Paired Writing Techniques

The year is 202X. Technology and progress have advanced to such a point that two nerds can get together and create poetry from thousands of miles apart. What a time to be alive!

While solo writing will always be the norm, it’s easier and more reasonable to share the experience with co-writers than ever. The Expanse, a recent book-turned-television series phenomenon, is actually a team effort by Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck under the pseudonym James S.A. Corey. The San Cicaro series is no stranger to paired writing either. While working on Beasts of San Cicaro and Decades of San Cicaro (which is out this week by the way), Andrew and I got together to create the misadventures of one Olivia Murphy, the book series’ new hostess.

“By why?” the naysayers scream. “Why would I share writing credit with anyone? The glory is mine alone! There can be only one!

Eaaaaaasy Highlander… I can think of three good reasons.

Continue reading

Writer vs Editor

It’s been… a long time since I’ve written anything here. Perhaps four years plus interest. Originally I shut this blog down to focus on Thunderbird Studios. Things change, and here I am again. Doing my own thing. Focusing on just writing once more.

My tenure as editor ends after this month. The forthcoming Decades of San Cicaro will likely be the last time I serve in this capacity for the foreseeable future.

I’ve learned so much from editing, but I don’t enjoy who it made me become. As an editor, you train yourself to seek weakness in other people’s work. To catch errors and faults, to strengthen prose and fill plot holes. Yet every changed line left me wondering if it was right or fair. Where was the boundary between their words and my own? Editing even erodes one’s ability to enjoy reading for the sake of entertainment. I found myself seeing problems in media I once adored.

Continue reading

Production Blues

Work calls and my head is just not in the game. Too much is going on this week, so perhaps a few paragraphs might take my mind off matters.

As of this blog, I am getting closer to the final touches on two anthologies. Both are due out in roughly a month. The first, Welcome to San Cicaro, is an urban fantasy and horror anthology written by authors besides me. Yep, I’ve taken the job as “just editor” on this one. The other anthology, Banner Saga: Tales from the Caravan, is one story from being finished with edits. Because it’s intended as a collection of shorter Banner Saga works, a few pieces of mine will be a part of that one.

The next few months will be critical. I’ve been jotting down ideas, some of which are for team-based projects that other writers and artists maybe invited to. Others are for personal novels or works I’ve been dreaming about for a long, long time… and put off.

The latter point is interesting to me. Nothing I’ve ever done has been 100% mine alone. The Bolthole anthologies, The Gift of Hadrborgand the aforementioned upcoming releases… they’ve all either leaned on others or have involved a franchise. And I feel I know why that is.

One of my biggest fears is to finally hit that degree of success, only to be defined solely by that one win. I dread the thought of writing dozens of novels around the same character, never visiting a hundred other minds in scores of unique settings. To never wear a thousand masks and live a thousand lives.

I don’t understand authors who are happy with revisiting the characters, again and again. I’m fine with it for a while, perhaps with one sequel. But so repeatedly? When is one satisfied? But who am I to judge. I can’t say I’ll know satisfaction after completing my own dreams. Perhaps I too will not know happiness in creation, and know not whether I seek an elusive magnum opus or pray that it is illusive.

Oh. Yeah. And we’re closing on a house tomorrow.

Lean, Mean 2018

2018 certainly started right.

Late last year, Manuel, Andrew and I were talking about new projects for Thunderbird Studios. I pitched a few ideas, but also sent them the first half of a short story I’ve been struggling with. Yet Andrew and Manuel were excited enough for the tale that we swept almost all other projects off the table to work on a comic book for it.

Yesterday, a few hours of New Year’s Eve were spent finishing a 16-page long script. And today, the second draft. Manuel, our artist, received it this afternoon with the intention of printing, reading and returning revisions.

It might sound strange for an artist to do this, but here’s the thing. Writing a comic book script can be anything between writing and writing/graphic design. Pages have to be written with an idea of how many panels they’ll involve. We have to consider how much space is needed not just to show (rather than tell) the story, but also for speech balloons, sound effects and narration.

