Monday, April 30, 2012

Losing Weight

"Don't dig your grave with your own knife and fork." ~English Proverb

"Inside some of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but they can usually be sedated with a few pieces of chocolate cake." ~Author Unknown

"The older you get, the tougher it is to lose weight, because by then your body and your fat are really good friends." ~Author Unknown

Let's face it--writing isn't exactly the most active of professions. Neither is running a college, for that matter. Thus, over the past few years I've added some pounds to my frame. Not a HUGE amount, mind you, but--oh, hell, it is a huge amount. I'm over 100 pounds heavier than I was when I ran the Marine Corps Marathon, if that tells you anything. And it should.

Put another way--I got a kick out of the scene on the last episode of The Amazing Race, where the Pulikali Tiger Dancers were shown and the guys from Kentucky had to paint one of their bellies. The dancers all had about the same physique as me, which makes the tiger's face kinda stand out (in more ways than one). I thought briefly about using something like that next time I go to the swimming pool, but realized all it would do is cause the kids to say "look at that fat man with the picture painted on his stomach" instead of just "look at that fat man."

*sigh* I need to lose weight. So my doc says, and so it shall be.

Ah, yes--my doc. Last Wednesday my wife and daughter went to his office for an appointment, and he explained to my daughter how hard it can be to curb the appetite when we're under stress because stress causes some something somewhat hormone to be somethinged and it somehow triggers appetite. So I get there on Friday and nod and tell him that yes, I have stress, and I'm having trouble controlling my appetite.

Bummer, he says.

Due to a lack of good ideas from the doc, when I went to the pharmacy (to get a prescription filled, of course) I looked around. Man, they have a lot of weight loss products there. Have you ever seen that section? I know, most people only glance sideways at it if they allow their eyes to be diverted at all. "Nope, can't have people thinking I need a weight loss pill," we all say. It's as bad, I think, as the porn section at the video store or gas station. "Oh, look magaz--er, hey, look at those chips over there."

But I stopped. And looked. At the weight loss products, not the porn--I heard you thinkin' it. Hell, I need something to curb my appetite; otherwise I end up at about 3:00 pm every day getting up to "take a walk" that ends at the vending machine. It's not pretty what happens there, I tell you what.

Anyway, there are a lot of choices at the pharmacy, all claiming to be "the ONLY dietary supplement that's clinically proven to ____." Sheesh.

Finally the medicine I'd come for was ready, so I decided to brave a question of the pharmacist. NOT, not, not not not, and certainly not the old "What weight loss product would you recommend?" question, mind you. Nope, no way would I ask that. I think pharmacists take an Expressions 101 class in their pharmacy school. I can just imagine the lesson on "weight loss product questions": "Okay, now imagine that your neighbor has just asked for your camera to take a picture of a UFO. That's close. Now, he says they're purple and furry. Closer. Now, he says they want to marry your daughter. Right! That's the correct expression to use when a customer asks about weight loss products."

Nope, I asked about products to curb my appetite, which sort of the same thing but a skosh smarter. At least, it doesn't generate the "You must be nuts" look, so it must be smarter. Anyway, he said something interesting:



I'm serious. Apparently the dietary fiber curbs appetite. Not wanting to argue with the guy for fear that such activity would then cause the "You must be nuts" look to come forth, I went and purchased a canister of the orangey stuff. Got home and unpacked the groceries and got a funky look from the teenagers: "Metamucil? Aww, dad...."

"No, it's not for, um, down there. It's appetite suppressant. Really."

Seems to be working, at any rate. After drinking it I feel like I've eaten a softball. One thing I've learned, though: mix it with cold water and drink it immediately. Immediately, I say, right after removing the spoon you used to stir it in. Otherwise, if you give it time to set, it goes down like partially-firm jello. Mixed with sand. Ugh. Ptooey.

Anyway--probably best now to head off to happier topics. Y'all have a great week!


Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Punctuation and Writing Voice

"When I hear the hypercritical quarreling about grammar and style, the position of the particles, etc., etc., stretching or contracting every speaker to certain rules of theirs. I see that they forget that the first requisite and rule is that expression shall be vital and natural, as much as the voice of a brute or an interjection: first of all, mother tongue; and last of all, artificial or father tongue. Essentially your truest poetic sentence is as free and lawless as a lamb’s bleat." - Henry David Thoreau

"You practically do not use semicolons at all. This is a symptom of mental defectiveness, probably induced by camp life." - George Bernard Shaw

It's been suggested--strongly, at times--that I overuse the em dash in my writing.  For those unfamiliar with the fancy terms born in the typesetting era, the em dash is the longer version, the very biggest brother, of the hyphen.  It's actually fairly straightforward.  We use the hyphen all the time to join two words together in a willy-nillly fashion.  There's a slightly larger version called the en dash that's used to join two similarly-weighted concepts/words together; for example, you might use one to replace the word "to" in "The West Point football team beat Notre Dame 28 to 14" (hey, I can dream).  Meanwhile, the biggest dash--the em dash--is used to indicate a significant break in thought when a simple period won't cut it.

