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Category: Writing Page 1 of 7

Audiblegate

Roughly 60,000 years ago, one man in a small clan of hunter-gatherers in what is now called the Sun Coast, spent several months drawing the fanciful tale of a hunt, on a cave wall where his band of nomads had taken shelter for the winter. Creatorus, that was his name, which in the language of his people meant ‘eater of squirrel guts’, toiled over his masterpiece for months. He’d earned his name because Creatorus had little to offer the clan in the way of physical labor. As such, he got whatever food the others didn’t want, most commonly squirrel stomachs and intestines, and even for that he had to wrestle with the cat. Nor was he allowed to be close enough to the common fire to cook the rodent innards.

Working night and day in dim lighting until his back ached and his vision failed, once he’d finished the cave painting, Creatorus invited his clan to enjoy the fruits of his long labors. In return, he only asked for an arrowhead, or a place closer to the fire for one night, or maybe a hind leg instead of a squirrel’s bladder.

Instead, the biggest member of the clan, an ugly brute named Amazonus, shoved Creatorus aside and he collected the payments, keeping most for himself and only tossing Creatorus the stuff he didn’t want. Amazonus told Creatorus to be happy he was allowed to paint his stories at all, and to get back to work painting more. Having no other choice, and hoping for more scraps, Creatorus dipped his bit of horsehair into the red pigment and started his next story. Amazonus laughed and grew fatter.

Until one day Creatorus decided he’d had enough. He left the cave and never went back. Maybe he died a horrible death at the hands of a saber-toothed tiger, or maybe he met a cute Neandertal, fell in love and made lots of little Creatoruses. That’s kind of not the point. The point is that Amazonus overplayed his hand and Creatorus refused to create more stuff for him to show people in return for their hard-earned treasures.

Sixty millenia later, Amazon is doing the same thing to authors and narrators. Not only can amoral and unscrupulous parasites return audiobooks for full credit after listening to them, only if you subscribe to Audible, the authors and narrators get charged back for them with no accounting of those returns from Amazon. In essence, then, if you pony up the $15 to Audible every month, and if you’re also a weasel, you can listen to as many audiobooks as you want. Audible, in essence, is a lending library that only costs $15 a month.

Think if Costco did that. You’d pay your yearly membership fee, buy whatever you want, food, garden hoses, Triple-A batteries, whatever, use the items until they wore out or you were done with them, and then you returned them and got all of your money back. In the case of the food it would be stinky, but you just know that some people would do it anyway. And Costco then turned around and charged back the various vendors for the items you returned. That’s exactly what Amazon is doing.

Now, I get that Amazon wants to screw as many people as possible in pursuit of the bottom line. That’s what corporations are supposed to do, and I have no problem with it. This blog entry isn’t a whine about capitalism or any of that nonsense. Nothing is forcing me to do business with Audible.

The point of this blog is that Amazon’s policy is extremely dangerous for them.

They are already being sued for anti-trust violations by the traditional publishing industry, via the American Booksellers Association, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Ebay and a host of others. Most of those lawsuits are sour grapes; the traditional publishers are angry that Indie authors no longer have to grovel for absurdly low royalties from them, but instead can reach their readers through Amazon. In other words, they’re suing to force authors to work for them again, with their pittance royalty rates. So I’m with Amazon on that one.

But Amazon has now done the same thing as the traditional publishers. They want authors and narrators to write great books and narrate wonderful productions, so they can sell more subscriptions and to hell with the creative talent. Is another anti-trust lawsuit coming against Audible? If so, could it be combined with the others into a class-action anti-trust case? Could this get Congress involved?

It would all be so interesting to watch if I wasn’t among those affected. Oh who am I kidding? It’s still gonna be fun to watch, which is poor compensation for how  Amazon is treating their business partners in Audible, but at least it’s something. Nobody minds when the bully gets what’s coming to him.

