Writing Music – Dad

One of the biggest hurdles I have to face when writing at home is that I live in a teeny, tiny apartment.  In other words, the TV is about five feet away from me when I’m trying to be productive.  What I used to do is put on some idiotic TV show, just so that there’s some sound other than traffic and neighbors, but it always ended up distracting me.

Today, I wanted to get into some editing and decided that I really needed music instead of some dumb show.  I managed to figure out how to stream music through my ill-used game system without straining myself too much (as a technophobe, that’s saying something).

Then I reached the next big decision.  What to play?

This is a tougher question than one might assume.  I’m a very picky music listener.  I used to play in bands during High School and College, there’s not a lot I can stand and it was important that I find something conducive to writing.  I couldn’t just put on anything, if the vocals were too loud, or the beat too techno, or a million other variations it wouldn’t work.  I’ve tried writing to music before, but often found it as bad as TV.

So, what to play?

And here’s where we start down the rabbit hole that inspired this post.

My Dad is an amazing guy, talented in a million different areas.  But, when I was growing up, his taste in music used to drive me INSANE.  He used to buy the soundtracks to big budget movies and play them all the time.  And I mean the original soundtracks, not just a bunch of bands thrown together.  John Williams, Danny Elfman, etc.  Last of the Mohicans, Jurassic Park, Indiana Jones, there’s dozens I know by heart.

At fourteen I’d be sitting at the dinner table, mentally stewing because “Why are we listening to this when I’ve got a perfectly good Nine Inch Nails album in my room?”

Among the many talents of my dad are he’s exceptional with photoshop, digital animation, video and photography, and graphic design.  He spent so many hours in his office perfecting his work and it shows.  Calling him a talented hobbyist would be a dramatic understatement.

All while listening to movie soundtracks and similar music.

As I perused my options today one stood out: movie soundtracks.

That’s perfect, right?  The music varies, there’s a bit of every mood, there often aren’t big vocals or distracting flurries.  It’s meant to be subtle but evoke emotion.

And it works perfectly for me.  Now, when I’m writing I know what to pull up.

I had to laugh at myself a bit as the opening strains of Jurassic Park came through the speakers today.  How many times had I complained about my Dad’s music choices and now they’re my go-to?

It’s also nice that every once and a while a familiar tune plays and I get a little smile thinking of him.

When to leave a review

I’ve got a question for all the authors out there, is it alright to leave a less than stellar review?  I’ll explain.

Over the last year I’ve met and followed a lot of different authors on WordPress.  I try to be a good part of the network by picking up their books and other recommendations, supporting indie authors.  Some of these books are fantastic and I make sure to leave a good reviews, some… aren’t.

Since I started writing seriously I found that I’ve gotten a lot more critical over my own writing and what I read.  I’ve also gotten a lot better at identifying problems, in my own writing and others’.

There have been several times that I’ve seen glowing reviews for a new indie book, on multiple sites, then picked it up myself and had a hard time even finishing it.  That’s not to say I’m an editorial genius, I’m not, some of those needed a lot of work but others were just not to my taste.

When I do finish one of those books I face a dilemma, do I leave a three-star (or less) review or do I just stay silent?  It might be better for them even if I left something less than positive with the way Amazon does their rankings, I don’t know.  And what if I know the writer (on WP, anyway)?  Should I email the writer if I had problems with the story, or just say nothing?  If it was me I’d want to know, but some people are protective over their baby and might not like unasked for criticism, even if it’s intended as constructive.

Free to Pirate

I had a thought today while reading through some posts.  One writer mentioned how he was playing with advertising his ebooks on various places and how the most success he had was when he broadcast the days his books were free.  That day he had a lot of new downloads from other countries, including a large number to India.

Hmmm…  That got me thinking.

Piracy has been a problem for a long time but it’s only recently, with the advent of the ebook, that authors have had to really worry about it.  It’s becoming a bigger and bigger issue, almost every week I read about how a writer googled their own work and found it on a pirate site.

Free books are a useful tool for gaining new readers, it gives them a chance to check out your work before paying anything.  Cool, right?  But I wonder whether those free days are giving pirates a chance to easily steal writers’ work.