Me, I have lots of significant breaks in thought.  And I don't like periods much.  Thus, the em dash has always been my friend, even before I knew what it was called.

But it's bad, right?  Good, published, experienced authors rarely if ever use it, right?

Not necessarily.  It actually comes down to voice, or the way we want our prose to "sound" to the mind's ear when the reader is--well, reading, which is for the most part what readers do.  But check it out yourself.  Go snag a couple of books from your bookshelf and read prose from two different authors, just a few paragraphs, right now.  Trust me, I'll wait.

Did you "hear" a difference?  Yes?  Maybe not.  For many of us, including me a year ago, the voice of an author is something we pick up on intuitively in a passive manner, coming out as an "I like the way he writes."  Actually describing the voice in a cognitive fashion, though, is something that requires training and practice to accomplish.  I think.  Anyway, I'm better at it now than I used to be.

So what's my voice?  Do I want to "sound" more like Stephen King (the other one), or like Douglas Adams, or like Robert Jordan?  Well, frankly, I've always enjoyed the writing styles that tend toward sub-comedic, the ones that tell a story and occasionally--every couple of pages or so--have you chortling softly, and occasionally even guffawing loudly.  The ones that, if you notice, tend to be a bit choppy and hurky-jerky at times, because that's what comes across as funny. 

Writers like Bill Bryson, ferinstance.  I recently picked his book "A Walk in the Woods" back up.  It's out of my genre, true, but it's an interestingly-told tale of Bryson's hike along the Appalachian Trail.  In it he offends the hell out of us Southern boys, but that's not the point (besides, he does it in a humorous way, so it's all good). 

Point is, I picked it up this morning to read a little from where I'd left off last.  I got to the second page of my current chapter--Chapter 14--and noticed for the first time that Bryson uses the hell out of my buddy, the em dash.  On that page, in fact, I counted nine of them.  There's even a sentence that uses not only three em dashes but also a colon to really break the hell out of the line of thought: "The six sheets--maps is really much too strong a word for them--produced for Pennsylvania by a body called the Keystone Trails Association are small, monochrome, appallingly printed, inadequately keyed, and astoundingly vague--in short, useless: comically useless, heartbreakingly useless, dangerously useless."

How's that for choppy?  Oh, and he used six adverbs in one sentence there too.  Take that, Stephen King! 

Point is, the punctuation used by a writer is what sets the pace and the meter of the writing.  It's what makes a writer like Bryson sound brisk and bouncy while other writers lull you into the lullaby of their smoothly-flowing prose.  It's the punctuation, then, that sets off one writer's voice from another.

It's also, then, a matter of concern for editors (and for writers revising our own work).  It's pretty easy to go back over somebody else's writing, or our own from days or weeks ago, armed with a set of normally-useful rules like "em dashes are bad" and "adverbs should be minimized" and "coffee must be consumed black" and squish a writer's voice in the process.  Sometimes a passage sounds choppy, and that's a good thing because it was meant to sound choppy.

So on that note--have a great Wednesday!


Monday, April 23, 2012

Writing isn't hard, unless it is

And now for my last (hopefully) discussion about frequency of posts....

I'm still goin', folks.  I like to post something to my blog at least every other day; it keeps my writing muscles energized.  Can't always do that, though.  I'm no longer nearly as sick as I was in the first quarter of the year, so that's a good thing.  But now I've set my own internal deadline of finishing my dissertation by July, and I'm still behind the 8 ball at work thanks to the limited efforts I was able to expend earlier in the year (again, thank you, lung ailment from hell).  Oh, and I'm still a publishing fool in regards to my fiction writing (published the novella yesterday, in fact).  

The post I finally sent flyin' yesterday, I started early last week.  I got to a certain point, though--and most writers, I understand, know this point well--where I realized that what I was writing sucked.  I'd started along a path that sounded great but I'd run out of steam.  As the prose wound on painfully, it bored me to write it, and I'm sure it would have bored you to read what I had done to that point.  It's like driving with a flat tire--have you ever done that?  I mean, we all know academically that you shouldn't drive on a flat because it'll ruin the tire and rip the car out of alignment and all sorts of other bad stuff, but even if it weren't dangerous at all it'd still be annoying as hell.  Ka-lump.  Ka-lump.  Ka-lump.  Okay, pick up a little speed--ka-lump ka-lump ka-lump lump ka-lump.  That's what writing boring crap feels like, honestly.  It hurts to write boring crap slowly and hurts even worse to write it quickly.  But instead of backing up and fixing it as I finally got around to yesterday, I only had the energy through the week to open the software and look at the boring-as-hell prose: "Yep, it's still flat."  I did, in my defense, have a major revision on Chapter 4 of my dissertation to do, and I was having about the same reaction to that revision as well. 

Then again, dissertation writing is supposed to be boring as hell.  Yes, I'm going to publish that one when it's done; I have to.  In fact, I have to pay to publish it, of all things.  No, you don't want to read it.  Trust me.

Writing isn't hard.  I love writing.

Writing what I don't want to write, when I don't feel like writing, though, is tough.  It's like swimming upstream in a river of mud.  Not that I've ever done that, but....

