the Temporal Adjustment and Displacement System.  I believe the hipper amongst us would simply call it a time machine.”

            He spread his hands and bowed while moving several steps to the rear.  He was expecting applause, so when nothing but silence greeted his bow, he looked back up at the audience.  Some were fidgeting with their chairs, looking almost embarrassed for him, while others had wide eyes of wonder.
            Strassen was the first to speak.  “Is this supposed to be a joke?  I thought this was a lecture on the anomalies of time and its points of intersection, silly as that may be, but have we moved into some elaborate prank?”

            “I can assure you that this is no prank,” Forsythe said while doing what he could to keep the glee out of his voice.  “Once the equations were complete, building the machine to act on them wasn’t hard.”
            Liscewski broke in again.  “I know this sounds crazy, but this is as real as it gets.  Assuming Dr. Forsythe’s calculations are correct, you are about to witness the world’s first confirmed time travel event.”

            Now applause broke out, even if they were scattered.  Strassen looked at Liscewski and said, “Were this real and not some elaborate ruse, why are we the only ones in attendance for this supposedly monumental event?”
            “This lecture was open to everyone,” Liscewski reminded him.

            “You know what I mean,” Strassen replied shortly.  “Where are the reporters?  Where’s the fanfare?  If this could plausibly be real, why the no muss, no fuss attitude?”
            Now it was Forsythe’s turn to break in.  “Because this isn’t the big event.  I plan to depart today, but in order to prove that this is real, I won’t rematerialize until next week at exactly 1pm.  One week will have passed for you, but for me, the trip will be instantaneous.  I believe that will be when the pomp and circumstance you desire will be present.  Am I right, Dr. Liscewski?”

            The department chair nodded.  “Upon Dr. Forsythe’s departure, we will be sending out press releases to all the relevant organizations.”  Left unsaid was that if things didn’t go as planned, not having the press here didn’t open them up to an embarrassment.
            “The amount of energy required for such a foolish venture is extreme,” Strassen noted.  “Where are you going to get that kind of power?”

            “We’ve been siphoning small amounts out of the university’s cyclotron for weeks,” Forsythe said with a wave of his hand.  Nodding towards Liscewski, he noted, “All with the university’s permission, of course.”
            Anticipating Strassen’s next question, Liscewski said, “Don’t worry – we haven’t endangered the cyclotron or the research into small particle collisions.  That’s why I’ve allowed Dr. Forsythe to take small amounts at a time – so that he could store the necessary power without interfering in any research.”

            There was a new silence in the auditorium.  Strassen looked nearly beside himself, which Forsythe took no small amount of pleasure from.  Finally, the rumpled old professor said, “I don’t think anyone doubts that I find this whole project silly, and that I think Dr. Forsythe is a buffoon who wastes his talent on fantasy, but that doesn’t mean I want him vaporized.  If you’re wrong, the energy output alone will tear through him like a hot knife through butter.”
            Liscewski shifted uncomfortably.  However, his voice was steady as he said, “We’ve considered that and think the risk is small.  Dr. Forsythe has demonstrated enough safety features that let me know the machine itself will trip like a breaker before it reaches that point.  However, if he’s correct, and I’ve always been impressed with the amount of detail he puts into everything, most especially his calculations, the rewards for the university will be extreme, to say nothing of the impacts on the world at large.”

            Forsythe knew but ignored the implication in Liscewski’s voice – if this should fail – a ludicrous notion in his eyes – then the university loses next to nothing.  The safety features will prevent harm, and no reporters were yet on scene to witness any failures.  In fact, it wasn’t until after Forsythe suggested that they wait until he vanished that they call the press that Liscewski dropped his final objections.
            Before Strassen could say anything else, another audience member called out from her seat.  “Dr. Forsythe, what if Dr. Strassen is right about the coefficient calculations?  If time, per your theory, is moving, then won’t the points of intersection also be moving?  You could get caught up in a slipstream of some kind and be deposited anywhere along the space/time continuum.”

            “Janice” – he thought her name was Janice and that she was an adjunct professor in the physics department, but she hadn’t been around long enough for him to know or yet care – “don’t you think I’ve considered that?  This has been my life over the last three years, and I’m certainly aware of the danger in the slightest calculation.  Don’t worry – I promise that this will work as advertised.”
            He smiled at her.  He was sure of what he’d done.  Yes, he enjoyed a martini on occasion while working, but the values always came out the same(or close enough as to make no difference).  Instead of questioning him, they should be congratulating him.

