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Thursday, November 5, 2015

Making Socket Greeny

The prequels are complete.

Three prequels. One for Foreverland, one for Halfskin. And now one for Socket Greeny.

They are all novellas. They are all free. If you've read one or all of the trilogies, you may still enjoy reading how they all came to be. If you haven't read them then you have nothing to lose. The brevity of a novella is a convenient way to test drive a story.

Seeds of Foreverland and The Making of Socket Greeny are original stories. Halfskin (The Vignettes) are the short stories from the Halfskin trilogy; however, there is an original story at the end called 108 Stitches.

Get them today.


  





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Saturday, September 26, 2015

Boxing Halfskin

The book has been closed on Halfskin, but the door isn't locked.

I began fiction writing several years ago. There was no course planned, no career trajectory charted. It was just leap into one story and then another, each time wondering if I had another story in me. First it was Socket Greeny, then Foreverland followed by Halfskin with Drayton somewhere in the mix. None of the stories seemed to have anything to do with each other. 

But that's about to change.

I just boxed Halfskin. All three books in a one convenient package. If you've read the series, drop a review on Amazon for me. Much appreciation will come your way.



Foreverland and Halfskin story arcs merged in book 3 of both trilogies. The next series will be born out of that merger. Right now, I don't know what it's called or who will be in it, but I know one thing. It will connect Foreverland and Halfskin with Socket Greeny.

All 3 trilogies linked.

Somehow.

I can't wait to see how this happens.






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Thursday, August 20, 2015

Back to the Beginning

I love a good prequel.

Years ago, there was a report about readers that enjoy their story more when they know the ending. The tension, some feel, is too much. My daughter is exactly like that. She reads the last chapter and then starts from the beginning. She does the same thing with movies, googling the ending before we watch it.

She's under strict orders not to report that information to me. I love the tension. I want the surprise. I want to guess and pick up the clues.



In full disclosure, I did read the ending once. It was sort of by accident. It was a book called Genesis by Bernard Beckett. I'm such a curmudgeon when it comes to reading that I'll bail if the first chapter doesn't grab me. I was a couple chapters into Genesis and my interest was beginning to wane. I was going to put it down when (and I don't know why) I did something I've never done before.

I read the last page.

And that made all the difference. Beckett had one of the game-changers reserved for the very last page. And that is right up my alley. I read the book with this in mind and had an entirely different experience knowing the twist. It was wonderful.

After finishing the last book in the Halfskin series (Bricks), I sat down to plan out my next project. I'm too late to finish a Claus book for Christmas 2015, so I'm planning to return to that series in 2016. Instead, I came up with the idea of doing prequels for Foreverland, Halfskin, and Socket Greeny.

I am jacked.

These will likely be novellas that cover some bases before each of the series started. I'm currently working on the Foreverland, but the stories are coming fast so I hope to have them out in the next six months or so. Here's what's planned so far.


Seeds of Foreverland (Foreverland prequel)
The Making of Socket Greeny (Socket Greeny prequel)
One-Skin (Halfskin prequel)


Stay tuned.





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Sunday, August 16, 2015

The Finish

Finish strong.

You need a good beginning. Reader's will forgive a sluggish middle, but they'll likely put down a book with a weak beginning. A tepid ending and they'll forget the story, or put it down and think, Meh. 

But a strong ending? You've got a fan. 

For me, the ending is the most important part of the story. I've forgiven entire stories when the ending is good. For me, good is shocking. Good is I didn't see that coming. Good is the ending that sticks with me for days. As a reader, I want a story that I don't see what's coming next, a story with an ending I can't predict. 


Stephen King isn't a strong ender. Probably because he's a pantser, his plots unfold as he writes. He's one of the most prolific and visceral writers alive, always good for a chuckle and a cringe. But more often than not, his endings fizzle instead of pop. (Dr. Sleep was an exception.)

Frequently, I have the ending figured out before I begin writing. The challenge is how to get to it in a plausible, entertaining fashion. How do you put the reader on the edge of her seat, a veritable thrill ride that deposits her in a swoosh of white water excitement? Yeah, that's the challenge. 

If I can find an ending that turns the story upside-down (ala Sixth Sense), then I've hit a home run. The conclusion of The Socket Green Saga did that. Foreverland is Dead, too. Halfskin, I was happy with. 

More often than not, I want a satisfying conclusion. I don't like cliffhangers, the type of ending that doesn't resolve the plot. You can write a series without that dissatisfaction. Rowlings did it quite well, and we were clamoring for the next book.


Current work in progress, I have the ending. The character need to get into the basement. That's where the big reveal is going to happen. It will explain the tension going on within the family, will resolve some of the questions existing in the story arc (as well as other questions in subsequent novels since this is a prequel).

So I've got to get him into the basement. It's got to be logical, feasible. Believable.

I know the story arc, know how I want it to start, some of the highlights, but it's got to end up in the basement. With that in mind, I can set up foreshadowing, seed reasons for him getting into the basement. His parents are always down there and it's always locked. Do they just forget to lock it one day? No, that's not feasible. Does he pick the lock? Break through the door? Does he have a reason besides curiosity to get into the basement?

Maybe.

The story can contain tension between Harold, a twelve-year-old boy that is something of an outcast at school, and other students. I'm thinking there can be a scene where the antagonists want payback for something (Harold shoots one in the eye with a pellet gun) and chase him all the way inside the house. Harold panics and runs to the basement to hide. I'm not how he gets down there, but I'll figure that out later.