Well, you get the idea. 

And for now, with promises to continue putting out what I hope are great blog posts and either maintain or increase the frequency, I say Happy Monday!


Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's all about the people

"When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters.  A character is a caricature." - Ernest Hemingway

Saturday morning at RavenCon found the fam--well, most of us--up bright and early at 8:00 am (thus proving I can be up and out of the house by that time on a weekend without a fishing pole in my hand!) at the hotel helping to set up for what promised to be a great day.  It wasn't hard; as I've said before, the RavenCon staff is quite a good team so the setup went both quickly and painlessly.  That left me standing at a few minutes after 9:00 with some time on my hands.

What to do?  Attend a session, of course.  There was one I'd been curious about, and it was right down the hall from the Con Suite.  The title: "What Harry Potter Did Right."  Now, hey, what author who aspires to compose the next Harry Potter could pass that one up?

The fifty-minute discussion can pretty easily be summed up in one word: characters.  What JK Rowling did expertly was craft characters that were disappointingly human and remarkably memorable and lovable at the same time.  A great deal of discussion went into the growth and development of the main and supporting cast of the book.

Take, ferinstance, the main trio: Harry, Ron, and Hermione.  People have criticized the first couple of books for being written at a low level, but as Gail Martin pointed out the POV in all the books was Harry, who in the beginning was only 10 or 11.  How much inter-faculty rivalry would a boy that age pick up on?  At the same time, though, in the first and other early books you saw a great amount of lovable character come out of the three, despite and at times because of their young ages. 

All the characters in HP had a significant amount of depth to them.  Then again, Rowling had seven books to develop and present that depth.  Martin pointed to Mrs. Weasley as an example: all along we see a solid wife and homemaker, and at the end we find out that she actually packs some power in her wand (or as Gail Martin said, "we find out why she was admitted to the Order of the Phoenix").

An interesting discussion came out of how much of a book should be devoted to characterization.  One of the panelists (I think it was Michael Ventrella; sadly, I went there with no note-taking capability) brought up the Slitherins and the rest of the Houses. In the Four Houses, of course, Rowling characterized the greatest aspects of mankind.  The Slitherins, Ventrella pointed out (I think) were among the least developed, though, often just appearing as evil villains rather than the personification of cunning and intellect that they were supposed to represent.  But the question came quickly: how much should an author devote to such characterizations?  As it was, Rowling wrote four relatively short books and three long ones.  She could easily have added another several tens of thousands of words discussing the Houses, but--would it really have moved the story forward?

As it is, Martin pointed out, there are many scenes in many books where not much action happens.  The dance scene in HP, for instance, doesn't have a ton of action in it.  On the other hand, in that scene you get to see some of the characteristics of the main trio as you've never seen them before, especially highlighted under the lamp of their growth.  They are, after all, children who are trying to grow into themselves at the same time they're fighting off giant spiders, whomping trees, and evil wizards.

Bottom line of the session was really that a writer to succeed--well, of course you have to have a plot, and you have to have conflict, and you have to have all the other parts of storytelling they tell us about in Writing Fiction 101.  But if you don't have characters the readers will connect with and want to learn more about, then all you'll have is a Fiction 101 book.


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

I Don't Get It

When generating the content for this blog (for you non-writers who don't have the fancy-dancy vocabulary down yet, that's another way of saying "writing the crap you're reading now"), I'm faced with three interests:
  1. Keeping it interesting
  2. Keeping it real
  3. Keeping it positive
Usually those interests are aligned, but sometimes they're not entirely square.  Today, ferinstance, I'm faced with an interesting topic that's real but isn't entirely positive.

I know, I know--yesterday I said "If I don't have anything nice to say...."  I also sometimes say "there is no such thing as a stupid question."  Trust me, little white lies like that are the tools of the trade for us teachers.

Trust me.  No, really. 

Anyway, one of the things that continuously amaze me is how others apparently think very differently from me.  I don't get it.  I mean, I assume that people are generally not out to make my life miserable; I know there are exceptions, but they're the exceptions rather than the rule by definition.  If that's the case, though, then some peoples' minds must simply work really weird sometimes.

Take, ferinstance, the Con Suite, which is the fancy-dancy way of saying "snack room" at the Ravencon (and many similar Cons, for that matter).  I worked there most of the time, not because they needed my choppin' magic but instead because that was where my wife was assigned and I liked being there with her.

(Note that I did get to use my amazing Ginsu skills a few times, and boy were my co-workers amazed.  But that wasn't the point.)

The point, I guess, is the number of times I had to point to perfectly obvious things.  "Do you have any coffee?" was a frequently-asked question.  "Yes, we do."  "Where is it?"  "In the coffee pot right behind you."  "Do you have any water?" others would ask.  Now, at least I understood what they were getting at; these days folks are conditioned to believe that you cannot drink di-hydro mono-oxide unless it comes to you contained in a little plastic bottle.  These guys, though, always asked the question over three pitchers full of ice water with cups right beside. Literally over, as in some of the kids had to stand on their tiptoes to speak over the water pitchers. 

