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Whale Puke to Ambergris

2 Aug

So I finished the first draft of my most recent novel, and man… does it suck. The plot goes nowhere, the characters are unrealistic, and I’m sure if I look too deep, a dragon will appear for no apparent reason. How do I turn this crap into a spun gold?

When I decided to give my “writing career” another try (a year since self-publishing my last book), I figured that doing the July version of my favorite writing motivator – NaNoWriMo – would be a good way to get those creative juices flowing. And it has! I am feeling much better about myself, I’m expanding my outreach, and even started writing this blog! (BTW, I’m grateful that you’re reading this.) However, as much as I’m happy about expanding my writing opportunity, I’m incredibly disappointed in what I wrote.

When it comes to this situation, I keep remembering a scene from Dean Koontz’ Lightning, in which the main character (an author) is writing her latest story. Her husband comes in and asks, “How’s the story coming?”

She responds, “Ugh. Whale puke.”

He smiles and says, “Great! That means it’ll sell another 10,000 copies!”

Ambergris, one of the precious perfume components and is rather expensive, comes from whale puke. I try to remember that your first draft will never be publishable. What’s important is that you get the words out first. You can polish it all you want before you publish, but if you don’t have anything written at all, you have nothing to polish… or publish.

So the current plan is to throw it in the drawer and not look at it for three months. Give my mind a chance to breathe and try and remember what I liked about this universe and where I want it to go. In the meantime, I’ve got another novel that I need to edit and get ready for publication. I’ve got this audiobook project that I want to make of one of my stories. And… as always, continue to promote the books I’ve already published.

Speaking of which, have you checked our my latest Kindle offering? #shamelessplug πŸ™‚

Do I suffer alone? Do you have finished novels that haven’t seen the light of day in… years? Do have uncompleted stories that you just stopped one day and never came back to? Cry on my electronic shoulder in the comments below!

When Novellas Attack!

29 Jul

Yes, I just wrote a post about how much short stories suck, but these are short novels! πŸ™‚ Thanks to my brother-in-law, who’s got a lot more experience with publishing, I’m now providing an e-book/Kindle version of my killer novellas – Prayer for the Technocrats and Virginia is for Lovers – for the low, low price of $1.99!

What are these books about? Well…

It’s a classic story of boy meets girl, boy gets girl, and then girl drugs boy and steals his money. Unfortunately for the thief, Feliz Castanada is the leader of the local crime syndicate, who needs to avenge the affront to his honor by killing the woman. The thief, Desiree Winters, doesn’t make that easy for him. A master of disguise, with the use of cosmetic implants, with a command she can change her appearance at will. Can Feliz take her out before his superiors find out? Can Desiree escape the city with her life? And what is it about the other that they find strangely compelling?

Humanity is under threat and no one is concerned. After all, the Earth Federation has survived countless invasions, civil wars, and ruthless dictators. After centuries of war and bloodshed, one more invasion shouldn’t make much of a difference. But how do you fight an enemy who can’t be killed?

As civilization falls apart, four people must brave the impossible. Miranda, the scientist, searches for the enemy, and the key that might save humanity. Ivan, the fighter pilot, seeking to warn anyone who will listen of the coming danger. Amanda, the politician, trying to keep civilization together long enough to fight back. Demar, the sergeant, whose skill can fight legends. And who is Vin Dane, the mysterious colonel who can bring these four together?

Hope you enjoy this–much more convenient version of my stories!

Hate the Length, Not the Writer

29 Jul

As I’m releasing my short stories on my author’s page, it occurs to me–I really don’t like short stories. I’ve written very few, as compared to the tons of first chapters in my folders that never got anywhere. It occurred to me that the reason was very, very simple.

You simply get no chance to be invested in the story. It takes a while to setup the universe, the characters, to get into the rhythm of the story. Then… it’s suddenly over. Your entire job is to convey one cute concept or rough idea or something you want to discuss. The characters and the universe are irrelevant in a short story. It’s a plot, straight and simple. Take one of my favorite short stories, “The Rule of Names” by Ursula K. Le Guin. Great concept, but apart from the dragon, do you know any of the characters? No… it’s not important. You build up this universe just to abandon it on the side of the road. Maybe the universe couldn’t hold up a whole novel (as has happened to me).

