Category Archives: author

PeNoWriMo

September is going to be my PeNoWriMo.  My personal novel writing month.  I’ve got a new project in mind.  I have an outline written out, I’ve done quite a bit of world building… arguably too much world building, but that’s neither here nor there.

I’m ready to go.  I’m looking at doing 70,000 words, so 2,334 words a day.

I’m excited!  I’m rearing to go!  I need to check back over all my work to make sure I’m not forgetting anything!

Wish me luck, folks.

Bloody Banquet in Progress

So… I don’t remember exactly how much I talked about the whole Winlock experience.  Just to recap, my book was accepted, published as an E-book, then I was released from my publisher because of low book sales.  A lot more than that went on, the short version of which is that I’m very grateful to Monique Happy for her dealings with me, and a bit disappointed with the company to which she answers.

All of that aside, however, I had written a draft of book two in the Corpse-Eater saga, Bloody Banquet and started in on book three, Cankerous Cuisine (or maybe Curdled Cuisine, haven’t decided yet), before I found out that I didn’t have a publisher or a timeline anymore.

When I did find out, it sort of took the wind out of my sales, as these things are wont to do.  I set the books aside for a bit and have only just now really started digging back in to Bloody Banquet.  It’s a bit rougher around the edges than I remembered.  I still like most of it, and even have those wonderful moments where I stumble across something clever I didn’t remember putting in, but over all I think I need two or three more times through before book two is ready to come out.

What I really need, though, is a peer review group.  I want to get an off-line group… I just find it easier to deal with people in person, but I’m not sure that my book will be a good fit with most of the people I’m likely to find in a conservative Texas town.

I don’t know, I’ll sort something out, I suppose.

Sorry

So, it’s been a little while since I’ve written a blog.  Actually it’s been a lot of little whiles all in a row.  Sorry about that.  I’ve never been very good at this type of thing.  I tried keeping journals when I was younger… which is why now, every once in a while when I’m going through old notebooks, I’ll find a couple pages of idle musings followed by fifty seven blank pages.

I always start with such good intentions.  ‘I’m going to write something every single day,’ or some such nonsense.  Then I hit a roadblock of some kind, lose a day or two, after which I feel guilty and skip it because I don’t want to think about how I let myself get distracted…. again.  Two years later I find the evidence of my latest attempt, wince, and quickly start doing something else.

It’s what happens when I try to get on twitter, start a blog, write a penpal, go to the gym.

What can I say, sometimes it’s a wonder that I still get out of bed in the morning.

Anyhow… I guess I should share what’s been going on with me lately:  So, I got dropped from my publisher, Winlock.  It wasn’t as bad of an experience as you might think.  Basically the publishing company that owns Winlock told them to drop people who hadn’t had a lot of book sales, and I was one of those people.  The reason I hadn’t had book sales… or more accurately, the reason I hadn’t promoted my book more vigorously, is that I was waiting for the book to come out in print.  I’ve got plenty of people who will buy a copy of my book as soon as they can, unfortunately most of them don’t own kindles or nooks or whatever.

The cool thing was that the woman who runs Winlock went out of her way to help me get Awfully Appetizing into print, even though it now isn’t her property.  She’s been really awesome about the whole deal and I’m very happy to have worked with her, even briefly. So, thank you Mo.

Anyhow, I’ve got a couple of minor details that I need to take care of, after which I should be able to get Awfully Appetizing set up as a print on demand book, which is what I’ve wanted for a while now.  Believe me, I’ll let you know as soon as I know, and I’ll be trying to figure out new and exciting ways to promote it, too.

A little game…

A few years back I was at a writer’s conference.  One of the local writers got up on stage and started talking about how awesome our speaker was, great person, etc etc, amazing writer, etc etc.  Finally she introduced the author, ‘so and so smith, author of X,Y, and Z.’

As I listened, it occurred to me that if one were a little bit creative, an author might manage to put together a portfolio to make their introduction all the more entertaining.

My first idea was to write a couple of novellas or short stories that i could entitle, ‘the only book that matters,’ and ‘Other works of genius.’

If I ever do write those stories and publish them, even if they’re the least popular things I ever put out in my life, you can be damned sure that I’m going to insist on being identified by those books when I get introduced.