“Show don’t tell” is generally good advice for novice writers of novels and short stories, yet there are limits. For example, the difference between telling and showing could be the difference of one or two narrative sentences versus three to five additional paragraphs, pages… or even entire chapters.

So the question becomes whether or not the information conveyed in those brief sentences is worth:

  1. The extra time for the writer to produce the new content.
  2. The cost for the editor to check the extra material.
  3. The increased price of formatting the expanded manuscript.
  4. The expenses of printing them (physical copy only).
  5. The reader’s time to read it.

That last point is actually the most important. If that new content entertains readers, the combined effort of all the prior steps is likely validated. If not, then everyone’s time and money was wasted. If you need proof to believe me, try reading The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson. Or even just reading the comments and reviews.

Being pedantic can be a writer’s sin.

With comics, the problem can actually be reversed. The “show” aspect is naturally handled through the art. You can even tell a tale that intrigues readers’ speculations by removing all dialogue and narration. The Darkest Dungeon comics (online and free) are really good about this.

But when you want to confirm needed details or convey aspects of the world that are beyond the scope of the story, actually telling the story can be the way to go. It would be quite the challenge (not to mention expense) to draw everything.

As I’m finally getting back into the swing of writing, I’m hoping to be able to handle all revisions on the script, then fire and forget it. This may sound optimistic but part of my problem is that things keep “bubbling back” and grabbing my ankle. I end up getting pulled into many small issues that need work, affecting other projects.

Lately I’m trying to solve these issues by focusing on shorter works. While comics take about the same amount of time as short stories, novellas are considerably faster than novels. They’re also easier. Usually I find myself staring at a novel synopsis and scratching out entire sections that are nothing but “filler.” Or if they don’t fulfill two of the following three needs:

  1. Developing characters
  2. Advancing plot
  3. Expanding the world

I actually sat down and took a hard look at the math on novellas on Amazon’s sites. With e-books, it actually makes great sense. In print, it’s certainly possible although the extended distribution options can force prices above what I feel comfortable charging. But after taking a quick look at my well-selling novel, I noticed that extremely few of my sales come from those channels.

Let’s see what the new year brings…

Genre Writing (And Keeping Your Audience In Mind)

Coming down off the high of writing my first novel, I’ve returned to short story writing. I picked out four submission windows which interest me. Amusingly, I’ve jumped the vein of crime and horror writing and have been focusing my time more and more on fantasy, and am keeping an eye on science fiction. This was all part of my plan to alternate writing “what I know” and slowly expand and improve on what I don’t.

Of the four submission windows, two are fantasy, one is modern-meets-fantasy and the last is military science fiction. These days, it’s important to mention the intended sub-genre. Especially with fantasy, lest the editor be swarmed with Western medieval stories.

It’s not that European mythologies are bad or can’t be done well. The problem is that it’s too easy, too accessible. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, The Lord of the Rings, The Witcher and Game of Thrones along with the books can easily trick hordes of fans into believing they are experts on the original mythologies and/or histories from which these works originated. One submission window I saw sometime back described the resulting work as, “fan fiction with the serial numbers filed off.”

I’ve long begun my research on the cultures of one particular story I have in mind and the pieces are coming together slowly. But while I was at a family reunion for the fourth of July, a story came to me like a bolt out of the blue. The idea had everything I really need, from the characters to the plot and the themes.

What made me laugh was that this story idea was for the genre I am least ready for—science fiction.

It’s been three years since I last attempted an independent (as in, not built on any pre-established intellectual property) science fiction story. After my last rejection, my friends explained to me that the intended publishers are tremendous believers (not just fans) of Star Trek. That it was the greatest sci-fi show ever concocted.

Since then I’ve figured that you can really learn a lot about a person from the kind of sci-fi they like.

I’ve wondered why that is and I would guess that as “science” is seen as a measurable metric of progress, science fiction can easily emphasis a positive view of the future. It’s not difficult to see science for the acts of technical, biological or chemical engineering. But stories have also investigated application of the scientific method on politics, history, sociology and exploration, some of which take us off the desired path.

