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The God of Continuity

28 Dec

Plot holes can go undetected for years or covered up rather clumsily. They can throw your audience out of the moment and you may never get them back. So how do you avoid that problem?

The easy answer? Get someone to read your story before you publish it. There are so many things that can be caught by having a fresh pair of eyes. For example, in my most recent book, Drag’n Drop, I thought I’d throw in something really cool for the villain to say: “And then I will become the singer and not the song.” To which my friend, “What on Earth does that mean?” Whoops–not everyone got it. So I actually included my friend’s quote in my hero’s response, which allowed my villain to explain what the heck he meant.

In my old writing circle, all of us had one superpower that helped out the rest of us. For example, one of my friends was the Technobabble God. He was more interested in science than the rest of us, so if you had trouble with a particular technology that you were trying to make sound believable, he could give you a line of BS that sounded good, and you put that in your story.

I was the God of Continuity; I found your plot hole and ensured that whatever wacky #*$&@($ idea that you got in your head to put your story that somehow, someway, it would makes sense as part of your plot. You happen to use a digital gate in your story, because you just read Piers Anthony, and thought that turning a ship into an energy signal, and then rebuilding it on the other side was a cool idea. And it is… except that you’ve already established that we use hyperspace gates. So… why another method of travel?

The answer–the digital gates were an experiment by the government to improve space travel. However, they were so expensive that they could only be used on one established route. Duh-da! Your prayers have been answered, writer!

For my father-in-law, he built a world where the colonists had been medieval reenactors who wanted to get away from the modern world. It happened to be a world where psychic powers could be mistaken for magic. So when you run into a ghost of one of the original colonists, and he sees this computer, he didn’t know what it was. Except he should have–and one of his fans pointed this out. So in the prequel, he had to put in a bit about erasing their memories, so that the original colonists wouldn’t be having second thoughts about leaving. Plot hole closed.

If a friend won’t read your book, then it helps to wait a while between finishing your story and publication, then come back and read it again. Sometimes, just giving yourself time to breathe between finishing the first/second/fifth draft and getting it ready for print that you can realize, “Oh, Sancho Panza disappeared for two chapters!”

Is there an easier way to detect (and close) plot holes? Do you have an army of beta readers who can figure these things out? Can you lend them to me? 🙂 Let me know in the comments below!

Drag’n Drop is now available!

24 Dec

Through much trial and tribulation, I’m proud to announce that Drag’n Drop, my most recent novel, is now available for purchase on Kindle or in paperback through Amazon, for the low, low price of $1.99! If you ever wanted an alternate history urban fantasy story, now is the time!

A dragon should be able to go wherever he wants, right? But in modern-day Nieuwe Amsterdam (you’d know it as New York), magical creatures are hidden, and citizens of the Staats-General von Amerika aren’t interested in such nonsense like wizards, orcs, elves, dwarves, fairies… and most importantly, dragons, coming to light. However, magic exists and it changed history. For four hundred years, the European colonists have only managed to cling desperately to the coasts, outnumbered by the native tribes that threaten to push them back into the sea.

Caleb, a big green dragon who’s been living in New Amsterdam has seen native invasions come and go, but this time, something’s different. The united tribes have burst through the Cordelyou Line–a massive defense work built along the western border–with a new magic that should be impossible. Now they are threatening to finally destroy the European Settlements once and for all. Threatened with the loss of his home, he gathers his friends–a washed-up wizard and an arcane librarian–to travel across Amerika. His hope: find the source of the natives’ new power, gather an army of magical creatures, and destroy it… before it’s too late.

I’m very proud of my new book–considering it took ten years to come to the light of day–and hope you’ll enjoy it as well. Keep supporting independent authors!

This is Why You Hire Staff

22 Dec

Just when you think you’ve done it all before, what should have taken a half-hour ends up taking all morning. So I’m getting my new book, Drag’n Drop, ready to go on the Amazon site and… hilarity ensues!

Now here’s what really chafed my heinie–I actually got all the formatting done on my book text two months ago! Thanks to my generous (and good-looking) brother-in-law, Editor Ed, he actually had a professional artist make my cover. This is a new experience to me. I tried making my own cover for Defending Our Sacred Honor and I thought it came out good… but the more I look at it, the more it looks terrible. So I was rather grateful that Ashley Cser took the commission.