            Stepping over to the table just as the three behind it stood, he shook Liscewski’s hand before turning back to the audience and saying, “Now witness our next step into the future, this one quite literally.”
            Liscewski and the others strode off of the stage and Forsythe stepped to the platform and his baby.  He unlocked the highly polished yet transparent metal – an aluminum oxynitride compound – and climbed inside the machine.  There was but a single seat, and that barely wide enough for one man(Strassen, with his girth, would never have fit).  At his fingertips was a control panel for him to control the energy flow and manipulate the breach he wanted to create in space/time.  Over his head and behind him, flowing into the poles that held his device, were a series of wires designed to warp space/time so that the machine could slip through it and spin towards its new destination.

            He keyed the startup sequence and the display in front of him lit up.  Most of what he saw were readouts – power consumption, temporal velocity, space/time conjunctions, etc – as well as a series of dials that would allow him to manipulate the energy so he could control where he went.  Those dials would allow him to funnel the necessary 297.4 terajoules of energy required for the palladium loops to crack space/time and allow the machine to slip along the coils of the fourth dimension(for contrast, the bomb that leveled Hiroshima exploded with 63 terajoules of power).
            He knew that the department chair and his associates were now off the stage and gaping at him from the seats.  Assuming his calculations were correct, and they always were, they should be far enough back to not be caught in the torrent of dangerous but well contained energy that would follow his trip.

            Forsythe manipulated the dials and began pumping energy stored from the university’s cyclotron into the coils.  The outer ring of the silver sphere began to spin, slowly at first, but with increasing momentum.  He couldn’t bring in the energy too quickly, for that would indeed risk either vaporization or a much wider breach in space/time than he wanted, so he inched the dial around.
            The first indication that his experiment was working was a blue pop outside the machine that he saw from his seat.  A second, much louder pop followed a few seconds later.  The ring around the machine was now spinning at a rate approaching the speed of sound, and it would soon approach the speed of light(where the magic would really happen).  The sphere lifted from its position to a place in parallel with the rails that held it.  A low hum was now audible, and the blue flashes of light outside the machine were growing more frequent.

            All at once, Forsythe felt himself pulled forward at the chest, as if a series of hooks were latched underneath his ribcage and pulling him towards an unknown destination.  At the same time, he felt as though his head was being squeezed through a small pipe.  The hum he heard previously was now a ringing of deafening proportion.
            And the lights!  A blue glow pervaded everything, while spirals of red and yellow seemed to emanate from his hands and feet.  Outside the machine, streaks of green and blue flew past like he was passing the reflectors on some blackened highway.

            However, at the end of the journey, Forsythe would say that the strangest sensation he felt was that of being in several places at once.  He brought his hands up to plug his ears against the ringing he heard, only to see that his hands were also still on the dials in front of him.  He looked out of the window to see the streaks of light, only to discover he was also still looking at the controls.
            The feeling of traveling was also an unpleasant surprise.  He felt like someone was trying to turn him inside out while jabbing needles into his flesh.  Suddenly, as if someone slammed on the brakes, he lurched forward and everything stopped.  He knew that if he survived, this would not be an experience he would care to go through again.

            Then there was silence.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pausing For Thought

Most of us can spell.  We know the difference between its and it's, and we figured out long ago that roosters don't say "Cuck a dodle do."  We've also mastered the basics of grammar, figuring that we have to tie the subject of the sentence back into the action if our readers are to figure out who is doing what.  However, there's one area where I've noticed a distinct lack of understanding.

The comma.

A comma, in layman's terms, is where we take a breath when reading.  It allows a break in the action, whatever that action is, and let's us gather ourselves before plowing forward.  Unfortunately, most folks don't get where they need to use this literary device.

The easiest way to figure out where you need a comma, and where you don't, is to go back through your work and read it out loud.  If you want to take a breath but there's no comma in place where you would like to do so, that's where you add it.  Conversely, if you're reading something and noticing commas in places where you know you shouldn't pause, then remove them.

I make this plea because the improper use of commas drives me bananas.  Correct punctuation adds to the flow of a book, and that flow gets interrupted if I have to spend a couple of seconds trying to figure out the tone of voice and reading rhythm because someone didn't break it up right(or broke it up too much).