What about you?  Any ideas on what works would make for a great introduction for you?

The unreliable narrator

In my ‘Corpse-Eater Saga,’ I wanted to push myself a bit with my writing.  I try to do that as often as I can.  In this case I did a couple of things that I don’t normally do.  The first thing I did was give myself a narrator who relies less on his eyesight than the rest of us.  That has actually been much harder for me to handle than you’d think.  Recently i went back over book one and I found several things I should have done differently if I really wanted to make that detail stick.

But the other thing I did, the thing that I want to contemplate right now, is use an unreliable narrator.

As a rule, the unreliable narrator is not my favorite tool.  Mostly it goes back to my own gullibility.  As a rule, when somebody tells me something, my first instinct is to believe them.  Even after having been lied to many times, and having discovered that I was given an obscenely one-sided story, when I talk to people and they tell something, I have to make a concerted effort not to assume that their recitation is the literal truth.

I have used unreliable narrators before, particularly in short stories.  Having someone who is misinformed or unable to perceive the truth of a particular situation is quite useful for twist endings.  But in ‘Awfully Appetizing,’ I am trying for something a bit subtler with my character.  I’m trying to write the story of somebody who is dishonest with himself.  Giving quiet hints that his perception of the world is skewed has proven more difficult than I anticipated.

Part of the problem may be that I’m going for something a little bit too subtle.  Or maybe he’s not dishonest enough with himself.  Is he really an unreliable narrator, or is he just uncertain?

Maybe I failed to make him unreliable and only made him conflicted.

One of the tricky things when you’re looking at writing a series is that it’s hard to maintain what you perceive as a flaw in your narrator over the course of years and years, and books and books.  You see the flaws in them so clearly, you can’t imagine how they could completely miss it in themselves.

Well, if that’s the case, at least he should pick up some of my own personal flaws, the ones that I’m blind to.

Sometimes you have to go forward, to go backwards, to go forwards

So I’ve got an idea for a book.

Okay, I’ve got oodles of ideas for books… for those of you who have writer friends and you want to tell them an idea you had that they could write about?  They’ve got plenty of ideas.  Ideas are the easy part.  But we’ll set that aside for now.

So, the problem I have with the idea that I want to write about right now is that it isn’t a FULL idea.  I don’t have all of the pieces.  I have an idea that I think will work well to hook the audience in, and which will force me to be more creative in the way I address certain things.  I have ideas for characters that I like.  They’re complicated, three dimensional (well, most of them) and well flawed.

The story itself I’m still working on, but that isn’t the hard part…

The hard part is the world building.

Please… don’t give me any advice, I’ve built worlds before.  Plenty of them.  I know tricks and tropes and techniques and… and… stuff.  That’s not the problem.  The problem is that I’ve got a fairly vast world, to which I have made a number of deep changes.  The way time is measured is somewhat different than what we’re used to. The kinds of currency that are used is different.  Certain expressions are very different.

All of which would be fine if I were writing this more traditionally, but I’m doing something a little bit different with perspective I’m writing this from.  In order to introduce the narrator correctly, I sort of have to ask the reader to take a couple of leaps of faith with me.

But you can only ask for so many leaps of faith.  You have to give the reader a place to start, a foundation from which to understand the story.

In the end I realized that the only way I could figure out where to begin, was to start in the wrong spot, go as far as I could go, then look back and figure out where I should have started instead.

It’s kind of frustrating.  I’m going to write three or four chapters that will all be thrown out just as soon as I figure out what I need to figure out here.  But it’s exciting too.  I can really go for it, I don’t have to worry about making everything comprehensible, or getting the terms just right.  I just have to pick up the bat and swing for the fences.

Go forward, so I can go backwards, so I can go forwards.  Maybe I’m biting off more than I’m ready to chew, with this project.  Maybe if I waited a couple of years and tried again it would flow perfectly and easily.

Then again, you never make progress if you only do what’s easy.  The more you struggle with a project, the more you have to wrestle all the details into place, the more you learn and the better you are when you start something new.  Right?

Rules for Reviews

A few years ago I was chatting with a writing buddy of mine who also reviewed books.  He told me something interesting: apparently he doesn’t give bad reviews.