As mentioned, graphic design is really not my thing–which is ironic, because video production is my day job. But composition and performance are two different skills; just because I can find all this cool pictures and video and put them together doesn’t mean I can draw worth crap.

Speaking of which, I’ve got Kindle’s own e-book creator (Create), which works very well, and plugs everything exactly as I need it to. That worked fine. However, when trying to make the paperback version–because to stroke my own ego, I need to have them on my bookshelf–there was one major problem. The cover and the map weren’t fitting within the guidelines.

Getting the cover to work was understandable–after all, it’s the first thing that anyone sees. Ash had drawn the cover; after all, that’s what I paid her for. However, then I had to write the teaser text on the back, and put it all the other graphics. Took me an hour just to get that correct and then manipulate it so the picture appeared in the correct fashion. On the plus side, this will be the first book of mine that has the Albigensia Press icon on the spine!

If you don’t think that’s cool, you can instantly tell which books are professional or not by the publishing house icon on the spine. Interesting side note: All the hardcover books have the publisher icon at the bottom, all the paperbacks at the top. Weird.

Of course, once I conquered that hurdle, then there was that map. Considering I’ve blasted the last three authors who didn’t include a map in their book, I figured this was pretty damned important. However, my original map was pretty low quality, and it was drawn for a standard 8″x11″ page… and my book is 5″x8″. So I had to redraw it, left out a lot of the detail I originally included to fit it on the page, and thought I had it down. Nope. It took multiple tries to get the stupid thing in the right place so it wouldn’t get cut off by pagination.

However, four hours later, I think it looks great. Once you get a chance to see it on December 24th, I think you’ll agree. Yet I wish I had staff I could pay to do this for me–oi! I can’t be the only one who has this trouble. What issues do you have in your workday that you wish you could pass off to someone else? Let me know in the comments below!

A Dragon is Coming For Christmas

19 Dec

I’m happy to announce that my new book, Drag’n Drop, will be coming out next week–right in time for Christmas! If you ever wanted to read an alternate history urban fantasy novel (and who hasn’t), now is your opportunity! 🙂

Okay, now that I’ve piqued your interest, what is it? Imagine an America where magic exists–not openly, but in the shadows there are wizards, orcs, elves, dwarves, fairies… and most importantly, dragons. Now imagine how that would have changed history. Europeans still colonized the continent, but only the coast, because the natives had their own medicine men to fight back. England didn’t conquer New Amsterdam, but instead was repelled. Pushed back against the sea, the colonists were eventually forced to unite together, and formed the multicultural Staats-General von Amerika.

So in the modern day, Caleb, a green dragon who’s been living in New Amsterdam (you’d know it as New York) has seen native invasions come and go, but this time, something’s different. The united tribes have burst through the Cordelyou Line–a massive defense work built along the western border–with a new magic that should be impossible. Now they are threatening to finally destroy the European Settlements once and for all. Threatened with the loss of his home, he gathers his friends–a washed-up wizard and an arcane librarian–to travel across Amerika. His hope: find the source of the natives’ new power, gather an army of magical creatures, and destroy it… before it’s too late.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing it and I hope you enjoy it when it comes out! I’ve got a great cover–which you can see–and it’ll be available at the low, low price of $1.99! Right in time for you to use all those Amazon gift cards you got for Hanukkah. 🙂

There’s a dragon on the cover my book…

6 Dec

My brother-in-law gave me an early present this year–a professionally done cover for one of my books. It’s a great gift, but it introduces a new level of complexity that my simple brain has never dealt with before.

I’m planning on releasing my new book–Drag’n Drop–this month. This is my alternate history urban fantasy book that I actually wrote ten years ago, but never felt like it was ready for primetime. (This is another reason why I’ll never to go mainstream… or sell books, apparently.) The book is done, the formatting is done, but I’m waiting on the cover to be finished.

Thankfully, there is a dragon in the book–he’s one of the main characters. The first obstacle you realize is that… you don’t really have a good idea of what you want on your cover. In self-publishing, I’ve gotten so used to “I’ll just grab an eye-catching picture and throw it on a glitzy-looking cover” that I don’t even have a clue what I wanted on the cover. So I threw out an idea and the artist drew it.