I’ve barely saw more than a few scenes of the original Star Trek television series. But I have watched the original six movies, and both the movies and several episodes of The Next Generation. And yes, both of the J.J. Abrams films. The universe is surprisingly optimistic about our species, as most of the problems tend to revolve around foreign crises, the occasional distress call, time traveling to fix or prevent problems. Intra-humanity problems often take a backseat to Klingon aggression or Borg threats.

Sometimes I wonder if there isn’t some humanitarian pride hinted with Star Trek, as the Federation tends to cast us as a fairly advanced species compared to many of our war-inclined galactic neighbors. Although to be fair, I think most of its fans would stop short of saying the series depicts a total utopia. But if Star Trek is the pinnacle of our views as to what humanity can be, every franchise, book and movie after that slowly steps down that scale, away from the suggested, bright future.

I think from there, one could go down the list and classify each kind of science fiction for each kind of person. Very often, I suspect that it’s less about whether or not people are into sci-fi as a total genre and more about whether the sub-genre is to the audience’s taste. People who would roll their eyes at Star Wars and Star Trek could very well love Blade Runner or The Hunger Games, while never realizing that the latter is post-apocalyptic and both are varying degrees of dystopian visions of the future. Likewise, I remembered an amusing article which reminds us all that the family friend film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is steampunk.

So try to keep this in mind when working with your lab rats beta-readers to best figure preferred genres and tropes.

The Home Stretch

Yeah, I really hoped that the novel would be finished by now. But it isn’t.

I wrapped up the first draft, then proofed it. A good friend edited and returned it to me, and I improved it based on his invaluable input. After which, the draft was submitted to the beta readers and the major sponsors whose blessing I need.

And yes, they’ve provided their feedback.

A few canonical corrections are needed, and some improvements to the logic. But there are no more bottlenecks, so any delays are entirely my own. This would be the third round of editing. I guess I dread the possibility of a fourth round, as there will be at least one final party (beyond those already mentioned) who needs to provide approval before my work goes to print.

Is an author’s first novel always the hardest? The entire process has been a learning experience, and although I was able to apply a great deal of the hard earned experience from my previous anthologies, there was plenty of new lessons, new discoveries, and new stumbling blocks.

I have a rule that I don’t read the blogs of other, more established authors unless they’re a carefully cultivated platform for advising authors, like Anne R. Allen. There are two reasons for this. First, I don’t want their views to spoil my enjoyment of their work. And second, some of them cruelly and intentionally make the process sound more difficult if not impossible, to ward away competition.

But now I wonder if perhaps they could have warned me how hard being a writer can be, or perhaps provided valuable tips to help. I want the emotional explanations, wisdom and the insights they gained without ranting or venting frustrations or being put down for “threatening” their position. It has made me more thankful towards the few authors I’ve grown to view as mentors, and the handful of my writing friends I’ve picked up along the way.

So I intend to have the third and hopefully final draft complete by June 6th, and refuse to post another blog entry until then. Even this post was written on Friday and programmed for release today, just to provide some news and explain my upcoming silence. That is how badly I need to put off further distractions.

Spring 2015 Catalog

The small press publishing game is a very slow one. It’s easy to assume that last sentence is a complaint, but rather it’s insider knowledge of the challenges it takes to publish a good book.

msjWith multi-author anthologies, the biggest delays are obtaining rights, editing, and checking the changes against the authors’ permissions. Another time sink is the formatting, when one realizes the spacing between paragraphs and sentences is not uniform, or various word processors or fonts apply their own twist on the appearance of quotes and apostrophes. With electronic books, a relatively centered body of text is usually fine. But print has to account for the left-versus-right spaces between the pages themselves, lest words sink towards the spine.

I’ve been through the process enough to know.

Sorry, I’m digressing. But with good reason. I’ve been glancing over my bibliography and find it unfortunate that several of my tales have gone out of print with the closing of Cruentus Libri Press a year ago.

