Saturday, December 29, 2012

A writer wraps up 2012

Just a quick reflection on the year that was. Being the primary breadwinner, I have to weave writing into the spaces between the day job, family time, domestic duties and assorted pursuits. I think I did a fair job this past year. Not great but not too shabby. I've got multiple short stories out for review. One that "sold" (a donation for a good cause, actually). Progress was made on my primary novel WIP. I'm happy with the story creation process for the most part.

E-publishing got a fair amount of love this year. I count efforts to complete and post e-books on Amazon and Smashwords as well as the outreach (read: marketing) to go with them all in my writer's yearly success column. Again, plenty more could have been done here but, all-in-all, I'm satisfied.

I think I grew as a writer in 2012. That's a big deal to me. Frankly, the better craftsman constantly learns more about their respective craft. That's an inescapable fact. It can come in many forms or via different methods as long as it does happen in some way. I'll take some points here while acknowledging there is always more that could, and possibly should, have been done.

I'll give myself a low score for blogging and other social media efforts across 2012. This is a tough area to find the right balance for. It could easily consume a significant amount of energy and attention and isn't a bad thing in isolation. But it does siphon off cycles from everything else, writing included. I'll wager the challenge for me will continue into the coming year on this.

So in closing I'll label 2012 another good year for my writing. Here's hoping I can keep my track record intact through 2013.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stories Should Have a Killer Ending (or Die Trying)

Like most writers I tend to fret over nearly every aspect of the stories I write. It's natural to want them to be 'just so,' perfectly delivering on that impression we have in our heads. But since we can't jack our readers straight into our skulls yet, we're stuck using words. Not just any words either. We quest endlessly for that perfect set of words, or at least as close to ideal as we can make them.

Start to finish, a writer relies upon the right words to deliver the story as intended. Every word is vital, though the opening and closing ones do extra duty by drawing the reader in and then delivering the final payoff of the intended, overall impression.

Namely, hook 'em. Then leave 'em with the lasting thought and feeling.

Like most writers, I labor over my story openings. They're tough buggers to nail. Twiddling, tweaking and tuning can be, and often is, involved. Sometimes extensively. I think two things work here in the writer's favor though. One is the writer quite often has a good sense of how the story will begin. (Whether it's an appropriate or the best beginning is a subject for another time.) The second thing is, if the writer's first few words aren't supreme, there are a handful more that come right afterwards that can, hopefully, pick up the slack.

Wrong way to look at it? Point taken.

It certainly pays to make those first few words the perfect hook. But just in case the hook is slightly dull, the second sentence or paragraph might be sufficient to set the barb. As a reader, I have never bailed out on a story after sentence #1. Page #1, yes. In rare cases, perhaps paragraph #1 or #2 gave me enough to know the story wasn't for me.

This is not the case with the story's final words. Those sit there on the screen or page naked... alone... with no hope of reinforcement. They cannot be weak or inappropriate choices for the closing lest they compromise that all-important payoff. They must deliver.

So I, as the writer, must provide the perfect, final words. Those words must impart the final impression of the story, the last piece the reader requires to complete the experience.

These two burning needs often vex me. For me, it's mostly a problem of choice. As in, too many to pick from.

Some stories I write have what I'd call obvious endings. You know the ones. They practically write themselves. Done deal.

Some story endings gel only after the tenth, fiftieth, or one hundredth time reworking them. These elusive ones you know aren't quite right when you first write them. Try, try again ultimately prevails though and it's a small celebration the day your rewrite clicks. Whew.

Then, there are the bad boys. These tend to defy logic and threaten sanity. The problem is not rooted in the story. It's me. The writer.

I'm the problem because I quite often haven't resolved exactly, precisely what I want. Actually, that's a misleading statement. I want perfection. Perfection is a real bitch to pin down. In fact, it's near hopeless. But you still have to try because 'good enough' really isn't.

Good enough is compromised. Flawed. Left alone, you know the story requires more attention. It deserves a hundred or a thousand or a hundred thousand reworks to make it proper, whatever that ends up being. Whatever it takes.

