Monday, September 30, 2013

Macyntire & Hough Excerpt!

Here's an excerpt from my novel, Macyntire & Hough. Enjoy!


Tadin was very relieved to be back in the apartment. Shelley had no problem working down in the gallery, but it made Tadin very nervous. There were too many windows. He felt much more at home in the bedroom, seated in the armchair, watching Shelley wind down for the night. The apartment consisted of a kitchen, living room, a small bathroom, and, of course, the bedroom. After her nightly routine, Shelley curled up in bed with her beloved, if a little senile, black cat, Kismit, (Tadin hated that name) and dozed off with a book still in her hand.

As she slept, Tadin got up from his seat and walked over to the edge of the bed — not to watch Shelley, but to see what she had been reading. Careful not to wake her, he reached down and slid the book from her limp hand.

It was a romance, of course; the kind with two people kissing passionately in each other’s arms on the cover. This one had a picturesque beach that was way too bright. Corny as the cover was, the couple looked a lot warmer than Shelley’s room felt right now.

A chill breeze drifted in through the window. Even with Fall threatening to change to winter at the drop of a hat, Shelley still kept the window open at night until the last possible moment.

He was just settling into a worn copy of Great Expectations when he felt a dramatic shift in the temperature. It felt like someone had just opened an ice box.

Sitting up in the armchair, he glanced around the room. For a second he thought it was just his imagination, that the sudden cold was natural. But, then he looked over to the window and saw a figure standing outside.

“Hello, Tadin.” The figure’s voice was raspy, reminding Tadin of an old newspaper machine that needed grease.

He set his book down on the end table and tried not to make any sudden movements.

The figure wasn’t human by any means, though it was definitely male. Tadin encountered many variations of the same, but this creature was a lot taller than most, standing nearly five-and-a-half feet tall. Normally they were four feet at most. Instead of skin, this creature was cloaked in bubbling, burnt flesh with the consistency of melted linoleum. His face looked like a deformed goat, with horns protruding from a crop of stringy hair.

The creature was unmistakably a demon.

“What are you doing here, Aleister?” Tadin said, getting to his feet. “I haven’t seen your hideous mug in a long time.”

“Yes,” Aleister said, his face twisting into a disturbing grin. “Not since you passed, all those years ago. I was wondering where you’d set up camp.”

He took a step forward until his head poked through the curtains, and Tadin heard the sound of hooves on the fire escape outside. Kismit hissed up on the bed.

“That’s far enough,” Tadin said. He didn’t know exactly what Aleister was doing peering into Shelley’s bedroom, but normally with demons, they only came for one thing, and that was to collect the souls of the dead — and occasionally torment the living. If Aleister was here for him, he could try and run for it. If he was here for Shelley, there wasn’t much he could do to fend off a demon on his own.

“Not nervous, are you?” Aleister asked. He reached out a three-fingered hand and stretched it across the room, waving it in the air a few inches above Shelley’s bed.

“I said that’s enough,” Tadin stepped forward this time, fists clenched. “You’re not allowed in here without permission.”

“Of course. Demons aren’t welcome anywhere, are they? But we take what we want — without setting foot.” He licked his lips.

“What do you want?”

“You know what I want,” Aleister’s hand came to hover above Shelley’s chest, right over her heart. The demon leaned down, breathing in a long, deep drag of Shelley’s aroma. “Can you believe how delicious that smells? Just like a red wine. It gets better with every passing year. Oh, I crave it.” His eyes slid shut and he straightened back up to look at Tadin. “I could do so many things to this one. What would you like? Cancer? Tremors? Alas, I have to control myself. This one is not for me. Yet. I answer to someone a lot more powerful.”

Of course, thought Tadin. Aleister was merely a messenger. He should have remembered that from the first time he saw the creature. Aleister worked for someone of higher rank — someone he’d evaded since his death.

“Tell Haures I’m not going anywhere.”

“Believe me, that’s exactly what he wants,” Aleister ran his tongue across the front of his teeth. “Makes you easier to collect.”

“So, he’s still haunting that old bar down on Exchange Street?”

“Of course,” Aleister said. “You know his kind. They’re very territorial. They need an unassuming place to keep their collections. They also like to see them grow regularly. He’s had your name on the list for a long time. You’re quite valuable to him. Like I said, with age comes value. There’s a big reward waiting for me for taking you in.”

“Sorry to disappoint, but you’re not taking me anywhere,” Tadin said, and Kismit hissed once more at the demon.

Aleister gave him another eerie grin and reached down to the bed, this time taking a lock of Shelley’s brown hair into his hand.

“You think I forget,” he started, “that you spirits only have enough energy to manipulate the physical realm in small pieces. What if I took this girl instead of you, hmm? You couldn’t rescue her from my grasp if you tried, and even if you were to wake her, you’d only heighten her fear with consciousness.”

“You don’t intimidate me!” Tadin took another step forward. “I may be a spirit, but I can still kick your ass.”

“Oooh! Prove it.”

Tadin lunged across the room, his feet leaving the ground, and he slammed into Aleister’s chest.


Check out Macyntire & Hough on Kindle and Amazon this October!

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Excerpt Coming!

Just a quick announcement to check back tomorrow at noon for an exclusive excerpt from Macyntire & Hough. You'll get a taste for what's to come!

The Bling Ring (2013)

This review is a little more informal than my normal reviews. My past reviews, while technically fulfilling, were very exhausting to write. I prefer to speak generally about the films that I love, and I definitely loved The Bling Ring.

If you were like me, you didn't get a chance to see this film in theaters. It ended up coming to Portland for a week, but I was unable to find someone to go see it with me and ended up not going. Thankfully the film hit Redbox a month later and I found myself eagerly waiting to make it home in order to see what all the fuss was about.

The fuss was entirely Emma Watson. She is fantastic in this movie, and I found myself laughing out loud and cringing at the same time. I laughed because her character, Nicki, was so flaky that you couldn't believe that she was supposed to exist in the real world. I cringed because her character did indeed exist in the real world - albeit, under a different name, probably due to some protection of privacy requests.

The film follows a group of California teens who decide to rob various celebrities while they are away enjoying the good life. It was shocking that many of these homes were so easy to get into. Who locks their front door but forgets to lock the patio? Nearly every point of entry was a sliding glass door.

Part of the novelty of this film is that many of the stars allowed the director, Sofia Coppola, to film in their real homes. This meant that most of the possessions in the shots are the real deal. I drooled over some of these places! I love architecture and interior design, and some of these homes were to die for. I didn't particularly like the ones that were made almost entirely of glass, however. It makes me feel like living in a fish tank.

In the end, of course, the teens are caught and arrested. Robbing people seemed like such a stupid thing to do in order to fulfill a high. Didn't these teens get involved in drama, or writing, or something creative with their time? Apparently not. The lesson is, don't take things that belong to you. For the rich viewers, the lesson is to lock your doors and have security alarms. Coppola made the experience feel authentic and organic, something that I really appreciated and kept me watching even when things slowed down briefly near the middle.

Moral of the story part two: Fame is fleeting. Don't go crazy trying to get it. Once you have it, it doesn't last forever.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Made To Suffer

Are writers gluttons for punishment?

I have been hearing the words of C-3PO in my mind all week saying, "We seem to be made to suffer. It's our lot in life." What writer hasn't thought those same exact words at one time or another about themselves?

Writers are a particular breed. It seems like there are many of us, but really, I only know two or three in my general circle of friends. I also only know of two people in my county who have published something on Amazon. Since we're part of a smaller community here in Maine, I find that personally, I tend to fall prey to different things that are trying to steal my time and money.

The biggest leach of a writer's time and money is a book on craft. There used to be only a small handful of these books on the shelf, many of which I own and love - but now, with eBooks, there are hundreds of writing technique books that claim they have the secret to wealth, fame, and fortune. We all remember what happened to Indy when he stepped into the Temple of Doom looking for fortune and glory. He almost lost his heart down in a pit of volcanic fire!

