STANDING IN THE STORM, The Many Worlds of William Alan Webb

We Sleep At Night Because America's Armed Forces, Police and Fire Fighters Never Do

PLAN D…Why I Didn’t Self Publish My New Book When Plans A, B & C Fell Through

 

Once you have some experience as an author, having a plan for your book from the outset is critical. If you’re a new writer still struggling to produce book one or two, this blog post might be a little premature. Maybe.

I would argue that it’s never too early to learn the writing profession, but I get that inexperienced writers can be overwhelmed with all of the things they are told to keep up with. Do this, do that, build an author platform…no!  Author platforms are a waste of time, build your email list instead! No! First master facebook ads! Wrong, AMS is the way to go!

It’s a lot to absorb, and even harder to put into action.

My newest book, Jurassic Jail, The Time Wars Book 1, began life in 1992. AS DID THE TITLE. (The alternate title was Hard Time, but Jurassic Jail was the working title.) I know Jurassic Park came out in 1990 and my recollection is having begun work in the late 80s, but that’s all fuzzy now. Did that influence my title? I don’t think so…the first dated copy I have is 1992 and it was 15k words long then. In those days I wrote very slowly.

Anyway, the idea, the essence of the book, was spectacular. It was so good I couldn’t believe that I’d come up with it. But the idea was better than the writer who thought it up. In short, I wasn’t good enough to write it back then. By the time I got to 1996 or so it sputtered out around 25k words.

When I picked it back up last year I was a different writer. I also had some experience with publishing. I decided that the ultimate publisher for this book was @BaenBooks. (As if that was my decision.) So when the publisher of Baen was announced as a guest at MidSouthCon this year, I made elaborate plans to present it for consideration. My friend Shannon went so far as to paint her sister from head to toe in scenes from my book. Check it out:

Is that Allosaurus on her right thigh gorgeous, or what?

Anyway, it was made known that these things weren’t welcomed. I was pretty depressed by that, although I should have known better. It was all my fault. Acquisitions editors, agents, publishers, they’re all deluged at conventions with wannabe writers trying to impress them, and to this wonderful lady I was just another in a long line of such folk. I should be remiss not to point out that the publisher initiated a discussion as I was signing books and she was very nice, so it was me who violated the rules of how these things are done, not her. Another lesson learned.

However, as this stage of my career I don’t have an agent, for a number of reasons. For one thing, I write the world’s worst query letter, although someone suggested a new one…”Dear Agent, I make a crapload of money selling books, do you want 10% of it?” I had one, once, an agent that is, a very powerful lady who knew everybody who was anybody in the New York publishing world and it did me no good whatsoever.

So much for Plan A, attracting Baen at the convention.

Plan B didn’t work out any better. Without that agent go-between, if I wanted to submit to Baen it would have gone through the slush pile of unsolicited manuscripts…nope, not again. Been there, done that. It can take up to a year and the odds of making it past the slush pile reader are infinitesimal.

That book care of Plan B.

Plan C was to self publish. I’ve learned a lot in two years and, while there is no question that my Last Brigade books were elevated in a major way by my publisher, I also thought I should experience self-publishing a novel. You know, hire my own cover artist, editor, formatter, etc. The downside is that it’s all up to me. The upside is that I get to keep all the royalties.

I had a wonderful editor all picked out, April Jones, and had even sent her the manuscript. I commissioned a cover painting by the incredibly talented lady who painted her sister in the above illustration, Shannon Ortberg. But here I made a critical mistake: I gave Shannon the wrong instructions on what to paint. That’s because I’m not as good at laying out book covers as I thought, a lesson I should have learned two years ago.

But I did learn one big lesson right about then. Or rather, I came to a realization. And that moment of clarity pushed me from Plan C to Plan D. Which is good, because the next plan was Plan 9 and it came From Outer Space.

