Camp! Camp!

 

I love NaNo and Camp NaNo.  I get excited each time it rolls around, tomorrow is no exception.  The clock starts at midnight!

Thankfully, I’ve been able to finish every time… this will be my… fifth?  Very cool.  Hopefully I can keep the trend up with my next project.

Here’s a sneak peak and a draft cover I made:

Last Rights

There’s a diner at the intersection of two remote highways that also correspond to the crossroads of the afterlife.  After having a cup of coffee, maybe flirting with Carla, Ghosts can pick a direction and start walking down the lonely roads.  No one knows if one road leads to a pleasant place, or the fiery one, or something in between, or whether direction even matters because no ghost has ever come back.

Until one does.

Also deserving an honorable mention here is the cover I made for a friend who I cajoled into participating.  It’s the least I could do, right?  Turned out pretty sweet if you ask me.

third 5.1 sized M

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.

NaNo!

I haven’t been writing here too much this month because I’ve been trying to finish up a novel I’ve been working on before November… then this week I had a really fun idea for a short story, so now I’m trying to wrap up two projects in the next five days.

I’m not really complaining, I’d rather have too many things going on than too few, but it does add a little stress to the week.

All that said, I’ve got my idea and a very basic outline for my NaNoWriMo story!

back_draft_9s

McGhoulie’s:

On all Hallow’s eve, when a young thief breaks into an old costume shop he gets the shock of a lifetime.  Not only is the place open it’s occupied by the strangest creatures he’s ever seen.  Monsters of all shapes and sizes wander the aisles, shopping, gossiping, picking their noses.  Blue vested employees work the counters and cash registers.

And none of them are happy to have been discovered.

Given the option of putting on a blue vest or becoming a late night snack, which would you choose?

I think it’ll be fun and just like the last few NaNo’s I’ll be posting it to Wattpad as it’s written.  You can follow along here:  https://www.wattpad.com/user/jmpayer1

And to everyone else participating, Happy NaNo!

A Sense of Childish Wonder

Some of my all time favorite books are the ones I read in late Elementary and Middle School.  There was this sense of genuine ridiculousness and wild imagination that was so natural at the time.

A book about a kid with a magical cupboard that brings his figurines to life?  Or the castle in the attic?  What about the kids who realize their teacher is an alien?  Or the one where the back of the wardrobe is a doorway into another world?  Or the horror stories where a kid gets turned into a bee and has to figure out how to get back?  Calvin and Hobbes?

Fantastic!

That’s what’s so wonderful about those early stories, that anything, anything was possible.  The more ridiculous the better.  Some were truly ridiculous but at the same time they were so genuine.  They were somehow real and yet unpredictable.  There were no rules except to inspire wonder.

When I decided to start writing stories I knew at least some of them would be for my daughter and I really wanted to emulate the feelings that I got from books at her age.  However, I also wanted to bring some of that into the other stories I was doing too, which isn’t easy.

It’s more difficult with adults because stories need to have enough grounding, adults have a lot more established beliefs and opinions.  There can be an element of wonder, of the unexpected, but too much and they don’t like it.  We know what we like and we tend to pick out books that fit within comfortable niche.  They don’t have to follow all the stereotypes but neither can they stray too far.

Family and friends that I’ve shown my work to, people that know me, have been very pleased and accepting but I have to say that I get some strange looks from everyone else when I describe my stories.  Sometimes, I’m not sure how to describe them or even what genre they are.

Geeks, Greens and Guns… A normally stoic enforcer for the mob in Las Vegas gets sucked into a light hearted UFO story outside Area 51.  It’s kind of funny, nobody dies and there’s a happy ended.  I suppose it counts as Sci-Fi?

The Apocalypse Gazette: After an epic apocalypse a guy is all alone in his small town, goes crazy with nerves and loneliness, and decides to write a newspaper documenting it all.  I did a whole post before about how I’m not sure what genre this story should be.  It’s funny, it’s light hearted, it’s weird and it’s got a talking cat.  Apocalyptic humor?

