Monday, June 30, 2014

Speed Bumps & Roadkill

From my author blog:

I usually like to put a decent amount of planning into a story before I start to write it.  With the last story I wrote (G.A.IA.:  ROGUE STATE) I probably underdid the planning.  It was a lot more seat-of-the-pants than usual, which is probably why it didn't turn out like how I'd wanted.  Not that I consider it really bad--nothing I write is bad, ever--just that it seems to have a few plot holes.  That it ended up at only 47,000 words is a good indicator it wasn't the best thing I ever did.

Again I think a lack of planning was key.  I already described in one post (Out of Nothing At All) how I created a character out of thin air and ended up giving her a major role.  Then I decided about 3/4 of the way through to make an otherwise unrelated character into a villain as part of some big conspiracy.  The end result is that where it ended and where it began didn't necessarily line up the way thy should.

Reading through the first draft I couldn't help thinking that it really needs to go back to formula.  So I struggled with that for a little while and maybe by the time this post airs I'll have gotten something figured out.  I think a large part of the struggle was that I didn't really have much in mind for the setting.  In the first draft I ended up using some little generic town in central Africa and jungles around there.  Obviously I've never been to central Africa, small towns or jungles.  So I think that presented a little bit of a challenge.

This time around I'm trying to make better notes and get a better idea of where things are happening.  Also they say if you're writing a mystery (and there are mystery elements here) then you should start and the end and work backwards.  I did some of that, deciding who the villains are and what their whole scheme is supposed to be and how it's supposed to work--before it's unraveled by our heroes of course.  I'm hoping the end result will be a bit stronger.  But maybe not.

Anyway, that's why I try not to do seat-of-the-pants writing much anymore.  Ultimately it leads to a lot more shitty drafts than if I'd just figured things out from the start. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Cory Doctorow has helpful writing tips.

You know when Obama used
this photo filter it looked
I found these on another blog while looking up some things for my latest magazine article, and I thought these were actually very helpful tips for writers.  

Cory DoctorowAuthor of With a Little Help, For the Win, Makers, and Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom
  1. Write every day. Anything you do every day gets easier. If you’re insanely busy, make the amount that you write every day small (100 words? 250 words?) but do it every day.
  2. Write even when the mood isn’t right. You can’t tell if what you’re writing is good or bad while you’re writing it.
  3. Write when the book sucks and it isn’t going anywhere. Just keep writing. It doesn’t suck. Your conscious is having a panic attack because it doesn’t believe your subconscious knows what it’s doing.
  4. Stop in the middle of a sentence, leaving a rough edge for you to start from the next day — that way, you can write three or five words without being “creative” and before you know it, you’re writing.
  5. Write even when the world is chaotic. You don’t need a cigarette, silence, music, a comfortable chair, or inner peace to write. You just need ten minutes and a writing implement.

Item 4 is the most helpful to me.  I already do 1 and 2 and 3 and 5.

I've read a couple of Cory Doctorow books, and they always make me think, plus they are amazingly creative.  I'd recommend starting with Down & Out In The Magic Kingdom, which you can buy or download for free from his site. But my favorite book of his is the wildly inventive Someone Comes To Town, Someone Leaves Town. You can also download that for free. I can't wait for the day I'm successful enough to let people have all my books for free.  

Thursday, June 26, 2014


How well do your books sell in other countries? Personally, I've only had a handful of scattered sales. Many of the mailing lists I advertise with are only targeted at the U.S. market. (I think eBookSoda is an exception, as it seems to be based in the United Kingdom.) What marketing is most effective in other countries? Well, the best way to find out is by talking to other indie writers, and a new website called Authorbuddies will help you do that. (I just learned about them through Passive Voice.) By signing up with this free service, you can network with other authors, find out what works in their country, and help them learn what works over here. I haven't signed up yet, but I plan to. If you're familiar with this site, please comment and let us know what you think of it.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Road to Fiction

[Note: There is one more installment of the Lies Writers Tell series, but that one will happen next week. More news about it, then.]

I was asked an interesting question recently. I like interesting questions; they make you think. Well, they make me think. I don't actually know about you. I don't actually even know if you do think, because so many people don't, though I like to think that if you're reading this blog then you're a thinker, so we'll just go with that.


The question was, "How do you write fiction?" Let me clarify that. I get the question, "How do you write?" a lot, but I've never had the question, "How do you write fiction?" Her contention was that writing non-fiction is easy; it just requires a bit of research and putting it together in a way that's easy for the reader to take in. But she didn't know how to go about writing fiction.

So I get the thing about non-fiction. I've never had a problem with it, though I know some fiction writers do. There is a lot that is easy about presenting information that already exists. So her real question, as I took it to mean, was, "How do you make up information that did not previously exist?" And that is a good and interesting question. And it made me think.