 

SUPERSTARS WRITING SEMINAR 2020 AFTER-ACTION REPORT

 
Superstars Writing Seminars 2020 After-Action Report:
This report can only hit the high points of what was an incredible week, spent with some of the most talented writers in all of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror. The conference is held at The Antlers hotel in Colorado Springs, CO, and it runs like a well-oiled machine. For any writer who is interested, I can only say this advanced my career in a way few things could. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Anyone interested in attending can contact me for a discount code.
I was a first time attendee to Superstars, so it was hard not to go all fanboy at the sight of so many literary heroes.
Tuesday, Feb. 4 – This was a travel day. Arrival in Colorado Springs was about 8 pm. Superstars has an amazing group of volunteers who picked up attendees at both the Springs airport, and Denver. We flew into COS and immediately met three fellow writers who shared a car with me. I gave the amazing Monique Bucheger money for gas, and I encourage everyone to do this, too. It’s still far less than a cab, Uber or Lyft, and they are doing it without any compensation.
Dinner was a burger in the bar at the Antler’s Hotel, where I saw some friends, including Mark W. Stallings, and met Editor Extraordinaire Mia Kleve. Mia does a lot of work in the Four Horsemen Universe, where I have some upcoming stories, including one anthology she is editing. I love you Mia! (Please don’t reject my story!)
 
Wednesday, Feb, 5 – Craft Day. Superstars is a conference about the business of writing, but an option is to sign up for Craft Day, where you have deep sessions with the best of the best about some aspect of your writing. I chose a course on starting novels, with Eric Flint, and world-building with Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta.
For the course with Eric, I submitted 8,600 words of a new novel in a new universe. He read it and had two very specific points on how to improve it. Right off the bat he said the writing was fine, very professional and found no issues there. Given that it was only a second draft, I was happy with that, although he did have two suggestions. Both of them I will incorporate, both are simple fixes and both will focus the books even better than before.
Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire Press would be a great home for these…we talked about that at my consultation with him later that day. Turns out, he wants a trilogy from this book for Ring of Fire. Alternate World War II history, you say? Yes, please! I offered to write up a proposal so we would be on the same page, and he agreed, but at this point it’s more or less a formality. One way or another, the books are going to be written and published.
At various times during the seminar I had the pleasure of speaking with Lt. Col. Kevin Ikenberry, US Army (Ret.), and one helluva good SF novelist. Kevin writes in the Four Horsemen Universe and has branched out into stories of the Peacemaker Guild.
The second part of craft day was world-building with Rebecca Moesta and Kevin Anderson. How much I learned here blew me away. I thought I had a pretty good handle of how to world-build, but once we took a deep dive into the subject I learned how much I didn’t know. Or, rather, I knew most of it, but had forgotten it or had not placed my emphasis in the right places. This is going to help immensely.
At dinner in the hotel, we ran into none other than Colonel Jonathan Brazee, with his wife and one year old twins. We had a long, in-depth conversation about many aspects of publishing. For those who don’t know, Colonel Brazee has more than 100 Indie titles and has been both a Nebula and a Dragon Awards finalist. Plus, he’s a genuinely nice guy.
Thursday, February 6 – The day started great, having breakfast with James Hunter and his brilliant wife, Jeanette Strode. We had a far-ranging conversation on many topics. THIS is why you attend Superstars, because moments like this only come once in a lifetime. James and Jeanette are having unprecedented success with Shadow Alley Press, and are a big part of the re-shaping of publishing currently underway.
After that I attended Jonathan Mayberry’s session on writing short stories. As a 5-time Stoker Award winner, when someone like Mayberry speaks, I listen.
As an editor, he rejects unsolicited stories if the first line isn’t really good. If the story was solicited, then he might give the author until the end of the first page, which is 16 lines in standard format. The other very interesting thing I learned is that he writes the ending first, which I also sometimes do.
