Tag Archives: novels

Thematically Unfortunate

16 May

So you get to a point in your story where you run out of outline… and you’re still only at 40k words. I don’t want to stay in Novella, that great netherland of my writing, but I’m not sure how to expand it. Well, it turned out I just needed another storyline!

The story I’m working on–let’s call it “historical technothriller”–is mostly a spy novel. Which means that I’m following my two heroes, the bad guy, and the guys following the bad guy. But that left me in a terrible pickle; because that’s a lot of stories to balance out, but no where to expand. Then my writing partner came up with the solution; the political angle!

There is a major problem with adding the politics to a technothriller, and it’s a problem that any author in the genre faces. You can’t use real world people in those positions because… well, they can sue. So you can either use lesser politicians (who knows who the Deputy Director of Intelligence is at the CIA?) or you can create fictional people. The second you do that, though, you’re telling your audience that you’re in an alternate universe… and that might jar them out of the story.

So I want to avoid that. Thankfully, my writing partner also came up with more outline that allows me to continue the story without adding in yet another storyline. We both decided to save that for the 2nd Draft. But this story is really testing my ability… but thankfully I’ve got help.

Have you ever run into this situaiton before? Let me know in the comments below! If you want to see what some of my finished books look like, check them out! But if you’re not ready to commit that much, download one of my stories for free!

Working with Writing Partners

15 Apr

After talking yesterday about getting creatively burnt out, I met with my writing partner yesterday, and felt a lot better. Working on a project WITH someone is an unusual experience, but can be great… if it balances right.

I’ve worked on MANY collaborative writing projects. When I finished my first novel-length story–Manifest Destiny–it was because of me and my friend decided to work together on this massive outline that we had come up together. When it was finished, it printed out to 500 pages of glory, and… I discovered that my writing partner had stopped reading after 300. At that point, we were living in different cities, and I had to email new revisions. But… it’s really hard to read off the computer, so… he didn’t.

I love that man like a brother, and I’ve forgiven him for that, but I certainly haven’t forgotten. This was back in 1996, so it was prior to the self-publishing revolution, and so when I sent my magnum opus to publishers they said, “Thanks but no thanks.” I revised it into a 200 page book that just had the first part of the story and got the same result. Once I learned I could self-publish it, I’ve tried to go back and revise it again, but… for a technothriller, it is SO dated that it’s not worth publishing. Plus having to re-read your old work is a certain level of hell. Which is why you won’t see my first novella, Suicide Kings and Drama Kings, written when I was 17, anywhere on my available books page.

My second experience with collaborative writing was a play-by-email game called Tech Infantry. Now the problem I had with PBEM games is that you told the GM what you were doing, and the GM wrote several stories to each of the players telling you what you did. This is very time consuming on the part of the GM and leads to burnout… fast. So that first experience was short enough to get self-published later as The Daughters’ War.

When we did it again, this time, everyone got the SAME story, and you could follow everyone’s story. Then the players wanted to write much of their own material, with me editing for grammar and game play, so it became a collaborative writing project. So Rage Against the Dying of the Light became a HUGE writing effort, spanning 10 months, with a 20-page excerpt every week, and was rather enjoyable. Eventually, that burned everyone out. A couple years later we tried it again with The Middle Kingdom which was similar, except it lasted 5 months, and everyone rather enjoyed it. In that experience, I learned what it meant to be an editor, as well as having to balance your writing vision with other people.

However, I also learned how to crank out a lot of words in a short amount of time–it’s a pretty amazing experience. If you’re wanting to find out what this looked like, click here. Out of this project actually came a couple stories. Because this was a shared universe, there were a few GLARING plotholes, so I filled in one by writing my own novella called Prayer for the Technocrats, which you can buy now. My dear friend, Editor Ed, also took his story out of Tech Infantry, revised it heavily, and published Predatory Practices… which is one of my favorite stories (that I helped write). So I thoroughly recommend it.

