Refreshment is Served

Unless you’re one of those people who collapses in a heap and writhes uncontrollably on the floor because someone moved the television remote, a little change is a good thing. Sometimes you just need to reboot.

We all struggle with change, of course. It interrupts the comfortable flow of our day. Last month, it even interrupted the flow of my semi-regular, sort of habitual blog posts. Six weeks is a long time to go between postings, but I have some very good reasons. March was a terrible month in many ways. In spite of that, I did manage to see a few bright spots:

  1. I finished a mammoth editing job on another writer’s excellent stab at an epic historical romance.
  2. I finished editing and paring down the utterly absurd and gross short piece I mentioned in my last post.
  3. I completely reinvented this blog on a new platform.

If your brain isn’t reeling and your eyes aren’t bleeding yet, you might notice that the look of the blog itself has changed dramatically. There’s a new menu system, a new design, and new functionality that comes as a result of having ported the blog from a CMS platform that is designed to be a CMS platform to a CMS/blog platform that is designed to be a blog platform. I won’t go into all the nuts and bolts of the new features here. I’m sure you’ll discover them if you need them. However, I would like to point out a couple of things. Because change is overwhelming, I’ll step through it slowly for you.

If you hover over the Plugins menu, you’ll see that I’ve added information about a brand new WordPress plugin: GoodReviews. It’s not available for download yet, but should be soon. It’s intended to allow authors and booksellers to use the Goodreads.com API to showcase book information on their own WordPress sites.

Still conscious? Good.

If you hover over the Publishing menu, you’ll see that I’ve highlighted some of my previous writing and editing work. I also plan to add an information technology section to this site as time goes on, because IT is so much a part of me.

More posts are on the way soon. I’ll also be guest-blogging on another site next week. Links to that post will appear here when it’s live.

Changes complete. Now, breathe.

Onward.

Since You Didn’t Ask…

No one wants advice–only corroboration. –John Steinbeck

One of the biggest problems with the business of writing and submitting short fiction for publication is the fact that there are few editors who are able to provide useful feedback on a rejected manuscript. They don’t have time. Who would, given the dozens of manuscripts writers tend to submit? Additionally, those editors don’t want to be bothered with writers who take constructive criticism as a personal attack, or as permission to submit a rewrite. Therefore, most editors simply say "this is not for me" and let it go while writers proceed through many a trial and error and beta audience before they ultimately give up or figure out on their own the answer to the burning question: "What’s wrong with my story?"

Recently, I spent a week furiously writing and polishing a horror story that I thought was pretty good, perhaps even the best I’ve written in a long time. Without giving myself a couple of days to let the finished work cool in my mind, I rushed it off in an e-mail to a bestselling author who is compiling stories of such types for a new anthology. Turns out that was a mistake. Well, sort of.

It was a mistake for me to not review the story with my own critical eye before submitting it. However, it was not a mistake to submit it, because the feedback I received on it was perhaps the most valuable I’ve ever received from an editor.

The verdict was that the story was ok but way over-written, meaning that in the process of developing the piece I’d pretty much thrown in the kitchen sink, showing and telling and describing to the reader every little piece of information that popped into my head. The result was a 9,100-word work of short fiction about a murder in a fast food restaurant’s men’s room that could have easily been told in a fraction of that space.

Did I feel the sting of rejection when I received that editor’s e-mail reply? You bet. I think any writer who receives genuine constructive feedback upon rejection would and should feel that sting. It’s the prick of the needle of truth. You only feel it when you know the reader is without a doubt correct in his or her assessment. Besides, if every manuscript you’ve ever cranked out receives nothing but positive feedback, you’re really only reading it to yourself in the mirror.

That sting is important. It doesn’t need to be nasty or unfriendly. It just needs to be honest. As for me, I spent a day licking my wounds and reconsidering my life. Then I went back to the manuscript and started cutting. Upon reviewing my first couple of paragraphs, I knew immediately that the editor had been right. A scene in the beginning of that story was originally four pages long. It is now approximately one page. 

In her [email protected] talk last week, bestselling author Anne Rice discussed how she gets through writer’s block. She does it in the exact same way I wrote the restroom murder story. She sits and she writes and she writes until something appears. The big difference between what she does and what I do is that she knows how to throw away the unnecessary stuff. Until now, I was apparently just leaving it in.

