Friday, December 6, 2013

More Fun with Government Websites

We've all heard about the incompetence of the new national Healthcare website. What you may not know is, the same idiots must have redesigned EVERY government website because NONE of them work now. And good luck trying to reach anyone by phone to complain about it. If you manage to get a call connected, you're either A) told all lines are busy and to try back later, after which you're hung up on, B) current wait times are (insert number of hours) and leave a call back number (after which they call you back and put you on hold--fun), or C) you're forced to listen to a list of voicemail options that have nothing to do with why you called and when you select none, the robo-voice tells you to have a nice day and hangs up on you.

Now, a suspicious person (who--me?) might believe this is the government's way of keeping the citizens at arm's length. If they can't reach you, they can't bitch, right? And let's face it, who would call THIS government to say anything nice?

I haven't had the pleasure of personally dealing with the healthcare site yet, but I did spend a month TRYING to apply for unemployment on Florida's new CONNECT site, and let me tell you, the term "going postal" didn't come close to describing my frustration. The best part was, after four weeks of fighting to get logged in, they informed me that I couldn't receive benefits until after my waiting week (which would have been three weeks earlier if the fucking site had worked!).

SOMEBODY CALL AL GORE TO COME FIX THIS SHIT. HE CLAIMED TO HAVE INVENTED THE INTERNET, SO I'M BLAMING HIM NOW.

The funny thing is, I'm a web designer, and while I like to pretend to my clients that what I do for them is really hard, it isn't. Brain surgery is hard. Finding parking at the mall this time of year is hard. Web design (once you know the code) is a walk in the park, which should be an indicator of just how stupid this government is.

Still licking my wounds from the CONNECT debacle, I come up against the latest government FUBAR, the Social Security Administration, who by the way, just updated their site. Three guesses who handled that update. This must have been one of those Lockheed-$500-toilet-government-contract fuckups.

This all started when I got this email two weeks ago:

We’d like to remind you to review your Social Security Statement online. The Statement has important Social Security information and, if applicable, estimates of your future benefits.
If you are working, we encourage you to check your Statement yearly to make sure your earnings record is correct. The Statement also will help in planning your financial future.
To view your most recent Statement, please visit www.socialsecurity.gov/signin and sign into your account.
Please do not reply to this E-mail, as we are unable to respond to messages sent to this address.


So, like any curious citizen, I clicked on the link and entered the login information I had used to create my account last year when the SSA decided mailing statements to people was too much work and insisted that we all use their (cough cough) wonderful website to view them instead (I'm not even going to think about how much stress this is causing elderly people who can't even figure out how to turn on a computer).

SIDE NOTE: I now know how they're going to solve the social security going broke problem. If no one can log in, no one can apply for benefits.

Anyway, here is the result of that login attempt:



 Now, first of all, this is a WEBSITE. There's no one sitting on the other end answering url requests, so insisting that people attempt to access the site ONLY during regular service hours is RETARDED.

Second, the first time I attempted this was at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday, which, unless I'm sitting in China, is within their definition of REGULAR SERVICE HOURS.

Third, I tried this over and over at various times of day over the next two weeks and got the same message every time. So finally, I decided I'd call to see what the hell the problem was (big mistake, but hey, I'm a sucker).

I think I deserve some credit for not smashing my phone because the robo-voice that answered was the most annoying male I have even heard. And the options he gave weren't even close to why I was calling (I guess they don't want to include the option "If our website is fucked up and you can't log in, press 9.")

So I waited until the annoying voice finished it's litany of stupidity, then was informed that if I wanted to wait on the line, my wait time would be four hours.

FOUR MOTHERFUCKING HOURS!!

If your customer service line is backed up for FOUR MOTHERFUCKING HOURS, that should send up a red flag saying, hey, we might have a problem here.

*Smacks head* What am I thinking--it's the GOVERNMENT.

Rather than sit on hold till my phone battery died (and you know, because I have a life to live) I left a callback number. By the time they called I had forgotten all about it, so that was a surprise. Then when I answered I got put on hold for ten minutes, then sent back to the voicemail labyrinth so I'd be good a ready to treat the public servant who finally answered with the proper amount of respect.

And can I just ask this--why would you call me back to put me on hold when the reason you made me give you a callback number in the first place was so I wouldn't have to sit on hold? Every government site does this now.

SIDE NOTE: I used to be an advocate of gun control.

When I finally got connected to a (cough cough) human being, she informed me that they had updated their website and all the old accounts were deleted so I had to create a new one. As a credit to my humanity, I didn't even to waste my breath commenting on that one, though I was thinking some pithy stuff real hard.

So I go back to the website to create a new account, and I put in all my information, and it informs me that there is already an account in that name and to log in using those credentials. Not trusting that, I created a new password (it wouldn't let me create a new username, bastards) then attempted to login .

Guess what happened


At this point, I don't even care anymore. Besides, by the time I qualify for Social Security, the money will be paying for some politician's mistress's boob job. I hope she enjoys it.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

It's the thought that counts...or at least it was

I remember the exact moment when I realized I wasn't going to participate in the rampant greed that defines the holiday season as we know it today.

I grew up a child of the 50s and 60s, when the holidays were more about gathering with friends and family to reflect upon the year past and look forward with hope to the one ahead. There was magic in the air, and while the anticipation of Santa's return was part of it, it was more than that. You could literally feel the presence of God, which for me, means love.

I'm not a religious person. I don't subscribe to any one faith, but that doesn't mean I don't believe in something. The power of love, of the soul. I believe in morality, in humanity as it pertains to its root--humane. The holiday season was once a celebration of that. Harkening back to its pagan origins, the Solstice was a time of renewal, of the rebirth of the sun as the seasons changed and the days began to lengthen again, leaving the darkness behind.

It was in the early 90s when I finally looked around me and realized I was done with it all. My kids were still young, though past the belief in Santa. I had lost my job that year and we were struggling. I was working odd jobs, whatever I could pick up--cleaning houses, delivering phone books, painting houses. It wasn't much, but it put food on the table and kept a roof over our heads. Some nights I skipped dinner so the kids could eat. They knew things were tough, but they didn't know the real story. They didn't need to. They were kids, and as my father always taught us, kids should remain innocent as long as possible, because they have their whole lives to be adults.

As I said, we didn't have much, and I knew Christmas wasn't going to be the bountiful feast of years past, but while eating dinner one night, the kids brought up an idea. Instead of buying them toys, why didn't we donate whatever we could to a needy family. Considering we were pretty needy ourselves at the time, I felt a lump in my throat that I had raised these kids to think that way.

So that's what we did. I scraped together $150.00 and we signed up to adopt a family. They had two small children--a girl and a boy--and we went shopping and bought a couple of inexpensive toys for each, then a turkey and and all the fixings for a family dinner. On the morning of Christmas Eve, the kids and I drove over to our adopted family's house to deliver our gifts.

At the time we were living in an 80-year-old bungalow with leaky windows, bad plumbing, and no air conditioning or heat. The house I pulled up to was a mansion compared to that. It was in a nice neighborhood, nearly new construction, and a fairly new car sat in the driveway. The woman who answered the door was dressed better than me on my best day. I looked around the room and nearly threw up. These people had more than we had ever had, and yet they had signed up to be an adopted family?

The boys and I presented the woman with our packages. To their credit, they said nothing about our surroundings. The woman immediately unwrapped the toys and looked up at me with a frown.

"This is all you bought them?"

That's when my youngest spoke up. "It was all we could afford. My mom doesn't have a job."

The woman just rolled her eyes and dismissed us. No thank you, no appreciation whatsoever for the generosity of strangers.

When we got back to the car, I sat there for a minute fighting back the tears. I had sacrificed what little I had for my own family to give to someone who not only didn't need it, but didn't even have the courtesy to appreciate the effort. That's when my son patted me on the arm and smiled at me.

"Don't worry, Mom. It's the thought that counts."

Yes, it was, for us at least. But that was the last Christmas I celebrated. I had been watching the erosion of the holiday spirit for years, but that's when it really hit home and I made the decision that I would no longer participate in the charade of "giving" that now characterizes this time of year.

Instead of peace and love, all we have is stress and  greed. Shop, shop, shop. Go in debt to buy the perfect gift for everyone, but make sure they can return it when it isn't perfect and no one appreciates it anyway. Nope. No more. My boys and I decided we would have our own holidays. Birthdays became the holidays in our house. If I couldn't afford gifts, I made sure that day was special in some other way. The boys understood because, just like me, they had seen behind the curtain that day.

I wish you all peace and love for the coming year and hope that sometime during this hectic season, you can find time to stop and reflect upon the true meaning of Christmas--not as it pertains to religion, but to the spirit of all humanity.

Peace.

Friday, November 29, 2013

New look for Nytwriter

Hey, lookee here! New year right around the corner, and though it's been less than that since I overhauled the site and blog, I felt it was time for a change. All I really did is change the styles to a lighter look. Maybe it's my eyes getting older, but I find it easier to read dark text on light background, don't you? And who needs all the fancy stuff. Blogs are about the words.