Think about it like this, if you were going to pirate a hundred books… are you going to pay for them first?  A hundred books at $3 a pop?  Uh uh.  I wouldn’t, I’d go to amazon every day and download all the free books.  Every day.  Then convert them and put them up on my site.

So, are those five free days offered by KDP select (or other deals) making it easier for pirates?  They grab our work on one of those days without paying for it, then turn around and sell it.  It’s what I’d do if I were morally bankrupt and looking for easy money.  (It’s possible that Kindle Unlimited could also be a contributor, but I imagine anyone in the Unlimited program that downloaded too many books a day would get flagged really fast.  I don’t know though.)

That thought right there makes me hesitant to ever discount my books too much.  The only way I can see to avoid having our work vulnerable would be to never put it out for free, that way at least the pirates would have to pay for the first copy (which I doubt they’d do unless you’re top in your genre or something).

But what about getting your work out to readers before they have to pay for it?  Sample chapters would be one way.  But the best option I can think of is to put a single book perma-free, accept that it’ll probably be pirated (but it’s free already, so you’re not really losing anything), then keep all your other books at regular price.

Just a thought for the day.

The Future of Publishing

I read a fascinating post today about the difficulties all of us indie, or self published authors face.  If you just take the basic facts, how many books are being put out, how few copies sell well, how few authors are making a decent income, it looks really depressing.

However, and this was the comment I left on the post, it’s also a really exciting time.  We’re seeing the old system fail to evolve fast enough, unable to find a way to make money in this new landscape and struggle to maintain the status quo.  But all of us looking at them can see the writing on the wall, if they don’t adapt fast they’re going to lose all relevancy.

Right now, publishing is going through a massive shift.  Anyone who has ever wanted to write a book can do so and put it out.  Thousands of books are being published every single day, many of questionable quality, which means that while we’re able to put out books easily the supply far outweighs the demand and it’s only getting worse.

In some ways that’s scary, but in other ways this is the growing pains of all of us trying to figure out a new system.  That means there’s a lot of opportunity right now for all of us to try new things and the ideas that are successful will shape the future of publishing.

What I think is going to happen:

1. Traditional publishers will shrink.  Period.  Even those that can adapt, they’ll never be what they were before.  The self publishing age has come.

2. Working with a different model, new publishing companies will be very successful.  Enterprising, talented people will get together and form new publishing companies that operate in new ways.  They’ll take networking to a new level.  They’ll take lessons from what the traditional publishing companies used to do well, services that indie authors still require, like editing and promotion, and base themselves on providing those services.

3. Talented indies will band together.  Maybe they form a company like in #2, or maybe they just come up with a guild, whatever, but they’ll come together.  Mutual marketing, mutual promotion, advice and networking.  They’ll build a huge platform together out of their combined bases.  Instead of a million authors clamoring for a limited audience, those that band together will have a louder voice and as long as their work is solid the readers will follow them.

4. People complain about the lack of quality in some self published books.  Those authors will either join one of the guilds and improve their work, or they’ll be a solitary voice competing with the groups/guilds of solid writers.  Their books will not succeed in comparison.  The cream will rise to the top.

So, while traditional publishing will never be the same, there is tremendous opportunity right now.  Try new things, get together with other writers, we’re all in this together.  And personally, I’m excited to see how things evolve.

Choices, choices

This morning I asked for some feedback about a cover I’d been playing with.  I had some time today so I made up a second one.  I’m not sure if I like it better or not.  Huh.  So, I figured I’d put them up side by side and see if anyone has a preference, or different ideas I could try.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2             The apocalypse gazette 4.2

I think the reason I’m having trouble with these is that it’s like the camera is zoomed back too far, there’s too much to look at, not enough focus.  They’ll be even worse when shrunk down to thumbnail size.  Probably the simplest thing to do would just have the cover be the front page of the paper but that almost seems like a cop out.  So, feedback or ideas would be awesome.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2The apocalypse gazette 4.2

Something simple that sizes down well would probably be better.  Something like this, that is far less interesting -or complex.

cover_sepai_3

Even more choices.

Back to my Roots

When I was growing up I loved to read.  I’d read anything and I’d tear through a thousand page book in a week.  It would go everywhere with me until it was finished.  As much as I enjoyed reading, it wasn’t until I was thirteen that I discovered how much I loved to write.