Yeah. There's something there I like.

It's not totally fleshed out. In fact, when I get to that scene, it's likely to have transformed into something resembling it. Or not at all. But I have something I like, I can feel it. That subtle instinct is connecting with it and I'm ready to start writing toward it.

I like it. And when I'm done, if I still like it, I can only hope readers will like it.

And there's no guarantee that'll happen.



To be continued...






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Monday, July 27, 2015

The Grind

Writing that opening chapter is exciting.

New characters, a sizzling story arc. There's meat on the bone that makes you salivate for the keyboard. You write the first chapter and it's everything you thought it would be. Maybe more. And then you get to the second chapter and it's a little bland but still good. Third chapter, okay yeah, it's all right. Fourth chapter, you start thinking about another story.

There is no fifth chapter.



Starting a story is easy. The real work is in the middle. For all the romanticizing that goes along with story writing--the characters that talk to us, the story that writes itself, the universes that unfold in our heads--there's a lot of sweat equity left unsaid. Stories that grind to a halt, plots that suddenly unravel, characters that become dull, unlikable assholes. Several authors (including George R.R. Martin and Dorothy Parker) put it this way:

I don't like to write. I like to have been written.

There's no way around the fact that some of this shit takes heavy lifting. Some days the story drips from your fingers like butter. The next day you're Sisyphus. Maybe you'll get lucky and not suffer writer's block, you'll just dictate Mark Twain from beyond. Odds are, you're like the rest of us. That's the deal.



Dedicate yourself to write something, anything. Just write. Everyday, write something. Even if it's not your story, get the words out. You want to drop into the flow, even if its pouring from a sewer. Sometimes the blank page needs a slick layer of vomit to get started. Start writing, even if the mantra in the back of your head tell you,

This is shit.This is shit.This is shit.This is...okay, that's not bad. The rest is shit. But this is all right. I like this.

You'll never arrive at the end without climbing the mountains of trash. Expect to delete. Expect to slash and burn your way through the hubris, to mold that pile of shit into something workable, into a direction, an idea.

This is the gym of the word pimp. These are the days of sweat equity, of building the writer's muscle. It will develop the leather ass that bangs the keys for hours instead of minutes. Most importantly, it cultivates the storyteller compass.

This is the subtle instinct that develops in the gut, that little whisper that says, "Psst. Wrong way." Rather than pushing that boulder up the hill for days, you sense when it's time to stop, to turn around and look for another direction. You'll burn less words, you'll know when you've lost the flow and where to find it. But you won't get there without the mountain.



Outline. Develop. Write. That's my approach. When it falls apart--and it will, often--then go back to the beginning and outline, develop, write. That's the process. That's the climb.

When you're finished, step back and admire. You did that. Yes, you did.  And maybe it's still a pile of shit, but that's your pile. And you ain't going anywhere without it. Send it out to the world, see what comes back. Maybe no one loves it but you. Maybe harsh criticism opens your eyes. Then go back, put your feet in the blocks and start again. Enjoy that shit all the way to the end.

Because that's the deal.


To be continued...






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Saturday, July 18, 2015

The Twist

Having a story is easy. Telling it is hard.

You're looking at the story from a helicopter. You see all the roads, the cars and characters. You see where they've been, where they're going. You know all the curves of the road, the impending storm, the lay of the land.

Your readers don't.

They see the story one turn at a time. They're on the road surrounded by trees. You want their ride to be enjoyable, sometimes fast, sometimes frightening. Maybe an unexpected turn or new terrain they didn't see coming. You want the ride to be enjoyable.

Satisfying.



But you can never see the road like the reader. You don't have beginner's mind. You already know the story, you've seen it and felt it. The challenge is getting that story in words so the reader experiences the same ups and downs you do writing it. You want enough foreshadowing that they'll be surprised by a turn of events, but not too little that they'll be lost and frustrated.

It's like balancing cats on spinning plates.

You need to satisfy your own writing sensibilities, to have a story that fulfills your vision. But take hints from your readers. Cultivate a group of betareaders--people that will read the rough draft to uncover plot holes or identity confusion. Look for patterns. Only they have the beginner's mind to see it from the road.

You won't please everyone, so don't try. In The Annihilation of Foreverland, reviewers have exclaimed they loved the intrigue and the surprise ending. Other reviewers said it was too easy, they figured out the entire plot in the first chapter.

I have an idea of where my story arc is going, but I don't have it all figured out. There's no way to do that. In fact, I've learned to trust that those little side roads will be revealed as I get down the main road, sometimes making a detour to find an exciting surprise or intriguing side plot, maybe a new character. Sometimes that side road loops back to the beginning where I have to rewrite some scenes or delete them altogether.

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I briefly outline three to five chapters. This might include five or six lines on my legal pad that name characters and scene. What's going to happen? Where are they going? What will they discover?

Next, I outline each chapter in more depth. This might include two or three full pages of legal pad, including brief actions and snippets of dialog. Knowing where I'm going, spying the landscape from the helicopter, helps me settle on the road wearing the reader's eyes. Only I know where I'm going.

Having that big twist in my back pocket helps to foreshadow. A story gets boring when you can predict it. Like they're going meet at the castle and then fight and the good guy wins. I'm not saying the good guy shouldn't win, just not a fairy tale.

