Saturday, November 03, 2012

Super Heroes and The Spirit Of America

I've been thinking about this subject for a while now and figured, it's about time I got around to posting about it.

Recently, I've been wasting my time playing a certain online superhero MMORPG (That's massive multiplayer online role playing game folks).  It's been fun though a bit of a distraction from the writing.  Anyway, in the game you get to make a superhero character that runs around saving the day, beating up bad guys, and rescuing people.

Where did these spandex clad heroes come from anyway and what is our fascination with them?  Let's hop into the Way-Back Machine and go back to the 1600s. A bunch of disgruntled and adventurous Europeans decided to come to this continent, kick out the natives, and set up shop on the edge of the untamed wilderness.  Fast forward to the 1800s and we were still doing it.  Settlers were moving ever westward into the wilderness with a sense of can-do spirit and a whole lot of independence.  This ever westward expanding edge of civilization was a place of lawlessness.  The weak perished, the strong survived.  Vigilante justice was the rule of the day because the lawmen were spread far and thin.

By the 20th century, the wilderness of yesteryear was gone and America looked back with rose colored lenses at those rough and tumble days with nostalgia.  Western novels and films were big, creating a mythos around our own history.  At the same time, new stories were beginning to emerge, bringing the vigilante spirit of the old west to the modern day.  The Lone Ranger, Pecos Bill, John Henry, and Paul Bunyan found modern compatriots in the likes of the Phantom, Dick Tracey, Superman, and Captain America.

What all of these heroes had in common was the spirit of 'can-do'.  Even when everything was going wrong, these men believed in themselves that they could make things right.  Part of what makes this country great today, is that we are empowered to make a difference in the world.  We don't have to don spandex and wear our underwear on the outside, but we have the freedom to make the world a better place.  It may or may not be a uniquely American ability, but it is in our blood from our founding fathers down through the generations to us.  There is no frontier we can't conquer.  Our folklore is filled with such tales, the lone man (or woman), standing up to make a difference against all the odds.

This Tuesday is another election.  Don't forget to vote.  Few enough people in the world have this right to have a voice in their government.  Don't squander yours.  It was paid for with the blood of real life heroes who were no more super powered than you or me.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Blood On The Vine Update

So I finished my first Vine novel, Blood On The Vine, and then let it cool down for a few weeks.  I worked some more on my second Vine Novel, which is approximately one third complete, in that time.  After the cool down period I went back to the first and found the pacing on the ending was all wrong.  The ending is too sudden compared to the rest of the book.  So I've begun working a somewhat different ending that has the appropriately placed highs and lows and better placed beats. It's all part of drafting and editing.

This story has been a bigger struggle to make work than my Skye stories.  It will still be filled with awesome by the time I'm done with it but, man, this one is fighting to stay incomplete.  I've been almost done with this one since last December.  I'm going to wrestle the sucker into completion even if it kills me.  You'll see (and love it, unless I die of course).

I already have four more Vine novels planned so I could work on these for some time to come.  And that's on top of the other stuff I already outlined for getting done this year.  I am way behind schedule.  Be patient dear readers.  You will get your stories!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Interview On Writing With Kaylyn Scothern


This was an interview I had with a member of my bookclub, Kaylyn Scothern, about writing, after the club reviewed my first novel, A Clouded Skye.  The interview was conducted by email between Jan 12, 2012 and Jan 16, 2012.  With her permission I am posting it to my blog now.  I meant to post it earlier but never got around to it.

Kaylyn Scothern (KS)
Talmage Cleverly (TC)

KS: Hey Talmage,  I know that we’ve never really officially met, and I am new to the book club so sadly I didn’t have a chance to read your book, but after sitting in on the discussion today I am really looking forward to reading it!  I am working on a few writing projects myself, and was wondering if you would mind me picking your brain a bit?  I have always wanted to write a book, and am currently working on one of the ideas that I have. I’d love to hear some of your tips about the writing process, as well as some of the ideas that you have on publishing.

KS : I’m super impressed that you actually followed through and did it, not once, but twice.   I have a feeling that you’ve got some great information about the process, and if you’re willing to share I’d love to fire some questions in your direction.

TC: I’d love to help!  Ask whatever questions you’d like.  Also, Susan Knight is working on a book too and has some writing friends too.  She hasn’t published hers yet, but when she does, I’d love to read it in the club.

TC: So what do you want to know?
KS: There are SO many questions. I’ll go one by one so that I don’t bombard you with a bunch of stuff at once.

KS: During the writing process, did you find it better to perfect each chapter as you went along, or did you write the whole story out and then go back and make changes once you had a “big picture”?

TC:  My recommendation is to write the whole story out and then go back for editing after.  I received this advice from Brandon Sanderson and Dan Wells, both published authors and members of the Writing Excuses Podcast.   I highly recommend listening to them.  Each podcast is only 15-20 minutes and they often have talented guests on the show as well.  Michael Stackpole and Michael Menenge  also give this advice.

TC: The reason to keep writing forward and not go back to edit right away is this.  If you keep rewriting chapters one, two, and three over and over again, you will become very good at writing and editing act I.  However, it teaches you nothing about writing acts II or III and you’ll never have the experience of finishing the story.

TC: Another reason is that you may craft the most beautiful prose, polished to a shine early in the book and then when you finally finish the story, you might find that scene that you spent hours writing and rewriting had to be cut and all of that lavish effort was wasted.

