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 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.

What’s in a genre?

I’ve been doing a lot of rewrites and adding sections to The Apocalypse Gazette.  While it was first started as kind of a silly, fluff story it’s quickly become one of my favorites.  It’s still silly but it’s also got a fun voice and personality.

However, there are a couple problems that have been bugging me about what to do with it.  I mean, it would be a really fun project to self publish, and that’s the goal, but there are some… logistical issues that are tripping me up the more I think about it.

First, there isn’t really a plot.  It’s basically a story about a guy all by himself in a town after the apocalypse going crazy.  He has a few minor problems that he has to figure out, the biggest being boredom, but there’s no bad guys, there’s no epic adventure.  I mean, it’s all playing off the fact that he’s losing it, a lot of the things that happen aren’t easily distinguishable between reality and his fantasies.  Personally, I’m fine with all that because it’s still a really fun story, I don’t feel like anything is missing, but how does one sell a story about a guy slowly going crazy and everything getting weirder and weirder?

Second, and this is arguably the bigger issue, what genre does The Apocalypse Gazette fall into?  Ok, fiction, obviously, but beyond that I’m not too sure.  Humor is probably the closest fit but at the same time that’s a broad category.  It’s not romance, fantasy, mystery, horror, science fiction, inspirational, or thriller.  It’s… dystopian… apocalyptic… humor?

Well, I suppose if Dystopian-Apocalyptic-Humor is a category on any of the main sites at least my story wouldn’t have much competition.

And, at least I have some time before I have to sort all that out, there’s still plenty of work to be done before I get to publishing.

If any of you have suggestions I would really like to hear them.

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.

NaNo Update

Whew, wow.  Yeah.  This month has been crazy.  I signed up for my third NaNo at the beginning of the July (full Nano last November, then April and July for camp), and this was the first time so far that I actually thought I wouldn’t finish on time.

This month has been busy all around, work, personal, and everything in between.  I was struggling to even make progress on The Apocalypse Gazette, which is why I haven’t taken the time to post here much.  Work work work.

At the beginning of this week I was barely at 35k with only five days to go.  Not insurmountable but way farther back than I wanted to be at that point.  But over the last three days I managed to pull together another 10k.  Which means I have to only get down another 5k by midnight Friday.

That I can do.  I might even finish a day early at this rate.

While I think I can make the goal for the month the story itself is far from done.  I’ve already come up with some major changes I need to make and 50k will get me close to done but I’ll probably need another 5-10 thousand words to wrap up the first draft.  It’s looking good though, I’m enjoying the story.  It’s a lot bigger and crazier and wilder than I thought it would be.  It’s been fun.

Like I did for the last Camp project, I put up sections of The Apocalypse Gazette on Wattpad as I was writing it.  If you’re interested you can pop over and see how it’s going.

And good luck to all of us participating this month!  Home stretch!

https://www.wattpad.com/story/41391002

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.

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.)