Why We Do That Thing We Do

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
–Ray Bradbury

Ever since I released my time travel novelette Timecast into the eBook Ethersphere, I’ve been asking myself how I can get more eyeballs on it. I’ve read all about Amazon’s KDP Select program. I’ve read all about how other authors have made a huge splash on Twitter. I’ve even read some posts by an author who says that all this Internet marketing schtick is hogwash and authors should learn to rely on more traditional means of marketing to get their words out there.

The glut of information out there about how to successfully market an eBook is overwhelming, to say the least. It is also depressing because there does not truly seem to be a right answer. This author says you must build a following, a brand, on social media. That author says you must get yourself an agent. Another author says you should pursue KDP Select if all you want tons and tons of downloads.

Perhaps the right answer, then, depends on these questions: why do you write and what do you want to accomplish by writing?

For me, those questions are easy to answer. I am a technical writer because it is my day job and they pay me to do it. I also get a certain amount of personal pleasure from imparting knowledge to those who seek it. I write fiction, on the other hand, because I have stories in my head. I think they are good stories. Therefore, I want to tell them.

Now, there are some obvious follow-up questions I might receive from others based on the answers I put forth above:

1. By wanting to tell your stories, you mean that you want to be a famous author. Like Stephen King. Right? Well, no, that’s not what I mean at all. Fame kills, fosters addiction, and creates insanity. And those famous people who are not dead, addicts, or insane are probably just well adjusted to their extravert natures. I am a notorious introvert. I like quiet and solitude.

2. Ok, so you don’t want to be famous. You’re already paid for writing, though. I’m sure you want to be rich. Ok, well who doesn’t want to be wealthy? However, I’m not seeking to make my fortune off published fiction. If getting rich were my ultimate goal, I would no doubt seek a psychologically healthier and more proven method, like winning the lottery or robbing a bank. That said, I don’t mind making a little side money on sales of my work. That’s one of the reasons Timecast has a price tag. The other reason is that I want to demonstrate that I believe my work has value.

3. So let me get this straight: you don’t want to be famous and you don’t want to get rich quick, but you do want tons of eyeballs in front of your stories? That’s it exactly.

4. But isn’t wanting tons of eyeballs in front of your stories exactly the same as wanting to be rich and famous? Why no, it isn’t. Not at all. I love to read. I want tons of eyeballs in front of my stories because I want others to love to read the same things I love to read. If I make a little money, that’s great, but I’ll never expect to be rich from it, unless you count the simple enrichment of sharing my tales.

5. My head hurts. Ugh, mine too. I think it’s all the social media noise. I would turn the volume down for you, but I’m not sure that I should. You see, I’ve answered my own questions to my own satisfaction, but I still have no real answers as to how to successfully implement a marketing strategy to achieve the goal those answers revealed.

So, what does the future hold for for this author? I’m going to keep writing and putting my eBooks (and eventually print books) out there. Beyond that, you’ll probably see me tweet about them from time to time. I’ll also update other related social networks, such as Goodreads, as I go. 

Of course, I’m open to other ideas.

King’s 11/22/63 Reminiscent of His Old School Masterworks

Why bother having a blog related to time travel fiction if you don’t review a work of time travel fiction once in a while? That said, I just finished reading Stephen King’s 11/22/63. For the first time in years, I can say that in 11/22/63 I picked up a Stephen King novel that I could not put down. I think the last time I was able to say that was way back in 1998 when he released Bag of Bones.

In 2011, English teacher Jake Epping’s diner-owning acquaintance Al Templeton lets him in on a little secret: there’s a rip, or a rabbit hole, or a bubble in time of some sort living in the back of his diner. This little portal into the past always opens to the same place on the same date at the same time: Septemer 9, 1958. Al tells Jake about this not just for kicks, but because for two minutes of present time and five years of the past, Al has been plotting to use the trip in time to track Lee Harvey Oswald, President John F. Kennedy’s assassin.

Al’s ultimate goal–which is the same goal to which any time traveler in a similar situation might aspire–was to stop Oswald from killing Kennedy, thereby putting right what once went wrong (to quote another famous time traveler). Unfortunately, years of Fatburgers and cigarette smoke have caught up with Templeton, and he is unable to complete the mission himself because he is overcome by the nasty final stages of lung cancer.