For me, writing fiction began with telling stories. True stories, I mean. Verbally. You know, standing around in a group and telling stories. During high school especially, I began to excel at this and became the preferred storyteller among my groups of friends. It probably didn't hurt that I also started doing quite a bit of public speaking stuff, all of which continued into college. Learning to tell a true story, especially one that is mostly boring, in an interesting way, embellishing without lying and adding humor where there might not, strictly speaking, be any is an excellent place to begin in writing fiction.

Of course, doing a lot of reading helps, too.

Once you have that down, the telling of stories, it's just a small step to making up your own. In fact, it's a natural extension. I know that part of my impetus was the repetition of requests to tell by my kids and their friends to tell stories. I'd answer, "But I've told them all to you," and they'd either say, "So, tell us again," or, "Well, make one up." So that's what I did.

Not that it's easy. It sounds easy, but it's not easy.

Fictional stories don't necessarily follow the same rules as non-fiction ones. Here's an example I gave back during the school year to my creative writing classes:
I was watching this movie once, a based-on-a-true-story movie, and it was moving along, and the action was rising, and I was wondering what was going to happen -- but it was getting close to the end (time-wise) and I was starting to wonder how in the world they were going to wrap it up in time -- and, suddenly, the protagonist was in a fatal car crash and that was it. It was one of those "what the heck!" moments, but that's how it happened. The dude just had a car accident and died and, when you're telling a story based on actual events, that's the kind of thing that sometimes happen.

But you can't really do that in fiction. You can't cut your readers off like that, because, well, they won't like you. People don't like stories without resolution, not in general. In fact, they want more than just resolution; they want it all wrapped up in a nice, pretty package with a bow on top. But that's the beginning of a different topic, so I'll stop right there.

I don't really think I've completely answered this question. I only know how I got to fiction. It could be completely different for other writers. Even so, I think it's a good place to start.
Read a lot.
Learn to tell true stories in an interesting way, a way that's not just about delivering a set of facts.
Go from there.

If you want a specific example of one of those ways I've done all of this, taken a real story and moved it into the fictional arena, check out "The Magic Cookies." It began as a true story and may have been the favorite of the stories I used to tell my kids and their friends.
Plus it has a great bonus story by Briane Pagel! It has nothing to do with cookies, though it does have vampires. And, hey, for $0.99 it's practically like taking a cookie from a... wait, do babies eat cookies?

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Some thoughts on ebooks versus real books.

I tried to find a picture of me but couldn't on my phone,
so here is a picture of a hand in the glow of a laptop.
Scifi author Nigel Mitchel (Operation:Masquerade, which is really very good!) has a post up on his blog today talking about e-books versus regular books.  You can click here to go read that, and you should, but the infographic got me to thinking about some stuff.

First, if the production cost of an ebook is fifty cents, something I've pointed out a LOT in the past, why are ebooks $9.99 (or more?)  That's not always true, of course; I just checked on "Best Sellers" under Kindle and the current number 1 is The Fault In Our Stars, which is selling for $4.99 on the Kindle, but of the New York Times Best Seller list's top ten books right now, the cheapest is something called "Orphan Train: A Novel" at $6.99.

Assuming that by "production cost" you mean "Everything that goes into producing the book including paying editors, the rent on your New York office suite, etc.", and what else would you mean by "production costs", then Orphan Train: A Novel represents $6.49 pure profit even at 2/3 what everyone assumes is the rate a book costs.  (And what books would cost had Steve Jobs not gotten away with price-fixing between Apple and the Big Five publishers in a blatant violation of law that the US government is busily wrist-slapping).

Songs on iTunes are still $0.69, $0.99, or $1.29.  They have not fallen even though it is presumably far far cheaper to upload and maintain the iTunes database than when that service first began in 2001.  Book prices have climbed since Jobs' illegal price-fixing scheme was hatched (and worked) even though, again, it should be easier and cheaper to get a book onto Amazon now.

So why are books still $9.99? Is it because we will pay that for them? Is it because (as many suggest) the higher price suggests quality, so an indie author's $3.99 books suggest low-quality?

I ought to test that theory.  I ought to make my books even higher priced.  A while back, I raised them from $0.99 to $3.99.  I have not noticed any dip in sales (I don't sell many, no matter what) and I haven't noticed an increase in sales.  I wonder if I priced my books higher if people would think they aren't indie books?

One possible reason -- I'm just spitballing here -- is that publishers are afraid to mess with pricing because of Amazon, and don't want to become the next Hachette.  For that reason, indie authors (and readers) should be pulling for Walmart: When Amazon picked a fight with Hachette, Walmart began pushing ebooks.  Walmart probably has the muscle to take on Amazon, and it is currently searching for a way to attract higher-end customers whose wages are not stagnant.  Book buyers tend to be high-end customers (that's why Amazon started as a bookseller: Jeff Bezos wanted to build a store patronized by smart people with money.)

