Tag Archives: writing

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.

New Promotion

So, I’m sure this has been done before by somebody somewhere, but, frankly, I don’t think I’ve ever encountered it before, so I’m going to call this my idea.

I’m working on a new promotional project that I like to call “Passalong Books”!  I’m very excited.  Basically I bought a bunch of copies of my first book, Awfully Appetizing.  On the inside if the front cover I’m writing out instructions that go more or less like this:

“Hello Reader!  You’ve just received a ‘Passalong Book;’ the rules are simple, as soon as you get it, write your name, and the city and state you are in on the top available line below.  Then, read a chapter.  If you like what you’ve read, keep going! If not, no harm done.  Whenever you’ve finished, pass the book to somebody you think might enjoy it!”

Fingers crossed, the books will get passed around a bit.  I figure that if the average passalong book gets handed off and read ten times before it finds a final resting place, I should get a conservative two or three people who otherwise would never have read the book who are interested in the sequel.

Perhaps that’s just me being optimistic.  I don’t know, but to be frank, it’s one of the few ideas that I’ve had that seems both plausible and reasonable to me.  So many promotional techniques just feel awful.  Either like I’m lying, or like I’m forcing myself down other people’s throats.  I figure, if somebody doesn’t like my book after the first chapter, making them read anymore is just a waste.  The problem is, people don’t generally feel like they can read the first chapter without buying the book… or rather, I often feel that way.

Anyhow, that’s my plan!  I’m excited, and I’m sending out my first round of Passalong books tomorrow!  I’ve got one going to California, two going to Texas, one going to Colorado, and one going to Washington.  I’m hoping that in round two, which may take me a month or two to arrange, I’ll be able to hit five or six other states.  Fingers crossed!

My Really, Really, Ridiculously Long List

So one of the things that’s important, if you’re going to be a writer, is to read.  It’s kind of like the way that if you want to be a chef you need to eat, or if you want to be a painter you need to look, or if you want to be a composer, you need to listen.

Anyhow, I’ve got to admit, I haven’t been reading as much as I should lately.  Part of it is finding writers I enjoy.  I spend so much time analyzing what I read that I have trouble really losing myself in a book the way I used to when I was younger.  Now I just see the faults, and what I would have liked them to change.

But another part of the problem is money.  My god, am I so freaking broke right now.  I have dozens of books that I need to get.  I have nearly a dozen writer friends who have books out that I promised to buy and read as soon as I can.  And I have at least as many books that people recommended to me.  No, not recommended, recommended would be ‘hey, you should try this.’  What do you call it when people are like ‘READ THIS!  You HAVE to read it!’  Foisting?  Is that it?

The long and short of it is, if somehow my book hits the right niche and suddenly becomes wildly successful, I will have to spend my entire first paycheck, and probably the one after that, on books.

On the plus side, I will then have a lot of books to read, and I have to admit, I miss those days when I would lie in bed, glancing at the clock every few minutes and going ‘I don’t have to get up THAT early tomorrow.’

Juggling

So here’s the thing about writing as a business:  There’s a lot of waiting around.

I think I addressed this a little bit in some earlier posts.

When you’re just writing for the love of it, time isn’t a factor at all.  You write when you want, don’t when you’d rather not, edit whenever the mood strikes you.  When you decide that you want to write for a living, however, everything changes.  After you write, you send it to people to help you edit, and you wait.  You get it back, you make some changes, you send it to people who might want to publish it, and you wait.  You mostly get rejected, but let’s say you don’t: you get accepted, and then you wait.  You find out what they want changed and change it, and you wait.  You get a little news here and a little news there, and you wait.  Everything finally gets finished you find out when it’s supposed to be released, and you wait.  Well, actually you promote, but whatever.  It gets published, you promote it and you wait.  you promote it some more and then you wait.

