Monday, January 31, 2011

Why friends and family don't take you seriously as a writer

From The Orphan Kittens


Let's start with some basics.

There's been a dislike and distrust of intelligence in America for a long time. This feeling is rooted in a fundamental American work ethic. For generations, we've been inundated with the idea that the only thing worthwhile in life is to work hard and get ahead. We've idolized farmers and factory workers, at least as far as showing them as the epitome of the hard-working American public. And there's nothing intrinsically wrong with that idea. Hard work is important and we should all appreciate those people and the work they do.
However . . . .
Many have come to believe that the only worthy work is sweaty and for the most part miserable, though needful. If you like your job, people tend to think it must not be hard work, because hating your job has almost become a requirement of life these days. People will tolerate working intelligence -- i.e., teachers, professors, people in the medical profession -- but mostly because we can see how hard the majority of them work, as well.
Even within the workforce, the moment a regular worker steps up to a higher spot -- manager or boss -- people begin to distrust him because he is now using a brain rather than brawn to get work done, and because (of course) it puts the person in a position to have his ideas translated into their work. People tend not to trust those who show their intelligence unless they are Stephen Hawking or Albert Einstein who think in ways the rest of us just cannot. There doesn't appear to be a middle ground.
And that means people who use their brains rather than their brawn are often dismissed as not really working . This attitude especially gets aimed at writers because not only do we sit and think a lot, most of us don't make a lot of money at it. Ah, and if we do, we'll immediately come under attack, often from other writers. Look at all the slams against Stephen King and J.K. Rowlings, both of whom have found their audiences, but whom other writers dismiss as hacks.
Writing is not the same sort of hard work as standing for hours in a factory line shoving pieces of wire into place and soldering them as quickly as you can. I've done that work. It was miserable. I've worked in stores, I've taken care of other people's kids -- I know there is harder physical work out there: Work that is mind-numbing, miserable and exhausting.
The problem is that people want all work to be the same and people who do not write have no real comprehension of how difficult it is to write well. Worse yet, if they are also not regular readers, they assume that if someone is writing, they are writing for everyone, including them. They pick something up, think it's awful (because they are not the market) and attach that thought to every book and writer.
All they can imagine for writing is someone sitting down and putting words on a page. They don't understand that there is a learning curve and considerable practice until most writers are ready for publication. Learning is for school and the idea of any sort of apprenticeship where you learn the craft makes no sense to them. They're only words: you can talk, you can write, what's the big deal about writing a story?
They can't understand the specific steps leading up to fiction (and most nonfiction) writing: nursing a spark of imagination into an idea, working the idea into a plot, working the plot into thousands of words of story . . . and then editing and editing and editing before submitting it somewhere, only to be told it doesn't work for that market.
How many of you have faced these scenarios?
1. You are working on your manuscript's first draft. Someone asks you what you are doing and you say writing a book. And the immediate question is 'When will it be published?' because it's assumed all you have to do is write and publication is a given.
2. You tell someone you are a writer and they ask what your 'real' work is.
3. You're working on your book and friends or family tell you that you need to stop wasting time and do something like watch television with them.
You may not have even thought about what these things meant in a larger context. The first is as much a lack of understanding about the process as anything, but the other two are signs that these people don't take your writing seriously. It's not real work and it's not important. (Though do take note that there is a difference between never wanting you to write and sometimes wanting to spend time with you and maybe watch a show or movie.)
And here is the irony of the situation: Most people don't like to write because they think it's too boring and hard work for them. They'll admit the hard work on a personal level (though not in the context of 'real' work), but not apply the hard work part to someone whom they may know.
For the most part, you can't change their attitudes. Once you sell something, you have a better chance of winning some people over because your words now have a monetary value. Before you do so, though, you'll be wasting your time (as though it's not your time anyway) and if you do happen to make it big, you'll apparently be wasting other people's time.
Unless you can take those pages out and exchange them for an hourly paycheck, you're wasting your time.
You'd be better spending your time watching television.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Sample Sunday: A Ride through Hell and Back

From My Cover Art

This short story will be for sale for Kindle and Nook in the next few days.  Here is the opening:

The night brightened as lightning forked across the sky. I flinched, but at least, in the sudden flash of light, I could see the stranger moving ahead of us on the narrow trail. I had feared we'd lost him in the worsening weather. We'd been lucky he came along when the carriage floundered on the road and showed us the path to higher ground. Even this narrow, hard-packed trail had turned to a mucky morass in the downpour, though. The road had likely flooded by now.

My horse protested again and came to a sudden stop. I'd been leading the animal on foot for the last quarter mile, arguing with the animal the entire way. I yanked on the reins, even though I knew it wouldn't help.

"Let him go, Lauren," Janus said, slapping the beast on the haunch and nearly winning a hoof on his foot. "That damn horse is going to get us all killed!"

"You're free to go on without me." I pulled the horse aside so the other two could pass. We'd met a few hours before when we boarded the carriage and I didn't trust them much, even though I didn't actually want to be left behind, either. "I'm not leaving the horse. Once this storm passes, I have no intention of walking to the next town. We're in the middle of nowhere."


The trust was that I didn't dare get caught without transportation -- caught being the important word. I am a professional thief, though I hadn't told my traveling companions about my occupation. They were both larger than me and even the surly carriage driver appeared inclined to mayhem at the slightest provocation. A bag full of jewels, to which I could claim dubious ownership, might be provocation enough.

When the stranger came and helped extricate us from the mud, I had untied my horse from the carriage and brought him along while the driver turned the other two beasts free. Now the recalcitrant animal disagreed with me again, head shaking as he tried to back away.

I pulled at the reins, wishing I knew his name. I had -- well -- acquired him rather quickly this last dawn, right after I finished work in Acklin. I'd ridden all night to Bowith and caught the carriage post there, where people had thought I'd spent the night in a room at the Inn.

I wasn't getting far and if things didn't change, I might be forced to use my less reliable magical skills to get out of this mess. The only good thing about the weather was how the downpour would slow anyone coming after me as well. I just needed to stay ahead of the pursuit.