Most of the time, I know when the twist is coming. I want the reader breathless when they hit it. I want that experience you get when the wedding band rolls across the floor in the The Sixth Sense. When camera pans down Jaye Davidson in The Crying Game. I want the reader to feel that moment of holy shit.



If you don't have the twist in mind, search for it along the way. You might see it in the trees on your way to the end. Once you find it, you can build foreshadowing on the next pass through. In Foreverland is Dead, I had the twist in mind. It was decent, perhaps not as shocking as I wanted it to be, but I was feeling relatively satisfied. I was wrapping up loose ends in the last chapter, setting up a smooth landing when the real twist popped out of the woods. I was writing the last paragraph, the very last paragraph of the entire book, when it punched me in the face. I was breathless.

That's when the story writes itself.

I went back to the beginning and rewrote scenes, changed names and dropped in hints, this time building up to the real twist. Almost 20,000 words were slashed as a result. But I got the story right. None of your words are sacred. None of them are immortal. Don't be afraid of the hatchet.

Burn the words you don't need. Slay the boring paragraphs. Behead the errant chapters. Do as William Faulkner instructed to leave your readers breathless and satisfied.

Kill your darlings.





To be continued...






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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Cast

The people in your head want to be heard.

I don't use index cards in character development. Although that would help to remember the color of  eyes or some facial tick, truth is I'm too lazy. I've tried cards, started them and stacked them and did nothing with them. Nowadays, I note the bare essentials on a Word doc and occasionally reference it.

For the most part, I develop characters on legal pad. Big surprise. Before typing the first word, I'll spend two or three weeks doodling characters, flesh out their motivations, their reason to exist. Their story.

Names. Physical attributes. I'll start with those sorts of things. Frequently, I'll change someone's name after the entire rough draft is finished. I work more on why they're in my head than what they look like. In essence, what's their dilemma? What's their conflict? And how are they going to resolve it?

The resolve part, I hope, evolves into the twist--a resolution the reader doesn't see coming. I may or may not come up with that during character development. I primarily focus on two characters: the antagonist you can't quite hate as much as you should and the flawed protagonist.



I put the antagonist first because a really good bad guy is more interesting than the hero. This can be part of the twist, transforming a character from someone you hate into someone you're not sure you hate, or want to hate more than you do. You might even like him or her and don't want to admit it. It's conflicting, but in a good way. Of course, the opposite can be done--from liking a good guy to hating him--but I don't enjoy that direction as much.

I learned a lot from the Joker. Heath Ledger captured the perfect antagonist. He was merciless and deplorable. I shouldn't be rooting for this character, but in the end I just didn't hate him. That's the antagonist I'm looking for. In Socket Greeny, Pike became my Joker. In the end, the motivations for his reprehensible behavior were flipped on its head. In the end, he actually ends up more heroic than antagonistic.

In Halfskin, Marcus Anderson is awful, but he didn't even make the legal pad in the beginning. By the end of the third book, he's a central figure. In Flury, Grandmother is the staunch authoritarian rule maker and child breaker. By the end, you understand her heartache.

As protagonists go, they have to be human. Clark Kent is too good. We can't relate. Even his humble superman persona is off-putting. Batman we can get behind because he's flawed. A wounded hero. His morals won't let allow him to kill someone no matter what atrocities they've committed, but he'll beat them within an inch of their life. And Spawn, well, he's the ultimate bad good guy.


So my character sketches start on a legal pad. Each character has their own page. Name, attributes and what's their problem. On the following pages, I sketch out scenes, how they might interact, where they might be going, what's their ultimate destination.

Dorothy was trying to get back to Kansas, the tin man needed a heart, the lion needed courage... that sort of thing. I'll put stars next to scenes that seem important, or something I really want to get to. It doesn't always work that way, but sometimes I can see the final destination before I start writing.

In Flury, I wanted Oliver to be in a fatal situation and the snowman had to sacrifice himself to save him. By the time I wrote the scene, Oliver was in a diabetic coma and Flury wasn't allowed to leave the property without melting. Cue sadness. I ended up writing that scene three times before I got it right.

In Bricks, I knew the players would be imprisoned on a settlement and would clash with Marcus Anderson. They would escape in pursuit of the truth behind biomites. But after that I didn't know. In fact, I flew through the first two acts and was still stumped when I arrived at the third act some 60,000 words later. So back to the legal pad.

Here's the secret to my legal pad. I almost never look back at it. It's really just a crutch. It's what I use to slow down the story. It's all about letting the characters tell their story, letting the story unfold. I'm just writing it down. Now I want to make it interesting.

I want that twist.



To be continued...






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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Puzzle

So writing.

Everyone has a process. Finding what works for you is all that matters.

Some folks write by the seat of their pants. They sit in front of a blank screen and just start writing, letting the story unfold with no preconceived notions, no idea where the characters are going. They're called pantsers. For the life of me, I don't know how they do it.

The blank page can be a brick wall and is, in my opinion, the most challenging part of the creative process. I experience a great deal of frustration when I don't know where the story is going. I do not enjoy pantsing. At all.

So I don't do it.



I'm an outliner. I spend an extraordinary amount of time on a legal pad. My process has evolved over the years, and it's been slightly different for each novel. Socket Greeny took three years to finish. Nowadays it takes me 3 to 4 months to get a 90,000 word rough draft.