It looked… really good, actually. However, she also did me the honor of actually reading the book, and gave me two more sketches from other scenes in the book that she thought might do better. And she was right! So I went with Option 3, which comes from a big fight scene, and the dragon is coming in and it’s looking cool.

Then we put in the text and… here’s where I have definite opinions. You can tell instantly from a cover whether the author themselves made it or not just based on the font. If it looks I could do it on my software, it’s not that good. However, if you’ve got wordwrap, or unusual fonts, it makes it more glitzy as a professional book and more likely to be bought. The “nothing attracts the crowd like the crowd” theory.

So I never imagined I’d have so many back-and-forths with cover artists, but I guess when you put in more money, you get more problems. Have you had any troubles with covers as a reader? As a writer? Have you had trouble finding these pictures that get thrown onto blogs? Let me know in the comments below!

What Did I Win?

1 Dec

So another November has passed and I cranked out 50k words on #nanowrimo. I feel good that I did it, and have another first draft under my belt, but I’m not sure I “won” anything. Why do I keep coming back to this little contest?

Part of me really like gamification — I had a word goal to reach every day to reach – with the ultimate goal of cranking out a novella, which as mentioned previously, is where my stories live. I like having graphs and technical details and little goals to keep me honest. NaNoWriMo really does a great job at providing all that, and even if there were some things in the website remod that I didn’t like (can’t follow your buddies without some effort), it’s still got the basics.

However, getting a novel done in a month is only the start of the work. As I learned last time, just because you crank out 50k words doesn’t mean you have a working story at the end. I tried doing the Camp NaNoWriMo last July and succeeded… but only realized before I finished that my story really didn’t have a plot! Whoops.

The real advantage is this contest is that it forces you to actually write. So many times, you call yourself a writer, you do a lot of prep work or talking about writing, but you don’t actually put word one on a blank sheet of (virtual) paper. I can be sure every November that I make time to actually get some writing done.

This is the fourth time I’ve managed to win NaNoWriMo out of eight times, which is pretty amazing and curious. Out of the previous three, I’ve published all of them (two of them were Fatebane sequels, which write themselves, and the other was Defending Our Sacred Honor, which although I wrote in 2013, only got published this year). One of the other failures happened because I failed to backup 20k into the project and lost all interest–as a result, I use Google Docs for all drafts now–but the other three were just… not well planned. I didn’t go in with a plan, got bored, or realized I didn’t really have a good idea of where I wanted to go with the story.

“Pantsing” is what I prefer to do, but I always, always, always do better with an outline. If this particular work-in-progress has taught me anything, it’s that. Yes, “Choking on Butterfly Blood” is still a WIP, because although I’m at 64k words, I’m still three scenes from the end. This will end up being a full novel, and I’m really thrilled. However, I’m really looking forward to sharing my ultratech sci-fi mystery novel with the world!

Have you had a good NaNoWriMo experience? Have you had a bad one? Do you do better with an outline or better in scattered brainstorming? Let me know in the comments below!

So I Finished Unisplaining…

19 Nov

I’m approaching the 50k goal of #NaNoWriMo and my novel is still going strong! However, when I outlined my sci-fi mystery story, it didn’t occur to me that at this point, I was shifting from explaining the universe to explaining the characters. And I’m not sure I like the characters more than the universe… I want to go back!

I’ve found that when I use an outline–or usually, an outline based on a template–I end up with a much more successful story. This time, more than most. At time of this writing (a couple days ahead of actual time), I’m only at Chapter 6 of a 12-chapter outline at 38k words. That’s great! That means I’ll actual reach traditional novel length this time! 🙂

To paraphrase Stephen King (in the prologue to Different Seasons), Novella sounds like a South American capital. “Bienvenidos a Novella, capital of La Revolution!” It looks like a novel, sounds like a novel, but there’s something off about it. Whenever he suggests printing a series of novellas to his publisher, the agent gets that uncomfortable look as he hears the chimes of Latin music through the room.

Novella is where I like to write. I don’t like dragging out scenes–I feel my characters have enough to say–and too many subplots kill the flow of my main story. So most of my novels are actually novellas, which make it difficult to sell to a publisher. But since I’m my own publisher these days, who cares?! Sell ’em for a discounted $1.99 and get ’em out there!