TC: In one of my current projects (I’m juggling several), I wrote in a character arc, removed it from the story, added it back in with some changes, and then realized it was better out of the story so I took it out again.  I had written the story all the way to the end first and didn’t bother with perfecting the scenes of that arc, which was a good thing because I didn’t waste editing time on what ultimately won’t be in the book.

TC: Put brackets and a note of things you need to fix later if you want so you can just do a search for the brackets.  For example [fix], or [add explanation about grandmother here], or things like that.  Then just keep typing.

TC: Although you didn’t ask about this part yet, I’ll mention it in relation to that project I mentioned above.  Don’t delete your drafts or just overwrite in the same document.  Minor changes are fine but for big ones like adding/removing an entire story arc, just save the document with a different version number appended.  You never know when you might decide to put back in what you removed, or you can use the “footage” as “outtakes” or other bonus material for your readers.

TC: Come up with a versioning system that works for you.  Mine is pretty straight forward.  Each story gets its own folder on my hard drive (remember to back it up to somewhere else frequently or you’ll cry crocodile tears when your computer crashes).  Each version gets its own file.  For example:
MyCoolNewStory_v1_1.docx
MyCoolNewStory_v1_2.docx
MyCoolNewStory_v1_3.docx
MyCoolNewStory_v2_1.docx

TC: This is probably a bigger answer than you expected but I hope it helps you avoid some of my early mistakes.

KS: I appreciate the fact that you are so willing to share!  This is all great information, and I'm sure that it will be very helpful.  I have been writing and going back and rewriting the first part of my story, and I have been worried that it was wasting time.  Sounds like I may have been right about that.  Also, thanks for the tip about saving each version separately rather than saving over the last one.  Though I'm not far into my story yet, that's what I've been doing so far. 

KS: I guess my next question is, how long did it take you to write your first book?  I feel like mine is taking forever, but it seems to me that a lot of the time has been spent doing research. I want my story, though it is fictional, to appear that it COULD be real. I want people to believe what I am saying, so I have spent a lot of time researching different aspects of it online. Did you do a lot of research for your story?

TC: I don't remember how long it took me to write my book.  Technically it took years, I think I started it around 2008 and published it in August 2011. The idea came several years earlier than that from a pencil and paper role playing game with some of my friends. In reality though, I wrote most of it over a period months, the months were just spread out all over the place.  In that time frame, I had also written several other stories, some short, some long so the actual time taken is hard to calculate.  My advice is to write steadily every week (every day if you can manage that) and then you'll be amazed at how much book comes out.

TC: Yes, I do research for my books.  I talked with an actual amateur swordsman about the fight scenes Skye was in and had to adjust which muscle groups she mentioned as being sore based on his feedback.  Just this week, I was reading up on prehistoric surgeries and amputation methods for a Neolithic fantasy story I'm writing.  Gross, but a character loses an arm and I want to get it right.  I've also been researching tribal social structures, available technologies (ipods out, basket weaving in), domestication of animals, and other fun topics. 

TC: Similar research happens for other stories as needed but I try to separate "research time" from "writing time" because you could hop on the web to lookup a 5 minute thing and the next thing you know, three hours have gone by and no writing happened.  Make sure the research is to help grow your knowledge or help the book and that it isn't just an excuse to avoid the actual writing.

TC: One trick I've heard, explain the small details and people will assume you know the large details, even if you really don't.  If you're in doubt about whether your writing rings true or not, find someone who works in the industry or whatever and ask them if it sounds right or not.  Dan wells, in his novel, I Am Not A Serial Killer, knew nothing about preserving corpses but he did some research and had some mortician friends proof read it for plausibility.  By tossing in the names of chemicals and smells of the process, he sounded like the expert he wasn't.

KS: I definitely have a resolution to write at least a little bit everyday this year.

KS: Okay, next question..... What was your approach to publishing?  Do you have an agent, or did you go it alone?

TC: I have a huge explanation followed by a question of my own.  First the overly verbose answer to your question:

TC: Up until May of 2011, I thought I was going to go to the "traditional" publishers, where I would submit my manuscript to various publishing houses and hope I survived the slush pile (i.e. everyone else's manuscripts fighting for the publisher's attention).  I thought I would be courting agents and editors and it all sounded quite intimidating.

TC:  In May of 2011, I attended several writing panels at the CONduit Sci-Fi and Fantasy convention in Salt Lake City.  I heard several published authors state that their publishers do virtually no marketing of their works.  There are far more manuscripts being submitted than the overworked interns and editors at the publishing houses can absorb.  The editors have farmed most of their slush pile work onto the agents who are now overwhelmed with more manuscripts than they can possibly read.  Their books only get a six months to a year to sink or swim and then it is abandoned by the publisher for the next potential "big thing".  The advances are small and the royalty payouts inconsistent and a tiny fraction of the total price of your book. 

TC: One incredibly successful author, Tracy Hickman, explained how he abandoned the "traditional" publishing methods to go directly to his readers by going independent.  In the digital age, the producer of the art and the consumer of the art are closer than ever before. The contracts being offered today heavily favor the publisher and not the author.  And authors now have other avenues available.  The publishers aren't the only game in town anymore.