I'm not saying that all writing technique books are a waste of money. I've purchased two or three this year that I found to be really interesting and gave me some pointers that I am now using. But, if you're the kind of writer who buys anything on Amazon that says it has the secret to writing best-selling fiction, fight the urge to click "buy"! There is no real secret to being a best-seller. We've all seen this throughout the ages, and even digitally now. How did the writers on the best-seller list on Amazon do it?

With a good story that connected with readers en-masse at that particular point in time. It's not the keywords (though these are incredibly helpful) and it's not a marketing scheme. It's a good, old-fashioned story that connected with readers. They have great covers, great premises, and great characters.

I can speak from experience. Keywords can only get you so far. Your book needs to be discoverable. That's true, and that's useful. But, how many books have crossed my path on Amazon daily as I look for something that catches my attention? Hundreds of thousands. I just want to point out that because these books came in front of my face didn't mean that I bought them. I judged them the way that others have - and that's by seeing if the cover catches my attention - is it a work of art? Does it look beautiful? If it did, then I clicked to read their blurb.

Honestly, the list of reviews in the description generally turns me away because I hate scrolling down to read what the book is actually about. It might get the writer a few more sales, but in my case, if I had great reviews, I would put them after the blurb about the book. Essentially, if it's your cup of tea, then you buy it. If not, you pass it by. There is no secret. It all comes down to connecting with readers on the store level, and then on the page level. And it takes time. I fully expect it to.

So, if you're looking for a book about craft to read, make sure you choose wisely. There are a lot of fleecers out there looking to make a few bucks off the indy writers looking to hone their craft. We want to be educated, but we don't want to pay the cost of tuition to do so. We also don't want to pay $4.99 for a piece of vague filler. There isn't room on our Kindles for that!

Friday, September 27, 2013

Short Attention Span

I've been pondering the way that readers are experiencing books in the wake of the tablet revolution, and some of it is affecting me the way that the streaming binge-watching on Netflix has maxed out my ability to really enjoy an episode of television. Readers are reading more with eBooks. There are tons of options out there right now, and as with Netflix, some of the options are great, and some are not so great. There is filler, hoping that you will click on it because you liked something similar, the way that whenever a hit movie comes out, you can reliably find a rip-off on Netflix immediately with a word changed in the name (ala Jack The Giant Killer as opposed to Slayer).

Even if the readers aren't actually reading what they download to their tablets, they are still stockpiling a ton of digital books that they hope to someday enjoy. I'm guilty of this hoarding, and I have to say that because it's "free" really entices me to just download and add to my stash. I love trick-or-treating, after all!

But, this glut of media can be damaging to me as a reader. Yes, there are more options than ever, but do I really want to rush through ten books a week just to say that I've read them and not even remember what happened in them the next week? I like my media to be spread out. I like waiting a week to see a new episode of something. The anticipation is what gets me excited.

With all the digital bookshelves of writers growing quickly, I am forced to look at my own output. I'm just starting out, so I'm slower than normal. I have two jobs and a dying car (that will be replaced soon, much to my wallet's dismay!). Even if I wanted to sit down for five hours and write, I am not practiced enough to actually write for that entire time. I made it through a few pages last night and really enjoyed it, but I know I have to speed up a bit.

My question is this: Will the readers really be willing to wait for my work as I write it? It's a legitimate fear in this digital age. Where a writer would put out a single new book a year, that was considered prolific. Now, authors are putting out three books a year, sometimes more than that, and it's considered the norm. Can I ever get to that?

I hope so. I just need to keep my fingers crossed that the audience won't lose interest in me - or pass me over completely - in the quest to find something new and exciting to keep their attention.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Line Edits

I've been going through my manuscript, making line edits, and am surprised at how much tighter my prose has become since the first draft. It really shouldn't be surprising, but I am amazed that the words I'm reading actually came from my brain.

Line editing is essential to any polished manuscript. Despite what your subconscious is telling you, the words on the page are not perfect - or necessarily readable - the way they spewed out of your pen in the throes of passionate creative writing. Take a look at Stephen King's On Writing and you'll find that he has an entire section that shows his first draft complete with his line edits and reasons for why he made the changes he did.

I'll admit that when I first read that section about two years ago, I was sure that my work would never look that beaten up.

Surprise, surprise - my work was even more beaten up!

The goal of line editing is to say something in a simpler, more direct way that gets the point across without rambling or using huge words that don't need to be there. If I can combine two sentences into one shorter sentence without losing the message I need to get to the reader, I will.

Don't be afraid of this process. Treat your first draft like the rough shape of a clay sculpture. You get it roughly to where it needs to be, then you start trimming and shaping until that clay is a beautiful sculpture exactly the way you envisioned it. This process takes time. I already went through my manuscript once and line-edited the crap out of it. Now I'm going through it a second time on my Kindle, reading it paragraph by paragraph to catch any lingering issues. If you want more on that process, see my previous post here.

If you've made it this far, you owe it to your book and your future readers to pay close attention to each sentence and paragraph. As we all know, those sentences together make up the large tapestry of our story, and there's no room for a bad thread in such a large quilt!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Working With Beta Readers

I have to start out this post with my main thought, which is, beta readers are fantastic. I don't know where I would be if it weren't for the handful of readers that I've shown my work to and discussed feedback. However, I feel like my first foray into the land of beta readers is different from most people's perceptions of what it must be like all the time. So, I thought I'd share my journey for anyone who is currently looking to use beta readers so that they know what to expect aside from the stories from established authors with a devoted team of readers.

I don't have a devoted team of readers yet. My start into the world of beta readers began first with my mother (I know, not an unbiased opinion, but she is a great beta for the beta). I gave her the first half of the manuscript and she read it...really...slowly. It also isn't her cup of tea for genre. However, she made it through the entire first half, so I completed the second draft and set out to find people I know who would read it.

I started with people I work with. They aren't writers, for the most part, but they are readers. I found two co-workers who read extensive amounts of romance and paranormal to check out my manuscript. I also looked for people I went to school with - mostly in different states now, so they haven't seen me physically in about two years. Once they agreed, I sent out the PDF via email, and waited to hear back.

To be fair, I gave my readers about a month to get through the entire 230 pages - that page count being 250 words per paperback page. Yes, I did the math, and the page count on the PDF did not match the page count I gave them, which was deceiving. Still, my first beta reader, one of my college friends, read the manuscript in a weekend and was instantly texting me thoughts and errors where I'd messed up the typing.

When it came to my co-worker, the voracious reader, she got through the first half of the book and gave me some feedback that was very useful and discussed the ending with me since she hadn't made it that far. She is killer at remembering tiny details and showed me a few plot threads that I hadn't explored. I used those threads to add a twist to the finale that I really like and think adds a bit of depth to the epic battle between good and evil.

But, beyond those two people, nobody else has reliably read any of my book. They were too busy, or life took a turn, and they didn't manage to get past the first chapter.

What do you do when this happens? For me, I needed to be gracious because these readers, even though they all knew me, were reading my book for free. The only payment they receive is a free copy of my eBook and a mention in my special thanks section. This is my first book as well, so I've never done this before. I don't have anyone outside of my acquaintances who knows who I am or has looked at my work aside from some Harry Potter fan fiction.

So, as you go into your first beta reading experience, be prepared for people to not read your work. They may be busy, or the book might not be their preferred genre, but for whatever feedback you do get from some of them, guard it like a treasure. I wrote down everything that my friend Sam told me because it was so incredibly valuable to me. I want to be prepared as much as possible before I hit "publish". The good thing about writing is that there is always another book to work at, so even if this one doesn't hit the mark for some readers, I can try again with the next.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bad-Ass Heroines

As I look back at my favorite movie of the summer, Man of Steel, I am meditating on the parts of the movie that were my favorite. Whenever I worked at the cinema (my bosses will love this if they actually read my blog) I would sneak away at the same time every shift to catch the scene where Lois, played by the scene-stealing Amu Adams, is assisted by the memory of Jor-El, played by none other than Russel Crowe. Why was this scene one of my favorites? Let me explain.

In this scene, Lois is trapped on the fortress ship. It's only after she's tried banging on the door for help that she turns and noticed a tiny hole in the framework that is the same shape as an object Clark handed her just before they were captured. She discovers that it's a key. After pressing the key into the lock, Jor-El appears and helps her to escape back to Metropolis.

