Tuesday, July 7, 2015

On Reading Books Because They Are Trendy

I am a voracious reader, which lends itself well to my other hobby as a writer. I can see what other authors have done with a certain topic, and adapt accordingly. Sometimes I read the bestsellers. Sometimes I read more obscure works. Working at a library helps me with both.

My point is, I don't always follow the literary trends. Yes, I picked up Harry Potter to see what the hype was, and thereafter devoured the entire series and all eight movies. I also picked up Twilight to see what the hype was, and have never touched a Stephenie Meyer book since, even though the rest of the series remained wildly popular. I don't plan on reading the equally-popular Fifty Shades of Gray because, no matter how many people have read and enjoyed it, I've read small snippets and found it to be apocalyptically bad writing.

Reading books because they're popular isn't always a bad thing. A lot of times, they're popular because they have something to recommend them, like a compelling story and engaging characters.But reading books just because everyone else is reading them is not necessarily the best way to gain new reading material. I know people who have read every single book that Oprah Winfrey has recommended. Those titles don't interest me. I know people who would plow through the New York Times bestsellers list if they had the time and money. Some of those titles i may check out, or I may not.

The problem comes when a certain genre of book becomes popular, and writer (like me) try to cash in on the popularity. You crank out a book, polish it, and send it to a publisher--maybe even the same publisher that put out Popular Series--certain that the trendiness of y our book with develop into sales. Then you discover the harsh truth: In the time it took you to write your book, the trend has passed you by. What was popular, isn't anymore. Or worse, your contribution is only the latest in an already oversaturated market, and editors are sick to death of hearing about this topic.

What happens when the trend you were following so faithfully dries up and blows away? How do you find the Next Big Thing? You look at what's just become popular this time around, and decided whether it's for you or not.

Or, you can just do what I do, and take each book on their own individual merits rather than because they're trendy.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Some Personal News, 6-30-2015

To all of you who were expecting a blog post last week, my deepest apologies. I've been going through a bit of a crisis. I've been under a lot of stress, which led to me in the ER with a panic attack a couple of Saturdays ago. as a result, I've been placed on some new medication which has calmed me down but seems to have fried my creative circuits.

This sucks in so many ways it isn't even funny. I've only just become acclimated to the meds after two weeks, during the course of which they left me nauseous, sleepy, jumpy, or irritable. I've been told that I won't have to be on them for the rest of my life, so that's something, but writing has long been my escape, and now I can't even rely on it.

Here's a brief rundown of stressors that I've been dealing with:
  •  After resisting for the longest time because of crippling dental anxiety, this year I started the ball rolling on getting my teeth fixed up. This hasn't reduced my dental anxiety any, but I've found a guy who will put me completely under to get my mouth renovated. This will take a couple office visits, but at least it's better than the couple dozen the previous dentist quoted. Downside: It will be expensive. I will have help in paying for it, though, so all that's left is the appointments themselves.
  • I will be moving in August. The two places that my roommate and I are looking at won't even accept rental applications until the beginning of July (!) for a move-in date at the beginning of August, so I'm still stressing about that for another couple of days. Moving isn't going to be much fun anyway, but due to various overlapping reasons, it needs to be done.
  • I recently was involved in a car accident on the highway. The car still works, but I'll need some bodywork and a new paintjob all up the left side after getting sideswiped. Fortunately, my insurance will be paying for most of it, leaving me responsible for the $500 deductible.
  • I recently had surgery to remove a cyst, and discovered that I am allergic to something involved in even latex-free steri-strips. The surgeon suggested I might be allergic to the stuff that he used to make the steri-strip stick better, which I think is stupid, but I can't help that right now. I had a hell of a rash at the site, but I have a prescription for an ointment that seems to be clearing things up. Yay!
  • There's a possibility that I have an anxiety disorder, which completely fails to shock me. I'm on the waiting list to get a psych eval, but I might not even get in to see the psychologist until September. In the meantime I just have to chill and be patient.
In good news, Hungry as a Wolf is still on track for its October 31 release date, and I've been churning out a bunch of outlines so that I will be ready when my writer's block finally clears. This might not happen until the dust starts to settle around September, but I'm looking forward to getting a chance to freaking relax already. I've been dealing with my various crises one at a time via assembling the components of a pirate costume to potentially wear to the St. Louis Ren Faire next year, so that's something to look forward to.

