15 Sep

Short Story Anthology: Fiction River Universe Between

I am excited to report that I have my first science fiction, adult-audience, short story published!

Last year, I attended a retreat in Oregon with Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch as the main instructors. They own WMG Publishing, and one on-going project is a monthly short-story anthology. I was invited to submit, it was accepted and is not in a bookstore near you! Fiction River #8: The Universe Between collects original stories by a wide range of authors. My favorite is the first story by Lee Allred, who writes scripts for DC, Marvel, and Image Comics, among other credits. “Slow Answer” is about an alien race who takes over Earth, providing a near utopia for humans; the twist is WHY they’d taken over Earth, and the answer is why you should read this anthology.

My own story, “Are We Alone in the Universe?”, is also a science fiction story about first contact with an alien race. I wrote it as back story for the trilogy that I’m working on right now. The story is about the parents of my main character: how they met, how they fell in love, and the fallout of a forbidden love. I was thrilled when the story was accepted because it’s my first short story ever published, my first adult-audience story ever published, and my first science fiction story ever published. That triple-whammy makes it exciting.

FR8UniverseBetween

The Fiction River Anthology is available as an ebook, paperback, or Audible audiobook.

Support the Fiction River Anthology

Even more exciting today, though, is the Fiction River Kickstarter Project. To keep alive a short story collection publication, WMG Publishing established a Kickstarter, or crowd-funding, project. With 17/30 days left, they have already met their $5000 goal, AND their 10,000 Stretch Goal, and are going for gold.

Like many of the other Fiction River authors, I donated books for the Kickstarter project. I urge you to look over the project and think about contributing; even small contributions of $10 are welcome and helpful. However, if you’re really interested in helping, some of the rewards that involve my books are still available:

  • Pledge $60 or more
    E-UNIVERSE BETWEEN AUTHORS PACKAGE: Receive a one-year electronic subscription to Fiction River, plus an electronic edition of Fiction River: Universe Between. You’ll also get electronic copies of books by some of the contributing authors of Universe Between. You’ll receive The Unjust, Dust, and Hope by Rob Vagle; The Haunted Bones by Phaedra Weldon; Body Check by D.H. Hendrickson; Kell, the Alien (a children’s book) by Darcy Pattison; and Love, Venusian Style by Richard Alan Dickson. Plus, your name printed in the acknowledgements section of each Fiction River volume for a year and on the Fiction River website with a special thank you for your kind support. Limited (1 of 1 remaining)
  • Pledge $125 or more
    PRINT UNIVERSE BETWEEN AUTHORS PACKAGE: Receive a one-year print subscription to Fiction River, plus a print edition of Fiction River: Universe Between. You’ll also receive SIGNED print copies of books by some of the contributing authors to Universe Between. You’ll get Body Check by D.H. Hendrickson; Kell, the Alien (a children’s book) by Darcy Pattison; The Unjust, Dust, and Hope by Rob Vagle; and Love, Venusian Style by Richard Alan Dickson. Plus, your name printed in the acknowledgements section of each Fiction River volume for a year and on the Fiction River website with a special thank you for your kind support. Limited (1 of 1 remaining)
  • Pledge $500 or more
    PAPER BANG FOR YOUR BUCK PACKAGE: All the print volumes of Fiction River from Volume 1 through the end of year three! But wait, there’s more! In addition, you will receive a SIGNED print copy of a book from each of the following authors who have contributed a print book to this Kickstarter: Mary Jo Putney, Marcelle Dube´, JC Andrijeski, Laura Resnick, Annie Reed, Kris Nelscott, Leah Cutter, Dean Wesley Smith, M.L. Buchman, Juliet Nordeen, Michele Lang, Melissa Yi, Ryan M. Williams, Sharon Joss, Brian Herbert and Jan Herbert, Jeffrey A. Ballard, Kristine Kathryn Rusch, Darcy Pattison, Lisa Silverthorne, Richard Alan Dickson, Brigid Collins, Karen L. Abrahamson, Thomas K. Carpenter, D.H. Hendrickson, Travis Heermann, Scott William Carter, Stephanie Writt, Joe Cron, Barton Grover Howe, Rebecca S.W. Bates, Richard Bowes, Louise Marley, Brendan DuBois, Ray Vukcevich, Carole Nelson Douglas, Julie Hyzy, Libby Fischer Hellmann, Kara Legend, John Helfers, Kerrie L. Hughes, Rob Vagle, Laura Ware, Patrick O’Sullivan, Dayle A. Dermatis, Kevin J. Anderson and David Farland. Plus, your name printed in the acknowledgements section of each Fiction River volume for a year and on the Fiction River website with a special thank you for your kind support. Limited (1 of 1 remaining)

Don’t think that big donations are the only way to go. Every level of support–even $1–is appreciated, and it’s helpful! Read more about the Fiction River Kickstarter Project.
READ the Fiction River Anthology — including my short story!

10 Sep

General to Specific: From One Sentence to a Plot

So, I have a general outline of my story but the writing still isn’t flowing. I realized that I need to break down major events into smaller sections, so I will know what to write.

I’ve gone through two stages of plotting or outlining, each one getting more specific. Here’s an example:

1. First, I stared with major plot points:
A volcano threatens to blow up, so Jake gets alien Rison technology to make it stop.

