GUEST POST: Howard Andrew Jones on How I Write

 

Today, my friend, Howard Andrew Jones, one of my favorite writers, shares with us about his writing process.  His latest Pathfinder Tales novel, Beyong The Pool of Stars, is out now from TOR and Paizo. But I’ve enjoyed his previous Pathfinder and original novels very much as well. Check them out and enjoy his wise words.

9780765374530_FCA writing career is a work in progress. I’m always striving to better my writing process.

I suppose I still live in hope that I’ll produce 5k or more of workable prose every day like some of my friends do. And it happens for me, sometimes. More often, though, I’m a 2k to 3k guy. And I’ve decided that might just be the way it works for me, so more and more I’m trying to make sure that the 2 or 3 thousand words I produce are useful ones.

Bit by bit, tweak by tweak, I’ve come to my current method, and it’s served me well for Beyond the Pool of Stars as well as for the book that immediately preceded it and the two books currently on my hard drive. I’ll detail it for you in the hopes you’ll find it useful.

First, three steps I have to take once I have the germ of the novel’s idea:

  1. It probably goes without saying that you have to know your characters. Develop principal characters – and keep that number small – that fascinate you. If you don’t find them interesting no one else will.
  2. Find out what their goals are, then find a way to keep them away in an entertaining way.
  3. Know your villain and what she wants. And make her interesting as well, or you’ll be just as bored as your readers whenever your characters interact with her.

Once I have those pieces I set to work on the outline. I block it out loosely, imagining important scenes. I try to take my characters to fascinating places. Why not create backdrops of wonder with a few lines of description it would take a film company millions to create?

Once I have a basic feel for beginning, middle, and end, I get to plotting chapter by chapter and scene by scene, and my current favorite trick is to block it out like a play.

I write entire scenes with just dialogue and occasional stage direction. It might be that I can perfectly picture the tone of voice or even a moment of description, and if I do, I go ahead and drop it in even during this rough “stage draft.” There aren’t any hard and fast rules for what I can or can’t do at any stage, after all, and if I picture something I really like I try to get it down, even if it’s just a few quick notes.

Once I get the scene working I can either move on to the next section, or punch away at it, getting the dialogue just right. If the scene’s working properly then the more I work on dialogue, the better I can picture it… and the more solid the scene or chapter becomes as I polish. I add detail as I work until that dialogue is surrounded by useful prose and the stage descriptions of what characters are doing transforms into fluid actions.

A stage draft enables me to experiment with the dialogue and flow without investing a whole lot of energy into finessing metaphor and getting into a character’s internal thoughts. If something doesn’t work and the scene goes off the rails, I haven’t wasted hours polishing fool’s gold. And believe me, I’ve done that before.

Neither this method nor any other can work for every writer. If a method worked perfectly for everyone, there wouldn’t be so many writer self-help books out there.

I think it’s been successful for me because I’ve always found that dialogue comes easily. You should always be aware of your weaknesses and work to overcome them. But during the initial composition stages, whatever methods you, try to play to your strengths.

 


Howard Andrew Jones is the critically acclaimed author of The Desert of Souls, The Bones of the Old Ones, and Pathfinder novels Plague of Shadows, Stalking the Beast and the hot off the presses Beyond the Pool of Stars. A former Black Gate Editor, he also assembled and edited 8 collections 31020477of historical fiction writer Harold Lamb’s work for the University of Nebraska Press. He can be found lurking at www.howardandrewjones.com. Follow him on Twitter @howardandrewjon

Write Tip: Thoughts On Choosing Point Of View

There are many decisions one makes when writing fiction. One of the most important is the choice of POV character and whether it’s first person or third. Often, when dealing with multiple POV characters, the choice is based on who has the most to lose or gain in a particular scene. But sometimes other factors can be useful.  

In The Returning, my forthcoming sequel to The Worker Prince, I found it advantageous to tell a scene from the POV of an antagonist despite the fact the focus of the scene was a subplot of the romance between the protagonist and another character. In doing so, I was able to up the tension beyond the drama of the moment. While Davi and Tela are having a fight and their relationship is jeopardized, the scene becomes more powerful because Davi’s rival, bent on killing him in revenge for past slights, is stalking them during the scene. Thus, not only is their relationship in danger, but their very lives. It wound up becoming one of my favorite scenes because of that.

A further advantage was that several subplots are advanced in the process–the Davi-Tela love story, the Bordox revenge plot, and the main story about attacks on Davi’s Vertullian people are all advanced in this scene. Having Davi’s rival, whose hatred for Davi seethes throughout the book, see Davi in a humiliating fight with his girlfriend also serves to make Davi’s situation more sympathetic. It’s bad enough he’s messing up his relationship, it’s bad enough some of that conflict is based on misunderstanding each other, but now his life’s in danger and he’s been humiliated in front of Bordox. It just adds layers of dynamics to the scene which up the pace, the tension, and the stakes all at the same time. When you add to that the fact that this encounter was coincidence–Bordox was there for other reasons and just stumbles upon them–it’s all the more dramatic.

Below is the scene from my third draft so you can see how it plays out. Remember: Bordox is working for a group trying to unseat the government and reenslave the Vertullians, ancient enemies. He’s Davi’s Academy rival and his family are the rivals of Davi’s for the leadership of the Borali Alliance. Tela is Davi’s former trainee, fiancee and a fellow Vertullian pilot. The romance that started in The Worker Prince is facing new pressures and their relationship is strained because of it. 

As you read, consider the POV choice. How does it work for you? Would you have chosen differently? What are the questions you ask when deciding which POV to use in scenes? Feel free to discuss it in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts on choosing POV.

***

Bordox fought his every instinct as he stepped off the shuttle into the starport landing bay on Legon. His mission required stealth yet he stiffened at having to sneak around a place he’d once walked freely—admired and respected. Here he was, less than a year later, hiding in shadows like a wanted man. And there was only one person to blame: Davi Rhii!

He made his way through the pedestrian corridors and deliberately avoided areas frequented by pilots and maintenance crews with the hopes he’d be less likely to be recognized. The datacard in his pocket pressed against his leg with every step. He just needed to get to the flight data booths and insert it. The program it contained would do the rest, drawing out the desired intel from the systems, and he’d be on his way again.

“What’s keeping you so quiet?”

He knew that voice, stopping to listen as it came from around the corner ahead of him.

“Nothing. I’m fine.” A woman’s voice answered. One he didn’t recognize. He heard footsteps approaching and shrunk back into a shadowed doorway. “Just let me check the shuttle maintenance records for Aron and we’ll be on our way.”

“I know you, Tela. Something’s upsetting you.”

Rhii! Bordox gritted his teeth. His old enemy, the idiot who’d ruined his life, was coming toward him. What was he doing here this time of night? Last he’d heard Davi was a squadron commander. Military pilots didn’t casually walk around this side of the starport.

Davi and the woman appeared around the corner and stopped as Davi jumped into her path so they were face to face. The woman was medium height, shorter than Davi, with long brown hair and sparkling blue eyes. Her pleasing curves stiffened in anger as Davi blocked her way. Both wore Borali Alliance flight uniforms with rank insignia on their shoulders and blasters holstered at their sides. Seeing Davi in uniform just launched him into a rage. Rhii had the career Bordox deserved.

“I know you, Tela,” Davi said. “Why won’t you talk to me about it?”

“Because it won’t make any difference. We’ve tried before.”

She stepped around him and continued down the corridor as he hurried after her.

“So it’s about me then? What did I do?”

The woman, Tela, sighed. “I am not some delicate damsel in distress, Davi Rhii. I’m a fully qualified Borali officer, just like you.”

Davi looked confused. “Of course you are. What are you talking about?”

She stopped and whirled to face him, arms on her hips. Her eyes narrowed with annoyance. “You had me taken out of your squadron rotation. You got me in a lighter flight duty assignment. I keep finding myself not chosen for any risky missions—”

“There haven’t exactly been a lot of risky missions lately, and your reassignment was required by military rules. Couples can’t fly together.”

