Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Oh Facebook! My Facebook!

Well, hell's bells.


I mean, it was just getting safe to come right out in public and opine that maybe a certain large retail web site isn't gonna to punch us authors in the face and take our kids' lunch money for sport, what after all the uber-sales authors got in the middle of what was essentially a contract negotiation between them and a major publisher, which finally ended after the giant retailer embarrassed the snot out of the other side by happily coming to terms with someone else, which made the other publisher whimper up to the table and the mega-sales authors run a full-page ad asking the DoJ for--um, something--and everybody finally SHUT UP about it and then finally the whole angry, disastrous mess came to an end just like this overly long run-on sentence is doing.

Now it's Facebook's turn to poke the bear, apparently.  According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, the big evil giant of a bad-man corporation is out to punch entrepreneurs in the face and take our kids' lunch money for sport (sound familiar?).  Or, at least, take our advertising money for, um, revenue.

Yes, Facebook!  My Facebook has announced that commercial operations have to pay to play, now.  Or will, then, in the near future, anyway.  Which means, I assume (they haven't, near as I can tell, released a description of their actual algorithm yet, nor are they likely to), that people are far less likely to see what I put on my author FB page unless I pay to Boost the post, in which case they're actually more likely to see it.  Which is, um, how advertising is supposed to work, by the way.

Which, I think, ain't all that bad of a thing.

Look, here's how I see it.  If you want to see what's on my author page, go look.  Please; I'd love for more people to do that.  In fact, I'm about to start putting even more stuff up there, considering the tremendous success I had through NaNoWriMo with activity.  To tell the truth, I'm'a gonna start havin' some fun. But that said, if you don't want to see what's on my author page, then you must be insane you shouldn't have it stuck in your timeline.  Shouldn't, that is, unless you've identified yourself as someone who likes the kind of stuff that's on my author page, and I've paid Facebook to run a targeted ad in the hopes of getting your attention. Which is, again I say, how advertising is supposed to work.

Yes, I'm an author--an authorpreneur, as I've been referring to myself since--well, quite some time ago.  I'm also a Facebook user, though, and to be perfectly honest, the number of times I interact with authorly stuff  on FB is pretty minimal.  Oh, I've bought a couple of books thanks to interactions on FB, but usually I'm on there just trying to convince my friends of the opposite political persuasion that I'm right and they're wrong, or posting pretty little pictures of my Chihuahua, or stuff like that. 

And the thing is, I bet you are, too.

The part of FB's message that is being forgotten, or ignored, by so many folks right now is that "Facebook’s paid-advertising options have become more effective recently," a claim that I, personally, have seen.  My Thanksgiving promotion was wildly successful, in fact, in large part thanks to a simple and fairly cheap Facebook ad. 

A friend of mine wrote (in a massively-popular Facebook post about, of all things, Facebook's new policy) something to the effect of "I'm sure, if you complain loudly enough, Facebook will refund every penny you've ever paid for your free advertising."  Zing.  That's a tad snarky, perhaps, but the core is something I agree with wholeheartedly.  Facebook created for us a social media platform, somewhere we could go for free and post pictures of weddings and weedings and kittens and puppies and everything in between.  Yay, them!  That some were able to tap into it for a free advertising platform is good for them, but there's no reason to expect the practice to continue.

Anyway, there's an awful lot of opinion flowing around out there.  Assuming you made it this far, then you've now read mine.  Feel free to share yours in the comments; I love hearing from you! 



Monday, December 1, 2014

NaNoWriMo: Done

NaNoWriMo is done for another year!  Woo hoo!  I mean darn!   I mean yay!  I mean aww shucky rootbeer float!

Mixed emotions are overflowing here.

So, remember that post two days ago? You know, the one on November 29th where I said "*yawn* I can do it, but I don't think I will, because I don't really care enough."  Well, not those exact words, but close, anyway.  Yeah, I did say that.  Right smack in the middle of the day before the final day of NaNo, I threw in the towel.

Unfortunately--well, or fortunately, I suppose--my blog posts are shared on my web site automatically, and a couple of my fans/readers/friends/coolashellpeeps said "Oh, no you don't."  They poked me, and to be honest it didn't take much to get my writerly engine going again. 

Hey, when it comes to writing prose, I'm a cheap date, so to speak.

So yeah, I put 3K words onto the 6K words I'd already written that day, and added another 10K words on November 30th, and poof, I became a Winner.  A rather sore-fingered Winner, but a Winner nonetheless.

I still don't really care.  I got a cool graphic.  Woo hoo!  The prize I really wanted for winning was the cool discount on Scrivener, but since I already got that and bought the software when I won in 2012, this one is--pointless.

Well, no, it's really not pointless, come to think on it.  I did get a draft done, sort of.  I mean, it's not done.  It's a solid story behind all the writing, and it's going to be well over 50K words when I label the draft as actually done.  In fact, it's going to be well over double that, and likely triple that.  So, yeah, I still have a lot of prose to fill in. 

But you know what?  It's started.  It's ended, too.  The skeleton of the plot is there, and all the people are there.  The hard part's done, so yay!  Go, NaNo!

A good friend (who, admittedly, I've never met, and it's just as likely we'd hate each other if we did, but hey, he's a guy whose blog posts I like) wrote a post lining out exactly how I feel about it, and what to do about that as well.  I'm not gonna repeat it, of course, in part because you're here to read my writing, not his, and also because I'm scared he could send his penmonkeys out after me for copyright infringement, or something. 

Anyway, go read it here:  Chuck Wendig's beautiful but NSFW piece on why NaNoWriMo doesn't matter  

(I do have to quote one line of his: "Because now it’s NaEdYoShi month — National Edit Your Shit Month."  Isn't that beautiful?  Brought a tear to my eye, it did.)

Now, once you're done with that, here was my response in one of the NaNo groups I'm in:  

I--I gotta stop for a while, man. No, not stop writing, I mean stop drafting. I have 2007's NaNoLoser, 2012's NaNoWiener, 2013's NaNoWiener, and now 2014's NaNoWiener, in addition to two other drafts, sitting on my stinking hard drive (yes, and backed up in Google Docs) waiting on my tender slash-and-crash revision love. Even Scrivener is looking at me like "you better slow down, man."

So, yeah.  The reason I've only put out one book this year is that I've written and revised and worked on other projects, but you can plan on this spring bringing two, if not three or four, new Stephen H. King novels to market.  


Anyway, for those who just won NaNo--congrats!  For those who didn't make it to 50K words--congrats!  'Cause, right now, what matters is that you wrote something in November.  Awesome work, all!


Saturday, November 29, 2014

NaNoWriMo - November 29th and Counting

Yay, NaNoWriMo is almost over!

Oh, crap--that means NaNoWriMo is almost over. 

Yes, I know that sounded redundant, but those of you who've done this extreme writing sport will get the difference.

And nope, I'm probably not going to win NaNo this year.

I mean, look, I know I could.  Win it, that is.  I'm currently at 37K words, ish, I can probably write 13K words in a single day; heck, I've written 15K words in a single day before.  So with a long, long day tomorrow of blasting through words, I could win.

That, or I could cheat.  See, I used to teach software tricks for a living.  Back when it was Excel 5, I could show you how to get into the flight simulator.  Or, was it a maze?  I can't recall any more, and any copies of that software have long since been relegated to the trash heap.  But yeah, I used to know all the tricks, and even today I know most of them.

Microsoft Word has something ready-made for the NaNo'er who wants to win no matter what.  It's the randomizer function.  Back in the old days, it used to give you x number of "The quick brown fox jumps over..." sentences in y number of paragraphs, which generates a crapton of words in mere moments.  Later they changed it to create a bunch of Latin wordsmut, but these days it's just boring Help tutorial words.  It's still x number of sentences in y number of paragraphs, though, and the command looks like this:


G'head, try it.  Open a blank document and type it in there, only replacing x and y with numbers.  Turns out I need an x of 25 and a y of 30 to finish my NaNoNovel right now.  In fact, with an x of 100 and a y of 100, I can get over 200K words, composed in about 30 seconds.  Woo hoo!  A whole novel, written in 14 keystrokes (fifteen, technically, since we should count the pressing of the Enter key after).

How's that for automation, eh?

Only, it's not a story.  It's just words.  They're not fun to read.  There's really no reason to even waste the bits on my computer, much less pages on a printer, on drivel like that.  So yeah, just--.


I'm simply not gonna do it.

That's not to say my story isn't worth finishing, mind you.  It's a pretty awesome story, with a pretty awesome protagonist who's going through some pretty horrible stuff right now as I write one of the pivotal chapters.  I'm really enjoying writing this, to tell the truth.