The farmer reached the top of the hill and stopped. I could see him outlined by frantic lightning rushing across the sky at quick intervals. I decided being at the top of the hill might not be wise, but the others trudged up the hillside. The farmer had said there was shelter nearby, which probably meant the other side of the rise.

I didn't want to be out here alone where robbers preyed on single travelers.

"Come along, you obstinate beast, or I'll leave you here to drown. I only need the blanket, you know."

The horse bared teeth at me: Just my luck to find such a bad tempered animal in a city full of fine steeds. I'd had enough of the creature. A glance showed the others nearly to the top of the hill where the stranger waited. I cursed and grabbed at the saddle, intending to loosen the cinch and pull the blanket free along with the small, leather bag of jewels I'd tied into the cloth. They might think I only wanted to make certain I had something for warmth when we reached wherever the farmer led us. Besides, unsaddling the horse was a kindness I would do even for this brute. I wouldn't turn the horse loose weighed down with something he might on a branch and never get free.

I had my fingers on the cinch when the animal neighed and took a step backward, pulling me down in the mud. Cursing under my breath, I glanced back to see if my companions saw this new embarrassment.

They still scrambled up the hillside where --

Where something other than a man now stood.

I thought what I saw an illusion in the first flash of lighting. I sat unmoving in the mud and stared, making myself not blink. The next flash of light confirmed the last. What stood upon that hilltop had a huge, horned head and massive arms. The next flash made the image twice as horrific, mostly because a second joined the first horrific figure. Then a third. I saw the glint of metal in their hands, and suspected they didn't hold nice farmer's hoes, either.

"Good horse," I whispered, taking hold of the stirrup and preparing to stand. "Damn good horse. You're right. We do not want to go up there."

Friday, January 28, 2011

The Process

From Art

Prepare for the journey

Some stories you can leap into with little or no preparation, though they are less common than you think. Even if you are writing a book based in your own neighborhood, it won't hurt for you to think about and jot down a few things like descriptions of places and people. The farther from your 'real world' you wander, the more background work you should do before you start writing. Getting the setting and a few of the rules of how things work created before you start the story can save all kinds of trouble in the writing. It will also save you considerable time in rewriting.

You do not need to write an outline. I do, because I like to have a roadmap of where I'm going. A couple lines per chapter can be enough to get me there.

Ready, set go!

In order to be a writer you must write. You must sit down and put the words on the page -- and make no excuses for lazy muses and writer's block.

Hint: if you write more about writer's block than you do about anything else, your attention is in the wrong place.

If nothing else, sit down and write 100 words. Then do it again. You'd be amazed how fast those 100 words add up to something useful. 100 words is a small enough block and you can focus on those few words of the story and make something of it. Do this three times in one day, and in the course of a year you will have written a novel. You think it's too difficult? Then maybe you aren't cut out to be a writer. For a comparison, this paragraph is about 150 words. Don't tell me you can't write that much.

We often do 100 word leaps in the 'Write with Zette' the Forward Motion chat room where I often hang out. We also talk about writing and other things --but we mostly write. Sometimes it helps to have others by you, urging you on or just discussing writing in general.

Another hint: Read about how other writers work, even if they don't appear to work the way you do. You never know when one little thing is going to make a difference in your own habits or in the quality of your work.

I write fast first drafts. There's nothing wrong with writing fast. Rex Stout of Nero Wolfe fame wrote very quickly, among many others. However, always remember that first drafts are a gift of the writing gods and are not expected to be perfect. We are allowed to make mistakes. Don't let it stop you. Keep writing and stop making excuses not to finish.

You don't have to write quickly. No one has to write in anyway except what suits them. I suggest 300 words a day so you can have a manuscript in a year. I write over 3000 words a day. My way is not your way.

And yet another hint: You are going to learn more about writing from finishing something that gave you trouble than you will from any easy story you complete. If you give up because you lost interest in the plot and characters, go back over it and find out why it no longer appeals to you and fix it. If you wrote yourself into a corner, delete some words and go a different way. Giving up should never be an easy option.

Taking a rest

Once you are done, let the story rest. Move on to something else before you edit. If you leap right into editing, you are less likely to see your problems because you still have the image of the story in your mind. Let it go by writing something else.

This is not (despite my analogy here) a race. You're also never going to achieve anything with only one story, so start preparing yourself to write more. Jot down notes when something occurs to you. Build up a backlog of ideas, but don't let them take over.

Going for the next lap

Stop dreading the idea of editing. Stop expecting it to be horrible work and the last thing you want to do. This is your chance to take the original vision that sprang from your head to your fingers and make it more of what you really want it to be. Play with the words. Play with the style. Take it slowly. I usually edit two to five pages a day on a story, and go over those pages several times.

I also write something new while I'm editing an older piece. This doesn't work for everyone, but if you can, it allows you to have the fun rush of creation that so many authors crave and will make editing far more fun.

Taking another rest

Once you think you are done with the entire process, put the story away for a few days -- or, if you are inclined, now is the time to have it critiqued. No, not before this point. Never send a first draft out to be critiqued. You'll look like an idiot and you will waste a powerful resource besides. It is up to you to make all the corrections you can before you allow anyone else to read the material. If you send it out too soon, you ruin a critique for a later version. You never want a person to have some preconceived idea of the story, especially one based on a messy first draft.

When you are ready, either after a critique by others or just having let it sit, read one more time. Make last corrections.

Give it Wings

And now it's time to let it go. This might mean writing a query letter, sending sample chapters, sending an entire short story or preparing for Indie Publishing. Whatever your choice, make certain the story is the best you can make it before you send it out to readers of any sort. Don't rush and set it free too early.

Be wise and be willing to learn and adapt how you work to do better.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Remembering to have fun

From My Cover Art

That's 'Cover Art' for a new short story that I'll have up for sale soon.

I don't have a bad life. There are many aspects of it that are better than I could ever have hoped for, really. I can, for instance, write whenever I please as long as I get some other work done, too. I can sleep as late as I like and work on stories through the night, which is my best writing time. While I have a few paying jobs that need attention, they are not nine to five jobs and I can work them in and around other things . . . like writing. I have contact with a number of writers and I don't have to deal with many annoying people in real life. There are other aspects that are not so great. I really want Russ to get a job in this area and move back home. We're a few months into the fourth year apart, and neither of us is happy.