Another session I attended was with Eric Flint, as he discussed Ring of Fire Press. He went into detail about how to submit for the 1632 series, the Grantville Gazette, and Ring of Fire Press, plus the content they are looking for. 1632 has more than 200 books in the universe.
I also attended James Hunter and Jeanette Strodes’ first class on Understanding Amazon. The room was absolutely packed, and this helped clarify what I already knew about Amazon, and taught me a whole lot more.
Snow started falling in the afternoon and we ate dinner two blocks away at Jack Quinn’s Irish Pub, where we both got the Shepherd’s Pie. It was great!
Friday, February 7 – Breakfast was again a high point of the day, since I sat with Colonel Brazee, James Hunter (he’s probably sick of seeing me by this point), Aaron Michael Ritchey and the amazing Michael Anderle. I missed the first few sessions because…well, I was already having breakfast with Superstars, so why cut that short?
I then attended the Traditional v. Indie Publishing panel, where at least one major author said he is leaving Trad to go 100% Indie. The general conclusion is that how you publish depends on what you want from your book(s). Trad = visibility, Indie = money.
After that was Michael Anderle’s EYE-OPENING session on global marketing. Holy cow! And I got the contact I needed to start putting my stuff into other languages in a fast way that makes economic sense. This could be a game-changer.
Anderle also went detail about how to attend foreign book fairs, why you might consider doing so, and how to network if you do. That was pure gold.
Next was Brian Meeks, the Human Stat Machine. This was hard data about using both Amazon and Facebook ads, and how to write book descriptions to achieve your goals. Plus, a few little known details about how Amazon works when formatting those descriptions. He also gave us the five most powerful words, as proven by long and hard data crunching. I can honestly say that after listening to his talk, I am completely changing my approach to judging the success of ads on both platforms.
After Meeks came the 2nd part of James Hunter and Jeanette Strodes “Mastering Amazon”. There was SO much info it was hard to keep up, and even though I’ve studied this intently, most of it was new to me.
Friday night was the optional dinner with a guest. I chose Eric Flint, which gave a chance to reinforce our previous agreement for the trilogy. I sat next to Lou Agresta, who is both a novelist and a game designer.
Once back at the hotel, I was up well past midnight discussing a potential teamup with Mark W. Stallings for what would be a really cool project. Still some details to work out there.
Saturday February 8 – A 6:00 am wake up call was necessary because of a 7:00 am Eggs Benedict breakfast, hosted by James Artimus Owens. (Here, There Be Dragons). It was both delicious and inspiring.
The first full panel of the day that I attended was The Art of the Con, wherein Jonathan Mayberry, Jim Butcher and several others gave insight into their approaches to being guests at cons, and selling books there. I learned several concrete tips to improve both sales and visibility. When authors of this caliber speak, I listen.
Then came James Hunter and Jeanette Strodes third Understanding Amazon panel, and this one was absolutely loaded with insights and tips. I couldn’t write fast enough. Once again, what I learned will help refine ads and deliver much better results. You simply can’t overvalue such a session.
Things finally wrapped up with a session featuring all of the special guests doing a Q & A panel. Dinner that night was at Phantom Canyon Brewery across the street, where we’d had the VIP Dinner the night before. The Shepherd’s Pie was quite different from Jack Quinn’s, yet utterly delicious. Highly recommended. I know I’m going back next year.
Sunday February 9 –  A 3:00 am wakeup call for a 6:20 flight to Dallas seemed like torture at the time, but airport security was as fast as it can ever be and the plane was on time. No hiccups in Dallas, and home by 1:15 PM.
So what’s my verdict? Was it worth the money, time and effort? Oh hell yes. I was the third person to sign up for next year. I mean it when I say that SSWS advanced my career by years. Any SFF writer who is serious really needs to go, there’s not another conference like it. And if you are a writer and make that decision, don’t forget to ask me for a discount code, I’ll be glad to let you have it.