The thing is, there's plenty I can blame my not winning NaNoWriMo on.  Most of it is external, too.  But you know what?  The only person who really cares whether I win NaNo or not is me, anyway.  Those who read my books don't care; they just (generally) want me to get more out there to read as quickly as possible.  Which is, I have to add real quickly, part of why I stopped blogging so much--I've been focusing on getting drafts done.

But this manuscript takes some effort, and some research, and some harsh emotional trauma, to finish.  I was in tears a little earlier, in fact, writing about--well, no plot spoilers here.  Later, when you read the book, you'll know it when you see it.

So, sorry, but I probably won't be a 2014 NaNoWriMo winner. 

Ah, well.  You're really going to like this story, anyway.


Monday, November 24, 2014

The Cover Counts!

I'm so excited!

Most of you reading this know that I've been pretty proud of the learning curve I've beaten down in regards to making my own covers for the books.  What started as a pretty pitiful attempt has, I think, gotten better and better, to the point where the cover for Prophecy had some people oohing and ahhing at RavenCon.  And so, I was happy.

Prophecy has been well reviewed, too--three of the four reviews to date come from the pros, bloggers who just review books.  4.5 bits of happiness out of 5 ain't bad, then.

So why, then, wasn't it selling?

One of the things I remember learning from my marketing class in the MBA program was that if stuff isn't working--well, change it.  Do something.  So I started looking, and kept hanging back on where one of the reviewers had called my cover "confusing."

Huh?  Confusing?  Hey, I didn't count, but I'm pretty sure I spent well over 100 hours on it.  I'm not confused.  Still, I wondered what that could mean, so I went to my friends on Facebook for their wisdom, and learned that the reviewer was right.  The cover was confusing.  My daughter, beautiful artist that she is, focuses on anime style, and so the cover suggested an anime type of story rather than the coming-of-age story set in a mystical land of elves that it is.

Oh--yeah--blinding flash of the obvious--I sees it now.

So I redesigned it quickly, working with just the graphic of an object that is central to the story, and it still didn't take off.


Enter my friend, Renee Barratt, of TheCoverCounts.com.  Once I'd finally admitted that I couldn't make a
cover good enough to wrap around the awesome story inside the book, I asked her for help.  She stepped up in a big way, I think, and I'm excited to brag that today the new cover stands proudly on the "shelf" of Amazon.com, looking for you to purchase it!

Click on the link below the cover image to go see it.  Oh, and as a special thankfulness kinda thing, it being that week and all, I'm lowering the price to just $0.99--less than the cost of a soda.  But you have to be quick, as Amazon will only let me do that for a short period of time.



Saturday, November 1, 2014

NaNoWriMo: More On Plotting

More on plotting....

Or is that moron plotting?  C'mon, go with me here....

As I sit ready for an explosion of Trick-or-Treaters to come by, and also checking regularly to see my classmates' pictures on Facebook as they all (but me) enjoy the 25th reunion of The West Point Class of 1989, I can't help but think on past and future and present and plotting and--well, stuff.

See, the reason I'm not there is that I haven't yet found another job after my position was eliminated last spring.  I've come awfully close.  I've turned down a couple that weren't good fits.  I've taken one, briefly, that I should'a turned down.  I have things working--irons in the fire, so to speak--and I'm thinking my situation is about to change. It just didn't change in time to make the reunion. 

 Ah, well, there's always Facebook, right?

Through the (seemingly) countless job interviews, though, it's been interesting how many times I've been asked questions beginning with "Why did you...."  Why did I leave Alaska?  Why did I leave Biloxi after only a year?  Why did I go to Richmond?  Why did I approach a retention problem the way I did?  Why would a college think that laying off an Academic Dean was a good idea? 

I have to come up with an answer that is truthful while still being positive and upbeat and professional.  I can't, in other words, say what I'd like to say sometimes: "Well, I made what was, in retrospect, a dumb-ass move."

Actually, I can.  I did, in fact, once when I was feeling overly tired.  Not in those specific words, but it was about that level of humph.  And, as you can imagine, it went over like an audible expulsion of human gaseous waste during a religious ceremony.  *sigh*

But it happens, and it happens to everybody.  We all do stuff--in our personal lives as well as our professional lives--that, later on, would be rather tough to explain in a positive, professional manner in a job interview.   Right? 

I've said other dumb things, too.  I nearly had one position; I'd already interviewed with a couple of recruiters, several executives, and others, and was on my very last interview, talking to the guy who was going to be my future boss.  Only, I had an absolutely craptastical morning, and wasn't at my top game, and (insert any other excuse you'll grace me with here), and he asked me what I did to relieve stress.  Now, I could've truthfully answered all sorts of ways.  I take my family on walks in the park.  I listen to music.  I play computer games.  I write.  And I actually did say: "Well, I write."  That wasn't the most targeted response, since the guy I was talking to was more of an athletic sort, but it would've been fine if I hadn't added, "I like to write so that I can kill people."

The silence that ensued was absolutely chilling.

Now, wait a sec--this is something we writers joke about all the time.  Somebody ticks us off, they're going to get killed off in our next writing session.  You just have to expect that, if you do something to make a writer angry.  You won't feel any effects, of course; it's pure stress relief for the fiction writer.  After all, it is, in fact, only fiction.

That said, writers shouldn't ever talk about that outside of writing circles.  Especially not on a job interview, where the guy at the other end of the phone is immediately going to put you in the bin with Freddy Krueger.  Bad, bad, bad TOSK....

No, I didn't get that job; it was filled by "another candidate."  Probably one who didn't admit to writing for the purpose of killing people, I'd say.  Life is like that sometimes, right?

So what does this have to do with plotting?  Well, see, I've always had this problem.  I'm writing along, and my main character really needs to do something stupid to advance the plot line, and I don't want to do it.  It's stupid, after all.  Who does stupid stuff?  Who blurts stupid stuff out at the wrong time?

Oh, right--I do.

I do it all the time.

Why, then, wouldn't main characters behave just as stupidly as I have on my worst days?

I--um--well, I just don't know.


Thursday, October 30, 2014

NaNoWriMo: Blowing Stuff Up

"Remember, remember!
The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!" - Folk verse

This November 5th, I plan to blow something up in honor of Guy Fawkes Day.

It should be pointed out, for all the FBI web-crawling butt-munching spiders out there, that I'm a writer.  Nothing will actually, physically go boom, I promise. 

No, nothing will actually explode.  In the prose I'll be composing, however, it shall, and big time.  To quote one of my favorite movies of all time, "big badda-boom!"

You see, November is, as I'm sure all of you who've read my blog (or any other writer's blog, probably) recently already know, National Novel Writing Month.  NaNoWriMo, for short.  NaNo, for shorter.  Holy-cow-this-crap-is-insane Month, once we get to about Week 3.

And I'm'a gonna do it.  It'll be my fourth experience, and (hopefully) my third win. If you're in there, look for me under the nickname skingcharter. 

Why do I do NaNo?  To get a book ready to be sent to agents in December, of course As I learned after the first experience, the result is way too crappy of a draft to send anywhere, but at least it's a novel draft done and ready to be revised later, and that's crucial to my desire to put out two books per year.  It also helps me focus myself and build the writer's discipline and techniques that make me better at the craft.

I've long ago given up on the "No plot? No problem!" approach espoused by Baty et al.  Not that that direction doesn't work for some, but it doesn't work for me.  I've learned that, for me, the key to finishing is to start with a fairly elaborate plan.  Sure, it changes along the way, and that's part of the fun of writing, but if I at least have a road map, I can follow along through the construction and the explosions.

Which brings me to my favorite topic: blowing stuff up.  I actually only rarely do that in the writings that you'll read, because it rarely happens in my stories.  But one of the tricks I learned early on in writing is that if you get stuck, blow something up and have the characters react to it.  You can always (and I do) delete it after the draft is done, but at least it gets action started.  Granted, I've had to do it a lot less since I've developed my own outlining method, but it's still there, and it's still useful.

And I'm'a gonna do it on November 5th, just in honor of GF Day.

Who knows?  Maybe some day you'll be enjoying a novel by Stephen H. King titled Life With Bacon, reach a scene early on where something on the farm goes ka-boom!, and know that that's the part I wrote on November 5th, 2014, and that I left it in there.

It'll be just our secret, okay?

By the way--today is October 30th.  That's two days till NaNo.  If you're going to do an outline for your work, it's about time to get that part of preparation done.  If you're going to learn to use Scrivener, now's the time.  Because it's coming, and it's coming soon.  Can you feel the excitement?

Oh, hey, side note: my last blog about NaNo, I commented negatively about self-pubbing your NaNo project in December because, as I said, it's going to suck too much.  I figured you all knew me by now and know that I'm self-pubbed, myself, but I was wrong.  For everyone's sake, let me clarify: I wasn't dissing self-pubbing your wonderfully revised and edited book, not at all.  I was only dissing self-pubbing crap.  

That said: Enjoy!