Even still, this is a good life. Better than I had growing up when I was already supporting my mother and sister at 16 and continuing to do so until I married Russ. I have gotten back those years when I worked from 3:30 in the afternoon until after 2 am, went home and then got back up and went to school. (I am, by the way, the only person in my family to graduate from high school) I now have the ability to write all the things I would have done back then -- only better, I hope.

There's something I kind of forgot somewhere along the line in the last few years: I forgot that I am in a position where I can -- and should -- make things fun. Or rather, with me, allow them to be fun since I plainly have not stopped writing. I need to stop fretting about everything else and focus on some of the good stuff.

I love writing. A person cannot be prolific (I'll hit 80k for the year today) and not love creating stories. I have stories to share that I am editing and I have stories I haven't even written yet that I want to share. I am working at getting more time to apply to my writing so I can enjoy it without feeling as though I should be working on something else. That means cutting back on some other, odd things. After 14 years, I've told the county where I live that I would like to retire from the work of running their website. I've been doing it practically for free for a long, long time ($40 a month). I can use that time for other things. I also believe that I can make at least that much on story sales when I get moving!

This year I added a number of new moderators to Forward Motion and turned them loose to do whatever they think will help with the site. I've had a lot of ideas for new things, but no time to implement many of them. I got the Indie Publishing section up and running, at least, and in the care of someone who has made a real study of the situation. That's in good hands.

It means, really, that I just have to sit down and do things for myself. Not only write the first draft and play at editing now and then, but follow through all the way from the first word to the final moment I make it into an ebook. Oddly, the new Indie Publishing has helped in that way. I can see a real end to the work and that's pushed me to work harder again. I have found that I am not as lazy about editing as I had been for a while. And I rekindled my love for it, too.

Oh and here is a good analogy for doing things:

If you are going to make tea, it doesn't do enough to put the water in add the tea leaves. You actually have to turn the tea maker on. Staring at it will not create tea.

(Turns on tea maker)

Anyway. . . .

So far this year, I have three novels and one short story up on the Nook and Kindle sites. I will be adding two more short stories in a day or so. Yes, I am going for a lot of things through the ACOA site (which is close to opening as well). While some real life stuff sucks at the moment, I've decided that I am going to keep my attention back where I need it -- on my writing and getting things up for sales. Editing, editing, editing. And yes, that's fun for me, too.

Oh and I am using a great free program to help with editing. It lists how many times you use a word, whether it is a word commonly over used in general, etc. You can run the manuscript through the site or download the program and run it on the computer. I've done the second since I don't want to have to open the site every time I want to check.

You have to ignore the common words you use that it lists. You'll go crazy trying to cut some of them down and it's not necessary. But I really like working with the lists and figuring out what I can cut and should change.

And while it lists adverbs, can I give a reasonable thought to the OMG KILL ALL ADVERBS group? An adverb exists for a reason. They should not be overused, but there's no reason to rework every single instance of them and the same is true with passive voice sentences. Work hard to make certain what you've written is the best it can be, but don't make something worse if the passive voice (or adverb) works better. Be wise.

And remember to have fun. This should never be work, even when it's difficult. Challenges can be fun, too. Don't let them ruin the joy of writing for you. You'll learn to do better every time you conquer something that gives you trouble. You're getting better at writing with every page.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Indie Publishing: Ready or Not?

From My Cover Art

The people who are really serious about Indie Publication have taken a step away from the term self-publish because, quite honestly, there are still far too many people who leap into the fray without a clue about what they're doing.  I see it happen all the time.

Stop. Don't do that.  You're not ready.

There are a number of things to think about here.  Okay, let's say you've worked on your novel for most of your adult life.  You've tended it, written and re-written, and worked until you finally think it's ready for publication.  What should you do?

If you have always imagined your book on the shelf at the bookstores, don't throw that dream away by shoving it off into self-publication because it's easier.  Easier is not a good answer.  Whatever you do, don't leap in because you can't bear the thought of someone editing your work, or -- worse still -- the mere thought of someone rejecting your book leaves you in tears.

What are you going to do when people write to tell you that you wasted their time and your book should never have seen publication?  And they will, because there are people out there who delight in telling others how they failed.  It makes them feel important when the truth is that they were likely never the intended audience anyway.  They won't consider that possibility.  They're there to make sure you know you are not worthy.

And what will you do then?  How will you handle it if the idea of an editor saying 'no, not for us' was the worst thing you could imagine happening?  If that's going to bother you then you are beyond a doubt, not ready for Indie Publishing.

What will you do when these words don't arrive in a private email, like many do -- but rather as a review on a page where you know hundreds of people are going to read it? What are you going to do when the review points out some obvious problems that you never saw?  That's bound to happen when you self-publish, especially if you never take the time to have the work critiqued or edited by an outside person.  Even then, there are going to be problems.  No book is perfect.

How are you going to deal with those problems when you couldn't handle the ide an editor deciding the book wasn't right for his company?

Years ago, I belonged to the online group Critters.  One woman who wrote pretty good stories that needed only minor editing and a little tweak here and there.  However, every time she got a critique that said anything like 'your characters aren't realistic' or 'you should have done this instead of that' in the story, she would rewrite to cover the negative critiques.  Even the stupid ones.  In doing so, she often changed things that worked wonderfully for the rest of the readers.

I finally asked why she ignored the good critiques and ruined her stories for the bad ones?  Did she really expect to write something that worked for everyone?  The truth was she couldn't handle someone saying anything bad about her writing.  People telling her things worked and they liked the story meant nothing to her because every negative word outweighed anything else.  Make sure that this is not an attitude you have inadvertently acquired because if you go into independent publishing with it, you aren't going to be able to deal with the reality of what people say. Are you going to expect that the moment your book hits the virtual shelves you'll get nothing but accolades from everyone who reads it?  It's not going to happen.  Prepare yourself for that reality.  No one has ever written a book that works for everyone, even within their own genre.  Don't expect to be the first -- and don't think you're going to pull the book and fix it every time someone says something bad.  Even in self-publishing, that isn't going to work.