While I'm here, I'll drop some info. I know I haven't been posting of late; been busy with life stuff and all that. I wrapped up NaNoWriMo, and even though my novel is in ten shades of holy-hell-what-a-messness, I hit the magic 50K and said, we're good for now. I have every intention of fixing that and publishing it, hopefully before the end of the year, but in the meantime this girl has to make some money to pay the bills. Since this isn't the most lucrative time of year for us freelancers, it's back to the craftiness for me, which means hunting for cast-offs and treasures and altering, painting, or otherwise re-purposing them to sell.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Not enough hours in the day

Okay, fellow Darklings, I'll keep this short and sweet because I'm trying to eat lunch, write this blog, and keep the cats out of the paint while my room is drying enough for the second coat.

I was plugging along on my NaNoWriMo novel and wouldn't you know, Mercury decided to shift into Drive and leave me hanging in the lurch. Since I do my best writing when the solar messenger is in retrograde, that left me staring at my screen and doing a lot of "Uhhhh....hmmmm....well...I got nothing.

On the bright side, when one part of my creativity gets plugged, another awakens. That means all these little Round-To-It (as in, "I'll get around to it") projects piling up around the house are finally getting done. I've cleaned up my succulent ghetto on the front porch, finished antiquing a pine cabinet I found at a garage sale months ago, painted and decoupaged an old metal cabinet I found at a garage sale months ago, cleaned out my closets, rearranged the furniture, mosaiced the top of an old iron plant stand, and am in the process of painting my bedroom. Whew.

Oh, and I also had two marathon writing sessions on my NaNoWriMo novel when I woke up in the middle of the night with several scenes running lines through my head, so all is not lost there. Sitting at over 42,000 words now, I'll have no problem polishing that baby off before the end of the month.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Random Trip to Nowhere - Day 8 NaNoWriMo

It's alive! Part 8 of Random Trips to Nowhere featuring alien body snatching, drunk singing dogs, and sinister metallic probes. Egads! Check it out Random Trips to Nowhere Part 8

Today's NaNoWriMo Word Count: 2204
Cumulative Word Count: 20,648

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Random Trips to Nowhere - NaNoWriMo Day 7

Okay, come on, people! I've been waiting for input on the absurd scifi journey that is Random Trips to Nowhere. Willing suspension of disbelief is running rampant across the page. Scientific accuracy has been totally annihilated, Einstein is turning over in his grave.

Today's episode is now live on my writing blog.

Today's Word Count: 3199 ( I know, didn't I have one more word in me for an even 3200?)
Cumulative Word Count: 18,444

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Random Trips to Nowhere - NaNoWriMo Day 6

Part 6 of Random Trips to Nowhere is now live on my writing blog.
Today's Word Count: 2663
Cumulative Word Count: 15,245

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Random Trips to Nowhere - NaNoWriMo Day 5

The Day 5 edition of Random Trips to Nowhere is now live on my writing blog.

Today's Word Count: 2171
Total Word Count: 12,528

Write To Please Yourself

When I was in college I took a class called Commercial Creative Writing. It was my last semester and I needed one more class in my major and had taken every literature and humanities course that interested me, so I figured, what the hell. In hindsight it was a bad idea on two counts: 1. It ruined my perfect GPA, and 2. It nearly soured me on writing altogether.

The professor was, to put it bluntly, a pompous ass. According to him (and his syllabus), unless your writing appealed to the masses, it was crap. And he proved that by giving me Cs on all my papers.

Now I'm not going to stand here and say I'm a great writer because I know I'm not. However, that isn't because I'm bad at the actual craft of writing. I pride myself on knowing how to write, and have made my living for the past three decades working as a professional technical editor and writer.

I had been writing short stories since I was eight years old, and while none of them were masterpieces, they weren't awful and, most importantly, they pleased me. For my first assignment in this class, we had to write a story about some kind of symbolism (I don't remember the exact guidelines since it was 20 years ago), and I wrote a strange little tale about the Round Toit. You know--"I'll get around to it." It was a kind of mish-mash of Dante's Inferno meets Alice in Wonderland, and when I was done, I thought it was original and quite clever. The professor, however, didn't share my point of view.

"You will never make any money as a writer until you learn to write stories that appeal to the masses."

That's what he wrote on my paper. As I said, according to him, the only story worth telling was one you could sell to the Everyman. I can't tell you how glad I am that writers don't adhere to that ideal. Otherwise, we would be reading the same dull book over and over.

Personally, I write to the beat of my own drum. I'll be the first to admit my stories don't appeal to everyone, and in fact, probably not too many people at all, judging by how many have actually read them. But I'm okay with that because I told the story I wanted to tell in each one of them. It wasn't an editor's story, it wasn't a publisher's story, it wasn't even a writing partner's story. It was mine, birthed and created from my own mind and told exactly how I wanted it to be told. And that is more important to me than all the sales and accolades in the world.

So my advice to any aspiring writer is this: decide what kind of writer you want to be. Do you want to write to be a commercial success, or do you want to craft stories that, while they may never be best sellers, at least please your own sense of accomplishment? Either way, write to please yourself. Tell your story on your terms and if it turns out no one else wants to read it, well, at least you didn't compromise your art for the sake of commercialism.

I like artists who pave their own paths. Who are brave enough to risk ridicule or failure to bring their vision to life. Be true to yourself, and don't stop telling your stories just because someone tells you they don't have mass appeal. There's always someone out there who will love them as you do, and hearing the praise from that one person whose soul you touched can wipe out a hundred bad reviews.

Monday, November 4, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day 4 -Random Trips to Nowhere

The Day 4 episode of Random Trips to Nowhere is now live on my writing blog.

Today's word count: 3646
Cumulative word count: 10,411

Sunday, November 3, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day Three - Random Trips to Nowhere

Day Three of Random Trips to Nowhere is up on my writing blog.

Day Three word count: 2210
Cumulative word count: 6765

Saturday, November 2, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day Two - Random Trips to Nowhere

Day Two of Random Trips to Nowhere is now up on my writing blog.

Day Two word count: 2502
Cumulative word count: 4557

Friday, November 1, 2013

NaNoWriMo Day One - Random Trips to Nowhere

Okay, boys and girls, my Day One NaNoWriMo sprint is now live on my writing blog here: Random Trips to Nowhere - Day One.

Day One wordcount: 2055

Thursday, October 31, 2013

So You Want To Be a Writer - Part 3 - From First Draft to Publication

In Part 2 of So You Want To Be a Writer, we learned the fundamentals of creating a good first draft novel. We leaned how to correctly use punctuation, the rules of grammar, tense, voice, and point of view, as well as how to create compelling characters.

If you’ve been working on your novel as discussed in Part 2, by this point it should be sitting at roughly 80,000 to 100,000 words. Nice job. Pat yourself on the back and bask in the moment, but don’t go so far as celebrating, because as the man said, “We ain’t done yet.”

See, what you are holding in your hand (or on your computer) is something probably no one but you will ever see (and trust me, when you’re finally done, you’ll be grateful for that).  Given the choice, no writer would ever want someone else to read their first draft. Hell, mine have almost as many instructions and notes to myself in them as narrative. Fill this out more, find out what this means, add a little more padding to this scene...you get the point. The purpose of a first draft is to get the whole story down, from start to finish. Think of it as a skeleton, and the rewrites you’re going to do as adding lean, mean meat to the bones. A book may take months to finish, and getting to the first draft is a very small part of that effort. The hard work comes after, and it’s the stuff that separates the wannabes from the real writers.

So without further ado, here we go, 10 steps to go from first draft to publishable novel.

1. Stop Writing. Depending on how much of a control freak you are, this may or not be the easiest thing you’ve done yet. “What do you mean, stop writing?” you ask. Simple. Close the file (or put away that giant stack of dead trees you call a manuscript) and forget about it for a week or two. Take a vacation. Clean out the garage. Better yet, start another book. The point is, you’ve been living with this book for several weeks or months (or for some of you, years) and during that time it has consumed every last drop of your creative juices. You need time to recharge the batteries and distance to gain perspective. You know that old saying, “You can’t see the forest for the trees?” Well, this is where it came from. (Okay, maybe that’s not entirely true, but it applies.)

2. Rewriting, Round 1. If the Round 1 part of this title scares you, you’re going to either need to get tougher or pack up and go home. Most books require at least three, sometimes more rewrites. The most important job of this round is to fill in the blanks (all those little notes you made to yourself while writing), round out your research, eliminate the typos and grammar gremlins, and tighten the writing. Some scenes may require more detail, some may require less, and some may need to be eliminated altogether. Remember, if it isn’t contributing to the resolution of the story, it isn’t necessary. It’s okay to throw in the occasional red herring, but do that too much and what you see as a storytelling device becomes a reader’s motive for murder. (Quick word of advice here: Don’t piss off your reader. It hurts future sales.)

WARNING: This round of rewrites can also become a trap, especially for new writers. You can get so mired in rewriting and researching that you burn out on the entire novel and never touch it again. So make this pass quick. Allot yourself a predetermined amount of time for completion (say a week, or if you’re busy or work slowly, two) and stick to that schedule. Dragging it out for weeks or even months isn’t going to make the book any better.

3. Let Sleeping Dogs Lie. Every writer has their own system for doing things, and as you become more experienced, you’ll develop yours as well. Today, however, is not that day. If you’re reading this, it’s because you’re not there yet. So, take my advice for what it’s worth, and step away from the book again. Believe it or not, even if you’re not actively working on it, your little literary masterpiece-to-be is still happily percolating away on the back burner of your brain. There might be a scene you’re not happy with, or a plot hole you can’t figure out how to fill. The fact is, at this point, you’ve probably got as many questions as you have answers and while banging your head against a keyboard might provide a warped brand of satisfaction, it probably won’t do much more than give you a headache that you can then blame on your writing, thus providing you with the excuse you need to throw in the towel.