A lot of downtime.  So eventually you realize that you need to have other stuff going on during the downtime.  Maybe you work on another book.  Maybe you critique stuff for other people.  Maybe you help a friend write a movie script.  But whatever you’re doing, if it’s in the writing world, you will soon find yourself in a spot where you’re waiting for both projects to come back to you.  Why?  Because that’s how waiting works.  You can bust your ass trying to get your part done as fast as you can, but at some point you’ll find yourself in line behind a bunch of other people waiting for something that you can’t make go any faster.  So you start another project.  And maybe another.

Then one of the projects that you have up in the air comes down.  Usually when you’re right in the middle of something else.  So you manage your time as best you can and try to get both balls up in the air again, and when you do… guess what?  Now you’re waiting again!  You start a new project because there’s no sense in wasting any time, but just when you get started on that, one of the other balls comes down.  That’s okay, you just did this five minutes ago.  Rush, rush, rush, and both balls are up.

Eventually one of two things happens, you’re either fifty years old juggling eight projects and not doing anything else with your time, or all of your projects fall down around your head at the same time.

Or maybe I just need to work on my time management skills.

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.

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.

Starting at Zero

Have you ever gone to a movie and realized about halfway through that the jackass who made the trailer for it spoiled one of the major plot points?  One of my favorite examples is The Sixth Sense, where the creepy kid confides ‘I see dead people,’ in the trailer, a very important plot twist that doesn’t come until about halfway through the movie.

Well, the same sort of thing can happen in books.  I’ve had, on multiple occasions, found myself a chapter or two into a book when I suddenly realize that the author wanted to spring something on me that I knew going in.  Perhaps it’s the fact that the novel is set on a spaceship traveling to a new solar system.  The first few chapters take place on a farm, so when we get to the end of a chapter and the boy is peering through the glass dome and realizes that he’s out amongst the stars, it’s supposed to take our breath away.

It’s a little hard to be surprised by that revelation, though, when the cover of the book shows a spaceship that happens to have a giant dome on its back and what appears to be a continent within it.

Similarly, the scene where the kindly old professor reveals himself to be a bloodthirsty vampire is just a bit less of a shocker when the cover shows me an old man grinning to reveal two impressive fangs.

Not to mention everything that a back cover can give away.

Part of the problem is where the control over these things lies.  If a writer has final say on a book cover and jacket blurb, he’s got a good chance of getting out ahead of these problems.  But if the publisher isn’t interested in feedback and just wants to rush the manuscript through their machine and get it out in the world, things can be a bit more complicated.

But even if the writer does have control over these things, it can be tricky figuring out how to market certain stories without giving things away.  Take that story about the farmer who discovers he isn’t on a world, but on a spaceship.  If that revelation is in chapter two, then presumably most of the book is a science fiction story.  How do you hide what it’s about, while making certain that the appropriate audience reads your book?

It’s a conundrum.  And something to think about.

The price of power

So, I think that one of the problems that I have with so many books and movies and television shows these days is that the writers often forget that power should always come with some kind of price tag.  More than that, though, that the price should be, both related to the power it accompanies, and somehow similar in scale.

One of the most annoying things I find in vampire literature is when the only downside to becoming a vampire is that you get all whiny.  I’ve read a few books like that.  The main character bemoans his status and considers himself damned, but has a totally manageable bloodlust, a slight aversion to sunlight, and is completely unaffected by articles of faith.

One of my favorite examples of the cost of power properly associated with the degree of power is in Firefly.  You have the Captain, whose skill and resolve are the result of having the joy and hope beaten out of him over the course of a long and miserable war.  Zoe, the consummate soldier, is incapable of shedding her attachment to military formality.  She MUST obey her captain.  She MUST hide her emotions.  Then there’s the doctor, who has dedicated himself so fully to his practice that he is barely functional outside of a hospital.  He is constantly putting his foot in his mouth, constantly unable to relate, but dammit he’s brilliant.

You can go down the list, and each and every character has a greatness associated with them, that has also cost them in some way.  And the most powerful character, River, is also the most flawed, being, depending on how you view her, either completely nuts, or one hundred percent sane.  Either way it amounts to the same thing, and makes her as much of a liability is she is an asset.

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.