Another thing from that infographic: It says (in small print) that Kindle owners by 3.3 times as many books after buying a Kindle than before.  That's certainly true for me, and Sweetie? She buys something like 2 books a week.  (And yet, she says she's so busy taking care of the boys... HMMMM.)  Electronic books are good for writers and readers: They make it easier to buy and carry books (I've bought books at 11 at night and while sitting in a hospital emergency room, which says a lot about how much I felt it an "emergency" that I be there) and cheaper to do so, so readers love them.

Writers should love them.  If you produce something -- pumpkins, iPods, short stories -- and there is a gadget that increases consumption of that thing, it creates a market for you.

And yet, writers like Stephen King still try to stop the proliferation of ebooks, a move I chalk up to not so much disliking ebooks, per se, as disliking competition from other writers.

Finally, it seems the only argument left in favor of real books is "I just like the way they feel," which means that real book lovers are the vinyl aficionados of the literary world.  The only reason I think a "real" book should be made is if it specifically takes advantage of that form.  Pop-up books, large-scale photography or coffee table books, of course, and then books that use the 'real' format in intriguing ways -- like S, by JJ Abrams, which is only available in 'real' form but which has a pretty good reason for being that way.

Hey speaking of ebooks, I have the After available for just $3.99 (at least until I go price it like a
BIG 5 BOOK!), and it's been called 'a masterpiece of speculative fiction'. HONESTLY. That wasn't even me who said it; it was Michael Offutt, scific author!  CLICK HERE to go buy it.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Epic Rap Battle: Newton vs. Nye

Have you ever wondered how Issac Newton would react to Bill Nye the Science Guy? Well, wonder no more:

Who do you think was the better rapper? I have to go with Newton, better known as Weird Al Yankovic. Vote in the comments below.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers (Part Five -- It Shouldn't Be Work (Or "Waiting for Your Muse"))

Those of you who have been following my own blog (StrangePegs) for any length of time will know that my daughter plays the accordion.
In many ways, she has a love/hate relationship with it. She loves playing. She loves performing even though she doesn't like to admit that. She doesn't want to give it up. However, she hates practicing. She hates getting new, more difficult songs. She hates the work of it.

Now, let's go back to the beginning:
Learning to play the accordion was her idea. It would never have occurred to us to suggest to any of our kids that they ought to learn to play the accordion. I mean, who does that, right? But my daughter decided that she wanted to learn to play it. Of course, that meant that she had to learn to play it and that's work. Playing the accordion is not just picking one up and jamming it in and out.

At first, for the first year or so, she hated going to lessons. She also hated practicing, but the real issue was that she hated going to lessons. She wanted to play the accordion, but she wanted to be able to do it without putting any work into it. [How many of you know that feel?] Eventually, she got over hating her lessons and dislikes when she has to miss them. She still hates practicing. Well, not always, I suppose, but there are days when it's a huge ordeal to get her to sit down and put in the half hour. It's work.

But she wants to be able to play the accordion, and that means doing the work.
And let me just throw in here that her teacher (who has been teaching the accordion for decades) says she's one of the best students she's ever had. She has a lot of natural talent and great expression (let me put that another way, in a way that may make more sense to you writers (and readers) out there: Her playing has great voice). Talent isn't enough, though, especially with music. It takes work.

Writing takes work, too, although I think a lot of people that want to be writers want to deny that part of it. They believe they can get by with picking up their pens and paper and just jamming them in and out.

Some of you are probably offended right about now, but I see it all the time on blogs of people that talk about how they want to be a writer. They say things like
1. I only write when I feel inspired.
2. I have such writer's block and haven't felt like writing, lately.
3. Writing should be your passion. If it feels like work, you shouldn't be doing it. Only write from passion.

There's this sort pervasive idealization about writing that it comes from the universe and just flows through human conduits and it should just pour out of you and be, well, easy. I think this idea is a stumbling block for a lot of "young" writers because, when they start to struggle (and everyone will struggle), they start to feel like maybe they just weren't "called" to be a writer. Because, according to the prevailing wisdom, it shouldn't be a struggle, right?

Look, there will be times when you're inspired and words pour out of your fingertips and those times are GREAT. AWESOME, even. But that's not the norm. Mostly, writing is work. At least it is if you want to be any good at it. Which is not to say that you can't become a popular writer while not being any good at it, because there are plenty of poor writers out there that, for whatever reason, became popular. However, if you want to be good, it takes work.

So, see, I'm not dissing inspiration and I'm not saying that it shouldn't be fun. I am saying that if you sit around waiting for inspiration and quit doing it when it's not fun, it's very unlikely that you will ever finish anything. The first step to being... I don't even know what to call it, so I'll just say "published author" because that's what most people mean, I think, when they say they have aspirations of being "a writer." So the first step to being a published author is finishing what you start writing, and that will, at some point, mean work. It will mean sitting down to your manuscript when you "don't feel like it" or when you'd rather be out "doing something fun." See, just by using that qualification (and I see people say that on their blogs a lot), you're implying that writing is not fun and, usually, what people mean by that is that it's, well, feeling like work. Which it is.