2. Second, I start to layout possible scenes.
At one point, he realizes he needs the alien technology, so he makes arrangements to get it. I wrote this: Later, at home, Jake contacts Mom, who gives him a contact on Rison who can ship him some technology and he orders what he needs to counter-attack the technology Cy used. Keeping up his volunteer work, Jake goes kayaking with Bobbie Fleming.

At this level, a scene may be summarized in a single sentence. However, it’s more helpful to break down both sentences further.

3. On the third pass, I’m looking to split up the action into several scenes, or at least flesh out the one scene a bit better.

Later, at home, Jake contacts Mom, who gives him a contact on Rison who can ship him some technology and he orders what he needs to counter-attack the technology Cy used. Conflict with Mom because he really wants to try swim team and she’s distracted b/c negotiations going so badly.
Keeping up his volunteer work, Jake goes kayaking with Bobbie Fleming. Bobbie Fleming, a harbor seal upsets Jake’s kayak. Of course, he has no problem with righting the canoe and getting back in and getting back to shore. But something nags at him, the waters feel more like home than the Gulf waters did. Something about being IN Puget Sound—there was something THERE. He had to find out what?

Plot is a way of examining story to see its underlying structure. Starting with a general idea and subdividing toward a specific plot often gives a writer the direction needed for the story to work.

Plot is a way of examining story to see its underlying structure. Starting with a general idea and subdividing toward a specific plot often gives a writer the direction needed for the story to work.

Snowflakes and Phases

Need a more structured approach to something similar? The Snowflake Method, by Randy Ingermanson is a very structured approach that starts with a single sentence, and then splits that into two sentences, the two into four sentences, etc. until the story takes shape. It’s a structured outlining process with built-in steps for developing characters. Randy has a Ph.D. in theoretical physics, and his structured thinking shows in this method, which he’s turned into a software program and various books. If you need a very structured program, you may like the help you’ll get from the Snowflake Method.

Another option for approaching plot in a structured way is Lazette Gifford’s Phases system. You should read her original article about Phases here. She suggests that you write a numbered list of “phases” or short summaries of action. These can be scenes, transitions, thinking about what just happened and so on.

What I like here is the reference to the overall novel. Gifford suggests that you use MSWord’s auto-numbering feature to write phases for your novel.

For example, if you want to write 50,000 words, Gifford, in her free ebook, Nano for the New and Insane, breaks the 50,000 word length into phases:

  • 60 Phases in the outline — 834 words per phase — 2 phase sections per day
  • 120 Phases in the outline — 417 words
    per phase — 4 phase sections per day
  • 150 Phases in the outline — 334 words per
    phase — 5 phase sections per day
  • 300 Phases in the outline — 167 words
    per phase — 10 phase sections per day

In other words, I can start with 60 phases and in that space, I should have a synopsis of the the beginning, middle, and end of the story. Or, if you’d rather, think of it as Acts 1, 2, and 3. Act 1 and 3 get about 15 phases each, which leaves 30 for Act 2.

That is comforting to me. I ONLY have to decide on 15 scenes (or discrete units) for Act 1. Act 1 looms HUGE for me, but 15 scenes sounds easy.

Phases allows me to do an easy, early check on the plot, too. Each phases needs moments of high arousal: excitement, inspiration, awe, anger, humor, action, disgust or outrage. Across the phases, I can easily check on how a subplot fits into the overall structure and how the subplot progresses.

Sixty phases is something that’s easy to see and understand. Once those are set, I may try to increase to 120 words, breaking down the plot into more specific actions.

If you’re doing NaNoWriMo, this also makes the task of 50,000 words in one day much easier.

Another thing I like about the Phase method is that it’s easy to see progress. I’m all about numbers and keeping score. On 9/5, I started with 23 phases; today, I’m up to 49 phases. My goal is 60 phases by the end of the week. Then I’ll look at it further to see if I want to go for 120 or if the 60 will be good enough to write from.

08 Sep

Momentum: Keep the Writing Coming

You’ve started! Hurrah!
Now, how do you keep going, especially when LIFE happens? As it invariably will!

Stop in the Middle

One strategy to keep momentum going is to stop in the middle of a sentence, paragraph, or scene. Those who recommend this suggest that you stop at an exciting moment, at a place that will be easy and apparent on how to proceed when you come back to it.

This makes sense. Creative people stop working on their craft at a very specific moment: they fail to start again. It’s rare for an artist/writer to stop working on a project. Of course, we all have drawers full of half-finished manuscripts. But the fact that they are half-finished might even be encouraging. No, instead, a writer may accomplish a big goal, say publication of the novel of their dreams. And then–nothing. Once that goal is accomplished, they fail to start again.

Leaving a work in the middle of something interesting means that you have a chance of coming back to it and actually picking it up again.

Keep Score

I am motivated by numbers. Give me a running tally of something and it motivates me to see that number increase. Writing is especially suited to keeping score: keep track of how many words you write each day and a running total for the project. You can do this manually, or with programs such as Scrivener. Some writers like to do this in public with a widget on their website or by posting on Facebook.
Momentum

Know Where You Are Going

Whether you are a panster or outliner, it helps to keep in mind something about the coming story. For pansters, maybe it’s a vague idea of the ending of the story. For outliners, it’s the next chapter or scene. Either way, I find that looking forward helps me come back to the work fresh and ready to move on.

Dealing with Life

Your job, in the midst of everything that life throws at you, is to find a way to move forward. When I taught freshman composition, one semester, I had a student who had major life challenges. His wife was six months pregnant and on total bed rest or she might lose the baby. His daughter was autistic and each night he sat with her doing homework to keep her from literally banging her head against the wall. He worked full time. I suggested that maybe he should drop out a semester until life was calmer. But he said that his employment was contingent on him being in school and working toward a degree. He couldn’t quit school or he had no job.

