"The way to avoid criticism is to say nothing, do nothing, be nothing." ~ Steve McGarrett
I've been blogging since 2010, and every service except this one has given me grief about everything from font to content to the length of my posts. I'm home! I hope you like it; I'll try to keep it interesting, and should it inspire or inform you in any way, I'll consider it a worthwhile endeavor!|
Read well, and write better!
| "Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing."
~ E.L. DOCTOROW
Surprised to see me on a Wednesday? Yeah, so am I, but I've had one of those moments, one you either seize or allow to pass. One choice leads to a new world brimming with opportunities and possibilities; the other leads to stagnation, obscurity, second thoughts, and eventually, regret. Today I had my moment.
I've been a life-long writer. I'll be 69 years young in 6½ weeks. I've been writing to entertain others since my 5th grade teacher opened my eyes to the joy of every aspect of it. During the course of my life, I've had many hobbies, many pastimes, I've been involved in sports of various kinds, and what all these things have in common is that all have fallen by the wayside... All except writing. Writing chose me almost six decades ago, and hasn't let go since, but today I've realized that I haven't made the same commitment to writing.
I retired on May 2nd, 2016. It was a bolt from the blue. I never expected to retire, but I was put into a position that I didn't care to occupy, so I exercised the nuclear option. It's been magnificent! For the last fifteen months I've been able to do whatever I want, any time I want, with whomever I want, and I have to admit that I haven't handled it well. Now, I did return to WdC, and that was a great move, but on the whole, I have committed the first year to nothing more than fooling around. I have spent hours upon hours with my Xbox, and have seen the end of some games that I never expected to. I have paid lip service (see what I did there? Lip service?) to regaining my chops on the blues harp. I have set up biweekly board games with friends and family. I've probably watched hundreds of documentaries on YouTube. I've sat out in the sun, in in the rain, and enjoyed the progression of five seasons while committing to nothing more substantial than goofing around. That must stop.
You all know that I have this major project in the works called "Stingaree" . It's coming up on the halfway point, and I've been letting people read it as I work on it. I am set to deliver a major surprise at the halfway point, but on the other side of that, there are several paths it can take, and I have to make a decision about which one it's going to be. I took last week off to let it percolate, and turned out Monday's blog post about the value of procrastination. I stand by it, but must point out that in order for it to work, you must maintain a certain level of interest in the process.
My "procrastination project" was supposed to be The Hidden City, the first story in The Darklighters series. I should be working on that right now, and instead I'm writing this. This amounts to an effort to clear the pipeline of all the blockages and obstructions, but much more important than that, I am clarifying in my own mind what course I'm going to chart for the future.
Short version: I am going to be a writer for as long as I can hold a pen. I am going to finish Stingaree, though I may never assay another full-length novel again. My forte seems to be the novella, and once Stingaree wraps, I have two series of novellas in the works. One is the aforementioned Darklighters, a Victorian-era Man from U.N.C.L.E. That will remain my "procrastination project," and will alternate with Stingaree, three or four scenes at a time before switching to the other. The first story is tentatively called The Hidden City, I am going to take it out of the public view until it is finished; letting everyone read it as it's in progress seems to kill the excitement for me, so I'm going to remove that aspect; I have promised a lot of good people that Stingaree will remain in the public view, and so it shall.
The other novella series is The Nexus Chronicles, my supernatural dieselpunk series. The first story, "Possession of Blood" , is completed and available to read. Upon the completion of Stingaree, this will become the alternate project. I will also be reviewing and preparing this blog on the weekends, posting to the blog and working on outlines on Mondays, and producing copy Tuesday through Friday. That utilizes every day of the week with enough variety to keep it all interesting.
I expect to put the first four to six hours of every day into writing, leaving the afternoon and evening for all those other interesting, but less important pursuits that vie for my time. This is the day I become a writer first, and gamer/musician/vid-watcher second.
Now I suppose I must explain why I'm bothering to post this for everyone to read. It's nothing but my internal ramblings, right? Well, sort of. As I said, this is to clear the pipes and center my focus, but more to the point, I've always said the primary purpose of Riding the Blimp is to share some of the many lessons I've learned on the journey. If I can save someone else having to learn them anew, perhaps they can focus on writing the Great American Novel; at least it might save them some difficulty.
Okay, so this is a lesson. If you have faced your Moment already, good for you! If you haven't, there's a good chance that you will at some point. Writing is hard work. If it weren't, we'd all be on the best-seller lists. There are so many distractions in modern life, from the necessity of making a living to the joy of friends, both in person and on-line. The ease of travel, the access to nearly everything that wasn't at all common even a generation ago all make demands on that immutable 24 hours we all get each day. At some point, you will have to decide what place writing occupies in your hierarchy of interests, and if it's at the top, then you'll need to make the commitment.