Being someone that has a few things published, I get asked a lot of questions about writing and what it's like, and I always start with "It's a lot of work" and "It's both harder and easier than you would think." So...
I'm not saying that you need to "take lessons," although you might, and I'm not saying that you need to practice half an hour a day, although you might; I am saying that, if you want to be "a writer" expect it to be a lot of work and persistence and perseverance (and, yeah, those are kind of synonyms, but I mean them in contextually different ways). What I'm saying is that if you're out there roaming blogs (or whatever) and seeing a bunch of stuff about how glorious writing is and how people feel like the universe is speaking through them and how writing is so easy and never a struggle, you can just be about 95% sure that those people are lying (Just 95% because, heck, maybe there are some people who never struggle to put words down because the universe really is speaking to them). Writing is work, so be prepared.

[Having said all of that, none of this applies to Briane Pagel for whom writing is always fun and who would never do it if it all resembled "work."]

Monday, June 16, 2014

Adventures of Couch Potato Cover Reveal

Carl Potter was a fat, bald, lazy guy until a freak accident transformed him into a fat, bald, lazy superhero named Couch Potato. Now he's forced to get off his beloved chair to fight an invasion of alien furniture, a ruthless cult of Elvis impersonators, and an army of groundhogs trying to plunge our world into an eternal six months of winter. Couch Potato: he'll save the world, if there's nothing good on TV.
Tweet: Check out the cover for THE ADVENTURES OF COUCH POTATO by @nigelgmitchell!

I read the first story and it's hilarious.  So be sure to go buy it!

And happy Father's Day...if you are one.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Fathers in Fiction

What are your favorite father-child relationships in fiction? With Father's Day being today, and with my son's recent obsession with Star Wars, the power of the Force compels me to post this scene:

 Though this is a good one too:
  It seems that there are a lot of father-son relationships in fiction that are problematic. A missing or dead father (Harry Potter, How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe), an abusive father, a crazy father (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance) father as the enemy...well, there wouldn't be anything interesting in a normal relationship, right? Fathers can serve as both positive and negative role models. They can be motivations for accomplishing a quest. Yet, often, they have to get out of their offsprings' way so their kids can grow up. What are your favorite father-child relationships in fiction?

Friday, June 13, 2014

Pro Tip: The Cost of Doing Business

From my author blog:
Ooh it's Friday the 13th!  Remember to throw your black cat over your shoulder while standing on a ladder or however all that works.  Anyway, I ran into some bad luck recently where I actually lost money for selling books.

It was maybe late last year or early this year that Amazon changed its royalty payment policy from paying only once $10 had been earned (which B&N still does) to just paying whatever the hell you had earned no matter how low.  Which in some ways is great because it's not like B&N where if I only make $9.60 I have to wait a whole extra month (providing I sell another book) to get paid.  That has happened a couple of times and it's annoying.

The problem though is sometimes your royalty really is too low so you end up getting royally screwed.  In April I got a payment of $0.59 or something like that from one of the European Amazons.  Hey great 59 cents, don't spend that all in one place.  Well the problem is the next day or so I check my account activity and realize my bank charged a $1 fee for this foreign wire.  So I actually LOST 41 cents!

Yup, it actually cost me money to sell a couple of ebooks overseas.  I didn't think too much of it at the time; I just shrugged and said, "Whatever."  But then it happened AGAIN the next month, leaving me out another 41 cents or whatever it was.

At that point I decided something needed to be done.  First I had to track down where these wires were coming from.  Using the new charts on the sales dashboard I realized they were coming from Spain.  My first thought was to just stop selling books there.  But then I realized what a pain it is to go into each book and try to select where you want to sell it.  My second thought was to just make the price in Spain so high no one would ever buy any.  But again that would be a real pain in the ass to do for like 40 books.

So I decide to go ask Amazon's customer service.  For once they actually had something helpful to say.  Basically you can go in and change your payment method from EFT or wire or whatever to check.  Which also means you won't get paid until you hit $10.  Which in Spain means probably never.  While I was at it I changed that for the rest of Europe, except the UK.  And India, Japan, Mexico, and Brazil as well.

The thing is I don't sell a lot of books in continental Europe.  Or pretty much anywhere except the US and UK.  And in the UK it's mostly one book of short stories under a pen name that for some reason sells over there but has sold maybe 1 copy in the US.  The last thing I want is to lose money when I do manage to sell something over there.