Now I’m working again with another friend, but in this case, he wrote the outline, I’m writing the story, and he’s editing. I can’t go into any greater detail than that, because the novel is still gestating… one doesn’t want to announce anything until it’s born. 🙂

As long as you have clear expectations of what each other’s role is, then you’re more likely to be successful. In Tech Infantry, the players could write what they wanted, but they understood I had editorial control. In this, he has the background knowledge and the story idea… but can’t write. I can write, but don’t have the background, so he’s able to edit technical mistakes that I miss. Of course, our collaboration still leads into needlessly long discussions of gun calibers, how to build a Faraday cage, and bitching about the news… but a writing partnership is not just work, it’s a friendship. You’re going to get off topic.

Have you had a writing partnership? Did it go well? Did it go badly? Let me know in the comments below! And after you type that, check our my books, some of which were collaborative, but many are not. However, if $1.99 is too high to pay for curiosity, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

Stupendous or Just Stupid?

2 Apr

Today’s post is brought to you by Editor Ed, frequent correspondent, small press publisher, author, and a great friend. He’s recently published the Sorcery Against Caesar, by Richard S. Tierney; Cthuhlu set in Roman times, it’s a great read. Check out more of his projects at Pickman’s Press!

Is modern art stupendous, or just stupid?  Certainly it’s a polarizing question: some people love it, some people hate it.  I’m somewhere in the middle; I don’t really understand it, but I can’t really dismiss it either.  That goes back to a moment in junior high, and a powerful lesson from an art teacher.

This question’s on my mind these days because I run a teeny tiny digital publishing company, and one of my current projects is a volume of collected poetry from an old pulp magazine.  I noticed that between the end of its first run in 1954 and its next incarnation in 1973, the poetry switched from almost exclusively traditional verse to almost entirely free verse (which I consider the literary equivalent of modern art).

Now, I’ll be the first to admit I don’t really like free verse. I don’t particularly enjoy it, and certainly don’t understand it.  I’ve recently been researching it on the internet and buying and reading books about poetry, but still haven’t yet figured out the appeal of free verse.  How can I pick the “best” of something when I can’t even tell what makes it good or bad?  For that matter, does the general population actually like it, or is it something that only literary critics and college professors appreciate?  Would the average person in the street even bother buying a book of free verse?

I was explaining this frustrating conundrum to my sister Genevieve over dinner recently, and she was growing increasingly exasperated with me.  “Who cares?” she finally said.  “If you don’t like it, don’t read it, and don’t publish it!”

“I can’t,” I protested.  “I have to figure this out.”

“But why?” Gen asked.  “I guess I just don’t understand why you care so much about this.”

I struggled for a few moments in silence, trying to find a way to explain it to her, and finally settled on an anecdote.  “Do you remember Ms. Haussermann back at Holy Cross?  Every now and then she’d—”

“Come in and teach art classes, yeah,” Gen said.

“Do you remember when she took us on that field trip to the art museum in Chicago?”  Gen gave me a blank look and shook her head.  “Okay, then maybe it was just my class.  I think it was sixth grade, Ms. Johnson’s class, maybe 1987 or 88.  Anyway, we went to this art museum and looked at all these paintings.  Even the impressionist stuff at least made sense—you know, Monet, Van Gogh, all those guys?  Even Picasso was kind of cool in a weird way.

“Do you remember when she took us on that field trip to the art museum in Chicago?”  Gen gave me a blank look and shook her head.  “Okay, then maybe it was just my class.  I think it was sixth grade, Ms. Johnson’s class, maybe 1987 or 88.  Anyway, we went to this art museum and looked at all these paintings.  Even the impressionist stuff at least made sense—you know, Monet, Van Gogh, all those guys?  Even Picasso was kind of cool in a weird way.

“But then we went into the Modern Art wing, and that stuff was just… bizarre.  I mean, simple squares and rectangles of color.  A chain hanging from the ceiling.  Some plaster sculpture of a guy and girl in bed.  And there was this one big painting—I mean it was HUGE, the size of a billboard, it covered almost an entire wall—and it was painted entirely black.

“And I remember standing in front of it, looking at it, and I said aloud, to no one in particular, ‘Well, that’s just stupid.’

“ ‘You think so?’

“I looked up to see Ms. Haussermann standing beside and behind me.