And stick to it. That's the tricky bit. I've made my decision. All that's left is to resist the siren song of the Xbox on the coffee table behind me, my Hohner Blues Harp within arm's reach on the shelf, and YouTube, literally a mouse-click away. Will I succeed? Stay tuned! And in the meanwhile,
Read well, and write better,
| "I quit fretting and losing sleep over procrastinating when I realized it was inevitable and predictable, and also that it was productive."
~ JERRY B. JENKINS
Regular readers of my little notebook notices will recall that last Tuesday, I announced that I would be taking the week off due to a pinched nerve in my neck that was giving me constant pain down my right arm. I have enjoyed the time off, but have invested some wonder into whether it is all that hard to type with a sore arm, and whether this was just another excuse to procrastinate. But during this time, I signed up for a free PDF on twenty steps to completing a novel by Jerry B. Jenkins, who has written 190 of them, including the Left Behind series, and he opened my eyes to a point I had never considered: That procrastinating is a powerful counter to writer's block.
Decades ago I was taught by a successful author that if you are lost in your story, to lie down for bed at night, and while you're waiting to drift off to sleep, to "daydream" about your characters moving around in your story world. This is supposed to "prime the pump," allowing your subconscious to work on resolutions while you sleep, free of the influence of the hyper-critical conscious mind. I believe it, and have been using the technique for most of my writing life, nearly always rising the next morning with new ideas to explore.
Well, according to Mr. Jenkins, this works when you're awake, as well. Instead of sweating drops of blood while you stare at a mutinous blank page, forget about it! Accept that this day isn't going to be productive, and go do something you enjoy. He says that you'll come back to it with the same sort of work having been put in by your subconscious as long as you don't keep your conscious mind on-task and fighting against it. He goes so far as to recommend planned procrastination.
"WTF?" I hear you ask. No, he doesn't suggest that you write procrastination days on the calendar. He believes in establishing an ironclad schedule for your writing, i.e., "have XXX pages done by this date," but he goes on to suggest that procrastinating is inevitable, and if you are aiming four hundred pages in the next six months, that you should allow a couple of additional weeks before your drop-dead date for the laziness that you know is coming. Anticipate it, embrace it, and make it work for you.
So, that's what I did last week. Today I returned to write this post. That isn't the same as writing on the WIP, but Wednesday I'm going to return to "Stingaree" , and we'll just how much good it's done me. Why not tomorrow? Physical therapy; apparently this arm business is more serious than I've been giving it credit for! But, back to Stingaree; it's interesting to note that in my outline, I set up the three upcoming sections in a way that can easily be combined into one. I don't want to do that, as it will cost me a lot of detail, so we'll find out together whether taking a week off gave my subconscious time to solve that particular dilemma; there could be a continuation of this post here next week!
But yes, my conclusion here, and my advice to writers who haven't yet discovered it for themselves, is don't fear block, and don't dread it. That only deepens and strengthens it. Treat it like the temporary condition that it is. Writing is like a girlfriend or boyfriend who begins to take you for granted. Stop being there, stop begging, stop being needy, and he or she will come back in a hurry to see what's wrong. Only then can the true relationship resume.
By the way, if Jerry's guide sounds like something worth reading, you can pick up your FREE copy at https://www.jerryjenkins.com/how-to-write-a-book/ ... I highly recommend it. Even if you don't agree with all of his points (and I don't), it will certainly give you something to think upon!
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| Among my writing friends, I am known as something of a freak for my lengthy and detailed outlining. This occurs in layers, and I find that I must outline straight through to the final scene before I start writing. I've tried starting the writing without the outline finished; it hasn't gone well. Some of them find my process so disturbing that they find ways to insult me, mostly saying that outlining stifles creativity, reducing the process to more or less filling in the blanks. I insult them right back, pointing out that outlining simply moves the creative process to a step where it is much easier to correct problems when something goes awry, negating the need to rewrite half a novel after you've written yourself into a corner. Sometimes, when I'm feeling particularly nasty, I challenge them to explain how they can tell me a story when they themselves don't know what it is. But this is all just friendly rivalry between people with similar interests, and means no more to outsiders than the squabbles between sailors and marines that seem to predate recorded history. What I decided to do is to try to analyze the reasons behind our opposing styles.
People who follow my process are known among enthusiasts as Planners, for obvious reasons. We make a plan, and for the most part, follow it. The opposing camp is known as Pantsers, or those who "fly by the seat of their pants." I can't talk about their process. Can't do it. Tried it once, it was a disaster. Perhaps a Pantser would care to explain in a guest post? The conclusion I have come to is that I am pretty dominantly right-brained.