Still Life, with Zombie:  I can’t remember if I’ve written about this one here, it’s a story about a retired doctor living in a remote area and the zombie apocalypse.  It’s dark humor, a little scary, but has what I consider the most heart warming ending of all my stories.  It needs a lot of work, I’ve been editing it for a while, but where does it fit in with readers?  It’s nowhere near the usual zombie story, very little action.  Horror, I suppose?  But that doesn’t really seem to fit.

front draft 2

I’ve written some stories for my kid that she’s really enjoyed and I’ve written some others that are more “normal”, but that ones that really stick with me are the weird ones.  While I might struggle with them, or even what to call them, I’m imminently pleased with how they’ve been turning out.  They represent some of that childish wonder but in unexpected places.  They’re fun to write and they’re the kinds of stories that I want to read, they don’t fit into neat categories.  They open the doors to all the impossible possibilities.

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.

The Cost of Writing a Book

Like many writers, I spend a lot of time in coffee shops though maybe not for the atmosphere.  I’ve been a member of a couple writing groups for the last year or so, they help keep things interesting, and, of course, they meet at coffee shops.

Whenever I go to these groups I buy something.  It doesn’t seem right to sit down, use their WiFi for a couple hours and not spend some money.  Usually it’s just two or three bucks for an iced tea but once a week or so I’ll add a sandwich or snack.  Plus a tip, of course.

Today, after paying for my iced tea and a veggie wrap, as I tried to find an unoccupied table to write at, I wondered how much money I’ve spent at these various shops.

This turned out to be a far scarier topic than I thought it would.  I did the math.

It takes me about two months to finish a very rough first draft, with two group meetings a week.

Two hours of writing costs me about $5 on average.  In two months I’ll have visited 8 times, spending a minimum of $40 just to get through a first draft.

That adds up fast, $240 a year for writing in coffee shops.  Now, it’s not just writing, there’s networking and commiserating with other writers, but still.  As Indies we’re always hearing about the costs for good covers, editing, marketing, etc.  But how many people talk about the cost of coffee (or iced tea)?  Maybe that should get figured into more Indie budgets.  I mean, $240 could pay for a lot of marketing.

But then, of course, if I didn’t spend so much time at coffee shops I would never get anything written.  I guess it just comes with the territory, the cost of writing a book.  😉

The importance of Beta Readers

Most of us writers probably have a similar response to finishing a story.  We gaze at our manuscript with starry eyes and proclaim it’s the best thing we’ve ever written, conveniently forgetting how we said the same thing after the last finished manuscript.  To be fair, it probably is at least a little better, but from how we (I) feel you’d think we skipped fifty developmental steps and just wrote the GREATEST AMERICAN NOVEL EVER.

I did this after finishing The Apocalypse Gazette.  Greatest.  American.  Novel.  Ever.

It’s not, I know, but it feels like it is.

Then come those pesky Beta Readers, poking holes in our ego.

It’s not pleasant but it’s important.

One of my favorite things about The Apocalypse Gazette is that it’s vague about what’s real in the story and what’s just in the main character’s head.  He’s losing his marbles and I like the fact that it’s not obvious how much of the story is actually happening vs. what he thinks is happening.  To me, that opens up this whole playful world that takes ‘post-apocalyptic’ into ‘anything goes’.

I passed the story on to a trusted friend for her opinions.  She’s read most of my stuff and is quick to point out any issues she has.

The first thing she said?  “I don’t understand what’s going on with Wally when XYZ happens…”

My ego wanted to jump in and say “That’s the point, isn’t it clever?”

But that wasn’t how it worked for her, she found the vagueness distracting and confusing.

As much as it pained me to admit, if she found it distracting and confusing, a large percentage of the readers would too.  And that’s not what I want.

So, back to the writing board to rework all those sections, trying to balance the parts I like with just enough clarity that I don’t lose the audience.  Sigh.  But that’s why Beta Readers are so important, the good ones will point out the good and the bad, hopefully leading to a better book.

NaNo!

Camp-Winner-2015-Web-BannerWoohoo!  It took a big push the last week but I managed to make the 50K count for the month.  Whew.  Awesome.  Now I just need to finish the draft, probably still need at least 5-10k more words.  Then it’s editing and rewriting.  A writer’s work is never done.

But at least I survived the month and got most of the way through The Apocalypse Gazette.  It took some interesting turns, led me on a merry chase, but in the end I got a hold of it and didn’t let go.

And once I wrap up the last few chapters I need to start throwing around ideas for November.

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

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.