A few general rules to go along with knowing when and when not to pause:
1.  Compound sentences are two distinct ideas(independent clauses) that can stand alone as a sentence.  They're joined by a conjunction, such as and, but, for, or so.  Short compound sentences don't require it if it would interrupt the flow, but most need it.

2.  Starting a sentence with a dependent phrase usually needs a comma.  For example - "While playing by the river, I saw a mountain lion in the bushes."  The first part of that sentence makes no sense on its own, and not breaking it up with a comma makes reading it awkward.  Trust me.  Go ahead and read it without the comma - I'll wait.  Satisfied?

3.  Introductory expressions are those that get us into the flow of the sentence.  Although usually used more in speaking than in writing, such a use exists.  An examples would be, "Well, I was thinking of that anyway."

4.  Lists.  This should go without saying.

5.  Finally, names or titles within a sentence.  Examples would be, "I rode to the store with the new coach, Jim Johnson, before heading to practice with soda for the whole team," or, "Tim Gibbons, the Chief UN Inspector, was wearing a blue blazer."

Yes, I know all of this sounds condescending and elementary, but I'm amazed by how many don't understand the use of this simple piece of punctuation, and it drives me up a wall.  I want to be captivated by the story, not caught up in how choppy it is because someone didn't know when to take a breath(or took too many).  If just one person gets something out of this, it was worth it.

And if not...well...I've done all I can do.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Pet Peeves?

I recently ran across an article from Writer's Digest regarding literary agent pet peeves.  Now, anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows of my antipathy towards the traditional publishing world.  As time has gone on, and my research into the traditional world has expanded, I've grown even more irritated with that most elite of the gatekeepers, literary agents.

Understand that this does not come from rejection.  Many will chalk this up to that, and there's little I can say to such people.  They'll believe what they want, no matter how incorrect.  What my angst stems from is the arrogance displayed by people who, when you peel back all the layers of the onion, are supposed to work for writers.

I've spoken to more than a few agents in the past couple of years, and the tone of their dialogue is always the same - they're doing us a favor by even looking at our work.  In fact, if we unwashed masses weren't so lowbrow, they(the agents) would be better able to transform our society into the properly educated one they always envisioned.

In a nutshell, this is my problem with the traditional publishing world.

The agent works for the writer.  We can talk all we want about recognizing talent and sifting through the slush pile for a gem to polish, but in the end, they work for writers.  Without writers, the agent has no client from whom to earn money off of.  Without newbies submitting their work, there is no profession for them to hob knob with the cocktail party scene in Manhattan.

Let's forget the callous disregard of the effort most folks put into their work - a rant for a different time - but rather just at the very implications of agents having pet peeves before they'll grace you with their you pay them for.  You know...almost like you're the boss.

Literary agents in general would do better to couch their pet peeves in more of a suggestion mode rather than in the vein of feeling icky they even have to deal with people.  In the article, one said, "When a writer tells me his work is ‘the greatest, the best, the most amazing, the next blockbuster’—let me judge that for myself, please."  Perhaps the agent in question could have merely said, "Superlatives do little to enhance the reading experience."  Another said, "It shouldn’t be an Easter egg hunt for the plot line."  Maybe "Put your bottom line up front" would have sufficed better.

These people are the gatekeepers in the traditional publishing world, and they revel in their power.  Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for most of them, the traditional world is dying.  Indie is steadily on the rise, and if a few more bookstores close, the last avenue of mass marketing power falls away.  That opens the market up to those on the indie circuit, and technology has made it easier than ever to compete on the same playing field.  If the stranglehold loosens, mostly because the traditional industry refuses to adapt, then the market can decide and the gatekeepers will find themselves unemployed.  Once that occurs, I doubt their tone over the years will engender them much sympathy from the poor wretches who used to beg for just five minutes of their time.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Another Reason To Choose Indie

(Traditional view - if it doesn't come from the establishment, you can't have it)
I've been following the travails of a friend of mine for the past two and a half years.  He wrote a book about his experiences on the battlefield.  He impressed an agent enough that the agent took him on as a client and has tried to sell his work to several publishing houses.  The problem is that none of these sales attempts have resulted in anything but rejection.

Rejection is part and parcel of being a writer.  Even if you don't seek out an agent and a publisher, just hearing what others say about your work is enough to bring down a moose.  Those that do seek out such insiders to the publishing world are likely to go through dozens of folks saying no before ever finding that one person who'll say yes(assuming he or she exists).