The characters are showcasing their resourcefulness and ability to learn and develop mentally, just like us. Lois is ready to learn on the fly, and she extends her disbelief at speaking to a digital hologram of Jor-El, so we as the audience also suspend our own disbelief. (For those of you who couldn't, aka, the girl at the concession stand that one time who told me the movie was horrible and that Smallville was also an unwatchable show - shame on you! Just kidding. But, perhaps movies and books about space beings aren't your cup of tea.)

This act of using her wit instantly bonds me mentally with Lois. A character like that is not unlike another famous literary heroine, Hermione Granger. She also connected with readers because she constantly used her wit to get herself and her friends out of danger, and if she didn't know what to do, she learned what to do. Isn't this what we do in real life? True, we aren't fighting an evil dark Lord, but we are learning how to survive our everyday lives and using what we've learned to help each other.

My main character, Shelley, is also one of those types who learns on the fly as she encounters ghosts and demons. I hope that she's resourceful. It's these kind of heroines who pull the plot along when the hero is stuck in his stubborn ways (ahem...Harry). If you're stuck with your characters, try having them learn something new - encounter a new idea or item that they've never seen before. You might be surprised what happens!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Macyntire & Hough Cover Preview!

With publication day coming up for my first novel on October 1st, I thought it would be fun to unveil my cover design for Macyntire & Hough. This design has gone through five different versions to arrive here, and I'm pleased with the end result. While this is a paranormal romance, it's also a contemporary romance. I wanted to steer clear of all the dark, gloomy colors that I traditionally see in paranormal romance covers, and go with something warm since the story takes place during the fall. Without further ado, here it is!

I'd love to hear your thoughts. I have a background in graphic design and was excited to try my hand at putting this together. I've done plenty of movie posters for my short films, and this wasn't too far from that. Hopefully this cover entices some people to check out the story and leave feedback. I'm still waiting for feedback from my betas, so I'm anxious to hear what they think.

Back to my revisions! (You can never do enough revisions before sending something out into the world, and thankfully, in this digital age, even after publication, typos can be fixed!)

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Editing Your Book

Right now I am going through my second-to-last read-through of my book to find typos and misused words before getting feedback from my beta readers. I've received a small chunk of feedback so far, but I'm holding out for the final wave the weekend before I publish. It's going to be a busy time. I'm a perfectionist, and while that hasn't served me well in the drafting stage, it has served me well in this final stage. I feel more confident that the book is stronger because of this attention to detail, and I will explain my process below.

If you own a Kindle (and if you don't, I highly recommend one. If you don't want to get one, you can still use an app on your phone or computer!) I suggest loading your test .mobi file, which is the book file that you will upload to Amazon, and test it out on your reader. I've done this for my current draft to spot typos and formatting errors, and it's helped immensely.

To save on time, keep a document, typed or handwritten - it doesn't really matter which, and have a section for each chapter of your book. As you read each chapter, type out the revisions that need to be done. I do a misspelled word in all caps so that it's easy to go back and see what needs to be done. My eyes play tricks on me sometimes, and I've read my own material so many times that it's almost boring to do so. I know the story like the back of my hand, and spotting a missing letter is hard work. Really take your time with this stage and read the sentence as if you haven't seen it before. You're more likely to find those errors on your tablet than you are in a PDF. It's also good to see the product the way a reader will see it so that you don't get any surprises when you upload. (I'm sure there will be a few of those even with my process!)

There you have it. That's my process for doing a "final" sweep for little crumbs and dust on my manuscript.

If you're interested in seeing what my book cover looks like, check my blog tomorrow at noon to see a peek at my cover! I'm pleased with how it turned out, and would love any thoughts that people have.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

That Lovin' Feelin'

I'm in a very sappy mood today, so I decided to write about a movie couple that is near and dear to my heart.

If you knew me back in the early 2000's you would no doubt have suffered many discussions (actually, me just talking at you) about Sam Raimi's masterful film series Spider-Man, featuring Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst. Those two actors are the key to the entire franchise's success, regardless of what everyone else has to say. I will explain my reasoning for this opinion.

Let me start by saying that I was appalled by the reboot, Amazing Spider-Man, and even walked out of the theater halfway through the film. The characters didn't connect with me on any level, and they felt like cardboard cutouts of the once three-dimensional people I had come to know and love over the course of eight years with Raimi's trilogy. As much as I like Emma Stone as an actress, her portrayal of Gwen Stacy never resonated with me the way Kirsten Dunst's emotional portrayal of Mary-Jane did. As Tobey Maguire's Peter Parker said, "This story is about a girl. That girl." And Miss Dunst nailed it on the head every time.

If you have (or haven't - go out and rent this movie immediately!) seen Spider-Man, watch the scene where Peter returns from testing out his new spider abilities. He's neglected his uncle's plea for help in painting the kitchen and walks in to find that his aunt and uncle are out, finished with the painting. Now Peter comes down from his emotional high with a fresh wave of guilt at forgetting to help his family. He goes outside to take out the trash and runs into who else but the gorgeous Mary-Jane Watson. The girl next door.

Watch through this scene. Do you feel the chemistry and tension between these two characters? The secret that the audience knows is that Peter and MJ need each other, but they just don't know it yet. It works, and it works so well that by the time we get to the finale where MJ is hanging hundreds of feet above death, waiting to be rescued, we are on the edge of our seat, biting our nails to see if she is rescued by Peter (as Spider-Man) or not. It also tugs at our heart strings when we are told by Peter that he can't be with MJ because...he just wants to be friends. Of course, that's just a cover-up for his alter-ego, but MJ doesn't know that. It's the right amount of drama to leave us hanging until the sequel hits (which took so long to arrive, but was so worth it, and is my favorite super hero movie of all time).

Why do these characters work together?

Well, they both have their inner demons, their shortcomings, and their dreams. They have lives outside of high-school and ambitions. They also see each other for who they want to be. Peter encourages MJ to go for her dreams of being an actress, even as her father and boyfriend at the time tell her that she has no chance. MJ encourages Peter to go for a job at being a photographer. In short, these characters are there for each other in a way that everyone else is not. They complete each other. They are good for each other. And we want them together! That desire to see these characters as a couple is what keeps us watching.

I could write an entire post about the new Amazing Spider-Man and how it botched this entire framework, Not to mention that Andrew Garfield's version of Peter Parker flat-out tells Gwen Stacy that he's Spider-Man halfway through the film - all the emotional tension was zapped from the plot before the story even began. Don't do this in your own work, please! Keep the romantic tension. Keep the characters mysterious to a point. We all keep our own secrets as human beings. Nobody will ever know us completely. But, in the case of Peter and MJ, there's a chance that someone can see us for who we want to be and encourage us to go for it. That's what kindles the love between them.

Friday, September 20, 2013

My First Novel - Sneak Peek!

I have read on many blogs that it isn't that important to promote your first eBook, but I can't help myself. I've been working on this project since last October, and as I get closer to my October 1st publication date, I have barely said anything about the book.

Until now!

I thought it would be cool to post the title of my novel and also reveal the synopsis that I plan to use on the "back cover". The book is still with my beta readers, but if anyone has a comment, feel free to let me know what you think!

Without further ado...

Macyntire & Hough

Do life and love continue after death?

Tadin Hough is a ghost who desires a quiet afterlife.

That plan is out the window when he opens an art gallery with Shelley Macyntire, a mortal. Things become more complicated when romance sparks between them.

But, just when things look promising, a demonic soul collector sets his sights on Tadin. His peaceful days with Shelley are numbered.

Can he protect Shelley and everything he loves from being dragged into the bowels of Hell?

Some additional info on the book before I finish - it's the first of a series, though I don't know how many books I plan to do. That all depends on if I can come up with enough stories for the characters. The book is set in my native state of Maine (love it here - especially in the fall, which is when this book takes place) and I'd describe it as a paranormal romance, or at the least, a romantic thriller.

