Killing A Darling

One of the more famous–and often abused but that’s for another posting–quotes on writing is from William Faulkner, who said that in writing you must “kill your darlings”.

As one who writes horror and thriller tales, I’ve certainly been known to subscribe to that advice (insert soundtrack of evil laugh here).

But today I did something for the first time as a writer, and thought it would be fun to share.

I always write from a loose outline. I like to begin the story creation process by outlining all the major (and even minor) events for my story, but without describing them in too much detail. Typically my outline is a bunch of index cards each with just a couple words on them, such as “hero meets woman”, “bad guy shows muscle”, and “bad guy fish-slaps hero” (fish-slap is my note for not only being defeated, but being humiliated too).

What I never include in my outlines, is death. Long ago I decided that I wanted all character deaths to reveal themselves to me during the actual writing process, then I often have to adjust the outline to account for them, but it’s nice to be surprised by them as a writer and I feel it helps keep my storytelling fresh and adventurous for   both me and readers.

However, while outlining my latest work today, I felt like I needed to include several character deaths in the outline to make it work the way I wanted, and since the no deaths in outline rule  is my own I was sure I could break it just this once.

And boy did I break it (again insert evil laugh soundtrack). Completing my outline I suddenly feel like George R.R. Martin, everybody who “shouldn’t” will die… readers will say “omg, no he didn’t”…

It’s very different for me to plan a character’s death rather than to just let it happen during the first draft. Normally, it seems natural and unavoidable. Out of my control in an odd way. But  to actually plan it, feels very close to playing God… and I like it! (insert final evil laugh soundtrack)

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On Inspirations…

Not long ago I wrote here about where story ideas come from, and according to my blog stats that has been a fairly popular posting, so I thought I’d share a quick summary of where the story idea for my latest project titled “Sarah’s Place”, and due out on Amazon next month.

In all honesty, the inspiration for this story came from another book I recently read. No, of course I’m not stealing another’s story or idea. The book I read is a non-fiction “how to” tome of sorts published in 1978 called David St. Clair’s Lessons in Instant ESP.

I found the book among a large collection of strange and occult titles in a box of books I rescued from my father’s garage a while back. Books he didn’t believe would even be worthy of donation and planned to throw away. Of course, for a writer of strange tales like myself, books like these are like finding a pirate’s treasure map with the big “X” marked on it.

Of course there’s a lot (mostly all of the words) in this particular book for the average person to scoff at. It clearly was intended to capitalize on the (often drug rehab induced) spiritual awakening of Yipsters of the era.

But, for me it’s chapter after chapter of “what if’s” begging to be asked and answered at my keyboard.

For example, the story I’m just finishing the final edit on now, came after reading through a chapter in the book on meditating oneself into a secret place of consciousness. The book gives a long list of reasons why one might want to do this, at the core of all of them seems to be for finding peace and relaxation. I don’t need that, I’ve got dancing kittens on YouTube.

However, the little voice in my head that whispers story sparks to me (and by the way, St. Clair devotes an entire section of his book to describing that voice, what it is and where it comes from that’s worth the read for entertainment value), so my little voice darn near deafened me after I read the chapter on meditating to a secret place when it shouted “What if the consciousness of two people were to show up there at the same time? And what if one of them was mean? …bwaghahahahaha

Yes, that’s really how my little voice laughs.

Finding that idea interesting, I tossed it around for a while, looking for a secondary idea I could marry it off to. That’s how I develop my stories, I take two ideas, one suited to external conflicts and the other suited to internal strife, and mesh them together.

When I finally had a secondary idea that also interested me, I went through the mechanical steps to figure out how I could intertwine the two ideas and then tie it all together with a subtle underlying thread that one might call a theme (again, all part of my story-dev process). Once I had that all worked out, I created and got to know the characters who would travel through the story with me, and began to write.

So, that’s the story behind the story for my latest work that I’ll be publishing through Amazon, and a candid accounting of my entire creative writing process from initial idea to first draft. After that it’s editing, rewriting, editing more…craft work.