Tela growled. “A convenient excuse.”

“It’s true. I can show you the memo the commander sent asking me to sign the transfer paperwork.”

“You don’t get it! I am not going to be the girl who sits at home and pines after you. I want to do my duty like anyone else. I don’t want to be protected.”

“I’m not protecting you.”

“Yes you are!”

She whirled and started up the corridor toward Bordox again. He slipped further back into the shadows, sliding his hood up over his head as he enjoyed the show. They were so distracted with each other he doubted they’d even notice him. Bordox began to relax from his rage a bit as he watched Davi Rhii get put in his place by a woman. The only thing better would be the day he did it himself. Like instinct, his hand felt for the blaster at his hip, closing around the handle, he squeezed it. All he had to do was draw and shoot and Rhii would be dead. They would never see it coming, totally taken by surprise. His fist clenched and unclenched around the handle as he fought the urge. He’d blow his mission. But he might never get a chance like this. The feel of the cold steel of the blaster against his palm got his adrenaline pumping.

“Okay, maybe I didn’t argue.” Davi smiled as if that alone would charm her. Bordox wanted to step out and wipe that smarmy grin off his face with a fist but he swallowed, silent and hard, and stayed frozen in place. Or maybe I should blast it off. “Look, I love you, okay? Guilty! It’s my instinct to want to protect you.”

“We fought side by side in the Resistance. Why can’t we do that now?”

“Well, there’s not really any enemies at the moment for one. And we were just getting into things then. Now we’re together.”

“So I’m supposed to sit at home and worry about you while you get to relax and know I’m safe? That’s fair.”

Davi grinned and shrugged. “I’d feel good about it.”

Tela groaned and punched him hard in the arm. “Well, I don’t.” She turned and marched on down and through the door into the landing bay as Davi raced to catch her.

Bordox paused a moment, tempted to follow, but shook it off, remembering his mission and slid on down the corridor the way they’d come. There was more at stake. He had to remember that. Rhii’s day would come. Just not today. In less than two minutes, he’d stepped into the data center and selected a private booth. He slipped the datacard from his pocket and inserted it into the terminal then watched as the screen exploded in thousands of numbers moving and changing at a pace so fast his eyes could barely recognize them. After another minute, the terminal beeped and the datacard ejected. He returned it to his pocket then slipped out and headed back the way he’d come.


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, a Barnes & Noble Best SF Releases of 2011 Honorable Mention, the collection The North Star Serial, Part 1, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. His second novel, The Returning, is forthcoming from Diminished Media Group in 2012. He’s also the host of Science Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chatevery Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.‎ Bryan is an affiliate member of the SFWA.

4 5-star & 11 4-star reviews THE WORKER PRINCE $3.99 Kindlehttp://amzn.to/pnxaNm or Nook http://bit.ly/ni9OFh $14.99 tpb http://bit.ly/qIJCkS.

Write Tip: Get In Late, Get Out Early

When I went to screenwriting school, the key thing they taught us about writing scenes was to enter a scene as late as possible and get out as soon as possible after that. Forget the niceties. None of this:

 

Bob walked in the room to find Guy sitting on the couch, chilling.

“Hey, dude, whassup?” Bob asked.

Guy shrugged, not even glancing over. “Nothing. You?”

“Meh. Me either.”

 

No. You’d better have something more interesting. We can assume they’re nice, normal people but we don’t need to see their mundane, routine, room entering banter to prove it.  Show us that and you’ve lost our interest. Why? We can see that every day. And when  you write it out, it’s quickly apparent how boring our lives have become.

Instead, you want to start with as dramatic a spot as possible.

 

           “Why am I here?” Hachim choked out. Sweat dripped off the arms of the chair as it soaked through his robe. After twenty minutes alone in the interrogation room, he looked like he’d fallen into a lake. Tarkanius and Aron shook their heads, and Aron was thankful he wasn’t present for the odor. They watched through the one way glass as the Major Zylo stopped across the table from the sweaty Lord, staring at him.

            “You know why you’re here,” Zylo said.

            Hachim coughed. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”

            “So you always sweat this much when you’re innocent?”

            Hachim grabbed the towel Zylo tossed across the table at him and began wiping the exposed flesh of his face, brow, neck and arms. “It’s hot in here.”

            “I’m perfectly comfortable.” Zylo sat in the seat across from him and leaned back, watching as the Lord cleaned himself. “You’re gonna need a new robe.”

 

Are you hooked yet? I hope so. This scene should be a lot more interesting. If not, go back to your boring life. I hope you’re very happy there.

The difference between scene 1 and scene 2 is that when scene 1 starts, nothing is happening. The characters aren’t even all that interesting. In scene 2, the drama has started before we’re allowed in the room. Hachim’s already sweating, Zylo’s already hostile. It’s obvious right away Hachim is guilty of something, at least as far as Zylo’s concerned, and Zylo intends to get to the bottom of it. We’d like to as well. To me, this illustrates well the craft of getting into a scene as late as possible. Something interesting is already happening. No wasted space. No chit chat.

Now let me show you the rest of the scene so we can talk about point two: getting out as soon after.

  “What is this about? You have no right to detain me without cause!”

            Zylo nodded, then slid a datapad across the table, watching as Hachim set down the towel and began to read.

            “Conspiracy? Assassination?” Hachim’s eyes darted up from the screen. “I had nothing to do with it.”

            “You knew about it.”

            Hachim shook his head. “If you could prove it, you’d have already arrested me.” He smiled smugly.

            Zylo laughed. “The Alien Leadership Summit.”

            Hachim’s eyes raced to finish the charges. “What about it?” Hachim slid the datapad back across the table and shot him a confused look that wasn’t very convincing.

            “What’s the location?”

            “That’s classified for the Council.”

            “I have clearance, trust me. I’m on the security team.”

            Hachim hesitated, then melted under Zylo’s stare. “Idolis.”

            Zylo shook his head. “Buzz! Wrong answer. And it was all over the news.”

            “So? I am not the only person privy to that.” Hachim leaned back in his chair, attempting to appear bored, but Aron saw the fear in his eyes. And Zylo saw it, too.

            Zylo chuckled. “Yes, you were.”

            Hachim looked at him again, startled. “What?”

            Zylo nodded, smirking. “Each Lord was given a different location.”

            Hachim frowned. “A different location? They can’t hold the Summit in more than one place…” His voice trailed off as the implications sank in. Zylo raised a brow as their eyes met. “Lies? A trap?”

            “A security precaution. How many people did you tell?”

            Hachim shook his head. “No, I’m innocent. I’m not going to tolerate this abuse.” Slowly, he stood from his chair and took a step toward the door.

            Zylo shoved Hachim back into the chair. “Sit down and start answering.” Hachim looked offended at the treatment. Zylo wasn’t even phased. “Now!”

            Aron looked at Tarkanius, wondering if it were time for them to join the interrogation. Tarkanius shook his head. “No. Let him suffer.”

            “Then their fate will be yours.” Zylo shrugged and turned to casually stroll toward the door. Hachim’s eyes widened.

            “It was Niger’s idea,” Hachim began. Zylo turned back as Hachim’s shoulders sank with his weight in the chair.

 

Can you see how fast it moves? And the whole thing is fairly dramatic. In fact, you don’t even get to know what he tells him. Why? Because talk is boring. It’s more interesting to show that in the scenes that follow. In context, this opens Chapter 12 in my forthcoming novel The Returning, so readers will actually know more coming into it than you did. They’ll know, for example, that Hachim has been betraying his trust as a public servant. That people’s lives are at risk if he’s leaked the data as suspected. People we care about’s lives. Still, it illustrates my point well. It’s tight. It’s dramatic. It sets up the character’s relationship quickly. The characters are revealed through action and dialogue. There’s tight pace. And it holds your interest. Plus, even both pieces combined, it’s short. In late, out early.