The right hemisphere is known to manage the creative stuff, the intuitive, things like interpreting facial expressions, vocal inflection, and performing quick, rough calculations and estimates. The left hemisphere is the home of math, science, and engineering, so it would be natural to imagine, as I did, that left-brainers would be the outliners, and right-brainers the chaotic free-form composers. In practice, though, just the opposite seems to happen. My primary writing skills, which people have long remarked upon and complimented, are in weaving the story in great surprising arcs, and dialogue, free-flowing and natural. This creative material is right-brained stuff. What isn't is structure, the tight integration of plot points in logical order from inception to conclusion, and that, friends, is why I have to write it all down, scene by scene as it comes to me. I can't carry it all in my head, count sections, plug them all in and out and evaluate where they fit, and where they might be better without having them all written out where I can see and evaluate them all at once without losing any. In other words, all those things that Pantsers do with a facility they take for granted.
I have long used a notebook. I had to have something I could carry with me, because what with the work environment, I was always on the go. The disadvantage to a notebook is that once you write something in there, that's where it is, in terms of the outline. The tenth thing you write remains the tenth thing you write pretty much forever. Oh, you can write in pencil, which I do, but then if you start changing stuff, your life becomes erasing, and trying to remember what you'd written long enough to write it somewhere else. I have long read of Planners who use index cards to write each plot point on, and can then shuffle the order, add new ones between existing ones, and all sorts of flexible things that give them a great advantage over a notebook. Now that I'm retired, and the only place I have to be is home, I'm going to give that a try. I can spread them out, sort, shuffle, reorder, all without worrying about a boss who's going to want to know what the hell I'm doing. I highly recommend retirement. It stops the bullshirt train dead in its tracks!
So, do Pantsers, for all of their effortless facility with pulling a plot out of thin air, suffer with the weaving of story lines and the easy facility that I enjoy writing dialogue? Is their experience the exact opposite of that of a Planner? Curious minds want to know, so maybe some of the Pantsers among you can enlighten me. I wasn't ready to hear you before. I am now, but if you're going to be insulting, don't expect to get off lightly!
Read well, and write better!
| "Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being."
~ A. A. MILNE
Good morning, friends and followers! Here we are again on another beautiful Monday morning, and I have to find something to write about; one must keep current if one wants to attract fans, you know! I think I shall reprint an old post from a long-defunct blog that asks you to think about your place in this big, wonderful world of writers. We're all in it. We all love it. What do we do in it?
A number of events have transpired this past year that I've been retired to impress upon me just what a hobbyist author I am... Not that my sales figures don't keep that fact firmly in front of my eyes! But no, I speak of other things. I have a friend and fellow author who told me that he is so thoroughly immersed in writing that he left the work force in order to follow that pursuit 8-12 hours a day. Several people have informed me that a true writer can sit down and crank out 10,000 words at will, regardless of mood, illness, pain, surrounding aggravation, or whatever. A few months back I was approached for an interview by a host from an internet radio show who said I had been recommended to him by a mutual friend, and that was the catalyst that got me thinking about all this as a whole.
Basically, I had to ask myself what I have to say to an audience expecting a guest to provide them with some profound insight into the life and philosophy of a writer. My honest answer has to be not much! The last time something like this happened to me was in January of 2014. Beyond the Rails had just been released, and I was offered a signing (not out of the blue; I had been talking with them before) at a local shop called Mysterious Galaxy, a San Diego bookstore specializing in fantasy and scifi. I thought this was cool as all get out until I looked at their calendar. In the month of January alone, they had scheduled a who's who of the genres that included award-winners and best-sellers, some of whom had been my idols for years. If I owned a bookstore, I would consider getting their January lineup to be the crowning year of my ownership. And they were going shoehorn little ol' me in between two giants of the field. Yeah, no thanks. The only question I could envision their clientele asking me was, "How did you get in here?" I passed, as I have passed on the radio show. I'm not that guy.
You see, my life doesn't revolve around writing. Blasphemy, I know, but there are too many other things that life has to offer for me to spend 8-12 hours a day with my nose glued to this keyboard. I have a family that I love very much. I was just getting good at blues harmonica when I had to get an upper denture; I have a lot of work to do to get back to where I was, not to mention move beyond. There are dozens of Xbox games I haven't seen the end of, and hundreds, thousands of books and movies await my attention. There are places to see, dishes to try, and this keyboard isn't going to provide any of them.