I don't get it.

What took the cake, though, besides the number of people who asked us if they could have a piece of the cake that said "do not touch the cake"--no lie--was the dozens of people who walked right past the two uncovered and well-stocked bins in the entrance, one labeled "Regular Sodas" and the other labeled "Diet Sodas," in order to ask me if we had any sodas.  Seriously, it was dozens.  I really had to work to maintain a straight face, and I very likely failed toward the end. 

I don't get it.

Saturday morning I left the Con Suite to participate in the session I'd been looking forward to all convention long: Writing Workshop.  It was a small event, only 12 participants allowed, run by a panel that consisted of a literary agent I've come know on Facebook, an author who floored me at SheVaCon with his extensive knowledge of the craft (Allen Wold), and a reader I'd never heard of.  Hey, I help set up the setup, so I felt no shame in signing on early.  A good friend of mine from James River Writers also showed up early to sign up for the session, and I was looking forward to both improving my own writing and seeing her work.

It didn't happen.

First, I was put out of sorts by a lady that--well, I don't get it.  She was sitting in the middle row.  When I went to sit in the front row, she told me I couldn't sit there because I'd block her view of the twelve-foot-wide panel in the front of the room.  I moved to the side as she suggested, and she complained that her friend wouldn't be able to see.  "Why," I thought of asking later when I'd cooled off, "don't you ladies sit in the front row, then?"  I didn't ask, though, because....

Well, lookit.  When you're at a Con, next time you see a guy walking around with "STAFF" hanging beneath his name, please, for the love of God, Odin, Cthulu, or whatever deity you speak to at night, be nice to him.  Odds are he was on site two hours or more before you thought of getting out of bed; he's very probably both tired and hungry and is doing whatever he's doing not because of the pay (somewhere around $0 per hour), but instead because he loves the conference.  He also knows that if you say something stupid to him and he smarts off in return, there's a chance he's not doing the Con any favors and may not get to do it again the next year.  Odds are, if he's smart as well as exhausted he'll just gurgle quietly, smile his best toothy expression, and move off to somewhere else.

Luckily enough, the session was way overbooked.  Somehow "Max 12" had been understood by some of the attendees to be synonymous with "somewhere around 15 or so."  Since I was no longer in the mood to write anything that didn't tell the story of a convention attendee who met an untimely and quite painful ejection from the hotel via the topmost floor, I took one for the team, used the overbooking as an excuse, and went back to putting my Ginsu magic on display. 

I don't get it.

As the convention was getting a rather rough start despite the meticulous preparations that had preceded the opening day, the Con Chair put out a message about how important it was for everybody to do what they had committed to doing.  He ended the message with "I will probably be doing a lot of yelling today."  Now, I've come to know him a little, and I suspect that the comment was only half-serious, but it was intended to "serious" everybody up and make sure the guests' experience was okay regardless of pitfalls encountered along the merry path of setup.  I think, anyway.

In any event, another staff member--I'll call her Staff Member B--responded with, "If you yell at me when I am trying to help, I will leave."  That I took as a gentle reminder that we're all volunteers.  Despite my own occasional propensity for yelling things, rule #1 of managing volunteers is that you never raise your voice.  Her comment, then, was a nice reminder.  Not subtle, certainly, but subtlety wasn't exactly what was called for in getting the thing kicked off.

Fast forward to Saturday evening.  The band, Bella Morte (a band I came to really like, incidentally) started playing, and one of the staff members was asked, I think, or at least she took the wonderful initiative to get them some sodas.  She actually found the sodas, a feat that had outwitted several dozen guests by that point.  But then, because we'd run out of ice and had decided to not spend any more (the hotel actually charges for it) since the evening was winding down and, well, we know what happens to ice overnight, she found that the sodas were relatively lukewarm.


Now there are several solutions to the problem, but she took Path C.  She yelled at the (young) crew in the Con Suite, and then buzzed by the few of us standing at the Reg desk to yell at us.

Hey, I understand.  Frustration after a long day clearly took its toll.  No worries; I went back to the Con Suite and smoothed out the feathers and stuff.

But wouldn't you know it--the yeller was Staff Member B, of all people.

I don't get it.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Ravencon 2012

After the silly little spate a couple of months ago I decided to adopt an "if I can't say something nice I won't say anything at all" policy here.  Thus, if I didn't have good things to say about the Ravencon experience, you probably wouldn't be reading a post today.  Because I'm tired.  No, that's not quite accurate.  I'm bone-achingly, word-slurringly exhausted. I wouldn't be writing a post if I didn't feel strongly about it.  Trust me, I'd still be in bed, instead. 

But I do.  Have good things to say, that is.  Those who've followed me for a while know I rather enjoyed SheVaCon, in a hey-this-is-cool-stuff kinda way.  In Roanoke I went to some good sessions and talked to some interesting people with whom I haven't been in contact since. 