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

7 Lies We Tell About NaNoWriMo

I know--two days in a row here.  But hey, I have loads of job applications to get out, and writing a blog post sounds like a whole lot more fun than revising my cover letter forty times.

Still, I just finished reading another writer's post about "7 Lies" we tell about NaNo.  She made them all positive, singing the praise of this little exercise that so many of us have warped ourselves into. 

I'm'a gonna present the other side....

1.  Writing 50,000 words in a month is fun, fun, fun!

Nope.  And I really mean this, so listen--er, read--closely.  No, it's not fun, fun, fun.  Writing is work.  I love doing it, not because I love, as Douglas Adams once famously put it, staring at a piece of paper until my forehead bleeds, but because I love the finished product.  Well, okay, I do like seeing the bit of linguistic art take shape, then become refined, and finally start singing to me as I read it.  Sitting down each day to get my word count, though?  Not.  Fun.  It's just not, really.  Trust me. 

It's certainly do-able.  But not 50K words.  No, what you need to do is write a certain number per day.  Fifty thousand is--well, I've heard tales, spoken mostly in whispered reverence and in the dark of the night, that it's been done in a day or a weekend, but man, is that superhuman Flash-like writing.  Let's just assume you're neither superhuman nor Flash, okay?  Don't try it.  Instead, write a certain number per day.

Now, 50K divided by 30 is 1,667.  With, of course, a little rounding error, but go with me.  You won't want to stick to that, though, in part because of the counting issue I'll get to soon, but also because there will be some days when the dog will feel sick and the baby will barf on your favorite chair and the washing machine will quit working and--well, and so on.  Some days, trust me, you won't write at all.  I hit that point in the third week, usually.  That's why I always go for 2,500.  That number, if I hit it consistently, isn't a great deal more than 1,700, and yet it allows me to slack off for 10 days. 

But here's the deal: you have to do it.  When writing is fun, and fast, and the words are flowing, you have to hit your word count (and even go beyond on those days).  When it's not fun, and it's slow, and the creativity is murky, you have to hit your word count.

Two tricks: first, don't stop at the end of a scene.  Instead, write on past that into the beginning of the next scene.  That allows easier pickup the next session.  Second: if stuck, blow something up.  It might not work with your plot, but you can always edit it out later.  Besides, plot transition points are all about challenges, and what's more challenging than a great big explosion, right?

2.  You don't really need a plot

Chris Baty started this little zinger with his book "No Plot? No Problem!"  It's a good book, really, about how to get your word count up, and the basic idea that you could start a book off with no real idea where it was going to go sounded really good to me, too, till I'd done it a few times.  My initial NaNo--a failure--was a careening space opera with humans vs. bugs, but because I had no plot when I started it veered right off toward being Yet Another Ender's Game.  I still believe I was doing the world a favor by giving up at what I've come to learn is the fairly standard quitting point of 27,000 words.

Granted, I was creating something that had goodness to it.  The one friend I sent the draft portion to loved it and begged me to finish.  I now have a plot for it, and it's in my "to be finished" pile.  Still, at that time, I was doing the best thing for everybody by quitting.

I mentioned "a few."  Both Cataclysm and Ascension were written without plotting.  In fact, as I originally imagined it, Ascension was gonna be the third book, with the series ending on--well, no. That book only has one plot arc in it, and I'm not gonna spoil it. 

So--yeah.  I'm not saying you can't create something beautiful without a plan.  Stephen King (the other one) reportedly does it all the time.  Several people in the groups I'm in swear by it.  But it's hard, and I suspect if you did an actual study on it you'd find a minority who succeed that way.  You might be one--?  Best, though, if you're doing this the first time and actually want to succeed, that you try starting with a plan.

3. Scrivener is too difficult/expensive/whatever

Now, I'm not going to knock Microsoft Word here.  I've made a lot of money over the years teaching people how to jazz up perfectly good documents using that bit of software.  I have some good friends who still swear by it.  Heck, I used it to write my first three novels.  I still use it for short stories, in fact.

Now, though?  I'm a Scrivener fan--a big, big Scrivener fan (hey, easy on the weight jokes!)  I tried it a few years ago for the new NaNo effort and I haven't looked back since. 

There's three specific reasons I'll recommend NaNo'ers use it.  First, if you're a fan of outlining, it makes that very, very easy.  No longer do you have to keep two separate documents open--though you can!--instead, you can keep the outline in a separate text.  You can even leave it in there the whole time, and just not compile it into the final document. 

Second, there's the word count thing.  50K words is near impossible to write, but 1.7K words isn't, as I already pointed out.  You do it each day, and you win.  Scrivener has a nice little tool that tracks both overall word count and session word count, and for that it's priceless.

Third is the scrolling relief.  The thing I hated most about writing a novel in Word was scrolling hither and yon to discover stuff I'd forgotten, and you no longer have to do that with the "Texts" feature of Scrivener.

Fourth--yeah, I know I said three, but I just thought of something else--you can't afford not to try it now.  It's free at: http://www.literatureandlatte.com/nanowrimo.php.  Download it and give it a try, I'd recommend.  Then if you don't like it, no harm, no foul.  If you do, then at the end you get a 50% discount.  Yes, you have to win NaNo to get that discount (otherwise it's just 20%), but who goes into NaNo to lose, right?

The thing is, Scrivener isn't difficult to use at all.  It does, however, use different terminology from other document creation apps.  That makes sense, too; I mean, let's face it, the act of putting letters and spaces and punctuation all down on a "page" in the right order isn't complicated, right?  But different software packages use different terminology.  The software designers probably have different ways to think of the process, after all--if they didn't, they wouldn't write the software in the first place.  Meanwhile, the software designers' lawyers probably insist upon working hard to avoid copyright infringement. 

So all that said, a) get your free copy, b) tell yourself it's not hard to use, and c) invest some time before November 1st going through the tutorials to learn the terminology. 

4.  Fifty thousand words is a thing.

No, it's not.

Fifty thousand words isn't even fifty thousand words, actually.  For my first NaNo win, I stopped right at 50,000, proud as heck of myself, typed "THE END" jubilantly, and exported that sucker straight to Word.  Only, then Word told me it was a little smaller than Scrivener had--well, you know how size is subjective and all *ahem*.  So I beefed up the final scene with a bunch of "he blustered and she cried loudly and so on and so forth" kind of crap, knowing I'd delete it when I edited the document, and exported it again.  Nope, 49,800, Microsoft's champion word-counters said.  So I added another few hundred pretty boring words, and exported again.  Okay, Word finally said.  It gave me a word count down on the status bar of 50,005.  Yay! 

Ecstatically, I uploaded the document into the NaNoWriMo site's Novel Verification form.  Sorry, it said!  You only have 49,800 words, so nyah nyah nyah and write more and come back later, you loser!  Well, it didn't really say all that, but by that point I was thinking it. 

I did eventually get to over 50K words with all three counters, but that prompted me to go look at how words are counted.  Fact is, nobody really counts them, in part because some things are rather subjectively identified as words/not-words.  Some apps count spaces and divide by a number they think is close to accurate.  Some use a more sophisticated algorithm regarding the number of characters and the number of spaces and so forth.  Publishers just look at the number of pages and multiply by 250. 

But who cares, right?

Have you ever read a book and thought, "Well, that was a great 89,500 words.  I just wish the author would've given it the additional 500 words it needed"?  No, I haven't either.  Baty et al. looked at the question of "what is a novel" and decided that 50K was the right number to use, and in my opinion, it is pretty good.  It's not long enough for most genres, but it does represent the minimum for the smallest genres, so that's a nice start.  It also represents the normal dividing line between what's considered a "novella" and a novel.  Finally, it's well past the normal quitting range of 27K words. 

That said, my first series ended up all between 88K and 100K words, and Prophecy weighs in even longer.  One common criticism of the first three books, too, is that they're too simple--not enough additional plots.  So yeah, longer is better.  *ahem* 

Bottom line: if you're looking at this 50K piece of words as an actual novel length effort, I hate to break the news to you, but it's not.  It's a great start toward one, but it's not there yet. 

5. Write in November, Query in December, Publish in January

Yes, I admit, I actually thought this once upon a time. 


For one thing, agents often close their submissions in December just because of this little myth.  Here's the deal (and I say this with some experience): you're going to write your first NaNo, do a few edits in the first week of December, and because it's your first baby you'll think it's the most beautiful, most perfect pile of literary poop on the planet.  You'll send it away, and the recipients will all cringe. 

Trust me, you will.  And trust me, they will.

Even if you did manage to write a wonderful work of art in the first draft (and near as I can tell, nobody does that) and get it to an agent who cares (and near as I can tell, none of them do) there's zero chance you could be published traditionally in that short of a time.  It takes months to go through all of the acquisition and editing and workup process. 