But between those stories and the expiration of publishing rights for The Black Winds Whispers, I now have a flash piece, three short stories and a novelette for republishing. Material enough to cobble together a low cost, personal anthology.

The central theme of this potential anthology is horror, but the sub-genres are more eclectic. I have a mystery and detective piece that takes place in London during the 70s. I have a World War I story between France and Germany, a psychological-medical tale, and the short, “The Child of Iron” which seemed a favorite amongst the beta readers. A fine mix of various forms of horror.

GuardiansWhile this is a very good start, I feel the need to provide a little more to make a satisfactory book. I’ve been glancing through my old drafts for any works I could dust off and improve. There is a World War II horror tale that certainly has promise.

I also realized that the rights to Welcome to Hell have ended. Which means that my horror western “The Rusted Star” can now be used. That makes for six pieces. I think that’s a solid measure.

There are also quite a few dark fantasy pieces (including one with Cthulu mythos in the Indus Valley civilization), but I feel that fantasy would be a theme-breaker for this anthology. Everything else is either current or historical, so I’d rather reserve those fantasy works for something else. I’ll see what I can find.

I’ve already contacted Manuel about a book cover and plan to take some time to review the old work throughout next month.

Because the majority of the manuscripts are finished and have been edited once, I think it’s reasonable I can have the entire thing complete and available by Halloween of this year. In the mean time, my faithful readers, here are a few other titles to check out.

“Favours the Prepared” from the Fox Pocket: Guardians.

To the outside world, Marissa is a reclusive shut in, remaining in her apartment and never showing her face. In truth, she is awaiting visitors.

The Good Fight“Sins and Dust” from Mad Scientist Journal: Winter 2015.

A historical-horror tale of genuine mad science that takes place during the Dust Bowl storms of the 30s. A gut wrenching look into the emotional toll of the Great Depression, and the desperate lengths we would go to for our loved ones.

“The Beast in the Beauty” from The Good Fight.

Coming soon from Emby Press is our (yes, our!) biggest and best tale yet. Sara is a high school student with a bright future. But her graduation plans are dashed when she discovers that someone she knows has broken into her school and violently slain several people. But the truth changes the course of her life forever… and launches her into a war behind the scenes, taking place in the same universe as Jonathan Ward’s “The Falcon” and A.R. Aston’s “For a Fistful of Diamonds” which both are in this anthology.

The Good Fight is the prologue to Outliers, a superhero epic quarterly series we’re developing with a few other authors. So don’t miss it!

Tough Times For Authors

A BBC article has reported that 5% of authors made 42% of income from published works in 2013. The number of authors who can make a living writing has dropped from 40% (back around 2003) to 11.5%. I strongly recommend you read the article yourself.

The news made me grimace a little. Something like this wasn’t entirely unexpected by any means. A first hand look at sales reports illustrates how difficult it is to earn much. But seeing one’s fears in the raw numbers does give me pause.

When someone encounters a disheartening situation, it pays to take a pragmatic glance at one’s goals. My personal objective was to build my name enough that perhaps I can comfortably write full-time when I retire. As it stands, my retirement is no less than 30 years away, and a lot can happen in those three decades. This report proved that the market has changed, and is probably preparing itself for a kind of bubble in the next couple of years.

marchingtimeBubbles, at least in the context of markets, are never fun. Amazon’s e-publishing services are a blessing and a curse in this regard, for they opened the flood gates and removed barriers to entry. I can’t complain, because if Amazon hadn’t offered these services, our anthologies like Far Worlds and Marching Time would never have been published. And some of the publishing companies I’ve worked with might not exist either.

But as Amazon has removed our inhibitions, they’ve also gone on to inflame our passions. Although not the only company to do so, Amazon’s print-on-demand service CreateSpace is a proud contributor to National Novel Writing Month. In 2013, there were over 310,000 contributors to that and more than 42,000 winners. Even if as little as .5% of just the winners decided to push their work onto Amazon in the next year, it creates a deluge of new titles for sale. And that doesn’t include the other 268k non-winning contestants who could finish and submit later.