Think of it this way: You know those times when you’re having a conversation with a friend and something they say reminds you of a movie you saw a long time ago (or maybe last week), but you can’t for the life of you remember the name of the movie? Even worse, you can’t even remember who was in it to ask for clues. It’s like staring into a black hole. You know you know it, but that portion of your internal hard drive has just taken a vacation to the Bahamas and is unavailable for access. Figuring you’re suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, you shake your head, mumble something about needing to go, and listlessly go back about your business. Then sometime in the middle of the night, lo and behold, the hard drive comes back online and wakes you up with–you guessed it–the name of the movie you forgot. You sit up in bed and yell, “Eureka!” and curse the Gods of Internal Hard Drives for their untimely interruption of your sleep, or something like that.

So what does this mean to you, the writer? Allow your novel time to breathe, to smooth out the rough edges. Fiddling with it during this time, changing this word or that, really isn’t going to speed the process. You never know–by waiting you might get struck with an epiphany that turns your ho-hum first novel into a best seller.

4. Rewriting, Round 2. This time when you come back to your book, do yourself a favor. If you can, print it out. Reading it on paper forces you to read without editing. Plus, once that read-through is finished, it will be easier to take notes on paper. If you can’t print it out, convert it to PDF so you’re forced to read it through from beginning to end without stopping to edit.

The reason for a complete read-through is important for you to get a real sense of the overall book, something that isn’t possible when you work on it one part at a time. It is only by looking at it as a whole that you get a real sense of the plot, pacing, and what I call readability of the novel. You can take notes during this read-through, but don’t let it sidetrack you. You need this perspective. I often trick myself by pretending I’m a stranger reading the book. You can use whatever works for you.

Once you’re finished, you can go back and begin to polish your little jewel with a greater understanding of what it needs or could stand to lose. Be merciless–the changes you make now will make your novel stronger for what’s coming next.

5. Beta Read. By now you’re feeling pretty confident about your book. You’ve ironed out all the obvious plot holes, tightened up the narrative, and cleaned up the typos and grammar problems. Which means it is now time for a second opinion. If you’ve never had anyone else read your work (friends and family don’t count because they’ll say they love anything you write to spare your feelings, and that won’t do you or your future readers any good), this can be a scary proposition. Unfortunately, you’re going to have to get over your fear or your're never going to be able to release your baby into the wild.

The choice of a beta reader is important. Good beta readers are worth their weight in gold to a writer, and having several is vital because you’re going to want at least two different beta reads; one now and one just before release. Having several readers for each ensures you get a good cross-section of feedback, but don’t use all of them the first time around. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression, so the reader(s) who look at your book this time should not be the same one(s) who look at it the final time. You can’t give an accurate assessment of something when you already know what’s going to happen.

The most important qualification for a beta reader is honesty. No matter how brutal it may seem, make sure your readers are willing to give you an impartial, no-holds-barred assessment of the book. And that’s where the next step comes into play.

6. Critique Etiquette. If you’re going to be a professional writer, you have to learn to take criticism constructively. Remember, your beta readers are critiquing this particular book, not you personally or your overall ability to write. You can either sulk and get angry, or you can use their comments constructively to make your book better so when you do release it, you’ll know it’s the best book you could have written. If you're looking for an ego-stroke, find another way to express yourself.

7. Apply What You’ve Learned. Once you get all the comments from your beta readers, go through them objectively. You have to be able to take a step back at this point and look at the book like any other work you do. If you were building a house and the doors were crooked, you’d want someone to point that out to you before you had prospective buyers come by to look at it, right? Same thing here. Take all their comments and compare them to each other and to your book. Some comments may be valid, and some you may reject. But don’t reject the reason the comment was made, especially if more than one person makes it. Perhaps your readers don’t understand a particular point you’re trying to make in the book and suggest a way to clarify it. You may not agree with their solution, but don’t discount the comment itself. Just because you know what you’re trying to say, doesn’t mean your readers will. If clarification is required, it’s better to address it now.

8. Editing. Remember that forest and trees comparison we made in Number 1? It’s more important than ever now. When you live with a book for so long, you begin to see it, not for what it is, but what you think it is. Mistakes that would be obvious in someone else’s work are completely invisible in your own. It’s not that you’re bad at editing, it’s just that your brain sees what you want it to see.

You may or may not be good at editing. If you’re not, finding a good editor is even more important than a good beta reader. And there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all editor. Different writers need different kinds of editors. You may be good at the grammar and punctuation stuff, but blind to content and pacing. Or maybe you’re just the opposite. The point is, take your time to find an editor that fits your needs and develop a relationship with them. That way they learn your strengths and weaknesses and can edit accordingly.

If you are good at editing, it’s still wise to get a second pair of eyes on your book, if for no other reason than to make sure you don’t miss something. If you can’t afford to pay an editor, try to work out some sort of reciprocal agreement. Maybe you know a writer who’s good at content editing and you’re good at line editing. You could swap services, thus helping each other out and building a report with a fellow writer.

9. Polish and Proof. We’re getting so close you can almost taste it now, but let's not rush things. The time you spend on details now will reward you with a better product later. After you incorporate your editor’s inputs, you need to once again put the book aside and let it rest. This time I would suggest giving it a couple of weeks. I know you’re anxious to set it free, but just be patient a little while longer. You might want to start lining up publication options, maybe finalizing your cover or other details. You could also start talking up your book on social media, getting some pre-release buzz going.

Once you’ve gotten some distance from the book, do another read through like you did in Number 4. If you’ve done your job, there should be little if anything to change or correct. Make those changes, give it another polish, and prepare to send it out for its final review.

10. Final Beta Read. This is it. The final test. What you give your beta readers to read this time should be 99% ready for publication. I say 99% because finding a flaw or two is not the end of the world. If they find nothing, congratulate yourself on a job well done. And if you run into the opposite scenario and your beta reader still uncovers problems, don’t get discouraged. Remember, it’s better to learn about any problems now rather than after you publish and get a spate of bad reviews. Just remember to be patient and thank them for their time and honesty. Every problem you catch now is one a paying customer won’t catch later.

And that’s it. Remember back in part 1 when I said writing was hard work? Well, now you know exactly what I was talking about. But you got through it, and now you can finally pop the cork on that champagne and have a little celebration.

Red Awakening Release Day

Happy Halloween, fellow darklings. Today I celebrate with the release of the second book in The Erebus Files, RED AWAKENING. You can hop over to my writing-only blog, Random Shit Nobody Cares About to read an excerpt.

Purchase links are as follows:

Amazon Kindle

Barnes & Noble Nook

Smashwords (including Apple, Diesel, and other fine ebook outlets)

Amazon Paperback

Help out an indie writer and make this a big launch by picking up a copy for $1.99 (digital only) today.

And to celebrate further, I am giving away three FREE (EPUB or MOBI format only) copies to the first three people who request it here. Just comment with your name and format desired.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

So You Want To Be a Writer - Part 2 - 10 Tips for Writing a First Draft Novel

Yesterday we learned that the 50,000 words you typed for NaNoWriMo might possibly, with hard work and dedication, become the basis for a real first draft novel. Today we’re going to discuss just exactly how to do that with 10 Tips for Writing a First Draft Novel.

1. Rule Number 1 should come etched in stone with heralds singing: the basis for all writing, regardless of genre, category, or audience, comes down to one simple thing: the ability to create a cogent sentence. Without that, to quote author Chuck Wendig, you’re fucked.

At the risk of dating myself, when I was a kid (which, by the way, is my own kids’ least favorite opening to a sentence) we had to learn to diagram sentences in English class. It was boring. It was tedious. It was like pulling teeth without Novocain.

It was also BRILLIANT. They don’t teach that in schools today. Know how I know that? Because if they did, more people would know the basic rules of grammar and how they apply to putting together a sentence that actually says what you want it to say. At the risk of sounding like you mother’s grammar school teacher, here’s a quick remedial lesson in grammar usage:

A. Subject-Verb Agreement. This is it–Newton’s Law of Sentence Structure. Learn it, own it, use it. Certain subjects go with certain types of verbs. For example, he/she/it (third person singular) requires a present tense verb that ends in s. Example: He understands, she learns, it does. Subjects that are not third person singular (they/we/I/you) require a present tense verb that does not end in s. Example: I know, we walk, they see, you learn.

Naturally, this rule only applies for action occurring in present tense, which leads to...

B. Know Your Tenses. Past, present, future.  Past tense: she walked, he saw, we ran. Present tense we covered in A. Future tense: We will walk, she will learn, I will win.

C. The Misplaced Modifier. Example, the infamous “Throw Momma from the train a kiss” sentence. When starting a sentence with a verb, place the subject immediately (or as close to immediately as possible) after the verb. What are we throwing from the train–Momma or the kiss? Correct: “Throw a kiss to Momma from the train.”