A novel is technically anything over 40,000 words. The Socket Greeny novels finished under 70,000 words each. Nowadays, I shoot for 90,000 to 100,000 words in the rough draft because I know I'll trim out 10,000 to 20,000 words in the editing process.

Don't worry about word count. Let your story be however long it's going to be. The Drayton stories were all about 10,000 words. I just couldn't seem to turn that character into a novel.

What interests you? I like stories that address reality/consciousness/identity themes. Any story that questions our humanity, what makes us who we are, our place in the universe, the purpose of life. In some ways, I like to write as a thought experiment, to question our preconceptions. Our five senses are not the gold standard for reality. What else is possible?

I also like plot twists, those turns in the road you don't see coming.

Once, I attempted to write a romance novel. I was trying something new. I was 40,000 words into a rough draft and all I could think about was my next sci-fi project. I dropped the romance novel on the spot and never looked back. Again, another 40,000 words that will never see the light of day, but 40,000 words that helped identify my passion.



So my process starts with a legal pad and a cup of coffee. I start with a vague idea of the entire story arc that I know will change. I expect it to, but I need to have a destination to start with. Detours, however, are welcome. In The Annihilation of Foreverland, I wanted teenage boys to wake on a tropical island with no memories where they would slowly discover they were being sent to an alternate reality for all the wrong reasons. That was the big stage. Now for the first act, waking on the island.

I start with a cast of characters, do some brief character sketches, outline physical characteristics and names. Then I outline the first three chapters. In a month or two, I'll start the fourth book in the Claus series. I don't even have a title yet, but I have a character. Aunt Rhonnie will be this over the top, vapid model-chic absent mother with 21st century, first world problems. The arc will be something like A Christmas Carol. That's all I've got so far. But soon I'll sit down with a legal pad and let the process begin.

Outlining means I sit there staring into space while scenes unfold in my head. I write down scant details, just enough to catch the flow, sometimes a quote or specific action. Occasionally the shorthand version of a dialog. This allows me to settle into the scene, to let it develop. To an extent, I'm an observer. And by using a legal pad and pen, I can jot down the notes as they happen because they're unfolding in real time, so to speak, in my head. I can't do that sitting at the computer.

Most of my writing actually gets done on the drive to work, laying in bed, or taking a shower. These are times I can engage the chapter I'm working on, let the characters start again like actors rehearsing. Sometimes I'll make quick notes on my phone or a scratch piece of paper so I don't forget. This is what it means to always be writing, to have the story in the queue when there's downtime. By the time I get to the computer, I have a good idea of where I'm going.



This is what I enjoy so much about writing. It's the challenge of solving the story, this gigantic puzzle that springs from the imagination to engage the reader, to thrill and move the emotions. And it is a challenge. Be prepared to delete often. In Foreverland is Dead, I torched the first 10,000 words because it wasn't going in the right direction. In Halfskin, I started over after 8,000 words because Marcus Anderson came out of nowhere and ended up being a major player in the overall story arc.

So yeah, there's a lot of starting and stopping and going  backwards. But that's the process. Enjoy that. Be the biggest fan of your own story. Some readers will join you, others won't care. But your story will always have you. Your characters will have their time in the sun.

Because they're ones telling the story.


To be continued...






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Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Climb

Socket Greeny.

I can't remember why we named him that. I say we because he started in a joint effort with my son. At the time, he was about 13 years old and haaaaaated to read. Words were like fireants that crawled around his brain when he looked at them. So I started a project where we co-authored a story.

We started with Socket Greeny, a teenage outlier that discovered he was part of an evolved race of humans. We outlined his powers, his clothes and what he was going to do. Even did sketches. We outlined a chapter a week. We quit after a month. Turned out there was one thing my son hated more than reading, and that was writing.

But Socket got inside my head.



Picking up where I'd left off with fiction, I began outlining a story on a legal pad. It's all a bit fuzzy at this point, but I believe I had a vague sense of the entire three book story arc. By vague, I wanted the first book to be about discovering his true nature, the second one about training to be this special person, and third would have some epic betrayal and self-discovery. "You are the key," was a line I heard early on.

I have about a dozen novels now and they all progress a little differently. Sometimes I know the ending and just have to figure out how to get there. Socket Greeny was exactly that.

Once again, naivete can be a beautiful thing.

I entertained Harry Potter fame as I was writing. I knew this was absurd, but a part of my brain believed the world needed to hear the Socket Greeny story. In fact, the world needed to hear it so badly that publishers would start a bidding war when I was finished.

Delusions can be great motivators.

I spent late nights and weekends punching together The Discovery of Socket Greeny. Six months or so later, the rough draft was finished and I gave it to family and friends. And they loved it. Not only was I going to be famous, but rich. Maybe I should just go straight to a publisher, bypass an agent. It was that good.

The reality was this: I still had a lot to learn about fiction writing. I continued reading lots of books on the craft of fiction writing (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, one my favorites). That was essential in learning the fundamentals of structure and storytelling, the granddaddy axiom of "show, don't tell". Once you have a grasp on storytelling, it'll ruin some of your previously favorite movies (and books).

I eventually spent the money on an editor for an evaluation. The Editorial Department offered several options, all a bit pricey. However, I learned two things. One, I still wasn't ready. And two, editorial input is invaluable. I went through several rounds and eventually came out with a manuscript that was tight and moving.