I find this annoying in other forms of entertainment as well. It’s why I prefer TV series over movies. If you’re gonna spend time with characters you care about, you want them be around for a while. That’s why having a universe where main’/supporting characters die is so effective!

But there are exceptions to this. Memes, for example, are easily digestible, bite-sized nuggets of wisdom. Whether they match your wisdom is another question entirely–they’re there to get a point across and leave. They’re also easily shared and travel fast. You don’t have time to make a connection. Blogs are also great for this, because although they’re short, you know the author and make a connection with them instead.

Now I’ve actually sold short stories, and they’re great for anthologies, but those have the same problem for me. Unless you’re following the same characters, I really couldn’t care. Even anthologies from a shared universe are… iffy. For example, Changer of Worlds is set in the Honorverse, which is a series I’ve followed religiously written by David Weber. Three of the four stories are referenced (but not essential) to the plot of other books; three of the four are also written by the author himself, so one wonders why he bothered. Even then, it still took a while for me to read them… even after I bought the book! In this case, I was simply getting backstory… and although that was enjoyable, it wasn’t desirable.

Novellas are the worst of both worlds. I should know, I’ve written two of them. They’re just long enough to convey the story, universe, and characters, but not enough to continue. About 20K words–that was my comfortable spot for many years. I couldn’t write more than that until NaNoWriMo and Grad School taught me how to crank words out. There was one novella I wrote specifically for a contest, so it had to be that long, but it didn’t win… so… poopy.

So when I seek out new reading, I hope for series, I hope for long epic stories, and characters that are worth following. Am I alone here? Do you feel the same or do you crave the nice bite-size morsels of a short story? Or even the single sitting meal of a movie? Let me know in the comments below!

World Building vs. Plot… Fight!

22 Jul

It took me twenty thousand words, but I finally figured out why I was having such trouble with my current work in progress – I was more concerned with the world I was building than the plot I was going to put in it. I guess I just figured that the plot would naturally feed itself, since I fell in love with my idea, but that quickly proved not to be the case.

This particular novel started off with a comment that Peter Gold, a fellow member of The Royal Manticoran Navy (a great fandom), told me. “The
sci-fi writers of the 50s and 60s knew the importance of the merchant
marine during WWII, and wrote sci-fi stories built around merchant
ships rather than the navy.” So this got me researching how merchant marine worked today, watching great videos from mariners on YouTube (TimBatSea, JeffHK, Chief MAKOI), and figuring out how to fit that into a sci-fi situation. Trying to avoid being Firefly, I reused one of my previous universes, shifted it ahead 40 years, and BOOM! I’ve got a great universe.

“Hey, Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up,” I tell myself, “let’s grind this out and write a story in this universe!” I came up with a comprehensive character sketch for the crew members on this merchant ship, so I knew who to have my main character interact with. My main character? Eh… he’s the POV character, so naturally not knowing anything (like the audience) is fine. But then, I never bothered to develop his backstory, or character traits, since I figured that would come out in the writing. (Partly right.)

Now what I should have realized as soon as I started is that all I had in my head for the plot was a couple scenes. Once those wear out, well… I can talk to all the characters I worked so hard to sketch out. Okay… then what? At some point, my main character has to DO SOMETHING. That’s where things got iffy. “Oh, crap! How do I keep my word count up?”

So I pulled a trick that Scott Lynch did in his book, The Lies of Locke Lamora: start in the middle of the action, flashback to the character building later. That worked… let me get back to who this character actually is. Still don’t have a plot, but hey, I’m getting more scenes in. I’m getting a glimpse of where I want to go. But that only lasts so long.

Now I’m at 35,000 words and I realize, “Oh, I have no idea what story I want to tell in this universe!” Now I’ve got 11 more days in the “contest,” I don’t want to stop when I’m so close, I don’t really want to keep writing it either. So I’m left with the realization that I’m going to finish this, a novel that is unpublishable, and it’ll take another month or so to rewrite this into something that I’ll be proud to show. And editing is not my strong suit – and I’m too cheap/broke to hire someone.

Oi.

However, this whole process has taught me the valuable lesson – figure out what story you want to tell first. Even if it’s not completely fleshed out, have a goal that you want your character to reach, and this will go to a far, far better place.