So there you go, a Pro Tip:  unless you sell a lot of books in those other countries, don't use the wire or EFT payments--unless you have a bank that doesn't charge a fee for that.  Ha, yeah right, a bank not charging fees? ROFTLOL

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers (Part Four -- Betas Required)

I don't own a cell phone. I know; go ahead and gasp and ask how I'm able to survive and all of that stuff that everyone always asks me. No, seriously, go ahead and get it out of your system. I know you want to. I can give you answers to all of it, but it all boils down to one thing: I don't need a cell phone. Neither do you, actually.


You can stop with all the reasons about how you need it, right now, because it's all a bunch of excuses. Sure, I get that the cell phone may make some things easier, and they're certainly nice to have in case of an emergency, but you don't need it.

I know. I know! How can I say that? Right?

I can say it because humanity survived without cell phones for, well, thousands of years. In fact, we even survived the 80s without cell phones and, if we can do that, anyone can do that.

It's just the truth.

And do you want to know the real reason why I don't have a cell phone, the reason underneath all the other reasons? I don't want to become dependent on it. I don't want to rely on an electronic extension of my brain. Not in the way that it makes me think I can't live without it and, if something happens to it, I don't know what to do.

One of the big ideas in writing these days is the need for beta readers. The need. Like you don't have the ability to write a book without them. It's actually more pervasive than the one about needing to hire an editor. You have to have beta readers and you have to have critique partners and you have to have all of these other people to tell you how to write the book that you're writing.

Well, um, no.

This whole "beta reader" idea is pretty new, like the cell phone, so for hundreds of years authors got by just fine without them. In fact, the greatest works of literature were done without beta readers. Or critique partners. Or, actually, editors other than the authors themselves. Can you imagine anyone telling Dickens he needed an editor? What all this tells me is that beta readers are kind of like cell phones, something that we, as a writing culture, have come to depend on when, maybe, we shouldn't.

Let me put it another way:
Culturally, we have adopted this view that work done by groups is better than work done by individuals. The more heads the better and all of that. This idea is everywhere. It's in our businesses, it's in our government, it's in our schools. Gone is the day of the student sitting at his desk; now it's all table groups and teams. More and more businesses are switching away from individual space to group space. And, right now, I see some of you out there saying, "Yeah, that's how it should be." Except, well, it shouldn't.

All of the studies being done in relation to this new collaborative process and groupthink idea are showing that the more people you have involved in the process of creating something, the worse that creation is. Rarely is there a central idea guiding the process and, even if there is, there is a... pressure... to include ideas from everyone in the group. They've been done some studies about this relating to writing, and they show the same thing. The more people you have giving advice to the author, the more muddled the story becomes. The author loses the ability to evaluate what people are saying in relation to his original idea and starts trying to incorporate every idea.

And, right now, you're saying, "Yeah, but..."

Look, I hear it all the time, and I'm sure you have, too. People saying on their blogs, "I just got my manuscript back from my betas and, now, I have all these changes I have to make!" And they're excited about making them. And most of them are just grabbing every idea every beta reader had and trying to figure out how to make them all work.

And that doesn't even get to the part where we try to use betas and CPs (critique partners) as editors. Which, in one sense, is fine, because sometimes they catch mistakes. However, sometimes, they make mistakes out of things that are correct. Peer editing is becoming a big thing in schools, evidently. Both of my boys have been involved in peer editing groups. Of course, what has ended up happening is everyone in their classes trying to have them edit their papers, because my boys are better with the grammars than other kids their age. By a lot. The younger boy, when he's paying attention, can write with close to zero errors. My oldest boy was recognized in his senior AP Literature class this year for outstanding achievement; he was the only recipient of the award, and he was frequently the only one in the class to make an A on any given assignment. The point there is that for either of my boys to hand their papers to someone else to edit is, well, to invite disaster. And my point for you is that you shouldn't depend on someone who is no more well versed in grammar than you to catch your mistakes. Even if they say they are.

Look, I'm not trying to tell you to not use your beta readers. I am telling you that you need to learn that you don't need them. If you can't write a good story without them, you also can't write a good story with them. Learn how to do that story stuff on your own. It's kind of like how we used to get together with other people back in the 80s. "Hey, I'll meet you outside of the arcade at the mall at 8:00, okay?" And, then, you did that. Or you didn't, but, for me, mostly whatever plan was made was carried through. Why? Because you couldn't decide to be somewhere else without standing someone up, so you went where you were supposed to go. If, you know, you wanted to keep your friend. Writing needs to be kind of like that, with a plan, even if you're a pantser. Mostly, though, you just have to be confident enough in your story so that every suggestion that comes your way doesn't make you doubt yourself. It's your story!

I think the best way to use beta readers is to set firm ground rules about their function. My top three would be:
1. Do not make story suggestions.
2. Tell me if there is something that you don't understand. That includes asking the question "why?" as often as it happens while you're reading.
3. Let me know if you find my missing words and point out any homophones.