Due to my lunatic sleep patterns, I rise hours before the rest of the household. Well, except for Dude the Insane Beagle, and once I give him a couple of treats, he's out for the duration. Anyway, I typically have up to three hours to spend at the keyboard, and that's plenty to pursue a hobby. I can knock down a scene, turn out a blog post, or put up a review, and my girls never miss me, because they're still asleep. Anyway, that's about all I can do in one sitting. Right around the three-hour mark, my fingers go numb, my brain turns to mush, and anything I force myself to produce after that is just wasted material that I'm going to have to throw away anyway.
So you see, I'm a hobbyist. Writing is one of many things I dabble in. I don't use professionals because I would be in the hole forever. $500 for a cover would equate to a couple of decades before my book made enough money to break even. I have a camera and some steampunk gadgets. You can see the gadgets on the book covers; they were taken with the camera. Likewise editors. My wonderful friends here catch most of my mistakes, and I've painstakingly taught myself the rules of grammar and composition. I go with about three rewrites, after which I find I'm changing things back to the way I wrote them in the draft, and if the comments and reviews that the series has received are any indication at all, it's working.
So, yes, I'm a hobbyist, and I'm good with that. I still get goosebumps when I check my dashboard and discover a new sale, and the thrill of reading a good review is positively orgasmic! I'm not convinced it would be the same if I was getting twenty a day. Most of my author friends are young, and still have stars in their eyes. I wouldn't do a thing to take that vision from them, and I hope with all my heart that they succeed, but I'm where I want to be. If the series suddenly takes off, I guess I'll have to reevaluate, but I don't anticipate it, and I'm not unhappy right now, today. How many people can say that with a straight face?
And that brings me to what I've accomplished during the last week. I created a group on FaceBook called The Punk Fiction Authors Guild, and have been working with the charter members to polish it. This one was created to serve the function of a true trade guild, promoting the work of its members. I've managed to review two works by fellow WdC members, and promote WdC's "The Punk Fiction Library" . My Off-Site Site of the Day feature highlights the work of friends and colleagues, and this coming week, I'll be hard at work on my steampunk opus, "Stingaree" . I'm also driving the outline for a future project that... Never mind! Just hang around. You'll find out.
Well, that's 30 for this week. Be here next Monday when I'll be regaling you with thrilling tales of God-knows-what! Until then, read well, and write better!
| "...a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma..."
~ WINSTON CHURCHILL
Ever notice something funny? How many people have you ever asked a question, only to have them ask another question in response? Usually, they repeat yours back at you.
"Where were you at ten o' clock last night?"
"Where was I at ten o' clock?"
"What are you doing in here?"
"What am I doing in here?"
Welcome to a more detailed look at using deceptive dialogue to give clues about a character. I find it hard to believe that anyone who isn't in managed care can hear a question like this and not understand what it means. That leaves us to draw the conclusion that they have no good answer, and are stalling for time until they think of one.
I suspect that most writers wouldn't write a piece of dialogue like the examples above, because they think that readers will see it as laziness in the author. Certainly, they can if you overdo it, but all things in moderation, as I've read somewhere.
Consider the examples above: The first is being asked by a detective of the character who he thinks is the criminal. The criminal doesn't want to say, "I was murdering John Smith." Maybe he didn't, but he also doesn't want to say, "I was holding up the corner liquor store." Or maybe he was in bed with his partner's wife. He won't want to say that, either, so he's going to play for time while his mind frantically races to cook up a story that he can support later.
And who are the players in the second example? Has a brother invaded his sister's bedroom, perhaps looking for her diary? Is he older and used to bullying her? Maybe he's younger, and she dominates him pretty badly. Are they middle school-age? High school? College? Maybe they're adults, and live in separate houses, and she finds him in her personal space. Why is he there?
Or maybe they're both someplace they aren't supposed to be, perhaps their parents' bedroom. Or maybe a detective has caught a uniformed officer poking around in the evidence room. It could be a military situation, or two crooks before or after a job. Where is this conversation going? The possibilities are endless.
The point is that answering a question with a question is far from bad writing if you use it correctly and sparingly. You can readily see how, using the above examples in a wide range of situations, you can speak volumes about a character just by having him repeat a question that he's been asked. The reader will immediately flag that character as someone suspicious, and watch him like a hawk from that point on. You can lead him wherever you want from there, and he will eagerly follow, looking for the next breadcrumb. That, my friends, is immersion at its finest, and you all know that immersion on the part of your reader is the holy grail of writing.