I'll premiere the cover of the book on this blog before publication. Not sure when exactly, so it will be a surprise!

The book is going to be my first time trying KDP Select, so I will make sure to post when the freebie days are for Macyntire & Hough. It might be a little bit, but I'm anxious to see what I can learn from my first publication. Now, back to editing the manuscript!

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Tween Backlash

I've noticed a really disturbing yet amusing trend at the movies this year and part of last, and that's the decline of what I call tween movies. These are generally based on a super-hyped best-selling teenage girl romance series like Twilight or The Hunger Games, and they've been shoveled at us as a global audience, expecting us to just open up and eat them.

Well, the fact is, almost all of these adaptations have fallen flat - not only at the box office, but also as source material.

"But, wait!" you say. "These are best-selling book series! They have a built-in audience! How can the source material be bad?"

I will explain my reasoning. Those statements you just uttered are the same ones that studio executives uttered when they signed the contracts to push these films into production.

It's absolutely true that these book series have a built-in audience. The problem with the audience is that these books are popular because they are books. Moreover, the audience is pre-teen thru teen girls and they are reading these books for escapism. That's right - good, old fashioned escapism. The stories take them away from their math classes, their study halls, and their dramatic, mundane high-school lives and transport them into a world where they are different, special, and the entire world revolves around the decisions they make. I may not be a teenage girl, but I read for the same exact reasons when I was in school - and even now. Authors like Brian Jacques, Robert Jordan, and Terry Goodkind gave me places to go where I belonged.

Now, back to the issue at hand of Hollywood trying to cash in on this literature love. Going to the movies is not the same as reading a book. For one, the amount of time it takes to read a book and get to know the characters is a lot longer than it takes to watch a movie. In two hours a screenwriter will try to cram an entire month's worth of reading and emotional journey-taking with the characters found in The Moral Instruments. It doesn't translate well.

What about the source material?

My argument is that most of these book series, like The Mortal Instruments, for example, started off as fan fiction for mega-hits like Harry Potter. Because of this starting point, the stories become very convoluted, like a stew of all these author's favorite stories tweaked just enough so that they don't get sued for plagiarism. It's disturbing to me as a writer because I haven't before seen such a wave of unoriginality in the book world.

As a disclaimer, I am an advocate for fan fiction. I used to write it myself. I was one of those kids who wanted more of the same. I wanted new stories about Harry, Ron, and Hermione. I wanted them in their own worlds doing new things and surprising me.

I did not, however, want to see someone taking an established franchise and changing the names around, mashing together werewolves and Muggles, and passing it off as a new, original piece of work. I didn't like it when Eragon did it with Tolkien's place names, and I don't like it now with Hollywood capitalizing on it in their marketing campaigns. Some readers may not agree with this, but I stand by my belief that if you are going to write, make sure you write something that is original. Being inspired by your favorite book series is one thing. Converting a piece of fan fiction into an "original" piece of fiction is entirely another.

Yes, they made money on the books. But the rest of the world is not enthused, as the box office displays. There just isn't a market for such shallow adaptations. We want to be introduced to something we've never experienced before. We're waiting for the next literary world to sweep us off our feet and invest our money and minds in the stories that are sure to leap from said world.

I guess my warning is the same one that all my writing professors gave me when I first started out: Borrow delicately. Nobody likes reheated leftovers.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Outlining With Notecards

I just finished outlining another book, and have found a few things that have worked for me.

The entire process of meditation and then the actual process of writing the plot points down with a pen and paper took about two weeks. I needed that time to mull over some ideas that I wanted to fit in, organize each of the story threads (central characters, antagonists, secondary characters) and the end up with a complete story. Beginning, middle, and end.

I know that in Scrivener you have the option of outlining your book like a cork board, and I started doing that. The only issue with me is that I am rarely in front of my actual laptop. If I am, it's because I'm at home and I've made the time. The days of my Macbook Pro being conveniently portable are about two years in the past. Now? I simply carry around my iPad and a notebook (that never fails!) and do all my writing and creative thinking with those. Anyway, I ended up resorting to actual physical notecards this time as I did on my first book.

The easiest part of this process was that I could add notecards and swap them around if they didn't make sense. I love starting at the beginning and working my way to the end. There is an undeniable flow that comes from visualizing the story this way. That may be different for you, but for me, I need to see the cause and effect in chronological order. I did know the ending before I started though, so I wasn't blindly wandering in the dark!

Once this outline was finished, I consulted with one of my beta readers to see what she thought about some of my plot ideas. I ended up getting some other story threads that I hope to explore later on.

Certainly, I suggest using the three act structure like the screenwriters use. It helped me get this story down quickly compared to the months of my first outline, and I am now ready to start writing each chapter. What is the life-upside-down event at the beginning? What is the turning point? The reversal? The black moment of no return?

If you're at this stage in your novel-writing, I highly suggest a stack of notecards. You never know what you might add, subtract, or swap around as your story takes root!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The Power Of Observation

Here are the statistics:

By the time we die we will have spent six months waiting in lines.

What a horrible waste! Think of how much you could get done in six months. I could read a handful of books. I could write a novel and outline a second one, and perhaps even craft a few short stories. Six months?! I want that time to be useful!

The good news is that it can be useful.

My challenge to you is to stop the next time you're waiting in a line and observe both the person in front of you and the person behind you. What impression do they make on you? What do they look like? What are their mannerisms? Perhaps they are a car-full of little league soccer players and the neighborhood mother, carpooling them to practice. What is her life like? It's up to you as the writer to make it up! Be inspired.

Jot down these things after you're done waiting in line, or on your smart phone - wherever you keep your notes, and save these sketches for characters down the line. This is a great way to observe people and get realistic characters out of your time waiting for lunch at the fast food restaurant, or even at the supermarket.

Monday, September 16, 2013

What Ryan Murphy Has Taught Me

It's all about tone.

It's all about the characters.

It's all about their inner demons.

If your work doesn't have these things, it doesn't matter how intricate the plot is - it will fall flat.

Take a look at how many television series get canceled after only four or five episodes. Why don't they click with the audience?

I use the example of Tera Nova, a series that I waited an entire year and a half for. It was supposed to be Jurassic Park meets Dinotopia meets Stargate, and it didn't turn out that way at all. After the first episode the entire series fell flat because the characters weren't strong or consistent enough to keep the viewers interested in their struggles on Tera Nova. Secondly, the tone was all over the place. Was this supposed to be a family drama? A science fiction action/adventure? A romance? The writers didn't seem to know, and the audience definitely didn't know. I lost interest fast. Add to that the one-dimensional character yanked directly from Spielberg's War of the Worlds (no surprise, since he executive-produced this series) and you have a yawn-fest.

With Ryan Murphy's American Horror Story, you know what you're getting from the very first scene. It's horror. A haunted house. Ominous music. The characters are all struggling with their inner demons - and they are believable. We want to know more about them, and we do! Who didn't want to spend more time with Constance Langdon, the extraordinary Jessica Lange? Who wasn't intrigued by Violet and her romance with the troubled ghost, Tate? I couldn't get enough.

Tone is the veil that lays over everything in the story, tying it together into a cohesive whole. If you can get the tone and your characters right - and consistent, everything else will fall into place.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Let's Get Physical!

Or not...

I've been reading a lot of posts lately on different forums, in particular with the digital release of Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, that some people are upset that there is no physical option available for purchase. Being the writer that I am, I looked at this frustration through the lens of eBooks.

I'll admit that I was hesitant to go all-in on Kindle at the beginning. I viewed eBooks as a novelty and not a necessity. After all, I was one of the millions who plunked down cold, hard cash at big book retailers to buy Harry Potter at midnight releases, and even now, I still prowl the book sections at both local BullMoose outlets, looking to feed my hunger for a paperback or even the occasional hardcover.

But, are we really losing anything when it comes to a physical product? More important to note, in my opinion, is this: In many cases there isn't a physical product simply because it doesn't exist. In the case of indie book publishing, this is almost always the case. Unless you go with CreateSpace for a paperback, a physical book like you would pick up at a store just doesn't exist. It's not hidden somewhere - not locked away in the Disney Vault (which still hasn't given me my Aladdin on blu ray!). The product is the digital file, as you can see with the whole Amnesia issue.