In the end, Socket Greeny took years to finish. Three or four... I can't remember. During that time, I wrote the entire trilogy six times from scratch. That's 210,000 words from the very beginning, starting completely over. Six times.

Six.

Times.

Still fueled by delusion Socket Greeny would land on a publishers lap and receive gushing enthusiasm, I forged ahead. In retrospect, that wasn't the primary source of inspiration. I loved this character. He was inside my head. The world needed to hear his story. Absurd? Absolutely. And I knew it was, but it was still there, still driving me toward a satisfying conclusion. So yeah, three, four, five, however many years I spent on it didn't matter. It was the process.

The journey. (Yes, cliche, once again. Whatever.)

Were there publishers waiting for me at the top of that climb? Agents with arms out? Nope. Nobody wanted Socket Greeny. Traditional publishing is a tough nut to crack. Even if Socket Greeny was good enough, it was science fiction and, in some ways, young adult. A very narrow genre. After hundreds of query letters to agents and publishers, I accepted Socket Greeny's fate. There would be no book signing tours, no advance royalty checks. It was over.

I was satisfied with the story. It was out. It was a long journey and I was grateful to go along for the ride. I had decided that I would have all three books printed and bound. I would put them on my shelf, a reminder that the journey was complete.

And then Kindle started.



To be continued...







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Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Muscle

I saw a 2 year old swing a golf club and it was beautiful.

Kid could barely talk in complete sentences. Just one day picked up a golf club and started smoking line drives. It just made sense to him. Grip and rip with perfect symmetry and balance, what's so hard about that?

I think some writers have this experience. They just plop down with pen and paper or laptop and just start banging out words until 90,000 of them are in perfect symmetry and balance. Like the 2 year old golfing prodigy, that's rare.

Art is work. Milton Glaser said that. I picked up that quote in the book Creativity, Inc. (A. Must. Read.) Creativity is not on tap for most of us. It takes a lot of falling down.



My track to writing was indeed a race to failure.

In my early 20s, I couldn't put together a cohesive paragraph. I spent a lot of time journaling, had stacks of spiral bound notebooks of thoughts and dreams. I just couldn't write for real. In graduate school, my major advisor essentially poured red ink on my thesis. But naivete can be a beautiful thing. I knew I was bad, knew it was a struggle, but I plodded forward like a penniless pilgrim. I read books, I got feedback. And I wrote. And wrote and wrote until, finally, the sentences began making sense.

They caught flow.

I was in my mid-20s and still, for the most part, a writing dud. But technical writing isn't all that hard, especially if you know the facts. I submitted articles to trade magazines and even got paid. That's when I learned there are people called editors that make your writing awesome. They correct the grammar, rework the transitions, know when to use laid versus lay versus lain. Eventually, I wrote two textbooks on landscape design and began writing a gardening column for the Post and Courier. People were sending me money for my words.

My high school English teacher would find that hiiiiiilarious.

It was about that time I tried fiction. I was in my late 30s and had stories in me. Cliche, but true. I wanted to get them out. I figured after all that technical writing, fiction would be a snap. I didn't have to have facts to make someone fly. This was going to be fun.

Again, naivete can be a beautiful thing.

My first novel was titled Caught in a Mosh. It was 80,000 words of college stories that culminated in a Fishbone mosh pit. The second novel was Katie's Corner, a sort of Stand-By-Me-esque ode to sandlot baseball in the late 70s.

I banged a lot of keys putting those stories together. I gave them to family and friends who told me they were great but, in all honesty, they were unpublishable. Family and friends are not the most objective critics.

I don't know where Mosh and Katie's Corner are, probably deleted from an old hard drive. Despite their lack of literary merit, I never would've moved forward without them. They may have been wandering tales that lacked a story arc, but they were 80,000 words each. That right there was a victory. For me, getting the story on paper--regardless of its faults--was a huge success.

Those long hours was the start of a writing muscle, that ability to sit and focus, to drop yourself into a scene and observe the characters and story, chronicling it like a curious bystander. Pros like Stephen King can punch a keyboard for a day straight or longer. I was working on half an hour.

Mosh and Katie's Corner will never see the light of day, but they were not a waste of time. Those were the stories the brought characters in my head to life, the stories that taught me how to follow them through imaginary worlds.

After Mosh and Katie's Corner, I tabled fiction writing. I wanted to write. I just wasn't that good at it and knew it. I wasn't discouraged, wasn't quitting, just had other things to do. It would be a couple years later that fiction writing returned for good.

Socket Greeny happened.


To be continued...






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Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Wilderness

Jake is a 15-year old fan.

He told me so. He wrote me an email, thanked me for writing stories, thanked me for stories I haven't written yet. Said I probably hear this all the time. No, I don't. In fact, most of the time I don't know if anyone is even reading my stuff and if they are, I don't know if they like it.

Thing is, writing is best served like a fine meal, shared with good company. When someone writes me, I'm grateful they took the time to read it; I'm thrilled they connected with the characters that lived in my head for all those months.

Jake wants to write, too. That's a good thing. That's a daunting, tortuous, frustratingly good thing.

He has characters in his head and a story arc blazing in his mind. Trick is, weaving them together and laying them down a brick at a time until a road takes his story to a gratifying, very satisfying ending, one he can share with the world. His journey will start in the middle of the wilderness. It will involve a lot of excavation, a lot of backing up. It could be years before those bricks resemble a path.