This buddy is revising his novel yet again.  Again, like rejection, revising is part of our world.  Anyone who thinks he or she can churn out a first draft and be ready is a fool who isn't likely to last long in the business.  But there comes a point at which your novel looks so unlike what your vision was that you start to wonder why you're writing it in the first place.

The novel has been complete several times.  Each time someone has said no, there has come a list of suggestions.  It should be no surprise to anyone who reads this blog that I don't think editors are any more in tune with the public than members of the public itself.  Sure, my friend would tell me that his work is getting better, but I then ask who has ever read it besides these folks.  There comes a point at which continual revision becomes counter-productive.

As an indie author - out of choice, I might add - I can and will bring my work out when I want to.  I'm not reliant on an agent or some faceless editor 500 miles away to make that decision for me.  True, I haven't yet published anything, but that's due to the desire for me to get back to the mainland rather than someone telling me what their idea of what my story should be instead.  Once I hit the continental United States again, that obstacle goes away.  I half expect to find my friend still stuck on revising and wondering if his stuff will ever see print.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Decision Time!

For the last couple of weeks, I've gone back and forth over which story to bring out in my next work.  Part of that has been laziness - I got out of the habit of writing on a regular basis, so just breaking the inertia has been a challenge.  However, I also had two interesting ideas in mind, and I didn't know which one to tackle first.
(Which would you choose?)
Well, I finally came to a decision - I'm going to go with my time travel story.  Now I realize that from a book blurb standpoint, the other story I had in mind sounds much more exciting since it was easier to describe in a paragraph.  However, I think that if I can refine my story well enough, that problem will be moot when I tackle this other one.  All of my stories start off nebulous to begin with, and they take a while to gel.  I know the general path of the book, so the devil is in the details.

Why did I choose a story that might be harder to refine than one with an easier plot line?  Very simply, it's because I have a more concrete vision of the main character.  I want to return to character driven fiction, like my first three books, and I just know thus guy better than the other person in the other storyline.  To me, that will make creating the mood both easier and more fun.

The character I have in mind is a scientist named John Forsythe.  He's brilliant, eccentric, and like most geniuses, very arrogant.  It's that arrogance when bounced off of the hopeless situation he'll find himself in that draws me the most towards the story.  I want to find out what he does in a world he can't control with his intellect or intimidate with his credentials.  It's very much a fish out of water story where the humbling of the protagonist will be key.

Of course, writing a character like this will be challenging as well as fun.  I have to bring out his conceit without turning the audience against him.  I'll have to show flashes of humanity in him that might've otherwise stayed hidden in his natural environment.  Can he adapt?  What does he do in response to human suffering?  What are his buttons?  I've got ideas on all these, but nothing is solid...yet.

This is a story I'll begin this week.  I wrote about 1,000 words, but I'm going to scrap that now(as painful as it will be) since there's a new direction.  I have a few events coming up where I think I can get some real progress made.  Hopefully I can have 25,000 words done by the end of the month.  Maybe I'll even post the first chapter once it's complete - we'll see.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Too Consistent?

I came across this article from fellow writer/blogger Kevin Hanrahan, and it made me wonder on some stuff.  Kevin says that, in contravention to my own belief, too much consistency in writing a blog can be a bad thing.  His basic position is that people get oversaturated if a blogger posts too often because not everything can be a great read.

It's never been a secret that I'm a huge believer in consistently updating your blog.  I've always taken the position that readers will quickly abandon you if your schedule is erratic.  However, Kevin brings up a few good points, the biggest of which is that too many blogs seem to be going through the motions for the sake of posting something.

Now I'll admit that not every post of mine has been a home run.  There have been times that I've been tired and staring at a blank computer screen at 11:30 at night thinking, Just put something up there and move on!  Yes, I've succumbed on occasion, but that's rare, and I think that any blogger who does so on a regular basis runs the risk of alienating his or her base just as much, if not more, than an inconsistent poster.

Readers will tolerate many things, but regular garbage content isn't one of them.  If you can't put up something readable, maybe it's for the best to take a break.  Readers will tolerate a couple of posts that don't measure up, but after a while, they'll write you off as another crank in a world filled with them.  When folks go to your blog, it's because they want to read content that they either can't find elsewhere or couldn't do themselves(without a lot more effort).  Time is limited, so the good stuff gets prioritized and the bad gets ignored(much like the books we write).