Why is having a digital file scary?

Well, I can say that people are always worried that their collections are going to just become deleted someday, and that's fair enough. I went through a year or two when an album I'd purchased on iTunes was unavailable due to a contract expiration and, since I hadn't backed up a physical copy of this album, when my iPod crashed, I was without that album. Poof, goodbye.

But, with the cloud and Amazon, I am not afraid that my eBook collection is going anywhere in a hurry. In fact, I have downloaded books I bought back in 2010 to my new Paperwhite, and they were exactly the same as they were when I purchased them. I believe that is the plus side of all this digital marketplace business - the products don't age.

I can't tell you how many books I've purchased as physical objects that are now collecting dust and wearing away on my shelves at home. They get old. Nothing lasts forever. The surprising thing is, once my eReader becomes obsolete or battered, I can get a new one. My books remain the same quality as they did on day one.

So, as you shop for eBooks and other digital goods, keep in mind that the shelf life doesn't expire on these goodies. This means a lot less dusting in my own home, for which I am always very thankful!

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Name Game

Coming up with names for characters and places can be hard work! It's also one of the most rewarding things I've found about writing fiction. Essentially, you are taking a character from your imagination who is probably a part of you subconsciously, or based on some characteristics of someone you know, etc., and you are giving her life on the page. You add a first and last name and poof! A living person!

I love generating names. Whenever I'm stuck, I will look up some names and write them down as a long list in my notebook. This is great practice to stretch the creative part of your brain. Look through a book of names - I have one that's been kicking around my house from before I was born - and take a peek at what each name means and where it originates from. These pieces of information can be very valuable as you decide what names to give your characters.

JK Rowling is notorious for giving her characters names with subtle meanings. Those little meanings can give insight into your character's personality and why they act they way they do.

I can't begin to discuss the number of people I've met who act a certain way because of their names. It's a little bit like stereotyping. Not 100% accurate, or true, but very common in my experience. Ever known someone named Josh who liked to goof off? That makes sense because "josh" means to joke and tease. See where I'm going with this? When I worked on Ice Cold Gold as an Assistant Editor (Animal Planet), I was tasked with rounding up any moments where certain characters would say something hilarious, or make bizarre facial expressions. More often than not, I would be pulling crazy things that Josh Feldman would say because he was one of the funniest guys on the Greenland team!

If you're stuck creatively, and you want to jump-start your imagination, make a list of names. You can get them from a book of names, Google Maps, even Wikipedia. Try making up a character to go with a name. Who are they? What do they say to you based on just the name alone? You might be surprised with what you find!

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Editing Process!

I thought I would write a post about my editing process, since I've been learning as I go along and perhaps someone else will benefit from what I've found works - and what doesn't.

I have done all my formatting and finishing in Scrivener. Earlier in the writing process, I used Microsoft Word exclusively, but I have moved on from that after a long relationship. I found that software to be too clunky when it came to compiling a Kindle book. Scrivener also gave me a ton of tools that I use on paper and was able to utilize once my writing was formatted digitally.

Once I was finished my first draft I printed out the most basic, single-spaced version of the chapters I could get. This decision was mostly for monetary reasons since printing 200+ pages was more of an investment than I could handle at the time and keeping everything single-spaced cut the number of pages in half. In the end I had 132 single-spaced pages printed, and that's my entire first draft. For an idea on the word count, it was roughly 55,000 words long.

I am very old-fashioned when it comes to my writing and editing process. Usually I write a lot of the manuscript by hand and then type it out afterwards. I also work out of order and jump around from scene to scene as I feel compelled, so it was a big accomplishment to have a manuscript that was in one piece! For my editing, I used the printed document to scratch out sentences or paragraphs that didn't make sense or needed to be re-worded, and I wrote the adjustments in pen in the margins or in between the lines (I can write very tiny when I want to!).

I found that if I started from the first page and tried to make my way to the last one, my mind got very tired very quickly. I'm not sure if it was because I already knew the story and had read it twice, or if it was just my brain looking at the number of pages left to go through - but, I realized that this wouldn't work for me in the long run. So, I ended up jumping around from page to page - much the same as I did when I wrote the scenes. I got rid of the shortest pages first so that I looked like I was going faster than normal, and then tackled the larger pages with lots of description last. I made sure that every page was scribbled on before I moved on to the Scrivener document for finalizing the changes.

Here's the fun part in Scrivener. There are nifty drop-down tabs in the inspector of your document that you have total control over. I added a bunch of different descriptions like "First Draft," "Second Draft," "Final Draft." As I update the text, deleting the bad sentences and typing the revisions, I update the drop-down tab. This is a great way to keep track of what I have revised and what is still left to do.

I also go back on my printed document and add a check mark to the top right corner of the page after I add the changes to the Scrivener document. This way I can keep track physically of what I have left to add to the Scrivener document as far as revisions.

The entire editing process took me about three months - from handwriting the changes, to adding those changes to Scrivener. That doesn't include the time it took for my beta readers to look at the .mobi file I gave them and give me feedback. I consider that third draft the "final" draft after feedback from readers before publication.

It's a long process, but it's essential to having a polished piece to give to your beta readers. I want my writing to be as close to published as possible before it goes in front of other people's eyes. I am a very self-conscious writer when it comes to my fiction!

Hopefully this was useful as you plan your own editing process for your masterpiece in progress!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Learning From Episodic Television

I believe that if we find a television program that hooks us immensely, it is worth it to study that program and see what makes it so gripping to us as an audience.

What can it teach us about writing, you ask? Plenty!

For starters, an episode of television has a finite amount of time to tell a story. Usually this amounts to about forty-five minutes during which it must give us a beginning, middle, and end. That means the hook needs to grab us in the first thirty seconds or we will tune out. As an example, I have been re-watching the first season of American Horror Story and am amazed that once I get a minute into the show, I'm hooked until the credits roll.

What else can we learn from a show like Horror Story? Well, we can learn about structuring overall story arcs. If you're like me and you want to write a trilogy of novels, you need to have a beginning, middle, and end for each book, but you also need to have a beginning, middle and end for your entire trilogy. That makes those books feel like a complete story. What good would a season of television be if we only felt the need to watch a single episode and skip to the end? All those episodes need to fit into the overall story that the writers are telling, and the same can be applied for your series of novels.

Last, but not least, episodic television teaches us that we don't have to tell everything all at once. Watch Downton Abbey. Our first impressions of Lady Mary are that she's a cold, selfish woman. After three episodes we learn that there's so much depth to her as a person that we can't help but sympathize with her as she struggles with her place in the world. We need to harness this ability to reveal only what is absolutely necessary in small chunks in our own novels. We don't need to tell the audience our protagonists whole life story in the first chapter. We have an enormous number of chapters to utilize as we slowly pull back the layers of our characters to reveal their heart and soul within.

So, the next time that someone gives you guff for watching an episode of television, tell them that you're studying!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In Memoriam

Today is a day for reflection and remembrance of all those lost during the World Trade Center bombings back in 2001.

The years have gone by, but the memory of that tragic day still sticks out in my mind every anniversary.

I remember exactly where I was. I was a young boy then, only a freshman in high school. It was during my favorite class, Desktop Publishing and Multimedia, that two teachers came hurrying into the mac lab and Google'd the news that the Trade Center had been bombed by a hijacked plane. Myself and many of my classmates didn't even know what the Trade Center was at the time, but we knew for sure, by the grave expressions on our teacher's faces, that these events happening were horrifying and unthinkable.

We still had cross country practice that afternoon, and the running was good for us to deal with all the stories we were hearing. Friends left classes abruptly, having parents who worked at the towers, or who were on business there. Cell phones had no service for at least a day. The news was on at our house for hours until my mother couldn't watch any more and turned it off. She told us that we needed to pray for the souls of all those affected by the terrorist attacks, and we did.

My thoughts and prayers are with all those who are continually affected by these horrible attacks on our country. These loved ones who were taken from us so soon will not be forgotten, and nothing can replace their spots in our hearts and minds. We won't forget you, and we won't forget those who rushed to help in any way they could.