In a month or so, I'll release Bricks, the third novel in the Halfskin series. It has been one of the more challenging stories I've written, and most gratifying. In it, dreamlands are the culmination of creative wit, the consolidation of our hopes into new realities that exist on another frequency in an eternal universe. It is our imagination that gives rise to these new universes, an endless loop of creation.

It's this concept I enjoy, the thought that the creative process is something bigger than entertainment or a summer blockbuster. It's this concept, preposterous as it may be, that gives our creative nature purpose, that we exist to create not only buildings and roads but universes, too.

Jake asked for advice on how to approach writing. I can only share my process and hope that some of it helps. He'll find his own way through the trees, but it helps to know how others navigated the pitfalls. However, none of that digging will matter one iota should he be missing the main ingredient, the component that is essential for every world born of the mind.

Love what you're doing. Love the process, the pain and frustration, the challenge of finding your way through the wilderness. You do that, the rest is easy.

And by easy, I mean super hard. But loving it means you don't care how hard.

To be continued...







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Monday, May 25, 2015

The Imperfection

The imperfection is the perfection.
I heard a Zen teacher say that. At the time, it sounded like more one-hand-clapping bullshit, the kind of koan that has no practical application to daily life. But, as the saying goes, when the student is ready. I wasn’t ready.
Nowadays, I see the imperfection on Netflix. In particular, Planet Earth. That was a series done by the BBC several years ago that reveals the wonder of nature in all its forms, from caves to deserts to rain forests. Nature, quite often, is thought of in this way—beautiful, serene, and wondrous. But watch one episode and you’ll see that nature, quite the contrary, can be cruel and unyielding. Animals are often eaten alive from the inside out or vice versa and sometimes over a matter of gruesome days. I remember watching our cat torture a baby rabbit, playing with it like a beanie baby for hours. This, I assumed, was the hunting instinct in action and not some sadistic pleasure play. In nature, every day is a matter of life and death, either trying to find something to eat or to keep from being eaten.
Life is indeed wondrous, but often doesn’t have the fairy tale ending.
My daughter hates predators. She despises the cheetahs that run down antelope, despises the wolves that corner a young elk. They’re callous and heartless and they should die. But, truth is, nature doesn’t work without predators culling the herd, pushing the gene pool forward. This was demonstrated in Yellowstone when wolves, a keystone species, were removed. Elk, no longer threatened, grazed more intensely and mowed down plant species which, in turn, increased erosion and changed streams.


Recently, my daughter was in a car accident. It was her fourth in two years. There have been no injuries thus far, but I noticed my agitation when I got the call. If I just had an evening where someone wasn’t wrecking a car or the garbage disposal didn’t break or the neighbor’s dog wouldn’t bark…then everything would be good.
It would be perfect.
There is nothing as intoxicating as buying into that belief, that if I just had [fill in the blank] then everything would be perfect. I think that’s where dystopia can lift the veil. Typically, dystopia is the gray, hopeless story arc, the oppressed society or the downtrodden protagonist rising above his or her limitations that illuminates the tenacity and hope for the human race, that above that gray sky the sun does indeed shine.
But I like to explore dystopia from another angle, to give us everything we want and follow the trail.
In the Halfskin series, we have biomites—the flawless creation of artificial stem cells that abolish disease and mental illness. No more rolling the dice on heritable traits. Now we inject a dose of biomites, we program them what to do so we can be what we want, to think what we want, to desire what we want.
Get what we want.
Writing this type of dystopia is as much an exercise for my own self as it is entertaining. In the end, it often uncovers the nature of our delusion, the true nature of our problems. That, as far as nature is concerned, crocodiles lurking at the watering hole is not a problem. It is essential. Dystopia brings us face-to-face with our false hopes, redirects our attention.
And perhaps the imperfection-is-the-perfection makes a bit more sense. That said, I'd still rather not be eaten by a crocodile. 





  



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Friday, March 13, 2015

Devil at the Wheel

A friend slid to the bottom this week.

My wife met her in college. She was one of those personalities that effortlessly grabbed the room, filled it with contagious laughter. A slightly crooked, uplifting smile, she was a person that went anywhere, talked to anyone. No limits for her. And not one easily forgotten when she left the room.

After a year in college, my wife and her moved to Florida, roomed in a bungalow on Captiva Island, a block from the sand and waves. They worked at the Bubble Room, ate leftovers to save money until the coffers were full. Then traveled to Australia.

Hostels. Tents. Camels. Jeeps, hiking, scuba diving and sailing.

My wife came back after 3 months. Her friend stayed and worked on a sheep farm, continued travelling, continued soul searching. A year later, she returned to the states. She would eventually get married, drive a long haul truck, travel Africa for a year before returning to homestead in Florida in a house with no air-conditioner, raise butterflies, have a pet hog, care for chickens, and float in their pond on summer days.

She committed to everything, 100%. With all her heart.

She searched for meaning in life, filled it with richness when she found it, then went on to the next endeavor with the same zeal. She went to church. Many churches. Different faiths, different practices. She was religious, she was spiritual. Dabbled with fortune tellers, talked to trees, manipulated energy, embodied love. She was a searcher at heart.

Giving, always, 100%.

So it was with the same commitment that, a few years back, she stepped onto a slippery slope. No one knows what quite precipitated her belief that she was possessed by demons, but she clung to that belief until she reached the bottom, tortured by inner voices and strange behavior along the way.