However, one area where I take issue with the notion is when a posting schedule becomes erratic.  It's one thing to take time off and come back better than ever.  It's quite another to take two weeks off, then come back for a week, then take off a month, then try to come back again.  Doing so makes your schedule far too unpredictable for the reader, and he or she will eventually get annoyed enough to move on to someone else.

I think that if you're going to take time off and/or can't post regularly, announce it.  Give the reader some predictability so they know when to check back in.  Blog readers are like comic strip readers in that way - they'll handle it once, maybe twice, but too much will cause desertion.  There are simply too many blogs out there that will give them what they want for them to bother with yours.

Don't continually post trash, but if you stop, or, worse, are unpredictable in when you post, you risk losing the audience it took time to build.  Rebuilding your credibility will take more time that you could spend better adding to your reading base instead of trying to salvage it.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

I'm A Lazy Bastard

Why is this so hard?  I think getting back into the groove is challenging because I took so much time off.  I finished Homecoming in late September, and I let myself take a true vacation from real writing.  There was a new baby to take care of, as well as a new job, and I hadn't ever taken more than a month or so away from writing for real.  I assuaged my guilty conscious by promising I'd write a short story a week for a later anthology, which I never did.

Maybe part of it is challenging because of what I'm trying to do.  I have a pair of ideas for my next work, and I plan to post the first chapter of each on this site so that you guys can let me know which one you'd prefer I work on.  However, in my ambition, I might've paralyzed myself since I just can't get going.  Sure, I've written about 1,000 words to The Onyx Cluster, but I still have about 2,500 words to go if I want a coherent first chapter, and I haven't even started the other book about Satan winning the Apocalypse.

I just need to block out a period of time and get to it.  An hour a day and I could have these chapters done in a week.  That way, I could give them to you for deliberation.  It just
(Time's a-wastin')

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Compelling Characters

I have recently embarked on a pair of novels, neither of which I have yet decided will be the main focus for the current writing season.  One thing I have realized, however, is that whichever book I choose will be much more character focused than my last couple.  Salvation Day is centered around a man undergoing tumultuous times in his life, and Akeldama is all about the hunter Seth Gendrickson and his pursuit of vampires.  My third book, Wrongful Death, follows a (dead) high school senior as he tries to make his transition to the afterlife.

However, my last two books have been much more story focused.  Schism introduces a few folks, but it's designed to get the reader caught up in the chaos of the action rather than invested in one man.  In Homecoming, the main character is just a vehicle through which to tell the tale; any degree to which the audience finds him sympathetic or worthy of caring is entirely incidental.  This all means that I have to find my way back to writing characters that the audience gives a hoot about, and that makes me nervous.
(What a character!)
It's not that I don't think I could write a great character.  Instead, the problem is twofold - first, and this is where I whine a little bit, writing a compelling character is emotionally draining.  The key to this is making the person seem real to us.  Beyond that, they have to be someone the audience wants to root for.  That takes every ounce of strength I can muster.  Second, the characters I'm envisioning, although very real, might not be the most likeable in the world.

If I go with The Onyx Cluster, the main man is a bit of an arrogant prick who finds himself lost in a world totally alien to him.  I see his mouth and mannerisms getting him into trouble in lots of ways.  That might make him real, but will it make the audience want him to succeed, or will they hope he steps into a volcano so they can go back to their lives?  Making this fish out of water bearable until we can get to where people are genuinely invested in him will be tough.  In the other book(no title yet...After Armageddon maybe?), the guy I have pictured is a weasel who has to find his way to courage if he's going to confront Satan.  Once he's in his groove, I think pulling for him will be easy, but getting to that point could prove difficult.

In a character based book, the main character is the key to the story, so he has to be well scripted.  If readers don't want to read more about him, you might as well write "gribble gorkle flibbit plunk," because the audience will have the same reaction - they'll wonder why the hell they're reading it.

I have to strike a balance in this, and it's not easy.  Shoot, it's not easy for established writers, let alone the rest of us.  I guess I'd better get started.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Is The "Indie" Designation Still Required?

(We have declared our independence to the world!)
I recently read an article by best selling indie author Hugh Howey talking about the changing publishing landscape, and he brought up an interesting point - just how necessary is the "indie" title in publishing anymore?