“How do I find time to write an essay?” he asked.

The simple answer is, “I don’t know.”

All I could say to him was that I had great sympathy for his situation and would encourage him as much as I could. But in the end, if he didn’t turn in an essay, I couldn’t give him a grade.

And in the end, we all stand before the complications of Life and must find a way to deal with those Life issues and still do the work that we are given to do.

How do you find the time to write?
I don’t know. I have great sympathy for you and I’m cheering for you and hoping that you make the effort because the world needs to hear your voice.
But in the end, you must find the solution to your own Life issues.
When you do, send me your good news!

P.S. My student DID turn in essays and wound up with a B for the semester.

04 Sep

KDP Kids: Kindle Kids Book Creator

Amazon’s Kindle publishing program has just announced some new features that will affect children’s books and publishing.

Kindle Kids Book Creator

KDP has a new program designed to handle fixed layout ebooks with large full-page illustrations. In other words, children’s picture books.

I downloaded the program and had a look around. It appears to be an adaptation or repurposing of another Kindle program, the Comic Book Creator. Both deal with large images and a fixed layout. Aaron Shepard first used the Comic Book Creator in April, 2013, with some success.

I created this ebook with the Kindle Comic Book creator program.

I created this ebook with the Kindle Comic Book creator program.


One addition to the Kids Book Creator is the capability of adding pop-up text. The KBC has a base text, either embedded in the image or added within the creator. On top of the base text, though, you can add a pop-up text. This will add some interesting variations and possibilities to children’s ebooks.

The program is simple to use. You start with a pdf file or images. Since the standard file for print production is a pdf file, that makes it easy. Just do your pdf in InDesign, or if you want the poor-man’s layout, do it with MSWord (at your own risk!). From InDesign, you save the file as a high-resolution pdf; from MSWord, you print to an AdobePDF. Using either program, you can add the needed text and control the layout easily.

Upload the pdf and it converts to the correct formatting for a Kindle ebook. You have the option to add/subtract pages, edit text and more.Then, Save for Publication and the program outputs a .mobi file, which is the standard Kindle file.

Advantages
The Kid’s Book Creator has a couple advantages. First, it’s easy. Upload a pdf and you get a .mobi.

Second, you have access to the original html and CSS files, if you have the skills to do that. That means you have some nice control over the layout.

Disadvantages
However, there are a couple major disadvantages. First, you only get a .mobi file. This is, after all, a Kindle program. It means that you can only upload the file to KDP. You must have an epub file for Apple iBook, Kobo, Nook, Smashwords or other platforms. You’ll put lots of effort into a file that is only useful on one platform.

Second, you must be very careful about the file that is output. On the KDP platform, you must choose either a 35% or 70% royalty schedule. If you choose 35%, there are no associated delivery charges. However, if you select the 70% royalty schedule, delivery charges in the U.S. are $0.15/MB. See the KDP chart here for charges in other countries. When I tested the Kids Book Creator, it gave me similar results as the Comic Book Creator program, files that were quite large.

I started with a usual 32-page picture book, formatted for print at 300 dpi. I uploaded the pdf to the Kid’s Book Creator and converted–without adding any pop-up text to add extra size. The resulting .mobi file was 8.2MB; that file would incur a delivery fee of $1.23. This severely limits the ability to price the book at the lower end of the spectrum, unless you opt for the 35% royalty. If an ebook is priced at $1.99, here’s the math:

$1.99 – $1.23 delivery charge = $0.76 x 70% royalty = $0.532 profit/book.
$1.99 x 35% royalty = $0.72 profit/book.

The key, of course, is to begin with a smaller pdf at the outset. To do it right, you should go back to the original images, reduce those and go on from there. Which almost defeats the ease of use for the program.

My preference will probably be to stick with InDesign to create the print files and save as pdf. I’ll probably do a high-resolution version and a low-resolution version. InDesign exports as an epub for all platforms except Kindle. Using the low-resolution pdf, I’ll try this new program for the needed .mobi files.

This Kindle ebook was created with InDesign and then converted to .mobi with the Comic Book Creator. The Kids Book Creator should work just as easily.

This Kindle ebook was created with InDesign and then converted to .mobi with the Comic Book Creator. The Kids Book Creator should work just as easily.

Updated Metadata

KDP has finally joined the other ebook platforms by adding metadata to indicate the age range and grade range for the book. It’s a welcome addition, if a bit late. The support for this is underwhelming, too. KDP calls it an “Age and Grade” Tools, but it’s a simple table with five age levels from babies to young adult. And of course, these are only suggested levels, you are still free to list your book as you wish.

Compared with iBook Creator

Enhancing ebooks with pop-ups, music, video or other multi-media isn’t new. And in some ways, the Kids Book Creator doesn’t add much to the range of ebooks. Apple’s iBook Creator has allowed introduction of video and much more for several years. Kindle’s new program adds only pop-ups. I’m intrigued with the possibilities here, but I doubt that the interactivity will make much difference for most books.