So what do many people do?  Self-publish, of course.

Please, for the love of all that is holy in literature and beyond, don't do this.  The crap that hits Amazon's "shelves" in December is a large part of the reason Indies are still shunned.  Neither of my NaNo winning projects has been published yet, though both are in the path to being so.  But it takes time, and most importantly, it takes distance.

What do you do on December 1?  Give yourself a nice pat on the back, download your Winner graphic, buy (or don't, whichever) your 50% off license for Scrivener, consume whatever adult beverages (assuming you're an adult) that you use to celebrate, brag like hell on Facebook, and then--this is crucial--put the file you just finished writing away.  Don't look at it again till February or March, because only distance (time-wise) will give you perspective on how "good" it is. 

6. It is counterproductive to edit as you go

I say Poppycock, with a capital P, to this one.  I've won twice and edited as I went each time.  I often write at night, and I often get to looking the next day at the stuff I wrote last the evening before and say "this is such total crap."  So I revise it.  It doesn't take a whole lot of time, and it does allow me to start the day feeling better about my work.  That, and it helps me get back "into" the fiction I'm creating. 

That said, you shouldn't allow yourself to get mired in editing.  Do a little, but only that.  Whatever you do, remember that you have to hit your word count in new words put down on the "paper" that day. 

7. All of your friends will be impressed

Here's another thing I know from experience. 

You can't wait to put up that big sign on your Facebook page, can you?  "2014 NaNoWriMo Winner!"  All your friends will send you virtual cards and congratulations, and the local ones will throw you a wine/beer party to celebrate, right?


The people in your group--you did join a local NaNoWriMo group, didn't you?--will celebrate your achievement, but only gently.  There will be a whole lot more people who didn't win, after all.  And hey, the logic will go, the important thing is that everybody got some writing done, right? 

Yeah, you'll probably leave that party like I've left them--a little bit let down.  Door prize in hand, "Winner" sticker on breast, smile no longer on face--yeah, that's how I looked.


*chirp* *chirp*

What you'll end up doing is a massive Facebook circle-jerk kind of thing where everybody who won will congratulate everybody else who won, while everybody who didn't will give the half-hearted "yay" from the sidelines. 

Face it: nobody knows how hard it is to write 50K words except for those who've done it.  And no, it's not that they're all thinking it's too easy.  It's the opposite, actually; most folks are looking at you like you've just climbed Mt. Everest in your Speedos(TM) and are probably a little--um, vacant--up there somewhere.  Tetched, you know.  Special. 

"Oh, hey, like, congrats.  *yawn* You won NaNoMiWro, or whatever it is.  Why don't you just walk from here to New York City in your birthday suit next, just to prove how special you are?"

That's okay.  It really is.  The most important thing with NaNo, in any event, and in everyone's opinion that I've sampled (admittedly, a small sample size), is that you now know you can do it.  You can bust out a plot, holy/holey or no, and display the personal discipline needed to hit a word count on an ongoing basis.  That's very, very cool. 

It's very, very cool to you, I should say.  Nobody else will care, much.  Then again, why should that bother you? You did it, right?

Now, go do it.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Being Stephen King

"First you forget names, then you forget faces.  Next you forget to pull your zipper up and finally, you forget to pull it down." - George Burns.

Aren't names something?  I went through an interview recently with a here-to-be-unnamed community college, and they had--no kidding--fifteen people in the room.  Only the first row of five were allowed to ask me questions through the web-based video conference, but it was still one heckuvan experience.  They didn't introduce themselves, which is fine.  I didn't get called in to the second round, but if I had, I doubt I could've remembered that many names.

I bet they all remembered my name, though.

There used to be a web site out there named "Being Stephen King dot com."  It was pretty boring, as sites went, but it had a thousand or so of us who'd entered our personal stories about what it was like being named the same as the famously successful horror writer.  It even had one entry from Bangor, Maine, that looked conspicuously like--nah, couldn't be.

It's gone now, in any event.

I used to get tired of being asked about my name, but that was before I met so many others with a very similar problem.  At West Point, in the Theatre Arts Guild (yes, we spelled it with that British thang going), I was proud to have been taught to "fly" (i.e., raise and lower the massive pipes that held all the screen backgrounds and the above-stage lights) by a tremendous mentor and great cadet named--wait for it--Tom Sawyer.  He, in turn, told me of a year or so earlier, when the Fourth Regiment had been announced at every parade to have been commanded by "Cadet Captain Buck Rogers."  And then, soon after I left the service, I helped a Republican named Michael Meyers run for Congress.

That was why I was so delighted to be interviewed recently for a Lifestyle piece on ABC News.  Check it out here:  http://abcnews.go.com/Lifestyle/michael-myers-stephen-king-top-list-popular-scary/story?id=26429926

For anyone curious, here were the awesome questions she asked (and my--well, of course they were awesome--I hope?--replies):

Do people often reference him and his books when they meet you? If so, on a scale of 1-10, how annoying is that?

Do people reference the books? Pretty much every day, every time I hand over my ID or credit card, or every time I give a presentation to a new class. If I'm in the mood to start a conversation, it's not annoying at all, but sometimes it's up there at a 9 or a 10, especially because it's nearly always the same thing: "Did you write those books?" or "Were you named after him?"

Once a month, ish, I get "friended" on Facebook by someone I've never met who then tells me how much they love my books.

Have you read any of his work, yourself? Hate ‘em? Love ‘em?

I love The Green Mile, and I also love his book On Writing. Otherwise, I'm not much into the horror genre.

How do you differentiate your own writing from his?

I write fantasy--mythic fantasy and elf fantasy. I also use my middle initial, which it turns out a) isn't enough of a differentiation for everyone, and b) isn't unique itself, as another author in Virginia has published two airplane history books under Stephen H. King. But I've had a couple of reviews saying, basically, "it's a good book, but he's not Stephen King," and that made me cringe a little.

Is Stephen a family name and is there anything else anecdotal you’d like to share about what your experience has been?

Technically I'm Stephen H. King, Jr. I dropped the Jr. out of expedience after my father died when I was 14. So yes, it is kind of a family name.

Hope you enjoyed!  Oh, and keep watching--I'm preparing a frightening short story to be published, right here, on Halloween!


PS--Oh, don't forget to check out the new cover design for Prophecy over to the right!

Monday, September 22, 2014

The Shift

"Write drunk, edit sober." - Ernest Hemingway

"I hate editors, for they make me abandon a lot of perfectly good English words." - Mark Twain

There comes a time in every author's life when you have to sit back, shift gears, and accept that maybe the crap you wrote in your draft-creating fervor was really just that--crap.  Then, if you're really silly like me and write more than one book, you get to do it multiple times.

Nope, doesn't get any easier.  Matter of fact, it seems to get a little harder, as every time I plow through a novel draft I figure I'm getting better than ever before, that maybe this time I'm creating good stuff.


I'm not sure if it hits every author as hard as it does me.  The shift, as I call it, is almost depressing at first.  It really is two different sides of my brain being used at separate times.  I mean, the revising gets better, and easier, once I've made the shift and am in that zone.  In fact, there's really no feeling quite like once you really get that prose revised to the point where it starts singing to you.

Right now, by the way, is one of those times, the shift.  I just finished the draft of the second book of the Dragon Queen series, with a draft title of Northern Exposure.  It's, I think, a captivating story of Alyssa heading north to seek approval from the Northern Clans, only--well, of course--she finds trouble.  You didn't expect me to write that she waltzed up there, had a bit of moose stew, and they said "you're all right," did you?  Writing it, I had a lot of fun drawing from my own memories of the Great White North, and I also enjoyed playing around with the relationship between Alyssa and Prince Charming some more.  Alyssa is growing up, you see, and so she, and that relationship too, changed a little bit. 

*sigh*  So I finished it; now what do I do?

The first, negative answer: not create.  We're too close to NaNoWriMo (November, for the uninitiated) to start another novel draft.  We're also too close to me finishing Book 2 to revise Book 2; I need at least a month of separation between the two activities.  I've spent some time redesigning Book 1's cover, and that was fun.  I've also spent some time learning more about Internet marketing, and about Adwords vs. Bing Words, and--well, all that other less-than-terribly-exciting stuff. 

Trust me, I'm'a gonna build that sales funnel some day.  But first, I write.

No, more accurately, I revise.  Luckily for my decision process, I have a few works that outright need my attention.  There are a couple of short stories that have each been rejected twice, which means I need to look into them again.  More importantly, though, my memoir detailing my many trips up and down the Alaska Highway, The Long and Winding Road, needs some straightening out (hehe--get it?  Eh, never mind). 

So I opened that beast up in Scrivener, and started at the beginning.  Three paragraphs in, it hit me.

Oh, crap.  This is crap.  I must make it good. 

Just that fast, I'm back to editing.  Time to shift sides of my brain.