D.  The Dangling Participle. This has to be the number one most abused grammar rule and involves adjectives ending in ing and ed. A participle is a verb that modifies a noun or, as we say in grammar-speak, an antecedent. The dangling part comes when there’s no clear antecedent for the participle. For instance, take the sentence: After being whipped fiercely, the cook boiled the egg. What is being whipped, the cook or the egg? The way the sentence is written, it isn’t clear. The word whipped in this sentence is a dangling participle. Correct: The cook fiercely whipped the egg before boiling it. (Better would be leaving out the adverb fiercely altogether.)

E. Pronoun Referents. First of all, you do know what a pronoun is, right? A word used in place of or as a substitute for a personal noun. He/him, she/her, who/whom, it/its, they/them/their. The simple definition of a pronoun referent is the noun to which the pronoun is referring. Take this sentence: “Sparta attacked Athens and they won.” Who is they? Sparta and Athens are cities, not people. The pronoun they refers to people, plural. So the correct form of the sentence should be “The Spartans attacked Athens and they won.”

F. Adverbs. One simple rule: If you want your writing to be strong, don’t use them. Weak: He walked quickly. Strong: He raced. Don’t know the right word? Get a thesaurus. Or use one online: Thesaurus.com

G. Adjectives. (see F). Use as a few as possible to get your point across. If you need a lot of adjectives to describe your noun, find a better noun.

H. Prepositions and Prepositional Phrases. A preposition is a word that links nouns, pronouns, and phrases to other words in a sentence (example: on, about, after, beneath, against, over, under, during, with, without, beyond, but, by, except, for, from, of, in, out, since, beside, etc.). A prepositional phrase is comprised of a preposition, its object, and any associated adjectives or adverbs, and can function as a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Example: “The children climbed the mountain without fear.” In this sentence, without fear is a prepositional phrase.

The most well-known rule involving prepositions is never end a sentence with one, which, depending on the sentence can create a correct sentence that is even more awkward than the one you are correcting. Therefore, if you find yourself facing this conundrum, just rewrite the sentence to avoid the entire situation. And if you can’t do that, go back to START, do not collect $200.00.

2. Punctuation. Learn to use punctuation correctly. We used to have a saying among technical editors: don’t make your writing look like someone used a comma shaker over it. It amazes me how one little curlicue can be so severely misused. There are only two uses for a comma: to separate items in a list, or to indicate a natural pause. Taking the first part of that statement, there are two schools of thought on the correct way to structure a comma-separated list: the Oxford or serial comma, and the AP Stylebook comma. Let’s look at the Oxford comma first. Take this sentence: “Jane had an apple, an orange, and a banana in her lunchbox.” The comma before the and is what is referred to as an Oxford comma. According to the AP Stylebook, however, the comma before the and (or the or) in a list is understood and therefore unnecessary.

Now, I don’t care which school of thought to which you subscribe. Personally, I like the Oxford comma. It’s familiar and cozy and appeals to my orderly sensibilities. The important thing is to know the difference and use them consistently. If you use it one way once, use it that way all the time. No waffling back and forth trying to confuse everyone. Legal documents prefer the Oxford comma to remove all doubt as to what that and or or is actually joining. I leave it to you to decide.

The natural pause comma, however (and see what I just did there?), is less contentious. Here’s an easy way around it: say the sentence aloud. Wherever you naturally pause, place a comma. If you don’t pause, don’t place a comma. Simple. Move on.

Semi-colons and em dashes. Semi-colons are used to join two or more sentence fragments. What is a sentence fragment? A phrase that cannot stand alone as a sentence (i.e., it does not contain a subject and a verb). And length has nothing to do with it: “He ran.” is a complete sentence. Semi-colons are NOT used like serial commas to separate items in a list.

Em dashes are used similarly. I like to think of them as a less formal semi-colon. You rarely see semi-colons used in fiction, but em dashes are all over the place. I use the hell out of them myself and love them.

3. Learn the Rules. You have to learn the rules before you can break the rules. I’ve heard newbie writers say this all the time. “I don’t have to follow the rules. I’m creating my own voice.” That’s sweet and all that, but don’t use it as an excuse for not learning how to do it right. How do you know you’re breaking the rules if you don’t bother to know what they are?

4. Voice. Use active as opposed to passive voice in your writing. This is the key to compelling writing. Passive voice is weak and wishy washy. Active voice is decisive and in control. Passive sentences often use words like was and is to describe action. Example: The party was attended by ten guests.” Active: “Ten guests attended the party.” Own it, write it.

5. Dialogue. This should be easy for writers, and yet I can’t tell you how many times I read stories where the dialogue is wooden or forced. Listen to how people talk. You have conversations, or have heard conversations (hopefully). You watch TV or listen to the radio or play video games. You KNOW how people talk. Use that. Say the sentence out loud. Hell, act it out loud. If it sounds off or wooden or forced, rewrite it. Have a friend run the lines of your dialogue with you. Dialogue is meant to be spoken, so speak it. And for God’s sake, don’t make everyone sound the same. Little Janie might talk with a Southern accent. Martha might be old-fashioned and proper, never using contractions or cuss words. Bobby might be a foul-mouthed mafia hitman from Brooklyn. Each has his or her own voice, and it is that voice that adds richness to your writing. It also helps the reader know who is speaking (see number 6 below).

And while we’re at it, learn to write dialogue correctly, too. Quotation marks are for dialogue. Each line of dialogue should be contained within them, along with any punctuation (periods, commas, question marks, exclamation points). When changing speakers in dialogue, begin on a new line. If a speaker’s line spans more than a paragraph, the ending quotation mark is not necessary, however, the beginning one for the next paragraph is in order to identify it as a continuation of the dialogue.

6.  Dialogue Tags. Don’t overuse them. He said, she said, etc. If there are two people speaking, you can probably get away with dispensing with tags altogether, especially if their voices are distinct (see number 5). If it’s a long span of dialogue, throw a tag in now and then to clarify.

And speaking of tags, you don’t necessarily need the he said/she said to indicate who’s speaking. You might just describe an action. Example: Robert rubbed his chin. “Okay, you’re right.” There’s no dialogue tag necessarily because we know Robert is the one talking. Nothing makes writing sound more amateurish than a dialogue tag on every line of dialogue.

7. Exclamation Points. WARNING: Pet peeve, here. Simple rule: don’t use them unless absolutely, positively necessary, and ONLY for dialogue and ONLY ONE (multiple exclamation points are not necessary to convey your excitement). Yeah, maybe you like sprinkling them in your tweets or Facebook posts, but this is literature, and everyone isn’t screaming with glee or terror on every line. The occasional “Look out!” is okay, or even "LOOK OUT!" if it's really important, but I have seen writers stick them on the end of perfectly innocuous sentences that have nothing to do with dialogue. In fact, I recently started reading a book in which every sentence on the first page ended in an exclamation point. Needless to say, the first page was as far as I got.

8. Tense. This might sound obvious, but I can’t tell you how many times I see this in reading less experienced writers. The writer jumps between past tense, past perfect tense, present tense, hell, even future tense. The majority of books are written in past tense, as if the action has already happened. If you want to amp up your writing (this is especially effective in action/adventure-related books) write in present tense. It takes a little more concentration, but the effect is worth it. The point is, however, whatever you do, chose one and stick to it.

9. Point of View. First person, third person limited, third person omniscient are all forms of point of view employed in fiction. Writing in first person is very popular right now. It gives the reader a greater sense of the story and gets them more involved, particularly in the narrator’s mind (usually, but not always, the protagonist of the book). The problem is, the action is limited to what the narrator can personally experience or is told.

Third person offers greater freedom in telling the story but the trade-off is a watering-down of the readers’ involvement in the story. Most third person books are written in third person limited, which means that while it is third person, the point of view is limited to the thoughts of only one character in a particular scene, chapter, or even the whole book. The biggest mistake in this instance is switching between viewpoints within a scene or chapter. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be writing third person from Johnny’s POV and suddenly be treated to what Mary is thinking. And that’s where a lot of writers screw up point of view. If that’s what you want, then you need to be writing in third person omniscient.

Third person omniscient is like playing God. You know the innermost thoughts, feelings, and motivations of all the characters. This can be both good and bad. Good in that the reader knows everything that’s going on, even the stuff other characters don’t know. Bad in that the reader knows everything that’s going on, even the stuff other characters don’t know. If that sounds redundant, it’s because it is. If third person is a watering down of first person, third person omniscient is a drop of water in a bucketful of third person. Not a whole lot of compelling going on.

See, part of the tension of a story is NOT knowing everything. You want your reader to keep reading, to have something to try to figure out. If you tell them everything, what is there to figure out? Which is why few books use this point of view anymore.

10. Characterization. I saved the best for last because no story, regardless of plot, theme, grammar, sentence structure, mind-blowing action, or flowery verse is going to succeed without characters. And those characters have to make the reader want to care about them. To do that, the writer has to know his or her characters inside and out. You have to know not just what they look or sound like, but where they were raised, what food they like, what are their favorite colors, movies, songs, seasons, books, etc. Did they break their arm falling out of a tree when they were ten and therefore now have a fear of heights? Did their father drink too much, their mother like to dance, their first bicycle get stolen on their birthday? Do they stutter when nervous, have nightmares after watching scary movies, fear clowns, get heartburns after eating tacos?