TC: At the convention I learned about the Dragon Page Cover To Cover podcast where also successful authors, Michael Menenge and Michael Stackpole also touted the benefits of going digital and going independent.  More of the responsibility is on your shoulders if you go it alone but more of it is in your control too.  I learned about Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Katherine Rusch, a husband/wife pair of writers that went indie, started up their own publishing house and give good advice for independents as well.

TC: So, after this "awakening", I decided to go independent.  I retain all rights to my works and can license those rights to others as needed.  I don't need to pay an editor or agent until I hire an agent to negotiate on my behalf for a contract on the table.

TC: There are drawbacks to indie.  Editing and cover design are on my shoulders.  I did my own cover and had a close relative who has done professional newsletter production and editing and is an English wizard at grammer, spelling, and punctuation review and edit my work.  In fact he'd probably cringe at that last sentence. 

TC: Marketing used to be another issue but since most of the traditional publishers have significantly slashed their marketing budgets, unless you're a J.K. Rowling, you won't get any promotion of your work from them anyway.  Both traditional and indie authors have to promote their own books on their own in the current market.  That part is equal.

TC: There used to be a huge stigma to independent publishing, also known as vanity press.  There are still elements of that because now anybody can crank out words and put them out for the world, whether they're good or not.  But there is a growing recognition of "good" independent authors who produce works of just as high (or in some cases better) quality works than the traditional publishers. 

TC: It is all in the levels of professionalism.  Get a quality editor!  I'm fortunate to have a family member who is good at it.  Others might have to pay for a work for hire/contract editor to clean up your book (and pay them fee-for-service and not a cut of the royalties). No book is 100% error free but make it the best you can.  If you don't care enough about your story to correct the grammer and spelling in your book, why should I care enough to read it?

TC: Now my question for you is this, do you want to be an author or a writer?  What I mean is, do you want to have written and published a book (author), or do you want to write and publish many books for the rest of your life (writer)?  I hope the latter but the former is a noble effort too.  Many writers started out as authors.

KS: To answer your question: I want to be a writer. I love writing, and ultimately want to make a career out of it. I have been blogging for quite some time now, and that is just not going to pay a mortgage. 

KS: This is where I struggle.  I don't know the first thing about how one would go about finding an agent, but I feel that it is a necessity.  Maybe I am wrong here, but I guess this is where it gets tricky. The thought of going independent scares me to death. How DO you market yourself? And isn't it a huge cost to you up front to have the book printed? I know that these next questions are somewhat personal, so if you don't want to answer them I would totally understand.

KS: What did it cost you initially to get your book published / printed?

KS: How much do you make each time a copy sells?

KS: It's entirely possible that I am na├»ve, but it just seems that publishing independently wouldn't be highly profitable. I feel like the best option for making a career out of writing and being able to support my family as a writer, would be  to get an agent and solicit my book(s) to publishers.

KS: If independent does end up being the route I choose, I do have a sister in law that would be an amazing editor.

KS: Looks like I've got a lot of thinking to do!!

TC: Thanks for answering my question and I'm glad to hear that you want to be a writer and not just another person knocking off "write a book" from your bucket list.

TC: The most frightening event of my life (aside from playing paintball when a stampeding herd of cattle came through the field) was clicking submit on Smashwords.com for my first book.  My baby that I had raised and nourished through infancy was leaving the safety of my nest and facing the cruel harsh world alone.

TC: Going independent is frightening because you don't have anyone else to rely on, fall back on, or blame for the failure of your book.  I can understand the apprehension, I felt it when I was deciding which way to go.  Hearing writers at the convention last year, and on their blogs, talk about how poorly they got treated by their agents and publishers  encouraged me to go independent.

TC: The industry today is very different than it was even five years ago.  You have indie millionaires like Amanda Hocking competing on a level playing field with traditional millionaires like Stephanie Meyer for the same vampire readers.

TC: It cost me nothing to put the ebook version of my book up for sale.  Zero, zip, nada.  I priced my first two books at $3.99 each (less than a value meal at the drive-through).  I make about 70% commission on each of the sites that host my books but some have a small transaction fee added which brings my per sale profit to between 2.50 and 2.79 depending on the site.

TC: If I had a traditional publisher handle the ebook rights and distribution (most try to buy up those rights for a pittance from the author in current contracts) then the standard would be 25% of the ebook sale would go to me which would bring my profits down to about 0.99 or 1.00 per sale (assuming they priced the book at the same rate I did).  Many of the publishers overprice the ebook because their bread and butter is paper books not ebooks.  The smarter publishers are moving toward more sensible pricing so you have to do your research.  Better rule of thumb is to keep the digital rights and do it yourself (70% is way better than 25% or 25% plus suicide)

TC: For my paper books, I use a print on demand service (P.O.D) called lulu.com.  It costs me nothing to set up a book but it costs me about $10 per book (of my novel's size) to print and I pay per book printed.  Anyone can order my book from them and they just pay the cover price which accounts for their cost + their profit + my profit.  I priced my paper book at 14.99 which gives me about a $4.00 profit.  Since it is a higher price than a typical trade paperback, I encourage people to get the ebook version unless they want a souvenir of a good read that I can sign for them.

TC: My big expenses so far for marketing and publishing independently was in business cards.  I spent about $40 for a big box of business cards I can give to people.  I always keep several in my wallet and my computer bag.  You never know when you'll bump into a potential reader or that agent/publisher you hope to court someday, or for  networking with other authors.  The rest of my promotion and marketing has been on the cheap, facebook, blog, word of mouth.