Now, to be clear, that doesn’t mean that anything he reads automatically gets a good review, but if he reads a book and he can’t give it at least three stars (I think it was three, it might have been four) he just doesn’t review it at all.

A year or two before that, he’d confided something similar to me when we was judging manuscripts for a writer’s conference competition.  In that particular instance the potential score for a book had ranged from zero to, I think, eighty.  He told me that he never gave a score below sixty.

In that particular instance it rather made sense.  A score of less than seventy by one of your judges pretty much knocked you out of the running for winning the competition.  My friend felt that giving a score lower than sixty was basically just adding insult to injury.  Kind of like if an editor sent you a rejection letter that said ‘you should really quit trying to write.’

But while I agreed with him about the contest scores, I couldn’t help but feel that his rules for book reviews were a little less logical.

Mostly it’s a question of who you are writing the review for.  If you’re writing a review for the author, then the rule makes sense.  I have, on several occasions, read a book by someone I know, or a friend of someone I know, intending to write a review for them.  But when I get to the end of the book and find that I can’t give it four or five stars, I generally don’t do anything at all.  Because I went in to this planning to help them.  Writing the review that I feel the story deserves would be like slapping them in the face, and I just can’t do that.

But most of the time, if I read a book and it just sucks, I mark it like I think it deserves.  Because, as long as I don’t know the author, I’m not writing the review for them.  I’m beholding to the reader, and I don’t just want to put good books into the hands of readers, I want to keep bad books out of their hands.

My friend has been a writer even longer than I have, and he’s more sociable than I am, so I think that on some level he feels a greater kinship to other writers.  And perhaps he’s been burned by more cruel reviews than I’ve had to face, or more low scores without any explanation.  I do know that those are incredibly frustrating.

But maybe another part of the problem is that we can’t agree on what the various stars mean.  I remember looking at the goodread stars one time.  It turns out that, from their perspective, only one star reviews are ‘bad.’  One start is for ‘didn’t like it’.  two stars is supposed to mean ‘it was okay.’  three start is I liked it, for starts is I liked it a lot, and five stars is “I loved it!”

But when I’m scanning for books to read, what do I usually look for?  Four stars and above.  A 3.2 star ranking isn’t very impressive even though it means, if the star system is to be believed, that on average people liked it.

Or maybe they don’t.  When I take a survey with five answer slots the slots are usually ‘strongly agree, agree, neither agree nor disagree, disagree, strongly disagree.’  I’ve sort of always done my reviews the same way.  After all, if I read a book and think it kind of sucks, I don’t want to recommend it, but I don’t want to give it the same score as a book that I think is unreadable.  If I had my druthers (whatever a druther is), I’d change the way we do reviews.  get rid of stars, come up with a scale that made sense.  Something…

A funny story.

So, a few years ago I moved to a new town. Sometime in the first week or so that I was there I found a nice little bookstore/coffee house with good lighting and relatively cheap drinks where I could sit for hours working on my stories.

Eventually I met the owner, a nice guy.  We got to talking and I found out that he also ran a small press.  I told him that I was a writer and had submitted a lot of books to small presses over the years, but I never had much luck with it.  I told him my theory that there was very little carry over between the skills associated with writing a book, and the skills associated with writing query letters and synopses and everything associated with getting a book published.

From there we got onto the subject of bad query letters.

One of the ones that came to mind for him actually hadn’t started out that bad.  The story seemed like it could be interesting, but after the first paragraph or so it had kind of meandered off point and the writer had kind of started complaining about his life and how hard it was to get any response from anybody.

The letter sounded vaguely familiar.

Several years later, while visiting home, I was digging through some of my old files and low and behold, I came across an old submission letter I’d written to a small press in that particular town… that’s right, I wrote a letter so bad that years later and hundreds of miles away, I got to hear somebody complaining about it.

Sleep Schedule

I have to say, I’ve hated every job I ever had.  Even the ones that I liked.

Over the years I’ve accumulated a somewhat eclectic resume including such jobs as an animal caretaker, typist, farmer, and usher.  Some of my jobs just sucked.  Bad pay, annoying work, rude coworkers, bad boss, some of my past jobs have had absolutely nothing redeeming about them whatsoever. But I’ve had a few that were pretty good, objectively speaking.  My last job was working for people that liked me, with people who respected me, doing something I was pretty good at.