Try it. Not only will your pacing automatically be better. Your readers are likely to turn pages faster. And your writing is even going to be more fun. Yes, this is an interrogation scene. But you can do the same thing with any scene where there’s conflict, and, frankly, most of the time, if you scene doesn’t have conflict, you shouldn’t be writing it. Seriously. Conflict is the heart of good fiction. If you don’t have conflict at the heart of a scene, find a way to dismiss it with a couple quick telling sentences and skip to the next dramatic moment. Your readers will thank you for it.

In any case, that’s how you get in late, and get out early. I hope it helps you improve your craft. Feel free to comment, ask questions, dialogue about it. I won’t bite…well, then, part of the dramatic tension is your not knowing for sure if that’s true. For what it’s worth…


Bryan Thomas Schmidt is the author of the space opera novel The Worker Prince, the collection The North Star Serial, and has several short stories forthcoming in anthologies and magazines. He’s also the host ofScience Fiction and Fantasy Writer’s Chat every Wednesday at 9 pm EST on Twitter, where he interviews people like Mike Resnick, AC Crispin, Kevin J. Anderson and Kristine Kathryn Rusch. He can be found online as @BryanThomasS on Twitter or via his website. Excerpts from The Worker Prince can be found on his blog.

The Worker Prince: The Genesis Of A Saga

A lot of readers are curious after reading books about where the idea came from. So I thought I’d share with you here a bit about the story of “The Worker Prince, Book 1 of The Saga Of Davi Rhii.” I have stated often that the genesis occurred when I was 15 years old. I don’t remember exactly but I know it was while I was in early high school, and I’m 42 now. It’s a long time ago. The kinds of movies and books I was into then were Star Wars, Star Trek: The Original Series, Planet Of The Apes, Space 1999, Superman — noticing a pattern here? I liked my genre stuff and I liked it larger than life with good v. evil and heroes who were clearly good v. bad guys who were clearly bad. As a young kid, raised in a Christian home, listening to Sunday sermons and Sunday school stories, reading the bible, and reading these books, I dreamed of grand adventure. I wanted to be the dashing hero. I wanted to save the world. That was the start of it.

Also in the midst of this, I struggled with being adopted. Being adopted challenges your sense of belonging by forcing you to ask: why didn’t they want me? The irony of this, of course, is that the adoptive parents who love you chose you and wanted you. But somehow your mind and heart just dwell on the rejection part and tend to gloss over the other, at least for a while. Add to this sense of unwantedness my sense of being an outcast amongst my peers as a geek, a Christian, and a kid who wasn’t afraid to follow his own drumbeat, then you have someone whose life was and has often remained focused on questions of: who he is and where he belongs. So those elements combined into the Davi Rhii coming of age story and his quest, upon discovering his own adoption, to figure out who he is.

The movie The Ten Commandments ran on TV annually back then on the big networks, and I often watched it. I have always loved Charlton Heston despite his annoying association with the NRA.  The movie was so well made and the saga so dynamic. It seemed to lend itself well to the large stage of space opera as I loved it. I dreamed up the saga, then titled The Exodus, as a huge miniseries involving a group of slaves breaking free and fleeing from their captors much as the Israelites did in the biblical story. I came up with the father of the main character, a man named Sol, and the antagonist, an evil ruler named Lord Xalivar. I even wrote the first line of the novel: Sol climbed to the top of the rise and stared up at the stars in the heavens — later changed during editing to: Sol climbed to the top of the rise and stared up at the twin suns as they climbed into the sky. I made pages and pages of notes and story outlines and dreamed of the day I could go further and write the story.

Then I went off to college and life happened and somewhere along the way those notes got lost–or at least buried in a box where I have yet to find them. But the names Sol, Xalivar, that opening line, and the basic plotline stayed with me, gestating mostly in the closets of my mind, but occasionally popping out for air. I did continue to read Science Fiction and Fantasy whenever I could and revel in the way they stimulated my imagination.

In the Fall of 2008 I made my first attempt at a novel–a love story a la Nicholas Sparks which I still hope to write some day–written without any knowledge of craft and little of the genre. I finished it around 60000 words, then prompting rewrote it several times before discarding it as crap and me as unfit as a novelist and began studying my craft. I bought various books, read author interviews, got into On Writing by Stephen King, etc. I also returned to reading novels, a habit I developed as a preteen and continued for years but then dropped after college in favor of nonfiction and other research and rarely revisited. Over the next year as I read, I suddenly rekindled my passion for science fiction and fantasy. And, of course, the Davi Rhii story came back to me again and again. I practiced my craft, studied it in novels I read, and then, finally, in August of 2009, sat down and wrote those words: Sol climbed to the top of the rise…

From August 15 through November 15, I wrote 89000 words, day after day, sometimes writing as much as an entire chapter in a day, sometimes only a few scenes. I wrote every morning, first thing when I woke up for a couple hours. Then worked my telecommute job for the day, wrote a little at lunch, and then did more writing in late afternoon before dinner. I was cooking along, despite restarting Chapter One over after realizing I’d started it in the wrong spot. The story just flew out of me with very little planning–pantsing all the way, being as surprised as I hoped my readers would one day be. Despite my wife’s hospitalization for mental illness by a judge and all the ensuing stress, I wrote every day, the only time I got stuck being on the final chapter, Chapter 13, which somehow took me three weeks to write. Finally, I wrote the quick Epilogue in one day and wrote: The End.

Then, following the encouragement of author Ken Scholes, whom I’d met and talked with on Facebook, I set about to write short stories while I let the first draft gestate a while. For a month, I wrote around 2 stories a week. Then I went back and read The Worker Prince again, finding it wasn’t half as crappy as I expected it to be. In fact, it might actually be good. The draft that comes out October 4th is probably around number 18 or 19–counting even partial drafts or drafts to eliminate -ly adverbs–but I did it. The book went from 89000 down to 85000 and back up to the 89700 it is now along the way.

The story developed in the process. I added a lot of political intrigue, a story of divided belief systems which reflects our own U.S. culture today, I added subplots, twists, and even various characters, and I somehow divided my original idea into three books, even though I wasn’t sure what the other two would be yet. All I knew was, there was no exodus in the book I’d come up with so I had to find a new title. The slaves being called workers, the hero being a prince born a worker, I then devised the title and I was set. I found fascinating the way belief systems and cultures interact and cause clashes and wanted to write a more realistic world than is often depicted in stories with Christian characters by Christian novelists because I thought this story was one which would appeal across belief lines and from the feedback I get from early readers, I hope I’ve accomplished that.

The Worker Prince is not a Christian novel in my mind, even though it has characters in it who engage with that belief system. I made a conscious effort never to stoop to proselytizing because I don’t like to be proselytized either. And I have as many or more non-Christian characters as Christians in major roles. It was the milieu of conflicting beliefs which fascinated me as a setting for a space opera which I have not seen explored and which led me to write it.

The journey of the idea to publication is an altogether different story, and at some point, when it’s been out a while, I may break down the nuances of the various plot lines, twists, and motifs which ended up there, but for now, that’s a summary of how The Worker Prince and Saga Of Davi Rhii came about. It’s an incredible accomplishment in my life. My greatest writing success, and I am truly grateful to that 15-year-old kid for having such a great idea, and also grateful for life keeping me from trying to write it until I had the depth and wisdom to do it right. I could have log ago tried, failed, ruined it and given up, then where would I be now. It would be sad if no one got the chance to read this story because so far, people love it. So here I am on the cusp of my debut novel which had quite a journey, grateful for every step.

For what it’s worth…

To read a synopsis of book 1, The Worker Prince, click here: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/2011/01/22/the-worker-prince-synopsis/

To read excerpts of The Worker Prince, click here: http://bryanthomasschmidt.net/tag/excerpt/

Blurbs so far:

“Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s “The Worker Prince” will appeal to readers of all ages. Bryan deftly explores a world where those who believe in one God labor against oppressors, and a single man may have the power to change their situation for the better. But will he be able to rise above all that his powerful uncle has taught him?” — Brenda Cooper, Author of “The Silver Ship and the Sea” and “Mayan December”

“I found myself thinking of stories that I read during my (misspent) youth, including Heinlein juveniles and the Jason January tales, as well as Star Trek and Star Wars.” 
— Redstone SF on “The Worker Prince” series (Book 1 forthcoming, October 4,  2011, Diminished Media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

AUTHOR’S TIP: Thesaurus Abuse No

I got criticized once that my writing style uses simpler words.  Why not show off your vocabularly or use more sophisticated verbage, they asked.  My answer:  I’m writing for a wide age group, and vocabulary is only useful if it adds to understanding, not if it takes away from it.