TC: So far I've made only about $45 on my two books (Hmm, about enough to pay off the business cards).  A pittance, right?  Yes but I'm not giving up.  It's a magic bakery.  I can sell you a book and the interesting thing is that I still have the book to sell to someone else.  If I have two books, I can sell you two books and still have two books to sell to other people and so on.  The more I write, the more ways there are for readers to "find" me and more for them to buy from me.  Initially the earnings are small but they get bigger over time.

TC: If I have one book for sale for 3.99, I make about 2.50.  If I only have 1000 readers find me, then I've made $2500.  If I had four books at that same price point and had the same number of readers find me and like all of the books, then I've made $10,000.  But an interesting thing is that if two of the books are tongue in cheek fantasies and one is an urban fantasy vampire story and one is a historical fiction, I'll likely encounter a broader range of potential readers so instead of 1000 people finding my works, it could be 3000 people. And if they liked one and bought all of the rest then I would make $30,000 (2.50/book x 4 books x 3000 readers).  Of course that is all incredibly simplistic figures but imagine if I have 10 books for sale?  Or twenty?

TC: This a marathon, not a sprint.  Those ebooks can earn you money forever.  They never go out of print.  That is how a midlist author can make a living wage as an independent.  Those that have done it found that there becomes a spike in momentum at 3 published books, and then another at 10 published books, and again at 20 books and so on.  You could go from 1-3 books per month to 1-3 per day to 100-300 per day and yes be making a living wage within a few years.

TC: Many current authors are beginning to see digital book sales outpace their paper sales by as much as 10-1.  You don't need a traditional publisher to distribute ebooks for you.  They'll take the lion's share of the money for work you can do on your own in just a few hours per title.

TC: I MIGHT consider a traditional publishing deal if offered one but I would refuse to give up my ebook rights to them.  Your ebook rights are the gold of publishing right now.  Don't give them up for a bowl of porridge.

TC: For now, keep writing your book and researching your options.  I recommend you attend local conventions where other writers meet.  "Life, The Universe, And Everything" or LTUE is Feb 9,10,& 11 at Utah Valley University and CONduit is in May 25, 26, & 27 in downtown SLC this year.  You can talk and learn from others who have gone the path you wish to follow.  It's what I've done.  I'll be trying to attend both.

KS: The item on my bucket list that I am aiming for in regards to my writing isn't just "write a book", I shoot high with my dreams, so that item on my list is to have one of my books on the NY Times best seller list.  Maybe a fantasy, but what fun is life if you don't dream, right?

KS: That's pretty awesome. I guess I didn't realize that you could do the books as a print on demand. I figured you would have had to start by printing a set amount in the beginning.

KS: Independent is starting to look a little sweeter.

KS: One thing that I have an issue with is sticking to one project at a time. I have three stories that are building in my brain, and a few children's books as well.  I tend to write a bit on each story depending on the mood I'm in. I think I need to refocus a bit though and work on finishing one story completely.

KS: Next question on the list, How do you deal with feedback? It must be tough to listen to people's criticisms, and not let the negative comments get to you. Any advice as far as that goes?

TC: Ah, criticism.  Twelve years ago, I would have crumbled under the slightest hint of criticism (which is partly why I didn't try to get published back then).  I was suffering from depression and in a relationship with a verbally abusive wife, a horrible time in my life.

TC: Fast forward to now and I am off my medications, happier, healthier, and married to the woman of my dreams.  She supports me greatly in my writing dreams and I couldn't imagine any way it could be better (well okay, best selling happily married writer would be nice).

TC: The way I handle criticism is to remember that they are criticizing the work and not me.  Not everything I write is perfect and that is okay.  Sometimes the reader isn't always right.  Sometimes they didn't read or understand something you wrote correctly.  Sometimes it isn't a genre or style they like.  You can't write to everyone's tastes so don't bother trying to please everybody all of the time.  You'll fail.

TC: Sometimes an element of the story is broken and needs repair.  If your criticism is coming from an alpha/beta reader or an editor, consider their input and you decide whether to change something or not.  Again remember they're criticizing the work and not you.  The advice they're giving is probably intended to help so assume good intent.  You don't have to follow through on every suggestion but be willing to alter the story based on ones that will make the story stronger.

TC: If the criticism is coming from someone after you've published it, don't feel the need to rush back and fix it, or even defend your work.  It is what it is, they either enjoy it or they don't.  You can't force anyone to change their opinion.  If it is constructive criticism, you can think about how you can apply their advice to your current project or next book.

TC: Writing is not a career for the thin skinned.  Every writer will be criticized and rejected.  It is par for the course.  I keep myself from sinking into depression again by not dwelling on the criticism but on thinking about the exciting new story I'm working on next.  I also remind myself that they don't mean the criticism personally, and if they do then they're just meany-stupidhead-jerky-poos that don't deserve my respect anyway. 

TC: It is far easier to criticize and tear down than to build and create.  Everyone that has actually written a book deserves credit for doing what the vast majority of people don't even attempt.  Whether the book is good or not, who cares.  Writing it is an achievement worth celebrating.

