Thursday, February 27, 2014


I've had several people ask me if one can blog too much.  They don't mean that it's a bad thing to keep readers informed, but rather that blogging seems, sometimes, to get in the way of writing.  Upon examination, I can relate.

Everyone who reads this blog regularly - all four of you - knows that I pride myself on the consistency of updating with fresh material.  I rarely miss a post because I feel that staying on top of things keeps people coming back.  Unfortunately, I'm not always so steadfast with my writing.

I've been working on Onyx for over a month now, yet I've only completed three chapters.  I seem to find excuses to not write(need family time, work deadlines are on top of me, etc.), but I don't miss blogging deadlines.  For the life of me, I can't figure out why, for that seems a bit ass-backwards to me.

Writing novels and stories is the lifeblood of what will keep my ship afloat.  Given the amount of work I plan to put into this venture once publishing begins in May of 2016, I'll need to have a decent number of books ready to go so that I can focus on marketing for a bit and not worry about the next novel.  So if I'm blogging more than I'm writing, that doesn't advance my goal.

Don't get me wrong - I love blogging.  I just wonder what it is that keeps me on top of this blog and not on top of writing more books.  Is it the rush of a deadline?  Could it be that I get real time feedback on a blog post?  Whatever it is, I need to find a way to harness that energy and apply it to writing books at least as much as I do to posting a blog.

I'll continue searching for answers and getting more into my next work.  Balancing this blog and my next novel is important...I just don't have a feel for accomplishing it.  If you have any tips, please share them.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Too Many Flaws?

For most stories, the main character is the reason the reader latches on.  Readers get emotionally invested in the guy(or girl) at the center of our story.  They want to see this person overcome great obstacles and emotional heartache to ultimately triumph.  This warms the heart of our readers and makes them beg for more, all while cheering from the safety of an easy chair.

This is where balance has to come into play.  We can't create a hero so perfect that the reader can't relate.  The main character has to be flawed and struggle with some of the same issues we all face.  That makes the triumph that much more sweet in the end.

However, it's possible that we can make a character that's too flawed.  Put in too many foibles, especially ones that turn off the reader, and any sympathy for the main character dies.  If that happens, our story will shortly follow the character to the proverbial grave.

Anti-heroes are all the rage right now.  You know...the tough guy who bucks the system and tells people to get bent while he or she pursues a noble goal.  But if this anti-hero goes too far, he becomes a villain.  It's okay for a person to despise working within the police system because the bureaucracy makes things impossible to accomplish, but the guy who goes overboard - like, say, busting in without a warrant and killing the wife or child of the villain - will turn off audiences and could actually make people root against him.  This can be the death knell for a story.

Always re-examine your main character and make sure that person has the right combination of nobility and vulnerability to make the reader want to follow.  For example, in my most recent work, Onyx, the main character is an arrogant guy due to his brilliance and early achievement in life.  However, I've found the need to constantly go back and re-evaluate this person to make sure I'm not overdoing the arrogance bit.  Yes, readers would expect such a guy to be supremely confident of his record, but there have to be things to balance that out.  His new circumstances have to sow seeds of doubt, and he has to find himself in situations that humble him a bit.  Without those thing, people will just cheer at him getting his comeuppance.

All of our characters have to strike this balance.  Go back and ask - are the flaws too flawed?  Would people cheer when he or she overcomes the scenario, or would they grumble because the character didn't run off a cliff?

Anyone can create someone flawed.  A good writer creates someone we want to cheer for in spite of those flaws.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Author Earnings

Indie publishing sensation Hugh Howey has once again set the world on fire.  This time, however, he hasn't done so with one of his awesome novels, but rather by pinning a new website called Author Earnings.

This site tracks the sales of over 50,000 titles.  The "spider" program at the heart of the site crawls through the earnings of tons of novels to see how they're selling and what they're doing in relation to other titles.  It tracks what kind of work is selling(fiction vs nonfiction), as well as the type(ie, genre).  But more importantly, it also tracks the way these novels were published.

And this is what has created the firestorm.

The major publishers have, in the past, blown off indie publishing by saying it doesn't sell very well.  It's done with a dismissive wave of the hand and a sneering voice, implying that you're not a "real author" if you publish independently of the traditional publishing houses.  The major publishers have used this for some time to draw(read - coerce) new writers into deals that benefit the publishers much more than the writer.

However, Author Earnings now shows the real deal - not only are indie titles hanging right in there with the big boys, but writers who go the indie route are more than capable of making a living while doing so.  The report at the center of the entire site breaks down sales and potential earnings in such detail that the numbers are hard to ignore, even if you're a fancy publisher or agent from New York.  Not only is indie close to traditional in both sales and gross earnings, but the earnings of the writers in indie far exceeds that of traditionally publishers writers.