For example, my friend, a talented writer, just tweeted this from his WIP:  “Her soul was gnawed through, suffocating, sensitive though numb.”  Out of context, that does very little for me.  Intriguing use of words? Yes.  But meaningless without more context.  Knowing this friend, he’ll give it the context.  So I’m not worried about him, but I’ve seen plenty of writers who use words like this and end up with a jumbled mess.

Have you ever been reading and come across a word you had no idea the meaning of and it ripped you right out of the story and world?  Do you hate that?  I know I do.

Publisher Candlemark and Gleam offers this comment:  There’s a difference between having a good vocabulary and a good grasp of wordplay and being overly clever; think of the poor, overused thesaurus before running amok. Trust us, saying “her violet orbs welled up with viscous, salty fluids” does not, in fact, work as well as “her eyes brimmed with tears.” Won’t someone think of the thesaurii?

It’s not that I’m not impressed with a good vocabulary.  Well used, it can be both educational and intriguing.  I often go through during polishing and substitute words using a thesaurus.  This is to keep it from being stagnant with overly repeated words.  But I’m very careful where and what I replace.  It does you no good to show off words when the reader has to look them up constantly and step out of your story.  It’s distracting, annoying, and, in the end, insulting.  Writing is communication.  Communicate with your readers.  Fiction is story telling.  Telling them a story doesn’t work if they don’t understand it.

So when I’ve heard people criticize my lack of sophisticated words on occasion, I point to authors who are quite successful and don’t need that.  Authors like Mike Resnick, Orson Scott Card, Kevin J. Anderson, Timothy Zahn, to name a few.  I’d much rather have words a lot more people can read than words only suitable for a select few.  How about you?

Part of having a vocabularly is knowing when and how to use the words.  If you can’t do it well, you don’t really own those words.  So don’t try and fake it, because, trust me, readers will know.  And it won’t give you cred.  It will take away cred.

For what it’s worth…

AUTHOR’S TIP: How I Edit

It’s been too long since I posted something helpful for writers.  I really do intend to do that more often here, but as life around me is chaotic, so goes my blogging and everything else.  So if you found the previous posts helpful and were waiting, sincerest apologies.  I hope I haven’t chased you off.

Since I am currently halfway through a polish draft of my first novel, which has a contract pending from Diminished Media, I wanted to talk about how I edit.  Everyone has a different method and approach to such things, and there is no wrong or right way.  This is just how I’ve come to do it and I’m sure even that will evolve with time.

Before I talk about how I edit though, it might first be helpful to talk about my writing process.  I am a writer who doesn’t rely on outlines much.  I tend to like to know who my characters are in some rough sense, know a few key plot points, have a TV Guide story pitch sentence and then write and see where the story takes me.  This works well with first novels in series, but as I approach sequels, I am finding outlining a more necessary evil and I’ll likely be embracing that more and more.

My first drafts have one goal:  get the plot, characters and basic arcs down as fast as possible.  I want to get the major characters, scenes, and a sense of the pacing all on paper.  I don’t spend as much time on fancy descriptions or even in depth emotional monologues.  Those I can flesh out later.  I just want the framework to build on.  Now as I learn my craft and develop my skills, I find I put more of this stuff in first drafts, but my goal is just to get the story told.  I have plenty of time to fix things and make it all pretty and bow-wrapped later.

Because writing is a series of questions and answers for me, I aim to ask questions in each scene.  I keep track of these questions on a list and as I go along try and answer one for every new one I ask once the set up has been done.  This helps keep readers satisfied that they are figuring things out and that the story has more surprises.  It keeps them turning pages.  But forgetting to answer any of these questions is deadly annoying, so I keep a list to make sure they all get addressed by the end.

The second draft, at least a month after the first draft’s done with no peeking in between, I go back and read and pay special attention to setting descriptions, character descriptions, character arcs, etc.  I also look for themes or motifs I can use which have just appeared naturally and I find ways to work all of these things into the story and strengthen them, building on my basic blocks.

My third draft is my Ken Rand’s 10% Solution draft where I go back and cut absolutely every non-essential word.  I look at overused or overly repeated words, and I use a thesaurus to find words which can replace these and make the prose more interesting.  I also aim to just tighten wherever I can.

There are often subsequent drafts or even drafts in between some of these to work on particular specifics, but those are the three basic drafts.  Each is usually spread apart by 3 weeks to a month for some perspective and I do my best to immerse myself in other projects and flush the thing from my mind as best I can in between.  It’s very hard to have fresh eyes for your own work, and you cannot hope to make it the best it can be if you don’t find a way to do it.

So that’s how I write, in succinct summary.  How do I edit?

The one advantage of editing is it uses a different half of your brain.  It’s a different thought process and focus than the writing itself, so once you’ve done all those other things you can really start looking at mechanics like grammar, punctuation, word usage, etc.  The Ken Rand draft is editing in a way, and I do much the same in my editing phases, cutting whatever unneeded words I can, etc.  But on the other hand, I am looking primarily for how can I make this as shiny as it can be.  What repeated sentence patterns have I gotten stuck in that I can rework in places to keep it fresh?  Which places can I use more emotion to make action more powerful or build the character-reader connection?  Where can I use more of the five senses to make it more real to readers?  What questions did I fail to answer?  Which did I answer incorrectly or incompletely?  Is anything unclear or convoluted?  Is anything missing — holes, etc.?

I also read the manuscript out loud, word for word.  It’s different when you read out loud.  First of all, most readers read like this only silently to themselves, so you’ll get a sense of the flow for readers by doing this.  You’ll also find awkward phrasings, run-ons and other issues which you don’t always find just by reading your overly familiar prose.  You can find where you need a better mix of sentence sizes.  You can find where you need to break up paragraphs differently.

I always find I’m overly wordy.  No matter how many times I’ve tried to cut before.  Here’s where I find out how much I overstated and how much I needed more color.  I add more interesting setting decriptions or emotional descriptions.  I trim repeated dialogue and phrases.  I realize I have repeated things too many times and annoyed the reader and cut as many of those as I can.  If I have to keep them, I make them tighter and rephrase them so they don’t sound the same each time.  I also look at where the story lags in pace.  Are things out of order in sentences or paragraphs.  Etc.

The editing can take a while or go quickly, but I always make at least three passes on these things, the middle being the read aloud one, to make sure I don’t miss anything.  After all, when this book gets printed it will represent me potentially well after I die.  I want to be represented well.  Oh I know I’ll write better as time goes on, the more I learn my craft.  And I know publishers, agents, editors will all jump in with improvements as well beta readers.  But I don’t want any of those people to feel their time was wasted so I’ve got to make this the best it can be before they even see it.

I am impatient.  I don’t like to wait.  And I have jumped the gun on stories and novels with betas, agents, etc. too many times.  Burned markets and readers.  It’s too bad.  Because now they might never realize what the book and story came to be.  The potential they saw or didn’t see won’t be realized in their eyes.  Hey, I want everyone to read my stories, because I think I have something important to say.  That’s why I write.  Isn’t that why anyone writes?

In any case, when I’m done I get that feedback and make adjustments to that.  It takes a lot of effort to do all these drafts and editing phases, I know.  It takes a lot of time to wait through them.  But in the end, I want to be proud of what I write, and as I prepare to sign a contract on this novel, my second ever novel attempt and first science fiction novel, despite all the missteps I’ve made in sending it out too early, etc., I’m proud of it.  I’m pleased how it’s come out and I know all the work has made it better.  I can’t wait to see what it becomes after the publisher and editor do their thing.  And I hope it pleases you, reader, so I can write another one and another after that.