Into the Land of the Great Unknown

When you’re a pantser, someone who writes by the seat of their pants without a formal outline, you’re taking a journey into The Land of the Great Unknown. You never know where a story will lead you, or even how long it’s going to be. Not for sure. I am reminded of that as I write two new stories in the same universe.

The first one, Island of Bones, was about as pantsy as it gets. Late afternoon of Friday, January 3, 2020, I was sitting at my table in the dealer room at Shadowcon, when a fellow writer, Rob Howell, asked if I would like to submit a story for a new anthology for which he was the editor. As I always do, I gave him my default answer, ‘hell yes!’ The only caveat? It was due in a week.

Oh.

“No sweat!” I told him. ‘What the hell are you thinking?’ is what I said to myself.

So, sitting there at my table until it was time for the next panel, on the spot I started writing. As all pantsers probably know, the process of creating fiction with no prior planning, and doing it successfully, leans far closer to being alchemy than it does skill. It delves deep into the workings of the individual writers’ minds, so the process is never the same from writer to writer. At least, I don’t think it is.

Anyway, for me a story starts with a title. It isn’t absolutely necessary, but the writing goes much faster if I have a title to work from. The story for Rob’s anthology was sword and sorcery fantasy, with a heavy influence from Robert E. Howard, creator of Conan. In other words, it was right up my alley. I already had an award-winning story in need of sequels, and there was a time gap in the ones I had planned. That gap involved a sea voyage, and what goes better with a sea voyage than a bad storm and a mysterious island? Thus I started playing around with titles about storms and islands, and within a minute or so Island of Bones came into my mind. It fit nicely with the story right before, The Demon in the Jewel, and the one after, Beyond the Dead River.

The suggested length was 8k words, with a max of around 12k. So when you’re pantsing, how does that work? How do you plan a story to fit a certain length, without first working out the details?

Beats me. Somehow, it just happens. The first draft of the story wound up around 8,300 words. If you’re a writer, I realize that isn’t particularly useful information, since it isn’t something you can duplicate. But there is a lesson in all of this…I got stuck at about 2,000 words for a day or so. When you pants it, by definition you don’t know exactly the story is going, and sometimes your brain doesn’t fill in the blanks. So what then?

You write whatever words you have to write to keep things moving. It really is that simple, and that hard. See, the key for me is to keep the story moving. Even if you use placeholder prose to do it, keep it going. That’s what I did, I filled in a skeleton of the action and moved past it until I typed The End.

The story wound up at about 10,500 words. In other words, on the edit and re-write, I added 2,200 words in the places where I left placeholder prose. I’m vain enough to think the story is quite good and works well, but whether it is or isn’t, I had wrung every ounce of entertainment from it that I could.

I mentioned two stories at the beginning of this post. The second is The Demon in the Jewel, which is the direct sequel to A Night at the Quay. Demon has been in the works for almost two years. The initial burst got me about 3k words into it, and then…the downside of pantsing. My mind didn’t know where to go with it next. I’d thought it would be between 15-20k words when finished, but my inner self kept shaking off that idea. I got stuck repeatedly because I was consciously trying to force my sub-conscious to do what I told it to do.

Bad idea. When I finally allowed the story to come to me as it wanted, I discovered this wasn’t a novella, as were the previous three stories. It was a novel. So now it’s past 40k words and climbing. I keep getting stuck and I keep writing through it, just putting in placeholder prose until I can type The End, and then go back and edit.

Or let Gunnar do that. Gunnar is the editor/publisher of Dingbat Publishing, my first and still the main publisher of my books. As she has told me many times, my job is to write stories, her job is to do everything else. I get to send her first drafts, if I want to, but that’s a luxury that I’ll leave for a different time.

To sum up, as a pantser I get stuck quite often, because I haven’t planned where things are going. And yet I don’t let it bog me down because I have learned how to force my way through it. I can’t teach you a nifty method for doing this, because I don’t know any. The only advice I have is to force words out of your mind and into the story. Whether they are good or bad doesn’t matter, it’s the act of creating them in the first place that will see you through what some people call ‘writer’s block.’

 

Obligatory year end blog entry

I always thought that when you reach a certain age, say, your early 60s, you’d begin to slow a bit. Stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Take more trips to warm locales and read more books, visit museums and do all the stuff you once thought sounded boring, back when you could party all and still function the next day. You’d spend your days arguing with the government about all the personal stuff they never had any business getting into in the first place, like social security and medicare, and your grandkids would prop their heads in their hands and pay attention to every old story you told them. Regardless of how many times you repeated the same story, they’d always hang on every word.

When you weren’t arguing with some government bureaucrat, or refilling prescriptions to keep bodily functions running smoothly, maybe you’d play a lot of golf, or maybe you’d go fishing, plant a vegetable garden or tend bees. Maybe your spouse or significant other would shoo you out of the house because you were driving them crazy, or maybe they’d hand you a ‘honey-do’ list longer than your arm. All of those and more, either in full or in part, were what I envisioned life post-kids would be like. What I never, ever thought is that I would be busier than I ever have been in my entire life, and damned glad that I am.

I’ve been a writer for going on fifty years. My first (unpublished, thank God!) novel was finished in 1986, but it wasn’t until 30 years later than my first book came out, the one that started my diversion from a semi-sedentary life into an even more sedentary one, Standing The Final Watch, The Last Brigade, Book 1. Since then I’ve sold somewhere between 60,000 and 80,000 books, in all formats.