My publisher, Gunnar Grey of Dingbat Publishing, has become a major part of my writing. Now, I suppose that’s what any publisher should be, but based on the stories of other writers I’m not sure that’s always the case. Quite frankly, Gunnar elevates my writing to a different level.

People tell me that’s the job of any good editor, and I believe them. I’m not saying Gunnar is the only great editor out there. But what I figured out is that, for the moment, Gunnar is my great editor.

Jurassic Jail was problematic, because my original style from the early 90’s bore no resemblance to the style I have now. I had evolved a lot in the interim and meshing the two styles proved a Herculean task. Then there was the issue of the narrative timeline. When you have three or four different timelines to follow in a linear narrative, it can get very confusing. I needed someone I could trust to help me figure it out.

Not to mention the eleven extra scenes she had me write to smooth things out. I didn’t see any of this coming. And then there’s the issue of the cover.

After much back and forth, which is usual for every book I write, we arrived at this cover, of which I am inordinately proud:

Plan D worked. Although the final edits aren’t quite done, I feel confident in saying that Jurassic Jail  is a spectacular book. It’s fast, it’s fun, the science makes sense, it’s everything I envisioned back in the late 80s.

 

 

 

 

On winning the 2018 Darrell Award for Best Novella

 

Dr. Darrell C. Richardson founded the Memphis Science Fiction Association, was a member of First Fandom, served as Director of the National Fantasy Fan Federation, helped create MidSouthCon, was an ordained Baptist minister and, in his spare time, wrote 44 books about great men of fantasy and genre fiction such as Max Brand, Edgar Rice Burroughs and J. Allen St. John.

For more about Dr. Richardson check out this link:

http://www.erbzine.com/darrell/

I had the pleasure of meeting him on several occasions and still own a number of his books, all signed by the great man himself. In 1996 a group of fans founded the Darrell Awards in his honor, to promote literacy in the Mid-South.

On Saturday night, March 10, 2018, at about 6:38 PM, this incredibly prestigious award was given to me for my novella, A Night At The Quay, which appears in the full length book Sharp Steel or as a standalone. In the audience at the time were such SFF superstars as Mike Resnick, Steve Miller and Sharon Lee. Holy humbling, Batman!

Buy Sharp Steel

I see awards as matters of trust between the recipient and the judges. I am eternally grateful to those who selected Quay and will try not to let them down with my future work.

The earliest version of this story dates to 1979. It was read by many of my college professors back in the day and all but one hated it. Of course, they hated anything genre related. I wasn’t lucky enough to get Dal Coger or Jack Beifuss as a teacher.

Anyway, I tinkered with the story and drew some illustrations for it up until the late 90’s, when I finally digitized it, copied it to a floppy disc and forgot about it. Then, in early 2017, I found the floppy.

My writing style had changed radically in the intervening decades, as had my ability to judge my own work. Plus, I’d forgotten most of the story. So I rewrote it and sent it to my awesome publisher, J. Gunnar Grey of Dingbat Publishing. She loved it as much as I did.

What I’ve always loved about this story is the interplay between the two heroes, Alden and Dexter, the evil wizard who really isn’t so evil, greedy hucksters, assassins, the misty seaport setting and a werebear who doesn’t actually change shape. Instead of the usual tropes I played with them and twisted them but still held true to the influences of my heroes, Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber.

Karf and Lef – Illustration by William Alan Webb

Sometimes a writer can’t believe they wrote something, and that’s how it is with this story and I. I’ve always said that writing makes me better than I really am, and this award proves it!

Cover for the novella version. Principal artwork by Shannon Ortberg, finishing artwork by William Alan Webb. Layout and typography by J. Gunnar Grey.

Why I’m a Pantser, or Where did this new story come from?

 

I’m a Pantser. I sit down to write without a whole lot of pre-planning about what I’m going to write. For example, when I woke up this morning, writing a blog entry wasn’t on my to-do list for the day. Other writers outline everything they do, and I confess I’ve tried doing that, but so far I can’t do it. Outlines just don’t make sense to me when I try to plan out my stories.