Suspense Is Key!

Yesterday I was prowling the Amazon Top 100 Paid list and stumbled across a collection of novels for $1.99 titled THE PERFECT TEN, by a handful of authors. The number of novels bundled into this pack looked like it was worth the price, since I didn't know any of them, so I gave it a shot and downloaded the massive tome to my Paperwhite.

Before I go on, I have to explain a little about my weekend/part-time job. I am a supervisor at a local movie theater. Yes, I was around when we actually had to put the six reels of film together with tape. It is a lost art that I miss dearly. I'm still a projectionist, but now it's digital, and I also do everything else about the place that needs doing. It's mindless manual labor - to a point.

Anyway, the reason I explain this is because there's a small period of time that's considered "down-time" which is the hour and a half between closing down the place and waiting for the last movies to finish. Essentially it's just waiting to be sure that nobody gets left in the building (which would be completely scary in the dark) after we leave! So, to fill this time, I usually carry my notebook around, and lately, my Kindle since it has a backlight.

Well, I opened up THE PERFECT TEN and started reading Last Chance To Run by Dianna Love.

Let me just say, WOW.

This book is my kind of book!

The suspense from the very first page was electric. I was skeptical until about the fifth page - honestly, I can't lie. I'm very unforgiving on the female protagonists of late. If the story is too involved in her brain and not enough in the actual movement of the plot, then I lose interest. Miss Love gave me just enough of her heroine, Angel's, thought process and raised the stakes immediately with just the right amount of explanation as to what happened before the first page. I've been exploring the whole idea of starting your story at the right spot, and man, this book was sprinting the moment it hit the ground, and I was unable to put my Kindle down.

I haven't finished the book yet, but I'm a quarter of the way finished. It kept me up a lot later than I anticipated. If you want to check it out, as well as read the other books in this bundle, please purchase it at Amazon while it's still on sale - the description said it was for a limited time.

If you're looking for a great example of giving the audience just enough information to move forward, as well as how to handle lots of action, give Last Chance To Run a shot. I have a feeling I'll be sad when it's over!

For more about Dianna Love, visit her website here.

I Have To Be...Patient?

I think Rachel Weisz said it best in The Mummy: Patience is a virtue.

It may be a virtue, but that doesn't make it any easier to practice!

As I wait for my beta readers to give me feedback on my manuscript, I am not surprised that I have ants in my pants (figuratively, not literally!). I want progress! I want things done quickly! Now, now, now!

But, this is not realistic. Good things take time, and I'm learning that lesson with my first eBook. It took me hours to format my text. It also took me weeks to edit the entire manuscript before it was even worthy of being shown to any of my betas. If I'd given it to them beforehand (sorry to anyone who I actually did give it to - you know who you are!) it would have been a wreck. I simply needed the time to go through the document line-by-line and be sure that there weren't any glaring errors, and that the prose was as good as I could get it without external help.

Nothing happens overnight. Even the people who experience "overnight success" had to do a ton of work before they got to that point. It takes time to make a product - especially one as intricate as a 50,000 word piece of fiction - and polish it enough for the eyes of anyone outside your family. Those times when I want to rush something through, I have to stop and take a deep breath and tell myself that the extra time will be worth it.

I truly believe it will. We just have to keep in mind the long term while we work in the present.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs Is Here!

Double post Tuesday? What is this?!

I just had to say that today the fantastic indie horror game Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs is released, and I am so excited to get home and play it! If you're into horror and like to be scared out of your pants, check out the trailer for this game. It looks stunning, and I'm sure I'll be scared to turn off the lights and go to sleep after playing some of this.

Finding Fonts!

If you're like me, you get excited to choose a fancy new font for your book cover. It's essential. You want your title to stand out, and you want it to look unique. The solution is to get a beautiful font that will do all that work for you visually.

I've found most of my fonts on It's a great resource for seeing what's out there. The only catch is that if you're going to use a font for a commercial purpose, like on your eBook cover, then you need to pay something for the license.

I've found that there are also many great fonts on, which is where I found the font for my upcoming eBook. The artist community on that site is fantastic, and there are weekly promos that offer free goods emailed to you when you sign up for their mailing list. I personally love the independent spirit and was glad to support other artists by purchasing their goods for use in my own artistic endeavors.

If you're looking for a great price range, definitely check out Creative Market. You can get a great deal if you time it just right, and the fonts and Photoshop presets are truly handy to have if you're designing your own cover.

Monday, September 9, 2013

What Jessica Sorensen Taught Me

Recently I purchased Jessica Sorensen's The Coincidence of Callie & Kayden. I'd been watching it on the Kindle Top 100 paid list, and decided that for $1.99 I could give it a shot. I don't read a lot of chick lit (which I consider this to be) but it's been very interesting, if a little melodramatic so far, and it's taught me a few things about writing voice and what you can and can't get away with.

Firstly, this book had thousands of great reviews on Amazon, and that's partially the reason that I decided to click "buy" when I was browsing. I'm notorious for reading all the reviews I can before deciding on a purchase, and in this case, since I couldn't read all 3,000+ reviews, I read a few from each star point (five stars, one star, etc.). Most of the reviews praised the characters and their struggles with different inner demons and scars, so I anticipated an emotional read.

The first thing that surprised me was how simple the story is. The book begins at a point in time before the main bulk of the book's timeline (don't worry, no spoilers for those interested in reading the book!) where Callie witnesses Kayden in an abusive situation. She rescues him from the situation and then resigns herself to the fact that she will never see him again. On top of that, Kayden will most likely not even remember her.

Fast forward six months to move-in day at a college. Callie has been there with her flamboyant new guy friend, Seth, and is getting over her eating disorder. As predicted, Kayden is also going to the same school and he remembers her! The rest of the story follows them building up a relationship despite Kayden being taken by a stereotypical cheerleader and Callie not willing to open up and be herself around an attractive guy from her past.

So, back to my surprise at the simplicity of the story. What did this teach me?

Well, it taught me that I don't need to jump through a million hoops to keep my reader interested. My plots tend to be pretty intense, but what really matters in the case of Miss Sorensen's book - and any work of fiction, for that matter, is the characters and their inner demons. What are they struggling with? What do they have to overcome to get x? It's very cool to see that a story about two college kids can be so engaging. True, it wasn't masterful writing, or even that involved stylistically, but it still kept me coming back when I had spare moments to dip into the book.

The second thing that this book taught me was that it is possible to pull off first person narration with two separate characters telling the story. I haven't written anything publishable yet in the first person, but I love using the character's voice to tell their own story. I guess I'm a sucker for the unreliable narrator. Sorensen differentiates the two narrators by beginning each section with his or her name in bold. I liked this, and if you are wondering if her two voices were unique enough for each character, I can say that yes, they were. Kayden sounded rugged and was peppered with curses, and Callie was shy and introverted.

Lastly, this book taught me that simply withholding the details of the past event that made the character so scarred and damaged is enough to keep the reader moving forward through the story. More than once in the first quarter of the book, Callie continually mentions "that day years ago" that led to her eating disorder. What is she talking about? I had to read to find out. I wanted to know! If I can get a hook like that into my own work, maybe it will be all the better for it. Suspense is excellent.

There is a sequel to this book that I will most likely be checking out, as well as an expanded universe of sorts with side characters getting their own books later this year and in 2014. I applaud Miss Sorensen for being able to flesh out so many characters and franchise her work. It's something that I hope to try one day with my own characters (the ones that demand their stories to be told, of course! Sometimes they won't shut up until I write them down.).

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Podcasts For The Win!

I'm guilty of trying to consume information faster than my schedule - or my brain - will allow. The stack of books on my nightstand is high, and the number of eBooks on my Kindle that I intend to read won't be done until the end of the year, unless I magically come across some free time that I didn't know about.

The fact is, we all have day jobs. Those day jobs take up a lot of time. When you look at your schedule on paper, you probably block off the forty hours devoted to your job and, in my case, twenty extra hours for the second job on weekends (student loans are expensive!). I then take out the two hours a day for the commute back and forth to said jobs, and that leaves me with a few hours before I need sleep.