But in a sci-fi story, the universe is a character, and I really enjoyed building up this universe. Writing on the line of “Isn’t that cool?” balanced on “That sounds familiar enough to be believable” was a lot of fun. However, that “character” has been established, and if I’m supposed to be at the halfway point–or past it–I need to focus on the people who live in this universe.

The trick, I guess, is to make the characters as interesting as the universe. After all, if they’re not interesting, what’s the point of introducing them to the audience? “This is Joe, he pumps gas down at the corner store.” Not exciting. Now if Joe is secretly building a time machine to ruin the life of all his ex-girlfriends… that’s something to talk about! 🙂

So when I introduced the exiled ruler of another planet, okay, now I’m excited! Not as much with the gardener last chapter… but we’ve got to eliminate the possible suspects. Here’s where I need to really examine my outline and decide, “How do I make my characters as interesting as the setting I put them in?”

How do you deal with this obstacle? Have you had to change a background character into an active character? Do you like living in Novella? Let me know in the comments below!

Buying My Own Books

13 Nov
My cat doesn’t even read my books.

I decided to buy my own books on Kindle; unlike the print version, where Amazon gives you a discounted author’s copy, with Kindle you have to pay full price. Makes me wonder–how do other writers feel when they see their books in the used book store?

For those who don’t know, my father-in-law was Christopher Stasheff, who was a traditionally published science fantasy author with over 40 books written during his career. I honestly didn’t know who he was before I became friends with his son, better known on this blog as Editor Ed, but I became a big fan of his writing after going to his house for Thanksgiving.

When I later married his daughter, I asked him for some author’s copies to help fill up his place of honor on our shelf… and even he was stingy with giving away his remaining copies. Many of those ended up gracing the shelves of Woodstock School‘s library back in India, since we had to leave in a hurry, and couldn’t move most of our books. We left most of them because we knew we could get copies from the source when we returned to the States.

My daughter doesn’t even read my books.

Of course, five years later, my dad-in-law had even less of his author’s copies back. However, I do like going to used book stores and picked up the copies of Dad Stasheff’s books that I didn’t have in my collection. You could instantly tell when a book wasn’t that good, because there was a lot more copies available. Of course, that could have been because it was mass marketed to death, like your big name authors like Stephen King or Tom Clancy. You can pick up the entire Battlefield Earth sci-fi series easily from any bookstore, because the author was L. Ron Hubbard… and if it’s not holy writ, at least it’s proximal Scientology.

When I asked my favorite sci-fi author, Steve Perry, that question a decade ago, he replied that he didn’t really think about it. It’s not bad–and I’m paraphrasing–if they’re reading my books, who cares where they get it from?

Here are four of the books I’ve got on Kindle.

So that makes me feel a little better about buying my books. Thankfully, my books are pretty cheap, but it still bothers me that I have to pay to get them on my virtual shelf. But… even traditional publishers don’t give away author’s copies anymore. The industry’s changing, and if I wanted to be cheap, I could have created my own .epub document and dropped in Aldiko and had it on my phone that way, but I wanted it in Kindle.

Do you have unfair thoughts about books you see in the used book store? Do you wonder how some books even get published? Do you wish you had some blackmail over a big name publishing editor? Let me know in the comments below!

Did I Write That?

6 Nov

Every writer has probably experienced this: you read a story you wrote years ago—and cringe. Even if you don’t necessarily cringe, you can’t help noticing the errors you made in pacing, plot structure, characterization, etc.  At the very least, you can’t help thinking about how you’d write it so much better today, now that you’ve had more practice and experience. But sometimes, to your surprise, the opposite happens: you enjoy reading it and think to yourself, “Hey, this isn’t bad!”

This happened to me recently.  After Marcus’ post last week about Predatory Practices, a novel we co-wrote together (in Marcus’ typically modest fashion, he tends to downplay his contribution to it) almost ten years ago, I got feeling nostalgic, dug out my old paperback copy, and gave it a re-read.  I was pleasantly surprised to discover it was actually a pretty good story!

K’Nes Businessman by Ashley Cser

To understand why that was a “surprise”, I have to explain the origins of the novel.  Marcus and I didn’t set off to publish it—or even to write a book, really.  It was just something we did for fun, a game, a joke.  In short, we weren’t taking it all that seriously.  Perhaps that’s why it turned out surprisingly well—no pressure, no deadlines, no censuring ourselves to please editors or publishers.  I only self-published the book (when you run a small press, it’s fairly quick and easy) so our friends and family could read it.