When people ask what advice I would give a new or unpublished writer, or someone who has writer’s block (which I don’t believe in, by the way), my advice is always the same: don’t edit as you go. Write and don’t read what you’ve written until you’re finished, and whatever you do, don’t try to edit what you just wrote. This goes along with my Pantser style…Write ’em all, let God sort ’em out.

It took me thirty long years of struggle to reach the point where I could do that, but when I finally did I started writing at a pace that surprises even me. Now I just write stuff when I think of it and my production has gone way up.

But I’m a lucky guy and I know it.

Like so many writers I have more ideas swimming around in my brain than I could ever possibly write into a cohesive format. Unlike most writers I know, I actually have the time to piddle around with some of the stranger ones. And the great thing about being a Pantser is that I can do it without forethought.

I’m now 10k words into a bizarre story that I neither planned or even dreamed of ahead of time. It wasn’t even one of my secret projects because I literally had no inkling about it before I started typing. One night a few weeks ago I started writing and poof! there it was. I think it’s pretty good, too, but who knows?

How long will it be, what genre is it, all that good stuff comes later. Right now I have no idea. And that’s because I’m a Pantser. My path leads into the wild unknown, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

 

2018 Writing Resolutions

 
  1. Decide which cons I’d like to attend next year and see if they would like to have me. So far none have responded to my inquiries.
  2. Finish writing the fourth novella in my new series Sharp Steel and High Adventure. The story is titled The Demon In the Jewel.
  3. Finish cover for The Demon in the Jewel.
  4. Find new talent to mentor in business. Some of you might not know it, but I’m a business consultant and mentor on top of everything else. I have recently found an impressive young man to mentor and it rekindled the fire to do it again. (Like so many others this young person discovered that work is WORK, and decided to quit at the first obstacle.) If you know of anyone who might like to become a successful business owner, send them my way. But be warned: they’ve got to be serious, I don’t have time to waste trying to motivate those who aren’t ready to do what is necessary to succeed.
  5. Outline book 4 of The Last Brigade.
  6. Write book 4 of The Last Brigade.
  7. Finish prequel to The Last Brigade titled Not Enough Bullets.
  8. Finish writing  Killing Hitler’s Reich: The Battle For Austria, 1945
  9. Finish re-writing and editing two short stories written with Tom Russell, then submit.
  10. Write 5th fantasy novella. Secret title.
  11. Continue submitting short story Tail Gunner Joe to markets.
  12. Re-write short story Winter Storm.
  13. Outline and prepare for writing partially written novel currently titled The Time of Your Life, which will likely be re-titled something like The Prison of Time.
  14. Decide whether to pursue partly written novel currently titled Suntans Within Suntans.
  15. Begin outline for novel idea The Halls of Heaven.
  16. Begin outline for two full length novels in Sharp Steel and High Adventure series, a prequel and a sequel to the novellas.
  17. Learn how the f*** to use Scrivener. This will need to be done before I can outline book 4.
  18. Record audiobook of me reading The Last Attack and/or Unsuck Your Book. Use the result of this to determine whether I can do justice to the Brigade or Sharp Steel books.
  19. Get a recording of Standing The Final Watch on the market, regardless of who is reading it.
  20. . Write sequel to Unsuck Your Book.
  21. Outline and begin writing We Are Rome.
  22. Write book proposal for same.
  23. Outline unnamed alternate history novel about the War for Southern Independence.
  24. Outline prequel for The Last Brigade, tentatively titled Collapse.
  25. Sleep. This is optional.

Are you listening?

 

Famous (read as highly paid) writers may have transcended those moments of self-doubt that torment the rest of us. Maybe George R.R. Martin, Nora Roberts, Michael Connelly or Brandon Sanderson wake up every day with the foreknowledge that every word they type is golden. That people are eagerly waiting to pay to read those words like they were painted in gold. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t begrudge them a penny of their money; they’ve earned it.