This will be a short post this week, and not because I can't think of anything else to say. There are some chestnuts that I want to drop clean for you to pick up and examine without a lot of background noise and clutter, and this is one of them. Take this concept, think about it, modify it for your own use, and look for places to slip one in. The effect on your readers will show up in your comments and reviews, and I'm pretty sure you'll be amazed at the results.
Okay, that's it. Now, go forth and conquer!
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| "Yes, I am a pirate two hundred years too late.
The cannons don't thunder, there's nothin' to plunder,
I'm an over forty victim of fate.
Arriving too late, arriving too late."
~ JIMMY BUFFETT, A Pirate Looks at 40
Now that I'm leaning hard on 69 (2½ months, friends) I thought I might write my memoirs here, a story of how I came to be a writer, and how that writing led to my involvement in a little niche called Steampunk. Maybe it will recall a similar tale in your own background.
The primary focusing condition of my childhood was that there were no men in my family, not even bad ones, to serve as role models. Both parents had abandoned me by the age of three months, and I was raised by a great-grandmother, a woman whose prime had come in the Late Victorian, and whose parents had owned slaves. Her daughter, my maternal grandmother, lived with us, and was the primary breadwinner throughout my childhood. The chief lesson I learned from this was that women were capable human beings who didn't need to be dependent on men to provide every facet of their lives with meaning. The chief lesson I didn't learn, having no men around to teach me, was that women were simply life support systems for vaginas, to be used and discarded at a whim. These lessons have accompanied me through life, and into my writing. Anyone interested in dynamic female characters who are interested in more than just finding Mr. Right need look no further.
Great-grandma used to read me the funnies as I followed along upside-down. I was reading far above my age bracket by the age of three, long before I understood the joke, and to this day I don't laugh when I'm reading comic strips. I entered elementary school able to read anything they put in front of me. In third grade, the school established a little library in a utility room with the books divided by grade level. I always went straight to the sixth-grade shelves to pick out science books. One afternoon, I found a new librarian on duty who would only let me choose books from the third-grade shelf. I refused to take any, telling her I had no interest in reading those children's books. She reported me for being insolent; two days later, she apologized, so apparently Mrs. Booth set her straight on my reading level.
Throughout elementary school, teachers were trying to get us to write, with various assignments and free time to wax creative, but nobody convinced me that it was enjoyable until fifth grade, when Ms. Warner in the corner (Room 5 at Sunset View Elementary, perched on the ocean-side slope of Point Loma) would give us prompts, time to write about them, then read our stories without revealing who had written them. Mine were terrible adventure fantasies about the kids in the neighborhood "Our Gang" going on grand adventures, hunting everything from buried treasure to live dinosaurs, but here's the thing: The other kids loved them! I was hooked.
I wasn't the greatest high school student, though reading and writing continued to be my top subjects, and I left school after 11th grade to join the navy and see the sea. Saw the east coast, the west coast (which honestly I'd seen before), some Pacific Islands, China, Japan, the Philippines, and a narrow strip of pestilent swampland called Vietnam. Thought I was going to make a career of it, but they very quickly beat that idea out of me. But anyone who is familiar with military life is familiar with the phrase, "Hurry up and wait," and I very quickly began to carry a spiral notebook to places where I knew I'd be waiting, and writing, writing, writing. Sci Fi was a big early item, things in space with evil aliens. Spies were big (it was the heyday of James Bond and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.), and the love of the written word accompanied me back to civilian life.
Horror was a tangent I explored, specifically, a vampire hunter who may have been a vampire himself, and his eccentric sidekick. I invented the Combat Technician, a professional redshirt on a starship whose duty was keeping the science team safe on unexplored planets. An anti-hero of mine was Colleen O'Reilly, an IRA bomber who had grown a conscience and now offered her skills as a paladin in defense of the downtrodden. I tried a police procedural, and returned to epic fantasy. I even wrote an epic poem, along the line of The Iliad, but nothing really stuck, and as I found my true-love and we began our family with surprise twins, the whole concept of free time evaporated like summer rain.
The twins were born in November of '76, and we had found out the day before that there were two babies, so we couldn't have been more unprepared had we been characters in a sitcom. Expendable income joined free time on the altar of child rearing. So it must have been early '77, ten years before K.W. Jeter coined the term "steampunk," that Bonnie and I were in the supermarket denuding their shelves of baby supplies, and I saw a paperback novel with a beautiful cover depicting a sleek airship with a forward-mounted cannon cruising a sky filled with coppery clouds. I knew I would have loved it, but we couldn't afford the $1.25 for a paperback back then, and it was left behind.