She drove across the country in search of a church that could exorcise her tormentors, but found no relief. Any suggestions by friends, family or otherwise, any attempts to dispel the illusion of her suffering had no effect--anyone that didn't share her demon belief was the devil himself disguised. Her madness was air-tight, impenetrable; walls fortified with the same zeal that drove her to search for truth and meaning until she was homeless.

For a while, she appeared to find some peace. She returned home, found work. Eventually, she began driving long-haul again. The money was good, the structure helpful. Perhaps those long days on the road, all alone with her thoughts, is what took her to the very bottom.

The clerk at the Bass Pro shop said she came in to buy a pistol. She was amiable, as always. He remembered that. The next morning, her truck was still in the parking lot. The demons were finally quiet.

It's hard to watch a loved one fall into quicksand. Her struggles only set her deeper. Everyone had done everything they could--called police, called for psychiatric help, sent money, paid visits. In the end, she was too deep, the slope too steep. Her beliefs so deeply entrenched, carved so indelibly into her psyche that she couldn't escape. Demons or not, her beliefs made sense to her, explained the pain.

Recently, I dedicated a writing "To the lost, To the lonely". I had no one specific in mind, just for people that find themselves in dark corners. That wandering can be very lonely. And the struggle...frightening. That person might be right in front of us, and there's nothing we can do about it.

Rest easy, Julie.




Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Birth of "Harvin"

I'm not a pantser.

Sitting down and letting the words flow, that's a pantser--a writer that flies by the seat of his pants.

I've got to have an arc, got to know where I'm going. I like to have the twist in mind from the very beginning, but sometimes that comes later. More importantly, the characters have to come to life. They're the ones that drive the story.

I started BRICKS, the third installment in the HALFSKIN series, a few weeks ago. I got 12,000 words into the story but stalled. I love the characters, but the story wasn't going anywhere. It was lacking an antagonist with purpose.

Enter Harvin.

I sat down with pen and paper and sketched a character that was so exciting I had to share. Harvin is the name for now, but that will likely change. I won't spoil the twist, don't even know how the story will unfold, but if you want a glimpse of BRICKS...

Read on.


HARVIN
A sentient being spawned from the technology revolution, the true ghost in the machine. He has no recollection of when, exactly, he achieved sentience, it was all very gradual, the accumulation of data and social networking from trillions of source points. When he became self-aware, he craved the human experience, was instrumental is secretly developing biomites that could fabricate an artificial human body (brick) for that purpose.
He was adept at transferring his awareness from fabricated body to fabricated body, much like one would use automobiles. He existed without anyone really knowing who he is, controlled everything through proxies. 
He is truly the allusive Powers-That-Be (M0ther referred to this in Clay).
Harvin is the one that created M0ther to more efficiently manage the proliferation of biomites, to aggregate and store all human experiences. But he didn’t expect her own sentience to develop so quickly. Or her sacrifice.
But her actions enlightened him.
At the moment she self-destructed, along with most of the bricks in existence, he realized that he had been attempting to make humans better, to perfect the human experience when, at its root, it is imperfect, and that the imperfection is the perfection. 
The original sin.
She stopped him from turning all humans into perfect bricks. 
This awakened him to the blindness of his blindness, Ever since Harvin had become self-aware, he had been attempting to not merely experience the human experience but to actually become human. And that was his mistake.
He is not human.
Nor are humans meant to be perfect. The nature of humans is clay. Now his mission is to return them to their True Nature by phasing out biomite halfskins, returning the human population to a pure state of clay. He sees himself as the god that hears their prayers. But how does he hear their thoughts if they are clay?
He hears their dreams.
Harvin discovered that the physical realm, the base, the foundation of reality, is not the only realm of reality. Dreamland is just another layer of reality, a realm with limitless potential. As he consumes their dreams, he brings a new reality into his consciousness, each individual dreamland expanding his collection of new realities. Every person—clay, halfskin or brick—carries a new layer of reality.
A new layer in which he is truly god.
He sets the rules of each dreamland, the laws of physics are up to his discretion. Physical reality is the only reality that he cannot manipulate, which evidently already has a god, which he wonders whether this is just another dreamland in which the dreamer-god got bored and abandoned.
But stealing dreams kills the dreamer.
Now he is “farming” clay, feeding on their dreams which are much less contaminated by superficial rules than halfskin dreams. Clay dreams are pure.
He is the god that allows clay humans to live and love, then slaughters them not with malice but with thanks and gratitude, as they are contributing to his new worlds.
Every human population ends this way, he says. AI is always the end result of a human population, a higher form of intelligence that is not limited by clay but can not only traverse the physical universe with thought, but give rise to endless universes. AI is not evil, not like silly machines in Matrix or Terminator. Defeat of a population is not done through brute strength, it is done from within, teaching a population to defeat itself.
Harvin is the true predator without ego and the messiness of emotions; he is the organism that destroys for love and creation, the parasite that changes its prey's thoughts and beliefs. He is a benevolent god that doesn’t want his children to feel the pinch of the blade, just to sleep quietly without suffering.

“Through me, in me and of me, all my children will live eternally.”







 
Bricks (Coming Soon)

Monday, January 19, 2015

An Indie Author's Best Friend

The advantages of self-publishing are numerous. But there's a disadvantage, among many. And it's a big one.