I hope you’ll be watching for “Sarah’s Place” in the coming weeks, and if you’d like to be notified when it’s released you can always subscribe to my email list on the upper right of this page, I send out ZERO SPAM and only the occasional notice when a new story is released, if I have big news to share, or sometimes I might even offer subscribers a private treat as well.

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Writing Heroes

Something that a lot of writers talk about being hard for them, is coming up with the perfect names for their characters and often for places within their yarns as well. And writers have devised numerous ways for creating (or finding) names, like browsing through various books or web sites of baby names.

A long time ago I decided that since I was writing tales of heroes and heroic adventure (not always, but often enough), that I would “find” the names for my characters from sources of true heroes. Men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifices in service to their community or country.

There are resources, which keep lists of the men and women who, while serving others as soldiers or members of law enforcement, have given their lives.

It is from these lists that I “find inspiration” and “create” the names for the characters or fictional places in my stories. It is a small way for me to give a tiny tip-of-the-hat to the true heroes who have walked among us.

I don’t just grab and use names wholesale. That would be too easy, and could lead to possible issues with families, or God forbid lawyers.

Instead, I’ll find a surname from someone on these lists that works for the character I’m writing, then I’ll find a first name from another person on the list, so that basically each of my characters are a small, personal tribute to two true heroes.

This isn’t a political thing. It doesn’t represent either pro nor anti feelings or positions towards any policies or military actions. It’s not about that.

This is about honoring, in my own very small way, individuals who put service to others above their own safety.

So, if you’ve ever wondered how writers come up with names for people and places, now you know my method.

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Back To Reality

My first ever free giveaway promo for kindle editions of “It Came From The Rocks” has ended. For the 3 days during the promo the story was sitting near the top of 2 Best Sellers lists on Amazon. That was fun.

Now, with the chaos of trying to let people know about the free promo being over, it’s time for me to return to my normal daily activities.

I’ve got a new story that I’m flushing out in my head right now, but like any good writer I think first I’ll go tackle something important, like those dang Angry Birds.

Thanks to everyone who downloaded the story during the free giveaway. I truly hope you enjoy it.

For the 6 billion or so of you who didn’t download it, I know who you are and am data mining for addresses as we speak.

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Where Do Story Ideas Come From?

“Where Do Story Ideas Come From?” Seems to be a question many aspiring writers have. I’ve heard it asked dozens of times at writing workshops or “author nights”, and I see it pop up almost daily on one forum or another where writers are hanging out online.

I think the main reason this gets asked so often is because there’s just no single concrete answer to the question. There’s as many ways to find a story idea as there are ways to tell that story once you do.

For me, there’s never been a problem with finding story ideas. My problem is ignoring them while I’m trying to focus on whatever work-in-progress I have going at the time. I don’t actually ignore them, I jot them down for future considerations; my point is story sparks are constantly igniting in my mind.

I believe this is because I’ve spent so long now trying to look for the “strange potential” of things. That’s all writer’s really do.

To illustrate the point, think of a nylon stocking. A romance writer looks at it and sees a tool of seduction. The thriller writer sees the mask of a bank robber or kidnapper. The murder-mystery writer sees a makeshift garrote to choke a victim with. A sci-fi or horror writer may see it as the delivery system for maliciously programmed nanites.

It’s all about viewing things with the desire to see their strange potential.

By no means is this a special skill or something only some are born with. It’s just a matter of training yourself to constantly be playing a mental game of twenty-questions, even with the most mundane of objects and situations.

From that point, it’s craft to turn the idea into a story. People like to over complicate this process as well. There’s tons of tomes on every aspect of writing. I think most of it is noise.

For every “rule” or “must do” I’ve ever seen in one of those books, or heard from another writer, I could instantly point out numerous examples of successful authors and stories that broke them or didn’t do them.

Like stories, every writer is different and needs to find their own path. For me, it finally became fun and manageable when I decided I only needed a system of 3 C’s to write a story that others found entertaining.