These are details you, as the writer, must know in order to create a convincing character. Ninety percent of what you know about your characters will never make it into your books.  Doesn’t mean you don’t need to know it. Try this exercise: Go to the store and pretend to be your character. Look at things the way he or she would, buy what he or she would buy, interact the way he or she would interact. Get into your character’s head.

Method actors use this exercise to become the characters they’re going to play. You’ll often hear them say, “What’s my character’s motivation?” If someone asked that about your characters, what would you say? If you can’t answer, you need to get to know your characters a little better.

And while we’re on the subject, give your characters some flaws. No one likes perfection in people. It’s intimidating. Plus it doesn’t inspire sympathy. And you want your characters to be sympathetic. You also want them to have obstacles to overcome. After all, that’s the point of the book, right? If it isn’t, you need to rethink your plot, because the only reason people are going to care about your story is because of what happens to the characters. Make them care about your characters, and they will follow them anywhere.

And this applies whether the character is the protagonist or the antagonist. We’ll all agree the villain is more fun to write, but do we know why? Think about the characteristics that make your antagonist more fun, and use that knowledge to beef up the appeal of your other characters.

So there we are. Ten tips for turning a NaNoWriMo hack job into a bona fide first draft of a novel. Tomorrow we’re going to talk about what to do with that first draft.


Monday, October 28, 2013

So You Want To Be a Writer - Part 1 - 8 Tips for NaNoWriMo

(This is the first of a three-part series this week in how to become a Real Writer.)

With NaNoWriMo 2013 kicking off this week, I thought it appropriate to throw in my two cents about what it means to be a writer. NaNoWriMo is a great vehicle for getting people off their literary asses and at the keyboard mashing out words. I participated in the Great Writing Marathon for the first time in 2008, penning the framework for my novel Red Awakening, which is due for release this week. Make no mistake, however; the 55,000 words I ended up with on November 30 of that year was NOT the novel that is being published. Maybe 20,000 words of that exercise remains, along with the main character, but that’s it. That being said, here are eight tips to keep in mind for NaNoWriMo.

1. 50,000 words is NOT a novel (see above and below). Hell, most real writers can crank out 50,000 words in a weekend. 35,000 of them will be crap, but that’s beside the point. This blog post is nearly 1300 words and I wrote it in under an hour. To reach 50,000 words, you need to write 1667 words a day, every day, for 30 days. The point of NaNoWriMo is teaching your writing muscles to write.

2. To quote the venerable Yoda: “There is no try, there is only do.” It amazes me, listening to people before NaNoWriMo begins, how many of them say they hope they can finish. Have you ever heard a marathon runner say they hope they can finish? No. No one who expects to win says they hope they can finish. You either plan to finish or you stay on the sidelines. You want to play with the big boys, then pull on your big boy pants, roll up your sleeves, sit your butt down in that chair and write. Write till your fingers bleed. Write till your brain starts leaking out your ears.

Okay, maybe that’s a little extreme, but you get my meaning. Whatever reason you tell yourself or others about your decision to participate in NaNoWriMo, it really boils down to this: somewhere deep down inside, you fancy yourself a writer. No one takes on a challenge like this on a whim. No one says, “I’m bored, I think I’ll do NaNoWriMo because it looks like fun.” Excuse my French, but bullshit. If that’s what you're doing, stop wasting everyone’s time and go back to your tweeting and texting. This is a serious challenge for serious people. Doesn’t mean you can’t have fun, but dammit, do it while writing. And if my saying that makes you mad, then good. Use that anger in your writing.

3. That 50,000 words you need to win? They’re just words. They don’t have to be perfect, they don’t have to be spelled correctly or written in the Queen’s English or hell, even make sense. Just WRITE them. Got an idea about something in your character’s past? Write it down. Think about a scene that happened before the book’s events? Write it down. Wonder what that guy across the street is doing on his roof? You guessed it–write it down.

See, the point of this whole exercise is it IS an exercise. It’s creating muscle memory in your brain to write, so that when you sit down at the keyboard, you know what to do without thinking about it. You think an athlete wonders which foot to put in front of the other when he takes off across that field? No, he just runs because that’s what he has trained to do. Be a writing athlete.

4. Conquer that mental 50,000 word barrier. To a wannabe writer, 50,000 words sounds like a lot. But think about this: the typical novel is 80,000-100,000 words, which means a writer will actually write any where from 110,000 to 130,000 words to get it. That’s taking into account editing, rewrites, etc. And most published authors write two, sometimes three books a year. So for a real writer–if that’s what you want to be–50,000 words is...meh.

5. DON’T EDIT.  I cannot stress this enough, so I’ll say it again. DON’T EDIT. Also, don’t rewrite. Don’t correct spelling. Don’t worry about punctuation or consistency or tense or voice or any of those things you’ll do when you actually get around to writing A NOVEL. In fact, don’t even go back and read what you wrote. Just keep going. Pretend there’s a brain-eating zombie chasing you and the only way to outrun it is to keep writing. Don’t look back, don’t stop to tie your shoe, don’t hit the delete or backspace key. Just WRITE.

6. This may sound like I’m repeating myself, but that’s only because I am. There is one truth you have to keep in mind for NaNoWriMo: just because the title of this exercise has Novel in it, don’t make the mistake of thinking that what you’re writing here is really a novel. This is a 50,000 word brain push-up-synopsis-character sketch-outline. Just like a photographer who takes 100 pictures to get one good one, you’re going to write 50,000 words to get 20,000 usable ones. And that’s if you’re lucky. Don’t like those odds? Get over it.

7. This one always makes me laugh–I call it The Veteran NaNoWriMo Participant. Now, I’m going to be generous here and assume there are actually people out there who approach NaNoWriMo as a fun-filled challenge they participate in every year for the hell of it. Sometimes they win, sometimes they choke. But not once, in all their years of climbing onboard the NaNoWriMo train, do they ever take the next step and actually turn that 50,000 word exercise into a finished, much less publishable novel. I spoke to woman several years ago who said she has “written” twenty 50K word novels. I didn’t even know how to respond to that.

At the risk of beating a dead horse (and yes, I am aware that poor horse is starting to look like hamburger), 50,000 words is NOT A NOVEL. And the 50,000 words you crank out during NaNoWriMo is in no way, shape, or form even close to resembling a novella, much less a novel. At best, it’s the beginning of a first draft. More likely, it’s a collection of random garbage with a couple of words that might, with a lot of hard work and dedication, become the basis of something worth reading. Harsh, I know. The truth hurts, which, if you want to be a writer, is something you’re going to have to learn to swallow because WRITING IS HARD WORK.

8. And last, but certainly not least (drumroll, please): Why are you doing this? Yes, I know this goes back to number 7. If you are in this to become a real writer–or, more accurately, an AUTHOR–take the next step. Don’t finish the month with your shiny new 50,000 word masterpiece, shove it in a forgotten file on your computer, or if you write on paper or napkins or whatever, in a shoebox under the bed, and forget about it. Why did you go into this? Did you want to create something to share with the world? If so, apply the lessons you learned during the process of NaNoWriMo and turn that 50,000 word exercise into a real novel.

Don’t know how to do that? Well, lucky for you, I’m going to tell you tomorrow in Part 2 of So You Want To Be a Writer.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Review - Storm Dancer by Rayne Hall

Today I’m reviewing Storm Dancer by Rayne Hall. Rayne is a marvelous indie writer with over 40 books in different genres to her credit. Her latest, Storm Dancer, is an epic fantasy that lives up to its name.

I always find a book means more to me when I get to know the author, and over the past week, I feel I have done just that. Drawn together by a common cause, I can see the passion in the creator behind the characters.

Storm Dancer is a lush, complex tale of the internal growth of two very different characters: Dahoud, a former siege commander who once reveled in the terror he imposed on his victims and is now trying to atone for those atrocities, and Merida, a judgmental magician from a very strict, structured society suddenly thrown into a world of lawless perversions. It would be hard to imagine two more opposite characters, and the journey that brings them together, both physically and philosophically, is a multi-layered mélange of cultures and settings as rich and intoxicating as a fine Middle Eastern dish.

I must admit, not being a regular reader of epic fantasy, it took me a few chapters to get into the book. I frequently feel off-balance by the worlds of epic and high fantasy because there is often no familiar ground on which to stand. That being said, I was drawn into the book by the richness of the world and the depth of the characters. Very often in fantasy, we see stereotypical tropes being exploited over and over—the so-called strong woman who is as non-approachable as a porcupine and the tortured heroic man who gives in too easily to either redemption or temptation.


Neither was the case here. A tale such as this requires patience to tell. It is not something to be rushed to the end with a happily-ever-after tucked on top. Here there is sublime beauty and degrading violence, hope and hopelessness. As reader, you feel your mind slow to the hypnotic rhythm of the desert world, absorbed by the richness of detail and the web of intrigue. When an author can draw your emotions so fiercely into a tale, their job has been done. There are people here to hate, people to root for, and people to feel sorry for. Like the mesmerizing dance of the rainmaker, I was drawn in, transfixed by, and immersed in the tale, and while the journey was long and arduous, I was both sorry and elated when it came to an end.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Submission Requirements for Daddy's Kobo Tales Anthology

To clear up some of the confusion or misunderstanding about the spoof project called Daddy's Kobo Tales, let me outline the guidelines for submission:

1. We are looking for short, flash fiction pertaining to the kobogeddon issue. If you're unsure what that is, check out my post, Blowback from Kobogeddon.

