As I write this, a certain somebody is speaking in front of the Lincoln Memorial with a wide variety of tanks on display. I suppose that's one way to think about independence. I guess. Another form of independence is taking place in my living room, where 15-year-old Misty (pictured here) is slumbering in her favorite spot because hey, she has well earned freedom from silly rules about lying on the furniture. Now that's the life.
Wouldn't we all love the ability to make our own rules, govern our time, and rarely (if ever) find ourselves accountable to anyone? I'm not suggesting a life of sleeping the hours away like Misty, but having the ability to do those things we love most because we have the financial wherewithal. As I have discussed here before, my full-time job puts me in an English classroom, but the future lies in that place where I work in shorts and a t-shirt doing little more than telling stories for a living. (Selling books would be a helpful side-effect, thank you very much.)
I am one year into the mission of working toward that independence, and that goal remains strong and viable (albeit still a little ways distant). The second book in The Impossible Future is finished, with a release target of August. Much work remains - building a licensed business ain't exactly the joy of life - but objectives are being met, strategies being learned, and a declaration of independence inevitable.
Watch this space as well as Facebook and my newsletter for exciting news and visuals in the coming weeks! If you haven't joined the newsletter, take the plunge! Fill out the pop-up form on this site or on my Facebook page.
(On a side note, neighbors are shooting off fireworks routinely, and Misty doesn't seem put-out, which is truly a new development. Must be that 15-year vibe.)
Endings are an exciting contradiction. You work your butt off for months (maybe even years), and you can't wait to celebrate the final polish, the concluding tweak. At last, you're done. Maybe you're ecstatic, prideful, immensely satisfied. Or perhaps you're one of those folks who wouldn't find satisfaction with a Nobel Peace Prize. Either way, what's done is done, and now we all face the inevitable question: What now?
For good or ill, that's a question a novelist never has to face. There's the editing, the cover, the blurb, the marketing plan, the publishing format, the launch, the blog, the newsletter, the social media contacts, the ads, and on and on it goes. There's always a ridiculous list of what-nows - most of which don't involve writing. That makes the ending of writing a novel bittersweet. As long as I'm not there yet, the what-nows can be put off.
As I write this, I am within a couple weeks of the ending for the second book in my four-book series. In sports terms, I'm nearing halftime. A very LONG halftime. I'd love to have the financial luxury of shoving the book off to paid editors and proofreaders, cover designers, and publicists. Until the time when sufficient money drops from heaven and fills my coffer, I'll remain in DIY mode. And excitedly dreading the final page.
Life comes so fast. Looking at my previous blogs, I realized I haven't contributed any of my remarkable insights in almost six months. Shame on me. Time to do better!
On the publishing front: I'm cracking through the follow-up to The Last Everything, and it's on track for a summer arrival. This story is bonkers. If you read TLE, hold on tight. This book, which picks up right where TLE left off, is an entirely different tale - in substance and style. There's night, then there's day. I'm having a blast writing it, and I hope you'll enjoy it. If you haven't joined my mailing list, what are you waiting for? Go back to the home page or check me out on Facebook.
In the meantime, if you're looking some rocking new science fiction that also happens to be everyone's favorite price, try out this page during the month of May. You might even see a familiar title from yours truly.
Not too long ago, many of us enjoyed a weekly escape into the real-time adventures of Jack Bauer vs. the terrorists. The series was 24, and the gimmick of telling a single 24-hour story in real time over as many episodes provided a level of intensity, suspense, and countless cliffhangers that was sorely missing on prime-time television.
Around 2005 (or about the fourth season of 24), I decided to draft a ticking-clock novel, but taking it into science fiction action-adventure, with protagonists who could appeal to both adult and teen audiences. For reasons I cannot explain, I dropped the story into a sleepy Alabama town where nothing ever happened (except for that shocking double-murder that took away the main character's parents a couple years earlier - police-blotter silliness like that).
Then I went about writing based on a high concept that left my 17-year-old hero with no chance to survive. That's right - he's going to die in eight hours, no matter what. After all, if he lives, he'll morph into something monstrous and threaten mankind itself; if he dies sooner, the rest of us are saved. Talk about a rock and a hard place. The character's name was July Jackson - alliterative but ultimately unsatisfying. After many rewrites over the past dozen years, July morphed into Jamie Sheridan, and the mythology behind who he really is and what he might become evolved to form the basis for a four-book series.
That series goes live on Amazon this Friday, Nov. 23, with The Last Everything, Book One of The Impossible Future series. Why did I choose Black Friday? For reasons that are no more clear than the choice of that Alabama town. But I think you'll have a fun, suspenseful ride with a healthy dose of twists and turns, suitable for a wide range of audiences, the kind of story a reader might power through on a chilly night, sipping hot chocolate. And then ... ask when the second book arrives. (Let's go with 2019, and leave it at that for now!)