But for the rest of us confidence in our work is a daily struggle. And for those with a regular job and the obligations of a family it can finally wear you down.

All of us live with friends and family who don’t understand the process of writing. When we’re typing that’s an action most can interpret, but when we’re staring out into space, or mumbling to ourselves, or doing any number of others things to try and force our brain into connecting plot threads or remembering words, that’s when people think we’re not working or we’re wasting time. The truth is that’s as much a part of the writing process as typing. And the whole time we’re doing whatever rituals we do to try and create magic on the page, we’re asking ourselves why we’re doing it because nobody cares. We’re telling ourselves it’s all just a big waste of time.

A young lady I greatly admire is struggling today with whether or not to continue writing. I don’t know her, we’ve never met and I’ve never spoken to her. And yet just last night I told my writer’s group about her. She’s a 23 year old mom who lives in Texas and works at Wal-Mart. But she also has multiple novels out and the newest one topped out on Amazon around #8000. In case you don’t know, that’s damned good. Most writers never sniff such a high rating.

Today she wants to quit. She’s wondering what the point is to it all. Writing can suck the life out of you, especially if you’re self-pubbed or with a small press. No doubt she has missed some events with her son because of writing. Her family is probably asking why they don’t see her more, or why she can’t help with this or that. And it’s not their fault. They’re not writers, they don’t know. But other writers do. We know what that’s like. If we don’t hear it now, today, we’ve certainly heard it in the past.

Yet to succeed we have to keep at it no matter what. I wish I had. I wish that I hadn’t listened to the voice in my head telling me to give up 25 years ago. I can’t make up that time and I wish that I could. If I could strangle that voice with my bare hands I would. Instead, all I can do now is try and be as productive as possible in whatever time I have left.

So don’t follow in my mistakes. Don’t do what I did. Keep writing. Are you listening Kayla?

One Writer’s Life

 

Late Sunday night, that would be Dec. 10th, 2017, I emailed the 5th draft of Standing At The Edge, The Last Brigade Book 3, to my editor at Dingbat Publishing, J. Gunnar Grey. After the first draft I was lucky enough to get detailed feedback from four beta readers. Since then I’ve done a content edit, a timeline edit and two line by line edits. That’s about all I can do with it for now.

I trust Gunnar’s judgment implicitly and give her much of the credit for why The Last Brigade series has sold tens of thousands of copies. (Book 2 had over 2,000 pre-orders.) So sending it off has become very safe for me, which most writers will tell you is NOT how they feel about showing their work to others.

I’d already missed my self-imposed deadline, which put me back on all the other projects on my schedule. So as I wait to hear back from Gunnar, what now? What does an author do when they finish a book?

This writer immediately starts another one. I call this my secret project. In this case it’s a book from long ago that I quit working on after 27k words and which now sits at 36k. I realized that a big chunk of it needed a severe edit. It’s almost all exposition and description but the problem is…it’s damned good exposition and description. I’d forgotten how far I was along the road of that style of writing. The problem is that my style now is vastly different from what it was then.

But a major plot hole was fixed by a chance meeting with fellow writer Susan McKenzie, who also happens to be a nuclear engineer. Once I told her the plot she described a whole new motivator for my bad guys and it fit perfectly! So that’s what I’m doing today.

As those who know me are aware, I NEVER work on one project by itself. I can do it in short bursts to meet a deadline, but not for too long. So I’m learning to use Scrivener to outline book 4 of the Last Brigade, tentatively titled Standing By The Abyss.

I’m also prepping to do a looonnngggg deep dive into the WW2 book in 2018, because by contract it must be finished by Dec. 31, 2018.

In the meantime I’m waiting with bated breath to hear back from Gunnar. Tick, tick, tick…

#7 is done!