Have you ever had this problem? Most of the time, I’ve given up on the story, but have you just muscled through a story that you knew was going nowhere? Tell me in the comments section below!

Plot Bunnies Aren’t Much Fun

13 Jul

There is a strange inverse ratio–the more responsibilities I do, the more I get inspired to do my creative projects. In the middle of getting a class together, I can suddenly realize, “Oh! Fatebane can realize that Nazar has been the traitor all along!” Meanwhile, there’s a video that needs to get done, and a presentation that needs to be done tomorrow. What to do?!

Of course, I can do nothing about it, and because of that the idea festers in my brain… until I realize it was a stupid idea, or I write it down somewhere. The term for this I learned from NaNoWriMo is “plot bunnies.” Those plot ideas that sit in your head, and if you don’t let them out, they start multiplying, until you can think about nothing else. The best thing to do is to write it down and forget it, so you can come back to a later. Much like Google searches; you’ll be watching a film and suddenly think, “What was the Battle of Ashdown?” (Don’t worry, I did the work for you – click the link.)

This could just be procrastination on a grand scale, but I have the best ideas when I have no time to explore them. You would think when I’m bored, my mind would be desperately trying to come up with a story to entertain me, but no, I’m least likely to write when I have nothing else to do.

At present, I have a my regular job which has two projects I’m balancing between. My wife needs my input with the mortgage refi, the kids occasionally need my attention about Hamilton, the new version of DuckTales (Whoo-oo!) and insert current obsession here. Then comes my extra-curriculars: there’s my D&D campaign on Monday nights, the fan club newsletter that I’m responsible for that’s now two weeks past the drop-dead date for submissions, the unpublished book I’m trying to edit for my new press, expanding my exposure in social media, and then my current novel (20,000 words and climbing, yeah!).

Seriously?

Something’s got to give, right? Thankfully, I’m running a published adventure in D&D, so I don’t have to worry about that until I’m running it. “I promise, I’ll work on the newsletter tomorrow!” I tell myself. I haven’t started it yet. Ick. I haven’t touched my finished novel since last week, and thankfully, my social media expansion only takes between 30-60 minutes a day. But the new novel? The one I can’t stand? Never better… I’m also back on target word count!”

Of course, that’s not counting writing this blog… which I do to get me in the mood for writing my novel. So what do you think? Do you have the same inverse problem or does any work get in the way of sitting down and writing? Put your issues in the comments below!

Misheard Lyrics, Allegories, and Things Left Unsaid

11 Jul

When I started writing my current project, I thought about a line from the song Skibbereen, which I heard in the movie Michael Collins. So… “To Serve a Foreign Queen” was born! But now, here’s the problem… that line doesn’t exist. Those words were never sung.

Is this proof of alternate dimensions? No, just a faulty memory. Turns out the song lyric that I named was simply misheard, since I last watched the film a long time ago. I discovered the movie Michael Collins, when I was working in Korea back in 1999. They had things called bideobongs–video rooms–which are mostly an excuse for the crowded Koreans to have a rented room, watch naughty films, and whack it in peace. However, the one closest to me actually had a pretty good selection of films (this is pre-Netflix), and they had that as an option. Absolutely loved it, went back, watched it three more times.

Michael Collins is a wonderfully told story about the IRA from 1916, when Ireland gained independence in 1922, and the Irish Civil War of 1923. (Pause.) Now what I just wrote is a lie… depending on who’s reading it. The problem with doing historical films too close to the actual event is that it comes with a lot of emotional baggage, so when Hollywood made that film, it walked into a historical minefield. Not necessarily because of the Irish Civil War (which created the two major political parties in Ireland), but because the film neglects to mention that Collins ordered the IRA to disrupt the North in order to keep them back in the country. That caused the Troubles, which is why when I mentioned to my Northern Irish coworkers that this was my favorite film, they gasped with horror.

So this was a big “rah-rah Ireland” film and plays with the history. The names were correct, but the characters (other than the title one) were given flaws that caused the civil war later. They added in a love triangle which kinda happened, but not in the way you think. According to the Irish themselves, they only gained independence in 1937, because they were still nominally part of the British Empire until then. “Free State” didn’t cut it. In fact, it didn’t cut it so much that the country started shooting each other over whether they would be a “republic,” free and independent versus a “free state,” with the King of England still as the head of state. Yes… this was a war about the name of their country, and countless folks died (including the title character) because of it.