For a mere $3.99, you can pre-order on Amazon now, and your e-reader will make you happy on one of the most stressful days of the year. (Kindle Unlimited readers, indulge for free. What a deal.) If you read, please post a brief review on Amazon (those comments are greatly valued). And feel free to touch base with me on Facebook or through email. I'd love to know your thoughts!
Most writers I know (especially those of the indie variety) will agree that the most aggravating part of this whole gig is post-production. Of course, there's the endless revision and editing. You know, the one where you surgically polish the text so often that by the time you're finished, most of your excitement about the story has waned (like drinking Coke without the carbonation). But I find that cover design is the real nail-biter in the process.
I've been narrowing down the final design for The Last Everything, which will publish this month, and it has been a bear. For indie novelists working to build an audience, cover design is pivotal to help us find visibility amid the literary clutter (the millions of titles on Amazon grow daily). Yet it's hardly the only factor (decent writing, a hoot of a story, and a great online blurb are somewhat helpful).
For this novel, I ran these designs past multiple closed groups of writers online as well as seeking out Facebook friends, who would tend to examine books as consumers and not as marketers. Take a gander at these three. I could go with any of them, but ultimately decided the second option fits the book thematically, peers back at the reader's soul with those piercing eyes, and ... drumroll, please ... it contains rules above and below the title to add focus to the center. It's subtle, of course. About three-fourths of commenters preferred this one. Thus, the tyranny of the majority has won! Yee-haw.
Now, time to finish the publishing process and start writing its sequel. A four-book series demands I cannot leave my vast army (???) of readers in the lurch for long.
This teaching gig can suck the hope out of a person who's trying to also build a career in writing. Much to my surprise, this is my first blog posting since July. And yes, I'll blame the source of my regular paycheck for the lag time. It would appear, however, that things are about to change. Or so I hope.
It's called NaNoWriMo, and I'm using it as my excuse to re-launch this writing gig. In November, I'll be publishing the first of a four-book series on Amazon while rapidly pushing forward on the first draft of the second book in the series. It helps that all my Language Arts classes are participating in NaNoWriMo, which proved to be a great boost to my writing fortunes last year.
And so, almost time to rev up once again. More to come soon in this space. I dearly hope.
The easiest road through life is the one paved with the biggest corporate names. It's a mentality that only buys heavily-marketed brand names at the supermarket even though the store brands are consistently half the price, which leads you to assume they must be inferior. (Hint, they're almost always the same product.) It's the McDonald's approach to hamburgers - easy, generic, familiar.
Think about it, dear readers: How have you conditioned yourself to choose books? Focusing on franchises, perhaps? Author names in billboard fonts above an otherwise small, mundane title? The bestseller lists? Recommendations from friends? Price? (More on that last one, later.)
Some of our most famous contemporary novelists are also brilliant writers and storytellers. Note the operative word some. Many of them are phoning it in, banking on a name that used to represent something new, different, or even innovative but now is simply a formula designed to keep the cash registers ringing and the Checkout carts submitting.
Franchise authors, like reading only one genre, are comfort food. They assure us that the time we'll be investing as readers will be "just fine" because what we've read of those books before was "just fine." (OK, so maybe even "great" from time to time.) So let me ask: Are the biggest names in any genre the only ones producing great stories? The only ones worth your time? (The answer is "no," which I assume you already figured out.) The real question becomes: Are you willing to look through the vast digital landscape of titles to find books and authors who offer something new and different, equal to or better than what you've experienced so far? Are you willing to look through the sponsored Amazon lists of books that are "similar"? Or do you settle only for the familiar?
There are thousands of outstanding indie writers who are counting on you to eat anywhere except McDonald's, to brave the new frontiers of names and titles utterly unfamiliar. The traditional publishing industry rejects more than 95 percent of everything submitted to it - not because all of that 95 percent lacks quality, but for many other (sometimes valid) reasons that have nothing to do with craft. So thousands of writers have ventured into the digital world to offer their work in a dizzying circus that includes literally millions of titles. And there you will find genuinely remarkable work.
So be adventurous, search for the hidden diamonds, provide opportunities for the authors who are striving for brand awareness. They need your help. (That would include me, of course, but I think you already figured that out.) Check out the sample text, whether on Amazon or any other digital platform. Take a journey down an unexpected path. Don't worry, no one will bite. But we might be contagious - in that wonderful way that keeps you reading late at night.
A final note about price: Just because Sally Bestseller's paperback lists for $16.99 and Betty Nobody's paperback lists for $6.99 is NOT (I repeat: NOT) an indicator of quality. You will find countless ebooks by "nobodies" ranging from .99 to 2.99. They're trying to cut you a deal, not suggest that their work has less value. So take the deal, enjoy the savings, and prepare for a hell of a new adventure.
A poor sod like me can write to his heart's everlasting content, but sooner of later comes that nagging sensation that the whole blasted insanity is worthless without a public audience. Thus, time to sell. It's challenging, exciting, and utterly terrifying, if truth be told. The digital world has created endless competition for our eyes and increasingly short attention spans. People can publish anything they damn well please for free. Amazon, the world's most powerful bookseller, features many millions of titles on its site - everything from literary masterpieces to utter dreck. That's a lot of clutter to break through. So what is a writer to do?