Basically, allow the beta reader to be a luxury, not a need. When you feel that you need a beta reader, there's somewhere that you're failing on your end.

[Note: I am out of town at the moment. I'll respond to comments as soon as I return. Okay, well, not as soon, but sometime after that.]

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Since nobody has posted here in a few days I will just do some shameless self-promotion

And note that my horror story The Window is available for free reading online on lit (click here) or for download through Scribd (again free) by clicking here.

Also, this week the IWM BLOGTACULAR should be on Liz's Laws of Gravity, on Thursday, for the Question of the Week. Don't miss it!

Friday, June 6, 2014

Due to technical difficulties...

the post on Lady Amber's Reviews that was part of our blog tour today is not legible; I've contacted the blog host, but until then, you can find our blog tour post on lit by clicking here.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

IndieReCon Contests

Note: I'm reblogging this from my own blog to spread the word.

Have you ever wished there was a convention specifically for indie writers? Apparently, there is one. It's called IndieReCon LIVE!, and it's taking place October 10--October 11 in Sandy, Utah. Even if you can't make it there in person, you can still participate in their contests. Click here for the rules and how to enter for the chance to earn a Howey. (After Hugh Howey, of course. They chose a great person to name their awards after, didn't they?) Most of the contests are free to enter, but some do require a small fee ($15 max) to enter.

I'm personally not sure yet if this is something I want to enter. The rules do allow books published in 2013 to be nominated, so I could enter Twinned Universes. Perhaps if the categories were broken down by genre instead of reader age group, I'd feel that this was a better fit for me. (To me, this con seemed skewed toward YA.) Still, some publicity might come out of it, and you can nominate other authors' works for some of the categories. The deadline for the Total Package contest is June 30th; for all the rest, it's July 31st. I still have time to mull this over.

Does this sound like something that would interest you? Why or why not? Please feel free to comment; it should be much easier to do so now.

P.S. There's still time to download the June issue of Indie Writers Monthly for free! 

Featuring not 1,
                        not 2,

                                 but THREE amazing stories
from our writers, as well as tips on coming up with titles, AND how hard it is to write a bad story AND the IWM interview of Andrew Leon, "June Bugs" is a deal and even MORE so given that it's FREE from Monday, June 2 through to Friday, June 6.


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lies Writers Tell... To Other Writers (Part Three -- You're Too Close To Your Work)

I hate housework. Who doesn't right? Okay, there are some people who really enjoy it. I'm not quite sure what's wrong with those people, but they exist. More than a few of them, even. And it's probably not so much that they enjoy the housework, but the desire to have everything completely neat and spotless overrides any displeasure they have in the work. I'm thinking Monk, here (I wonder if Tony Shalhoub is as good as Monk at cleaning?).

Of course, there are parts that I hate more than more other parts and, actually, some parts I don't mind so much. Cooking, for instance, is a part I don't mind so much and even enjoy it. Except for the parts filled with the negative reviews from my kids. I hate unloading the dishwasher, but I don't mind loading it. I don't mind doing the laundry, but I hate folding it. I don't make beds. Vacuuming is okay. But I hate, absolutely hate, cleaning bathrooms.

Maybe, I'm just too close to it? Actually, when cleaning the bathroom, I'd have to say that I am definitely too close to it.

So... the lie... And this one is a bit tricky, because it's a lie, but part of it's true. The lie goes like this:
You can't edit your own work, because you are too close to it.
On the whole, the part about being too close to your own work is bullshit. Seriously, it is (with one exception, which we'll get to in a moment). Let's take a short time travel (and for a great time travel opportunity, click this link!) back to high school. If your high school was anything like mine, you were required to write papers. When writing those papers, you were also expected to be able to edit those papers. That expectation continued on into whatever higher education you went on to. The expectation that you would learn enough grammar and enough about writing structure that you would be able to self-edit.

Granted, some people don't learn that stuff as well as other people, but, really, everyone is expected to leave high school with some basic level of competence and, if you are trying to be a writer (a paid one), you should make it your job to have a level of competence well above that of the average person. In fact, the most common advice given by authors in the early to mid-20th century to people who wanted to be authors was all about grammar. Basically, they were all saying, "If you want to be a writer, learn how to write."

I think, to a large extent, possibly due to the Rise of the Editor, we've decided that's not so important. H. P. Lovecraft believed in self-editing so much so that he would tell his publishers, "If you change even one comma, you may not publish my work." Basically, take it the way I've written it or you can't have it. But, see, he knew his grammar and punctuation and didn't need someone else to come in and make his writing make sense. I think we need more of that.

Which brings me back to housework. That's what editing is like to me, something I'd rather not do but can't afford to pay someone else to do, so I do it myself. Of course, housework is often dependent upon whether someone else is going to see it...