Long ago, calling something "self-published" was akin to saying "it's shit."  Self-publishing was seen by the public as something that couldn't get published by a reputable company, so the author had to bring it out on his or her own, and it probably was because it wasn't very good.  Self-published writers languished in the doldrums, most even omitting that they had anything self-published if a publisher or agent took notice of them down the line.

In an attempt to get away from this, many self-published writers started calling themselves "indie," as in "independently published."  This had a nicer ring to it, and it tried to get away from the self-publishing stigma.  After all, we weren't doing so because we couldn't find someone - we were just "independent" of the traditional publishing world.  About four or five years ago, the indie movement exploded, with writers setting their own prices, and books that were at least on par, looks-wise, with traditionally published works.  A few indie writers started making inroads into the reading public, and most of us felt like we could, if not achieve fame and fortune, at least earn a living.

Then something strange started happening.  First of all, the public started noticing the quality of books was improving dramatically.  These were no longer big piles of crap that looked cute, but they were actually pretty good stories.  Then, established writers like JA Konrath and Terry Goodkind started publishing independently and maintaining good audiences.  People started wondering what the heck was happening.

Is it time to drop the "indie" part of what we do?  After all, with the potential demise of Barnes & Noble, as well as the downfall of mass bookstores in general, will anyone really notice the difference between the traditional market and the indie market?  Now that access to the customer is on about an even playing field, and with indie books outnumbering traditional books by over five to one, will anyone notice or even care that the book is indie or not?

Maybe this is a chance for us to graduate to something larger.  We can start just saying we're published, rather than adding "indie" to what we do.  Yes, it might mean we don't get that feeling of being a rebel, part of an underground and subversive movement, but it would mean that we've achieved most of our goals, the biggest of which being acceptance.  I don't know if we're there yet, but given the changing landscape, it's worth pondering.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

What To Tackle Next

Regular readers of this blog - both of you - know that I maintain a writing season.  Well, I'm about to begin the next season, and I need to decide what to do with this one.

This didn't appear to be a difficult question not long ago.  I've had an idea for a novel tentatively called The Onyx Cluster for quite some time.  The Onyx Cluster is going to be a sci-fi/horror novel about a time traveling scientist that gets stuck in the future after an apocalyptic event.  With no way to power his machine and bring him back to his own time, he has to scavenge the world for answers as to what happened to the world.  Along the way, he gets the feeling he is being watched.  At the same time, he begins to witness horrific events as any large gathering of people is slaughtered by a group of shadows that no one can pin down.  This enigmatic group of shadows appears out of nowhere and seems unstoppable once they target someone.  The main character senses that these shadows are the key to his ability to return to the present, so he decides to investigate further and gets caught up in in a play between forces he can barely understand, much less oppose.

As you can tell from the description above, I haven't really given much thought to the "book blurb" reading of it yet.  I know the general outline of the story, but I still need to refine how to describe it to others.  Still, I've been thinking about this story off and on for several years(a good portion of it came to me in a dream), so I feel good about starting on it.

However, I recently had an afternoon long burst of inspiration, and it got me curious whether I should try to tackle my new idea next instead.  A pair of TV shows spawned a new idea.  The first was on H2, and it was entitled God vs Satan.  The second was an old favorite of mine called The Devil's Advocate.  In that movie, Keanu Reeves reminds Al Pacino that "In the Bible, you lose.  We're destined to lose, dad."  At which point, Al Pacino responds, "Well, consider the source, son."  Putting these two together, it got me wondering - what would the world be like if the Devil won the Battle of Armageddon?  After all, the inevitability of God emerging victorious is only apparent in the Bible, and it's in God's interest to make His victory seem destined, but what if that was just propaganda?  A world in which Satan won, could a small group of people lead a resistance?

The concept I have in mind for this book is gory to say the least.  Envisioning what such a world would look like has given me nightmarish visions that might freak out even the most hardened horror readers, for I couldn't be gentle with my descriptions, at least in the beginning, if I wanted to establish what an awful place it would be.  I find myself wondering if the audience would tolerate what I'd have to do, or if it'd get me burned at the stake as a heretic.

I'll make a decision this weekend so I can start outlining and writing next week, but I was wondering if anyone from the audience had a preference.  Is there one of these stories you'd prefer to read?