So, here's my choice after 25 years of playing it safe: No more time-wasting trying to find notice in the traditional publishing biz. Agents take weeks (and often months) to respond at a rejection pace exceeding 98 percent industry-wide, and publishers tend to be slower and far more inept. Sure, if you break through, then life can take amazing turns. But the reality of reaching the NYT best-seller list and becoming a mega-best-sellling-empire-of-one is much like achieving stardom in Hollywood: Of all the actors seeking work, only a handful will ever command six- and seven-figure salaries. So I rather think it's time to put aside fanciful notions of literary, financial godhood and turn to the trickier, more daunting task of turning the writing into a startup business.
That's the direction I am headed. Although I have published two books on Amazon and received reviews from my first few readers, the journey ahead will be long and grueling. I'll be launching an advertising campaign for those books this summer, followed by a third novel that is currently going through final edits. I'll then turn my attention to more of my back list as well as future novels and short stories connected to The Father Unbound and The Savage Clock. There's the matter of formulating a business plan, developing spreadsheets to track inflow and outflow, and of course design Facebook and Amazon ads.
Ads, of course, cost money. But what is the central adage of anyone daring to make that startup business work? See the headline to this blog.
And so it begins. The next chapter. The down and dirty. The bottom line. Accounting. Taxes. All quite vile. But if it works, now there's an intriguing possibility. And I'm all about possibilities.
As I have been revising a back title this week in preparation to publish it later this summer, I have thought a great deal about the creative process and how writing is much like gardening - another love of mine.
In the simplest analogy, of course, both are products of the creative process. Neither arises without consideration planning, contemplation, and due diligence - and especially not without a flair for the artistic. I will no more pop down to Lowe's and scoop up a palette of petunias, drop them into the soil and call that a garden than I will read Orson Scott Card and try to emulate exactly what he did. Neither product will turn out anything like what I might have hoped. No, the greater lesson can be found in the continually changing colors, shapes, and textures both in the garden and in the developing story.
When I say garden, folks, I'm not talking about a few shrubs or annuals wrapped in lovely circles at the base of trees. No, no. I'm talking 100 percent grass-free landscapes. Both homes I've owned over the past 27 years started out with grass - and a fair helping at that. Generic, like every other home in the neighborhood. But of course, lawn owners with any measure of pride must follow a strict regimen that allows said grass to flourish in addition to the traditional 5- to 7-day waiting period between mowings - in order to return the lawn to the exact state it was 5 to 7 days earlier. Rinse, wash, repeat. Lawns are static - thin green, thick green, mixed green, one to three inches high. I want a landscape that evolves throughout the year, often in remarkably surprising ways. Colors change, aromas waft, and veggies arrive in time for dinner. In short, the garden - like a good story in development - is full of revelations.
It is that part of the creative process - the unexpected twists and turns - that makes both writing and gardening such satisfying endeavors. Some plants will die, while others will flourish in unexpected ways (perhaps even taking over large chunks of the garden). Same goes for an evolving story. Amazing characters will arrive from out of nowhere, offering plot twists that lead down unexpected paths while other characters can't sustain themselves and simply need to be ... well, mowed down. Either journey is fraught with disappointment and exhilaration, but never predictability. And that's what makes both journeys so gratifying.
One of the great joys of writing fiction lies in the ability to vent about the world - specifically, human beings - without directly coming out and engaging in rambling, acrimonious, sociopolitical screeds that might have more of a tendency to piss people off without serving any particular purpose. What delights then wait in creating a story whereby the author can hide behind the characters and present them as representatives of the various faces that humans present in the real world.
Many years ago I wrote a novel called I Dream in Widescreen wherein 13-year-old narrator Evan Schaeffer defies just about every expected personality norm for a boy in his comfortable, affluent world, but ultimately he has the same needs and desires as any other boy his age - needs that are NOT being fulfilled by the adults in his life. Evan loses himself in an illusion created by his favorite video games, movies, and music; and when tragedy strikes, he melts down. The underlying theme of the story focused on the larger illusions we create for ourselves through materialism and the Quixotic pursuit for more, more, more without consideration of what we're losing in the process. Yeah, yeah, sounds like a buzzkill. Actually, the story is quite fun and, for the most part, one of the more hopeful books I've written. Note the previous use of "underlying," my friends.
Back when i was selling the manuscript to the market, I had more than one agent who seemed willing to represent the book - one hardened o'l bastard even admitted he shed a tear toward the end. But, like so many agents who have hemmed and hawed and over-analyzed my work through the years, he couldn't figure out how to sell it. No matter. I told the story I wanted - and yes, the aforementioned agent did pick up on the underlying theme.
At some point soon I am going to revisit Dream. My experience as a teacher has shown that this immersion into video games and media has created far greater illusions among the newest generation of addicts. The story may yet have relevance.