Then, reality intrudes. At some point, the writer is forced to let it go and move on. I hate that point. Actually, I hate facing that point, but once you're past it, it's a huge relief. Talk about getting an 800 pound gorilla off your back.

Unfortunately, I don't have any particular brilliancies to share regarding these problem children. Except, like real children, the best you can do is to love and nurture them as much as possible to the point where they must fend for themselves, for better or for worse.

And that's OK to do, even if it's not guilt free.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Write what you want

I’ve never been one to chase fads. I shudder when I hear the expression “out of style.” Shortly after that particular expression surfaces there is often a figure quoted, which reflects the necessary coinage required to get back “in style.” Whereupon life is good again. All too briefly.

You know the expression: lather, rinse, repeat? Chasing trends feels that way to me, like some endless shampoo cycle. Only it’s your sanity and bank account that’s getting washed out.

Okay, so we’ve established that I’m a genuine stick-in-the-mud. This is the point where I draw a quick parallel to writing and wrap up the blog post, isn’t it?

Err... sort of.

I titled this post “Write what you want.” Underline and emphasize the word ‘you’ in that title. Because that’s not only where the writing comes from, it’s who the writing really targets at the end of the day. Strip away all the readers, fans, agents, editors, critics, et al., and you’re left with the one person who really defines success.

You, the author.

Obviously this implies you actually have a definition of success for your writing. While this could amount to anything under the sun, I would strongly encourage you to focus on factors that are more in your control. Completing your novel is one example. Selling 1,000 copies a month of it is not. Writing a story in a totally different genre is good. Getting it to the top 5 ranking on Amazon is not.

Equally bad is defining your success along the lines of: “being the next X, Y or Z.” That’s sure tempting, isn’t it, comparing your appeal or your book’s acceptance to some popular name or work.


Whoever it is, whatever they wrote, that’s their success. Not yours. Make your own, using your terms. Stay out of the chase and run your own race.

A writer’s sanity and psyche is usually under enough pressure as it is, so figure it out and write what you want.

You just might start your own trend. You never know.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Sale: Desperate Measures - also a donation

Ever donate a story to help a cause?

I just did.

I expect you’ve heard of Cystic Fibrosis. It’s a cruel, killer disease that afflicts about 70,000 people worldwide with 1,000 new cases diagnosed each year. While advances in treatment have been made, the median age for survival of a CF sufferer is still only in the late 30s.

It’s less likely that you’ve heard of Erotic Anthology, which produces a grab-bag of themed story collections, all of which have an erotic tilt of some kind. Most of the collections are unified together under the main title of Coming Together, and each of the themes is then a subtitle within. The Coming Together anthologies are sold through the major digital outlets and in print format. All the profits from the sales are donated to various charitable causes. The motto of Erotic Anthology is: “doing good while being bad.”


Recently, a new science fiction theme was added to the Coming Together line called Off World. I happen to spot the call for submissions. While I can’t say I’m looking to branch out my writing generally into erotica, the mission of Coming Together appealed to me while also giving me a shot at writing outside of the box. It was something quite different.

Still, I dithered. Until a tragic, erotic, sci-fi story plot line smacked me between the eyes. Funny how that happens.

The result was a dark little tale called Desperate Measures, which is about what can happen between a woman and a man on a last-ditch, one-way mission that doesn’t quite go as planned. I’d classify the story as a sci-fi romance with an erotic thread. If you’re looking for something more gratuitous, titillating or explicit, this is not the story for you.

Here’s a teaser:
I dreamed.
Emma said I would. According to her, most people did though they didn't realize it.
She knew firsthand, having been a guinea pig for the initial suspension trials. Said she loved it, giddy and gushing like an eager teen in a clingy prom dress with grand expectations and even bigger desires. Said she couldn't wait for the real mission, the true motivation for suspension testing. The ultimate payoff.
Emma told me she'd dreamed of her first husband, Mack, and her second, Padraig, both killed in Zet raids not four months apart. Emma died too, weeks after Padraig, in another raid during our panicked retreat from Betelgeuse, our fleet hacked to one third the size of when we'd arrived.
Sorry, Emma. No mission for you. No prom. No climax in some glorious payoff that you ached for.
But I got to go. Emma had nailed it and more.