But let's go back a bit again.  You've worked on the one book for years.  Are you looking at Indie Publishing because it's easy?  It isn't.  Get over that idea, too.  Sure, you can throw it out there with little more no thought -- but no, it is not going to sell.  You better start studying marketing right now (all authors, Indie or not) and begin getting some solid ideas of what you're going to do when your book is out there.  No one is going to see it until you get enough people looking in that direction.

And let's talk about this being your first and only novel.  If it has taken you years to write, why are you rushing into publication?  Take a little time to try agents and publishers.  It's not going to hurt you or your story.  You've already taken a long time to get this story right.  Think about where it goes from here.  Indie Publishing is always a possibility, but once you make that step, the book is not going to sell to a traditional publisher.

Yes, there are a handful of authors that have made that change.  Maybe even one a year out of the thousands of books independently published each month.  Do you really think you're going to be one of those people who are 'discovered' through self-publishing?  Maybe you will be -- but you can't count on it.  All you can plan for is working hard to get each and every sale you make.

Nothing in the world of Indie Publishing happens unless you make it happen.  You will have to cajole friends and family not only into buying your book, but telling others to buy it as well.  You have to hunt out review sites.  You have to keep active on Twitter, Blogs and websites.  You have to consider buying ads and finding every other little way to market that you can.  And all the time you spend marketing means you are not going to be writing.

You are not going to make it as an author, traditional publication or independent publication, on just one book.

So, there are you are trying to push the sale of the book that took you years to write and you can't even think about writing something else because it's your BABY out there, and you have to watch over it, right?

You are really, truly not ready for the world of indie publishing.

So, many of you are looking this over and thinking it's way over the top.  You'd never have these problems.  Good for you!  But they are problems I've seen so many times that they are worth mentioning to those of you who are still standing on the edge.   You must think your way through every step of this before you leap in.  Taking that step before you consider all of these aspects of self-publishing is like stepping out into the road without considering where you're going or what's out there about to run you over.

Okay, so there are some of the bad things?  Still ready to go on?

The people who are best suited to this are the ones who already have more than one novel written.  They do not need to have more than one ready to publish right away, but they should have at least a second (and more, if possible) in the queue and ready to publish within a reasonable amount of time, like within a few months.  These books should  be vetted by an outside source -- not your best friend, your brother or your sister.  I don't care how good you think they are at the work, they will still have a bias to either be too nice or too harsh.  Besides, you should never go with just one person.  Let them be the first round, but move on to another one as well.  Don't rush.  There is no reason to hurry.

People have to be prepared to spend some time on marketing, which includes finding the locations to market in.  Set up a schedule and devote X amount of time a week to the work.  Don't let it overwhelm you, but do approach it like a professional.  Make lists.  Do Google searches.  Hunt out every little nook and cranny where you can get reviews and notices.  Set aside some funds to buy marketing spots or giveaway items.  Use the money wisely.

Be prepared to be patient.

People who are leaping into Indie Publishing because it's easy and it's quick are the ones who are going to have the worst problem with this part.  They're likely lacking patience to begin with, and when things don't move quickly, they'll get disgusted and give up.  If you're serious, you can't do that.

Be prepared to experiment.

This is the last thing that a serious writer entering into Indie Publishing has to consider.  You can't follow the tried and true path -- if that's what you want, you need to stick with traditional publishing.  This is a new world.  It's going to take a lot of experimentation for the next few years before anything is really settled.

And also, always remember that if you go to Indie Publishing for one book, that doesn't mean you have to do it for the next.  Don't cut yourself off from any path.  They'll all help you sell more books and reach more readers.  In the end, reaching readers is all that really matters.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Indi Author Choices

There is a movement started by many of the more serious self-published authors to distance themselves from the general rabble by taking on the name Indi Authors -- and like Indi Bookstores, they're saying they are not part of the chain or the system. For many of them, it is a conscious choice to do things differently and they understand that it is not an easy answer.

Many name authors are putting out their older books in this way as well, and that makes it look even more like a legitimate choice to new authors who leap in without considering how these authors already have a fan base. The trick is to help the new authors realize what they gain and what they lose in the choices available. Helping them understand the differences between big house publishing, small press publishing, ebook only publishing and Indi publishing is a difficult task because there is often so much mindless, and sometimes deceitful, rhetoric on either side that all it does is polarize both groups.

The truth is that this is not an either/or world any more. While a single book can go one way or the other that doesn't mean that every book the author writes has to follow the same path, and it's time that everyone become aware of that fact. Authors need to understand that if a book heads down the Indi path it is not viable for other publication -- but no author is ever going to make a name on a single book anyway. The world of publishing is changing and will continue to change along with the Internet and the new opportunities that are opening up with it.

There are good reasons and bad reasons for any choice made in publishing these days. The big trick is still to make certain people understand the different sides.

Yes, I am stepping into the Indi author world, and I've started with some of previously published work -- No Beast so Fierce, Silky and Silky 2 -- and a new book, Silky 3. There will be others to follow. And I was pushed this way by several factors.

1. As I have said several times before, I am prolific. I have more novels than I could see published in my lifetime, even if an agent or publisher took me on. Even limiting myself to the top quarter of what I've written (And why would I want to put out things other than what I consider to be the best quality?), I still have more books than could comfortably find publication, and that's not counting the material that has been previously published and is now back in my hands. What am I going to do with all of this work? I wrote the books out of love of the stories. Even the ones that are not going to make it to publication -- and I don't regret writing any of them. However, there are many that I think others might enjoy. I hope to make a little bit of income from them, but I don't expect to make my fortune.

2. I am NOT writing for the current market. I don't care about who is having sex with whom or the details of how they handle it. There is sex in some of my stories, but it usually is handled in very little detail. I figure if you can't imagine more, then you're likely too young to be reading the details anyway. When it comes to (for instance) a science fiction story about an alien invasion, I'm more interested in the battle against the aliens than I am about how long it takes the captain of the star ship to get the pretty ambassador into bed with him. I see far too many books where the genre setting is nothing more than a hastily painted backdrop -- though not all are that way, of course. And I'm not saying the love story books in any genre are wrong. I am just saying that this is not what I want to write. That being the case, I am out of sync with the market.