TC: Also, just because your first book isn't perfect, that is still okay.  Write the next one, and the next one.  About a million words later, you will be writing fantastic stories.  Everyone talks about the overnight success NYT best selling debut novel etc.  The reality is that most of those first time best sellers actually wrote five or six or ten novels before that one that were never accepted by anyone first.  But they didn't give up and continued to hone their craft and finally one took off.  One million practice words.

TC: I wrote my first novella when I was 17.  It was horrible but I didn't give up.  Except through the depression years, I've been working on my own million practice words.  I'm fortunate to have a wife now that believes in my dream and parents that consider writing to be real work.  I hope you have equally supportive people around you because it does get tough sometimes.

KS: It's terrible to hear that you went through such a dark period. I am glad that things have turned around and you are in a good place now, though.

KS: I have a pretty thick skin, so I'm not necessarily worried about criticism, I was more just curious to see how you deal. I'm sure it's a bit harder to handle when it's pointed at something that you have poured your heart and soul into.  I have to give you kudos for having the book club read your book.  I find criticism/feedback to be a bit harder to handle when it comes from people that you know, rather than strangers.

KS: I have often considered using a pen name... have you talked to, or do you know anyone who has gone that route?

KS: Not that I want to hide behind an 'anonymous' type name, but more for keeping privacy. I don't know that I would really ever do it, but I've played with the thought a few times.

TC: I have met an author who uses both his real name and a pen name depending on the genre he's writing in.  He uses one for fantasy and the other for sci-fi.  He says he does it to avoid confusing his readers, or more importantly, the book stores.  How dare an author actually write in more than one genre, right?  Odd because the bookstores tend to lump those two genres on the same shelf anyway.

TCV: My niece uses a pen name for her writing and online persona for privacy reasons.  She is a minor and we don't want crazy stalker types going after her.  She hasn't published anything more than the odd poem or short story on her blog so far.

TC: If you have a very common name like Mike Smith or Mary Jones, or a name very close to another author's you might want to consider using a pseudonym to differentiate yourself from the others.  I get Dan Brown and John Brown mixed up in my head all of the time.  One wrote the Da Vinci Code and the other some fantasy novels I've been meaning to read for a while.

TC: I don't have a strong opinion about it one way or the other.

KS: The other reason that I have considered it is because people tend to butcher my name (first and last, I'm sure you can relate) when they are trying to pronounce it. Who knows what I'll end up doing though.

KS: Do you blog at all? 

KS: I'm in the middle of reading another book right now, and then I need to start the next one for the book club, but I am planning on reading A Clouded Sky after that. I may end up ordering the paper back so that I can have you sign it. I am building a collection of books that are signed by the author.

TC: I totally understand the butchered name thing.  It is a valid reason to go with a pseudonym.

TC: My blog is at tcleverlylibrary.blogspot.com.  I try to post at least once a week but in reality it seems to be more like once or twice a month sometimes.  On it I give updates to my projects, advice, and observations about writing.

TC: I'll happily sign your book.  The first time I did it, it felt weird, like signing yearbooks or something.  "Hey see you in the fall!" and all that.

KS: You've been awesome to take the time to answer all of these questions!! I'm sure I'll come up with more that I want to ask, so technically you are not off the hook yet. 

KS: I'll add your blog to my feed reader.  I enjoy blogs because it's an easy way to follow a lot of stories. :)

KS: Hope your week is great!

TC: You're welcome and thank you.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Blood On The Vine Milestone Reached

This week, I have finally completed writing the final scene of my 120,000-ish word novel, Blood On The Vine.  The book is finally finished though not publishable yet.  I need to combine multiple documents into a single master document, tweak a few middle parts, do some internal consistency fact checking, get beta reader feedback, have a quality copy-edit, and get a good book cover.

I apologize to my readers for the delays.  I originally promised this book would be available in the spring, but a combination of factors got in the way, from my day job to my computer dying and needing to be replaced.  I am truly sorry.  I wanted to get this book out there sooner but I want it done well and not be rushed or incomplete.  You deserve a good book.

And, dear readers, it is a good book, especially if you are a fan of slave plantation, family drama, Capoeira (a Brazilian martial art), vampiric immortality, animal shape-shifting, world hopping, action adventure stories. This book has it all.  It is the story of a slave girl named Sanami, whose job is to juice the fruit that is a key ingredient to magical potions and her masters' immortality.  When she mouths off one too many times, she is propelled into the journey of a lifetime, trying to stay alive and come to terms with being a member of a family that she never knew she was a part of.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

J.R.R Tolkien's The Hobbit

This month's book at my book club was Tolkien's The Hobbit.  I hadn't read the book since I was a tween so I thought it would be a refreshing reread of a classic that started the whole fantasy genre as we know it today.  So here are some grown up, more analytical observations of the book.

First, who was organizing this party?  Let's restore an ancient kingdom and steal it, and it's treasure, back from a powerful dragon using a group comprised of one third level wizard, twelve first level bards, and one first level thief.  Where's the cleric to heal them?  Where are the fighters?  At least one meat shield and one long range fighter.  Maybe a ranger or two to help them get through the wilderness without being on the verge of starvation all of the time.  Come on guys, expeditions of this magnitude take planning to succeed.  They seemed to be winging it right from the get-go.