Education v. Trade Books

In a wider context, it’s interesting that KDP is jumping on the bandwagon for children’s ebooks at this point. As the School Library Journal reported in September, 2013, schools–or the education market for ebooks–have many options. Most of the ebooks available to school libraries are device-neutral by displaying books through a browser. According to an SLJ survey, 67% of school librarians buy ebooks from Follett, which uses a browser-neutral platform. For schools, the battle has been lost by Nook, Kindle, and Apple because few schools wants to put all their budget into a device that must be updated often and requires too much consensus across the district. All tablets and many ebook devices have browsers; a browser-based ebook makes sense.

Now KDP has turned its attention to children’s ebooks. Is it too little, too late? Or, will this merely deepen the divide between trade children’s ebooks and education-market children’s ebooks?

If you want to play around with the new Kids Book Creator, you can download it here.

01 Sep

Audio Books: Listen to This!

According to the Wall Street Journal, audio books have “ballooned into a $1.2 billion industry, up from $480 million in retail sales in 1997. Unit sales of downloaded audio books grew by nearly 30% in 2011 compared with 2010, according to the Audio Publishers Association.” Some reasons include the ease of listening on smart phones, lower prices, and a growing audience of people who prefer audio books.

I’ve always loved audio books, and in fact, I almost always have one going in my car. That’s why I’m thrilled with my news today that three of my titles are now audio books, with three more coming this fall. If you have audio rights to your books, you can also do this through ACX. They provide a platform for you to audition narrators, who will then produce the book. They are all for sale on iTunes, Audible and Amazon. At the time of this writing, Kell, the Alien is on sale at Audible for only $1.99.

The Girl, the Gypsy and the Gargoyle

Paula Bodin

Paula Bodin, actress and narrator of THE GIRL, THE GYPSY AND THE GARGOYLE.

The narrator, Paula Bodin, created multiple voices for this exciting version of the story.

Paula Bodin is an actress and producer in LA who adores the SciFi/Fantasy genre. She’s voiced multiple characters in shows like Barbie: Life in the Dreamhouse, Monster High and Ever After High, brought Lady Door to life in the West Coast Premiere of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, and is in numerous film/tv/web productions, including playing Wendy in The New Adventures of Peter & Wendy.

Paula says, “I hope you enjoy listening to this book as much as I enjoyed reading it!”



GGG-ACXCover
Buy the AudioBook

Listen to a Sample


Saucy and Bubba: A Hansel and Gretel Tale

Audio Book Narrator, Monica Clark-Robinson

Audio Book Narrator, Monica Clark-Robinson

Monica Clark-Robinson is a writer, actor, and voice-over artist living in Little Rock, Arkansas. She holds an MFA in Theatre from Michigan State University. Monica has acted locally for the Arkansas Repertory Theatre, Arkansas Shakespeare Theatre, and Murry’s Dinner Playhouse. She also writes for kids and teens, and was a finalist in the Society for Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Karlin Picture book award competition. Monica has published a cookbook, titled “Vegan Kids Unite,” and she is a speech writer for local and national professionals. She also works as a voice-over talent for local audio production companies. In her “spare time,” she enjoys gardening, reading, and just hanging with her two awesome daughters and her handsome husband.

S&B Audio250x250-150
Buy the Audio Book

Listen to a Sample Audio


Kell, the Alien

Josiah Bildner, audio narrator of the ALIENS, INC. series.

Josiah Bildner, audio narrator of the ALIENS, INC. series.


Josiah Bildner has been performing in theatrical performances since he was 10 when he played Bob Cratchit’s son in Dickens A Christmas Carol. He starred as the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz and Geppetto in Pinnochio in high school and received a drama scholarship at the University of Northern Iowa. After graduation Josiah worked as a director and audio/visual engineer at the NBC affiliate KWWL channel 7 in Waterloo Iowa. Josiah is also a storyteller at a children’s Education Through Music camp and during the school year he is a speech language pathologist. Josiah currently uses all those talents in the wonderful world of voice over. He can be heard voicing many audiobooks, from children’s sci-fi to adult horror, biographies of musical celebrities like Emil Richards and George Harrison to spiritual journeys of Buddhism and Judaism. Josiah Bildner loves voice over because it is the best of all worlds!

Aliens1-250x250-150Buy the AudioBook (Unabridged)

Listen to a Sample


Do you like audio books? How often do you listen to them?

21 Aug

Storytelling: One Surprising Approach to Plotting

Plotting is probably the hardest thing I do. I can explain to you 29 different plot templates. And I often write about plotting a novel. Theory, I know. And I know that I can plot a story pretty well. It’s just HARD.

The problem is that there are a series of inter-connected scenes which build to a climax. The structure of events, though, needs to progress from an introduction of a character goal, dramatizing problems and obstacles to getting that goal, and then, finally some resolution, either a happy or sad ending.

OK. I can slot events into a novel structure from a structural viewpoint. For example, at the mid-point of a story, the hero’s journey, the Snowflake method and other plot paradigms might ask you to provide a bleak moment for the main character. There should be a mini-death: the death of hope–the character will never reach your goal; the death of a feeling of safety, and so on.

Knowing that is easy. The exact type of mini-death that is best for the current WIP, and figuring out how to dramatize that event (Show, Don’t Tell), is hard.

Storytellers Statue on Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure Park. One of the most amazing American storytellers that ever lived.

Storytellers Statue on Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure Park. One of the most amazing American storytellers that ever lived.

We are in the Business of Storytelling

What’s my answer to this straight-laced method of working? Storytelling.
Several articles recently reminded me that I am not just a writer, but a writer of stories. I am getting way to hung up on the theory and I am forgetting that i can just tell the story and have fun with it. Sure–I know that certain plot elements will make the story stronger, but those things are killing my joy in writing. So, I started telling my story.