I'm not a morning person. I'd love to be, but the reality is that I can never get up earlier than 7:00am, and I never jog like I wish I did because when I get home, it's dark out and I'm scared of the bears that prowl around the woods - not to mention the lynx that devoured our last chicken!

So, if I only have so many hours in a day, and I can only spend a few reading (if I'm lucky), my only other option to get the information that I desire processed into my brain is to listen to podcasts on my commute. Currently I have three different writing podcasts on my iPad that are fantastic and entertaining. I'd highly suggest subscribing to "The Creative Penn" and "The Self Publishing Podcast". These are both very informative. I've learned so much on my commute that wouldn't have been possible without these generous writers recording their thoughts and interviews for others to listen to. It reminds me a lot of taking an interesting course at the University.

The third podcast that I check out regularly is "Writing Excuses". This one is another panel of writers and artists who talk about the elements of craft and the struggles that writers face and how to overcome them.

I don't listen to these podcasts on every drive, but I certainly listen to a few hours a week. It's a great use of time that would otherwise be wasted just waiting to get to my job. When the hours in a day really count, listen to some great podcasts. I can't imagine being without these great resources throughout the week.

Maybe someday I'll get my brothers to make a podcast of my own. Hmm...

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Fighting Mental Exhaustion

I just realized that I suffer from mental exhaustion - a.k.a. burnout - from time to time. I'm going out on a limb here, but it must be a regular occurrence with writers. We use so much of our creative brain that sometimes our energy becomes so drained that we don't feel like doing anything. It also doesn't help when your day job also demands brain power, in which case your mind is doubly drained!

Looking into the symptoms of burnout, I found some interesting things. There was a girl that I worked with at the University who came down with a horrible case of burnout. She only realized what was happening when our boss and mentor pointed out some of these symptoms and advised that she take a break. It wasn't easy to fix, but over time the symptoms subsided.

You may be suffering from burnout if you're experiencing these things:

  • You're feeling helpless, trapped and defeated
  • You constantly feel like a failure
  • You feel tired most of the time and don't have the will to do anything
  • You isolate yourself and procrastinate
  • Your eating habits are changing to be less or more than usual
  • You experience muscle aches and back pain
I've felt more than one of these at any given time, usually when I'm coming up to a stressful time of the week, or if I'm pulling double duty with my day jobs and my writing. This leads me to believe that allowing yourself the chance to recharge is essential to maintaining a healthy creative mind and body.

In this digital age we are encouraged to go, go, go! We need to be producing. But, we also need to allow ourselves a chance to relax. I'm trying to give myself one day a week that I can come home and not do any work. I can watch anything I want. I can read whatever strikes me on my shelf or in my Kindle. I can just sit and not focus on producing anything.

If you're also a writer - or even if you're not, but you're experiencing some of these burnout symptoms with your own work, I urge you to slow down and take a break. It doesn't have to be long, but your brain is like a battery. It needs to be recharged once in a while!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Writing Challenge

Who doesn't love a cute puppy? My dog Daisy certainly gets the most attention out of me!

My challenge to you is to write a scene where your character interacts with an animal. You might be surprised how their attitudes change once a puppy or cat is introduced.

Keeping Your Work Close

This is a personal writing tip.

Keep your work close to you at all times!

Why should you do this? Well, I found that keeping my manuscript close to me at all hours of the day solved a few issues for me.
  1. Having a physical copy of the manuscript in my messenger bag whenever I am out somewhere gives me a sense of urgency to not forget that it needs my attention. This works great for someone like me who is a notorious slacker when it comes to writing regularly.
  2. Keep a copy of all documents - Word, Scrivener, .mobi, etc. on a thumb drive that I wear around my neck, giving me security that unless I die a horrific death somewhere during the day, that if the house burns down with my computer in it, or, heaven forbid, my laptop is stolen, I will still have a copy of all my files safe and sound.
  3. And lastly, for someone like me who forgets something crucial perhaps every morning before I dash out to my two day jobs, keep both of these above mentioned items either on your night stand or at the foot of your bed so that there's no possible way to forget them when you are running around like a chicken with its head cut off. 
There are a ton of distractions each day that try to keep us from working on our writing. I know that when I get to the end of my work day I sometimes almost fall asleep at the idea of even cracking open my manuscript to edit or even add a new section. But, this must be conquered!

Just having my book always around me is enough to get my attention, to constantly keep me focused on what I want to do. Even when I'm driving, I'm reminded of the bigger picture. Even when I'm working at my other job, I can feel the thumb drive around my neck and remember that I need to find time for my craft when I'm on my own time that day.

It's just a good habit. It's also a good backup in case of natural disaster!

Thursday, September 5, 2013

I Have To Be...Social?

Okay, I'll admit it. I'm not the best at social media. It took me an entire year to learn how to use Twitter - and I still don't know if I'm doing it right!

The biggest concern as I start towards my goal of being published is that, in today's world, we like our authors and filmmakers to be social. I want to read what R.A. Salvatore has to say about his book tours on Facebook. I want to read what Brandon Sanderson tweets about writing on a flight back to the states. It's all very large and very time consuming.

It's also part of the job.

I'm not against social media - I just believe that there's a lot that I don't know, and I'm nervous to start out. There was a time when I had hundreds of Facebook friends. It was fun! But, that was back in college when people liked me personally. Now that I'm an adult, friends have moved on and they are updating about their kids, their jobs, etc. That's all great, but not what I'm looking to do. The tricky part is looking at social media as a way to make friends, which it's still used for - except now I've got to use it to reach out to people I don't know and provide information about my own job and what I find interesting that hopefully they will, too. That's scary!

Blogging is fun. I write what interests me and if anyone reads it, that's awesome! But social networking is all new territory. I need to be consistent. I need to be friendly and available. Most importantly, I need to have something worth saying in a small text box. As Genie once said, "Phenomenal cosmic powers! Itty, bitty living space."

I think that's what made me scared about Twitter. It's mostly a small "status update" for people who are following you. But, what do I have to say? That I'm eating Doritos for lunch? (So bad for you, but sooo tasty!) Will anyone care about what I'm doing with my day?

Even if they don't, I'm going to give this a try! Ten points to Gryffindor if you follow me on Twitter! No, wait - what am I saying? Pottermore put me in Slytherin!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Fight The Fear!

This is more of a self-help post than the kind I normally write.

There is a lot of pressure on independent writers nowadays. Everywhere we turn there are hundreds and thousands of other writers publishing their work, daily, hourly, every minute and every second. It's fast paced. It's new and exciting. It's also terrifying!

How do you get noticed in a vast ocean of books?

Most bloggers and independent authors I read say to write as fast as you can. I agree with this, but I have to say that this advice does instill a certain fear in the back of my brain that likes to pop to the front every so often, making me freeze up like a deer in headlights.

Produce more? Faster? It was enough to just get a single manuscript to its second draft! Now I'm supposed to speed up and crank out three books a year? That seems impossible!

Wait a second. Take a deep breath.

Nothing happens overnight. Sure, some of these authors pulled five all-nighters in a row to publish three books in five months. Great for them. Personally, I know that I can only work at my own pace creatively and that when the well is dry, I need to replenish it. That takes a day or so of reading, watching a great television program, or playing a game and being outdoors for a walk.

In this internet age we must be focused on our next product. But I will urge everyone who is out there producing things in their own studies (like me) to please also think of quality. There is a huge amount of media out there, some of it fantastic, but a lot of it mediocre and rushed. Quality over quantity has and will perhaps always be my mantra, and I think it's very important in this digital age. Now, I'm not saying that you can't or shouldn't crank out as many books as you possibly can in a single year. If I can get three our before December 2014 I will be the happiest man on the planet!

But, I'm going to give each of those three potential books all the loving, tender care they deserve and demand before I throw them out into the world. Publishing and building up a catalogue is a slow process. Even the gods among us like Joe Konrath worked years to get to where he is. That was a ton of work! More than I've done yet in my career. Still, it's tempting to rush the books when we see someone's backlist out on Amazon, ready to be purchased. It's enormous! I wish I had that. But, I don't. Not yet. And that's okay.

