Tag Archives: author

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.

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Promo Frustration

Maybe all the old people are right.  Maybe my generation never learned to savor anticipation.  Or maybe it’s just that when you look backwards you tend to look past the dull plodding hours of frustration and impatience.

So I did a little bit of promo work.  Nothing Earth shattering, but I did invest a bit of time and energy and money into putting Awfully Appetizing out into the world.  The thing is, my little foray into promotion is the kind of thing that takes time to bear fruit.  Several weeks at the very least, and closer to months if I’m being realistic.

But no sooner had I mailed things off (snail mail, mind you) then I found myself checking online to see if there had been any effect.  I think that the same excitement that helped me get the job done to start with has now mutated into an angry, whiny neediness that insists that, having done the work, I should get the reward.  Now!  NOW!

Just another example of intellect versus emotion.  I feel one way despite knowing just how stupid it is.  Another example of why I try very hard to avoid trusting my instincts.  Hey, your instincts may work for you, mine are three year old children that I lug around in a backpack.

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 art of the Short Story

For years I struggled, and failed, to write short stories.  I’d come up with a good idea (well, they sure seemed like good ideas at the time), I’d start writing, and suddenly I’d realize that I had another novel on my hand.  I mean, I never finished them, but my difficulties with finishing books are for another day.  Let’s try to stay on point here, people.

Basically, I’d start writing the story, and suddenly I’d realize that I was ten pages in and I hadn’t even gotten to the story, yet, I was still basically just describing the ‘ordinary world.’  Or, if I did manage to get right into the actual meat of the story, I’d realize that the really interesting bit was what happened after the story that I wanted to tell.  Or I’d fall in love with a character and want to tell all about them….

It wasn’t actually a problem, at the time, I was still in grade school at the time, even if I had managed to finish a short story, I wouldn’t have known what to do with it, and it sure as hell wouldn’t have been accepted anywhere.

I’m not going to claim that I’ve perfected the art of writing short stories since then, but I am happy to say that I’ve gotten a lot better at it over the years.  I’ve written around sixty short stories in the past couple of years, and I’ve published about a dozen of them, which isn’t an earth shattering number, obviously, but I’m proud to have gotten that done.

I don’t know how common this problem is, being unable to limit yourself to a short story when you know that you have so much to write, but I have talked to a couple of people who’ve been through it as well, so I’d like to share a couple of things that have worked for me in the past.

The first trick I’ve found involves writing about characters that I have in other books.  One of the big problems for me is that, when I start a short story, I often find that I create a huge world behind it.  In order to make the characters ‘on screen’ three dimensional, I give them backstories, reasons for their insanities, and I want to explain that.  If I have a book, or a series of books in the works with those same characters in them, then I can set aside the unnecessary explanations.  I don’t need to introduce all of the people in their life, or all of their idiosyncracies.  The character is fixed in my head the universe is established, and I can focus on the story.

The second trick I use is what I call the trick trick.  I take an idea, some sort of kooky, off the wall  writing style idea, and I write it like that.  My favorite example is writing the entire story as a one sided dialogue.  I’ve read it a couple of times, and I love it.  It’s tricky to do, because you have to phrase things in such a way that you convey what was said, or what just happened.  But that’s the point.  Writing everything as one side of a conversation, and creating a meaningful story out of that takes concentration and energy, so you find yourself needing to close up the story sooner.  It has the added benefit of stretching you as a writer, and helping you figure out how to pull off similar things on a smaller scale when you’re writing a novel.

The third trick is the emotion trick.  Basically, for me, these stories are about finding a specific instant within a story, and focusing on the emotion of it.  Whether it’s a soldier who is about to sacrifice himself to save his platoon, or a victim who has just discovered that he is in the clutches of a serial killer, or an old woman with dementia who is trying to figure out why she’s in a house with all of these unknown, but kind people, the point of the writing isn’t to tell a story, it’s to evoke a reaction in the reader.  In the course of creating that emotion, you do in fact tell a story, but the story is incidental to the emotion.  And since, in longer works, you have to have rising and falling emotions, you find yourself limited in how long you can make this particular work.