3. The last two books I placed with publishers have taken over four years to reach publication. I think one of them has finally made it, though I haven't heard so from the publisher. I'm still waiting on the other one. In both cases, there were reasons -- but if I were even remotely trying to make a living from sales like this, I'd be living on the streets by now. It certainly has not helped in my problems supporting Vision and Forward Motion, let alone myself. I went and rechecked the dates. It was actually SIX years ago. Yes, that is too long and the reason I didn't mind and really didn't notice is because of some drastic changes in my life that took all my attention.

4. I have never been afraid to try something new and different, as long as I can see that it is a reasonable choice. I have been publishing in ebook format with small press companies since 1999. That was far ahead of the curve there. As I said at the time, I didn't see ebooks as replacing print, but only becoming another variation -- hard cover, paperback, ebook, audio book -- and that I suspected they would find their place in the market. Now there is another change. It isn't for everyone, and people who think that leaping into Indi publishing is going to win them fame and fortune better be prepared for even more work than they'd have if they went with an established publisher or agent. This is not easy, people -- but just because it isn't easy, doesn't mean it also isn't worthwhile.

5. And last -- my life has drastically changed in the last three years. I am no longer able to attend conventions and or do many of the things that most publishers (especially in the speculative fiction genres) expect their authors to do. It's just not possible at this point in my life, and I don't see when it will be. That means an extensive area of marketing is closed to me in some ways.

This hasn't been a quick decision on my part. I've watched for years, waiting for the change that I thought might be coming. It was hard to tell -- but I thought eventually some serious authors would start looking at the self-publishing (now indi) market and see the potential there -- and once they stepped in and wrestled some of it away from the 'oh I wrote this fifteen minutes ago, aren't I brilliant' children who throw anything out there without thought of writing well, that there would be a change. I wasn't entirely sure it would happen and until it did, the entire concept remained useless to most authors.

It also required a change in my own attitude, of course. I took the time to study, watch and note what the changes meant and how they would affect me. I urge every writer to do the same before they leap into a plan of this sort. Each of us has our own needs, abilities and wants -- and you shouldn't sacrifice your dream of a book on a shelf in a big store just because this looks easier.

And also remember that just because you choose to go this way with one book doesn't mean everything you write has to go that way. This is the best part of the new world of publishing. There are many different opportunities out there for people who are steady writers. You don't have to be prolific, but do have to realize that no matter what path you take, an author with not make it on one book. Yes, there are the rare few -- but you and I are not going to be one of those. Accept that and act accordingly.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Into 2011

From My Cover Art

Welcome to 2011

I am already falling behind. Some of it is not my fault. I started out the year with the worst backache I have every suffered with. For more than a week, starting on December 29th, I could barely walk from one room to another. The problem is almost entirely cleared up. It was difficult even to sit at the desk and work, but I fought my way through what I had to and got FM up for the year as well as Vision, in its new glorious Joomla form. I think I am going to truly enjoy working with as soon as I figure out the archive function.

I wrote over a million new words last year. No surprise there, really. Several novels, a number of short stories, articles and outlines. This year I started out with the Devlin's Team #4: Missing Persons and it's moving along fine. Then on Sunday I decided to start a short story: And Wings to Fly is already done. It went over 6k and I hope to write more short pieces over the year. Shorter than 6k in fact. I'd like to do some flash fiction, I think. Maybe even some 100 word drabbles.

I am also editing Circe's Gifts, which is kind of a young YA or maybe even a MG book. I'm not very good at judging them. It needs considerably more work than I had expected, though. It's going to take me a few months to work my way through it, and likely need a last clean up after that since I'm changing so much.

I am working on two outlines -- In the Shadow of Giants (still working at it, and I hope to start it in March) and another one called The Shades of Death. It's going to be a busy year for writing, I hope! I really like all the stories, though the last one is giving me some trouble.

Somewhere around the first of the year, an odd story idea began to grow in my head. It started haunting me and talking to me and a couple days ago I finally started writing it down -- no world building, no outline, just the voice talking to me this time. That used to happen now and then, and I think if I move carefully, I can handle this one. It's a first person tale, titled Istavian after the huge city in which it takes place. It's likely only going to move a few hundred words at a time, but I'm finding it intriguing. So here is the opening (a little edited from the version I posted in my LJ and a bit more added at the end):

Istavian is a crossroads city, and that's what has made her great and left her so embattled. She sits on a wide bay at the far end of the Inner Sea, with the Kolti sailing at her from the west, the Tassanians marching in from the east, the Silnans sending marauders from the north . . . and the oh-so-civilized Tacana's sending only their spies and assassins from the south.

There is a legend that Istavian has never gone more than three generations under the same flag and I think this might be true. My great-grandfather served as a minister for the Kolti when they last held the city. My father fought in the army against the Silnans when we lost that war. And when I turned twelve, we were back in Kolti hands again, but with the Tassanians not far off, watching for their chance.

There's a joke in the city that if someone asks you whom you serve, you ask which way the wind is blowing today.

Such a city is rife with intrigue, of course. No group ever fully leaves, but some part of them goes underground and works again to bring their side back to power. They dig down into their burrows and send out their worker ants to find out what is going on and whom they can betray.

And sometimes the burrows go so deep that those worker ants, like me, never really see whom we're working for.

I stood outside the doorway of the Pritelin Temple, the one dedicated to the god of lame soldiers. Its popularity probably says something dire about my city; that such a temple not only exists, but flourishes. I lived there with the other maimed soldier who had nowhere better to go. I had lost my leg below my right knee in the battle with the Silnans when I was nineteen, and no, I will not tell you that nightmare tale. When the Istavian army finally freed the prisoners the Silnans had taken, I came back to the city a changed man and for more than the loss of my leg.

I wanted answers when I came back. Why, why why?

For a while, I buried myself in the underside of Istavian -- in the alleys and cesspits on the north side where the poor build their ramshackle homes of brick, dirt and rock debris in the old marshes. Over the generations, the houses had fallen and been rebuilt so many times that they had a sort of bedrock beneath them, though seething here and there with mud and muck. It's still called The Marshes, though. You could see the pile-on-pile of buildings down there from the doorway of the temple on the heights. I often stopped and looked down into an area that seemed habitually filled with smoke and fog.