In any case, that’s a summary of my editing process.  If you have questions or want more details or just want to say hi, please comment below.  I look forward to hearing from you.

For what it’s worth…

Science Fiction Oddball

Sometimes I feel like a science fiction oddball. The stories I like most and like to write are good old fashioned space opera, like Star Wars or Star Trek, and sword & sorcery like Legend Of the Seeker, or high fantasy like Lord Of The Rings, etc. I don’t like slipstream. I don’t like stories which have no discernible speculative element. I don’t like preachy stories pushing a political agenda. And I don’t like stories with overwhelming amounts of science or magic which feel like textbooks. Tell me a story with good plot full of action and riveting, well developed characters.

Partly this is because I am a child of the media generation which are not the most die hard science fiction fans these days. I did not grow up on the old school science fiction stuff. I read some of it (Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, Jules Verne, HG Wells, Lord Of The Rings, Lord Valentine’s Castle, the Narnia Books, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, and more). I grew up on Star Wars and Star Trek tie-ins and the movies and tv shows. Those were what I got my biggest science fiction fix from. And certainly I have enjoyed going back and discovering much old science fiction stuff along with the new, both of which I continue to do. But I still want those lovable characters with action as they fight bad guys, save the girl, and save the world.

I don’t write hard science fiction. What would be the point? Biology was the only class I flunked in college. I never took Chemistry. The only science class I did well in was Astronomy, in which I got an A minus. And I skip the long boring sections in Tom Clancy books where he spends half a chapter describing a gun or vehicle. Who cares? Tell me a story. So those kinds of things just don’t impress me. In large part, that’s because they don’t make me feel anything. Characters do.

As I prepare to get my novel deal finalized and figure out a marketing plan, I am hoping there are lots of others like me, because that’s what I wrote, and I fear that may make it less appealing to the standard science fiction crowd. The fans who attend ComicCon and DragonCon would love it though, and I hope to reach out to them. Not sure how yet, but that’s the goal. Every reader who’s read it so far has raved about the book, including two fellow writers and two professional editors. Two small presses are bidding on it. I believe it’s good and people will like it. But they have to read it first.

Here’s hoping this is one case where being an oddball doesn’t leave me standing on the sidelines at the big game.

For what it’ worth…

NOVEL EXCERPT: Prologue from The Worker Prince

This is the first chapter of my forthcoming science fiction novel The Worker Prince. It’s a space opera in the vein of Star Wars and Star Trek. If you enjoy it, please spread the word.

Prologue

Sol climbed to the top of the rise and stared up at the twin suns making their daily ascension. Yellows and oranges faded under the increasing blue of oncoming daylight, leaving a red glow on the horizon.

For as long as he could remember, he’d started each day with an escape from the heavy, polluted air and the noise of people, factories and traffic. He’d hoped the peaceful, quiet sunrises would calm him as usual to face the day ahead, but today he had no sense of peace, and the silence of the city’s edge drowned beneath the clamor within him.

My precious son! My God, don’t forsake us now!

The wait had been interminable, punctured by endless prayers to God for a precious gift. Now they had to send him away—their Davi! Was there no justice in this universe?

He glanced at his chrono and sighed. Wouldn’t want to be late to serve the Borali Alliance! After one last look at the twin suns, he turned and hurried back along the path toward Iraja and the starport stretched out on the horizon near the city’s edge.

He labored more with each breath as heavy air filled his lungs. The depot occupied a strategic site at the center of the planet ensuring easy access from all regions. Ignoring the droning soundtrack of the city awakening, Sol timed in on the chrono and greeted Aron, his co-worker and lifelong friend.

“Regallis,” Aron said, smiling.

“Regallis?” Sol asked. It seemed so far away—one of the outer planets in the system.

Aron nodded. “It’s perfect. Good population, frequent tourists, fertile plants, peaceful, no pollution. Best of all, no slavery. Davi should find a very happy life there.” Sol smiled at the thought. “I plotted coordinates for the capital. Figured it would give him the best chance.”

Sol clapped Aron on the shoulder, as the idea blossomed. “Thank you, Aron. We knew we could count on you.”

Aron, short and bulky, filled out the blue-green uniform jumpsuit, leather boots and tool belt both wore more fully than the thinner, taller Sol. They moved across a hangar toward their workstation, despite the deafening racket closing in around them—the constant hum of machinery, men raising their voices to be heard over it, the roaring of engines, the staccato hammering of tools. The sounds, the chaos of starships in all states of repair and the smell of fuel and sweat combined to make the hangar a place most visitors preferred to avoid. Sol didn’t even notice.

“What do you have left to do?” Aron asked as their eyes scanned the daily work assignments on their terminals.

“Test the seals and navigation system, replace injector. Then I need fuel.” Sol sighed, ticking the tasks off on his fingers like always. There would be no time to work on the courier today.

“My friend at the fuel depot has left over military fuel cells. They almost never ask for them back. He volunteered some for the courier.”

Sol beamed. If he’d ever had a brother, he hoped it would have been someone like Aron. “What did I do to deserve a friend like you?”

Aron shrugged. “Some people are luckier than others.” Sol laughed at Aron’s silly grin as they set to work on their assigned tasks.

As they commenced with their work, Sol stared through the hangar’s transparent roof at the clear blue sky overhead. Through a break in the gray, polluted clouds, the clean purity of a blue sky contrasted with his daily existence. He and Lura had adored every moment since the birth of their son. Every giggle, smile, or sign of personality sent waves of warm amazement coursing through him. There was not any more precious gift than that of this little creature who’d come from their love.

Lord Xalivar’s decree had taken the planet by storm. All first-born worker sons would be slaughtered for the gods. There were rumors that the crisis resulted from one of the High Lord Councilor’s nightmares, but no one knew for sure. Xalivar didn’t need a reason. Concerning the slaves, his word was law.

The gods! Gods our people don’t even believe in would dare to take away our Davi! Sol and Lura desperately wondered what they could do to save their precious boy. After hours of discussion, they’d found a single choice.

The next morning, Sol had begun modifying the round, silver craft designed to carry supplies and papers between planets in the solar system. Being a mechanic at the depot put him in the perfect position. He installed a vacuum sealer and oxygen vents and hollowed out the carrier cavity to hold the cushion on which he would place their tiny son for the journey.

Sol enlisted Aron, who had access to navigation charts for the entire system, knowing together they could find a place where Davi would be found and cared for. The courier’s sub-light drive would cut travel time to no more than a day to anywhere in the solar system.

Lura wouldn’t eat and barely slept, sitting with Davi and refusing to leave him. At least Sol’s work kept him occupied. He couldn’t bear watching her suffer, and if he didn’t act, Davi would be sacrificed with the others. Healing would come when they knew he was safe. Sol was, even now, working on a tracking device, which would send back a signal to the depot when the craft landed. They might never see Davi again, but at least they would know he’d escaped to a new life.

As the suns’ rays warmed the space where he stood, it comforted Sol to know their baby boy would see the same suns wherever he wound up. Shadows crept away like their quat, Luci, who loved to sneak around feeling invisible with her arched back and long tail. Luci would miss the precious little one, too. Sol offered a silent prayer of thanks for the time they’d had with their precious son then turned back to his tasks.

***

“LSP Squads are landing and moving toward our neighborhoods.” A co-worker appeared beside Sol’s worktable, his fearful eyes darting around like flies hovering over a corpse.

“We don’t have much time,” Sol said to Aron as the co-worker hurried off, and they abandoned the hulking barge to finish the courier.

Aron tested the navigation system, while Sol checked the seals. Less than thirty minutes later, the first reports of methodical killings came in—first-born males of all ages slaughtered by LSP squads moving from home to home.

“I hope Lura heard the news.” Sol couldn’t stand still.

“I’m sure everyone on the planet knows about it by now,” Aron replied as both did their best to hurry without making any mistakes. “She’s probably on her way here already.”