I'm still looking forward to being able to write again.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Twenty Questions Character Interview: Alistair Mechanus

Hello, faithful readers! This week's post will be a character interview with Alistair Mechanus, the male lead of my SFR novel Heart of Steel.
  1. If you had a free day with no responsibilities and your only mission was to enjoy yourself, what would you do? In my line of work, I'm almost constantly moving or working on something, so that's a difficult question to answer. I suppose if I had a completely free day--no projects, no crises, no processes to monitor, I might spend it in one of my greenhouses with Julia. I'd show her around, tell her about the different flowers I have... [he smirks] occasionally dodge the servitor robots watering the plants. My second choice might be playing a game of chess.
  2. What impression do you make on people when they first meet you? How about after they've known you for a while? [He frowns.] I know that my appearance may be shocking and strange, and my mannerisms aren't exactly in line with those of mainstream society. I remember when I first met Julia, she thought I was a madman. [he shrugs] She was right, of course, but under my cybernetic implants I do have a soul, and I'm willing to do whatever it takes to protect those I care about.
  3. What's your idea of a good marriage? Do you think that'll happen in your life? [He sits back.] Uhhhhhh.... well. That's rather a complicated question. I suppose my most distilled answer would involve two people with similar interests and who care about each other. I, uh, I hope this will happen in my life. I mean, I'm planning for it to happen, but the devil's in the details, I suppose. I can only hope she says yes.
  4. What are you most proud of about your life?  Mainly I'm proud that I was able to recover my humanity. for ten years I didn't know who I used to be. All I was, was a clinical machine hell-bent on world conquest, and I didn't know why. I threw myself into my work, and I suppose on some level I was afraid to remember what happened. My past was too frightening to contemplate. But... with Julia's help, I... I was able to recover who I used to be. It hurt, a lot, and I nearly broke. now, though, I can heal. I'm still a broken wreck by most people's standards, but at least I'm in a position where I can put my mind back together.
  5. What are you most ashamed of in your life?  [He is silent for a long time.] I... I lost someone very close to me. There was a car accident, and it may have been partly my fault, but... I was too busy recovering and rebuilding myself to really attend to her. She was in a coma in the hospital and... i didn't even visit her. I was too busy making sure I looked my best. she died, and... I didn't get a chance to say goodbye before they took her off life support.
  6. If you could spend the day with someone you admire (living or dead or imaginary), who would you pick? [A slow smile spreads across his mismatched features.] Tony Stark, I think. Sure, he's fictional, but in his world he's a technological genius and a celebrity. Everyone loves him. From what I've been able to find out, he seems like a good man, and a brilliant one as well.
  7. Do you think you've turned out the way your parents expected? [Breaks out laughing.] I don't think I've even turned out like I expected.
  8. What do you believe about God?  I'm not sure what I believe about God. If there is a supreme force out there that's in charge of everything, then they're doing rather a shoddy job taking care of things. On the other hand... if the supreme force is simply intellect, then everyone has the potential in them to be the force that moves the world. As for what an external supreme force might think about me... [He shrugs.] I haven't thought about it. The fact that I've made my way through some fairly horrific events should count for something, I would think.
  9. Is there anything you've always wanted to do but haven't done? What would happen if you did it? Cure cancer, I think. I mean, I have a lot of plans for the betterment of humanity, but curing cancer is one of the major ones. If I could do that, a lot of people would go on to have full, healthy lives who otherwise might not have. [He shrugs] Is it cliche? Maybe. But as long as I'm improving things, I might as well think big.
  10. What's the worst thing that's happened in your life? What did you learn from it? [He goes a bit green.] Losing Lauren. Absolutely. It broke me, on so many levels, and it taught--rather brutally--that maybe I can't save everyone... or maybe that I need to pay attention to the really important things before I lose them.
  11. Tell me about your best friend. [He smiles] Arthur is an artificial intelligence that I programmed myself. He largely serves as an intermediary between myself and the operating system that runs Shark Reef Isle, but, more importantly, he's been a valuable conversational partner and a sanity anchor--as far as sanity can be measured in someone like me--for the past decade. He's kept me from getting lonely, and he's also been there to hit me over the head with a dose of perspective when I need it. i think he cares for me as well, on some assembly-deep level. After all, I created him, though I don't exactly lord this over him. We've just been... partners for the past decade, nearly inseparable because we're connected on the mental level.
  12. What's the worst thing you've ever done to someone? Why? [He looks grave] I sent my combat drones to dismember a man while he was alive--conscious but paralyzed. He was a creation of mine--Julia's boyfriend at the time I met both of them. I'd turned him into a cyborg because he was gravely injured and I thought he would make a nice gift. it turned out that he was even crazier than me. He was willing to kill to keep Julia from leaving him. I won't apologize for it. He had to be stopped.
  13. What would you like it to say on your tombstone? "DEUS IN MACHINA".
  14. Describe your ideal mate. [He smiles] Smart, gentle, funny, a little quirky... beauty is a plus, but honestly, look at me. [He gestures to the cybernetic implants in his face] If she has the personality, everything else is a bonus.
  15. What are you most afraid of? I'm most afraid of losing my humanity again. I don't want to break, and I don't want any more people close to me to get hurt.
  16. What's the most important thing in your life? What do you value most? Right now the most important thing in my life is Julia. She helped me find myself again, even though she had every reason not to bother. I value her friendship, and the gentle affection she shows me.
  17. What do you like best about yourself? Least? I like my intellect the most about myself. It allows me to solve problems that most men--or women--of science couldn't even begin to unravel, or might think were impossible to start with and just give up. I can think outside of the box to see that there is a solution, and then work towards it. As for what I like the least... [sighs] Well, sometimes I'd like my face back, and the limbs and organs I lost. It would be nice to be fully human again, so that I don't have to worry about accidentally hurting anyone... [he looks at his metal hand] But then I worked hard to get where I am today. The scars aren't all that pretty, but at least they show that I survived.
  18. What do you like best about Julia? Least? I like that she was able to look past the mess and see the man that I am underneath. I'm sure when she worked in the emergency room she saw people who looked worse than me, but she still showed me compassion when she was afraid. [He smiles.] Then again, the Healing Angel is seldom afraid. As for what I like least... [sighs] She doesn't seem to understand that all my servants--the chimeras and the robots alike-- would never, ever hurt her. Uh.... we're working on that. I mean, it's not her fault if she's afraid, but she's not going to become less afraid by avoiding them.
  19. How do you feel about your life right now? What, if anything, would you like to change? I'm feeling pretty good about my life right now. I'm on the cusp of something great that's been ten years in the making, and I can dedicate the culmination of my efforts to the love of myself. I have a lot of hard work ahead of me, though. I just wish it were done so that I could admire the fruits of my labor.
  20. Are you lying to yourself about something? What is it? [The thinks about this for a while] With the way my mind is, I wonder if conquering the world will be enough. I mean, I tell myself that once planet Earth is mine, everything will be great. [shakes his head] But what if it isn't? What if I'm left wanting something more? I like to think I'm sure about all this, but I have doubts. A hundred thousand things could go wrong, and then where would I be? I can only fix so many things before I have to accept the project as a failure... and then there's ten years down the toilet.