The pressure is not going to alleviate for a while. It will eventually. There are many of folks who will realize that they only ever had one story in them. Others just wanted to crank out a novel for the sensation of accomplishment. And still others may realize that being a full-time author was not quite what they hoped to be their calling.

In the end, the situation only serves to reinforce the same rule that being a writer is tough and persistence is the only way it can pay off. I guess it finally makes sense of that old phrase how the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Injuries Journal Part II

There was good news yesterday.

At 6:30 pm, I started feeling pain in my neck, the first serious spike of the entire day. That was a long stretch without feeling discomfort. I had taken two aspirin that morning and four ibuprofen in two sets of two throughout the day. No Tiger Balm and limited use of the heating pad and ice packs. No carpal tunnel in my hands and only a bit of discoordination in my foot. That’s a great sign because normally I feel that discomfort around 2 pm.

I regretted skipping lunch though. Come noon I just wasn’t hungry, so I snacked on a few pretzel sticks that went down fine enough. For dinner there was a casserole of chicken, broccoli, cheese and brown rice. Great news there too in that I only needed to swallow tea every three or four bites to ward off the brain freeze. Another improvement.

This morning was rough however. And I don’t know whether it was adverse sleeping conditions or just the extreme cold outside, as it was briefly less than 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I felt pretty fatigued in my limbs, particularly my legs. There was an ache in my neck and shoulders but that went away with walking. I had a tough time swallowing the dry bread sample at Pete’s Coffee, and I felt a twinge of pain in my heart, probably from muscles being pulled there. But just a dash of the heating pad and I feel fine now.

A little later, I noticed some asymmetry in my right soleus (part of the calf), above the ankle but below the gastrocnemius. I realized the muscle was quite sore, and when I checked the less swollen opposite muscle, it too ached of soft muscle pain. I believe that my fatigue is actually being caused by stress from my neck throughout my entire body, which might explain why my physique has increasingly looked buff despite my lack of even looking at the gym. Some muscle relaxant on it has allowed my legs to recover from the exhaustion.

A friend of mine who usually prefers to remain nameless recommended something called epsom salts, a compound of magnesium and sulfur that has considerable muscle relaxing properties in the bath. It’s also very cheap, and available at our local Target and Walmart stores (for my foreign readers, Target and Walmart are the big budget department stores in this country). I will try to obtain some soon for both current and later problems.

However, I truly suspect that the cold is masking the symptoms of my condition behind the effects of the chill. I think I’ll hold off on the doctor until next week (unless of course the problem goes away by then).

In other news… I finished the first draft of my novel.

It was a stretch, I admit. That last chapter always taking just a bit a longer than I anticipate. I ended up not accomplishing everything I intended to that day, but finishing a novel is certainly nothing to complain about. I’m going to be taking a few days break from it while I work on a few other submissions, including a Black Library submission piece my friend wants me to take a look at and an edited manuscript from Emby Press that I need to review and approve. I also have a novel pitch I need to wrap up and submit very shortly.

Cover Art of New Anthologies

Babies require a lot of care. Diapers, food, love, it’s quite a bit. But sometimes, you get a special child. Sometimes, you’ll need holy water, fire, sunlight, garlic, silver bullets and girded loins. Cruentus Libri Press is firmly aware of the difficulties such children can be, and thus have concocted an anthology of cautionary tales to prepare the lucky parents of monster babies.

"Aw look at em! He's a coconut this guy..." -Famous Last Words

“Aw look at em! He’s a coconut, this guy…” -Famous Last Words

But wait! There’s more! As if horror tales involving pint sized sociopaths weren’t enough, we can even bring in the family doctor! Also including a story by yours truly!

There's pretty much no healthcare joke I can make that won't anger somebody right now...

On the bright side, your HMOs got this.

Look for both these new anthologies this month!