But the seed had been planted. Steampunk was a thing, and although I had no clue what went into it. I was in love with the imagery. As well as being a writer, I was also a gamer. Wargamer, specifically, and while most wargames depicted historical battles from the Romans to the Viet Cong, many were also fictional, depicting both fantasy and sci-fi subjects. An old friend, who alas, was lost to me through his loud and obnoxious support of our recently elected president, turned me on to a number of these that had steampunk themes, and between those and some reading in the field, I formulated my own ideas of what a good steampunk story should include.
My first attempt was the "Beyond the Rails" series, and if the reviews, from here to Amazon and points beyond, are any indication, I delivered a pretty good product. Now, four years after the publication of those first stories, I have placed "Brass & Coal" in an anthology, I've completed "Possession of Blood" , and have "The Hidden City" and my opus, "Stingaree" , under construction. It's a wonderful feeling when a writer finds the place where he's supposed to be, no matter how he gets there, even if it took him 60 years to find it.
But I think it's better if you find it when you're younger. So, how are you doing with that? Do you know that you're home, or are you still looking for that genre with the right "feel" to match up with your talents and interests? If you are, look at what you like. Are you a big Lord of the Rings fan? Do the Marvel movies float your boat? Maybe your funny bone is tickled by a well-written rom-com. Or maybe like me, a surprise encounter with a book cover, a painting, a song, or an old photograph will send a jolt through your creative synapses. If it does, don't ignore it! Seize it, pick at it, dig deep, and find out where it's coming from. You may discover your true calling in a field that you never realized existed, and you can take it from one it has happened to, there is no feeling in the world quite like it!
That's 30 for this week. Go forth with your eyes opened, and ready to discover your own writing promised land; you never know when it's going to present itself. You need to be ready.
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| "Some American writers who have known each other for years have never met in the daytime, or when both were sober."
~ JAMES THURBER
Take my friend Christopher Hawes as an example. He's in Minneapolis. I'm in San Diego. The distance is 1,987 road miles, a non-stop 28 hour drive... And I ain't flying! The chances of us meeting face-to-face over a drink is as remote as the chance that I might have a baby, and yet, through the magic of the bits of processed sand we have on our desks, we have met, chatted, exchanged ideas, photographs, and philosophies, and dare I say, become friends. C.W. is a writer, and a good one. I know, I've read his work, but more on that later. What I want to talk about now is his views on the middlemen who prey on bedazzled authors.
In a time not so long past, if you had written a book and wanted it published, there were two ways that could happen. The "real" way was that you submitted your manuscript to a publisher who liked it, upon which his team of artists, editors, and publicists went to work in an effort to make it a best-seller. This only made sense, as the more books you sold, the more money they made from the process. If you couldn't interest a publisher, the other route was to engage a vanity press. Honest, that's what they were called. Said vanity press took all the material you provided, printed a run of books to your specifications, and delivered a crate of them to your door... after you paid for them, of course! How you marketed these books was up to you. You could take them to conventions, try to convince a locally-owned bookstore to shelve them, or peddle them at a bus stop. Vanity presses couldn't care less, they had their money up front.
Then came the advent of the self-publishing website such as CreateSpace and similar platforms. In these, the author loads his manuscript into a template, adds a cover, buys an ISBN, clicks his mouse, and within a very short span of time, his book is available on Amazon or similar distribution sites. This still leaves the author to find a way to distribute his work, but his outlay to this point can be zero.
And suddenly this becomes a lucrative field for middlemen. Most people who write books have, at least in the early days of their journey, a belief that as soon as their work is discovered by an adoring public, they're going to join the ranks of celebrity authors, go on the cocktail party and talk show circuit, and never have to do another day's work in their lives. There is nothing wrong with this. It's a fun dream, and if you don't have this level of belief in yourself, why are you taking the time to write a book, anyway? I suppose there are a couple of people this has actually happened to, but I've never met one, and most independent or "indie" authors realize it pretty quick. It's a letdown, and they start looking for that little detail to tweak to get them back on track.
Enter the middleman. "You need a fresh, exciting cover," they say. "You need professional editing." "You need a service that only I can provide." Now, I don't mean to paint all these service providers with a charlatan-colored brush; as in all professions, there are honest tradesmen, and others with a different agenda. But consider these facts: Most independent authors sell less than two hundred copies of any given title, and receive a royalty in the neighborhood of $2.00 per book. A quick trip to the calculator tells me that under optimum conditions, an indie stands to make $400.00 per title. Now, let's examine the cost of these services.