People died there every day in a battle they fought against a different enemy than the one I had faced. They fought -- and mostly lost -- their war against destitution, disease and despair. I never found my answers there and eventually I moved up to the heights. I remember thinking one day that I wanted to breathe fresh air again. Even the breeze off the ocean carried the scent of dead fish over buildings since the docks are downwind of the area. There is nothing good in The Marshes.

Except for a few people, and I missed them in an odd way. Ah, Jemia and her warm, soft hands that could make me forget for at least a little while -- but I left even her behind because she could not tell me why. On a fateful day in spring I had climbed slowly up the path from The Marches to the Temples, hobbling along on the crutches I'd made and learned to use so well.

And here I'd stayed -- one year, two. I had, I realized, turned twenty-three somewhere not long in the past. Four years, and I still did not have my answer.

So there it is. I have actually made something of a map of the city -- the only world building I've done -- and I can see things there. My so far unnamed MC is looking for answers to something that happened during the war with the Silnans (a name that I think is going to change). The tale is set in my Tales from Another Place world. Silky takes place there, among many many other stories. I need to get the old map out of the world and fit this one in. I know the location. I know two of the groups named -- the Tassanians and the Kolti, who have had a long, old war with each other. This city is a jewel; rich with trade and ancient and filled with secrets.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Sunday Sample Reading

From My Cover Art

I hope to take part in the Twitter #SampleSunday listing for Indie authors. Below is the first chapter to a book I completed at the end of 2010. Once it goes through my editor, it should be available at the new Conspiracy of Authors site. I hope you enjoy it!


Chapter One

I spent another Friday night working at the library, looking forward to the weekend -- if it would just stop raining. I put another pile of books on the wide desk by Gian when, by chance, I glanced out the huge glass door. There, through the pouring rain, I saw a flash of unnaturally-blonde hair as someone leapt from a car at the curb and started up the steps. I barely restrained an urge to curse aloud, recognizing Missy by both the hair and the inappropriately short blue skirt and skin tight blouse she wore -- and the fact she left her car in a no parking zone, of course. Rules did not apply to Missy.

If she came out in a rain storm as bad as this one, it wouldn't be for anything good. Missy Murphy was a harbinger of bad things. She gloried in it.

Missy nearly slipped on the top step and I did my best not to smirk. Those spike heels weren't made for this kind of weather, but Missy would never sacrifice style for appropriateness. I glanced down at my baggy shirt, warm sweater and blue jeans. I was not the poster child for good style, that was for sure -- but at least I wasn't going to fall on my ass rather than forgo wearing $200 shoes with spike heels in the rain.

"Missy is coming in," I warned, looking over my shoulder to where Gian sat, his wheelchair rolled up to the desk where he sorted books to be re-shelved.

He frowned and pushed back his hair, craning his neck so he could see around the counter where I stood. He didn't look any happier than I was about the arrival of our high school companion.

Missy pulled the door open, cursing far too loudly as she entered the building. The few people still there turned to stare at the overly-dramatic entrance: Missy always made certain she was the center of attention. I found myself rolling my eyes and finally leaned against the counter, watching as she spotted me and hurried my way.

She didn't come to the library for a friendly chit-chat. Missy didn't have any real friends since she also delighted in tearing everyone down. She'd been that way from grade school: drama queen, gossip and fashinista. She'd have been very lonely, I thought, except people swore her parties were just The Best and she gave at least one a month. I never went to them. I wouldn't have even if she had asked.

Missy paused midway toward the desk and glanced around -- an amusing look when I realized she had probably never been inside the building. She finally spotted Gian behind me and gave a quick nod of relief. She hurried faster, shaking water off her arms, and not giving a damn where it fell: books, the newspaper rack, or on other people. Someone protested, but she didn't seem to hear, she was so intent on reaching the counter where Gian and I were trapped.

Mrs. Berlin looked up from the desk in her little side office and frowned as Missy cursed again, but for no apparent reason. I hoped she might step in and send Missy Murphy on her way before she reached us. Instead, she looked back at her computer and went back to work, leaving the problem to us.

Missy stomped across the marble-tiled floor and the loud tap of her heels made a rude counterpoint to her dripping water. I was already unhappy long before she reached us.

And then I saw her malicious smile and how her eyes looked almost fever bright. That meant she had bad news. Missy was never happy unless she had some dirt to tell about someone else. I wondered what she had that could be of interest to either Gian or me.

I didn't expect it to be something that would interest both of us.

"Damn rain," she said, too loudly. She had a South Carolina drawl, faked since she hadn't been anywhere near Raleigh since she turned five. Apparently she thought it sounded sexy for something. It suited her and her fake nose and boob job. "Going to sue the library," she said, looking at Mrs. Berlin in her little office. "Wrenched my ankle. If I can't walk at graduation --"

"You'd lose the case," Gian said, his soft voice interrupting just as she began her tirade. Missy scowled, her mouth still open, but I thought she'd lost track of what she'd been saying only a moment before. I had always suspected there was no connect between her mouth and her brain. "No one wears heels like that in the rain," Gian finished and frowned.

"I do," she said, as though that's all it took to make it right. Her answer didn't surprise me at all. After all, the universe revolved around Missy.

I glanced at the clock. Time slipped away while Missy stood there, dripping water everywhere, her hand on the counter. I thought I could smell something a little stronger than beer on her breath, and that didn't surprise me much, either.

"Do you want something, Missy?" I finally asked, leaning against the counter. She pulled back a little, as though she expected me to attack. I'd already had more than enough of her theatrics. "Gian and I have some work to finish here."

"Oh, that's right. You volunteer here, don't you?"

"As you well know, since you came here looking for us," I replied and this time didn't hide my smirk. Honestly, how stupid did she think we were?

Her face reddened beneath dangling limp, blonde hair, and her eyes narrowed in anger -- green today, but they were apt to change color, depending on what contacts she grabbed. She stood more than a head taller than me, some of that from the heels. Until the tenth grade she had out-bulked me as well, but she'd turned almost wraith thin for the last couple years. I didn't worry as much about getting into a punching match with her as I had when we were in the fifth grade and she could knock me down and sit on me.