Sol nodded, fighting the tension rising within. She would follow their plan and head for the depot with Davi. With his supervisors watching, he couldn’t run home and warn her. He’d risk encountering the LSP squads, who tended to shoot first and ask questions later of citizens who interrupted them in action.

The supervisor was upon them within the hour. “There’s no courier on your worksheets.”

His gray jumpsuit bore not a blemish or wrinkle, unlike theirs which were covered with grease and grit. The stare from the green-scaled supervisor’s disproportionally large orange eyes might have been intimidating if Sol hadn’t already grown used to it. Tran hurried over waving the two lower arms extending from either side of his rounded, voluminous stomach. Two parallel arms extended out of his shoulders above them, one holding an electronic translator which translated his words from his native Lhamor—a series of clicks and clacks—into the common used standard, the official language of the Alliance.

Sol’s throat tightened, but Aron remained calm. “It’s the courier for Estrela Industries, Tran,” Aron said as he typed calculations into the navigation system’s computer. “We got notification they’ve moved up the testing. It’s for a top-secret program authorized by Lord Xalivar himself.”

Sol and Aron had long ago devised the story about the courier belonging to an important defense contractor. They’d seen too many other workers killed just for failing to meet their quotas. Since couriers were a part of their regular routine, it was easy enough to excuse their working on it from time to time if anyone asked. Before now, no one had.

Tran mulled this over, staring at them as if he could read their minds. “It’s almost done—a few minor adjustments.” Sol used a wrench to finish checking bolts on the courier’s hatch.

“Well, you can’t leave today without finishing your assignments.” Tran’s eyes reddened with suspicion before he whirled and marched away. At least they’d bought themselves time.

“If he goes to the manager—” Sol shuddered at the memory of past tortures for disobedience.

“He won’t. He flinches at the mention of Xalivar’s name,” Aron reminded him, as they hurried back to work on the courier. Sol’s breathing normalized again, and he hoped Lura was on her way there.

A clerk in a red jumpsuit appeared, handing Aron some parts for another project. As Aron signed the laser pad to acknowledge receipt, the co-worker looked at Sol. “They’ve started in your neighborhood. We just heard.”

Sol and Aron exchanged a frightened glance as the co-worker slipped away. Sol’s muscles tightened as his heartbeat climbed. He jumped at the communicator’s beep, then double clicked the talk button. “Station sixty-five.”

“Your wife is in the lobby,” the auto-bot receptionist responded. The line went dead.

Sol’s shoulders descended as he turned to Aron. “Get the pod to Test Pad Seventeen-A. We’ll meet you there.” Aron nodded as Sol hurried toward the lobby.

Lura waited with Davi wrapped in a blanket, rocking him in her arms. She wore a simple white jumpsuit and tan leather shoes, her long brown hair flowing down her back. As it had for fifteen years, her beauty took his breath away. The most perfect human he’d ever met had chosen him. He felt like a leprechaun from an Old Earth fairy tale grasping a pot of gold.

Sol hugged Lura, seeing the fear in her eyes. “Come with me.” Grabbing her arm, he steered her away from the four-armed auto-bot, which sat permanently affixed before a huge communications console. He tried to relax, knowing it was a mech but as they neared the door, Davi began crying.

“Is that a baby?” Tran’s voice came from behind them, and they turned to see him frowning as he approached.

“It’s our son,” Lura commented, then put a hand over her mouth as Tran reached for a communicator on the wall.

The clerk who’d delivered supplies to Sol and Aron earlier entered at a run. “Tran, Station Thirty-Four has no fuel.”

Tran stopped reaching for the communicator and turned to face him. “What do you mean they have no fuel?”

As Sol pushed Lura through the door, Tran whirled back around, scowling before the door slammed shut behind them.

Lura’s tears flowed as they zigzagged through the chaotic hangar toward the test pads. They almost couldn’t hear Davi crying above the din.

“I’m sorry…” Lura’s hand shook as she clung to his arm.

“Let’s hope Aron’s got the courier ready.” Sol tapped three numbers into a security door and it rose into a ceiling cavity with a loud, whooshing sound. He ushered her down a dimly lit corridor.

“I don’t know if I can let him go,” Lura said, as she had over and over since the decree’s release.

“If we want our son to grow old, we have no choice, love.” Sol’s practiced emotional burying failed and his voice cracked as they moved past numbered doors toward Test Pad Seventeen-A.

The dark walls and floor of the narrow corridor absorbed what little light the reflector pads overhead provided. If Sol hadn’t known the way, they would have progressed more slowly. They stopped before a gray door marked seventeen-A as Sol entered another key code into the security pad.

The door swung up and Sol rushed Lura and Davi onto the test pad, where Aron was busy double-checking the courier’s navigation system. Mounted on the launcher, the courier appeared bigger and taller than it actually was. Upon seeing it, Lura clutched Davi tightly to her chest.

“Lura, we must hurry!” Tiny daggers danced and sliced at the surface of Sol’s pounding heart.

“I’ve got the coordinates programmed. And I borrowed fuel for the sub-light drive from Station Thirty-Four,” Aron said and Sol winced. “It should take them a while before they miss it.”

Sol climbed a small ladder and examined the courier one final time. “Tran’s already been alerted. Why’d you do that?”

“There was no time to go anywhere else,” Aron said, his face registering alarm.

Sol motioned to the courier. “Let’s get the engines prepped. They don’t know where we’ve gone.”

Aron and Sol hurried about the final launch preparations as Lura held Davi and cried. After a few moments, Sol stepped down from the ladder to join her.

“He’s going to Regallis, Lura. Aron checked it out himself. He’ll be in the capital. Someone will give him a life we never could.” Tears flowed as his hands carressed the feathery down atop his son’s head.

“How can this be happening?” Lura said through her sobs. “We’ve waited so long for a child!”

Sol’s arms wrapped around her, holding his family for the last time. “We have to have faith, Lura. God will protect him. It’s time for him to go.” He reached for Davi. Lura resisted a moment, then kissed Davi’s forehead and surrendered.

His infant son lay so light in his arms—soft and warm. The eyes looked to him with total trust, but instead of cuddling with him as he wanted, Sol hugged the tiny boy to his chest and hurried up the ladder to the courier. Placing Davi in the molded cushion, he wrapped the safety straps around him, put the life support pad in place and turned it on. Its LEDs lit up bright green. The note he’d written for whoever found Davi rested secure in the info pouch on the side wall. Everything was good to go.

Lura rushed up the ladder beside him. She removed her necklace his mother had given her before their joining ceremony and set it beside their son. Since the ceremony, Sol had never seen her without it. Tucking the family crest emblem inside the blanket where it couldn’t float free and scratch their son, he reached for the hatch, bending down as he did to kiss Davi’s head.

“Always remember we love you,” he said, the last words his baby son heard before the hatch closed over him.

Sol clasped Lura’s hand and led her down the steps. He nodded as Aron entered the launch code in the computer, and they all moved out of range to watch. The courier’s engines ignited, humming as they rose to full power in preparation for launch. The room vibrated around them as the courier’s engines shot out twin columns of orange-red flame, rocking the pedestal upon which it rested, before launching into the sky on its journey to the edge of the solar system. Sol wrapped his arms around Lura as she collapsed against him, sobbing. Security forces arrived, surrounding them, and Sol glimpsed Tran’s orange eyes peering in from the doorway.

326 pp · ISBN 978‐0‐9840209‐0‐4 ·Trade Paperback/Epub/Mobi · $14.95 tpb $3.99 Ebook  · Publication: October 4, 2011  · Diminished Media Group
Available now for 20% off on preorders!!!

Trade paperback only

 EPUB or MOBI — please specify in notes on order

The Worker Prince: Book 1 In The Saga of Davi Rhii

AUTHOR’S TIP: Playing The Waiting Game

I think one of the hardest parts of being a writer is the waiting. You wait to hear back on submissions, wait to hear back from beta readers, wait for checks to arrive, wait for books to arrive, etc. And if you’re anything like me, waiting is probably not your forté. So what do you do to get through it?