Once upon a time, there were two water worlds. One world—Rison by name—was dying, the result of misguided scientists trying to act as God and control the natural forces of the planet. The inhabitants knew their time was limited and sought a refuge, a new home. The other water world—called Earth—caught the Risonian’s attention because the inhabitants only lived on land. Surely, they could share their water, the only place the creatures from the dying world would ask for.
Ah, but therein lies the problem. Sharing.

How do creatures put aside their own fears and self-interest and share? And, how can creatures do so willingly? When would the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term problems.

This could cause a war: if you don’t give us room on your planet, maybe we’ll just take over your planet.

The voice isn’t right. There’s not an opening scene. But right now, none of that matters because I don’t know the story. The first draft is to tell you the story; every draft after that is the question of how to craft the story in the most dramatic and compelling way for your readers. Right now, I’m just trying to tell a story. Crafting that into a novel will come later. Come. Listen to my story. . .

A side note: Did you know that if you have an iPhone, you can ask Siri to tell you a bedtime story. She’s told me so many bedtime stories, that she refuses to do it again–unless I beg.

18 Aug

Should You Write Fast or Slow? Here’s the Right Answer – And Instintively You Know This is Right

As a hybrid author, I have one foot each in two very different worlds. I am traditionally published and as an author/publisher, I release my own books.

The worlds operate at tangents to each other and one point of contention is this question: how long does it take you to write a novel? Independent author Dean Wesley Smith has recently finished a year of blogging about his daily output, which includes emails, blog posts, novels and short stories. For example in June, Smith wrote 52,800 words of fiction, 14,700 nonfiction, 14,000 for blog posts, and 827 emails of about 22,900 words, for a grand total of 105,200 words.

However, traditionally published authors often agonize over a novel for two or three years. Or more.

Let’s just ask the question straight out? Which method of writing produces great novels? Both.

And don’t let anyone convince you otherwise! Not editors and not indies.

Then why is there such a wide range of discussion on the merits of the two viewpoints on the speed of writing?

Fast or Slow? From the Business POV

From a Traditional-POV, publishers generate over 50% of their income on their backlist, books that continue to sell 1000 copies a year and do so year-after-year. Yes, they need to add new books each year, but because their income isn’t starting at zero, they can be very selective in adding new books. Another strength of traditional publishers is that they have multiple sources of new stories each year, i.e. multiple authors. In fact, they will seldom put all their eggs in one basket, especially not yours. If you write quickly, a publisher will only take ONE of your mss in any given year, at least until you build a stellar reputation.

Writing the Aliens, Inc series was fast! Each book took a month to write and after comments, a week to revise. By contrast, a middle grade novel might take me a year to write.

Writing the Aliens, Inc series was fast! Each book took a month to write and after comments, a week to revise. By contrast, a middle grade novel might take me a year to write.

By contrast, from a Business-POV, indie author/publishers need to write quickly. They need to quickly build a backlist that generates an ongoing income. One-book-wonders, or authors who only write one book every five years, would be foolish to go indie. Let’s say you need $1000 income from your books each month. If you only have one book out that one book MUST generate $1000 month-after-month. If, however, you have ten books out, each book must AVERAGE only $100 in sales, month-after-month. In any given month, Book 3 might sell zero and Book 9 might sell $1000. The key is that the books must AVERAGE only $100. If Book 5 contributes only $50, but does it consistently, month-after-month, that’s a valuable book for you. For a traditional publisher, though, that’s not enough income generated and they would put it out of print. (And some publishers are more wont to cut the lower producing books than others.)

Traditional publishers source stories from multiple sources, spreading the risk among many authors. Indie author/publishers have only one source of stories, and they must maximize their output.

Fast or Slow? From the Creative POV

As my grandchildren are learning to walk and run, it's tempting to compare the age at which they take that first step. NOT FAIR! Each child--like each novel you write--develops at its own pace. Comparison does nothing but add unnecessary anxiety.

As my grandchildren are learning to walk and run, it’s tempting to compare the age at which they take that first step. NOT FAIR! Each child–like each novel you write–develops at its own pace. Comparison does nothing but add unnecessary anxiety.

Thus, you’ll hear editors saying, “Take your time. Get it right.”

Of course, editors advise writers to slow down. They can’t handle ten books from you in one year. If you write ten in a year, you’ll likely need 5-10 publishers (if you can find them), at least until you build that reputation for blockbuster sales.

Is there value in slowing down? Yes and no. Yes, it’s good to take the time to write well. Speed CAN lead to sloppiness, but it doesn’t necessarily. On the other hand, if your normal writing speed is fast, and you manage to turn out good stories, then slowing down feels like being hobbled. For some, it’s boring to write slow and only work on one project at a time.

The Indie world emphasizes the need for speed. Dean Wesley Smith once asked a group of writers how many words they write in an hour. I shrugged. I could easily write a 1000-words in an hour. Then he suggested that I should be writing 8000 words/day, which would be 192,000 words or about 4 middle-grade novels (or two full-length adult novels) per month.

Wait. Does that math work? Yes.
But it’s also not that easy. When I know what I want to write—such as this blog post—I can easily turn out 1000 words per hour. But writing a novel is a different task. I like the analogy of a spider spinning a web. From her gut, she must create the raw materials of spider web silk, and then like an architect, she lays in the foundations of her web, hanging for her life from that slender silk while she does so. Once the foundation threads are laid, she spins more silk—from her very gut—and weaves a circular web on that foundation. She then lies in wait for a victim to arrive.