When you work a Con (which is, of course, entirely different from working a con), though, it's an entirely different level of immersion.  I found this at work back when I helped out with trade shows put on by a former employer who shall remain nameless for much the same reason as Volde--um, He Who--does.  These great big, multi-hundred (or in the employer's case, multi-tens-of-thousands) attended events generate a level of frenetic intensity behind the scenes, no matter how well-planned, that truly must be experienced to be believed.  If everyone is where they're supposed to be when they're supposed to be there, doing what they were assigned to do plus looking out for the best interest of the guests, then it ends with everybody shambling exhaustedly to the end with a great big smile on their faces.  If not, people become enemies to infinity and beyond and hurl mostly unintelligible epithets toward each other as they shamble exhaustedly toward the exit doors as soon as they can. 

I was amazed at the level of professionalism, teamwork, and competence I saw this weekend out of an entirely volunteer group.  These guys, the Ravencon staff, do what they do because they love it and are good at it, and both I and Heide are glad we were able to integrate into the mix for this event and others to come. 

Short story, then: you need to go to Ravencon.  Because, like, it's great fun. What other Con has a Ms. Pacman arcade game in the gaming room?  Eh?  One that will actually play 60+ old arcade games? 

Ahywho--despite the long hours of work, I was still able to attend a session or two.  Will cover the one on Harry Potter separately, as it deserves. 

I also was in the right place at the right time to be nominated Chief--um, not sure what the actual title is.  But the author guest of honor was Glen Cook, and somebody on staff has to be assigned the privilege of making sure the GoH is where he needs to be at the right time and has what he needs available, including name tents, pens, and coffee.  That somebody was me.  Talk about a blast.  Glen Cook has been writing a long, long time.  He's an incredibly smart man with an infectious sense of humor and a great deal of humility.  More about that, I think, in a later blog post.  

Also had more fun at the Charity Auction than I've ever had at any auction before.  The crowd was really into it, and the callers were great.  No, really, it was fun.  I know, it was an auction, but you have to believe me on this.  I managed, during all the fun, to get two beautiful works of art by Ruth Thompson, both faeries and both signed limited editions, for a price that in retrospect is kind of embarrassing.  I mean, I practically stole them from the auction.  I paid slightly more for two of them than a single non-signed non-LE version is available for online. 

All in all, great fun, and it gave me a great deal to consider for my own future writing efforts.


Thursday, April 12, 2012

A weekend off (sort of)

I'm probably not going to get much of anything that's related to writing done this weekend, and I'm really looking forward to that.

Last night I attended this month's Writers Wednesday at Capital Ale House.  These things are great, and if you're local to or visiting the Richmond area, I highly recommend you join us.  Here is the web site info on it, but the short version: it's low-key, and it's free.  Show up and I guarantee somebody will shake your hand and ask what you write.  Somebody else will ask what you'd like to drink, and if you enjoy a good (but not free) brew then you're really in the right place.  Their beer menu is longer and far more interesting than some peoples' novels, and there's always something new.  The group, you'll find, consists of all sorts of writers, too; there are poets, business writers, fiction of all genre and age range, and non-fiction writers to chat with and share ideas.  Just--go.

Anyway, as I was saying before my commercial rudely interrupted me, I was standing there last night innocently sipping on a beer and blam!  Suddenly we were hit by a discussion on writing processes.  Turns out, if you weren't already aware, that the writing process is very different for different writers.  That's even down to the formatting.  One of the writers there--a successful and relatively prolific one--explained that he couldn't write anything but single-spaced text, which prompted me to explain that I much prefer double-spaced writing, thus sparking one of the calmest (and shortest) debates in which I've participated in a while.  But in the end, before we moved off to discussing--um, I think it was screenplay length and format that was next--we made it clear that even in a small group were people with very, very different writing habits.

Another thing I learned last night is that a site exists that gives away story ideas.  Hah, a virtual Schenectady!  (See for the rest of the joke)  A quick Google search this morning clued me in that there are actually several such sites out there.  Try it yourself: Google "free story ideas" and see what you get.  Wow, right?

So tying all this back to topic, I tend to get my ideas not from a fictitious factory in a town in NY, nor from a web site, nor from some of the places other writers have mentioned, but mostly from taking a little time to look around and think.  Being in an environment that promotes fantasy or sci fi type of thinking helps, which, in turn (see, I did get back to it) is why I'm really quite excited for this weekend.

So no, I won't be doing much writing.  Instead, I'm working at Ravencon.  For those who don't wish to clicky the linky, it's a three-day fantasy/sci-fi convention held right here in Richmond, actually just a few miles from my place.  It won't be my first convention, nor the first one I've worked for, but it'll be the first fantasy/sci fi convention I've helped run.  I'm looking forward to working it, and meeting lots of new people, and the inspiration the event will inevitably bring me.

And yes, of course I'll take pictures.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Being an authorpreneur

"Diligence is the mother of good fortune." - Benjamin Disraeli

Once again I find myself inspired by an OPB--and once again, it's Rachelle Gardner's handiwork.  I'm tellin' ya, if you're not following her blog and you have any desire to do any sort of writing, then you're doin' it wrong. 