Traditional publishing is going ape shit over this.  No longer can they hide behind the façade that indie writers are starving while the ones traditional publishers represent are making it.  The entire raison d'etre for traditional publishers doing what they do to writers with one-sided deals collapses in the face of stark numbers.

Of course, some traditional publishers and agents from the "Big 5" are trying to blow this off as well, but it reeks of desperation.  Hugh's report should give hope to every aspiring writer that hasn't cracked the ceiling of traditional publishing.  Yes, you must have talent, as well as a certain amount of luck, but that's endemic to every endeavor.  By shining the light of truth on what a writer can do, Hugh has helped free up potential writers from the chains of traditional publishing.

Freedom is at hand - can you grasp it?

Thursday, February 20, 2014


A recent comment on one of my posts really made an impression on me.  It's something I've done, but not something I necessarily thought much about.  The comment was about the merit in going back a year, two years, or ten years after you've written something and see how your style has evolved/improved.

I wish more of us did this.  I wish I did it more consciously.  I spoke recently about improving yourself, but studying what you wrote in your past wasn't something I dwelled on.  I did it, but not as deliberately as I now will.

Learn not only from others, but from yourself as well.  Take a piece you did a while back and see where it now stacks up with how you write now.  If you don't think you could make it better, then you haven't improved yourself.

This is not to say you always have to change things.  Let's face it - that could mean that no work ever gets published.  However, it can be a fun and educational exercise in noting just how you've gotten better, as well as if you even have.  It opens up your world as to where your own trends lie, and it lets you have some control over those trends.  And that can be exciting.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Plowing Ahead

As some know, I've started working on a new novel called Onyx.  I started out gangbusters four weeks ago by writing the first 5,000 words in a single.  I figured I'd be done in no time and could begin my next work before summer got going.

I've written barely 2,000 words since.

Things keep getting in the way.  Work deadlines will hit, or my wife will want me to spend more time with her and my daughters, so I put my writing aside.  However, this is just a raft of excuses, and everyone knows it.

I need to write something each day, even if it's just a few hundred words.  Yes, that might make things painful, but it'd be more progress than doing nothing.  Therefore, I'm making myself inch forward a bit at a time.  I'm writing a little each day(except for Sunday...Sunday is blogging day).  Further, I've got a few critique friends out there who have promised to help me with this one.  I know I won't flood them with stuff - they lead busy lives as well - but having them waiting should spur me to get off my ass and put something on paper.

Writers as a whole need to remember this.  Even if you can't write a great deal, write each day.  It will not only help your novel(or short story, or poems, or whatever), but you'll be able to improve your craft.  Stephen King once said that it took 10,000 hours of writing to master the craft, so you might as well get those hours somewhere.  Break them into bite size chunks so they don't seem intimidating.
(Geckos can eat anything, even shave ice, if they take small enough bites)
Unfortunately, we too often let our excuses get in the way of doing just a little bit.  We rationalize it with, "Well, if I can't get into a rhythm, then I shouldn't even try."  Such things are obviously bullshit, and we should acknowledge them as such.  I will no longer accept that I can't do anything due to time.  I'll write, even if it's just a bit.

Sure, my next novel may take till next decade to get finished, but it'll get finished... eventually.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Overcoming Conceit

Most writers I know have a split personality when it comes to what they write.  On one hand, their egos are so fragile that they can crumple at the first hint that someone doesn't like their work.  On the other, they're so confident that they can write circles around the unwashed masses that the mere introduction of a way to better themselves can be seen as insulting.  I recently went round and round with myself over this last one.

A friend of mine sent me a link to a writing class and said he thought I might be interested.  Before I knew what was happening, I found myself thinking, How dare this person try and say I can learn more about writing?  Hasn't he ever read my stuff?  Even if he didn't like it, he couldn't do any better.

After a second or three, the stunning arrogance of that position hit me square in the face.

Without modesty, I think I write better than most people.  However, that doesn't mean I write better than most authors, or that people will drop what they're doing and come down in droves to read my latest masterpiece.  It means I have a talent that many don't, just as some have a greater talent for mathematics or automotive engineering than I do.

For the record, I think it's perfectly healthy for a writer to have a certain amount of conceit.  You have to believe in yourself or no one else will.  I think this is true of any professional, from doctors to athletes.  Who wants to get their heart worked on by a doctor who has doubt about his or her abilities?