2. Submissions should be funny, silly, or light-hearted. Remember, this is a spoof publication. See my tale here:  Daddy's Little Kobo Surprise for example.

3. We are doing this as a form of protest against Kobo's treatment of indie writers. We're just trying to create havoc with Kobo's keyword search engine. We encourage writers substitute "kobo" for any bad, objectional, or otherwise non-G rated words, and anywhere you think it will add to the mystique of the story.

4. There is no payment. We're doing this for the notoriety only :)

5. While we will price the book on KOBO for $666 (which we fully expect no one to buy), the ebook will otherwise be FREE. Creative Commons licensing will apply.

6. I will supply the ebook files in EPUB and PDF format to all contributors so you can post it on your blog or site for download. I will also upload it to Amazon and all Smashwords channels (except Kobo) for FREE distribution.

7. This is a quick turnaround project. I want to get it published this weekend, so please get your submissions to me by midnight Sunday (10/27).

8. Email submissions to me at ajchurch01 at gmail.com. I'm not editing things, so make sure they're print-ready.

Cover for Daddy's Kobo Tales


Okay, boys and girls, you asked for it, and here it is. The cover for the upcoming anthology, Daddy's Kobo Tales!!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Little Kobo Nonsense

For those of you wondering what that strange post I wrote about Daddy Looses His Big Kobo Surprise was all about, I refer to a conversation on Twitter about the whole kobogeddon incident (just head over to Twitter and search for #kobogeddon to get caught up). As you may have guessed, the conversation turned to the silly side, with several of us, including indie writers @RayneHall, @WallaceCass, and @GKMasterson  suggesting different titles for stories that might get us kicked off of Kobo. Naturally, all of them had to include the word Daddy, since the offending erotic story that sparked the entire Kobo/WH Smith incident did.

And naturally, because that's who I am, I agreed that we should take it farther than talking. We should actually write these stories, throw them together in a book, slap a salacious cover on the front, and list it on Kobo as a joke, with a price of $666.

Now for those of you who missed all the craziness of this past week, here's a recap of the Kobo-WH Smith incident that spawned this exercise.

For anyone interested in participating in what amounts to a tongue-in-cheek indie protest, I'm collecting stories to include in the anthology. We want to do this quickly, striking while the iron is hot, so to speak, which means having something ready in the next couple of days. The only criteria is, regardless of genre, any offensive words should be substituted with "kobo."

I can pull it together by Friday night and have it uploaded to Kobo on Saturday. Then we'll sit back and see what their gateway does with it. I'm sure their keyword search will explode with all the Daddy references. In any case, it will bring further attention to the indie cause.

And speaking of that, as a further protest against Kobo's knee-jerk reaction to indie writers, rather than remove your books at this time, we are asking that you increase your books' prices to an exorbitant level, say, several hundred dollars or pounds, thus making Kobo the most expensive book retailer on the web.

Remember, everyone, the pen is mightier than the sword.

Daddy's Looses His Big Kobo Surprise (A Episode from the Kobo Tales)

Daddy told his little girl to bring all her friends to the house. That one and all were welcome, regardless of age, background, or costume, and they would have a kobo good time together. Daddy loved having the friends there, loved dalying with their kobo and helping them show off their kobo to others.

Daddy helped the friends spread their kobo far and wide, of course taking his share from their profits, but everyone was having fun, so it was all right, right? As long as everyone consented and got their share of the kobo pie, there was nothing sinister or kobo about it.

But while he told his little girl that their fun was innocent, that there was no kobo going on, dark little secrets were sneaking in. Daddy denied knowing about them, and really, how could he be expected to know everything that was going on? He was so busy having fun, spreading kobo far and wide, and inviting more and more new friends into his kobo, he didn't have time to watch the door. What could possibly go wrong?

And then one day Daddy's wife Smith came home and found one of Daddy's dirty little kobos lying on the floor next to the baby's toys.

"Oh my!" she gasped. "How did this kobo get in here?"

Daddy looked around for someone to blame; he was secretly terrified of Smith, though he would never admit it. Instead, he pointed to his little girl.

"It was her," he said, feigning shock. "She brought her friends in with their kobo, and they spread it all over the house."

Smith turned to Daddy's little girl, her hands on her hips, her brows dipped in a disapproving frown. "I see. So you and your kobo little friends left this disgusting kobo here."

"But, I didn't--" Daddy's little girl gaped.

"Don't give me your kobo," Smith snapped, cutting off her protest. "I want you all out of here NOW."

"But it's not our fault," the little girl said, glaring at Daddy. "He let them in. He said everyone was welcome. He said he wanted them here to play with their kobo."

"I don't want to hear it," Smith said. "You and your kobo little friends are all banished. Get out. Get out! GET OUT!"

Daddy's little girl darted a hopeful glance at Daddy, but he turned away, ignoring the kobo plea in her eyes.

"Fine," she spat defiantly. "We'll leave--all of us--but we won't go quietly." She stopped in front of Daddy. "You'll live to regret this, Daddy, you kobo kobo kobo. Wait and see."

And she walked out, taking all her friends with her. Daddy watched them go, secretly already missing their kobo, but he had made his bed, and now he would lie in it alone. His only company in the big empty kobo house was his cold, judgemental wife, Smith. No more kobo for Daddy.

Self-Pubbing Pitfalls and Prejudices

Twenty years ago when I wrote my first book, there was only one road to getting published. Once a writer finished a book, you bought (or went to the library to peruse) the latest big honking copy of The Writer's Digest, made a list of agents/publishers seeking new writers, went to your local copy center and made dozens of copies of your manuscript, spent days writing what you considered a good cover letter and synopsis, stuffed everything into manila envelopes, bought some stamps, and started your poorly fated snail mail campaign.

I did that. Months of agony dragged by waiting for the flurry of rejection letters. Thirty-seven envelopes went out. Twenty-two rejection letters came in. Some encouraging, most terse. Not for us. Needs work. Not seeking new writers at this time. One even told me not to quit my day job. No lie.

Still, I was undaunted. Well, I was daunted for awhile. Okay, I cried. I screamed. I railed at the injustice of it all. I rationalized and philosophized. After all, I had read all the pundits who warned first books rarely get published, but I was determined to be the exception.

After the tears and anger were spent, I sat down and started writing the next book. And the one after that. And the one after that. I still have them, and I'm eternally grateful none of them ever saw the light of day. But I digress.

Back in those dark days of  pre-internet, not only was it next to impossible for a new writer of genre fiction to be picked up cold unless you had a face-to-face encounter with an agent or publisher and made enough of an impression to elicit an invitation to submit your work, there just wasn't enough room in fiction to accommodate a writer who couldn't be pigeon-holed into the romance-scrfi-horror boxes that comprised the bulk of genre fiction at that time.

Then a wondrous invention arrived on the scene. Ta da! The internet came along and changed publishing forever. Now there was information readily available to help writers improve their craft, connect with agents/editors/publishers, and navigate the troubled waters of publication. One still had to seek and impress representation, and hope that once accomplished, it would lead to a book contract, but the light at the end of the tunnel for virgin writers was getting a little less murky.

The only alternative to the traditional route back then was a vanity press, many of which were comprised of unscrupulous folk who would take a writer's hard-earned money, throw out a few books, and claim all rights for themselves. Savvy writers avoided them; desperate writers kept them in business. I had my own experience with one. I didn't even know that's what they were when I submitted my second novel to them. They offered a contract. Told me it would cost $5000 to get my book in print--a fortune for a single mother of three who wrote in the wee hours after the kids were asleep and should have been joining them because she would be dozing at her desk at work the next day. My brother, who was screenwriter, asked me to forward the contract to his lawyer, who called me the next day with one word of advice--RUN. I did.

For a while after that, I put away my pen and concentrated on living life. I had a family to support, no time for this writing nonsense. But when you're a writer, you can only ignore that need to tell stories for so long. I started writing again, but my needs changed. I didn't care so much about recognition or validation as I did for getting my work out there. A writer writes to be read. It's a contract between writer and reader; each needs the other for it to work. I neither had the time nor the patience to start the whole submit-hope-reject cycle again. I just wanted to have my stories read.

And along came ebooks. I remember the first time I read about a Kindle. It was on Nathan Bransford's blog. Then my best friend bought one. How did the books get on there, I wondered? What kind of formatting was that? I started researching it and discovered the books had to be converted to html, and once done, you could upload it to Amazon yourself and actually SELL OR GIVE AWAY YOUR BOOK without any representation. No one telling you that your story didn't fit a predetermined genre, or a publisher's catalog or simply wasn't commercial enough to warrant the risk and expense involved with taking on an unknown commodity.

I had taught myself web design back in the late 90s when I wanted to create my own website. I worked hard at it, writing all my code by hand without the use of editors like FrontPage or Dreamweaver. Just Notepad. When CSS hit the scene, I taught myself that as well. I started getting paid to create websites for other people, first friends, then strangers. Companies. Built a business around it, Nytshadow Designs. Taught myself graphic design. Surely I could convert a manuscript to html for use on a Kindle.

As it happened, life jumped in and delayed my foray into self-publishing for a couple of years, or I would be further along in it by now. Both my parents were stricken with cancer, and I was the primary caregiver. Publication would have to wait. Family trumps all.