Seriously?

Yep. In the same way, the lyrics were close… but not quite. Here’s what I think I actually heard:

It’s well I do remember on a bleak November’s day,

The landlord and the sheriff came to drive us all away;

they set my house on fire with their cursed English spleen

And that’s another reason why I left Old Skibbereen.

Yes, the movie is not perfectly historically accurate, but who cares?! It was a great flik, and got me interested in reading more about the Irish Civil War of 1922… when previously, I never even heard of it. I liked The Patriot, too, and I knew that was dead wrong historically. But the battle sequences are good, and that’s what counts. Disney’s The Three Musketeers with Charlie Sheen is a great romp… has nothing to do with the book by Alexandre Dumas.

Have you ever run into this problem? Tell me about it in the comments below!

The Opposite of Writer’s Block (Negative)

10 Jul

I have the opposite of writer’s block. No, not the good kind, where the story is flowing well and you don’t wanna stop typing because you’re afraid it will stop? No, this is when you really hate your story, you know you’re writing “whale puke1,” but you can’t stop.

So my idea was to write a cool story about a sci-fi merchant ship. But it hasn’t been going so well. I enjoy writing the characters, but it’s been hard getting a reasonable plot involved. So I’ve been stealing a style from one my favorite authors, Scott Lynch. He starts his story (The Lies of Locke Lamora) in media res, then inserting in the background/history as it becomes relevant to the rest of the story.

Not sure if it’s going to work yet, but I feel that the story is getting better. The action is there, the background is good, and the characters chatting about everything and nothing is starting to pull together. I’m hoping that works. Meanwhile the story that will not die continues…

Have you ever had this problem? Tell me about it in the comments below!

1“Whale Puke” is what Laura (a fictional author) says about her writing in Dean Koontz’s book Lightning. To which, her husband replies, “Oh, that means it’ll sell another couple thousand copies. πŸ™‚

Let’s Get Tuckerized!

9 Jul

If you’re not writing, you’re not a writer. However, if you have no readers, you’re not an author, so I want to fix that. But instead of begging for you to follow me, I’d like to give a little incentive. How would you like your name used in a future novel of mine, so that readers all over the world can thrill to your inevitable demise? (Or everlasting glory–it depends how I’m feeling at the moment.)

This is a shameless plug for my own fan group, the Interstellar Merchant Marine Union (IMMU – sounds groovy, huh?) because I want to keep people involved with what I’m doing. I promise not to bug you unless it’s really important (like a book goes on pre-order or I come out with the audio version), but I’d like to get my readers ready for when my next book comes out. The best way to do that is through email, but let’s face it, you don’t want another frickin’ spam email in your inbox.

So you need some… incentive!

Why should you join the Union? Simple – I’m offering for my newest members the chance to be tuckerized in my next novel, which has the working title of Defending Our Sacred Honor. (I’m not happy with it–Our Sacred Honor is the name of the ship our heroes are flying around in. I’m thinking about changing it.) For those not familiar with the term, Tuckerization (or tuckerism) is “the act of using a person’s name (and sometimes other characteristics) in an original story as an in-joke.” In this case, I’m offering a chance to replace one of the characters’ names with yours! Take the chance to suddenly be in novel without ever having to write it yourself! What could be more amazing?

So if you’re interested, go ahead and click on the link for the Interstellar Merchant Marine Union, fill in your information, and I will contact you with an opportunity to become a fictional character. Your name will gain immortality! Sign up today! Add more exclamation points behind your sentences!!! πŸ™‚

Opening a New Chapter

25 Jun

Twenty-four years ago, I finished my first novel. It was over 500 pages, single-spaced, and… to this day, I’m the only one’s who’s ever read it. Since then, I’ve self-published eight novels, and expanded that list of readers to… oh, probably can be measured on two hands.

So I’m determined to change that. I’m reaching out to you, my potential readers, to finally fix that problem. I’ve revising some of my old work, I’ve got two novels that I’ve never published, and some more down the pipeline. Take the journey with me through worlds you’ve never explored, through characters you could never imagine, and simply enjoy the universes I show you. It’s gonna be a wild ride.

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