It’s funny how time plays tricks on the memory.  I remember this book as primarily a comedy.  It was set in Marcus’ science-fiction Tech Infantry universe that he’s been writing about off and on since college in the 1990s.  In this universe was a little-mentioned alien species called the K’Nes, small anthropomorphic felines that could inflate and float.  They were also “cunning fighters and amazing traders”… and that’s it.  Nothing else had really been established about them.  They were a blank canvas to paint on.

K’Nes in power armor is by Kari Keller

I mean, come on!  Little floating cat-alien businessmen?  It was the perfect set-up for a joke, just begging for a punch line!  And, man, we took that idea and ran with it!  The result was an alien culture so obsessed with business and money that it permeated every aspect of their culture, from artwork (“You mean K’Nes high art is… advertisements?”) to war (“If blood were currency, my assets would be legendary!”) to even love and sex (“Do you plan to invest your growth industry in my private sector?”)  There was also a lot of snorting catnip, and sleeping for eighteen hours, and … you get the idea.  This 40-second joke commercial we made for a K’Nes bank should give you an idea of the kind of stuff we came up with.

That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to discover/remember there was a lot more to the book than just comedy.  Don’t get me wrong, it was funny—there were times during the re-read that I burst out laughing at our own jokes that I’d forgotten writing—but there was also shady business deals, political intrigue, spaceship battles, espionage, ground warfare, a romantic subplot, and more than one mystery. Normally I’d say that was too much to cram into one book, but… well, I think Marcus and I managed to pull it off somehow.

This isn’t a perfect novel by any means, of course—the first chapter is exposition-heavy, and the plot gets a little convoluted at times—but it was a lot better than I remember it being, especially for something that was only written half-seriously for our own entertainment.

And that’s why we’d like to share it with you.  We’ve lowered the price of the Predatory Practices ebook to 99¢ for the month of November on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play, Apple iBooks, and the Kobo eBookstore.  The paperback is 330 pages, so that’s a pretty good deal for a buck.

What about you?  Have you ever read something you wrote long ago and been pleasantly surprised?  Or cringe? Let us know in the comments below!

How Come Everybody Want to Keep it Like the Kaiser?

3 Nov

I read an interesting post today – “If I’m not going to make money off my books, why don’t I give them away for free?” And I’m torn on the issue. Because although that might be a way to generate readership, people perceive free things as having no value.

One of my favorite authors, David Weber, worked with his publisher and offered the first book in his space opera series, On Basilisk Station for free on Kindle and on his website. It’s a great book – I should know, I’ve been a member of his fan club for many years! As he likes to joke, “The first taste is free.” Like any good drug dealer, the hope is that you get hooked on the character and want to buy all the other books in the series.

So the concept can work. I’ve read many free books. I love the Little Free Library for just that reason; exposing me to books I would have never been inspired to read on my own. Some books I’ve wanted to keep reading in the series, others I’ve been like, “That was nice, but I don’t need to find out more about these characters,” and some I’ve been, “Ugh, I’m glad I didn’t buy this.”

But on Twitter, I’ve been offered books for free, and I download them but… sometimes I never even read them. In one case, I realized, “Oh, I hate mystery novels.” Sometimes, I’ve read halfway through the book and thought, “It started out good, but it’s just the same thing repeated over and over.” Sometimes I’ve read the free sample, bought the book, and realized far too late that all the good stuff was in the sample.

That’s why pricing is such a big deal on Kindle. $0.99 sounds good, but it also sounds cheap – am I getting a short story overpriced? On the other hand, I read a 10-book (quickly written) series for under a book and enjoyed it. I put all my books at US $1.99 which I figure gets me compensated fairly and still puts my books available for casual readers.

I think I’ve going to go halfway and give away a book for free for a week as a way of celebrating an upcoming novel (which is Drag’n Drop, coming out December 4th). I’d like to give away Fatebane, which is my favorite novel I’ve written and the only character I’ve written over three books, so there’s a chance at repeat business.

But what do you think? Is it a good idea to give away books? Have you embraced a free book to become a wild fan of the author? Or are free samples or short stories on their website enough? Let me know in the comments below!

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