And speaking of that, I really do need to get back to editing.  Y'all have a great night and a great week!


Sunday, September 21, 2014

The Joy in Quiet

"All men's miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone." - Blaise Pascal

"The unspoken word is capital.  We can invest it or we can squander it." - Mark Twain

"The good and the wise lead quiet lives." - Euripides


It's quiet in here.

My changes in domicile over the past couple of years have taken me from living with two other humans and a dog, to two other humans and two dogs, to two other humans, two dogs, and a cat, to three other humans, two dogs, and a cat, and now to five other humans, two dogs, and four cats.

At one time in my life I was a much more frequent companion to this thing called quiet.  Now, it's almost never quiet.  Except at night, sometimes, I should add--after we've eaten and put everything away, and all are in bed but me, it's quiet.  Then I like to sit at the table with my trusty laptop, using the quiet as a support system, a place from which to launch my creative self into the challenges of bringing to life a world on paper. 

It's not night right now, though.  It's middle of the afternoon, and yet it's quiet.  One of the other humans is away on a business trip.  Another is in class.  Two are at work.  One is resting from a long night at a convention.  The dogs are snoozing in little patches of sunlight.  The cats, meanwhile, are doing their best to prove the nocturnal nature of felines.

That leaves me.



Quiet is a funny place to be.  When we have too much of it, it drives us nuts.  When we don't have enough of it, we hunger for its presence.

A lot has been said about it.  Brainyquote.com has twenty four pages of quotations about it, in fact.  Quiet fuels the creative mind, some believe.  Quiet allows others to reconnect with life, the universe, and everything.  Some brag of its importance, and of its power.

Quiet is curing, healing.

I like quiet.  Soon enough, my companions will return to this space, and the quiet will be replaced by the raucous noises of fellowship.  I like those, too.  Still, quiet is special.

Have a great, quiet day!


Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Challenges of A Simple Journey

The simplest journey may still be rife with challenges.

Yes, I know that sounds deep and philosophical and stuff.  In this case, though, I'm talking literally.  Specifically, in writing this I refer to my drive to work today.

Oh, right--those who aren't in the know yet will be happy to hear, I hope, that I am once again happily and gainfully employed.  I've joined the team of a small college on the north side of Philadelphia, happy as a rooster in a henhouse to rejoin the quest to pile a great deal of knowledge into students' heads.

That means, of course, that my author bio is once again incorrect in all of its different incarnations.  Now I get the joy of trying to find it everywhere and remembering how to edit it in each of those places.  I think this time instead of "Stephen lives in Virginia--no, Memphis--no, Pennsylvania" I'm going to write "Stephen lives in the United States in a location that is not on a gorgeous beach close to a source of inexpensive alcoholic beverages" and then dare fate to make that one incorrect.

So, yeah--Pennsylvania.  Beautiful, beautiful place.  Horribly windy roads.  Horribly windy roads that change names mid-ways down, unless they're known primarily by number, in which case that sometimes changes at random, too.  Oh, my lord, driving in this place always seems to take me to the same destination: "crazy."  It's like the road system here was designed by a committee of drunken monkeys, and flatulent drunken monkeys, at that.

That said, after several weeks of driving it and generally figuring out what is where, I'm finally feeling comfortable enough to drive without the naggingdirection of Bertha.  Yes, I call my GPS app on my cell phone Bertha.  It--well, it just seems to fit.

So I've made it to work a couple of times, and back home again, too, without her help.  That's significant, because it's about a 25 mile drive down Drunken Monkey Lane.  But yesterday, after following various major roads, I got wild and crazy and decided to look in Google maps for the optimal route.

Now, optimal route is much like the term best novel; everybody has their own ideas on how that should be chosen.  Bertha, in particular, seems to use traffic data taken from somewhere--Hogwarts, possibly?--to determine it, and she also loves recalculating frequently, and occasionally with rather surprising results.

"Turn back there!"  *screech* *squeal*

To me, though, optimal means shortest.  I know, it's only a mile or two worth of gas that's the difference, but still.  I like driving, or at least knowing, the shortest path from one point to another.  Hence, my research yesterday.  And hey, I found it.  Last night I drove it home.  It's a nice path through rural Pennsylvania, in the evening, at least if you don't mind ignoring occasional low speed limits.

This morning?  Another story entirely.

You like stories, right?

So I pulled onto my new optimal route just as the coffee was really settling in between the red blood cells.  It's a pretty two-lane road headed generally south, and I loved driving it for the first few minutes.  Then the guy in front of me came to an abrupt stop.

Now, I'm sure some of you will argue that an abrupt stop is what you should accomplish at a stop sign.  And yes, you'll generally be correct.  But then that guy executed a left turn, leaving me with a full, unobstructed view of the huge "Road Closed" sign ahead of me as well as the poor hardhatted kid set to guarding it.  He looked as uncomfortable as I felt.

Which way to go?  Straight, the direction to my work, was blocked.  My remaining options were, of course: left, or right.  In a flash impulsive kind of thing, I decided to follow the guy who'd made the left turn.  Clearly, he had to have known that there was something down that-a-way, yes?

It was a wise choice.  A couple of hundred yards down the road a street sign indicated Old Windy Bush jutting off to the right, heading back down the way I needed to go.  I rejoiced; the road I had been so indelicately removed from was called Windy Bush.  I know I couldn't just assume that Old Windy Bush joined up with the new Windy Bush, but it was just as likely as it not joining up, so I took it, and a couple of miles later found myself at one of those drunken monkey-designed Y intersections, this one joining Old Windy Bush with Windy Bush.

After flipping a not-entirely-professional gesture toward the "Road Closed" sign at that end of the construction site, I turned triumphantly back down my chosen path.  And then, as luck would have it, a couple of miles farther down the road I saw--yes, again.

Road Closed.

By this point, I was done with the optimal route crap and just wanted back on a road I knew would go through.  Thus, I turned right; I remembered that out that direction there were a few routes I'd been on before.

And then I entered--you guessed it, probably: Drunken Monkey-ville.  The road spun about to the left and went--well, somewhere.  I guess the reason they don't put up a sign telling people that they're in the middle of Nowhere is that, when you're there, it's pretty dang obvious.

And so there I was, touring Nowhere at 45 mph.

Finally, though, I came to another intersection.  Now, imagine--heck, don't imagine, just write--a capital X.  Cursive, not block print, and complete with curls.  Now turn it up so that it's on one leg.  That's the intersection I found myself staring at a red light through.  And I was so done, so over that path.

I picked up my cell and started Bertha up.  I'm surprised she didn't begin with a maniacal cackle or two when she realized where I was, but she didn't.  She also started quickly, for once; usually when I'm en route to somewhere and start her up, she takes so long loading that by the time she's ready to offer advice I'm already past the decision point and a couple of miles farther from my destination.  "In approximately three hundred fifty yards, make a U-Turn, you idiot," her mechanical voice always says.

But no, this morning she zipped right to life.  I opened the search option, picked my work address, and was delighted when she immediately told me to turn left.

Left.  Okay, okay, I can do that.  Left, it is, and onward to civilization.  I looked up at the light, which was still red.

I looked back down to see what the next turn would be, only to note that she'd changed her mind.  Straight through the intersection, now.

Wait.  What?

Oh, wait, she apparently decided.  Not straight through; that would be wrong.  Turn right, she ordered and flipped the blue line showing my route over to that direction.  And then, while I watched in dumbfounded disbelief, she decided it was actually better for me to make a U-turn right there and go back the way I'd come.

It was, I guess, her way of gleefully saying "I got nothin' for ya, buddy."

Screw that.  I turned left.

Before long, I came out on the wrong side of an intersection I recognized from my earlier travels.  Rejoicing, I turned back down the path and finally got to work, only a little bit late and about ten minutes after my bladder decided it was really, totally, completely full.

Not bad, all things considered.  And I'm happy to be back in the working world, regardless.

So, here's hoping you're having as great of a week as I am!


Thursday, September 4, 2014

Authors Behaving Badly--Customer Service

So, right on the heels of yesterday's gushing post about how my readers, not I, are the ones who will build my success as an author, I read about another author who did pretty much the opposite.  Hence: Authors Behaving Badly, Episode 1.

Customer Service.

But first: holy crap, you're saying--I blogged two days in a row!  I know, I slacked off this summer.  Stuff happened, and so forth, and if you look at the history of my blog this isn't the first time.  I apologize, but sometimes the batteries need recharging.

Oh, and second: hey, I got a cool new badge for winning yesterday.  Check it out!

Pretty, ain't it?

Now, back to the topic.  In one of my Facebook groups, somebody commented about somebody else posting the following to their social media presence:

I am not your personal customer service hotline. Do not ask me the order of my series or when the book is coming out in your particular country or how to make your fucking Kindle turn on. Google it. It will take you less time and turn up a much more reliable answer.

