Tag Archives: writing

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!

Refueling your Creative Tank

14 Apr

You knew it had to happen sometime–I’ve run out of gas. Creatively, that is. It happens to everyone; where you hit a limit on how much you can concentrate on. Which is a problem… if that’s your job.

In real life, I’m an instructional designer, which is a nice term for “corporate teacher.” Just like regular teachers, that can still mean a wide variety of jobs; after all, a Spanish teacher and the ROTC instructor have different roles and different schedules. In my case, that means I’m building eLearning modules, the much derided, much confided role of online education.

So my job is to make a lecture exciting; this is a lot easier in person. Your great lecturers can make a story come alive with simple tricks and nonsense. But that’s a lot harder to do when you’re told, “Don’t move around much and please don’t move your hands.” So it’s up to me to make their talk about understanding taxes regarding corporations that fall under a 403(b) rule exciting.

AAAAARRRRRRRGGGGGGHHHHHH!!!

BTW, even if the professor moves their hands around and moves around the room, it doesn’t help. All it really does is remove real estate that I get to do my magic. Text and graphics appearing on screen, adding videos, neat images… all of which is designed to keep your attention because the modern mind can’t focus for more than 7 seconds on any given image.

If you’re ever watching a cheaply developed television program, I always play a fun game. Count the number of seconds before the camera has to shift–it’s never more than seven seconds–this is a lesson that many producers have already learned. Better developed programs add more tricks with graphics and having the camera or presenter move… all of which happens in less than 7 seconds. Watching a football game, there is 90 seconds between plays; so they have cameras checking the crowd, checking the sidelines, commentators up in the booth, images of players and stats. All of which is to keep your attention while the quarterback is trying to figure out what to do. Even the cameras during the play have the overhead and side views just to keep things exciting.

So that takes a lot of effort when you’re the only one doing it. But hey, that’s the job I signed up for, and am glad to have it. However, it’s good to have variation. So right now, I’m helping another project that is much easier, because it’s just adapting a PowerPoint to another format. I frequently like to shift between multiple projects, so that when I can’t figure out how to make Mass v. EPA exciting on the third repetition, I can turn to explaining the 13th Amendment,

I’m also taking a vacation next week… which can’t hurt. One of the major obstacles to working from home has been–nothing changes. Sure, you can say that about a commute as well, but I go from my bed to the computer while everyone in the house is still trying to get their day started. When I’m done with work, I shut down the computer and… I’m still here. I’ve tried working from different locations, which helps occasionally, but in the end… you just miss your two screen flexibility and it makes it harder to know what you need to do.

I’m also writing a book, which means that any creative thought I have left over, goes into that. It’s hard to get on with that project when the limited amount of creativity goes into something else. I’m out of blog posts, so it’s gonna be hard the next couple of days to come up with daily posts, but I’ll try.

Have you ever been in this situation? What were your techniques for getting you out of the creative slump? Let me know in the comments below! If you want to inspire me, buy one my books! However, if $1.99 is too much to pay for inspiration, go ahead and download one of my stories for free.

Your Ideal Neighborhood

4 Feb

So I’m been trying to get working on my next novel and just having no idea what my other characters (apart from the main one) should be. Then I discovered what I was missing–write the setting that you would WANT to be in.

My next story idea is called “Death in the Age of Seitan,” which is a sci-fi story in a vegan future where a cop has to investigate a deer “murder.” Okay – I loved the premise, so I decided to set in 24th Century Canada in a small town, but then… I didn’t know who to populate it with.

It’s been too long since I lived in my hometown, so it was hard to base it on people that I grew up with, and although I could base it on people I know now, I couldn’t grab any characters that I really wanted to write about. Then I turned to Google and found an interesting article by an author named Nan Reinhardt called Creating and Maintaining a Small Town Setting and Characters in a Series.

She had a lot of really good ideas when it came to her own books–in fact, basing her small town on Madison, Indiana (which is an awesome place on the Ohio River–about an hour west of Cincinnati–I thoroughly recommend it), but what I drew from it the most was “write about the neighborhood that you’d want to be in.”

Once I read that, it suddenly made a lot more sense. Who would I enjoy the main character talking to? What kind of businesses would this post-disaster world would my protagonist go to? Who’s behind the counter? What are they hiding? I was able to sketch out a few characters without worrying. Once I get a few more done, then I might be able to tackle the outline without cringing.

Have you got some good ideas about populating your worlds? What has worked for you in the past? Share with me in the comments below!

Biography with Submission

12 Jan

Phrases you read over and over again sometimes strike me funny–like “Biography with Submission,” which sounded like an erotic novel where a librarian gives into her dark desires. So many things out of context!

I wasn’t surprised when I went on Amazon and found, not one, not two, but seven different erotica based around librarians. I imagine there are lots of sexually frustrated librarians in the world, and not all of them male. 🙂 Often times this happens to me, where I’ll read some boring phrase and think, “Gee, that sounds funny,” and my mind will go off on a brilliant tangent.

“Client Acquisition” – A corporate headhunter is tired of getting rejected for job offers with his company, and in order to make the quota, decides to take things into his own hands. Kidnapping the prospective client, there’s only one way out of this nightmare… take the job!

Hybrid Publishing” – A struggling publisher decides they want to grow the perfect author. However, their experiment gets out of control–can they still keep the money while keeping his perfect author in check?

This is a fun story generating exercise–in fact, my next story project is based off my wife misreading one of the titles on our bookshelf. She saw Death in the Age of Steam and read “Death in the Age of Seitan.” After a big laugh, the more I got into the idea. What if there was a future in which eating meat not only became unacceptable, but outlawed? So I have the vision of a police detective in some rural area whose on the beat of the deer murderers. I’m still in the world building stage, and I’m also apprehensive about writing two sci-fi mystery novels in a row, but the idea intrigues me.

By the way, Death in the Age of Steam is a short story compilation including a story by Editor Ed, one of my frequent blog contributors, which is really good. There’s also another good story at the end, but it’s cyberpunk not steampunk, but the others… eh, I can take or leave it. But I’d recommend reading Underneath the Holy City. If you want more of Editor Ed, check out Predatory Practices!

What do you do to generate story ideas? What helps you build up your imagination? Let me know in the comments below!

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!

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!

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!

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!

Your Call to Cthulhu is Important to Us, Please Hold

20 Oct

I’m not a big fan of American horror, but I do like the psychological fear (usually present in foreign horror films) element, if it’s done well. Cthulhu touches on that nameless horror, that unseen fear, that tinge that comes right before you turn on the lights. Now put that in a banal setting like your workplace.

That’s the beauty of this short story anthology, Corporate Cthulhu, which deals with that fear of the bureaucratic, the fear of being out of the loop, and the terrible consequences if you DO know.

Of course, I’m prejudiced because one of my stories, Shadow Charts, is part of this anthology. I took my experience from having worked in hospitals for 11 years and put it in a story about an inner-city hospital hiding a strange secret; patients check in, they don’t check out. I actually set it in an old hospital building I worked in (it only recently got demolished)… so I think it works great!

However, there are several other stories I enjoyed in here. Boedromion Noumenia by Andrew Scott was insanely well researched and very creepy. Incorporation by Max D. Stanton was excellent. And there are twenty more of these!

So I really suggest you pick up this book and let me know how my story… and others turned out! By the way, what do you think of Cthulhu as a subgenre? Is it played out, do you enjoy it, not your thing? Let me know in the comments below!

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