When I was a kid, the way my mom got us (mostly me) to do housework was to have people over. Suddenly, it became this HUGE DEAL and my mom would say things like, "Do you want <so-and-so> to see this pigsty we live in?" Of course, I actually didn't care, because I never thought it was that bad. Obviously, my mother's standards were much higher than mine. Fortunately, I learned to draw the line at my room. She'd be all "Clean your room!" and I'd be all "But no one's going to be in my room" and she'd be like "But what if someone sees it?" and I'd be "I'll keep the door closed." Humorously, at first, my mom would give people tours of the house and open the door to show them exactly how messy my room was then blame me for how messy it was and how embarrassed she was that our guests saw it, but I was savvy enough to respond with, "Don't show them my room next time." Eventually, she learned.

The point, though, is that how well-edited your writing is doesn't matter at all when it's just for you, but, when you plan on inviting other people into it, you need to decide what level of cleanliness you want it at. At that point, either learn how to clean it up yourself or figure out how to pay someone to do it for you. Obviously, I'm more on the side of, "If you are a writer, you should learn how to write." It's just part of the job. Also, learn how to correct your own work, because it's a skill. It's a skill you can learn. It's a skill you should learn. It's part of the job.

Hiring an editor should not be something you NEED to do; it should be something you want to do because you don't want to do it. Like housework. And, even at that, it should only really be copy editing that you're hiring out (the person that cleans up the grammar, punctuation, and missing words). You should not need a story editor, because a story editor does not know your story. You know your story and you can not be too close to it. Story editors are good for one thing: muddling your vision. If you actually need a story editor, someone to help you make your story into something that other people can understand, you're just not ready to be publishing. As a writer, writing THE STORY is your job. If you can't do that, you haven't learned YOUR JOB.

So, yeah, that's harsh, but it is what it is. The job of the author is to write stories: It's the job of THE AUTHOR to write the story, not to write the story by committee. You can't be too close to your own work.

Except for the one exception.
The one exception of being too close to your own work has to do with things you understand that other people may not. So, like, with technical writing, if you are doing it for a broader audience than just those in the field you're writing about, you need to get someone to read through it and say, "wait, I don't understand what this means." [Lawyers should be required to have people help them write their legalese in language that everyone can get. There could be two versions of every document: the legal one and the one that people can understand.] Sometimes, we use colloquial sayings that people outside of our area may not get and you might need someone to point out those things to you. Or you may have just written something that was clear to you but, when other people read it, they just scratch their heads and say, "I don't understand this." What you need in these cases is not an editor that will be telling you how to fix it or helping you fix it or whatever; what you need is just someone to point it out, "This part isn't clear to me." That is the one real power of beta readers.

And, now, the good news! I mean, after all the HARSH, I suppose you deserve some good news, right? Here's the thing:
Just like with inviting people over to your house, most of those people are not your mother-in-law and will not be running their index fingers over every exposed surface. They are not there looking for your mistakes. I mean, if you didn't vacuum under the couch, they're not going to see that. What I mean is, if you are moderately good at editing, just moderately good, most people won't notice your mistakes. They won't notice them, because they won't even know they are mistakes. It's not like you have to be absolutely brilliant at editing. [Most people are not me. When it comes to editing, honestly, I'm more like the mother-in-law. Also, when it comes to editing, if I wanted to hire myself to edit my work, I couldn't afford me. It's a good thing I don't charge myself anything.]

What this all comes down to in the end is this:
When you see someone posting or going on about how you should never publish anything without hiring a professional editor, that is just wrong. That's like saying you should never have people over to your house unless you can hire a professional cleaning service to come clean for you. Probably, you are not having the President over to visit. Or the Queen. Most people are fine with "lived in." Again, it comes down to your own comfort level about how you want people to see you.

Except for one thing, because independent authors are a broader group than just yourself, it's like being in a neighborhood, so your yard counts and affects how people view the entire neighborhood. So, if your yard is so junky that people don't want to come over to my house, I might have a problem with it. Okay, that's not a "might;" I will have a problem with it, which is why the earlier harsh. If you want to be published, especially self-published, learn how to do your job. Learn how to do the writing part of writing, not just the coming-up-with-stories part of writing. Seriously, it's your job.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Liebster Award

Look, we won an award!  Actually it's one of those cheesy "awards" that are really chain letters and actually it was addressed to my author blog, but whatever.

First you're supposed to give 10 interesting facts.

I don't know how interesting this fact is, but recently I saw these two Detective Comics issues being added on DC's website:

I remembered seeing these in 1990 when my family was on vacation in Panama City, Florida where we have relatives.  It was probably in some grocery store or somewhere.  And they just freaked me the hell out.  I didn't run screaming or anything, but basically it was like that Family Guy where Stewie freaks out whenever he sees the cover for Queen's "News of the World" album.  If my older brother would have bought these, he could have tormented me for days!

I never read them but I guess the freaky "Batman" on the cover is a demon impersonating Batman or something.  Since this was after the second Robin "died" I always thought Batman had flipped the hell out about it.