I once contracted with a known, quality artist of good character to produce a book cover. She did so, and the process, the discussions, were all fascinating. The airship Kestrel from Beyond the Rails was the predominate subject, and her artistic suggestions defined some of the vessel's features. She charged $500.00 for her service, and that was a heavily discounted price. It could have easily been more than twice that much. In the end, I decided not to use her work. I paid her anyway, no questions asked. She did her part. It was my decision to go another route. I took the loss and learned from the experience. I did get my logo out of it, the blimp that's part of my signature below, but that was a hell of a price for a simple logo. I've since learned to make covers.
Then there's editing. I submitted my first novel to an agent who agreed to look at it. She said it needed an edit, and with the clarity of hindsight, I can freely admit that she was right. She said she had one she worked with, and could pass it on. I agreed. This editor got back to me a couple of weeks later to say that because of the high quality of the basic work, he could probably make it publishable for only $3500.00. I can't tell you how glad I am that I was sitting down when I read that. I don't begrudge anyone the right to make a living, but when I pay $3500.00 for something, I'm driving it to work! To be fair, I don't know whether this editor was a ripoff artist, or whether this is a standard price, but, scared straight, I bought the requisite books and taught myself to edit. Now, I have read editors that claim to be indispensable, that a worthwhile book cannot be written without that second pair of eyes. Here's my take on that: My beta-readers, friends and the wonderful folks on WdC, are my second, third, and fourth sets of eyes. It seems to be working. The "Beyond the Rails" series has been available for purchase since early 2013. If you count all the reviews it has received on various sites from Amazon to GoodReads, as well as WdC, it must have over fifty, and only two of them were lower than 4 out of 5 stars. "Stingaree" , my current WIP, hasn't even had its final edit yet, and it logged its 20th five-star review yesterday, so yes, you can teach yourself to edit, and you can go it alone.
Marketing is a big problem, and one I have yet to crack. There are library events, and some independent book stores offer signings to indie authors. If you write in a fantasy genre, in my case steampunk, you can set up a sales booth at a convention and get a bit of traction, but this is now starting to cost money. Want your book on the side of a bus, or maybe to appear in one of those dramatic radio ads you occasionally hear? I can only imagine what those cost!
You'll note that I'm not making value judgments here, I'm merely pointing out some factors I've encountered during my enjoyment of what is to me a very fulfilling hobby. But C.W. has devoted three consecutive blog posts to this subject, and if you're an aspiring author looking to enter the market, they make for very interesting reading. Here are the links:
But there is an additional reason that I am blogging about C.W. and his views today. This is the day that A Nest of Spies, the fifth book in his Justinia Wright, Private Investigator series goes on sale. I have read Justinia Wright. It is reminiscent of Nero Wolfe in the same way that Beyond the Rails is reminiscent of Firefly, and here's an extra point to consider: C.W. writes in several genres, and I bought my first Justinia Wright novel in the mistaken belief that it was one of his steampunk novels. Far from being disappointed, I enjoyed it tremendously! If you're a fan of the mystery/private eye genre, I just can't recommend this highly enough. In addition, for those who don't like to jump into a series in the middle, he has made the first five novels available in an "Omnibus" edition. All the sordid details are available on his website at http://www.cwhawes.com/a-nest-of-spies/. Click on over, meet a warm, intelligent individual, and acquire some excellent reading, all in a single visit!
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As for me, my week will consist of work on "Stingaree" , my novel of a steampunk San Diego. And be sure to check out my new forum (and join in!), "Twenty-five Words or Less" . Okay, I've done about all the damage I can around here for one morning, so I'm going to call it a day. Have a great week, and remember to keep your eye on the ball, your ear to the ground, and your nose to the grindstone; now, just try to get anything done in that position!
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| "Poetry is the opening and closing of a door, leaving those who look through to guess about what was seen during a moment."
~ CARL SANDBURG
I've been missing for a while. I mention this for those who didn't notice. My computer decided it wasn't going to come on anymore. I'd push the "On" button, the light would wink at me a couple of times (the cheek!), and it would go right back off again. Fortunately, we have a better one, one that had gotten stuck in the middle of a System Restore, so I called tech support, and they sent me a USB stick that fixed it. Voila, I'm back in business. So, what did I do for that week? Can you spell Xbox? A boardgame, dinners with the extended family, and I found a website that offers free old DOS games; Panzer General, Civilization, and Alien Breed now jostle for space on my to-do list. Not to worry, I'm retired; there's time for everything!
So, what's all this yack about poetry, you may wonder? After all, you've heard me say on numerous occasions (some of you, anyway) that I don't "get" the subtle symbolism that poetry uses to make its points. Well, being able to take writing time to do things besides, you know, write has enabled me to examine some other aspects of The Craft, and the thing I decided to look at was poetry. Now, I'm still unsophisticated, a ten-year old in a retiree's body, and my first love is still the straightforward shoot-'em-up, but that doesn't mean I can't learn to appreciate other things... And even emulate them, in my own barbarian style!