Once I did jump in, I converted that first book, my novel Being John Bland, completely by hand. Pulled it into Notepad and coded every line in html. I chose that book because it was fairly short for a novel--76,000 words. Still, it took weeks to convert. I also used CreateSpace to make a print copy simply because I wanted to hold my book in my hand. The cost to sell in print was prohibitive, even with next to no profit, but I didn't care. I had published my own book. I've yet to sell a print copy of it (other than to myself to have copies for family and friends), but it's my book and I'm justifiably proud of that.

However, that first conversion experience was almost enough to put me off being an indie. Weeks of coding narrative into html was tedious and draining. Then I learned about tools like Caliber and Sigil, and later, InDesign, which is what I now use. I went back and re-coded Being John Bland using InDesign, and have written and published three more books since then. Each time the process gets easier. Now I'm even doing books for other writers, and have added publication services to my design company.

But converting the files is only half the process. Because now you've got to find a home for that book. Where to sell and how to market become almost as time and energy consuming as writing the book. At first I used Amazon exclusively. Not satisfied with my sales there, I moved on to include Barnes & Noble. I still shied away from Smashwords at that time because they accepted only Word files and I was not about to turn my carefully crafted manuscript over to the whims of their Meatgrinder. I had heard nothing but horror stories about the finished product, and after seeing some of those books firsthand, believed every word of them.

That was two years ago, and Smashwords, along with D2D, Libiro, Amazon KDP, B&N, Kobo, Apple  iBooks, and all the many other retailers and distributors have brought epublishing into the mainstream. Digital book sales are increasing every year as the majority of people do their reading on electronic readers and devices. How those books get to the devices--whether through traditional publishers or the intrepid DIY efforts of indie writers--is irrelevant to the reader. The reader wants quality fiction, and there is more of it available than ever before.

This should be a good thing, right? And yet, despite all these successes, there is still a stigma attached to writers who have opted for the indie approach. The perception that these writers, because they represent themselves, must somehow be inferior to traditionally published writers prevails, particularly among the industry. I've even been turned down for signings by indie bookstores because I'm self-published. This, despite the successes of indie pioneers like Amanda Hocking. It seems that indie writers have to work twice as hard to be accepted among their peers, and no where was that more obvious than the way we were singled out and ostracized this past week by retailers WH Smith and Kobo, who, through their actions, sent a message that indie writers are incapable of governing themselves. Like we're some lawless purveyors of words looking to corrupt the masses.

Look, writing is hard work, and the only people who will deny that are non-writers. Whether you're traditionally or indie published, writing is the same process and requires the same amount of imagination, skill, and talent. If everyone could do it, they wouldn't need writers to tell the stories. A writer--at least, a good writer--bares their soul to entertain others. Conceiving, plotting, planning, writing, rewriting, and editing a book takes a lot of time, effort, and dedication. For every writer who finishes a book, there are dozens of people who claim to want to write but never do, and hundreds more who couldn't put a sentence together if their lives depended on it.

And yet, some writers, because they chose to forge their own path, navigating the shark-infested waters of  publication alone, are still looked down upon or treated like second class citizens because they don't have the weight of traditional publishing behind them. There are as many reasons for choosing the indie route as there are writers who do so. Everyone has their reason, and those reasons should not only be respected, but not factor into whether or not the writer deserves the prejudices leveled at them. At the end of the day, the only thing that any writer should be judged against is the quality of their work.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Novel Idea for 2013 NaNoWriMo

I've decided, for NaNoWriMo this year, to do something a little different (and a lot more fun). While I have a basic concept of the novel I'm going to write, I have no outline, direction, or endgame in mind. It's going to be completely organic, evolving as the mood or muse strikes me day-by-day.

I am also going to be posting each day's writing on my writing blog, Random Sh!t Nobody Cares About, along with the current word count. I encourage comments and suggestions, and if I use any of them in the book, I'll credit duly, so feel free to leave comments, suggestions, ideas, etc..

When the book is complete, I intend to release it as an ebook for FREE here or for 99c on Amazon and Smashwords.

More information on all that here: My 2013 NaNoWriMo Novel

And I already have my cover done:

Monday, October 21, 2013

Blowback from #Kobogeddon

The facts of Kobo's knee-jerk reaction to WH Smith's claim that pornographic books featuring incest, rape, etc. were being sold in its outlets is well documented, thanks in large part to indie writers such as Rayne Hall, who began a massive #kobogeddon campaign on Twitter this past Saturday.

For those of you living under a rock or unfamiliar with the world of publishing, Kobo, the European equivalent to Amazon, not only removed erotica, they swept their coffers clean of ANY inde-published book, regardless of subject matter, genre, or audience. This includes romance, scifi, historical and literary fiction, children's books, you name it. If it was independently published, it was removed from the catalog. Think about that for a minute.

Ironically, traditionally published books, REGARDLESS OF GENRE, were unaffected by the move. Meaning any pornographic material that had been traditionally published, regardless of subject matter, was left untouched.

Is this an indictment against indie writers and publishers? Well, here's Kobo's statement on the move:

"Our website will become live again once all self published e-books have been removed and we are totally sure that there are no offending titles available. We sincerely apologise for any offence caused....our goal was not to negatively impact the freedom of expression and the work of the amazing self-published community that has been created at Kobo.com."

Huh? Really? Damn, it sure sounds that way to me. And I'm not alone in that interpretation judgjng by the uproar of indie writers worldwide on Twitter this weekend. Here's a clue--the expression "there's no such thing as bad publicity" doesn't apply to retail. Kobo, you pissed off a massive number of writers and readers, and we're not just talking indies, either. Traditionally published writers sympathetic to the indie cause also joined in the protest.

Now, I hate to judge an entire company by the extremely bad business decision of whoever in charge thought this would be a good idea, but this clusterfuck of a faux pas could have easily been avoided had Kobo and WH Smith established some sort of gateway on their sites. You know--provide the authors a way to categorize their books, along with guidelines as to what they will or will not allow in their catalog. Instead, what they've done is not only throw the baby out with the bathwater, they have caused irreparable damage to their relationship with a rapidly growing facet of the publishing world.

Here's a clue: you are in the business of selling books. You need books to sell to make money. You just dumped a huge proportion of your writers (aka, your product) with no forewarning and for ABSOLUTELY NO REASON other than, "That apple is bad, let's throw the whole cart away."

Hey Kobo, just because indie writers are independent, doesn't mean they don't have power. For instance, in April of this year, Barnes & Noble released figures stating that over 25% of Nook sales were from self-published ebooks. That number climbs to 30% for Kindle. In fact, the growing number of independently written and published books lead Amazon to establish the Kindle Indie Store in 2011. And for distribution networks like Smashwords, those figures are exponentially higher.

Think about that. A giant like Amazon, who markets worldwide, and 30% of the books they sell are SELF-PUBLISHED.  In this economic market, can any business afford to alienate roughly one-third of its marketshare?

As a consumer, I have a LOOOONG memory and I don't forget slights and evil politics. For instance, I don't buy gas at BP. I don't eat at Chik-Fil-A. And now, thanks to this, I will not be offering my books to Kobo for distribution.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Social Nonsense for Friday and a NaNoWriMo Surprise

It's Friday! Yay!

I miss the magic of Friday since the contract that was supporting me as a Day Job ended. Now my days are spent in rudderless procrastination between Facebook, Twitter, and various and sundry other webberlink timesucks. Funny how when you have a ton of shit to do, you can really manage your time well enough to get it done, but the less you have to do, the less you do...do.

Oh, don't get me wrong, I do stuff. I plan what I'm going to have for lunch. Then plan what I'm going to have for dinner. Then watch all the stuff I recorded on the DVR while watching other stuff and tooling around on Facebook and Twitter on my phone. Oh, and now and then, I write a little bit. I should have racked up at least a few thousand words on Hazard the past couple of weeks, but I'd open the file, look at it, maybe type a line or two, then wander off on some other mental venture and forget all about it until, when getting ready for bed, I get kicked in the head by a big ol' boot load of You Wrote Nothing Today guilt.

In my defense, I have plotted out my NaNoWriMo project. Even worked up some character sketches and diddled around with the first chapter events (more on this in a minute). And I've been busily marketing the upcoming release of Red Awakening, so all has not been a waste of time.

So, where was I? Oh yeah, Friday. Wait a minute, my cat wants to tell me something.

Ok, back. Friday, that great Day at the End of The Week. Sounds like something Douglas Adams should have written. Since Friday usually means being Stay-On-Topic challenged (which, I suppose, is why they tell you never to buy a car built on a Friday--"Hey Joe, what do these screws go to?"), I'm continuing that grand tradition by picking a topic and totally going ADD on it.

See, I forgot what I was saying again. I swear I'm going to throw my phone against the wall in a minute if people don't stop including me in some stupid Facebook messaging train that has nothing to do with me. Holy shit, people, I DON'T CARE WHERE YOU'RE GOING TO LUNCH! NOW LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE! I'M BUSY!

Sorry you had to hear that. I totally never talk like that in real life.

OK, so NaNoWriMo - the great Novel That Is To Be Month, and my novel promises to be something worthy of that title and this post because (drumroll!) the title is:

RANDOM TRIPS TO NOWHERE!

And because I plan to offer it in its entirety (when it's finished) for FREE, I'm going to serialize it on my blog daily. I think that's what I was going to say today.

