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. 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!