Accordingly, you are all invited to visit my new Forum,
and even— no, make that especially participate in whatever way you see fit. This seems to be catching on, so I recommend you get in now and avoid the rush! Show us your chops, and take a look at those who've come before. This is promising to become a real inspirational place to visit. All it needs is your input! Are you in?
Until next time, Read well, and write better,
| Good morning, friends. Just checking in with a quick update. I am still awaiting the part that will restore my computer. Meanwhile, I have this tablet, which is okay for checking my email and quick notes like this, but I value my sanity too much to try to write a book on it! I hope to be fully functional by the end of the week.
Read well and write better!
| "Writing is one of the few professions left where you take all the responsibility for what you do. It's really dangerous and ultimately destroys you as a writer if you start thinking about responses to your work or what your audience needs."
~ ERICA JONG
Liberating words from a famous author, you may think, and yet your audience has needs if you are a fiction author, and if you won't provide them, they will find an author who will. Bold words from a nobody, perhaps, but let's look at what goes on during the creation and consumption of fiction.
The initiating event in any work of fiction is its creation. You, the author, sit at a keyboard and string words of the English language together to create a story. "Story" is a catch-all term that we can take to mean the whole package. You create a premise, a plot, characters, actions, you give them setting, context, dialogue, and if you're very good, and very lucky, all of these disparate parts come together in a whole that is greater than the sum of the parts, and we call it a story. But even now, it isn't complete. It needs readers, readers who like it, who tell their friends that they should read it because it's a good use of their time, and they'll gain something intangible from it. And readers have needs.
Needs you have to meet. When you create this world, no one but you knows the first thing about it, and it is your challenge to let potential readers into it. Readers need to know how it works, they need to know who inhabits it, they need to know what these people want, and what they're willing to do to get it. Needs. If your story is going to be remembered as being really exceptional, they also need you to hold some vital information back, to keep it from them, to let them speculate. On the other hand, some stories do best when the readers are given more information than the characters have, thus building tension and dread for the disaster that they can't see coming. "Don't open that door!" their minds scream at them. "Don't look in that box!" But of course, they do, and the moment they do, and the reaction they have is completely under your control; did you meet the reader's need?
Two weeks ago the Mystery Newsletter highlighted "Stingaree" as an Editor's Pick. I never would have known it, had it not been reviewed by a reader who told me she found it there. Then last week a different editor of that same newsletter featured "The Hidden City" as an Editor's Pick. As more experienced mystery readers become aware of these steampunk romps, I expect they will let me know whether my Mystery chops are legit or not, but that's beside the point. I never thought of myself as a mystery writer, but apparently some experienced mystery readers and/or writers do. Has this colored the way I approach those stories? You bet your sweet bippy it has! Now I'm thinking in terms of foreshadowing, red herrings, MacGuffins, and all the other tools of the mystery writer that I've never had to pay any attention to before. But now, not only is it necessary, but I firmly believe it will improve my overall Craft. As an aside, where else besides WdC could an event like this even be conceived of, never mind happen with no effort of any kind on the part of the author? I love this place!
But back to business. It is my contention that not only do you have to accommodate the needs of your readers, if you hope to have any, but the delicate balancing act of too much or too little meeting of those needs begins to vie with richly-drawn characters as the most important aspect of fiction. Some might want to call this "pacing," and I can see where it's related, but this is really more like "presentation." Here is this world I've created. I want you to come in and enjoy it, so I've decided to show you this, and withhold that, and with that information, you have to parse out what's going on, who's interested, and why, and alternately shiver in fear, and quiver with anticipation as you make your way through it.
That is your challenge as a writer, and compared to that, all the others fade to insignificance. It's a dangerous tightrope to walk, and a balance that must be achieved from the first page and held to the last... And just when you thought you had it all figured out, here's this whole new skill to learn! Getting this right is going to require the ability to read your own story like you've never seen it before, to ask, "would I be surprised, gratified, terrified, or whatever else might be required at this point, if I was seeing this for the first time?" You'll have to arrive at an accurate answer, and incorporate your solution on the page in a way that will satisfy every reader's needs. Sort of brings a whole new meaning to the concept of proofreading, doesn't it?
So this is my theory, and it's a fairly new one for this old writer. I call it the Presentation of a story, and it can best be described as "How much do you tell, and when do you tell it?" What do you think, is it legit? Is it something that needs to be addressed by conscientious authors, or am I just starstruck after having been defined as a mystery writer? The comment button is only an inch away. Talk to me!
Until next time, Read well, and write better,