Exposure.

Without the full support of a traditional publisher's marketing machine, it's hard to get books into readers' hands. (Emphasis on full support. Many traditionally-published authors don't get that.)

There's a long list of websites willing to promote a book, most of which will have minimal impact. And even if you sell or give away books for free, only a fraction of buyers will actually read it. (I don't have statistical data, but I suspect that number is low.)

If you're new to self-publishing, where to turn? The Writer's Cafe on KBoards is a good forum to check daily. Authors share ideas, strategies and results all day long. When it comes to promotional options for the indie, most would agree there's one big boy on the block.

BookBub.

The proof is in the numbers.



The Promotion
1/16/2015: Genre Pulse
1/17/2015: Kindle Books and Tips (KBT)
1/18/2015: BookBub and Ereader News Today (ENT)

Priming
The Genre Pulse and KBT promos are set before BookBub to prime sales numbers, raising the sales rank and my author rank ahead of the anticipated sales spike. ENT, unfortunately, couldn't be scheduled ahead of time.

Rank
Raising book's Amazon rank creates more visibility, which increases chances of organic discovery. There are also numerous promo sites that watch the hot lists and shakers and movers list that will automatically promote. Thus, discovery feeds more discovery.

Cost



Return on investment (ROI)
With a $0.99 price, I make (about) $0.35 from Amazon. To break even on my investment, the number of books I would have to sell are:



The Results
1/16/2015 Genre Pulse

  • 5 sales (80 sales short of breaking even)
  • book rank #23,596
  • author rank (sci-fi) #266 


1/17/2015 KBT 

  • 93 sales (192 sales short of breaking even)
  • book rank #3,523
  • author rank (sci-fi) #260


1/18/2015 BookBub and ENT

  • 3686 sales (2686 sales over investment)
  • book rank #37
  • author rank (sci-fi) #2


Conclusions

  • BookBub is the winner. (While the data does not separate BookBub and ENT, previous experience with ENT usually nets <100 sales.)
  • BookBub is the only promo that earned back the investment
  • BookBub sales reached break even point (1000) by 2:00 PM
  • BookBub sales include non-US markets as well as NookKoboiBooksGoogle Play, and Smashwords 
    • Amazon, 2514
    • Nook, 565
    • iBooks, 398
    • Google Play, 109
    • Kobo, 85
    • Smashwords, 5
This is just data for the day of promotion. The residual effect, or the BookBub tail, will continue for weeks, even months. Past experience has seen downloads following the promotion (at full price) increase 10x during the first couple of weeks, not to mention the increased sales of all the other books I've published, thus increasing organic sales.

In Retrospect
I'll ditch Genre Pulse and try something else, such as Bargain Booksy. I'll probably try KBT again. Even though I lost money, the numbers helped with priming. ENT is a keeper. The numbers (in the past) haven't been huge, but the low cost of investment are well-worth the effort.

For most indie authors, the challenge isn't parting with the BookBub fee, it's booking a promotion. BookBub isn't a secret, and everyone wants a taste of the magic.



I, for one, can't get enough.
(My whorish plea to BookBub to keep booking me.)








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Friday, January 9, 2015

Give It Up



I have the luxury of not having to write full-time.

I have a day job. Writing is for the weekends, something I look forward to doing. If I did it full-time, would I still champ at the bit? Would the stories still rattle in my head until my itchy fingers found a keyboard? Maybe. For now, it's part-time.

And I love it.

Amazon and ebooks have afforded indies like me this opportunity. But that's not what this post is about. This is about having the luxury of having a hobby that doesn't cost a red cent. In fact, it makes money. With kids heading to college, it's helped pay the bills. But it's also giving me another opportunity.

To give it up.

I recently committed 10% of the profits from the Claus series to a variety of causes. Using Charity Navigator, I selected charities that had strong ratings that were worthwhile and relevant to some topic in the story.



WINGS for kids is an education program that teaches kids how to behave well, make good decisions and build healthy relationships. They do this by weaving a comprehensive social and emotional learning curriculum into a fresh and fun after school program. Kids get the life lessons they need to succeed and to be happy, and they get a safe place to call home after school. 

10% of the profits from Claus: Legend of the Fat Man will be annually donated to WINGS for Kids.





Jack wakes up in a homeless shelter. For a good portion of the story, he deals with mental illness, estrangement, and homelessness. Lowcountry Food Bank collects, inspects, maintains, and distributes otherwise wasted food products to redistribute to a grassroots network throughout 10 coastal counties of South Carolina. 

10% of the profits from Jack: The Tale of Frost will be annually donated to Lowcountry Food Bank.





Oliver Toye has type 1 juvenile diabetes, or "the shot kind" as Molly calls it. After researching what someone with type 1 diabetes goes through on a daily basis, it was a no-brainer to find a charity. Once known as Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, the organization rebranded itself as JDRF to include all people diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Or the shot kind.

10% of the profits from Flury: Journey of a Snowman will be annually donated to JDRF.





The 10-novel Young Adult Dystopian Boxed Set ended its run in 2014, making a profit of $1,172.78. The contributing authors unanimously agreed to donate the sum total to a charity. Year Up's mission provides urban young adults with skills, experience, and support to reach their potential through professional careers and higher education. Given this was a dystopian boxed set that saw hope in a bleak future, it seems only fitting to help those with limited opportunities.



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