“ ‘Yeah,’ I said. ‘It’s just black.  That’s dumb.’

“Ms. Haussermann said, ‘Try looking at from over…’  She took me by the shoulders and moved where I stood, all the while looking to the painting to the lights overhead and back again, even bending over a bit so she could see it from my point of view.  ‘… here. Now what do you see?’

“My voice trailed off because suddenly I did see. The paint was just black on black, but the brush strokes were in this huge, complicated, swirling pattern.  It was really cool, kind of like Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’, or like a paisley design, or… something, I don’t know.  I think I just stood staring at it for a while.  When I finally looked around again, Ms. Haussermann was gone—talking to another student or something, I guess.

“Anyway, ever since then, whenever I see artwork that seems dumb and pointless, I can’t help wondering if there’s something that I’m missing, that if I just look closer I’ll see something really cool, something that isn’t obvious.

“So that’s why I can’t just dismiss free verse poetry as bad and not read it, not publish it,” I explained to my sister.  “I mean, if so many people like it, there’s got to be something to it, right?  So what am I missing?  Is there some sort of ‘hidden brush stroke’ I’m not seeing?  Or is it really just bad?  I don’t know.  I don’t know enough to know.  Not yet.  That’s why I’m researching it.  I’ll tell you this, though…”  I leaned back and took a sip of soda. “I sure wish there was some kind of poetry expert ‘Ms. Haussermann’ to explain free verse to me.”

So what do you think? Is modern art pointless? Or does it mean something to someone, even if it’s not particularly profound? Let me know in the comments below! And after you type that, check our my books, and you can tell me if my art is pointless or not. 🙂 However, if $1.99 is too much to pay for a comment, go ahead and download one of my stories for free. You’ll be glad you did.

Technically Brilliant, Still #@%$*!

19 Mar

What is the point of creating a wonderful, detailed world if you can’t write a story in it? What’s even worse? Writing a story that bores your readers.

I’ve talked about the difference between storytellers and stylists before, but since I started a book recently, it’s been back on my mind. After stopping by a Little Free Library, the book that I found is Brightness Cove by David Brin. I’m sure part of my discontent is that this the beginning of a second trilogy in this universe, so I have no history with this series. So I’m coming into this book blind.

Right from the beginning, the world building was exquisite. Six different races living in harmony, a whole religion based on hiding from the rest of the universe. Brin writes well-developed characters that inhabit three (or four) different storylines, telling the whole planet’s story as it is revealed. It’s a brilliant creation!

But I’m halfway through the book and… I couldn’t give a damn. Part of the brilliance of the world building is its downfall. Six races are about three too many to keep track of in my head. Oh, and throw in alien animals with strange terms, and I have to think, “Is that the cat thing? Or is that a cow? Which is it?” When I start getting confused, I just tell myself to ignore it–after all, it’s not crucial to the plot. However, I was finding myself ignoring more and more of the detail that the book was becoming incomprehensible.

This book includes a map, which is good because it’s one of my pet peeves, but if you don’t mention where any of this action is happening until page 80, it’s useless to me. Which gets to the three (or four) different storylines–technically there’s four, but the fourth so rarely comes into play that I’m surprised when it shows up! It follows the three adult children of this papermaker we meet at the beginning, which helps, but then there’s this group of tentacle alien kids who are obsessed with English lit who are built an undersea ship so they could fulfill their dreams of being Jules Verne. (It actually makes sense in the story.) Oh, and there’s this other alien that’s supposed a leader, but only appears to let the reader know that “here’s what’s happening at the higher level.” Of course, I didn’t know it was an alien–or what type of alien–because the author didn’t bother explaining that race until page 150.

I think any one of these stories would be worthwhile to follow on its own. I like the young woman taking care of the wounded man who came from the stars. I like the scout who finds a girl who came from beyond their hiding spots. I could do without the monk or the alien kids, but maybe if I had time to concentrate on all the characters there, I might care more. There is just TOO MUCH going on here for me to care enough to keep reading the story.