None of that happened because I’m such a great writer. It happened because I’m lucky enough to have amazing friends and family in my corner, without whose support it could never have happened.

Next weekend, the first weekend in January of 2020, I will attend my first convention as Guest of Honor, SHADOWCON. It’s gonna be epic, not because of me, but because of the awesome people running it. In February I’m going to Colorado Springs for SUPERSTARS, a conference featuring some of the top writers in science fiction and fantasy teaching others how they became successful, and how to improve your craft. March will be MIDSOUTHCON, where I will again be a panelist and have a table in the dealer room.

In 2019 I was lucky enough to attend LIBERTYCON, and got up at 6 am on a Saturday to get a spot in the June, 2020, convention. If you know me at all, you know how nearly impossible that is for me. The convention sold all 750 spots out in 29 minutes and 9 seconds. I hope to get a spot at the 20booksto50k conference in November of 2020, but that’s not a guarantee yet.

See what I mean? Sedentary.

In March of 2019, my novella The Hairy Man, A Story in the World of the Last Brigade, was First Runnerup for the Darrell Award, and in October it won the Imadjinn Award. Jurassic Jail, The Time Wars Book 1, was First Runnerup for the Imadjinn Award. For me, and I suspect for every writer, awards are confirmation that others appreciate what you’re doing and the way you’re doing it. They help alleviate that voice in your head that whispers “this sucks” about everything you write.

August of 2019 saw Jurassic Jail as part of my first bundle with Science Fiction Writers of America. It sold close to 1,000 copies in three weeks. I could never have dreamed of such a thing even a year ago.

In 2019 I published one long novel, Standing Before Hell’s GateThe Last Brigade, Book 4, one novella, The Nameless, Task Force Zombie 1, four novelettes, Kill Me When You Can, Hit World #1; Shoot First, Hit World #2 (with Larry Hoy); The Sting of Fate and Grinning Soul (with my writing mentor Thomas Lyon Russell), a Time Wars short story, Tail Gunner Joe, and my non-fiction magnum opus, Killing Hitler’s Reich, The Battle for Austria, 1945. I cannot conceive that I will ever write a book with more long-lasting impact than that one.

Already written and scheduled or contracted for in 2020 are novella Hitler a la Mode (on pre-order now); novelette The Granite Man (in the Cthulu Universe!); novelette The Moles of Vienna, A Story in the World of the Last Brigade; novelette The River of Walking Spirits, A Story in the World of the Last Brigade; novelette Nalusa Malaya, A Story in the World of The Last Brigade, novellette Drumsticks Along the Mohawk and novelette Roland the Headless Mecha Driver, my first entry into the magnificent Four Horsemen Universe.

I have publicly vowed to try writing 1,000,000 words in 2020. For many writers that’s a drop in output, but for me, with all of my hand problems, it will be quite a challenge.

Novels already in various stages of writing and planned for release in 2020 include my first full length book in the Four Horsemen Universe, with the working title of High Mountain Hunters; Standing In Righteous Rage, The Last Brigade Book 5; Cretaceous Kill, The Time Wars Book 2 (with J. Gunnar Grey); The Demon in the Jewel, Sharp Steel & High Adventure 4; Ghosts of the Coast, an alternate history of the Battle of France, 1940, and Not Enough Bullets, a Task Force Zombie novel.

Novels planned for next year, but not yet begun, include Standing Among The Tombstones, The Last Brigade Book 6. Out For Blood, Task Force Zombie 2 will likely be a novella, as will Beyond The Dead River, Sharp Steel & High Adventure 5. On the horizon, but highly unlikely in 2020, are The Dragons of Anthar, Sharp Steel & High Adventure 6 and Dark Time, The Time Wars 3. I also have a sequel to High Mountain Hunters forming in my mind, but not yet planned or gotten permission to attempt.

As if that doesn’t sound like enough, in the non-fiction realm I’m planning on finishing Killing Hitler’s Reich, The Battle for Velikiye Luki, 1942-43; Unsuck Your Writing Career, What I’ve Learned; Essays on the War for Southern Independence and, should I somehow run out of things to write, there are further projects already in the works.