 

Last night I turned in the finished manuscript for Standing At The Edge. At this point it’s the longest novel I’ve written since 1986 @ 124k words.  This was #7 on my writer’s agenda that I published in a blog post back in August. Here’s a link to that post:

http://thelastbrigade.com/a-writers-schedule/

That’s not the end of it, of course. Now it’s the publisher’s turn and I anticipate some major revisions. During the rewrites and edits I’ve already shifted several plot lines to book 4, and that could happen again. Of course, should I be correct that just means that book 4 is that much closer to written!

It took me a solid nine months to write this book. If you’d asked me five years ago how long it would take to accomplish such a thing I’d have said years, not months. But now, with more than 10 books out and more on the way, nine months seems like forever.

The hope is that Standing At The Edge will be out before Christmas. If it is then you’ll know Santa Claus is real, because that’ll be my Christmas present.

Editing decisions, they all count

 

I’m in the middle of editing Standing At The Edge, The Last Brigade Book 3, and I realized how many thousands of little decisions go into the making of just one book. Let me give you a few examples.

First is the timeline. I’m a pantser, which means I write by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go. That’s not to say I haven’t outlined things in my head, only that I haven’t written them down and don’t follow a set script when I write. And here’s a confession for you: I wish that I could write that way. It would make the editing so much easier. But I can’t. I’ve tried and failed. I’m going to try again with book 4. I’ll let you know how that goes.

Anyway, the timeline is tricky. This book jumps to different locales and as the author I want to stay with characters long enough for the reader to connect with them. But what if others things are happening at the same time? Do I adhere to a strict chronological timeline at the expense of following a subplot until it reaches a logical breakpoint, and then go back in time when I switch to another subplot? It’s not as easy as it sounds. Some people prefer it one way, some the other.

You also have to make sure that all of the facts and revelations line up with one another. For example, does an action early in the book have repercussions later? Does someone make a reference that hasn’t happened yet? You’ve got to think about all of this.

Then comes the content edit. Anything that doesn’t advance the narrative has to go. In Standing At The Edge I’ve already moved two plot lines to book 4, which is awesome because I haven’t even started writing that book and it’s already close to 20k words.

But the hardest part for me is the line edit. I read every single word in the book at least three times. I agonize over every visual, every description, every phrase. I speak every word of dialogue out loud to ensure that it sounds natural for that character. It’s a long, hard and grinding process.

And the whole time I’m doing it the next book on my schedule is running through my mind like a movie in the background. It’s  distracting!

But I’m lucky. I have a publisher who happens to be the editor’s equivalent of Lebron James. I don’t have to make my book perfect because, after putting three of my books on the market, I know she will put on that final polish that makes it special.

If you self publish I strongly suggest that you interview editors until you find one that works for you, then pay them whatever they charge to make your books awesome.

 

 

How to be a writer and #6, #7 and #15 done

 

One of the most common questions young or new writers have for me is what all is involved in becoming a writer. The process itself seems arcane to many people, as if there’s a sorcerous incantation only known to initiates of a secret order of writers. They all want admittance into this secret society.

The incantation itself does exist. Instead of a chant, however, it’s accompanied by a different sound. Namely, the clacking of a keyboard as you’re typing words.

If you’re gonna be a writer you have to write. It really is that simple.

Here’s an update on me plugging away at the to-do list.

#6 involved attending my scheduled cons and I did. Imaginarium in Louisville was a blast.

#7 was finishing book 3 of The Last Brigade. This is done, in line-by-line edits now and the cover is finished. Waiting for the final analysis by two more beta readers.

#15 is pulling out the novel previously titled Hard Time and starting it back up. That’s now done, I’ve added about 5k words to it.

Non-fiction World War 2 book coming in 2019!

 

It is with incredible pride (and more than a little astonishment) that I announce having signed with Helion Books to write a book on a long-ignored campaign of World War 2! The book is due for the market in 2019.

More details will be coming later, but for now here’s a link to their website: http://www.helion.co.uk/

But be careful! They have so many amazing books you’ll end up buying something!

 

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