Okay, now that I got that out of the way, let's focus on what is great about this book.  With this book and the Lord of The Rings trilogy, Tolkien created a modern genre based on epic legend and folktale.  Much of what has followed him is derivative of his work and vision in some way.  Even my two Clouded Skye novels blatantly borrow ideas from his work.

The songs and poetry in the book are actually good.  The first time I read the book as a kid, I skimmed those parts.  This time, they were part of the experience and added a richness to the story I missed the first time around.

The third person omniscient style is not normally my thing.  I usually prefer third person limited or first person.  Tolkien's use of the omniscient played out well in making the scope of the adventure feel large and world changing.

This is a book every fantasy fan should read.  Is it perfect?  No, it was the first of its kind, not necessarily the best of its kind.  But, it is still a great book and worth the time to immerse yourself into the world of Middle Earth.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Remembering Ray Bradbury

Yesterday, I tuned in to NPR and listened to a program where Sam Weller and others were remembering science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, who passed away this week (Aug 22, 1920 - June 5, 2012).  He was most famous for his dystopian novel, Fahrenheit 451 but wrote many others.  The only one I have read has been Fahrenheit 451 (I do plan to read some of his other works).  The book was well written and definitely needed in his time.  It still has relevance today.

One of the amazing things I heard on the NPR program was that When Bradbury was a child, he saw a horrific car accident and vowed never to drive an automobile.  Shortly before his passing, several scientists from NASA welcomed him with a driver's license issued on Mars and let him drive one of the mars rovers for a while.  The man who never drove a car on earth, wrote The Martian Chronicles and received the rare opportunity to drive on Mars itself.

He greatly influenced many through his writing as well as through his personal interactions with those around him.  He was a man that expanded our minds and, once stretched, they can never return to their original state.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

That Was A Weird Dream

Last night I dreamed that my wife and I took our daughter on a roller coaster ride at an amusement park.  I remember holding our toddler on my lap as we sat in the front-most seat of the front-most car.  Our daughter was fine through the first part of the ride which merely meandered around bushes and gardens like a calm laid back ride.

I remember trying to get the seat-belt to lock both me and her in but the belt wouldn't stretch far enough.  So as the first vertical loop approached, I gave up and locked myself in and clung to her with one arm and the safety rail in front of us with the other.  She clung to the front and side edges of the coaster's car with her hands and stared with wide eyes, just like she did the first time we let her ride in her bike trailer.

Once the loop was over and the coaster went  back to meandering around the large bushes, she burst into tears and my wife and I decided to hand her off to my parents rather then make her suffer through the rest of the ride.  As if on cue, that's when my father appeared at the next bend with his arms out to pluck our little toddler from the roller coaster.

Then I woke up.

Those who like interpreting dreams or analyzing the psyche of crazy people or creative types, you now have some material to work with.  Enjoy!

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cars as Characters... And Other Objects

Recently I retired my old 98 Saturn, affectionately named "Sippy The Wonder Sedan" after 246,900 something miles.  I replaced it with an 08 Toyota Yaris named "Go-Kart The Wonder Hatchback".  Not everybody names their cars but they do have distinct personalities.  That's why cars end up with names from things like Ted or Susan to Smokie or The Beast.



Anthropomorphizing things has a long tradition dating back to the beginning of storytelling where hunter-gatherers sat around their camp fires telling stories with characters such as the sun, moon, mountains, rivers, and mountains.  Stories where these natural objects had spirits and could talk and interact with man and each other.

More recent stories include the Dresden Files stories by Jim Butcher and Leviathan by Scott Westerfield.  Harry Dresden has a rickety old car that works for him (barely) because it isn't modern or filled with modern electronics which his magical influence tends to react poorly with.  The Leviathan is an actual living creature that is also an airship and home to a crew of World War I era British sailors.  When the ship suffers you feel its pain, just as its crew does.

An extreme case of humanizing cars would be the Pixar films, Cars and Cars II.  The vehicles come alive with personalities ranging from the cocky athlete (Lightning McQueen) to the simple trusting friend (Mater).

By humanizing cars (or other inanimate objects), you draw your readers in to someone or something else they can love and cheer for, or hate and despise.  Things are just things, until they are given personality and a life of their own.  We are social creatures. We like to imagine things as like ourselves, with feelings, motivations, and passions.  So take advantage of that in your storytelling.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

A Status Update And Additional Lessons Learned from LTUE 2012

What have I been up to lately?  Mostly working on adding the extra scenes and polishing up the existing ones for Blood On The Vine.  My pace has been slower than I'd like, mostly due to changes in my work schedule snipping away at my morning writing times and something attacking my Saturday writing times.  I still managed to get some in so I haven't been at a dead stop for writing.  Soon, my work schedule will improve again and the pace will pick up.

I promised some people to provide additional insights and observations gained from Life The Universe And Everything-2012.  Here you go.

Advice from actual editors.    Seek to get the message itself to shine, not your name.  That will take your book(s) and career farther.  Be professional, polite, and friendly.  This is a gentleman's business but still a business.  As a writer, be willing to accept feedback from your editor and be willing to make substantial changes to your book if needed.  Don't change anything just because someone says to, but work with your editor as a team to make the book a worthwhile read.  Don't let ego block your growth.  After submitting manuscripts, don't wait for the editor/agent to accept/reject the work, dive into writing your next project.