I hope you enjoyed this insight into the mind of a mad scientist who's a romantic at heart! Let me know if you want to see an interview with any of my other characters!

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

The Double-Edged Sword of Outlining

Recently, during the course of an apparent drought in inspiration with my existing works in progress, I turned to outlining to help me sort out the eleventy billion other ideas that were jockeying for my attention. I figured that it would be a good way to sort out my thoughts and free myself of the logjam that was keeping me from getting on with things, so that I could concentrate on current projects.

Outlining, I discovered, was a wonderfully efficient way to get down an idea in a state more fully formed than an elevator pitch or a logline, so that I could be sure of what plot points I wanted to hit when I eventually got around to writing it properly. I've used this technique in the middle of some of my WIPs, reminding myself of the path from Point A to Point B and all the stops along the way. As a result, I now have three complete story outlines waiting in my new outline folder, and another one on the way.

Good, right?


I discovered I have a new problem.

Once I finished the outlines, suddenly the idea was no longer in my head. It was like putting someone's phone number in your smartphone's directory and thereafter being completely unable to remember it.

It's frustrating.

It's illogical.

It's maddening.

It's... actually pretty dang useful. Once I had time to think about it, having the idea no longer in my head made room for the ideas I actually wanted to work on. Yes, I panicked at first, but I soon came to realize that this was a form of sorting out my thoughts. as long as I had something written down, I could come back to the outline to draft it properly. In the meantime, it wasn't in my way.

In other words, what seemed to be a brain fart turned out to be a handy effect.

I fully intend to go back and revisit these outlines, of course, incorporating them into my writing process. Whereas previously I started with an outline/rough draft hybrid, I think there is room for complete outline first, then rough draft based on this. This is hard for a historical pantser like myself to really grasp, but as long as it works, who am I to complain?

How many of you outline before the rough draft? How many prefer to just start typing and see where the story takes you?

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

June 2015 Progress Report

Well, readers, half a year has passed since I made my writing to-do list way the heck back in January. I've made a fair bit of progress in my writing goals since then, so let's see how well I've done:

  1. Stay on top of my blog a bit better. I'm acing this so far, with one blog post a week no matter where my brain happens to be at the moment.
  2. Keep my website updated. Um. Working on it? I've redone the Works page on my website and I've been keeping that updated, but the blog portion needs constant vigilance.
  3. Send out regular newsletters. This I've been acing as well, even though at times it feels like I'm scrambling for material.
  4. Edit and polish Necromancy Will Kill Your Dating Life. This is very much a work in progress. I've done my first edit pass, and I'm waiting to get it back from my last beta reader before I start revving the chainsaw again.
  5. Finish rewrites on One Spooky Case. Okay, I've barely even touched this one. I have no excuse for this, other than my mind being elsewhere working on other projects. It's in the queue.
  6. Finish the rough draft of The Cinderella Gambit. Also in the queue. My muse hasn't even glanced in that direction.
  7. Finish all my WIPs. HA HA HA no. The ideas keep coming faster than I can write them down. I'm trying to find a system. Currently trying outlining.
  8. Hold more author events. Nothing major so far, but I have a Dealer Table booked in Bookseller's Row at Archon for this year, so that's something.
  9. Market the heck out of myself. This I've been keeping up on a bit better--mainly the word of mouth thing, but I've been posting regularly on my author page and pimping my various books in their different formats on Facebook. I'm going to start pre-release promotion of Hungry as a Wolf this week, in anticipation of its Halloween release date.
As you can see, my to-do list has been a little hit or miss, but I have made progress. Doing this by myself is hard, but I'm learning more and more every day, so that helps. I do plan on outlining the rest of my WIPs once I get the time, but those are the key words--once I get the time. I have accomplished a lot this year, though, and I hope to accomplish lots more in the future!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Heart of Steel Audiobook now available! (and some other stuff)

As of this weekend, the audiobook of my SFR novel Heart of Steel is now available for sale on Audible here, Amazon here, and iTunes! I'm very excited about releasing my second audiobook, but of course it would have been possible without the vocal and technical talents of the narrator, Peter Reynolds, who helped bring this project to life. Check it out today for a quirky, heartwarming romance about a cyborg who learns how to be human again, and a traumatized doctor who learns how to trust again. Learn more about Peter here!

In other news, polishing is progressing rapidly with Hungry as a Wolf, so I will be able to move up the release date for that book to Halloween. This should be exciting news for fans of Sheep's Clothing, as it picks up Wolf's tale a few months after the conclusion of that story. I plan to re-releasing a rewritten version of Sheep's Clothing at some point in the future, as well as an omnibus edition of both my weird western books. I will keep all of you updated on that.

Next week I'll give you all a full update on how all my projects are going, and how much progress I've made towards the writing resolutions I made at the beginning of the year.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

You Do Too Have Time to Write!

"I wish I had time to write!"

Ever find yourself thinking that? Ever been on the receiving end of people saying that to you?

Lots of people think you need to sit down in front of the writing implement of your choice for hours on end to crank out the Next Awesome Bestseller, and while it helps, it isn't always necessary, and thinking that it is will just leave you spinning your wheels waiting for Enough Time.

When I started writing Heart of Steel, I had a guaranteed hour a day to work with. I work full-time, and I wrote like an absolute fiend during my fifteen-minute morning break and my 45-minute lunch break. It took a while, but I eventually ended up with a 54k-word novel. Neat, huh?

Now, this situation was not ideal, of course, because Heart of Steel was practically running out my ears at that point and I just wanted to get that sucker down, but it worked out okay in the end.

So how can you squeeze in the time to write? Here are some tips:
  • Carve out a block for writing. This can be an hour that you specifically set aside for writing. During this time, you don't answer the phone, you don't check your email, and you don't browse on Facebook. You just write on whatever project offers itself up to your brain.
  • Guard your writing time like it's the Holy Grail. Seriously. If you have housemates or family members you need to let them know that You Are Not To Be Bothered. Lock the door if you have to.
  • Trash your excuses. The Procrastination Monster is an insidious beat. If you find yourself thinking, "I'll sit down to write after I finish the dishes", or "let me just read this next article on Facebook", or ""Let me check my email first", STOP. Close that off. put everything else aside and writing. The other stuff will be there when you finish. (Exceptions: if the house is on fire, someone dear to you is bleeding, or a Roland Emmerich movie is happening in real life.)
  • Get in the habit. This one will be hard. Your brain might not always be cooperative during your writing time. Don't worry about it. If you're drawing a blank, just free-write. Get those words out. Set up a routine. Get in the habit. I had to do this during NaNoWriMo to make sure I got my word-count total down.
  • Use writing tools. I found a bunch of sites that offer reinforcement programs to encourage you to write, both positive reinforcement (Written? Kitten!) and negative reinforcement (Write or Die). You may need to play around with some of these to see what works for you.
  • Write whenever and wherever you can. If all else fails, bring your writing tools with you. My smartphone can access Google Docs, where all my works in progress are, so I can peck away at a story wherever I can find wi-fi. Failing that, bring a small notebook with you to capture ideas as they happen. Get creative!
If you follow these tips, soon enough you will be in the habit of writing. Guess what--that's all you need in order to crank out that story you have in your head! I won't happen all at once, but it will happen.

You just need to sit down and make it happen.