So there you go, a weird trip down memory lane.

If you want more interesting facts, read my interview in the May issue of the magazine!

Then Tony Laplume, who gave me the award, addressed these 10 specific questions to me:
Pose Ten Questions
  1. How did you originally create Scarlet Knight?
  2. When did you first start reading comics?
  3. What's your favorite comic book?
  4. Who's your favorite superhero?
  5. What's your favorite comic book movie?
  6. What do you wish comics would do that you haven't seen yet?
  7. Do you have any interest in writing comics?
  8. Would you adapt the complete Scarlet Knight saga?
  9. Which one is your favorite installment in the series?
  10. Does Detroit figure into your writing style?

1.  The Scarlet Knight was originally created in my 2002 novel The Leading Men.  It revolves around a TV show very loosely based on the 60s Batman show.  (Basically if Batman in the 60s had been like Arrow today.)  Obviously I needed a hero and that's what I came up with.  I developed the various powers and backstory as the book went along.  In case you're wondering I did not know that Rutgers uses the name Scarlet Knights for their teams; I probably didn't know what a Rutgers was then.

That novel didn't sell, so I reused the concept in a pseudo-sequel 2006's The Naked World where the star of the TV show goes on a Don Quixote-esque rampage.  That probably added more to the background of the Scarlet Knight.

In 2008 I was playing around with some short stories and wrote what became Heart of a Hero where the Scarlet Lady, Dr. Emma Earl, goes back in time days before her parents are fated to die.  This was the introduction of Emma Earl as the hero.

Then in 2009 I took all those pieces and began writing what became A Hero's Journey (Tales of the Scarlet Knight #1).  So it took a circuitous route to get there.

2.  In the 80s my brother and I collected the Transformers and GI JOE comics, because we played with Transformers and GI JOE toys.  One time I insisted on getting a Spider-Man comic because I didn't have any, but this did not start a lifelong love of the webslinger because to be honest I was too damned poor to afford more than a comic or two.  I didn't get an allowance or anything, so money was hard to come by.

3.  I don't have a favorite title.  My reading is mostly directed by what's on sale on Comixology.  Because it's 30 years later and I still don't have tons of money to spend on comics.  I don't actively follow any titles because $4 an issue for a new comic book seems outrageous.  Some recent titles I've enjoyed are Superior Spider-Man, Aquaman, and Batgirl so if those go on sale I'd snap them up.

4.  Batman.  Is there really a choice?  But Batffleck might change that.

5.  The Dark Knight.  Yes, still.

6.  I haven't read enough comic books to know what they haven't done yet.  Any answer I did give would probably be something someone, somewhere has attempted in the over 75 years of comic book history.  I mean really they've done some pretty ridiculous things, especially in the 50s and 60s from the sound of it.  It would be interesting if they killed a long-established character like Superman, Batman, etc. and actually kept him or her dead forever.

7.  I did write one comic, an adaptation of part of A Hero's Journey.  It was very tiring.  The artist, AL Sirois, was very patient with me, but it's pretty clear I don't know what I'm doing.  I'm sure it's a lot easier for those who've been doing it for decades.  I could come up with a story and maybe a very rough script, but writing essentially panel-to-panel would drive me crazier.

8.  If someone else wanted to adapt the Scarlet Knight series I would let them.  I don't want to pull an Alan Moore and say it's impossible, but it would be really difficult for some of the novels.  The last one is about 500 pages in paperback, so adapting that would take a while.  Movies might be more plausible, especially since we could do that new money-grubbing thing and break up the longer ones into 2 or 3 movies.  Call me, Hollywood!

9.  I'm probably supposed to say I love them all equally, but my favorite is the sixth book, Future Shock, I suppose because it's largely based on one of my favorite stories, the Batman Knightfall arc.  Only unlike with Batman or Spider-Man or Superman the replacement hero isn't crazy or evil, which is good since she's Emma's daughter and that would be kind of awkward.  The final book, The Heart of Emma Earl, is also really epic, as is fitting for the end of a series.

And did you know both of those books are in the Tales of the Scarlet Knight Collection Volume 2:  The Wrath of Isis for only $2.99?!  That also includes books 4, 5, and 7.  The first collection contains volumes 1-3, plus the prequel novella Dark Origins and the witch-centric prequel Sisterhood.  That first volume is also $2.99, so for $5.98 you can read the whole series!  Or if you have Amazon Prime you can "borrow" them for free!

10.  Overall Rampart City is supposed to be like New York or Gotham City, but I think elements of Detroit come into play too.  For instance there's not really a subway system (anymore) so most of the time people are getting around with buses or taxis.  And of course the rampant crime and corruption is pretty familiar.

I'm supposed to "tag" other blogs but I hate doing that, so I won't.  If you want to be tagged then consider yourself tagged.