Camp NaNo

Woohoo, Camp NaNo started!  I’m on track with my word count so far, not that that’s saying much.  Just like last time I’ve decided to post the story to Wattpad as I’m writing it so interested readers and writers can follow along.  As an experiment it hasn’t yielded much in the way of results but it amuses me.

I put up the first couple chapters yesterday.

(Yes, I messed with the cover.  Again.)

The Apocalypse Gazette

How does the world end? Plague, calamity, aliens, solar flares? Maybe a combination of all the above? One morning Wally Mason woke up to find he was the last surviving person in his small town, maybe the last man on Earth. There’s plenty of food and water, he doesn’t lack for anything except entertainment. No social media, no TV, no internet, no Twitter. After a few months with only the company of his cat Spalding, Wally might just be going crazy. But just because he can’t blog or tweet anymore doesn’t mean he can’t write. In fact, why not document his apocalypse experiences in style? Why not write the one and only Apocalypse Gazette?

http://www.wattpad.com/story/41391002-the-apocalypse-gazette

New Review for an Old Favorite

I recently found myself between books and decided to re-read an old favorite, Phule’s Company by Robert Asprin.

Originally published in 1990, I discovered this book during Middle School and fell in love with it.

The back cover:

The Few. The Proud.  The Stupid.  The Inept.

Meet the soldiers of Phule’s Company.

They do more damage before 9:00 A.M. than most people do all day…

And they’re mankind’s last hope.

It’s about a charismatic young Space Legion Lieutenant who breaks a few rules but also happens to be the rich son of a mega-billionaire.  The Legion can’t really punish him so they promote him and give him command over a “hopeless” company full of losers, criminals, and pacifists.  Much hilarity ensues.

I just have to say that Robert Asprin is a brilliant writer and that’s most evident in Phule’s Company.  His other books are good but this one is fantastic.  It’s smart, it’s funny, and he hits all the right points, and his descriptions are awesome.  He even breaks a few of my reader rules without losing me, like head jumping and switching perspectives, which is very uncommon.  It just works so well the way it’s written.

Even reading it now, some twenty years later, I still love the book and highly recommend it to others.  Other great series by Asprin include the Myth series, Time Scout, and Thieves World.

And as a writer, there are some other things that are interesting about Robert Asprin and Phule’s Company that don’t involve his skills.  In many ways, as fantastic of a writer as he was, there are several aspects of his life that could stand as lessons to the rest of us.

You see, Phule’s Company is one of the few books published by Robert Asprin without a co-author.

This went well until the late 1990’s, when RLA’s (Robert Lynn Asprin) career was disrupted by a converging set of circumstances. Firstly, Mr. Asprin ended up in extremely serious trouble with the American federal tax agency, the Internal Revenue Service, over the supposed non-payment of income taxes, specifically in relation to his appearances at various science fiction conventions. The IRS is reported to have garnished RLA’s income, meaning that, while the garishment was in place, any income RLA made would go directly to the IRS. If he were to write and publish a book under these conditions, any and all profits would be automatically claimed by the IRS.

A way around this, evidently, was for RLA to sign off on officially ‘co-authored’ books. This is presumably one reason why the Phule and Time Scout series have continued to appear under co-authored bylines (Peter J. Heck and Linda Evans, respectively.) License Invoked (with Jody Lynn Nye) used the same scheme.

According to RLA’s own introduction to Myth-ion Improbable, as of April 2000, this dispute was finally “resolved.”

Another reason for the co-authoring as well as for the lack of new Myth books is that it appears RLA’s writer’s block, as discussed below, became terminal for several years. As noted elsewhere in this FAQ (Section 9.4), RLA has admitted for the record that he contributed very little to the writing of Wagers of Sin. The same is likely true of A Phule and His Money, Ripping Time, et al, although there has been no official confirmation of this. (Although the tax-agency subplots running through A Phule and His Money and Myth-Taken Identity must have been inspired by RLA’s real-life experiences in this area.)

Thirdly, there was the situation with Donning. While Mr. Asprin was still under contract, Donning’s “Starblaze” line, which published the original hardcover versions of the MythAdventure books, was shut down. Donning as a whole is now (more or less) defunct, having been bought out by another publishing company. The company went under amidst a storm of accusations of legal and financial chicanery, and so, for several years, if RLA was still under any contract to write Myth books, it was with this zombie of a company, an entity with whom he had no desire to conduct further business.

IRS and publisher issues almost derailed Robert Asprin’s career.  Around the same time these issues were first cropped up, writer’s block stopped him from writing for SEVEN YEARS.  That’s the official story at least.  I’m sure he did some writing during that time but was either unable or unwilling to publish because of those issues.  Thankfully, the disputes were eventually resolved and he went on to put out many more books before he passed away in 2008.