Enter Jake, who eventually takes Templeton’s place as the would-be Oswald-stopper, only to find it’s not so easy to change history. In fact, the past fights against the time traveler. Add to that the relationships and love for the late 1950s and early 1960s that Jake develops along the way, and changing the past becomes more difficult than ever (or too easy, depending on how you look at it).

All in all, 11/22/63 is vintage King. He baits you with the concept, hooks you with the internal monologue and likability of his central character, then reels you in with all the twists, turns, chaos, and beauty of masterful tale telling. You even get reacquainted with some old friends from another vintage King tale along the way. Unlike some of the repeat characters in that sprawling Dark Tower megaverse, Jake’s encounter with a young girl and boy who once fought an evil clown is elemental to one of the story’s significant subplots.

11/22/63 was the first novel I downloaded to the new Nook tablet I received for Christmas last year. At first I worried about that. I wanted my Nook tablet reading experience to be a grand one, and I knew that–as a longtime King fan–I had been disappointed by his previous several novel efforts (the short story collections are a different matter). However, my decision turned out to be a great one. Honestly, 11/22/63 made the very new experience of reading an entire novel for pleasure on a 7-inch electronic device feel as close as you can get to curling up with a thick printed book and subsequently falling Myst-like into an entirely different world.

Experiencing 11/22/63 was reading without being aware of the fact that you’re reading. And that is exactly what first drew me to King’s work back in 1987 and kept me reading all these years.

Shorts: They’re Not Just for Warm Weather Anymore

The humorous story may be spun out to great length, and may wander around as much as it pleases, and arrive nowhere in particular; but the comic and witty stories must be brief and end with a point. The humorous story bubbles gently along, the others burst. –Mark Twain

I once asked a Southern gothic luminary (who is no longer among the living but shall yet remain nameless) about the publishing process. It was the early 90s. I was barely an adult. I naively intimated that I had a burgeoning collection of short stories that I wanted to submit for publication somewhere. I wanted his advice on how to go about it.

The tall fellow at first smiled, then laughed out loud. He was not laughing with me.

"Write a novel," he said. "Sorry."

I was also sorry. Because he was right.

Collections of fictional shorts have been traditionally frowned upon as a means of breaking into the business of represented, renowned, and respectable book authorship. If your work was first published and critically raved about in the world of magazines, you might have a shot at publishing a collection. Otherwise, you’d better get cranking on your 100,000-word Great American Novel and leave the shorts to the side until people are willing to plunk down cash for anything that has your name on it.

Now comes the eBook. It has no physical heft, for it is comprised of data bits. It requires no name recognition to publish, although such recognition does help sales. It is typically low cost to produce and, depending on the author/publisher, can be low cost for a reader to obtain. So why should a story published as an eBook require a word count greater than 75,000 to be a popular, enjoyable read?

It shouldn’t. More, I don’t think it does.

The most wonderful thing I’ve discovered about eBooks is the diversity of style and length. I can escape for a short time from the daily grind by downloading and reading a satisfying work of short fiction. Or, I can completely engross myself in a long-haul novel. There’s no reason to choose a novel over a shorter work–novella, novelette, or short story–other than my own interest in the story that unfolds within.

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time, you know that I am currently working on the second draft of my own novel. Therefore, I am not going to claim that the novel has no place in the eBook revolution. It most certainly does. I have no evidence, but I would venture a guess that the majority of indie author literature being released in eBook form is of novel length.

Still, I can’t help but wonder if the eBook revolution might also bring about a resurgence of interest in shorter literary forms. Why not? Some of the greatest works of literature have been less than novel length. For example, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is approximately 26,000 words long, a third of what is considered modern novel length. Likewise, Edgar Allan Poe’s The Murders in the Rue Morgue clocks in around 120 pages.

The fact that the eBook format is less restrictive about the length of a work is one of the reasons I decided to go ahead and put my time travel novelette, Timecast, out there. I’m glad I did. The feedback so far has been encouraging, and that gives me further incentive to finish the novel. I also plan to release other shorter works in the coming months.

Maybe I’ll even do a collection.

And not be sorry.

How Do You Work This Thing?

TimecastWomen crawl all over me
I’m as smooth as a millionaire
Preacher always calls on me
I got a soothing way with a prayer

–Jeff Holmes/The Floating Men, "Long-winded Prayer"

A fortune teller in the French Quarter once told me that I would never make a good politician. "You’re too honest, brother," he said.