OK, you may now return to your previous activity. I think.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Hair Pulling with Google Play

So I got the bright idea yesterday of adding Google Play to my book distribution outlets and signed into my Google account to enter my books. Now let me just say I don't know how much exposure or sales revenue this move can be expected to generate, but it would have to be A LOT because the sign up process is a RPITA (Royal Pain In The Ass).

First, there's the annoying process of entering the books. You can't just create an author account like every other site, setting up all your payment, bio, and distribution options once (ironic, considering how Google knows everything I do, think, say, and want before I've done, thought, said, or dreamed of wanting it). No, you have to jump through all of those hoops FOR EACH AND EVERY BOOK.

Grr!!.

Then, once you get all that information in and upload your files, you get no confirmation on whether everything is good to go, when it will be for sale, etc. Instead, there's a little red notice in the Status column of your Book Catalog that says Needs Action. I select the first book, click through the General Details, Google Play Settings, Google Books Settings, and Content Files tabs looking for the problem and finally discover that apparently there is no price specified.

This is funny, because I entered all that price/currency type/distribution channel/tax included information already. So, figuring the universe is having a laugh at my expense, I go through the whole stupid process again--and when I say stupid, I mean just that because the instructions they give you must be for something else. Sort of like buying unassembled furniture and getting instructions for building a water fountain.

Anyway, I re-enter the price data, I click SAVE, refresh the browser, and go back to the Book Catalog page and lo and behold, the status for that book says Needs Action. Why? No price specified.

GRR!!!

I did this three times just for that book (and all four books needed it) and each time the data was not saved. It's at this point that I'm starting to care a whole lot less about selling on Google Play. But, I decide I'll give it another chance and wait and see if it resolves itself. Maybe there's a time lag, different dimensional elves spinning the wheels, who knows? So, instead, I move on to setting up my payment information, which is another RPITA because Google requires that you enter a payment method for EACH BOOK SEPARATELY, and for that you need a separate payment profile.

Again, there are instructions. Again, they are for someone else/something else/some other site/some other dimension...whatever, because none of what they say applies to what I'm seeing. I click the Add Payment Profile link as instructed in the wonderfully relevant instructions and a box pops up with a place to add, I assume, the title of your profile. I move my cursor to start typing the first letter and I get a big red error message across the top of my screen that says: Input is invalid, this could either be due to using a P.O. Box address or your login credentials have expired. {0}

Huh? I'm logged in. I don't even have a PO Box, and I haven't typed A SINGLE CHARACTER.

Six tries. Six tries just for that. Same result. Close browser. Reopen browser. Retry entry. Same error message.

GRRRRRRRRR!!!!!

I'm not even going to get into how they were Unable to Sanitize my uploaded EPUB files (the same validated  EPUB files that are for sale everywhere else). WTF Google?

Anyway, after fighting with this for two days, I realize I have only three choices: sit back and watch my head explode, forget about trying to sell my books on Google Play, or buy a plane ticket to California and burn down Google's headquarters.

Guess which one sounds like the most fun? Guess which one I choose?

My head remains intact, there's no arson arrests in my future, but sorry, Google Play, you don't deserve to sell my books.


Sunday, October 13, 2013

Goodreads Indie Author of the Week

I am really excited to be chosen as a Goodreads Author of the Week by My Big Fat Indie Book Gang for the week of November 3. The timing couldn't be better with my upcoming release of Red Awakening scheduled for October 31st.

As a bonus for my loyal readers, I will email an advanced EPUB or MOBI copy of Red Awakening to anyone who would like to read and review it. I only ask that you post your review on either Goodreads, Amazon, or Smashwords (or all three, if you feel that ambitious) after the official release date.

Please comment with your email address and format desired or PM me through my Facebook page to receive your free copy. And don't forget to stop by Goodreads for the discussion.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Flash Fiction Challenge accepted

A challenge arrived in my inbox early this morning, and I couldn't pass it up. Write a scary story in three sentences. Beginning, middle, and end, and it has to be scary.

My response:

The House

The man on the phone says, “Any moron can get into the house, but I’m the only one who can get you out, as long as you haven’t eaten or drunk anything inside.”

“Why, what happens then?” I ask, glancing from the phone to the half-empty glass in my hand.

He pauses a minute, then says, “Well, then you belong to the house.”

What would you write?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

I love discovering new writers

Well, not necessarily new writers, just new to me. Take yesterday. I had just finished uploading the book trailer for Red Awakening to YouTube, and naturally I had to watch it there to make sure it translated well to that little box they give you, and when I finished watching it, all these "similar to" videos popped up like they normally do, and I happened to click on one, then another, and whoa, nearly an hour later (time does move differently on the web, doesn't it?) ended up watching one for the book Mockingbird by Chuck Wendig.

"This video is awesome!" I said to my cat, since no one else was around. I was so impressed, I posted it on my personal Facebook page--not the writing one, which I reserve for writing-type stuff only. If my meager six readers knew the kind of stuff that really populates my life, their numbers would quickly dissipate to one, maybe two--if I'm lucky. Where was I? Oh yeah.

The trailer did its job, because I suddenly had an overwhelming desire to read the book, which, as it turns out, is the second of a series, so of course I had to read the first one, Blackbird, first. So exciting finding new serieses (yeah, I know it's not a word, but how do you say the plural of series? As a writer and an English major, you'd think I would know that. Guess you'd be wrong)

But first, before I jump in too far, as I usually do, I have to check out the author's website, poke around, see what this guy is all about. I haven't even started reading the book yet, just downloaded it to my Kindle last night, but Chuck has short stories on his site, and I've been immersed in them all morning. The first one I read, This Guy, just blew me away, and they got better after that.

You know how sometimes you read an author and you just say, "I wish I could have lunch with this guy/woman, talk shop, pick their brain." Compare notes, professionally speaking of course. Though I would love to have been able to do so when I was writing Being John Bland, a book that, to this day, next to no one has read and those who have give me funny looks afterwards. Like I'd ever sit around dreaming up ways to stuff body parts in garbage bags. Come on.

Anyway, if you like your fiction a little off-beat, and that seems to be a theme with me lately (i.e., my two week immersion in The Bridge Chronicles), check out Mr. Wendig's world, Terrible Minds. And for god's sake, watch the trailer for Mockingbirds. Now that's what a book trailer should do--make you want to read the book.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Book Trailer for Red Awakening is live!!

I just finished the trailer for Red Awakening and I'm pretty proud of it. Check it out:


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Red Awakening Pre-order


Red Awakening, Book 2 of The Erebus Files, is now available for pre-order on Smashwords! Official release date is October 31st. Help make this a big launch for me by pre-ordering your copy today.

And if you haven't read Lucid, Book 1 of The Erebus Files, you can do so for FREE at Smashwords until October 20th. Just enter coupon code AJ64T at checkout.

Lost in a future world - my review of The Bridge Chronicles

For the past two weeks, I have been immersed in the cyberpunk world of the Bridge Chronicles by indie writer Gary Ballard. The series revolves around the dealings of fixer Artemis Bridge, a swarmy, amoral con-man living in 2028 Los Angeles. This somewhat bleak world of corporate-run government where the rich and powerful can buy and sell entire cities at whim may spring from the imagination of Ballard, but it's also uncomfortably close to our current reality. So much so that it's like looking through a window into our future.

Bridge is a fixer, a guy who knows a guy who can get you anything you want (and can pay for). He doesn't buy, sell, steal, or directly affect things; he's just the bridge. The Amoral Bridge, as he's known to the LA underworld. He's the guy who puts people and deals together. Doesn't much care what it is, whether it's legal, moral, or healthy. You need something, he knows a guy. He hooks the two parties up and steps aside to let the chips fall where they may. Except he keeps getting pulled into things that go against his personal code, leading the reader to realize that the Amoral Bridge isn't as amoral as he'd like people to believe.

I picked up the first book because it was $.99 and I was looking for something a little different to read. After that I was hooked, gobbling up all four books in the series. I especially liked book 2, The Know Circuit, about a strange dome that engulfs Boulder Colorado and beckons to all hackers with an interface jack implanted in their heads. Book 3, if[tribe]=, harkened to the days of the Roman gladiators, where the street battles of LA's gang scene become the fodder for a weekly televised media sensation.

I'm almost through book 4, The Long and The Short Swords, and while I've come to like the usual cast of characters that populate Bridge's world, I thought this was the weakest of the series so far, deviating more from Bridge's story into that of his mark, Logan. While the world and training of the ninja Tanaka clan was interesting, I thought too much of the book focused on that. Add to that the frequent timeline shifts during Logan's tale, and my attention started drifting. I would have been more interested to know about the man behind the corporation that set up Tanaka's clan, though I get the feeling Ballard is leading the reader to that as Bridge's big showdown with the leader of Chronosoft, the mega-corporation that controls LA.

Ballard has also written a number of short stories that bridge (no pun intended) the gap between the novels. They can be found on his main website, The Bridge Chronicles. If you're into cyberpunk, or you just want to read something a little off the beaten path, check out The Bridge Chronicles. The writing is top notch, and it's clear Ballard knows his subject matter--financial theory, weapons use, cyber technology, and the LA street and nightlife scene.

I love when I stumble across another good indie writer - just one more reason why I believe the best writing to be found today is self-pubbed.