It’s a fascinating story all around, both the author and his work.  I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t read Phule’s Company to go out and pick up a copy.  The rest of Robert Asprins work, especially Time Scout, are awesome too but Phule’s Company has a special place for me.

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.

Cover Advice

Those of you that have been reading for a bit know how much fun I have coming up with covers.  Yesterday, I spent about eight hours coming up with something for my next project (I’m thinking ahead to Camp NaNo in July).  I had a lot of fun but I’m not satisfied with the result.  I showed it to a friend and she liked it a lot but there’s something off about it.  I think it might be too busy, not focused enough, but I’m not sure if that’s what’s bugging me.

A quick plot summary: A young man survives a myriad of apocalyptic situations and finds himself the sole survivor in a remote small town.  He soon starts going a little crazy and decides to write an Onion-style, end of the world newspaper call The Apocalypse Gazette.  It will hopefully be a funny story.

The Apocalypse Gazette 2It’s a fairly simple premise that shouldn’t be too difficult to get across.  My idea for the above image was a guy selling papers in an empty, post-apocalyptic town… but if you don’t already know that’s what the story’s about, I don’t think that’s obvious from the image.  I like it, I wouldn’t have spent eight hours on it otherwise, but I’m not sure if it works.  Maybe it doesn’t need to change, maybe it’s amusing enough to make people curious and click… or maybe I need to start over again.  I’m not sure.

So, I’m putting it to all of you.  What do you think?  Is it good enough as is (for now anyway)?  If not, should I start over or is there something that could be done to improve it?  Any feedback would be appreciated.

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.

Start with a Cover

One of the things that I like to do that probably seems strange to other writers is early on in the process of writing a story I like to make a cover.

The first reason is that I like all the arts, sketching characters or scenes from my stories is just as natural as writing about them in the first place.  It’s fun, it’s creative, it keeps all the juices flowing.  I’m a decent cartoonist-style artist and an amateur with graphics programs but it’s fun to see what I can come up with.

The second reason is something that other writers might consider, a cover is good motivation.  It’s a symbol of the end-goal of writing.  I’m not just playing around, writing something for a lark, this is going to be a book.  It makes me visualize the completed project which helps keep me motivated to finish it.  Out of all the stories that I’ve started or worked on over the last year, I’ve completed the first draft of 80% that I made a cover for (Sadie’s story is still in work).

Whether or not the covers actually get used for the books doesn’t matter, I’ve had fun and they’ve helped keep me going.  That’s something that other writers should maybe consider doing themselves.  Why leave it to the end when there are benefits to doing it in earlier?  Something to think about.

Here are a couple of the ones I’ve done over the last year, newest to oldest.

Geeks-greens-and-guns 3 s cover draft 2.2.1 s cover draft 2s front draft 2 larry's dead cover draft 1.1.1.2

Happy writing!

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.)

An Observation

It’s been about a year since I started writing seriously.  I’ve ‘finished’ five big first drafts in that time but have hesitated to publish anything.  One of the reason is that I haven’t had the time or money to put into getting good edits done but the biggest reason is that every draft is a learning experience.  Writing so much, then reading and revising, has taught me so much about the craft.  Every time I look back at one of my early drafts I realize how far I’ve come.  As I want my first published work to be the highest quality I’ve been focused on learning rather than publishing.

An excellent example is my Camp NaNo project.  I hesitate to call it a ‘throw away’ novel but it didn’t have a lot of promise going into it.  Whenever I get involved with NaNo I pick out one of my ideas that light, easy to write, and doesn’t have a lot of depth.  The idea being that it should be easier to keep up the high word count daily.  If it sucks, no big deal, it’s just for fun (I’m even posting it on Wattpad as it gets written).  However, even with the not-so-serious premise and some edits I know I need to make, I can still see how far I’ve come in the last year.  Even writing something I’m not that invested in, the quality of the writing has improved dramatically.

While I still consider myself a student of the craft, it’s awesome to see the difference.

If you’re curious, it’s available on Wattpad (and getting closer to completion every day).  Feel free to leave comments or critiques, I’m always looking for feedback.

http://www.wattpad.com/story/35668423-geeks-greens-and-guns

The Snowball is rolling

I roped one of my friends into participating in Camp NaNo this month.  She’d always wanted to write but never made the time, so I convinced her to give it a shot.  Over and over I told her that it was so much easier to keep up the word count every day than it was catch up later on.  Over and over.

I wish I’d taken my own advice.  The month got busy, and I’d known it would, but I’m about two days behind on my word count from where I wanted to be and I’m rapidly running out of time to get caught up.

Hopefully all of you are doing better than me.

The good point out of all this is that the story is finally getting to the best parts, so at least it’ll be fun to write.

Win or lose, NaNo is always an experience.