You can purchase Desperate Measures thusly (and it goes without saying that this is for adults only):
On Amazon
And here is the main page for Coming Together: Off World over on Erotic Anthology.

Your purchase results in a donation to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. So you can have a guilty pleasure while helping a worthy cause.

Doing good while being bad.

I think I’m going to enjoy it.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Avoiding rejection dejection

Got my latest story rejection this morning. Consequently, I tweeted the following quip:
Rejections are like a gladiator’s scars. You need them to go on to your biggest killings.
The thing is I didn’t mean this to be just a trivial sound bite. I’ve always believed it to be true about writing, from day one.

When it comes down to it, my stack of rejection letters affirms two fundamental things about my writing. It means:
  1. I am trying
  2. I need to keep trying, only a little harder
Notice I didn’t say anything along the lines of: “I am failing” or “My writing stinks” or “Editors are idiots.” Instead, I view each rejection as measuring my forward progress. As long as they keep coming in, I keep moving ahead.

That means working harder, getting better, growing in my craft and improving my stories. That’s the path forward.

Oh sure, I’ve had moments of disappointment with some rejection letters, such as when I thought a story was an absolute perfect match with a particular market or editor. That, along with many factors regarding submission evaluation, is really beyond my control. I can control the fact that I keep writing stories and I keep polishing them to make them the finest I can deliver. Period.

Worry about what you can control. Don’t let the other control you. It’s the best a writer can hope for.

When I talk to people about my writing, it’s not uncommon for them to tell me they could never do it, often because of all the rejection they’ll experience. The thought really bothers them and turns them off. I usually smile at that point and talk proudly about my numerous battle scars.

With more to come, too. Ones that I plan to work hard to earn.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Of authors, the web and Facebook fan pages

My Facebook author page is now live. I admit I’ve been holding off putting one up for a while. Laziness is partly to blame for that. Another reason is... oh, I’ll call it social media overload. Allow me to explain.

Information is plentiful these days and thank the heavens for that. I love being able to obtain any fact, figure or piece of nonsensical trivia the very instant I desire it. It’s an empowering and liberating feeling to know you can suck from the straw of collective knowledge and understanding whenever and however you like. Whether we're talking data, news or entertainment, all of it is there at your command.

Therein lies the rub.

The more you use that proverbial straw, the more seems to try to flow back through it. Whether it is via cross-links or “Related Items” or “You Might Also Like...” interconnections, you can find yourself drawing from that straw many hours after that first drink. Suck, suck, suck, and there’s always more there for you to consume.

Ever notice your first few tastes of something are the most delightful? But keep at it for very long and the appeal drops off significantly, doesn’t it?

Now consider social media in this context. How many blogs, tweets, IMs and newsfeeds are pointed at your straw? How often and for how long are you really able to suck up all that information? Most of all, how much do you really get out of it?

Obviously there are some people who can’t get enough. More power to them. I’m certainly not part of that group. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to sit on the receiving end of that massive stream.

So that’s just in one direction, coming at you. Imagine trying to interact then with all those sources and in some meaningful way, not just tossing off frivolous replies or retweets. Which is an intrinsic value of social media: outreach and connecting via interaction. Build your network. Then, as a writer, you tap it.

Except, a goodly number of writers are doing that or else trying to. A goodly number of readers are probably like me, struggling with how much there is out there to drink up. It’s an overload.

A writer could try to overcome that. Use tactics and various methods to somehow rise above and stand out. I think if you had a marquee author name already or else an endless supply of minions, you might be successful at that. But there’s actually a better way.


Keep producing what people want.

That’s the way to ensure they’ll point their straws at you. OK, bad image, but you get the idea. You win by doing what you’re fundamentally supposed to do as a writer.

So I’ve been in that mindset for a while: more writing, less marketing. Which has delayed me considerably from finishing many outreach type tasks, like my Facebook author page.

But it’s live now so before you point your straw elsewhere on the web, how about popping over and giving me a Like?

Thanks and happy slurping.