Novelists spin characters and conflicts from their very guts and soul. We lay in the foundation of a novel’s plot, and then spin a story around that foundation. Finally, we lay in wait for a reader to be captured by the story.

Once I get a foundation laid, I can spin out that 1000 words per hour. It’s that first part, creating the story’s silk from my very soul, that is hard. As the creator of the Novel Revision Retreat, I also understand the imperative of revising multiple times to get a story right. I teach and practice that a first draft tells you what the story is; the following drafts are for finding a way to tell the story in the most dramatic way possible to hold readers’ attention.

My feet are firmly in both worlds. I need to produce works so I can build my indie backlist and thus up my income levels. However, I also understand that my process is slower than I’d like.

I am working on various ways to boosting productivity, such as learning Scrivener. But in the end, I’m left somewhere in the middle, and I don’t think it’s a matter of straddling the fence.

Honor Your Own Process

Instead, I think I am honoring my own process. For blog posts and picture books, I can and do write fast. But for novels, the thinking process is much slower than my ability to type. MUCH slower. It might take me six to twelve months to do this next novel. I refuse to be intimidated by the Indie crowd into going faster. Likewise, one of the appeals of being a hybrid or indie author is that no one can force me to slow down. I don’t have to wait a year for an editor to get back to me with revision notes. I don’t have to wait for an editor who promises a contract for fourteen months, and then rejects the novel, sending me into a new round of hopeful submissions.

Slow writing doesn’t equal good.
Slow writing doesn’t equal bad.
Fast writing doesn’t equal good.
Fast writing doesn’t equal bad.

Instead, I will write at the pace each piece of work demands and allows.

Working with Deadlines

There will always be the Tyranny of the Urgent. This week I’ll be going to North Andover, MA to teach a Novel Revision Retreat and that means I must have the teaching materials done by Wednesday. That’s my writing focus this week.

Fortunately, other deadlines loom in the future and those deadlines will demand that other projects consume my attention. For traditional publishers, the deadlines are few and far between. For indie publishing, I need to have books come out about six months before publication so they can be sent for review. Can I delay a book a month? Easily. But I try to set a publication date and stick with that. It’s a business thing.

Some argue that if you can write quickly under a deadline, then you could do it anytime. Not for me. Because a deadline FOCUSES my writing and writing time in a way nothing else can do.

In other words, external deadlines also affect my output. I still honor what a piece of writing demands, but at the back of my mind, I know what that demand is. And when I add that to the deadlines, I can instinctively allow more or less time before a deadline for that piece.

Do You Work Fast or Slow?

Good. Write at the pace that works for you for any particular project.
Learn from productivity tips and use whatever software is most productive for you. Don’t be intimidated by editors who demand slow work, or contemporaries who rave about the benefits of writing fast. In the midst of the swirl of opinions, write. Your way. Your stories. As David Bayles and Ted Orland say in Art and Fear, “Your job is to learn to work on your work.” I’ll add: And do it at your own pace.

13 Aug

1.6 Million Reasons Why Your Books Should Be in the iBook Store

Have your books been updated and made for sale as ebooks? Are you on the Kindle store, the Nook store, or the Kobo store? Great.
But if you’re not on the iBook store, you’re missing sales. Here’s why.

A recent 2014 survey by Education Market Research asked schools about what tablets they currently own. Apple’s iPad overwhelmingly wins the tablet wars with 79.7% of the market. Distant competitors include Microsoft Surface at 10.2% and Samsung Galaxy Note at 6.2%. Wow! iPads rule! In schools, at least, Kindles only have 1% of the market.

Further, respondents said there are 2.3 million tablets in U.S. schools. That means about 1.6 million iPads are floating around the school buildings. That’s a huge market that you can’t afford to ignore! Especially when the respondents were asked about future purchases. Again, iPad tops the market share with 65.7% planning to buy iPads.

See my books on the iBook store!
To see if your ebooks are on the iBookstore, use the iTunes Link Maker tool. Search for your name under the books category. In the comments below, report what you find!

Darcy Pattison's books on the iBookStore

Darcy Pattison’s books on the iBookStore


Find Darcy Pattison Books in the iBook Store

Other eBook Options

Just because a school owns a dozen iPads, though, it doesn’t mean the school library will order from the iBookstore. Schools buying patterns are way more complicated because of factors such funding sources, issues related to inventory and checking out books, etc. In a September, 2013 article for Digital Shift, “SLJ’s School Ebook Market Directory,” Matt Enis and Sarah Bayliss run down 22 options that school have for purchasing ebooks for their libraries. Many options are simply a publishing company offering their backlist. Other options include ebooks from multiple publishers. The King among these options is Follett eBooks:

“Sixty-seven percent of PreS–12 schools using ebooks purchase from Follett, according to a recent Library Journal survey. Special features from Follett include note-taking capabilities in all titles and highlighting options in most, along with a tool allowing teachers and students to write and share notes. Additional Follett tools aim to support close reading and Common Core State Standards goals and offer scaffolding structures for struggling readers. Printing, copying and pasting, and text-to-speech features depend on publishers’ DRM specifications.”