Advice on villains.  Give them clear motivations and "I want to oppose the protagonist" or "I'm evil therefore I kick puppies" are not good motivations.  Remember the villain is a real person.  Villain does not equal antagonist.  Your protagonist can be a villain like Dr. Horrible in Dr. Horrible's Singalong Blog or Gru in Despicable Me, though both could be labeled anti-villains instead.  More on that later.  Javier in Les Miserables is the antagonist but he is a lawful good, dedicated to truth and justice person.  Look up Peter's Evil Overlord List on Google to avoid stupid villain mistakes.   Don't "lamify" your villains to make them beatable by your protagonists.  If you have to weaken your villain then your hero is a wimp and nobody will care about them.  Anti-villains are people who want to be evil villains but are actually too nice and soft at heart to succeed at it (example, Gru from Despicable Me or Goob from Meet The Robinsons).  Heroes and villains both believe they're doing the right thing for the right reasons (usually).

Advice on writing for LDS markets.  The LDS market is smaller than the national market but you can have greater influence within the niche.  For non-fiction, establish yourself as an expert in your field.  You don't have to go to college for eight years to understand the scriptures or write about them.  But do be professional, studious, and prayerful about your writing.  Have an original take and good insight.  For fiction,     be conscious of language and situations in your book.  The LDS market is the wholesome alternative to books filled with teen sex, drugs, etc.  Families and kids, even of other faiths, do want to read fun clean uplifting stories.  Within the LDS market there are many niches and genres available.  Understand your target audience.  Even the savior of the world was an avid storyteller.  He spoke in parables and allegories.

Some food for thought and I've only made it through half of the first day's notes of this three day conference.  There was a lot of incredibly good advice.  Stay tuned for more.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

LTUE 2012 - Day 3

Life the Universe and Everything is winding down to its end and I'm home again with a binder full of notes based on the wisdom of many smart and friendly people.  It was wonderful though tiring near the end.  3 straight days of sitting in plastic chairs can do that, I guess.  I definitely want to return next year, perhaps as one of the panelists.  I have ideas too.

Today's highlights included hearing more of James A Owens guerrilla and sometimes Catch Me If You Can-ish efforts to advance his career.  He is funny and inspirational with how hard he worked to achieve his life dreams.  If you ever get a chance, he is worth listening to.

Howard Taylor gave great advice on the Artists On Art panel.  Focused practice on what you are NOT good at and getting a mentor to tell you how to practice correctly so you're not reinforcing bad habits.  Brilliant... and explains Howard's recent focus on boots (In Schlock Mercenary, he was avoiding drawing feet most of the time).  The ingredients for success are: Passion, Hard Work, Time, and A Good Mentor.  Nowhere in that formula is talent. Anyone can succeed but it will take work.

The panel on what authors wished they had done differently if they had known had good advice too.  The writers who fail are those that write one or two books and either never publish or become a one hit wonder that fades and gets forgotten.  Those that succeed keep writing even when many of their stories are rejected over and over or don't sell.  The writers on writing panel echoed that Theme with L.E. Modesitt Jr talking about the massive numbers of stories he couldn't sell, before and after breaking into the market.  Yet, he refused to stop writing.  One question was posed, even if nobody else ever wanted to buy your stories, would you still write them anyway?  My answer is yes!

LTUE 2012 - Day 2

Day 2 of Life, The Universe, and Everything was again wonderful!  It might take several blog posts to share what I heard and learned there.  At least I'll have subject material to work with for a while.  So here's a few highlights from yesterday.

James A. Owen's life is quite inspirational.  He was the event's keynote speaker and he refused to give up on his dreams.  He wanted to be a comic book artist and story teller.  By age 6 he was self published and selling his comic "Goldilocks And The Three Bears And Santa Clause" from his little red wagon to his neighbors.  He and his friend were the youngest independent comic company to set up a booth at Sandiego Comic-Con at ages 14-15, right alongside giants like DC and Marvel.  He worked for Don Bluth studios as a story board artist for all of 6 hours before being let go when the company downsized (he was hired on the same day they cut their staff by 75%, shortest job he ever had).  He had big dreams and many setbacks but the biggest point he made was not to give up on your dream, especially when the entire rest of the world tells you to give it up.

The panel on Science Fiction and Computers was great also.  Right before the panel began, I was thinking that I should mention the 1946 short story "A Logic Named Joe" by Will F. Jenkins.  At the beginning, they mentioned it too.  It is an amazingly accurate peak at what computers would become.  This story predicted things like Skype, MapQuest, Google, and Youtube in a time when the word "computer" didn't exist yet (at least as describing electronic calculating machines as we know them today).  I highly recommend you look that story up on Baen.com (it's a free ebook download) and be wowed about how he predicted these things in a time when the first computers like Colossus and ENIAC were still largely unknown and nothing like the Logic in Jenkin's story.  Isn't it great when science fiction becomes science fact?

Stay tuned for more posts about LTUE 2012!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Life, The Universe, And Everything

Yesterday I attended the first day of the Life, The Universe, And Everything symposium.  It was amazing listening to some of the great literary talents that live right here in Utah.  I finally gave Lisa Mangum, my thank you letter from all the way back to the Talking Books event last year.  I finally got to meet Dan Wells in person and thank him for his part in the Writing Excuses podcast.  It's funny how I could catch his cohorts in crime, Brandon Sanderson and Howard Taylor, multiple times but until now, Dan had been rather elusive.