So this morning I was treated to a very interesting article on six reasons authors self-publish.  RG got fairly close, too, which is kinda surprising considering she admittedly spends her time on the other side of the fence and has never actually self-published. At the very least, I was pleased to note that she didn't take the typical traditionalist slant of "people who self-publish do so because they're losers who can't make it in the real publishing world." 

Not gonna steal her thunder--if you're curious what the six reasons are, then clicky the linky and read 'em yourself.  I would, however, propose a seventh reason authors self-publish.

7.  It's fun.

No, really.  I can hear my fellow authorpreneurs now, cackling madly to themselves because I actually came out and said that.  But it is.  Fun, that is.  What other field can you stay up till 1 or 2 in the morning crafting a story only to be told it's complete crap, after all? 

But seriously, for people who know what it is to build a business, this is great stuff.  My product is my books.  Yes, they take a lot of blood, sweat, tears, time I'd otherwise be spending with family or fishing, and other stuff to craft, but there aren't many businesses you can start with a laptop, a printer, and some paper.  I was talking to another businessman last weekend on the topic of startups, and he said words to the effect of "if it costs less than a hundred grand, I don't even think about it any more."  Yes, starting up a business writing books is quite inexpensive comparatively.

Which is, of course, why everybody's doing it, and training/preparation be damned.

That said, it's probably important to mention that if all you're looking at investing is the implements of writing, you're doing it wrong.  I'm convinced, now, having done it and read multiple accounts of others doing it, that there's no way a human being can craft a story in the quiet of his own mind/living room that's good enough for people to want to shell out cash to read it.  Can't be done.  Lookit, if you're going to self-publish, then you need to be prepared to shell out the cash for an editor.  There's cheap editor services and expensive editor services, but this isn't the time or the place to expound upon which one the new author needs.  One or the other, though, is a must. 

Oh, and a cover designer, too.  That's another couple of hundred bucks.  But again, this is a business startup we're talking about, not a hobby, right?  Just do it.

All that said, once you've put a couple of reams of paper and several hundred to a few thousand bucks into crafting your literary masterpiece, the fun is just getting started.  When are you going to release it?  How much fanfare are you going to give the release, and how?  What price are you going to affix to your work?  What platforms will you use to publish it?  These are all choices you're going to make.  Again, if you enjoy tinkering with business, this is going to be an absolutely breathtakingly fun time. 

Oh, by the way, you're not gonna sell anything at first.  Oh, you'll get Mom and your close Facebook buddies to run down to and buy a copy, no matter what price you affix to the cover.  But they don't count, because as much as you love them and appreciate their purchases, they're not real customers.  They probably aren't interested in your genre.  If they read the book at all, they won't leave reviews.  They won't go tell their reading circles about your book, because odds are the people in your close circle either a) don't have reading circles, or b) belong to the same reading circles you do.  There will be a few exceptions (like Becca, in my own group), and you really should raise an thanks offering to whatever deity you worship in appreciation for those.  But most?  Eh, it's a sale, but that's it. 

That's where the businessman gets to come out, though.  Research.  Read what people are doing, and look what people are doing on and other sites.  What's the difference between the top sellers on and your book?  Plagiarism may be bad, but copying what works is a standard and valued business practice.  Keep in mind, though, that exact copying is bad, too; you have to differentiate yourself somehow. 

Tinker.  Have fun.  It's your book.  It's your business. 

While you're tinkering, remember that there's no such thing as an overnight success.  JK Rowling reportedly worked on Harry Potter for five years before she became an overnight success.  Dan Brown didn't become successful till his fourth book caught on, and then he went on to sell somewhere around eighty million copies of it (as well as copies of his newly-discovered back list books).  It's not just books that are like that, either.  Remember working on Windows version 1?  No, I don't either.  And the Apple I computer, the ugly piece of wood-backed hardware that ended up spawning one of the largest computer companies in the world--did you buy one of those things?  I didn't either.  It cost $666.66 and only sold a couple hundred units, near as I can recall.  A miserable, miserable failure, that was.  Until....

While I'm on the topic of overnight success--Henry Ford didn't just run out and start Ford Motor Company and make millions in 1903.  You knew that, right?  He started, actually, in 1899 with a company called Detroit Automobile Company.  It failed, sort of, and was reorganized into the company that eventually became Cadillac, but only after Ford had left in 1902 with $900 to his name.  But he learned from the experience, and--well, you get the gist. 

No such thing as overnight success.  Let that be your mantra, authorpreneurs. 


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Multimedia and reading enjoyment

"Multimedia scares me off." - Michael Nesmith

As usual, one of the OPBs (Other Peoples' Blogs) I read today really got me to thinkin'.  Once again it was Rachelle Gardner's fault; she wrote a pretty interesting post in response to an article on  Again, as usual, I'm not gonna repeat all of it here, but please check out the stories at the following links (and then come back): article: Publishers Hustle to Make E-Books More Immersive
Rachelle Gardner's response: It's the End of the World as We Know It

Frankly, it flibberty-gibbeted me how many respondents to the RG post came out with the sentiment of "a book is a book is a book, even if it's an e-book, and don't you dare put links in the way of my plain text reading enjoyment." 