Annoyed by a theme

I’ve been watching the AMC series Humans, and, for the most part, I’m enjoying it a great deal.  There are a few things that I wish that they would do differently, and a few things which see to come up quite often in this genre that kind of annoy me.

So one of the big things that seems to come up in stories like these is that the creation of things that look convincingly human is associated with the creation of things that are essentially self aware.  This bothers me for a number of reasons, the most pressing of which is that the two are completely unrelated.  I understand that this is something being explored in the series in question.  But what bothers me is how common this is.  Somebody makes a lifelike machine, which acts like people do, and suddenly it starts thinking for itself.  It’s like people think that behavior precedes reason, and once it matches its behavior to us, inevitably its mind will start to be shaped by that.

I also am frustrated by the fact that in so many of these stories, once they start to think for themselves and reason for themselves, they become so very much like us.  It’s true, in trying to create an artificial consciousness we will inevitably base its reasoning patterns on our own, but given the fact that it is, on a fundamental level, not the same as us, I think it’s also inevitable that it would not function the same way we do.  Getting angry about the same things that would anger us if we experienced them, and viewing our behavior by the same standards that we use is, I think fundamentally flawed.

I guess what I’m saying is that, someday, I want to write a story where artificial humans are created but have absolutely nothing in their programming which makes them more than utilities, while vast and powerful artificial intelligences are running the world based on guidelines and reasoning that is so foreign to us as to be virtually incomprehensible.  Chances are good that somebody has already written that book, but I haven’t read it yet.

How much realism is too much realism?

So there’s a science fiction story that I kind of want to work on that involves a crew living in a stellar system where a large number of the planets and moons have been terraformed.

Brief sidenote, I found out recently, the reason our solar system is a solar system is because our sun’s name is sol.  So if you’re in another stellar system you apparently either have to call it a stellar system, or use whatever name it has.  I’m currently planning on their sun Luyt, thus making it a luytar system, but I digress.

Anyhow, one of the things that’s frustrating me is determining the weather on these worlds.  I mean, in order to have them survivable I’m just basically going to pretend like humans come up with some kind of system of custom building atmospheres so if you live closer to the sun, it reflects and refracts a lot of the light, and if you live a long way off, they build up the greenhouse gasses to keep as much heat as possible in the atmosphere.  I’m willing to make that leap, or more accurately I’m wiling to assume that my readers will take that leap of faith with me.  But even so,there are questions that need to be answered, like what would the sky look like on a world that has to block out that much sunlight?  Probably opaque and light colored?

But let’s forget about that, the big question, the one that’s driving me nuts, is what life would be like on a moon.  First off, it’s going to spend half its time behind the planet it’s orbiting.  It won’t necessarily be hidden from the sun for all of that, but for some of it, certainly.  Especially if it’s orbiting, let’s say, a gas giant.  And what would the weather and seasons be like?  The earth tilts back and forth creating the seasons, right?  So what would a moon do?  it would tilt even more because of its planet, but it would also be moving closer and farther from the sun as it circles the planet.  Would that make it notably hotter and notably colder, or is the only important question how much sunlight it’s getting?

Part of me wants to ignore these things.  I certainly haven’t read anything about it in any other books I’ve come across, and even if i do figure this out, I’m honestly not sure if it will play a part in the story i want to write, but dammit, it could be incredibly important!  And how the hell do you find something like that out?!

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.

Reviewers vs writers

I’ve been thinking a bit about reviewers lately.  Mostly it’s because I’ve been sending out oodles of requests for people to review my book (Awfully Appetizing).  There’s a longstanding love/hate relationship between writers and reviewers.  It’s kind of a parallel between the love/hate relationship between writers and publishers.

By the nature of what we each do, we are dependent upon one another.  Obviously reviewers need writers so that they (the reviewer) has something to do, while reviewers are able to present a book to a group of people who, otherwise, might never have even heard of it.  One might assume that there was a symbiosis between the two, and in a way there is.  But there is also a rivalry.  The rivalry is, I think, based upon an imbalance of power.  For every reviewer out there, there seems to be a thousand authors.  Or perhaps its just that every author is trying to contact every reviewer.