We'd never been friends. We never would be. That made me momentarily happy.

I saw Mrs. Berlin looking our way again, and knew that she wasn't going to stand by and let us gab for very long. She'd laid out the rules the first day -- no socializing at the library. She told us to take the job seriously, even if we were unpaid volunteers. And I did. I found I liked working here, and no one complained about how I looked, even if I was a bit more punk then they were used to.

"You wanted to tell us something, Missy?" Gian finally prompted again. Even he sounded out of sorts by now.

She looked down at him and I saw that look come over her again. This wasn't going to be good. My skin began to prickle and my mouth went a little dry even before she spoke.

"I just heard from my father that Seiji Kimura blew is brains out this afternoon at work," she said.

And then she grinned.

"Damn," I whispered, grateful I had been leaning against the counter after all. The news shocked me. I felt ill. This kind of thing didn't happen in Deervale.

"You know what this means, don't you?" Missy asked. Her voice grew louder, and her right hand waved as though she had no control over it. Was I the only one who suspected she had gotten heavy into speed and God knows what else the last couple years? The woman was out of control. She looked at me, her eyes brightening again and then back to Gian. "You know who's going to show up for the funeral, right? That little bitch, Akio Kimura is going to be here! Bet you can't wait to see her, right Gian?"

My breath caught and my own arm started to move. I wanted to slap her. I wanted to grab her by the arm and throw her out the door and hope that she broke her stupid, petty neck on the steps. Of all the damn, cruel, thoughtless things to say --

I turned away from her to get control of my rage and found myself looking at Gian instead. He had paled, and I could see the little scar on his right cheek, a souvenir from the last time he and Akio had met -- that and the wheelchair he now sat in.

He looked up at Missy as if she were some kind of alien creature who spoke a language he didn't even understand. I don't think she noticed. I would have died if I'd had won a look like that from him.

I knew my reaction, and probably Gian's, only fueled her joy. She smiled brighter. "I can't believe they let her out of the treatment center." She runs you down, and she gets to laze around in a hospital for a year or so, and then she's cured? What kind of justice is that, huh?"

"Missy," I said, hoping my voice remained calm. I had shoved my hands into my sweater pockets, just to make certain I didn't swing at her. My fingers formed fists, the nails dug into the palms, but I still forced myself to speak calmly. "You know, this isn't the place for this kind of discussion."

"What do you care? Or are you upset that we're talking trash about your good friend Akio around you?"

"You couldn't say anything about her that I haven't already thought." I met her vulture look and forced a smile. It had to look fake, but I doubted she would know the difference, especially since Missy kept staring at Gian. Her face had flushed almost a dark red with excitement, her eyes grew wider. This was dirt heaven for her.

"It's time for you to go, Missy. You wouldn't want people to see you spend too much time here," Gian leaned back in his chair and looked deceptively relaxed. "People might think you're actually working on your term paper rather than buying one."

Oh hell. . . .

I thought I would have to throw myself on her to save him. I almost pushed away from the counter, but Missy didn't even take his snipe badly. Instead, she gave a little snicker of a laugh and another wave of her hand. "True. Besides, there are places I got to be. See ya'll Monday in school. Be good."

She spun and sauntered away, her heels sounding like one of those tin drums kids get at Christmas, and the tune tapped out by someone with no sense of rhythm. She headed straight across the room to the door, forcing a woman with her child to sidestep before she shoved them away. I started to protest, but that might stop her. I wanted her away, and in a moment, she threw open the door and headed out into the pouring rain again.

I stared, hoping she'd fall and break her neck. I hated feeling that way, but the anger overwhelmed me. I wanted revenge and justice and Missy Murphy looked like the perfect enemy right now. If I had been any closer, I might have shoved her myself. I took the coward's way out and asked God to do it for me.

But she made it down the steps and into the little Jaguar that she'd left in the no-parking zone. I could hear the wheels spin on the wet pavement as she hit the gas and hurried away to spread the good word.

I stood there by the counter, trying not to gasp as the rage rose inside me, threatening to come out in a scream or a curse -- or worse yet, to make me weep like a little girl. I would not cry, not here, in front of Gian -- the one who had really suffered in this tragedy. I stared out into the rain, trying to count the splatters as the drops hit the steps, like I had done as a child. I wanted anything that would help me to stop thinking about Missy, and all she had told us.

Silence filled the library, and I could hear nothing more than a page turned and Gian breathing behind me. I wanted to be somewhere else. I had buried the nightmare. How dare she --

"We better get these books shelved," Gian said. I looked at him, trying to find the right words to say, as he propelled himself away from the desk.

I watched him head into the maze of book shelves. My breath still came very short, and I hadn't dared push away from the counter because I felt so weak.

Mrs. Berlin left her desk and came toward me, a wad of paper towels in one hand. Great. Not only did I have to put up with Missy's bullshit, now I would have to clean up after her as well.

"You handled that very well, Marisha," Mrs. Berlin said. She wiped the table where Missy had left a hand-sized puddle while she told us the news. "Thank you. You better go help Gian now."

"Thank you," I said, and felt my first true warmth for the woman I had been working with for the last three months. She patted my shoulder the way my mother sometimes did, and nodded toward the place where Gian had disappeared. I thought I saw worry in her face and liked her even better for it

I went as far as the first rows of books, stepped out of sight, and stood there, gasping in the scent of books, ink and dust. My hands were still in my pockets, my fingers still in fists. I tried to push the scene away -- both Missy's announcement and the memory of what had happened on that late fall night over a year ago.

The reports the police finally gave out had said Akio, drugged out of her mind, had been driving her father's car home from a Hollywood Hills party. A witness -- underage and unnamed in anything we got to see -- said she had purposely turned the car toward Gian and hit the gas and ran him over. On purpose. There was no doubt.

I hadn't heard about the accident until the next morning when I came down for breakfast. That same feeling of disconnect came over me again, the cold ice from the pit of my stomach to the top of my head. My arms began to tremble. Not Gian, I thought. No one would hurt Gian. Not on purpose.

Not Gian, whom I had been in love with since probably fifth grade, but who didn't know me as anyone but the girl who lived next door. I was the girl he played baseball with in the summer and who had gone camping with his family when she was twelve.