  1. Conflict – without this there’s no point
  2. Consequences – escalating are preferred
  3. Convergence – everything must start somewhere, move forward, connect and end together

Everything else is good to know, but not worth a damn if it’s getting in the way of actually writing stories.

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Top 20 on 2 Best Seller Lists!

My novella,”It Came From The Rocks“, has hit the Top 20 on 2 of Amazon’s Kindle Store Best Seller lists in just 3 days!

2 Best Sellers Lists in 3 Days

2 Best Sellers Lists in 3 Days (click for larger view)

I know that offering the Free Giveaway promotion over the past 2 days (and tomorrow) is the driving factor behind the rankings, but that doesn’t make it feel any less of an achievement to me.

Plus, it was already getting some paid purchases on the first day it was published before I figured out how to setup the freebie promo. Yes, I’m a serious technophobe and if you knew me you’d understand what an accomplishment my just posting to this blog actually is, let alone trying to navigate and use online tools and software systems.

I also received my first review for “It Came From The Rocks” on Amazon. The person gave my story a 4 star positive rating, which was awesome. It’s always a bit scary when you create something and put it out there for others to share, and ultimately judge.

Even when you believe in your work, there’s always that little voice in the back of your head taunting you, saying that your work is crap and you’re going to get thrashed by everyone who reads it.

So, finding such a positive review on my story this morning was a very good way to start the day, and a new week.

I’d love to contact that reviewer to express my joy and gratitude since they were my first on Amazon, however there’s no way to do that which wouldn’t feel uber-creepy. So, if you are the one who left this review and happen to be reading my blog, please know that I am truly happy that you enjoyed my story, and will always remember the joy of reading your review as my first on Amazon.

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It Came From The Rocks – Free for Kindle and Trade Paperback available

My novella, It Came From The Rocks, will be free for Kindle over the next 3 days on Amazon.com

If you don’t have a Kindle download Amazon’s Kindle for PC software (also free) that lets you get and read Kindle books on your PC.

I’ve also setup a paperback version through CreateSpace for everyone like me who still likes the smell of paper and ink. I thought it would get expensive for readers making a paper version available, but I’m able to offer it at just $4.99 so that convinced me to do it.

The print version will be up on Amazon too in a few days, until then it’s available via CreateSpace here.

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It Came From The Rocks – Published Dec. 2012

My novella, “It Came From The Rocks“, was published through Amazon this month. I’m pretty stoked about it, and as soon as I figure out how to run the free trial promotions in their KDP Select program I’ll post about that too.

The story came to me from a dream I had (how cliche is that?), where an ape-like creature was terrorizing my neighborhood, ate my one neighbor’s dogs which never stop barking (until they was eaten), and traveling across roof-tops.

I woke with this vivid image of the creature standing on a rooftop, framed by the moon, it’s head turned almost completely backwards to look at me with blood-red eyes.

It was the first time in many years that a dream startled me like that, and I knew I had to write it into a story. “It Came From The Rocks” is what I came up with.

I’ve been (re)reading a lot of my old pulp fiction books recently. I love the fast pace, low fluff style of those things. They’re quick reads, usually from 30 to 90 minutes cover to cover, and designed to keep you on the edge of your seat all the way through.

So, that’s what I aimed for when I sat down to write this one. Something quick and fun to get the blood pumping while on your morning bus or train ride, or at lunchtime for an adrenaline rush to get you through the afternoon.

Here’s the cover and back flap images for the book (click for larger views):

It Came From The Rocks - cover image

Cover Image

It Came From The Rocks - back flap image

back flap

If you read it let me know what you think. Feedback, good and bad, is always encouraged and appreciated.

Get It Came From The Rocks for Kindle on Amazon. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the free Kindle for PC program that lets you read Kindle books on your computer from Amazon here.