At the same time, that doesn't mean I can't improve.  It was after hitting myself over my initial reaction to my friend that I took a good hard look at that fact.

No writer out there has it mastered, including the greats like Stephen King and JK Rowling.  Both have said that they're constantly looking for ways to get better, so if they can admit it, the rest of us should as well.  The easiest way for me to improve my writing is by the time honored tradition of reading everything I can get my hands on.  I'm currently reading I, Zombie by Hugh Howey.  While short on plot - at least as far as I can tell, it's describing the daily grind and travails, plus emotional pain, of being a zombie - it does a great job describing each individual's struggle and giving us the sense of hopelessness that there would be in being a zombie...a conscious zombie who knows what is going on but is powerless to stop it.  The novel has opened up new doors for me, both in reach of story and in description.  In short, it'll help make me a better writer.

However, it's not this kind of thing that stops us from getting better.  I think most writers, whether they'll admit it or not, read both for enjoyment and professional development.  Where our stubbornness comes in is when people expect us to actively seek out getting better, such as through a class.  Taking a class implies you aren't the master of a subject, and that can be hard on a writer's ego.

Sure, I can make excuses as to why I can't do it right now - my job is exhausting, my new daughter takes loads of time, my house is a wreck, etc - but truth is that my stubbornness is just as likely to get in the way.  I want to be open minded about learning in a classroom setting, but I'm not sure I can be.  Knowing my personality, I think I'd be looking to poke holes in the instructor's stuff.  I'm not saying that's right, but it's the way I would react at this moment.

It's something I should get past.  I can learn and become better if I just open up a little bit.  Taking critiques is hard enough, but a class seems degrading for some reason.  Again, not right, but rather a personal obstacle to overcome.  That's awfully arrogant for someone yet to put out his first novel.

Maybe I should just go ahead and take one, even knowing my shortcomings on this.  I could learn something great, and it might break through my wall of conceit to humble me, making me open to other ways to be a better writer in the future.  Is growing like that something I'm open to?  Only time will tell...

Thursday, February 13, 2014

A Call For Critique

I'm hereby putting out an open invitation to the first three people that contact me as interested - I would like feedback on my new novel as I'm writing it.  There are two main reasons for this:  first, feedback as I go along will help be shape the direction of the novel into something coherent; second, it'll motivate me to get off my ass and write regularly if I have someone waiting for the next chapter.

Understand that this in no way entitles anyone to the profits such a book might make(gotta do this for legal reasons), but just to the gratitude of a humble writer.  That said, please contact me if you would like to help out on the ground floor of a very raw novel.
(Won't you ppllllllllleeeeeeeaaaaaaasssssssseeeeeeee help me?)

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Too Many Lovers

My last post talked about the need to have more than one idea for a novel. Unfortunately, there can be a downside to having an overactive imagination - distraction.  It's easy to get so many ideas in your head that you can't focus on just one, and choosing can be challenging.
I've got this problem right now.  There are currently three ideas running around in my head, but I'm trying very hard to concentrate on only one at a time.  When I completed Homecoming several months ago, I knew I'd be back to flush out the backstory and turn it into its own book someday.  At night, my mind has been turning this part over time and time again.  Although Canidae is done, I've always felt it needed a massive rewrite, and part of me is itching to go back into Seth Gendrickson's world of vampires and fix it.  And of course, I'm in the middle of writing a story tentatively entitled The Onyx Cluster, an idea I've been playing around with for the better part of a decade.  All of this makes my writing life very confusing.

The hardest part is shutting out those other ideas.  They keep calling to me in the night..."Russ...we're waiting for you to write won't take long...we promise..." However, I've never been good at multi-tasking, and doing more than one project just isn't an option - that's how story lines get messed up.

Yes, I'm probably whining about a problem lots of writers would like to have.  "Oh no, I have too many ideas for novels; my wallet is too small to fit my $50 bills; and my diamond shoes are too tight."  Still, such problems are real if they keep me from getting even one of the ideas onto paper.

Yep, this is going to be difficult...

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Blowing Your Wad

There are as many writers in the world as there are people, it seems.  Everyone I know has a great idea for a book.  The failing of many of them is that they don't take the time to, you know, actually write theirs, but they all have one.

However, even among those who put pen to paper and get through their awesome idea for a novel, there's another problem - lots of the time they've only thought of that one great idea.  In other words, once that one is written, there's nothing left.
(A nice dinner, but what if that's all there was?)
If you want to be a one hit wonder, then you've reached your goal once you've put down this lone masterpiece, but most of us want a career, not a moment.  I've got friends who've spent countless hours pouring over their novel, honing and refining it until it's...just...right.  Sometimes such revision even makes the final product look nothing like the original idea.  But what happens when that one runs its course, or, even worse, never gets off the ground?