One of the main reasons schools go to these ebook distributors is their desire to be “device independent” or “device agnostic.” They understand the limitations of being tied to a certain ebook reader. When a company provides “device independent” books, it usually means the ebooks are browser dependent. Any device which has a browser–such as Kindle Fire or iPads–can read that type of ebook. The versatility and universality of the browser dependent ebooks makes them an attractive option for schools. They aren’t tied to costly upgrades of tablets that tend to break. Instead, ebooks are read on whatever device is working.

Are your books available on these services? You’ll have to look up each one. Follett’s titles can be checked in their titlewave.com website, which is only available to customers. That means you’ll have to find a friendly children’s librarian to look it up for you. Yes, all my books are available on Follett’s ebook platform!

Finally, some publishers are making their eBooks available for purchase on their own websites. My indie books are available in epub or Kindle formats at MimsHouse.com. If you own the ebook rights to your books, you can sell them from your own website, too.

Book Reviews: A Difficult Ask

Of course, this means more work for authors as they work to get the oh-so-necessary-reviews. Already, we ask friends and family to review our books on Amazon/Kindle and maybe on GoodReads. KoboBooks used to pick up reviews from GoodReads, but since it’s been bought by Amazon, that’s not smart business; now, Kobo asks its customers to review on its site. And now, you should really ask for reviews on the iBookstore. Is it too much to expect from a friend?

11 Aug

4 Types of Villain – The Last One is Truly Scary Because He’s So Good

Guest post by K.M. Weiland

Ooh, bad guys. Where would our stories be without their spine-tingling, indignation-rousing, hatred-flaring charm? It’s a legit question. Because, without antagonists to get in our heroes’ way and cause conflict, we quite literally have no story.

So write yourself a warty-nosed, slimy-handed dude with a creepy laugh. No problemo, right? Bad guys aren’t nearly as complicated as good guys. Or are they? I would argue they’re more complicated, if only because they’re harder for most of us to understand (or maybe just admit we understand).

The best villains in literature are those who are just as dimensional and unexpected as your protagonists. They’re not simple black-and-white caricatures trying to lure puppies to the dark side by promising cookies. They’re real people. They might be our neighbors. Gasp! They might even be us!

V8374c_JaneEyre.inddThat raises some interesting possibilities, doesn’t it? It also helps us realize that villains can come in many different shapes and sizes. While studying Charlotte Brontë’s rightful classic Jane Eyre (which I analyze in-depth in my book Jane Eyre: The Writer’s Digest Annotated Classic), I identified four major types of villain.

The Evil Villain: Mr. Brocklehurst

When we think of villains, this is the type we think of most often. He’s just nasty. He’s cruel, hypocritical, self-serving—and readers just want to punch him in the face. He may take the form of a mafia don, a dictator, a serial killer, or even something as comparatively “harmless” as an overbearing father.

In Jane Eyre, the evil villain manifests deliciously in the tyrannical Mr. Brocklehurst, the head of the horrible boarding school where Jane’s aunt disposes of her. Brocklehurst isn’t evil because he’s out killing, raping, or stealing. He’s evil because of his complete lack of compassion and his sadistic pleasure in his own power. When a young Jane dares to stand up to him, he subjects her to cruel punishment and lies about her to the rest of the school.

Even worse, he pretends he’s a pious benefactor. He has no idea he’s a cruel bum. He believes he and his school are saving these poor girls! Always remember that even the most evil villains will rarely recognize their own villainy. As far as they’re concerned, they’re the heroes of their own stories. Lucky for us, their hypocrisy only ups the ante and makes them more despicable.

The Insane Villain: Bertha Mason

Sometimes villains aren’t so much deliberately bad as psycho bad. They’re out of their heads, for whatever reason, and they may not even realize how horrifically their actions affect others. Psychos are always popular in horror stories for the simple fact that their near inhuman behavior makes them seem unstoppable. If they can’t understand the difference between right and wrong, what chance will your hero have of convincing them of the error of their ways—before it’s too late?

Perhaps the most notable antagonist in Jane Eyre is the one readers don’t even see for most of the book. She’s on stage for only a few scenes and mentioned outright in only a few others. But her presence powers the entire plot. [SPOILER] I am, of course, talking about Bertha, the mad wife of Jane’s employer and would-be husband Edward Rochester, whom he secretly keeps locked in the attic. [/SPOILER] The whole story might not even have happened had Bertha not been bonkers.

The insane villain is a force of nature. Although there will always be motivations for their behavior (even if they’re only chemical), they are people who aren’t behaving badly for sensible reasons. They can’t be rationalized with, and they won’t be moved by empathy for others. Their sheer otherness, coupled with their immovability, makes them one of the most fearsome and powerful types of villain.

The Envious Villain: Blanche Ingram

The envious villain is your garden-variety bad guy (or girl). These folks are a dime a dozen because their motivations and desires are ones almost all of us experience from time to time. Their envy, ego, and personal insecurity drives them to treat others badly for no other reason than spite (whether it’s petty or desperate).

Halfway through her story, Jane Eyre faces a formidable rival for Mr. Rochester’s love—the beautiful Blanche Ingram. Blanche is everything Jane isn’t (she’s the popular girl to Jane’s lunch-table outcast): gorgeous, rich, accomplished, and socially acceptable. On the surface, Blanche has no reason to fear or envy our plain-Jane protagonist. And yet, right from the start, she senses Jane as a threat to her marriage plans, and it immediately shows in her snide, condescending, and sometimes downright cruel behavior.