James Dashner and Larry Correia were both particularly funny and entertaining in their discussions about evil in fiction and action scenes.  The girl who gave the presentation on villains was great too, even bringing up Peter's Evil Overlord List.

Today and tomorrow, I will get even more instruction and advice from these wonderful people.  I find it wonderful that many of them aren't just good writers or illustrators, they're also willing to mentor and lift others up to their level of quality and professionalism.  That is something we should all do, whatever our expertise, offer a hand and lift those around you up.

Saturday, February 04, 2012

Contrasting Protagonists

All week, I've been hammering out a new chapter which might need to be broken down into two in my next book, Blood On The Vine.  As I've been writing, I've found it interesting how different the protagonist of this story is compared to Skye from my two Clouded Skye books.  I thought I would write up some of the comparisons.

Skye starts life as an orphaned street urchin.  She grows up to be a curious happy-go-lucky wanderer.  Life is a game, life is fun.  She's rather charismatic and optimistic.

Sanami, on the other hand, starts life as a slave on a plantation where a key ingredient to magic potions are grown.  She is cynical, abrasive, outspoken, and rebellious.  Life is not a game but a war.

Skye is short and skinny, the result of a youth of malnutrition and stunted growth.  Sanami is tall and gawky, the result of being born half Saphiir (a taller people generally), and half Yaddi (a shorter or more average people generally).

Both learned to fight but for different reasons.  Skye learned in order to survive but mostly because she found it fun.  Sanami learned to fight with the goal of rebelling against and destroying her slave masters.  Skye focused on learning to fight with swords while Sanami learned to fight with nothing but her own body.  Sanami's Kamaktan martial art form is heavily inspired by Brazil's Capoeira, a form developed by black slaves on Portuguese settled plantations in Brazil.  It was developed to condition their bodies to fight or escape their masters while being disguised as little more than an African tribal dance.

I like writing about Skye because she's funny and outright quirky.  I like writing about Sanami because she has a fighting spirit, raging against the machine and all that.  The two are nothing alike but they are both strong characters (see my post about strong women).  Both have ample reason to simply sit and bemoan their miserable lives, "Wo is me, my life sucks, poor me".  But no, they don't.  They both attack life head on.  Skye propels herself forward on hope and optimism.  Sanami propels herself forward on anger.  Neither sit navel gazing.

I can't wait till I get Blood On The Vine out for you guys!  You're going to love it!  The setting is so rich and open ended.  I could see myself writing stories in this setting for years.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Blood On The Vine Update

Just thought I'd give a little update on my latest novel.  I wrote the super happy ending and hated it so I'm taking it back out (maybe).  I'm adding an entire middle chapter that will help flesh out the setting and explain why Sanami stays with Thray and Julessa later in the story even though she's not really attached to them.  I'm liking it so far.

With the new Chapter in Burbank, I get to keep one of my favorite secondary characters in the story, a sassy young fortune teller named Mariel.  Sanami, Julesssa, and Cerego all get her attention.  In the earlier versions of the story, only Cerego got to meet her.  His happiness in the end depended on whether he chooses to heed or ignore the words of the Seeress of Burbank.

If the super happy ending went, I thought the seeress would have gone too.  But the new chapter creates the bridge to keep her, regardless of whether I go with the happy ending or the super happy ending.

Who are these people?  My alpha and beta readers know.  The rest of you can read it and find out soon enough.  Stay tuned!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Projects for 2012

So today, I made a list of the stories I want to get published in 2012.  I probably won't get all of them done but I sure hope to get most of them.  Better to aim for the stars and land in the trees than to aim for the trees and land in the mud and all that.

Short fiction (under 50,000 words)
The Adventures Of Kitkia - YA Fantasy
R.E.M.ember Me - Paranormal Romance
Angie's Miserable Life - A Contemporary Life Lessons Tale
Like Snowflakes - A Contemporary Christmas Tale
Food Court - Contemporary Comedy
Bloody Mary - Western
Coyote, Adahy, and The Sun's Fire - A Totally Made Up Native American Legend.

The last one (The native american legend) is already available on this blog so I'll polish it up and make it free and available for Kindle, Nook, etc as a loss leader and advertisement for my other works.

Long Fiction (over 50,000 words)
Blood On The Vine - Fantasy - In Final Editing Now
The Anaaka Chronicles - Fantasy, Compilation of four shorter stories (Anaaka, Aniiki, Trenton, & Hannan)
Halfway to SomeWere - YA Urban Fantasy Comedy
A Fairy Big Problem - Urban Fantasy Comedy
Miu's Vine Story - Fantasy - Working Title, it will have a better one.  I promise.
River Of Souls - Fantasy
A Sky Full of Ships - Steampunk Fantasy - No relation to A Clouded Skye

I've really got my year cut out for me!  So does my poor editor.  I may need to find him some help or a replacement as he's mostly doing it out of the kindness of his heart and has his own projects to work on.

The short fiction should be quite doable as many of those stories are done already.  The long ones are pushing it.  Only Blood On The Vine and The Anaaka Chronicles are close to ready.  I'll get as far as I get and take care of the rest in 2013.

Anyone who thought I only had one book or one series in me was mistaken.  I have hundreds of stories bouncing around in my head.  The next few decades of writing are going to be a blast!