Whatever the reason, the effect is the same: the reviewers are inundated with requests from desperate authors.  When, inevitably, the reviewers find themselves unable to read every single book, the result is a collection of annoyed authors who feel that they’ve somehow been stiffed.  Not all of us, some of us have been around long enough to know that it isn’t personal, but when nine hundred people didn’t make the cut, some of them are bound to be resentful.

It’s an interesting situation.  And, frankly, it highlights some of the problems with the way the writing world works.

Seven Favorite Sins

So, there are a lot of ways to go about building characters.  You can base them on people that you know, or exaggerated ideals.  You can make them to fit a special need in your writing, or you can imagine a crazy society and ask yourself what would come about because of that.

Sometimes, though, what I find myself with are too-perfect characters.  I make them, not into reflections of myself, but reflections of who I’d like to be.  I make them the ideal human, then wonder why nobody can relate to them.

Well, if you ever find yourself with a character that you think might be just a little bit too perfect, here’s something you can try: ask yourself what their favorite sin is.

There are seven deadly sins, let me see if I can list them all:

Lust

Greed

Wrath

Pride

Sloth

Gluttony

Envy

Now,as I understand it, there are people out there who have managed to completely rid themselves of one or maybe two of these, but let’s be honest here, for the rest of us, all seven are pretty big.  But the thing you have to keep in mind is that everyone has at least one of these that is there go-to sin.  Or, if you’re not a fan of the word ‘sin,’ let’s call it imbalance.  Whatever name you give it, it comes back to the same thing:  There’s something in you that drives you to behave foolishly.

Pick one, give it to your character, and whenever you write that character, remember that failing and make a point of bringing it out a bit.  It’s a fantastic way to make your characters be just a little more human, when you would otherwise be writing them as minor gods.

That Itchy Feeling

Human beings have a lot of skin.  I mean, a whole lot of it.  As it happens, I have a bit more than your average bloke on the street, partly because I’m taller than average ,but mostly because I’m… well, wider than average.

Anyhow, we’ve got a lot of skin, and our skin is feeling a lot of stuff pretty much all of the time.  And most of the time we don’t even notice it.

But if you want to find out just how much your skin is feeling all the time, all you really have to do is find one bug on your person.  Just one.  Maybe it’s a caterpillar that dropped into your hair as you were passing under an old oak tree.  Maybe it’s a beetle that was passing by and decided to land, just for a moment, on your arm or the nape of your neck.  Maybe, if you’re fast enough and have good enough vision, it’s a flea that was lying in wait as you happened to walk past some poor mutt.

Whatever it is, once you find one of them, your body goes on alert.  Next thing you know you’re getting information about EVERYTHING that could POSSIBLY be another insect on you.

Occasionally it’s actually in insect.  Most of the time, though, it’s not.  It might be a tiny sliver of grass that’s stuck to you, or a thread that’s hanging off your shirt and brushing against your skin.  Or it could be the wind catching the hair on your arm and tugging it just so.

You could go days without even checking to see if you’ve got a mosquito on you, but the second you catch one, you’ll spend the next four hours checking yourself every twenty seconds.

I recently sent a manuscript out to a bunch of my beta readers, and now, thanks to years and years of experience, I know that I cannot check that manuscript until I have at least half of them back.  Because if I find one thing wrong, one misspelling, one piece of bad grammar, one wrong comma, I will be spending every waking minute from now until I get those copies back searching for anything that could possibly be wrong in my manuscript.  And I’ll be e-mailing all of my beta readers with up to the minute updates.  “Found another comma splice, sorry about that folks.”  “Crap, subject verb agreement problem on page 155!”

So even if I’m pretty sure, pretty damned sure, that I forgot to take care of something in the last chapter, that I left a tiny little plot point open that I meant to shut, I cannot, cannot, cannot actually go fix it.  Not yet.

No, I have to accept the itch.  Just endure it.  Endure it just a little while longer…