Here’s a few suggestions:

1) Keep multiple projects going. Once you send out the latest manuscript to your betas or a slush pile, get to work on the next one. Okay, you can allow yourselves one evening to celebrate your satisfaction, but, after that, back to work. After all, even if this one gets accepted, careers don’t happen on one submission. You have to keep building your business.

2) Regard it as a business. All too often I meet writers who talk as if their writing is a hobby, yet act as if acceptance or rejection is something their life depends on. I have few friends whose hobbies are so important to them. If you’re that invested, it’s not a hobby, so stop pretending it is and treat it like a business. Work on your craft, including writing classes, reading a lot, studying what other writers do and how they describe their own craft and struggles. Set up a database for you submissions and your income and expenses. Treat it like the business you want it to be.

3) Blog about it. That’s what I’m doing and it’s therapeutic. There are lots of people going through the same thing and sharing with each other is an encouragement and learning experience.

4) Remind yourself that finishing and submitting your work puts you a step ahead of many others. Lots of people say they are writers or want to be, but only those who actually write, complete it and submit it have the chance to actually make it as professionals.

5) Offer Reader Incentives. This one won’t work with the markets you submit to, but it might work with your beta readers. Of course, it all depends on your budget. But think about running little contests with your betas for the person with the most helpful notes, the quickest response time, etc. You can offer everything from gift certificates for a cup of Starbucks to writing lessons or services. It might be a way to keep your betas motivated. After all, if they’re not writers, they probably don’t realize how hard the waiting is or how important their input is to your success.

Everyone’s situation is unique, so I’m sure you can think of better ideas than I can. See what you can come up with to make the wait time pass more quickly. Whatever works for you might not work for me. The point is to use the time to further your career, instead of regarding it as holding you back.

Good luck with your writing.

For what it’s worth…

Write Tip: Making Perfect Bound Arcs With Create Space

After almost a year, nine drafts, two independent editors, a series of beta readers, two critique groups, and a few rejections, I was tired of looking at the word file that was my novel’s manuscript. I still believed in the story and characters and felt good about my writing though. Both the professional editors I’d worked with and the betas had raved at about, as had my crit group members. I’d polished and polished. But still had not achieved what I wanted — holding the finished book in my hand.

Then I remembered the process I’d used to self-publish my short story collection using Create Space. If you format the cover and book interior yourself, there’s no set up cost. And if you don’t click “Submit For Publishing,” Create Space never releases the book to Amazon or stores. This could be the perfect way to get to that next phase, I thought.

I went through the manuscript again and polished it some more, addressing a few issues I discovered with the main character’s arc, polishing and tightening words and sentences and making sure it was ready. Then I sent it out to two betas for corrections and final notes.

After their notes came back, I implemented them into the manuscript, made a copy of the Word file and started reformatting the copy to meet Create Space’s instructions for the interior of a 6×9 trade paperback. Locating a free temporary cover image off the web, I trimmed that down and used Photoshop to fit it into Create Space’s cover template. Then I sent both files off to a friend who was experienced with Photoshop to double check and polish.

When they were ready, I sent them to Create Space for file approval.

Up to this point my total cost: zero. Much cheaper than print cartridges and paper reams would be.

A day or two later, after Create Space approved the files (which took a couple of tries with the cover because Create Space’s instructions aren’t any more understandable than anyone else’s), I ordered a copy for proofing.

Looking it over, I made a few changes, resubmitted the files, and, a week later, had another proof.

What a great feeling it was to finally hold the book I’d dreamed up 25 years before in my hand looking like a real book. Oh sure, I still had to find a publisher, but at least I knew it would look good that way, and reading the paperback was much easier than reading a backlit .doc file.

Since I never submitted for publishing, Create Space never released the book for sale so no one except me and Create Space even know it exists. I sent a few copies to faithful betas and a couple of reviewers and then submitted to small presses.

Now I am awaiting word from two who are interested in bidding for it. Altogether a very useful tool for getting professional looking book copies inexpensively. Total cost per ARC: $7.50 + shipping.

For what it’s worth…

Ruminations on Writer’s Block, Job Hunting Scams and More

For some reason, it’s been like pulling teeth to get myself to sit down and write lately. I’ve managed to write a few scenes for the fantasy novel. I managed to write an outline for a new scifi novel I’m excited to start. But it’s been two months now I’ve been trying to finish this first draft, and the lay off just seemed to tip the scales of motivation to the “none at all” status.

I finally decided to force myself to start typing in the scenes I’d hand written. One advantage of that is I end up with a second draft of those scenes in the manuscript, because I revise as I go. Doesn’t mean I won’t edit and revise them later, of course, but it does tend to make them stronger as a base. Another advantage in this case was getting a vision for the rest of the chapter which allowed me to write rough summaries of the scenes needed. This won’t be the last chapter. I envision two or three more, but if I can get past this one it will definitely be a step in the right direction.

The normal way I get past writer’s block is to keep multiple projects going at one time. If I get stuck on one, I switch to another. I also give myself permission to write crap every now and then. (It’s not really avoidable so I might as well admit it.) This multiple project approach has really been great for me. I have yet to get stuck on two projects at the same time. I’m not stuck lately, I’m just unmotivated/uninspired. It’s hard not to be in the present job market. Looking for a job is less fun than ever. The competition is fierce and companies have the upper hand.

There’s also the lovely scams like the one where they recruit you to process client payments for a ridiculous amount of money, promising you earn this by only working 2-3 hours a day. They even go so far as to set up fake, fancy corporate websites with management profiles, etc. This a major scam though. It’s called a “money mule fraud” and the email reads something like this:

My name is Russell Born and I represent NEBS Group Company.

This letter confirms that the resume that you submitted to CareerBuilder.com has been duly processed by our HR department, and your skills meet our basic requirements for the Payment Processing vacancy.

NEBS Group Inc. is a world-renowned company founded and based in the USA, which deals with IT services, matching the needs of the market with the best employees available worldwide.

Payment Processing Agent position is:
– Part-time (on average 2-3 hours a day (Monday through Friday).
– Work at home (all communication is online).

What do you need? Internet access and e-mail.

This position is offered on a probationary period basis for a period of one month. You will receive training and online support while working and being paid.

Salary for the training period is $2300/month. In addition you will be receiving 8% commission from every payment which you receive from a customer and successfully process. Total income, given the current volume of clients, will be up to $4,500 per month.

After the first 30 days the base salary will be increased up to $3,000 per month plus 8% commission, so there is significant earning potential if you are willing to work with diligence and efficiency.

You may ask for additional hours after your probationary period, when you have earned a full-time position.

If you are interested in our offer and would like to learn more about the Payment Processing Agent position, please, send the form below to hr.nebs.group.russell@gmail.com
NOTE: This is not a sales position.

Our representative will contact you within 24 hours.

++++++++FORM++++++++FORM+++++++++++
First name:_____________________
Last name:___________________________
Country of residence:__________________
Contact phone:______________________
Preferred call time:_______________________
++++++++FORM++++++++FORM+++++++++++

We have found your resume at www.careerbuilder.com. This letter confirms that your resume has been duly processed and your skills meet our basic requirements for the Payment Processing Agent vacancy.

Best regards,

Russell Born
NEBS Group Inc.

The company name, of course, changes monthly as does the website, but these guys actually expect you to use your own checking account to process customer checks, only they’ll disappear after you pay for shipments, etc. and never pay you. Don’t fall for this. Providing them with your info and bank accounts may just promote further fraud.

It’s a scary world out there, no wonder I’m fighting depression with this job hunt. Who can you trust? Daily I get offers for free resume evaluations, and they always say that I have a weak resume and need their services. In fact, the resume I used an online specialty site template to help me design, doesn’t meet their standards. They, of course, can fix it for the bargain price of several hundred dollars. Like someone selling a service is even objective, right?