He explained that in order to politick, you must be able to spin. In order to spin, you must be able to put yourself out in front of people, smile in their faces, and convince them to buy what you’re selling without sounding like you’re trying to convince them to buy what you’re selling. I assume the same abilities are required for sales and marketing folks, who make a living convincing us consumers to plunk down money for things we don’t really need and reasons we never entirely understand.

I’m not criticizing the practice. In fact, I’m rather envious. When I worked in newspaper, I sometimes made a point of expressing my appreciation to the sales and marketing folks for the jobs they do. Anyone who can beat the drum for the product day after day and not want to go home and crawl under the bed at night has my utmost, undying respect.

Last week, I finally released my time travel novelette Timecast (which I wrote about in my last post) to the world via Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Google eBooks, iTunes, and Goodreads. My confidence was boosted almost immediately when my first sale and first customer review appeared on Amazon.com. It was an unsolicited 5-star rave: "really enjoyable, well written, and nicely paced" the reviewer wrote. It was music to my ears.

That said, I can tell you that I’ll never expect sales of Timecast to reach stellar heights. Not because of any fault with the story or its crafting. It’s a unique short work of time travel fiction, if I do say so myself. The problem is that I’m an introvert, awkward at socializing in both real life and online. I can tweet about Timecast all I want, but unless I can sell you on it (establish it as something you want or need to read) you’ll easily pass on it no matter how great I think it is.

What to do, then?

The only thing I can figure is that I need to find some way to play the extraverts’ marketing game without creating undue stress and risk to my introverted nature. Although extraverts might think differently, introverts are most of the time quite happy being introverts. We are not broken extraverts. However, there are times such as these–when you’re trying to market a book– that being an introvert is darned inconvenient.

For now, I’m still figuring things out. Meanwhile, if you happen across this post, look me up on Twitter or Goodreads. Friend/follow/fan me and I’ll friend/follow/fan you back if I can or should. Purchase a copy of Timecast for your favorite reading device (Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iPhone/iPad, PC, Mac) and provide a review, if you’re moved to do so. I’ll do my best to support your work as well.

I know there are many of us introverted, reclusive storytellers out there struggling to be heard. And the only way we’ll get heard is if we stick together and learn the promotional ropes because most of us will never, ever get a book deal that comes with successful marketing all gift-wrapped in a pretty box with a bow.

About Time

Five years ago, I set out to publish an eBook. The so-called eBook revolution was still a distant speck on the horizon. At the time, the Kindle had barely sparked. There was no Nook, Kobo, Sony Reader, or iRiver. I’m not entirely sure why I embarked on the journey, except that I had the idea for the story and it was burning a hole in my head.

I wrote and copyrighted the 10,000-word story. Upon completion, I discovered that I was uncertain of the exact type of work I had created. I originally called it a novella. Then I decided that it was much too short to be called a novella, so I called it a short story. Now I’m calling it a novelette based on the Science Fiction Writers of America (SFWA) guidelines for manuscript sizes.

With great anticipation, I "designed" the eBook (only to find out much later that what I created was an absolute abomination in terms of the true meaning of the word "design"). I generated a PDF and circulated it among a few close friends. Then I let it die undistributed.

Why?

At the time, self-publishing and distributing an eBook didn’t really seem all that easy to me. I researched it a little and gave up, choosing instead to submit the manuscript to a variety of traditionally published science fiction magazines. Inevitably, the manuscript either didn’t fit into the publication’s guidelines or was simply not what the editor was "looking for."

This Christmas, I was gifted with my first e-reader device (unless you count the e-Reader apps I had previously installed on my laptop and my phone). I love it. It caused me to immediately purchase and download the newest Stephen King work. Additionally, it inspired me to revisit my long dormant novelette. 

The process of self-publishing an eBook as been much simplified recently. It is as simple as uploading the book to the various eBook distribution channels (or using a service that does that for you). You can even upload your book if it is a design abomination. However, I chose to have my original manuscript professionally designed instead. Although an eBook is not the same as a print book, I still think it should be pleasing to and easy on the eyes.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce that my novelette will soon be available for download in Kindle and ePub formats from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, the Apple iBookstore, Kobo, and the Google eBookstore. I am also pleased to announce that the process (plus a little prodding from some friends and loved ones) has inspired me to renew my efforts to finish the second draft of my novel.