When I was a Freshman in High School my friends and I used to have an hour long bus-ride home from school.  We were all avid horror and fantasy readers, one day we decided to use that time to write a short story on whatever topic we wanted, at the end of the ride we’d vote on who’s was best.

I wrote a short horror story about the four of us, my three friends and I.  We went camping, told scary stories around the fire, and one by one started to disappear.  We figured that one of the urban legends from the stories was actually real… but in the end found out that one of us was a werewolf (before they were trendy) and had invited everyone out to make meals of us.

It was scary, the descriptions were gory, like the horror flicks we loved, blood everywhere.

I won the little contest and discovered the joy I got from their reactions as we traded pages.  It was a blast to write something like all those stories that I enjoyed and have other people get a kick out of reading it.  Those little story contests became a regular part of our rides from then on.

Fast forward two decades.

This week I’m working on a new project.  As I was writing I realized I had a little hole in my plot, the characters were going to have to spend the night out in this hazardous place.  That wasn’t supposed to happen originally but it was just the way it worked out.  Thinking about that scene I figured I could just gloss over it, “they found an abandoned cabin to stay the night and nothing happened”…  but that’s not what I ended up happening

Instead, I spent the last two days writing over a dozen pages about the characters being haunted all night by creepy visions and monsters.  It just kind of evolved on the page into this huge, scary situation that I had so much fun creating.

In thinking about the project and the last two days it all kind of reminded me of writing those stories on the bus.  Those creepy, gruesome, edge-of-the-seat tales were what got me started writing to begin with because they were so much fun.  Even as a little kid, those R.L. Stein books were my favorites.  As I got older I transitioned into Stephen King and Dean Koontz, as well as a plethora of fantasy writers like Robert Jordan (RIP).

So I’m taking some time today to enjoy the process and remember what makes writing and reading enjoyable for me.  My last few projects have been pretty tame on the scare-o-meter, maybe my next one (or this one) will end up a few marks higher.  And if you find yourself hitting a slump, maybe thinking back to what you first loved about reading and writing will help get those juices flowing again.

Camp NaNo Win!

Wow, April just flew by but somehow I managed to eke out over 51 thousand words and complete Geeks, Greens, and Guns…

Camp-Winner-2015-Web-BannerIt’s not one of my favorite stories but I stuck it out and I posted it to Wattpad as it was written.  That might be a headache when I start editing but it was amusing.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get much feedback during the whole process.  I’d been hoping to get more interaction going on, oh well.  It was a fun experiment and I think that’s the way I’m going to keep doing NaNo in the future.  I like the idea of all writing together but also being able to check out what other people are doing.

If you’re interested in checking out Geeks, Greens, and Guns… on Wattpad, it’s available here.  Yes, I made the cover, and finished the story, I’m quite pleased with myself.

So, what’s on the agenda now?  Actually, I’m going to be pretty busy this month.  I got the name of a good editor and I’m going to be passing her a couple of my stories.  She’s local, which was important to me because I didn’t like the idea of sending money and my work to someone I’ve never met.  A couple of the projects I finished in the last six months are in good shape (I think) and shouldn’t require too much to make them publication-ready.  I think, we’ll see what she has to say.

One of the first stories that will be getting the editor treatment is one of my favorites, I’m really excited to see how it goes.

Does it feel right?

Done with Camp NaNo, a couple days early even!  Woo hoo!  Now that I’ve found myself with a bit more spare time I thought it might be a good time to write about an interesting little experience I had during this project.

The first week of April I was on a trip overseas.  I knew that it’d be hard to keep my word count up but I had almost two days of flying involved so I figured that’d give me a chance do some writing, even if I didn’t get much done the rest of the week.

On my return flight, the story was feeling a little slow so I write this really intense action sequence.  It was fast paced, lots of back and forth, it was awesome.  Probably the best action scene I’ve ever written.  I ripped out six or seven pages in no time.  Word count, smerd count, I’m the man.

But about an hour later, something was bugging me.  I wasn’t sure what it was, I just knew that there was something off about the scene.  I kept tweaking it, trying to make it feel better, but there was some underlying problem that unsettled me.