Anyway, such are the joys of present life for me. For what it’s worth…

Thoughts on Characterization and Sin

“No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because he was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.” CS Lewis, Mere Christianity

One of the reasons I write my characters the way I do is my belief in the depravity of man, which Lewis explains well in the quote above. It’s fun to think we make choices to do bad or good, but the truth is, I think our sinful nature is far more powerful than that. I know there are times I did/do things I never thought I’d do and, in fact, had planned not to up until the very minute they occurred. If my free will is dominant, how can this be? The Scriptures tell us that even when we try to do good, we fail. The Apostle Paul writes:

“For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Romans 7:19-24

This war inside us is a common factor in the character development arcs of fiction, whether the writer shares my belief or not. People are complicated creatures and I have seen far too many books by authors who either don’t believe this, don’t know how to write it or somehow can’t bear to represent it and thus present cardboard, watered down, unrealistic characters instead. This is not a problem restricted to Christian fiction, but I have to say it is far too prevalent there. Books like that just don’t ring true for me. In fact, they turn me off, so I won’t write characters that way. I just can’t.

In my fiction, bad guys are bad and good guys are conflicted. Beyond that, even the bad guys have some good qualities (most of them anyway) and the good guys have their bad sides. Because I want my fiction to be fit for the 12-year-old kids who are just discovering speculative fiction at the same age I did, and because of my faith beliefs, I don’t write sex scenes or foul language and I keep the violence focused on only what’s required by the story. But that also doesn’t mean my characters can’t be realistic. When a character curses, I just write “Bob cursed” and let the reader fill in the blank. We all have our favorite curse words anyway, don’t we (be honest)? And so, those would pop into our mind when we read that. Reading fiction is supposed to be interactive. That’s why over describing and telling are discouraged. The more the readers contribute from their own imaginations, the better their reading experience will be.

Besides, who can related to perfect characters? Do heroes need to express ideals we aspire to? Of course. Otherwise, they won’t be heroes because heroes are people we admire and want to emulate. But even heroes have imperfections and if we don’t write those into our stories, they won’t seem like real people.

Anyway, this is how I approach character. I am sure other writers have different thoughts on it and even different motivations but I hope most of us end up in the same place, because realistic, conflicted, imperfect characters are a lot more interesting to read about. For what it’s worth…

Five Reasons Science Fiction and Fantasy Are Important To Me

I’ve had a love affair with science fiction and fantasy since grade school. I will never forget the time my cousins dragged us to this film with the weird name “Star Wars.” Even at age 8, I was sure the title sounded dumb, but my cousin and best buddy, David, had seen the film several times already, and “you just have to see it,” he said.

The film did not disappoint. From its opening minutes aboard the Rebel Ship, I was on the edge of my seat. That opening scene remains one of my favorites of all time for any speculative fiction film. There’s nothing quite like the intensity of the battle between Rebel troops in blue shirts and leather vests against heavily armored storm troopers in the tight quarters of their ship. The intensity only increased when the heavy breathing dark menace, Vader, enters through the hole in the hull.

“Star Wars” blew me a way and opened my mind to possibilities I had never considered before. Always creative, always a dreamer, suddenly my wildest fantasies, fueled by my fascination with NASA’s space program, became real possibilities for me – maybe not for today, maybe not for tomorrow, but some day. I wanted to walk on the moon, launch in a space ship, float among the stars, visit alien planets. Even in other activities, my dreams filled my mind. When I went gliding in the alps on the engine-less glider plane, floating silently on air as we descended back down to the pad where we’d launched into the air on a giant bungee, my thoughts were of space. Was that what it would feel like on a space ship with silence all around? Was the abruptness of the launch similar to what it would be like to ride a rocket?

In high school, I had the opportunity to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson and see actual NASA craft, experience astronaut training simulations, touch moon rocks and buy NASA souvenirs. The brief NASA Adopt-An-Astronaut Program allowed me to communicate with the first shuttle pilot, read about their mission, and feel personally involved. When astronaut Steve Hawley, formerly married to Sally Ride, visited my high school, his family ties to my church youth pastor allowed me closer contact and the thrill of shaking an astronaut’s hand and asking the silly questions he’d heard dozens of times that I wanted to hear answers for with my own ears.

So the first of my five reasons why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they opened my life to possibilities which had only seemed far fetched before I discovered them. They made me believe the hope of possibilities was a viable thing to dream about and affirmed my sense of wonder.

One of the few movies and televisions shows my father and I could enjoy together was the 1978 animated “The Hobbit,” based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel which had exploded in the 1970’s with its release to mass market paperback. Where as the “Star Wars” books were my first science fiction reads, “The Hobbit” became my first fantasy read. I devoured the book, even though I was so young I couldn’t grasp a lot of it. Soon I was reading fan magazines, checking out other books, and making up my own stories.

I became a fan of Alan Dean Foster because his “Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye” allowed me to revisit the Star Wars universe between films in a book almost like the movies. Since then I have read many more of his movie adaptations and original books, and he continues to be one of my favorite writers.

I discovered Robert Silverberg and Orson Scott Card, my two top favorites, when family members gifted me “Lord Valentine’s Castle” and “Ender’s Game” and insisted I read them. Having never heard of them, I was reluctant at first. I’d always been a picky consumer, wanting to feel confident of the likelihood I would enjoy a book or movie before investing time in it. Both books blew my mind, and since I’ve bought almost everything I can get a hold of from both authors and devoured each the same. I’ve reread both those books and experienced that thrill of first discovery all over again, then shared them with friends so they could experience it, too.

The second reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me then is the bonds they’ve allowed me to create with friends and family. They’ve helped bring our dreams and lives together in exciting, unexpected and enriching ways, allowing us to share our wildest dreams and celebrate our future hopes.

In working in television and film and as a writer in my adulthood, I’ve heard many stories about how science fiction and fantasy have influenced not only writers of other genres, but even the development of technology. NASA once sent experts to the set of the original “Star Trek” series to discover how the producers made the doors slide open and shut when actors entered and departed rooms. The producers actually had a crewman behind the doors manually sliding them over, but today there are many doors designed to do just that in everything from office buildings to vessels. Are they exactly like the “Star Trek” doors, no, but they are modeled after the possibility. Seeing the “Star Trek” creator’s view of future possibilities inspired others to dream of how they could bring those possibilities to life and changed our world, the third reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me.

I will always remember the first time I turned to the Sci-Fi Channel and discovered the new “Battlestar Galactic.” I had certainly heard of it, but like many fans of the original, had not liked what I’d heard about the “reinvention” and changes made by the new writers. To my great dismay, I loved it. It was darker and more serious than the original had ever strived to be, but it also provided an amazing commentary on our times, examining political and moral issues being faced at this moment in countries around the world. Like the original “Star Trek,” under the guise of “science fiction,” the new “Battlestar” was able to confront issues head on which most writers would never dare to.

The result was a compelling and inspiring television series, and one of the most respected and admired speculative fiction series ever created. So my fourth reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they can speak to issues in our own world and cultures in ways that contemporary works cannot, forcing us to think about things in a new light and consider possibilities we would never accept if they weren’t presented as “other world” instead of our own.

The final reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that without the possibility of dreams and imagination, my life would have been unhappy and incomplete.

My dreams and imagination have taken me from a small Kansas town to the tribal villages of Africa, from the slums of Rio De Janeiro to the cobblestone streets of Europe and everywhere in between. Without being a dreamer, I would have never lived the life of risks I have lived in the thirty-two years since I discovered “Star Wars.” I would never have worked in film and television, written stories and scripts, released three CDs and a national single, or toured the world to speak, teach and sing. Some of those dreams had never occurred to me in Kansas, while others were the same ones my colleagues and classmates laughed at and mocked when I first mentioned them.

Ironically, at our 10th High School reunion, they all seemed to know where I’d been and what I’d been doing and instead of laughter, offered their admiration. I’d lived the life I said I’d wanted to. I chased my dreams and even caught some of them. None of that would have happened, if science fiction and fantasy hadn’t taught me to dream. And there are many others just like me.