Four years ago today, December 31, 2015, I had the first draft of the longest novel I’d ever attempted, totaling about 175,000 words. I had no idea what to do next, absolutely no clue about the publishing industry of the 21st Century, no website, no Amazon author accounts, no twitter account or contacts anywhere in any genre. I literally had no concept of what to do next.

The point of all of this is to encourage others never to quit pursuit of your dreams, no matter what happens. For my fellow writers, I revel in every success you achieve and find inspiration from you. The list of amazing people I’ve met in the past four years is too long to list here, but nearly all of them are new to writing within the past five years. It really is a brave new world out there. Go get you some.

 

 

Writing goals for 2020

You can’t say that I overwhelm you with blog entries, now can you?

Among other things in 2020 I need to find a really good, really reliable cover artist. Not that I have much self-publishing to do, but even so it would be great to know someone.

For year 2020 my daily writing goal will be 3,000 words. That may seem like a lot, but many writers I admire would consider that a bad day. Given the arthritis in my hands, however, I have to be realistic about what I can accomplish. I also have something weird called Cubital Tunnel Syndrome that limits me.

3,000 words a day will equal about a million for next year, and that seems pretty darned good to me.

Keep in mind that the more non-fiction I write, the more that daily average plummets. Research intensive projects might only progress by 500 words a day, and yet have taken eight hours to produce.

Nevertheless, here’s my intended schedule. See if there’s something you like in the works.

The Last Brigade Books 5 and 6 – Standing In Righteous Rage and Standing Among The Tombstones, The Showdown Trilogy Books 2 and 3. These should equal no more than 300k words. One in Spring, one late Fall. 300,ooo words.

The Demon in the Jewel, Sharp Steel and High Adventure Four – Hoping to finish this before the end of 2019, but if not allotting 20k words to finish it next year. 320,000 words.

Cretaceous Kill, The Time Wars Book 2, with J. Gunnar Grey. First quarter of the year. Currently at 19k words, probably top out around 80k. If I do half that’s 30k, so let’s add that number to get us up to 350,000 words.

Not Enough Bullets, Task Force Zombie Book 2. Currently at 19,600 words. Want this out by mid-year, between the two Last Brigade books. Probably another 80k word maximum, so let’s add 60k to the total.  410,000 words.

Killing Hitler’s Reich, The Battle for Velikiye Luki 1942-1943. Non-fiction and needs a LOT of further research. This will slow things down. But currently at a whopping 69k words. This will end up around 125k, probably, so I’m adding 56k to the total allocation. 466,000 words.

Anonymous SF novel in an existing universe that I can’t reveal yet. VERY EXCITING stuff. Haven’t started, will require some research and reading. 80k words, aiming for mid-year. 546,000 words.

Those are the high priority books for next year, not in a particular order. Once those are done, these will come next.

Beyond the Dead River, Sharp Steel and High Adventure 5. Projecting this as a novella at 30k words. 576,000 words.

The Dragons of Anthar, Sharp Steel and High Adventure 6. This is a novel, probably in the 100k words range. 676,000 words.

Dark Time, The Time Wars Book 3. A novel, call it 80k. 756,000 words.

Kill Me If You Will, Hit World 3. Novelette, perhaps a novella. Probably 9k words. 765,000 words.

Double Down, Hit World 4. Novella, 15k words. 780,000 words.

Last Brigade world short story for an anthology of same. 10k words. 790,000 words.

Unsuck Your Book Career: What I’ve Learned. Sequel to Unsuck Your Book. Guessing at 30k. 820,000 words.

Ten opportunity short stories. I’m reserving time to write up to 10 stories for anthologies I might be invited into. Alternately, this could be a 100k word novel or multiple novellas. 920,000 words.

Ghost of the Coast. Alternate World War II history novel. Most likely 100k words. 1,020,000 words.

There…now that wasn’t so hard now was it?

I must be out of my mind.

 

Death to Spammers!

When I first set up this website more than three years ago it was my first experience with doing so. Being a person who wants to interact with my readers, and who takes any and all criticism seriously, I tried to make it easy to ask me questions or leave me comments.

Silly me.