Focus on the quality of whatever project you're currently working on. It will pay off in the long run with an eBook that will be read and re-read because it was a piece of art that deserves attention. Why else do I go back to read Lord of the Rings each year? It's beautiful! I want my own book to be beautiful as well. With patience and attention to craft, it will be. I just have to fight the fear that I'm not producing fast enough.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Books Revisited

Today I went to a little used book store called Books Revisited and was amazed at the deals I found.

I'm the type of person who buys the majority of my books used because they are cheaper and I can get a lot more of them. If I don't buy it in my Kindle, it's gotta be used and paperback. So, imagine my surprise when I found two romances that I was looking for, each only fifty cents! I also found a great book about being a novelist that seems very interesting, also fifty cents.

This reminds me that when the price is right, readers are more apt to make a purchase than when the books are full price. Yes, there has been a lot of talk about eBook prices lately, and I'm a supporter of cheaper book prices for digital, no matter how much my boss at the cinema argues that you're paying for the content rather than the physical product, so the price is justified. I'm sorry, but with the budget I have, there is no way that I will pay more than five dollars for a digital book. Maybe if it's a specialty eBook I might make an exception. But, more often than not, I'll pass for a cheaper product.

As I look forward to publishing my first eBook, I need to remember that pricing will be a big attractor to potential readers. After all, if those paperback romances were more expensive at the store earlier, they might still be sitting on the shop shelves instead of my nightstand.

Book Trailers

This question in this post doesn't really have an answer. I'm just throwing it out there because it's been on my mind ever since I started dreaming up different ways to market my own eBooks.

Have you ever seen a book trailer? I remember they used to be part of those VHS tapes played at Scholastic Book Fairs, particularly the ones for any Lemony Snicket book or Harry Potter installment. They usually employ animated images or paintings that attempt to give the illusion of movement, combined with animated tag lines and, finally, the reveal of the book cover and where to purchase it or find out more. Check out the trailer above for Divergent, which I am reading right now.

Do book trailers really get anyone's attention? My thinking is that they might, if you are someone who browses YouTube regularly. On Amazon? I'm not so sure. There are many more ways to get people's attention on the actual merchant site including book cover and description. But, for other sites? I'm guessing that the impact of having a book trailer on YouTube isn't very large unless you're Suzanne Collins with a built-in audience who is devouring anything related to your franchise, but something is better than nothing when it comes to indie publishers.

I've been collecting materials to make my own sixty second trailer, and it's a lot more work than it seems. First off, I have no money to spend on this kind of production, but thankfully I have a background in television and editing where the actual construction of the trailer won't be too horrible. I also have some skills in animating things (see my YouTube page for some examples) and I'm looking forward to making something that can broaden the scope of my marketing materials.

What I get out of a book trailer is an atmosphere. This tiny piece of video is trying to give me visually and audibly the feeling that the book will and should instill in me, should I choose to read it. Some book trailers are really elaborate - see any of Amanda Hocking's trailers. They're basically a full-blown, cast, acted trailer that looks like it belongs in a movie theater. I wish I could do that for  my upcoming work, but the resources are beyond me. Perhaps for the sequel...

So, in conclusion (though I'm sure I'm not finished with this topic completely) I'd say that a book trailer has potential to bring in people who would not browse Amazon regularly. It's a good bridge from YouTube to your book's page or your website. It also makes you look more official, since the only big name authors I've seen to get book trailers consistently are Hocking and Stephen King. Anything that King does with his enormous publishing contract that I can also do for my own work is something that I'm interested in. It's all about your preference and how you want to look visually to potential readers.  Another question to ask is how much time it will take you versus how much you will get out of it. It's all up to you.

Will it be worth it for me? That remains to be seen (and I also have to make the darn thing!). Look for a super snazzy book trailer on this blog and my YouTube page in the coming months!

Monday, September 2, 2013

Harness The Drama!

Everyone probably wishes that their life was easy-going, peaceful, and filled with time to relax. No enemies - no annoyances. I know I wish my life were that way!

However, something struck me the other day while in the midst of a year-long struggle against an obtrusive neighbor. If I think about the events of my life through the lens of writing fiction, I can see that without the drama, there would be no story. It's completely true! There are two things that will come up if someone asks me how my day went. I can say that it went amazingly and that things were moving forward without much complaint. On the flip side (which happens most often), I will talk about all the drama of the day; the people who made me angry; the computer that wouldn't do what I wanted, etc. If there wasn't any drama, then I wouldn't really have anything to talk about!

My challenge for fellow writers, and even the non-writers who check this out, is to look at the drama in your life through this lens. Harness the bad times and use them to your advantage. When things look down, write them down! You never know when the fight with your aunt will turn into a story element, or when your flat tire will give your characters the perfect thing to derail their vacation plans. The friction produces great fiction. Trust me.

If everything is rose-colored, then who cares? We want the drama!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Covers Count!

I just recently finished the cover for my soon-to-be-published novel and I'm pleased with the result. Now, before anyone gets all uppity about me creating my own cover, I will say that I am an artist who took six art courses during my time at the University, and I also have a degree in multimedia where I worked extensively in Adobe Photoshop and After Effects to hone my skills, so I am not just a hack here. Whether or not my cover sells me a bunch of books remains to be seen, but I feel that it is an attractive piece that will entice people to at least give my book a click to read the description.

Covers are the most important thing about a eBook. This is purely my opinion, but I think it's valid. When I go to Amazon, the first thing I see in the Kindle Store is a spread of twenty-five to fifty eBook covers. No descriptions. No long pages of text with a zillion quotes endorsing the book. Just plain, visual book covers. The advantage of digital publishing is that all books have their covers "face out" like they would be at the front of Books-A-Million. The tricky part is that this cover is my first encounter with all these books, and I'm a judgmental guy.

Anyone who says that you can't judge a book by its cover is crazy because that's exactly what we do as eBook shoppers on any of these sites - Amazon, Kobo, Nook, and Smashwords. Does this cover look unique, interesting, and tasteful? If yes, I'll click on it to see what the description says. If not, I won't give it a second glance. I believe that the cover is the doorway between your book and the reader, and if it doesn't catch their attention, then you've lost a customer.

But, how do you ensure that your cover is the best that it can be? Well, if you aren't a graphic designer and don't know how to use Photoshop like a pro, then I would suggest hiring someone to make a cover for you. Luckily I can create my own, and I'm also a photographer, so getting digital elements isn't a chore for me. However, that doesn't mean that I took one of my pictures and slapped it into the correct dimensions and put any old font on it!

Designing a cover takes time and a lot of hard, hard work. On my cover alone I worked for eight hours overnight to get a rough draft - and the only elements that remain from that first pass are the background photo and my author font. I showed this cover to five or six different people, all in different age brackets, who gave me their opinions. Most loved the images, but the font I chose for the title was too hard to read.

Armed with this feedback, I went to and purchased a font that I thought was unique and had enough flourish for the genre I'm aiming for and adjusted my title. I also purchased some Photoshop color presets that I used to get a warm color effect on all my image pieces. This gave the cover a feeling of completeness that is lacking in some of my other attempts.

With the revised cover completed, I loaded it into my Kindle Paperwhite and also my iPad Mini and showed it again to those same five or six people to get their reactions. It appears to be a success, and now I am ready to move forward with the rest of my book design.

It's a very tricky thing to create a cover for a book you've worked so hard on for a year or more. You want to make sure that it accurately portrays the type of book you wrote, but you also want to make sure that it is eye-catching for when it's on an Amazon page alongside fifty other book titles. Check out the Amazon Top 100 list to see what's there. I definitely did before I set out creating my own cover, and it helped me enormously in my pursuits. If you do end up making it yourself, you have complete control with little monetary loss other than your time. I preferred to do it myself and see what I could come up with. In the end, the cover is the first and most important thing that a customer will see. Since I've put so much effort into controlling my final manuscript, why wouldn't I put that much more effort into my cover design?