Most days I still hoped for some accident that would lay me up for a couple of months just so I wouldn’t have to be at work.

It wasn’t that I’m lazy… I mean, I am lazy, but that wasn’t what this was about.  I’ve known for most of my life that I wanted to be a writer, so every job I’ve had that wasn’t directly related to that felt like a waste of time.

But one thing I will say about all those jobs, they kept me on a schedule.

It’s 8:50 in the morning, and I haven’t gone to bed yet.  When I don’t have something specific forcing me to keep to a normal sleep schedule, my mornings and evenings just kind of… slide.  They slip a few minutes here, a half an hour there.  Suddenly I find myself waking up in the middle of the afternoon and working on my writing until the sun comes up.

Now, give me a couple years and I (hopefully) won’t be complaining about that.  Working at night is fantastic.  Something about being up when everyone else is out just makes you feel… creative as hell.

But I’m not to the point that I can do that yet.  I may not have a job, but I still have responsibilities, I have phones to answer, I have things to do.  I take care of some odd jobs for friends and family, and they don’t much care for me trying to take care of that in the middle of the night.

So now I’ve got to choose, I can try to force myself to go to sleep earlier and earlier, or try to stay awake later and later.  You’d think that schedules would slide back into place as easily as they slide out of it. You’d be wrong.  Sleep is a fickle mistress, and there’s nothing she likes more than to tease you to death.

Alright, I’m going to stay up one more hour, just one more.

If I had any caffeine in the house it wouldn’t be nearly so hard to pull off, but I just ran out and I don’t want to drive to the store when I’m this tired.

Training your muse

One of the interesting bits of trying to become a professional writer seems to be figuring out how to train my muse.

I remember, when I was much younger, back when I knew that I wanted to be a writer, but had my entire lifetime to figure out what that actually meant, I would go days, weeks, sometimes even months, without getting any real writing done.  Sometimes I tried to force myself because I knew how much pleasure it gave me to sit down and watch the words roll out onto the page, but if the muse wasn’t whispering into my ear, nothing happened.

At a certain point, however, I realized that if I wanted to write professionally, I needed to be able write regularly as well.  Figuring out how to pull that off was a long, hard process.  And I mean long and hard.  Like that was of my major focuses for over a decade.

It can be done, as it turns out, you can teach yourself to write every day, although I have to admit that there are some days when I have to carve the words onto the page with a poorly balanced chisel and a two ton mallet, and other days when I seem to be able to splash chapters into place without breaking a sweat.

But as I try to make this transition, from amateur to pro, I find myself butting heads with the muse over something else altogether.

Content.

When I was a kid I had a bitch of a time actually finishing a story.  Oh, I had ideas.  I had oodles and oodles of idea.  I had ideas about aliens and machines and magicians and spaceships and other dimensions and superheroes and… well, for the sake of brevity I suppose we can stop there.

I had ideas a-plenty, so when I sat down in front of the computer, and when the muse was willing to lend me her time, I just let her pick the topic.  And off we would go!  A whirlwind adventure describing some alien planet or the strange laws that would exist a hundred years in the future.  Eventually I would find myself in front of a wall that I couldn’t see an easy way around, so I’d save the document and start a new one.  Round and round and round we went.  There were times, growing up, when I had a hundred plus stories started, and not one of them finished.  And that was fine, because what was I going to do with them if I finished them anyways?

Now, unfortunately, I have people who are waiting for things.

Ideally, it won’t be long until those people are my adoring public.  Or maybe my friendly public.  Or mildly interested public. But for now, it’s my beta readers, editors, an the people who want to work on projects with me.

Unfortunately my muse is loathe to give up her ability to channel surf in my brain.  Yes, I need to get a copy of book two to my editor, yes I have a friend in hawaii who wants to see the first couple pages of that project we’ve been talking about.  Yes, I have a lot on my plate.  But she just had an idea for that superhero story we’d been playing around with a few years back.  Let’s focus on THAT!

Well, what’s a boy to do, except lock the door, drink a bunch of caffeine, and start trying to train his muse all over again.  Stupid muse.  God I love her.