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Big Advantage To Indie Publishing: Risk Taking

As a long time fan of John Mellencamp‘s music, the fact that he has pushed the envelope in his lyrics and musical style over the years is a major reason I’m still buying his CD’s (they were albums and even 8-tracks when I first became a fan).
Mellencamp’s music, probably much like the man himself, has grown and evolved over the years. The core is still intact, he’s still crafting diddies about the everyman’s angst; but nothing on his recent releases actually sounds anything like “Jack and Diane” or “Authority Song”, though the backdrops and themes tend to remain the same.
I couldn’t even imagine if he’d followed “Jack and Diance” with “Bill and Lisa”, then “Joe and Heather”, and so on. How boring would that strict formula following have been for fans?
One of my favorite filmmakers is Ron Howard. From the silly to the deep, he’s made highly entertaining flicks that have made me laugh, and at times made me think.
But imagine if he had followed “Splash” with a dozen more romantic comedy romps involving a half-fish…blagh!
Thinking about creators in other crafts who refuse to keep pumping out the same formulaic product over and over, it makes me wonder why writers tend to be the exact opposite.
Certainly there are exceptions, but for the most part writers who achieve any level of success tend to continue producing the same exact style and tone of story over and over again for the length of their careers.
I’ve spoken with writers about this in the past. Most expressed that they’d love to challenge themselves by exploring new genres and styles, but it always seems to come back to “my [publisher/agent] would never go for it”.
I understand that. Hey, nobody wants to kill their Golden Goose? So pressures from publishers and/or agents keeps the creative juices of writers boxed in as a matter of business.
But, that’s where I think Indie publishing really opens the floodgates for writers. Sure, your publisher may be demanding 3 more “small town girl tames big city badboy” romance novels under your contract, but with just 5 minutes a writer can fill out a form and setup a pen name to release as many novels and novellas in as many different genres as they please.
Always wanted to try your hand at a thriller? A tale of horror? A western? Now you can.
And I truly believe–based on the writers I’ve talked with–that most writers would rather develop stories in a variety of genres rather than sticking to the same thing with every manuscript.
That’s just the nature of being creative. Your mind likes wonder and your inner-child loves to play in multiple playgrounds.
Beyond being so easy for a writer to expand out now, the fact that shorts and novellas have a lower bar to entry with Indie publishing over traditional, it really does free writers to explore and expand their craft.
So open up your word processing program and start taking some risks. It’s good times for writers and readers alike.
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Interesting Times For Writers and Self Publishers

I’m constantly watching the news and blogs for stories about writers, publishers, and the overall industry; and recently there’s been a good bit of buzz around one author, Amanda Hocking. For example, this HuffPo piece, and this interview, and supposedly she’ll be featured in an upcoming issue of Elle magazine; all because she’s doing incredibly well as an author who self publishes her writings through services like Amazon, and apparently sells most (if not all?) of her ebooks for just $0.99, which might sound really cheap, but if the numbers about her book sales that are being touted are even close to accurate then it’s possible at $0.99 she has earned more in January of this year than a large number of traditionally published authors will make from their book sales all year long.

But, there have been plenty of stories covering her success online recently, and even quite a few pieces covering the coverage of Amanda Hocking’s success too.

I was actually prompted to blog about this today after reading this recent post on Amanda’s own blog where she gives her thoughts about the sudden media buzz. It’s an interesting read, as are most of her blog posts, with candid and thoughtful insights from her own perspective.

Touching on the “self publish vs. traditional publishing route” debate, and giving her own unique and very insightful commentary, I found some of her opinions and positions were contrary to what I was expecting, which forced me to consider my own feelings on this a little more.

Now, to be clear, I’ve had a few short works published in the past, but nothing honestly noteworthy and my own small successes wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar screen in comparison to how well Hocking’s books are doing. For me, writing has always been a secondary act that I typically engage in when I need to escape reality for a little while–and it’s too cold to go camping. It isn’t something I’ve ever pursued for any real purpose other than self enjoyment. So, my own thoughts on the state of publishing today are admittedly challenged by having no roots in a desire to ever please or ‘be accepted’ by an established publishing house.