Envious villains are often those who, like Blanche, seem to have it all. But their glamour disguises deep personal insecurities. No one is ever a jerk for no reason. There’s always something (whether it’s a spoiled childhood or low self-esteem) that drives these most human of all villains. But don’t underestimate the power of their antagonism. Their envy can cause them to commit all sorts of crimes—everything from rudeness to murder.

The Ethical Villain: St. John Rivers

This is my personal favorite villain type—because he’s so darn scary. The ethical villain, like the envious villain, is less noticeable in his antagonism than are evil and insane baddies. This guy isn’t even a bad guy at all. He’s a very good guy. But he’s taken his goodness to the extreme. He’s on a crusade to save the rest of the world—either including or in spite of the protagonist—and heaven help anyone who gets in his way. He’s convinced the means absolutely justify his holy end.

Jane’s cousin St. John Rivers is a marvelous character. He is a man who is determined to live righteously and make his life count for some deeper purpose. He surrenders his own love for the village belle in order to go to India as a missionary. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? And yet, his cold-hearted devotion to what he views as his duty, and his determination to make Jane adhere to those views, presents her with her single fiercest and most dangerous antagonist. St. John would never dream of harming Jane or committing a crime, but his fanaticism for his cause very nearly destroys her life.

The ethical villain is ethical. He conforms to most, if not all, of society’s moral norms. But somewhere along the line, those ethics fail to match up with the protagonist’s. That exact point is where he becomes an obstacle (and therefore an antagonist) to the hero. But he also offers us one of our richest opportunities for exploring moral gray areas and deep thematic questions. As such, he is arguably the most valuable villain type in your author’s toolbox.

The possibilities for antagonists are every bit as rich as they are for protagonists. Stop and take a second look at your story’s villain. Does he fit into one of the four categories we’ve discussed here? How can you take full advantage of that category’s opportunities for creating a compelling opponent? Or would your story benefit if you used a different kind of villain? Or maybe more than one kind side by side? The choices are endless!



K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland

K.M. Weiland lives in make-believe worlds, talks to imaginary friends, and survives primarily on chocolate truffles and espresso. She is the IPPY and NIEA Award-winning and internationally published author of the Amazon bestsellers Outlining Your Novel and Structuring Your Novel. She writes historical and speculative fiction from her home in western Nebraska and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

07 Aug

Tea Party or Fist Fights? Why Action Scenes are Hard to Write!

ActionViolenceIn my current WIP, I want to up the action and make this a physically exciting story. So, I bought a great ebook, Action! Writing Better Action Using Cinematic Techniques by Ian Thomas Healy. It’s great, as I said, and breaks down the actions into easy components that can be easily mastered. Even for me, it’s easy.

Healy says that great action scenes put characters into motion and the “effective description of that motion is what makes the difference. . .
I get that part. But here’s what stumps me: “At its most basic level, an action scene is an expression of plot or character development through violence.”

Violence. As in people hitting each other, shooting at each other, killing each other. Yep. That kind of physical violence.

It’s been a long, long time since I was in a knock-down drag-out fight. That was with my younger brother when I was about 15, and we were fighting about whether the overhead light was on or off while we watched TV. I never had the chance to play football, which is a pure Show-Don’t-Tell version of testosterone. When my daughters played soccer, I cringed when they played tea party on the field: Oh, you have the ball? Well, take your turn and when you are finished, I’ll take my turn. Teaching aggression (much less violence) to young ladies is hard.

Our society trains women to avoid violence. We teach our daughters aggression now on a soccer field, but step off the field and it’s tea party time again. Women writers are at a disadvantage in writing action scenes.

Because Healy says that a great action scene needs violence.
Heck, I can’t even work up a good case of Road Rage.

Motivation. The hardest thing for me is to motivate the characters. I can block out the action and get the characters fighting. I’ve seen enough action movies to be able to do it. (Go watch The Transformers latest movie if you want non-stop violence. Wow. It must take up 75% of that movie.)

But WHY are these characters resorting to violence? (See, even our language makes it hard to use violence: “resort” implies that violence is a last option and the choice to use it is not easy.) Why would the characters use fists, swords, guns or other weapons against someone else? Healy helps with blocking out the sequences of actions and building them into longer sequences. But he says little about the character motivations.

In one sense, this is an escalating of tensions. Almost any motivation would work: revenge, for example, could easily escalate into violence. Two rivals for a fortune in gold could escalate an argument into violence and death. For violence to take place, there’s a line that needs to be crossed. Polite society demands that people restrain themselves, and that self-control must break for your characters, shoving them into a no-holds-barred action. Violence. It’s an escalation and it’s a letting go of social restraints. It’s a willingness to take action and a determination to get something done—no matter what.

Sounds like a good way to increase the tension and stakes in a story. Yes, often action stories are physical stories, without much in the way of characterization. You’ve heard it said that you either write an action story or you write a character story. A cross-pollination though, could create an intriguing mix. This time, I’m shooting for a story with better balance between action and character.

Cinematic. In some ways, this mix will be more cinematic. The sights and sounds of the action are crucial to the success of the scene. And yes, as I am writing, I am trying to visualize the actions in my head; I’m trying to see it as if it is on the big screen. Healy’s title is right on, violence—action scenes—are cinematic.

Thanks to Healy’s advice, I am making lists of what he calls “stunts,” or isolated pieces of actions, that will build into “engagements,” or movement across a setting, which will ultimately build toward some climactic “resolution.” I am taking baby steps in building a chapter with interesting action, um, violence.

Look out. I’m strapping on my boxing gloves, er, getting ready to type the next chapter of this new action-adventure story.

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