They hadn't told me for another day that Akio had been the one driving the car. That had been another, different cold shock. Akio had been my best friend. I hadn't wanted to believe she would do such a thing.

It still hurt. God, it hurt, there in the depth of my soul, as the feeling of betrayal rose within me again. I had treated Akio like a sister -- better than I treated my own older sister, probably. We'd been more than friends --

Then, for a brief moment, I remembered Gian the last time I'd seen him walking. It had been earlier the day of the accident, just after school. I was heading home but he was heading to the school gym to work out. He had been head of the dance class at school, and though he was never going to be a Baryshnikov or anything, he'd loved it. Loved to dance, and play baseball, and run track --

And I remembered how I smiled as I saw him jogging away, his hair bouncing at his shoulders. He'd leapt a small wall and headed up the grassy area --


I spun, startled at the sound. Gian sat at the end of the aisle. I wondered how long he'd stared at me. Half the books still sat on the tray in front of him, and I knew those were the ones he couldn't reach to put away.

At least Gian was much better than he had been the first months after the accident. He could stand now with the help of crutches, and I had heard his mother say he might be up to a cane by this time next year.

I wanted that to happen. I wanted it very much.

I followed him through the dusty shelves to put books away, finishing up our little good deed for the day. It felt trite and stupid in the face of everything else, but Gian kept at the work, so I couldn't sulk. We had less than an hour before the library closed and we still had a lot of work to do. Just as well. It kept my mind off everything -- at least until I would see Gian staring out the door into the darkening night, his face bleak and the loss too plain in his dark eyes.

It had been raining that night too. I wondered if he hated the rain now. We never talked about it.

Gian's father came to drive him home after work, the van pulling up where Missy had been parked. Gian rolled down the ramp and I waved goodbye, wondering what Mr. Calabria would say to his son. I wondered if it would help.

I wondered if he could say things to me that would help me, too.

Stupid feeling. I stayed long enough to watch Gian pull himself from the chair to the front seat and his father hastily pack the wheelchair away in the back of the van. I could see Gian, his head bowed a little, and I thought maybe his lips moved, though his father hadn't climbed back into the van yet. Did he pray? What did he ask for on a night like this?

When they pulled away, I hurried to the parking lot beside the library, nearly slipping on the slick pavement. I through myself into my little white Mustang, glad to be out of the rain, and sat in the relative silence for a few moments.

I had to fight back a demon I thought I had tamed a long time ago.

The demon came from guilt. I knew it was not my fault, what had happened to Gian. I hadn't been responsible for what Akio did: I wasn't in the car with her and I hadn't given her the drugs. I hadn't even seen her since English class that morning.


But Akio Kimura had been my best friend. Except for Gian, there had been no one outside my family whom I cared for as much as I did her. She had become my little sister and I'd found delight in helping her learn English and in sharing my world with her. I hadn't laughed with my older sister as much as I had laughed with Akio.

And she had betrayed me. She had tried to kill the boy I loved -- the one she had been getting closer to, as well. Double betrayal. Little Akio, who hardly spoke any English when she had first arrived two years before; who had always been so shy and lost that even Missy showed occasional kindness to her.

She'd barely been in America two months when her father met and married Nadine O'Hara, a wannabe actress with pretensions that put Missy Murphy to shame. We had all felt sorry for Akio.

The question of why it had happened had plagued me for months. School councilors had tried to help. None of it made sense, and in the end that was what I had been forced to accept.

I'd been okay with it, until tonight and Missy's cut that opened the wounds again.

Only Mrs. Berlin's car remained in the parking lot, and I didn't want her to find me here when she came out. Unfortunately, I didn't want to be anywhere else. I would have to go home and deal with my parents. My father worked with Seiji Kimura, and I only now remembered he had died today. Mr. Kimura had seemed almost as lost as his daughter sometimes. And Nadine had left him within a year of the accident. I felt badly that I hadn't even thought about him.

I didn't need a new form of guilt.

I had thought -- well, not that the nightmare was over, because I saw Gian every day, and couldn't just forget about why he sat in the wheelchair. But the pain had died down over the last year and a half. I had seen Gian improve. I had hopes that things would, somehow, get back to normal.

A stupid, childish wish. I knew that now.

The lights went out in the main part of the library, the huge glass front going dark. Only a few circle of lights filled the darkness and I suddenly felt very alone. Mrs. Berlin would be heading for her car, the SUV next to mine. I needed to be away.

I started the car and began to press down on the gas, anxious --

Too anxious. The wheels spun and I almost lost control just backing out. That brought me back to my senses. I didn't want to end up in an accident -- I thought about hurting someone the way Gian had been hurt. The thought made me so ill I almost couldn't move the car at all.

Control. I could handle a little rain. I made myself back up slowly and go carefully out of the water slick parking lot onto the road. Streetlights made to look like old gas lamps lit puddles and emerging flowers. Nearly summer. Graduation and prom were coming soon. Next fall I'd be in college, away from Deervale and everything that had happened here.

Away from Gian.

It was a good thing it was raining. No one would notice my mascara running from the tears.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Welcome to 2011

So far I'm not impressed. It's VERY cold. My back is giving me an incredible amount of trouble and there is snow that needs shoveled (not a good combination). I stayed up past midnight and did some writing, though not very much. I've started the 4th Devlin book, and I think it's going to be better once I feel up to actually sitting in chairs and stuff.

So, overall, it's hard to approach the start of 2011 with any kind of enthusiasm when you are walking like Igor and mumbling under your breath as you move from room to room.

My total number of words for 2010 was 1,039,963 -- which is better than I had hoped to do. Of that, there were nine novels, though only two were brand new. It was my year for reworking older stuff from scratch, and that worked out VERY well for me. I am somewhat starting out this year in the same way, though I also have two huge projects in the outline/world building phase.

Last night I decided that I want to write more short stories, too. I like that idea.

So my plans for 2011 are somewhat nebulous this year. I have work that needs to be done and things I hope to do for fun. Right now, though, most of me wants just a quiet, calm writing year with fun stories. I think I can manage that if I put my mind to it.

Here's hoping that 2011 goes well for all of us.
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