With that said, I do have over a decade in online marketing and promotions under my belt, and I’ve spent the last year working one-on-one with a first time author who did publish traditionally, and most of my feelings on the debate over self vs. traditional publishing in today’s world were actually formed in the last twelve months as a result.

The author I’ve worked with, as I said a first time author, has received next to no help what-so-ever from his publisher to promote his novel, online or offline. They basically said “we’ve invested all we’re going to with your first run until such time as you reach some magic number in sales, and it’s up to you to find what that number is, then get there.”

The majority of their input has been to send out Press Releases and make follow-up phone calls to stores or other venues the author approached first on his own to set up signings or speaking events.

I thought that seemed like a crazy stance to take for a publisher when I first became involved in this, but in talking with many other authors since then I’ve found it’s kind of common for first time and even second and third time authors who haven’t established a specific size of market and brand for themselves yet. And I’ve come to understand it’s simply a business decision many publishers have made to minimize their risks on ‘unproven products’.

But the more I became involved in helping this particular author to promote his book, the more I came to believe that for most authors I was meeting along the way, they’d have been financially better off to have self published through one of the many venues out there. Not because it would have been easier necessarily, but because they’d have still been in basically the same position of having to market and sell themselves as they were with a publisher, and they wouldn’t have had to give away such a large percentage to get there.

Sure, there are other benefits to having a publishing house behind you, and I don’t mean to minimize this in any way, but if you’re going to have to become a major business operation anyway, the resources are out there for authors to cut-and-replace the publishing houses from the equation and still be successful, maybe less so, but perhaps more so.

I don’t want to get too heavy into the nuts and bolts of it all, but at the end of the day the genuine best reason for working with a publishing house no longer exists in my opinion.

For many years they controlled distribution. They paid to have their author’s works on the shelves of stores, and also to keep the works of others (publishing house backed and self-published) off the shelves. They manipulated the marketplace in many ways, and for that long period prevented too many self-published success stories from surfacing. Though a few great works still rose to the top here and there despite their controls.

But now, they don’t have that same control over distribution. It’s as easy for anyone to get on Amazon as it is for Stephen King. It’s affordable to get included in the major distribution catalogs and into the bookstores now too. Which I’m sure is still a thrill for authors when they see their books on a shelf, but the fact is that e-readers and the ebook market snowball has finally begun to roll, and a very lucrative opportunity exists now for writers who publish strictly in digital format.

According to Amazon.com, they sold 3 ebooks to every 1 paper book in January of this year, and Barnes & Noble has stated that digital books are out-selling paper books on their website as well. Now more than ever in our lifetime, it looks like the success or failure of a book depends more on the quality of the work and the author than on anything else, including the backing of an established publisher.

Sure, established authors will still sell volume on name recognition alone, but Joe Smith from Nowhereland has the chance today to outsell those top brand authors that really didn’t exist just a few years ago, and if he’s still an ‘unproven product’ then whether or not he has a publishing house contract is going to make almost no difference at all.

Lastly, I’d like to just say on the ‘legitimacy’ question that often comes up when people speak of self vs. traditional publishing, that I remember taking an English Lit class once and my Prof scoffed in speaking about an author who self published several books on the Kennedy Assassination and sold them from a fold-up table near the site of the shooting in Dallas. That same Prof had suggested numerous classics for us to read, and what struck me as funny that I remember this now, twenty-some years later, is that each one of those classics had been self published in their time.

The point is, great work just needs to be out there. And with an almost level playing field, great works from self-publishing authors can rise to the top.

I’m not saying that self-publishing is the best route, or even the right route for everybody by any means. Only that based on my own experiences over the past year, it appears that the days of getting a publisher and instantly having a full-time business partner are long gone regardless of the path an author takes. One is going to have to be their own best marketer and salesperson from the starting line in either case, and with the resources and access that exist now it’s worth looking into very closely and making a decision based on your own abilities and circumstances rather than following the notion that there’s only one proper way for a writer to go.

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