This is the problem between stylists and storytellers. The stylist wants to write a story that will allow him to play with themes and sentence structure and different characters that will show the ennui of existence. Or whatever. The storyteller just wants to tell a good story. It might play with the same things, but that’s not her intent. She just uses those tools in service to the story; not the other way around. This is the reason Samuel Clemens wrote at the beginning of his novel:


PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.

Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

He got tired of literary critics telling him about the themes and what he meant when he was writing Tom Sawyer. He was telling them–I didn’t think any of that! Just enjoy the story!

So I’m not sure I’ll finish this book. It’s great, brilliantly written, but not gripping–I barely care what happens to any of these characters. Have you run into this problem? Authors who care so much about using conceptual tricks to make art that he forgets to write a good story? Let me know in the comments below!

As you might have guessed, I fall under the storyteller category. It’s not great art, but try picking up one of my novels and let me know what you think! If the $1.99 threshold is too high for you, download some of my stories for free!

Sometimes Madame LaFarge Has to Die

23 Feb

As an author, I get it–it helps to kill off a main character now and then to keep the stakes real, and not feel like a comic book. However, it needs to be important to the plot, and not just… happen.

I don’t wanna give away the spoiler for what I was reading, but man, it really irked me when one of the main characters (not the POV character) suddenly dies. I had to actually go back and read the scene again because it happened so fast! The character just dies and the author just moved on to the next scene! Apparently the author addressed this in a later interview, “We were telling a war story, people die in war, and I realized that our characters hadn’t really felt that loss yet.”

Seriously? When the author killed another character earlier in the book, at least it was the chapter end, and it was very obvious. “Oh, you blew his head off.” It was important, it was clear, and even if it seemed random, it advanced the plot. This read like an afterthought. At this point, I should remember what my father-in-law said, “If you don’t like my story, write your own!”

But I also remember what my friend Nathan said when he had to read A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. He said, “I love Madame Lafarge. It’s obvious the author loves Madame Lafarge. But the entire plot was leading up to her and the guillotine. Sometimes Madame Lafarge has to die.”

I liked this phrase so much that–although it’s not one of my maxims–it is one of the guiding stars when I write my stories. It IS important to have the stakes be high in a story. In a comic book, the main characters will never die. Or they’ll die, but come back in a couple episodes. Or they’ll die and become the villain. But they always come back. When you have to kill a character, the other characters should have to deal with the consequences. It SHOULD make the struggle real. In real life, people die suddenly and without warning. But this is a story–you don’t invest several hundred pages just to kill someone off as an afterthought. That’s not making the struggle real–that’s a late edit.

Oh well, not my universe. Thinking back to Dickens, my grandpa used to misquote the famous lines at the climax, probably he never read the book either. “It is a far better thing I do… then to say hello to you!” I thought it was hilarious. But what do you think? Have you run into senseless deaths in stories? Killing off the POV character at the end of a book is material for another post. But have you ever thrown a book across the room because you were so mad? Let me know in the comments below!

Tired of Riding Your Cash Cow

14 Dec

L. Frank Baum ended up writing thirteen Oz books–he was the J.K. Rowling of his time–The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was insanely popular. The problem with reaching success, you fall into the fallacy of forgetting what got you there.

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz was the best selling children’s book for TWO whole years (1900-1902) as well as a widely popular stage play. Baum probably thought, “Okay, now that I’m known, people will buy whatever I write.” When The Life and Adventures of Santa Claus came out in 1902, it… didn’t do well. People didn’t want just more fantasy, they wanted Oz.

So he had to go back to writing Oz sequels, but he kept declaring, “I’m done with writing Oz!” Then when Queen Zixi of Ix failed to sell copies (even with “Author of the Wizard of Oz” written on the cover), you go back and write more Oz sequels. It made him fabulous well-off… until he dumped a lot of his money into making these new motion pictures and it didn’t do so well. After his death in 1919, other authors wrote an additional 21 books.

The lesson? Don’t forget the gal who brought ya to the dance. Jim Butcher probably really doesn’t enjoy writing the Dresden Files books anymore, but he never disavows writing another, because the Codex Alera ain’t gonna pay the bills. He himself indicates that he loves sword and sorcery fantasy the most… but that subgenre was last in vogue in the 1950’s.