One of the things that I have learned as a writer is to pay attention to those gut feelings.  Often the subconscious will pick up on something before the conscious mind does.  So I paused the story while I tried to understand out what was going on.

It took me a while to figure it out but when I kind of stepped back and looked at it, it was obvious. I had wanted to write a certain type of scene so bad that I forced the characters into it.  My main character was way too savvy to get sucked into that situation, it should never have happened.

It didn’t fit, I’d forced it.  No amount of tweaking was going to change that.  So, with reluctance, I chopped the entire seven pages.  Seven pages!

This was so frustrating because that’s one of those holes that writers are often advised to avoid.  If you’re true to your characters than the plot flows along, if a character makes some decision that doesn’t make sense that’s probably a sign that the writer is forcing the characters to fit into a specific plot point.  I’d always thought that wasn’t a problem for me since I’m more of a pantser, but now I know better.

My word count suffered, it felt like all that work went down the drain, I had to rewrite pages and pages, but in the end the story was so much better for it.  I’m glad I listened to my gut, figured out what was wrong and fixed it.

(Side note: I saved the pages in another file and was later able to salvage some of it in a more appropriate place in the story.)

Where do you get your ideas?

When I talk to non-writers about projects there is one inevitable question; where do I get my ideas?  There seems to be this magical aura around the subject as though writers have tapped into some underground magical force that no one else can find.   Or maybe they think we’re genetically coded in some unique way to boost creativity.  That’s not the way it works, at least not for me.

They want to know where I get my ideas?  I keep my eyes open.  Wherever I’m going, whatever I’m doing, I’m paying attention and keep an open mind.  A dozen times a day, at least, something occurs to me.  The comments people make, how they move, how they look, what’s on TV, who’s at the restaurant.  Words, phrases, scenes, subjects, they’re constantly bouncing around my head and rearranging themselves in different ways.  Hey, that’d be interesting in a story.

I’m sure that isn’t an ability that’s unique to me.  In fact, I’m pretty sure just about anyone can do what I do.  Most people probably have a ton of good ideas for stories that occur to them.  But here’s the key thing: writers do something about it.  When one of these ideas occur to me, I don’t move on and forget about it, I let it wiggle around the back of my head for a while.  What kind of characters would be involved in a story like this?  What kind of plot would it have?  Where would it take place?  What kind of twist can I inject?

Sometimes I evaluate the idea and decide it isn’t that good, not all are going to be, but the ones with any promise get written down.  The really good ones, I’ll find the time to write out at least a page synopsis and notes so I can dig into it deeper later on.

But I’m always paying attention, always thinking.

Here’s an example:

A couple weeks ago I was struggling with the name for a project I was working on.  You might remember that, I wrote a post called It’s all been written.  Usually I have a title before I start writing but that story was giving me fits.  I kept checking ideas online and all the good ones had been taken, so I emailed a friend and asked for her opinion.

She wrote back an innocuous suggestion that didn’t remotely fit the story… But I thought it was a hilarious.  Immediately my brain kicked into gear.  What would that story be like?  What kind of characters would it have?  How would that work?

I could have disregarded her title idea and moved on because it didn’t fit my story.  Instead, I got a really amazing idea for a new one just because I was paying attention and I kept an open mind.

So, there might not be any mythical well spring of story ideas out there (if there is, point me in the right direction) but paying attention and writing things down is almost as good.

Happy St. Paddy’s Day

Yay, it’s St. Patrick’s Day!

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, time to get back to work.  Guess what’s just around the corner?  Camp NaNoWriMo.  Only two weeks away!

For those of you that don’t know, I’m a huge fan of the whole NaNo program.  Last November I knocked out 50,000+ words, finishing a rough draft of Summerton Blues.  I put it on the shelf to work on other projects since.  One of these days I’ll get around to sending it to an editor.  I’m not in a rush.

Today I got a notice from Camp Nano to start filling in the details for April.  My profile was already done but I hadn’t filled in anything for my project.  I’ve been working on other things and hadn’t put much thought into it.  So, I took the afternoon and did some brainstorming.  Then I got out my sketch pad and warmed up my paint program.

Geeks-greens-and-guns 3 s

I’m pleased with the results and am looking forward to April.  Get your drink on tonight (Safely!), then tomorrow get ready for NaNo!