Holy crap, I'm horrified on behalf of well-behaved authors everywhere.

You know, part of the problem is that many successful businesses actually train people in how to work with the general public before they expect them to do so.  Usually they even hire people with specific qualifications, backgrounds, and non-pissy personalities. But not authors.  Many authors are just great with the public, but that's in spite of quantity of training, not because of it.  It's not like "interacting with others" is on the list of "Top 10 reasons to become a writer," after all.  Writing consists of an awful lot of hours doing the exact opposite, actually--I've had plenty of times sitting here at the keyboard wishing I could be somewhere all by myself.  It's not that I don't enjoy the company of those around me; no, it's because when I'm in creative mode, I need my brain in a vacuum.

So yes, I get the desire to not be bugged.  I also get the frustration you feel when you're answering the same question over and over.  Trust me, I've spent over eight years as a dean.  You can only ask students what the syllabus actually says regarding grading policy so many times before you start imagining far more creative ways of phrasing the question.  You can only tell instructors that yes, you know the copier is down so many times before your brain comes up with crude suggestions for fixing it that your IT background knows wouldn't help at all. 

But I don't say it.

See, there's this thing about customers.  Most of the time when we hear the word we think of people standing in line to check out at the register of a department store, but the word isn't limited to that.  As a dean it never escapes my attention that the students are my customers.  Their tuition, after all, pays my salary.  At the same time, the faculty are my customers--yes, they're my subordinates, too, but in doing my job effectively I serve them as much as the other way around. 

As an author, you, the gentle reader, are my customers.

I know that relationship might get clouded in a traditionally published situation in which the author might start thinking that readers are the publishing company's customers, and that the publishing company is the author's customers, but--well, just no.  Readers are customers. 

Readers are customers.

One more time: readers are customers.

If a reader wants to take the time to ask me what order my series goes in, trust me, I'll be overjoyed to answer.  Yes, I might--hell, I have--engaged my internal engine of snarkiness and think things like "that's what the big circled numeral one on the cover means, sweetheart," but I'll never say it.  Instead, I smile and feel happy that somebody meaningfully engaged the work of art I'd put out. 

Not sure how to turn your Kindle on?  I'd be happy to tell you where the button is, but more than that is probably beyond my skill set.  Still, I can run a Google search, too, and forward you a meaningful result. 

Now, please, I'm not asking for anybody to bombard me with silly questions just for the purpose of asking silly questions.  You probably already knew that, didn't you?  I am, however, asking that you give me the questions you have, especially about characters in my books.  That, I really am the expert on. 

Trust me, I won't just tell you to Google it.  Because when it comes to my work, I really am your personal customer service hotline.

Thank you!


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Long and Short Review Book of the Month

So, a lot of a lot of people helped me out in the Long and Short Review's (LASR's) Book of the Month competition over the past couple of days, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

Their review, itself, was quite awesome.  You can read it by clicking on the link under the graphic below this paragraph.  I'm awfully proud that, though my pre-release efforts were a little haphazard (sorry; still learning!) and the book wasn't met with as many initial sales as I'd have liked, it has quickly gathered three excellent reviews by professional reviewers.  Were I a traditional publisher, now would be the time I'd toss the book out into the market, but unfortunately the mechanics of Indie publishing don't work like that.

LASR Reviewed

That said, I'm proud of how well we did in their poll over the past couple of days.  And when I say "we" I really mean WE.  You know, I've compared big initial success to winning the lottery, and from a mathematical standpoint it's still an apt way to look at it.  The odds of winning the jackpot in a small lottery are about the same as the odds of writing a best-seller right out of the gate.  But it's really not the same; winning the lottery doesn't require the all-important 3F's: friends, family, and fans.  I can win the lottery (well, not according to recent results, but it's still a mathematical possibility) all by myself.  What the past couple of days have proven to me, though, is that I can't succeed as an author by myself; my success will have to come with the help of other great folks.

Like y'all.

So, y'all stepped up to the plate in a big, big way.  It was a nail-biter, to be certain.  I started the two-day event well over ten percentage points behind the leader, solidly in third place.  I reached out for help, and many answered as I watched the differential drop below two digits.  We closed out the first day a few points behind, and then, as the second day opened and I really deployed the ground game, we shot up into first place.  For, um, a few hours.  First one, and then the other, of the top three overtook us and we fell back into third place once again.  But the foundation had been laid, and come end of evening it was amazingly gratifying to see Prophecy on top by well over ten percentage points.


Again, for that I am deeply grateful.

Now, in the spirit of a) doing what I promised I'd do as celebratory effort, and b) getting Prophecy out there to be read, I've already set in motion for Amazon to allow free downloads of Prophecy all day Friday, September 5th, Saturday, September 6th, and Sunday, September 7th.  Please, if you haven't gotten a copy and you're into fantasy novels at all, get yourself a copy at that point.  Please, also, once you've read it, toss me up a review on Amazon and/or Goodreads; believe it or not, those mean as much to me as the pros' reviews.  Third, please tell your friends about this free offer.

A lot of people I've spoken with don't like "free" books because they know how much effort goes into it for the author, and to that, I say fair enough.  Please, download it anyway, and read it.  If, after reading it, you feel it was worth the read and you can't deal with getting a good book for free, then you can always toss me $2.99 on Paypal.

Believe me, though; what's most important to me at this point is that Prophecy be out there, getting read.

Well, no, that's not the most important thing to me.  What's most important to me is expressing how much gratitude I feel toward all my friends, family, and fans.

Thank you!


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Linguistics and Humor

Gosh, has it really been nearly a month since my last post? I suppose it has.  At least, I presume the site doesn't lie.  June 22nd to July 16th is--well, quite almost, nearly a month. I suck, don't I?

But wait!  I really do want to talk about linguistics and humor.  But first, how 'bout I 'splain, briefly, why I've been such a slacker?

I'm in Pennsylvania now, for one thing.  I know, when I started this blog I was in Virginia, and then I was in Tennessee.  Memphis is Memphis, and some day, if you meet me in person and perhaps wet my lips with a little bit of alcoholic beverage, I'll give you some details about why I'm chuckling to be outta there.  But since the last post, I managed to stuff all of my--well, my stuff--into storage, and I'm now living in the second bedroom of my brother's house in The Keystone State.  It's been a challenge in more ways than one, but I'm finally back to where I might actually be able to start writing seriously once again.

That said--TWP!  No, no, just kidding, if you understood what I said.

Now, some of you might have no idea what I just said.  It is, after all, three English consonants, which means that technically it's not an English word.  It might be an English acronym, of course, but often those are represented T.W.P. rather than TWP. Often, but not always.

However, if you know Welsh, or if you've read my latest novel Prophecy, you know that "twp" means "idiot."  See, Welsh needs vowels, too, but luckily for them they held on to the double-u as a vowel as well.  Twp, then, is pronounced toop in Welsh, and is an insult.

Why, then, does it seem to be on so many road signs in eastern Pennsylvania?

The first time we saw it was leaving the PA Turnpike headed toward New Hope on Highway 202.  It was used in a road name, and I shook my head: surely they can't know what the word means.  After all, Twp is also the abbreviation for township, sometimes.  Just a little way down the highway, though, we happened upon Welsh Road, and, I confess, that set me to wondering.

Then, today, in our driving up and down the Delaware River, I saw it on a sign again.

No, seriously, there's nothing like seeing a sign and your brain interpreting it as "Idiot Road."

Could that Twp today have stood for Township?  I suppose it could.  English, after all, isn't all that good at delineating the distinction between a word and an acronym. In any event, I hope it does.  I really do hope nobody would name their street Stupid Road on purpose.


Sunday, June 22, 2014

Interviewed by Paige

Been a slow month for me for blogging, and for that I apologize.  While I thought that being temporarily unemployed would mean more time for writing, it hasn't quite done that.  Instead, the stress of the job search and preparing to move and so on have done quite the opposite. 

That said, I'm pleased as heck to present you with an interview I just did for Paige's (ElectivelyPaige) blog.  No, I won't reproduce it here; there's no point having the exact same bits in the exact same order in two spots of the blogosphere. 

I will, however, be happy to linky:


Please, go read.  It's one of my better interviews, I think.  Paige asked some good, fun questions.


Monday, June 16, 2014

On Review

"Some of my favorite critiques of my work come from reviewers on Amazon dot com." - Mark Twain

I know, I've posted about this before, but it keeps coming up like deviled eggs that were left in the fridge for a day too long.

The topic: reviewing authors' work somewhere others can/will read it (like Amazon or Goodreads)

The short discussion: pretend like it's Nike and just do it.