Of course, it’s good to stretch out, because you never know what might take off. One of my favorite authors, David Weber, started a different series on the planet of Safehold which can only be described as… um, Reformation Wars with a little sci-fi. I enjoyed it… mostly. There was one book where he deliberately avoided the wargasm which it had been building up for, but he paid it off in the next one.

What other examples can you think of? Authors who obviously didn’t like what they were writing, but kept cranking out sequels nonetheless. I’m sure I could think of some film examples, especially with actors. Let me know in the comments below!

For the love of all that’s holy, get an editor!

5 Dec

I like supporting indie authors, being one myself. I’ll buy books that aren’t in the mainstream. However, I’m rolling the dice when I read them, because indie authors don’t have the money to spend on covers, marketing, and most importantly, editing.

So I don’t want to give the name to my pain in this post, because I want to be good to my fellow authors, and give them the chance to flourish without some troll smacking down their few reviews. So we’ll just call this book “Japanese-Sounding Unpronounceable” or Unpronounceable for short. I should slam him for that, but heck, I wrote a book called Fatebane which is also the name of the main character, so who am I to complain?

So we start off the book with an info dump. Never good. The prologue starts out with a conversation between two teenage boys trying to figure out what they want to do with their life. That’s good. That’s where you should slowly feed in the info dump to your readers. He didn’t. Now you can throw out terms like half-Ugadoogu if you want to add spice, but there were WAY too many terms to keep track of.

Okay, we get past the intro and Unpronounceable is being taken off his job as a hot-shot pilot and being sent to run a resort. O-kay… you’ve established that corporations have armies, so that… kinda makes sense. Let’s see where he goes with this. Except he’s not running the resort, he’s a desk clerk. (I didn’t read that wrong, that’s what he’s told.) He’s sent there to help clean up the place, but his fellow workers / clones / slaves (it’s not really clear) are upset that this war hero is being treated bad by the actual employer. So they decide to plan a revolt and have Unpronounceable help them. Meanwhile, the emperor’s son drops by, tells the employer to give the employees the day off for the holiday, which allows the employees to plan their revolt better.

So they kill off the employer, restore order to the resort, and make Unpronounceable run it. Okay… this is a bizarre setup for the story, but let’s see where it goes from here. (We’re only a quarter of the way through the book.) Maybe he has to deal with blood feud, rival corporations, political factions…?

Nope! Unpronounceable gets selected as the deputy governor of Corruptville and told to clean it up. (The only redeemable part of this book is the governor’s letter to him about WHY he’s appointing him. I laughed.) Then comes another info dump, a train ride to Corruptville, which is full of people who hate his ever-living guts. He’s never MET any of these people. Why would they riding his ass so hard? If the new boss showed up on my train, and I’m one of the elite, I’d be kissing his ass so hard… not giving me excuses to fire/execute them.

The info dump continues, the governor suddenly appears (you’re on a @#*#$& train! What the hell?!) and tells them, “Hey, I’ve just filled your train full of all my political enemies. Kill them for me, would you?” And the bloodbath begins.

I’m halfway through this book and I lost all track of who was what and why I should care. The fight scenes were… okay, but am I supposed to remember what alien race the Nastyfarians are supposed to be, when you only mentioned them for a paragraph twenty pages ago? And there are clones that turn into monsters, but that’s okay, because apparently everyone can do that… AND that’s when I gave up reading. I gave them a one-star review, because frankly, it was THAT BAD.

Now I understand–editors are expensive. But surely you’ve got a friend who will read it for you before you publish? Someone who can ask, “Hey, bud–why does it matter if this guy is half-Ugadoogu?” And when the author explains that, the reader can say, “Great. Put that in the book. Because you don’t @#($*(# explain that!”

That’s only one problem… there were too many to count. The sheer complexity of Empire-Corporation-Army was bad enough, now throw in clone-human-slave and alien-human-planet and you get a word soup that even I couldn’t just glaze over.

Man, this post was long–I really hated this book. Have you ever had a book so bad it deserved this much ire? Let me know in the comments below!

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