Yes, you should get invested in your work, but never get so attached to an idea that it's all you have.  As a writer, you need to have multiple stories in your head that you can bring to fruition.  And you need to be prepared to let go of one that, while you may think is great, might not catch fire.  One never knows which idea the public will glom onto, and you must be prepared to shift, painful as it might be.

I've got another half dozen or so ideas floating around in my head for novels, and the only reason it's not more is that I intentionally won't allow my mind to wander into that yet, for I'll get distracted if I do.  Once one is finished, I move onto the next one, because building a portfolio has to be the goal.  Hugh Howey recognized this by releasing a number of novels and not getting too attached to any one, or at least not so much that it stopped him from writing something new.  JA Konrath is legend for this, and it has helped make him a best seller.

Don't blow everything into one idea.  Come up with several - you'll go farther.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Quote of the Day

On a business trip, an associate made a very astute observation.  I share it here without further comment.

"It's much easier to critique than to create.  That's why there are so many more editors than there are writers."

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Rejection Versus Criticism

My writer friends are all over the map.  There are lots of them who are going the indie route.  Others are going the traditional route.  It's this last group that drew my recent interest.

A buddy of mine said, "I've gotten rejected a million times, but they're making me a better writer."

"How?" I asked.

"Well, I've learned what to do and what not to do.  When I finally do get picked up, my work will be so much more polished."

"Oh," I said.  "So you're getting personalized rejection letters and critiques of samples you've submitted instead of form letters?"

"N-no," the person stammered.  "But everyone knows that getting rejected happens to everyone."

I then changed the subject so as not to make him any more uncomfortable, but I was left with the obvious question - how can you get better if the person rejecting you doesn't tell you why?

This is one of the biggest problems I have with the traditional publishing world.  So many agents and publishers reject out of habit and don't read any of the writer's work.  Instead, they'll decide your fate based on a query letter, which is so much different than how you tell a story.  Further, many will reject someone out of hand simply for not being established enough, going back to the old contradiction of how you can't get credit without enough money that you don't need it.

A form rejection letter is meaningless.  Even agents will say that a rejection is nothing personal.  Perhaps you caught them on a bad day or after they've had enough clients to fill their dance card for the time being.  However, it does nothing for you if they haven't seen your work and you know why you were rejected.

This is why I prefer critiques.  I don't mind if someone hates my work - okay, that isn't entirely true...I do indeed like for people to like my stuff - but if they do hate it, I want to know why, no matter how painful that might be.  Was it the storyline itself, or the way it was told?  Did I not develop a character enough, or did they find the main guy unlikeable?  Did the story drag?  What was it?

A rejection without context doesn't give you that, and, by extension, doesn't let you grow as a writer.  If you want to improve, don't rely on agents and publishers to tell you how - find a critique group who can tell you about it(and many will do so in very blunt terms).  It might sting, but it will let you get better.

So next time you get rejected, find out why.  Without that, the rejection is as useful as a bag of cat turds.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Staying In Touch

Once again, I've been a slacker.  I've constantly harped to anyone who will listen that writing isn't just a fun hobby, but rather a business.  You have to treat it as such if you want to be successful, and that includes a marketing campaign to spread the word.  I just wish I more steadfastly held to my own advice.

I'm planning the release of Akeldama for sometime in May of 2016.  I've begun building an email list for those intrerested in getting a copy at that point, and I even sent out an introductory newsletter giving them a few details.  However, it's been over a year since I did so.

That fact struck me at lunch last week.  I was eating pizza on a business trip with an old acquaintence when he asked me, "What ever happened to your book?  I was really looking forward to reading it."

That was when I realized that I've dropped off the radar screen in most folks' lives, at least when it comes to my book.  I've given no further updates outside of this blog, so a great number of people likely assume that nothing ever came of it.  Therefore, I have to change that.

Joe Peacock kept his most recent book under wraps for a while, but he always kept his readers informed as to progress.  Joe had a few things go on in his life that delayed publication, but he didn't want the audience to think he'd forgotten about them.  He sent out updates every few months to let them know what was going on, and I suppose it's time I did the same.  So my next update will go out this week.

It's easy to get caught up in our own lives, but we have to remember that our readers have lives as well.  If we ignore them, they'll think we have nothing and will move on.  That's not something we can afford to do with a loyal reader if we ever want to succeed in this business.  I have failed in that regard, but I will correct it immediately.