I don't get it.

First of all, it's quite an assumption to say that links in an "immersive" ebook will look like links on a web page do now.  Fact is, you can make a link on a web page look like anything you want.  Most of the time we use text, as I did above, but you can use squares, or stars, or blobs, or whatever you wish.  Future programming might even put links to "immersive" content in the margin, well out of the flow of the text, if that is what the majority of the customers want.  Granted, the Big 6 publishers aren't exactly known for caring what the majority of their customers want, but that's a whole different issue.  My point is that it's too soon to assume that active content will get in the way of reading in the traditional sense.

Anyway--figured I'd bring my response over here to see what y'all thought of the issue:

Somebody else already mentioned that the immersive experience is here to stay in academic publishing. ’tis true; the e-books I work with in my day job do this quite natch. Then again, an academic customer will pay $100 for a book and think he’s getting a bargain.

I’m going to take a different stance from most folks on this, much as it pains me to do so. Most of the current technologies, many of which replaced competitive tech, wasn’t “needed” when it came out. Nobody needed the sound clarity of CDs when they replaced vinyl. Nobody truly needs a camera or a GPS or a web browser on their cell phone, either, but how often do you see a cell phone available that doesn’t allow for the snapping of beautiful pictures of our puppies and babies? We–even us old pharts–buy the enhanced technology not because it’s something we need, but because it’s cool, and it’s something we can buy. For–the most part, anyway.

Back to the subject at hand, I am also one who loves the feeling of sitting back with a paperback in hand, letting the story play out in my brain as I read it from the page. Lately I’ve learned to love the feeling of sitting back with my cell phone in hand, letting the story play out in my brain as I read it from the Kindle emulator. Do I need the enhancements the article describes Havard bringing to her book? Nah. But would it be cool to have the music playing in the background? Sure. Another example is that in the genre I mostly read and work, fantasy, authors seem to love to create character names that are impossible for the human mouth to pronounce (e.g., Leg’l'thr’rpfphi). Sure would be nice to have an interactive pronunciation guide to the silliness. Would also be nice to have an interactive search feature, like what exists in my work docs, to go back through and find the last time I saw a character mentioned, because my brain is getting old and–um, what was I saying? Oh, yeah–and additionally, adding the functionality that made Zynga worth hundreds of millions of dollars (have your friends read this and I’ll unlock a chapter, or some such) is, frankly, brilliant. If, that is, your goal is to sell books.

Will be interesting to see what happens to pricing over the coming years, with or without immersion technologies but especially with. Including a camera on a cell phone increases the cost to produce the device, but the marketers have found an indirect way to pay for it. At the same time, one funny thing about ebooks, immersive or not, is that the unit marginal cost is zero–all cost of production is sunk well before the item goes on the market. Does adding sound files or moving pictures, then, HAVE to increase the cost of each book? I suppose we’ll probably see in the near future.

So, what do y'all think on the matter?  Should I keep my paws off the text and keep it "for reading only," or start considering and looking into how to bring more active content to my own books? What, if anything, would having "immersive" content, as described in the Wired article, do to your expectations for pricing? 


(Edited to change my quote out of the really annoying italics I initially put it in.  Italics are fine for short pieces, but they hurt my aging eyes when the bit is too long)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Interview with GMTA

Well--I had a different blog post planned for today, but the awesome Kitty Bullard got my interview up today at Great Minds Think Aloud.  There are some things there that I've never told anyone else who's still alive today. 

Go read it at:

Seeya back tomorrow for the vitally important post on--um--now what was it again?  :-)


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

"I once wanted to become an atheist, but I gave up - they have no holidays." - Henny Youngman

Whatever your views on religious events--and I know I have a diverse group of readers--here's hoping that you're spending today with family and friends and having a great holiday.

Happy Easter!


Friday, April 6, 2012

Freebie Friday!

"A book is a gift you can open again and again." - Garrison Keillor

So, speaking of promotions as I was--um, sorta--I'm'a tryin' something.  I'm giving Cataclysm away today.  For, like, free, on Amazon.  Here's the link:

Why give the book away for free?  So I can sell more.  Don't ask me how that works; I don't really know.  But part of the KDP Select contract is that I get five days during the 90 when I can make my book free and have it promoted as such on Amazon.  Since Ascension just came out, I'm thinking that people who read Cataclysm for free will like it so much that they'll go out and buy the second novel in the series.

Well, that's my thought, anyway.

Several friends of mine are also giving books away for free today, by the way.  Go check out the list at

And with all this free reading, there's no way it won't be a Happy Easter weekend, right?


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

April is gonna be awesome!

"The first of April is the day we remember what we are the other 364 days of the year." - Mark Twain

So, lots of April Fools jokes this year.  Konrath pulled off a good one:  There were others as well, of course.  Blizzard, the creator of the massive game that was swiping up all of my time before I found writing, always gets in the spirit; this year one of their chief human characters and a primary leader of that race, Jaina Proudmore, came with new "trailer park" artwork and tattoos.  Just, luckily, for that one day. 