So, Happy New Year to all you budding authors out there. I’m going to spend 2012 writing. I hope you do as well.

Celebrating Freedom

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. –The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Somehow I missed the American Library Association’s Banned Books Week at the end of September. That unfortunate slippage of my middle-aging memory means that I need to slap a big old red letter F on my patriotism for that week.

For those who are not in the know, the ALA annually releases a list of the most contested titles on library shelves throughout the nation. I typically try to celebrate freedom of speech by choosing and reading a "banned" book from the list that week. This time, I missed it.

Oh, well. I suppose as long as we have a First Amendment I can look forward to a future Banned Books Week. And I must say that I am always amused and amazed by the strange alliances that surface whenever someone’s First Amendment rights are threatened. The most recent example, of course, is Jon Stewart, Whoopi Goldberg, and Joy Behar jumping into the fray over Hank Williams Jr.’s ouster from Monday Night Football as a result of his criticism of the president.

On a less controversial but still First Amendment-related note, I am happy to not have missed the Southern Festival of Books, an annual Humanities Tennessee event that will take place in Nashville’s Legislative Plaza this weekend. There’s more than one way to celebrate the freedom of the written word.

Pulling Teeth

A word is not the same with one writer as with another.  One tears it from his guts.  The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. –Charles Peguy

Sometimes, a writer sits down in front the word processor and taps into a productive flow immediately, gliding into it as easily as soft butter oozes around the edge of a knife. Those are the times when the words seem to drip not from synaptic outlets in the right side of the brain, but directly from the fingertips onto the keyboard, as if some unseen force separate from the author is holding him by the wrists, guiding his hands.

The work is easy. It’s good. And it’s beyond the writer’s control.

Then there’s the other extreme; the times when it’s easier to stab yourself in the eyeball with an icicle or gargle a mouthful of sand and glass than to set your thoughts down in a hardened, printed form. Those are the times when you’d rather just go back to bed because the half-formed, symbol-filled, illogical, and cartoony world of your dreams seems to have a more cohesive reason for living than any of the plot twists you’ve tried to manufacture in your waking life.

I am happy to report that today I was fulfilled by the former state, the one in which the writing flows and works and feels satisfying. The down side? I was working on a project for my day job, not on my novel.

Oh, well. Someday I’ll get back to that second draft and feel that same sense of well-being, satisfaction, and accomplishment that I felt today from my work project.

Until then, I’m just glad I live in the middle of the Southeastern U.S., where the icicles are few and far between and it takes more than half a day to drive to a beach.

Of Inspiration, Motivation, Perspiration, and Irritation

Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration. –Thomas Edison

I’m about to say something that might sound wrong coming from the fingertips of a writer. Ready? Here it is: I don’t believe inspiration has so much to do with the process of creating a work of literature as I believe motivation does.

I know. I know. I’ll give you a moment to pick your jaw up from your keyboard.

I urge you to think about this, though. Inspiration is the stimulation of the mind, the forming of the idea. In the grand scheme of the process of creating your masterwork, the idea is only a beginning. And most of the time, it’s not a particularly good beginning. Many writers get rolling on a general idea that popped into their heads at some point and end up fully forming something completely different. Other writers tell the same story over and over again with different characters and a slightly different setting. Yet those stories still work, because it is the writer’s skill at storytelling rather than the idea itself that makes the work entertaining.

Motivation, on the other hand, is more a important force in the creative process because it’s the force that keeps the writer plugging away at the idea until completion. Many times, the external stimuli that is initially responsible for the inspiration can help fuel the motivation. Ever seen the training montage in Rocky IV and suddenly felt the desire to go work out? Ever follow up on that desire by listening to the Rocky IV soundtrack to help you fuel the desire to keep your legs moving on the treadmill? Come on, I can’t be the only one.

In any case, it is my experience that motivation is more important and, unfortunately, more difficult to summon than is inspiration. I have dozens of ideas (inspirations) for novels filed away on my hard drive in a little folder with the highly likely name of "Ideas." Yet for the past several years I have completed a first draft on exactly one of them. And I still haven’t completed the second draft of that.

I wonder what the Rocky IV soundtrack would have sounded like if Sylvester Stallone had been playing a novelist?