The longer version: if you read something and enjoy it, the best thing you can do to thank that author is to take the time to write a review on sites such as Amazon or Goodreads.  I know, I haven't reviewed every single work I've read, either, but I've reviewed many of them.  I keep telling myself that I'm going to go back and do the deed for those I read way back in the past, but I think I'm kidding myself. Still, I make a point, these days, of reviewing what I finish reading.  With me, it's the Golden Rule. 

With me asking it of my readers, it's more a case of begging for the delectable help.

The biggest thing that kept me from reviewing works in the early days was, purely and simply, a myth propagated by reverse psychology.  Specifically, I always figured that I wouldn't want to receive anything but a 5 star rating (out of 5 stars), and if I were to give a review, I wouldn't want that author to think I was dissing them, and so I didn't wish to assign anything less than that.  Most works, frankly, don't deserve 5 out of 5 stars in a critical review, and so therefore I was stuck not reviewing most works.

It's a myth, I tell you.

Specifically, it's a myth that authors don't want to receive anything less than 5 stars.  Okay, some really don't, and I get that.  Many of us, though, react quite favorably to a well-written review of our work, 5 stars or no.  That's because many of us have read other works before, and we recognize that not everybody likes everything about every work--and further, we recognize that that's okay. 

Example:  I very recently found a fairly new review (um, yes, I used to check my reviews every single day, but though that's a perfectly normal habit for a new author, it's unhealthy as crap) on my prequel novella, Undercover Truths - Undercover Lies.  I whooped and hollered in joy at reading it.  Please look below to see why:

"The only reason for a four versus five stars is that I have this pet peeve about female characters that appear strong and independent but immediately fawn when an alpha male looks in their direction. Anyways, The first novella set the stage for the subsequent series. I liked how it set out the relationships of the key characters and provided some back story. The second novella is post technology and provides the transition of how Stacy became a God. I haven't read the series but am now intrigued to see how it all unfolds. The writing is clear... It moves the story along. The plot is clear... It doesn't keep the reader wondering. This author's work will certainly be on my list of future reads."

Now, lookit.  "OMFG it's only 4 stars instead of 5!  What a rotten review; this will ruin my ability to sell this book and make me stop authoring to go live in a van down by the river eating government cheese!" is what I'd've imagined would run through my head years ago.  You know what experience has taught me, though?  That's completely not what ran through my head when I read the review. 

I mean, 4 stars out of 5 is pretty good, for one thing.  But you see what else is in this review?  It details what the reader liked (clear writing, clear plot) and what she didn't like (my abuse of the main female character).  That kind of information is priceless for an author!  For a reader, too, incidentally--as a reader selecting books, these are precisely the kind of reviews I like to read.  But as an author, I want to send this reviewer a personalized thank-you note. 

It's awesome. 

Now, this reader didn't like the way I abused Stacy.  That's okay, really.  It's better than okay.  Fact is, what she's complaining about is precisely how I wanted it to be.  See the beauty?  The critical comment on this review means that I succeeded.  Yes, some people don't like that.  I get that it's her--and others'--pet peeve.  But in order to tell the story of how Stacy came to be the antagonist in--well, I won't ruin the plot--my books, that's how she needed to be.

So please, again, write reviews.  It's the kindest, bestest gift you can give an author, really, whether or not you put all five stars on it.


PS--no, Mark Twain didn't write the quote above.  I'm just seeing if you're paying attention.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Happy Daddy's Day

"It is a wise child that knows its own father, and an unusual one that unreservedly approves of him." - Mark Twain

"When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished in how much the old man had learned in seven years." - maybe Mark Twain, maybe not.


So, a dear friend posted to Facebook a very thoughtful comment about how "any male with functional gonads can be a father, only a full grown man can be a 'Daddy.'"  He'd lost his father at a young age, and I'd also lost my father at a young age, and so a discussion ensued.  Much of it centered on the distinction between "Daddy" and the other forms of fatherly address.

To him, "Daddy" is what fathers are, and I get that.  In my case, I lost my father after I was at that middle age where I'd asked him--to a mirthful reply, as I recall--whether I was old enough to switch from "Daddy" to "Dad." See, to me, it was a big deal to make the change.  A boy, I thought, calls his father "Daddy."  A young man calls his father "Dad," at least in the literature and the environment I was in at the time.  To me, it was my change, not his, that sparked the switch from the childhood "Daddy" to the youthful "Dad."

It was a milestone.

Similarly, as I read the many Facebook tributes to Fathers, Dads, and Daddies old, young, and no longer with us, I'm struck by the differences.  Some, like my afore-mentioned friend, lost fathers at a far-too-young age--four, in his case.  At that age, my Daddy was one very important thing to me. 

As I got older, though, Daddy, and then Dad, became more.  I got ten years more with my Dad than my friend did with his, and I can't imagine not having had the time to discuss, to learn, to grow.  Yes, with his illness it was some rocky times, but Dad was the one who taught me, with a simple banana, what it means to love.  He's the one who taught me not to jump at emotional arguments, but rather to examine all sides.  He taught me to canoe, and to swim, and to read the lay of terrain without ever needing a map.  He was a great Dad.

And then I remember my twenties with my Mom, how the relationship blossomed into one between two adults, and I wonder what that would have been like with Dad.  I read posts and see pictures of friends taking walks with fathers who made it to the autumn season of their lives, and I can't help but wonder what that would be like.

I'm not envious, not really.  I do hope they recognize how special the time they have with their parents is, though.


Monday, June 9, 2014

Philosophical Questions For Modern Warfighting: a Cadet's Nightmare, a Writer's Dream

So, a friend of mine from West Point (yay, Tom Deierlein!) posted to Facebook the other day--wait, this takes a second or two more of explanation.  Tom's a West Point classmate, and a veteran who served honorably, left the service, got called back, earned a Purple Heart in a horrible way, and now runs a company that helps veterans with businesses.  The guy, to my opinion, deserves the highest, goldest star a veteran can possibly earn, especially since I've read Stoneheart by Baer Charlton.  You need to read it, too.

No, really--if you're a veteran, or you know a veteran, or you care about veterans, and you haven't read Stoneheart, you absolutely need to do so.  Click my link above, buy a copy (which will help an independent author, and a veteran, immensely) and read it.  I teared up several times reading it, and you probably will too.

So anyway, back to the topic at hand.  At West Point, we learned a lot of stuff about a lot of stuff.  We learned to march, for example.  Yay, marching!  We learned to do X sport in our PE classes.  Yay, volleyball, lacrosse, and--um, aerobic dance!  We learned manners, and nutrition.  Yay, yeah, whatever.  We learned honor (and, as a Dean, I've mentioned several times that our honor code at West Point was enforceable largely because we spent many hours in honor training).  We learned gymnastics.  We learned military history, and that has been, believe it or not, more useful to me as a civilian than it was to me as a junior Army officer.

We learned about the ethics of warfare.  Granted, it was in a "PY" class--eww, philosophy--that started with a bunch of logical stuff, but we eventually rolled over into the questions of "what makes a war just?" and "what makes actions within a war just?"  And no, they're not the same questions. For example: was it just that we (the U.S.A.) were in Viet Nam?  Yes, I believe--stupid, it was, but just, it was, too, at least at first.  Given that, were all of our actions there just?  If you look at My Lai, then--well, no.

See what I mean?

So given that, my buddy Tom posted a link to ten questions that should be asked at West Point.  Generally, I like the questions.  Now, I'm not so sure about the questions needing to be asked at West Point; they're fairly philosophical, after all, and the responses will vary over time (as they will have since I was there, myself).

That said, if you're entering into service to our nation, you really should consider the ethical questions posed below.

  1. What is the difference between a terrorist and an insurgent?
  2. How do unmanned systems impact modern battlefields?
  3. Where are the human cognitive, psychological, physical limits with respect to combat?
  4. How does information (Big Data and You Tube) affect the conduct of war?
  5. How should we measure tactical effectiveness in counterinsurgency operations?
  6. How does seapower and airpower contribute to landpower?
  7. In what ways does strategic culture influence military operations?
  8. How does logistics impact military operations in expeditionary campaigns?
  9. What is the proper role for civilians in military operations?
  10. What does "victory" look like in modern war?

For future military leaders, the questions asked above are tough to answer.  For writers, on the other hand, these are a gold mine.  After all, conflict is a writer's baseline requirement.  It's like oxygen to a human.  You can't even exist unless you have oxygen, if you're the one, or conflict, if you're the other.

And what better source of conflict than the previous set of questions, eh?

Hope you enjoy!


Friday, June 6, 2014

Life is Like A Game: Minesweeper

As I sit here preparing for a Very Important Call, I find myself keeping my mind active but distracted from the stress of the moment by playing one of my old favorite distractions, Minesweeper.  It’s a game that has come as part of Microsoft Windows since at least the dark days of Win 3.1.  Or was it 3.11?  You know, it was the version that required you to edit the autoexec.bat file and--well, never mind. 