April 1st is also, of course, the date I published Ascension.  Well, sort of.  It's the date I submitted the files and the artwork to Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing platform and to Createspace for the paperback.  It took Amazon a day to review the files and put the book up for sale, and the same timing applied to Createspace, so the actual date of publication is NOT April Fool's Day.  Not that it matters a whole lot, of course. 

I'm off to a good start, at least.  I also re-worked Cataclysm to change formatting and add a table of contents, and I repriced it to see if a more mainstream price point would mean more sales.  So far, a solid performance.  I've already sold more books in April than I did in February--not surprising, really, since I have twice the number of books available now, but it's still fun to point to sales that are trending upward. 

I think that the most important thing is that I'm far more on point than I was in the beginning.  I'm a better writer, to be certain, in part thanks to experience at the job and also hugely thanks to readers' comments.  But I'm also figuring this bookselling thing out, slowly by slowly. 

Incidentally, there are lots of books out there that tell you how to sell books.  I'm not sure at this point that I'd recommend buying any of them.  Experience is the best teacher out there.  I read a bunch before I published anything, which is the main reason it took a while to bring Cataclysm back out.  Didn't help, because I had no context for the lessons I read. 

Oh, and I was interviewed today on a wonderful blog.  Go check it out:


Monday, April 2, 2012

Ascension is out!

"Nothing stops the man who desires to achieve. Every obstacle is simply a course to develop his achievement muscle. It's a strengthening of his powers of accomplishment." - Thomas Carlyle

I had expected it to take a little less time to get Ascension out and available to the public at large, and as I got closer I started expecting it to take a little more time to get'r'done.  But my Monday morning present was waking up to see that the good folks at Amazon have already released it.  It's now available in ebook format.

It took some effort that went well beyond what people typically consider writing.  Not complaining at all; I'm one of those sick fools who actually enjoys all the little details associated with self-publishing.  Like formatting.  And graphic arts, once I got the software figured out.  And all that other difficult stuff.

It's not easy.  But it's worth it.

A short run-down for the curious: 

First and foremost, get the story right.  That's really the toughest part.  I mean, yes, we have editors to help, and we read the story out loud to make sure everything including the dialog works, but there's always something about the story that could be told a little differently.  That leaves the writer going back and forth a bit.  But as I learned the hard way, make sure the story is the way you want it before you start doing the formatting bit.

Set the text parameters the way you want them.  I, personally, like Times New Roman 12 pt.  I've read that sans-serif fonts (where the letters don't have the little doodads at the end of each line) are a skosh easier to read, but most professionally published books are typeset in serif fonts like TNR or similar.  So, easier to read or no, who am I to go against centuries of readers' expectations?  Also, some writers swear by 11-point letters, but I like the slightly larger letters because my eyes are getting worse, too.  That, and 12 makes me happy.  And it's a pica.  To 'splain: the basic definition of letter size is based on height, not width, and this was all decided long before England had gone away from the English system of measure.  Thus, an inch is an inch, but that's useless for typesetting since letters are typically small.  A pica is one-sixth of one inch.  A point is one-twelfth of one pica.  Thus, 12-point text is one-sixth of one inch, or one pica, tall.  Eleven point text is--some funky fraction.  Hey, I'm a writer, not a math teacher.  Well, okay, so I am a math teacher, sometimes, by day.  But that's other stuff.

Get the paragraphs the way you want them.  Select the whole dang document (other than the title and the centered front matter)--keystroke in Word is, after putting the cursor at the beginning of your selection, to hold the Ctrl and the Shift key down and press End.  Voila!  Then I justify the text (it's a button in the alignment section) which makes the right side of the document look happily neat too, and then I change the indent of each paragraph to .3 inches.  See, when I write, I use a paragraph indent of half an inch because it's easier to see, but since lines in a book or on a Kindle are so much shorter, three tenths of an inch are sufficient to get the point across.  Oh, and if you use tabs at the beginning of the paragraph, get out of the habit now, because that makes changing the format much harder later. 

I also, at this point, go through and remove excess spaces.  I'm still old school when I type so every sentence ends in a period and two spaces.  Word makes it easy to replace a period and two spaces with a period and one space globally, though.  I did that with Ascension and had nearly 6,000 replacements.  Also, I'm in the bad habit of reaching the end of the paragraph before I realize it and pressing the space bar another couple of times, so I use Replace to globally change a period, a space, and a paragraph mark with a period followed immediately by a paragraph mark.

Now, of course, all the chapter headings are off, so I go to the first one and format it the way I like it, centered without an indent.  Word 2007 makes it easy to base Heading1 on whatever is selected (just right-click on the Heading1 button) so I do that and then scroll merrily through the document applying Heading1 to every chapter heading.  (Actually, I use Find instead of scrolling because I'm lazy)

After that, it's just a matter of telling Word to insert a Table of Contents, and I'm done.  Mostly.  For the Kindle edition, I save it to an HTML file (which converts the page numbers into links to the chapters in the TOC).  For Createspace, they have a template that you can paste your document into.  Their template works reasonably well so long as you don't get outside of their pre-defined margins (which will cause their system to yell at you).