I put up a Feedback form but never realized that was a separate entity than Comments. Then, about a month ago, a new statistic showed up on the website’s dashboard showing some 52,000 Feedback posts. What the heck? As it turns out, it was (nearly) all spam.

What kind of people are so pathetic they bombard websites with that much spam? Anyway, I could have simply deleted them all. That would have the fastest thing to do, but in a spot check I found a legitimate post from a reader. Anyone who knows me knows that it’s not in my DNA to throw out the good with the bad, so over the past month I have looked at every one of those 52k posts to ensure that a real one didn’t get deleted along with the spam.

There were 59 actual posts. And if you are one of those people then please understand what happened, and know that I am going to personally answer each and every one of you. You matter more to me than I can ever express.

Because of these parasites I have deleted the feedback feature, but you can still leave a comment with the added bonus (warning?) that I will read it and reply.

Two years on…

Warning: self-congratulatory post ahead.

I don’t do this very often. My success is due to the brilliance of others, from my remarkable publisher, Gunnar Grey at Dingbat Publishing, to my awesome beta readers, writing groups and friends. But I guess I did play some part in carving out a writing career this late in life.

The other day I received an email from someone teaching a course about to get your first 10,000 readers. That’s a lot of people. If you had asked me two years ago whether I thought 10,000 people would ever read my books, I’d have answered with a quick and definitive ‘no!’ Ten, maybe. Or even one hundred. But 10,000? No way.

Well, I’ve got those first 10,000 and a lot more beyond. But I was kind of kidding about the bragging part. See, that number staggers me. More to the point, it humbles me.

On August 17, 2016, Standing The Final Watch became my first published novel. When you look ahead two years seems like a really long time, but looking back it might as well be yesterday. Especially when you consider how much my life has changed in those two years.

In Unsuck Your Book: Eight Months from First Draft to the Promised Land I detailed the story of how the book came to be written. The short version is that I wrote it without prior knowledge or planning. I sat down on Sept. 1, 2014, and started writing. No expectations, no pressure, just clack, clack, clack on the keyboard.

As of today, August 16, 2018, I have 11 published fiction books, and my magnum opus World War Two non-fiction volume, Killing Hitler’s Reich, The Battle for Austria 1945 is available for pre-order, with publication next March.

https://www.amazon.com/Killing-Hitlers-Reich-Battle-Austria/dp/1911628844/ref=sr_1_cc_4?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1534446449&sr=1-4-catcorr&keywords=killing+hitler%27s+reich

The audio book for Standing the Final Watch is finished and only awaiting approval from Audible (it’s amazing!). I have a LOT of short stories finished, three more books partly written and at least one novella half finished. I have no idea how many words I’ve written in the last two years, but it’s a lot.

All of a sudden, I have the career that I’ve wanted my whole life.

So what’s the lesson here? What can others learn from my success? It’s basic stuff, but also vital. Decide how you want your life to look, and don’t stop until you’ve achieved it.

That’s it. No magic formula, no gimmicks, just hard work and perseverance. Some days my right thumb hurts so bad I can’t sleep, and my left ring finger stops working if I type too much, too fast. Literally. It just hangs down until I let it rest. My back hurts constantly. Typing for me is sometimes an ordeal. But who cares? I’d type with my toes if I had to.

Last year a young man looked me up on the internet and asked if I still mentored young people. I was swamped at the time, and leery, because experience has taught me that many people say they want success, but aren’t willing to pay the price. This young man was already reading books like Think and Grow Rich, so I agreed to take some of my limited time and mentor him, IF he promised to take my advice and never, ever give up. He gave me that solemn pledge. Whatever happened he’d stick it out. Pay attention, get excited, never quit. That was the mantra.

So what happened?

He gave up. He encountered the inevitable failure that comes with starting any business or career and quit after two months. A complete waste of everyone’s time, but mostly mine. My skepticism is well earned.

I’m telling you this because starting the business I showed him was a piece of cake compared to the failure and rejection you meet as a writer. It’s hard as hell and very few people succeed.  But if you have the work ethic and sheer stubbornness to stay focused on your goal, regardless of the bad things happen along the way,  you have a chance to carve out your own career. And when you do, let me tell you, it’s awesome.

So learn from me, because if I can do it, you can too.

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.

 

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