I like playing Minesweeper, is all.

As I play it, I find that it’s an effective metaphor for life, especially in light of the reading I’ve been doing lately.  I've gotten into a book titled The Obstacle Is The Way by Ryan Holiday.  I won’t go too much into the book, itself, because frankly I think you need to read it directly instead of getting any sort of shorthand version from me.  Still, I’ll say that it’s a great book about how to conquer life's little challenges. 

Its main them is also not entirely different from arguments I’ve made in my blog, specifically about success as a writer.  My point, generally, is that most overnight successes aren’t.  Stephen King, for example, wrote about his path to success in On Writing, and it was anything but overnight.  He took years getting to where he is now.  Part of that time requirement, of course, was the simple act of building up the chops that have now propelled him to his rightful place among the most-recognized authors of all time, and part was perhaps luck, and part was just--oh, I don’t know, the way of life.  Regardless, it sure wasn’t overnight.

Have you played minesweeper?  I started way back when, on my first real desk job after I left the Army.  That’s why I know it was there prior to Windows 95; this was a couple of years before Windows 95 existed.  And while I’m on the subject--remember how Windows 3.1 sucked?  It had all sorts of glitches and stuff you couldn’t do, and if you managed to move a window completely off of the screen it was nine quarts of hell trying to get it back on the screen.  Then came Windows 95, and it sucked, too.  I remember there being a page in my Official Windows Curriculum book that discussed memory tuning, and in the Instructor’s manual a little note on the side said “Note: this doesn’t actually work.”  Hilarious stuff, that. 

So yeah, each version of Windows has had its problems.  Generally Microsoft has made it better, but that’s truly debatable with some versions (don’t get me started on Vista).  And yet Bill Gates has been--what?  Oh, right, an overnight success; just ask any of the kids who’ve grown up with Windows as their primary operating systems.

Back to minesweeper--I started way back when, and I quickly got tired of the Beginner and Intermediate levels and went on to Expert level.  It's a grid of tiles, 16 high by 30 wide, under which 99 mines are hidden.  Click on a tile without a mine and you’re good.  Click on a tile with a mine, and you’re dead, game over, done. 

Simple game, right?  And yay, it has hints.  Each time you click on a tile without a mine, it turns up a number that identifies how many mines it is adjacent to.  Yay!  Easy now, right? 


The numbers are, at first, quite a mystery.  You see a tile with a 1 on it, and you think, “well, that’s not a lot of help.  There are eight tiles beside it, and one of those has a mine.”  Then you see a tile with a 4, or a 6, on it, and you think that’s even less help. 

As you start to play, though, you realize that in combination, the numbers on the tiles really are a great help.  Experience teaches you to recognize patterns--ferinstance, when there’s a string of 1s interrupted by a single 2, you know there are two mines, each next to the 1-tiles adjacent to the 2.  You mark those, and you move on. 

Experience, then, is key to the game.  Well, except when it’s not.  If experience were the key to the game all the time, by this point I would be winning every single stinkin’ one of them.  I don’t, though.  Why?  Because no matter how quickly I can do the pattern recognition required, there’s always a point where I just really have no idea where the next mine is.  I’ll have it narrowed down to one of two squares, or two of four, but I still have only a 50% chance of getting it right.

That’s where the similarity to life smacked me in the face.  No matter how much we already know about the patterns of our lives, there are still times when we really have no idea which tile to click on next.  We can do what most do--shrug and walk away.  Or we can risk it, and click on one. 

Then the mine goes boom and we lose.  Game over!

But you know what?  In minesweeper, as in life, losing isn’t permanent.  We start a new game, and though it can be a pain to go through again and clear the field, it’s something that the more we do it, the better we get at it.  And then we hit a mine again, and it sets us back, but that just means we start with a fresh field once more.

Sometimes it gets pretty dark, too.  I mean, most of the game you’re looking at strings of 1s, 2s, and 3s, knowing there are a few mines peppered among the adjacent squares.  Sometimes, though, you get a whole cluster of 4s and 5s, and ohmygodthemines!  Funny thing about those spots, though, is that as dark as they seem, they’re usually the easiest to figure out when you look close enough.  Then, when you do have it figured out, there's no feeling like busting through that series of high numbers to find open field behind. 

Sometimes, too, I take a mental nap.  You know what I mean?  I'm just clicking along, and suddenly boom!  That, or I just plain miss the spot.  Then I clench my fists and say "but I knew that one was a mine!"  Doesn't matter; I clicked it, game over.  Show me someone who hasn't done that in Minesweeper, or, for that matter, in life.  I dare you.  So what do you do, stop playing and hang your head in shame?  Nah, you click the button to start over, right?

Eventually--and rarer than you’d expect for someone who’s been playing the game for twenty years--I win one.  Oh, what a moment for rejoicing that is, too.  And then I note the time it took to win that one and set off to win another one, only faster.

See? Life is like Minesweeper.

Have a great weekend, and here's hoping that all your tiles have numbers on them!


Sunday, May 25, 2014


The car rolled gradually to a quiet stop.  Its driver opened the door and slipped out, closing the door gently, silently, as though his very presence disturbed the tranquil setting.  His measured footfalls padded away onto the grass.

Inside the car, a girl sat and watched her father's ritual.  She allowed an exasperated sigh to escape.

"Now, Jenny," her mother chided, "relax.  We'll be at Uncle Don's soon enough, and you'll get all the time to play that you want.  Let your father have his time now."

Jenny shook her head.  As she and her cousins neared their teens, they were proud to be growing out of 'play time'; now, they enjoyed sitting and talking like adults.  Still, sitting and talking with her cousins was much better than sitting in a car with its radio muted.  "Fine.  But what is he doing?  Why does he have to do it every year?"

"I think you should go ask him.  He can tell you better than I can."

Jenny jumped out of the back seat and mimicked her father's solemn walk between the white marble stones that stood stretched in rigid formation across the grassy field.  As she approached the spot where he was silently planted in a position of attention, his arm snaked out, wrapping across her shoulders and pulling her in to stand close beside him.

"Dad," Jenny started, expecting her father to shush her too-loud voice as it cut through the quiet sensation of peace that blanketed the graveyard.  He didn't, though, so she continued, "Mom told me to ask you why you stop here every year."

The man, the grey hair dappling his temples his only sign of age, nodded as though he'd been expecting the question.  Inclining his head toward the tombstones to their front, he said, "For them."

"Yeah, I know that, Dad.  Every year the principal comes over the PA system on Friday and tells us this weekend we need to honor our fallen veterans.  You were one, weren't you?"  He almost never talked about it, but she'd seen the pictures in his office at home.

He chuckled soundlessly.  "Not a fallen veteran, Jenny.  I'm one of the lucky ones; I came home to your mom and to you."

"Did you know any of these guys?"

Jenny saw her father nod, but then silence stretched between them to the point that she suspected she wouldn't get an answer.  Finally, though, he inhaled slowly and then said, "Yeah.  Paul," he indicated the stone directly in front of them, causing Jenny to focus in on the details scribed on that one stone out of the thousands that surrounded them as he continued, "was a great guy.  He always smiled, no matter what.  CO said we had to spend our Friday evening cleaning our weapons, and Paul would be the first to get down to it.  'Quicker we get to it, quicker we get done,' he'd say through a smile.  John," he indicated a stone a few spaces down and Jenny moved to read that one as he continued, "tall redhead kid that was always in trouble.  Kid could do some pushups, though.  He had plenty of practice.  No sooner did we get set up in tent city than he hauled out some of those little bottles of whiskey--contraband, they were.  Could've gotten us all stoned."  This time her father's chuckle could be heard.

"How did they die?" she asked as she came back over to be folded under his arm.

Her father pulled her in closer to his shoulder.  He stood and spoke, often using his free hand to help describe things, longer to her of his military time than he'd ever taken the time to before.  He told her of the frustration they'd felt seeing their friends lying, dying, from a roadside bomb that gave them no one to shoot back at.  He told of moving through cities, protecting local groups, and then roaring to rip an entire building down to its very foundation after a sniper had fired from its roof.

He also told of good times, though, of training, of living, of laughing with the other men.  The camaraderie he described, that Jenny could hear in his voice, was deep and lifelong. 

Finally the storytelling session wound down to a close.  Wiping the cascade of tears from his face, he turned back toward the idling car. "Guess we ought to be getting to that cookout, right?" he asked.


"The soldier above all others prays for peace, for it is the soldier who must suffer and bear the deepest wounds and scars of war." - General Douglas MacArthur

It's very hard to describe the feelings I get as a veteran every Memorial Day when my heart and mind recall people I served alongside who gave their lives in defense of this nation.  This weekend, my heart goes out to all of them and to their loved ones.

Have a wonderful Memorial Day, all.


photo credit: Storm Crypt via photopin (cc)