Saturday, December 31, 2011

Worst Mistake Ever

What's the worst mistake you've ever made? How did it change you?
I was able to recall that sinking feeling in my last novel at a critical moment. Your neurons fire like crazy to catch up with reality. There's that chill and stomach flop that, even at ten, makes you say, "Oh sh*t." My worst case happened at my friend's house in Alaska. On a military base, all the kids played war. We'd climb up on the car port roof, the dumpsters, and trees. It didn't matter who won; rather, the most spectacular death and best surprise ambush meant the most.
I found an air gun in my friend's room. It was heavier than normal, but available. Mine was still on the porch. He was watching cartoons, not paying attention--sucker. So I snuck up on him. Just before I fired his gun, I called his name. Fortunately, he turned slowly. When I pulled the trigger, it didn't sound right. I had never seen a head wound before. Blood was everywhere. In a blind panic, I got his father immediately.
Then it got weird. While applying direct pressure, the dad reamed him out for leaving the BB gun pumped and loaded. If he had turned faster, he might have (yes it's a cliche) lost an eye. This was the model that could go half way through a phonebook if you pumped it enough. In all the commotion, nobody bothered to tell my father. But that moment of dread when I heard the gun fire will be burned into my brain for the rest of my life. I will never be a hunter. I'm an engineer who pesters his wife to use safety precautions if there's a one percent chance of someone getting hurt.
What was your worst oh bleep moment? Do your characters have one?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Concrete and Jello(TM)

I'm pretty prolific as a writer. When people ask me "How do you do it?" I usually answer, "I have to." That doesn't mean it's always easy. It's like a steady diet of concrete and Jello(tm).

When I got back from my week cruise, I had written 106 pages of Jezebel's sequel by hand, poolside. I'd meant to finish the last 6 chapters of volume 2 of Temple of the Traveler; however, I'd hit a snag over the geography of the final battle. I couldn't write more until I did some research on Alpine rivers and lakes. Still, those are the sorts of weeks you want. And I had the rest of December off!

After a few days of hand-drawing the detailed map for the last battle, I had to edit "Doors to Eternity" for a week--including three rewrites to chapter 8. Then I had to invent my own origami butterfly for the paperback version of Jezebel and buy three kinds of metallic gold paper from an hour's drive away. This week I'm finally back into the groove.
  • Monday: 10 double-space pages to finish the last chapter I did before leaving.
  • Tuesday: rewrite yesterday's chapter and add 2.5 pages on a battle that finished in another part of the world that makes this battle the crux.
  • Wednesday: rewrite yesterday's battle scene, add one page, and deduce that I sent my warship to the wrong place in chapter 3. Fix chapter 3 and every other ship reference in BOTH volumes. Name the flagship the Beauty.
  • Thursday: 6 pages of preparation for the final battle. Everything is going smoothly again, right? NO! At lunch time, my star seeress character (blasted primadonna) gets halfway to her assigned location to fulfill her destiny, and she decides to write a new tenet to her religion -- the whole woman's perogative thing. If it means losing her new boyfriend, screw destiny. She's going to break a few rules. So now, we've got a rogue MC rampaging through the countryside. She's carrying a key component to a ritual the whole book is about as well as the god-forged crown she's supposed to be handing to another main character tomorrow. What's she thinking? The kids will be home by 3:00 and I have to wrap presents!

My plot chart said I only had 4 chapters left; I might have been able to finish that by Christmas Day with the kids home. What the heck, we'll roll with it. Maybe this will work out, or at least she'll get this rebellion out of her system. But now this is going to exceed my target length, requiring more trimming. My point is--every day I chew on a mix of concrete and jello. When I present the finished product, the reader won't know which was which. It's myjob to present a seamless illusion. I've got till February till my line-editor gets the draft.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Snow Leopards

Something to think about: When I took the kids to Como Zoo this summer, I figured out the price for one of their pelts compared to the average annual wage of a farmer. That farmer, his family, and three of his friends would be set for life -- no planting, no worrying about rain, no work ever again. Could you turn down that lopsided trade? Any of us could understand someone taking that risk, even if we don't agree. That's why jewel heist movies are so popular.

However, its not glamorous, and people who get rich quickly rarely hold onto it. Check out Freakonomics: the average drug dealer makes less than someone working at McDonalds and lives with his parents. But man, the chance that you'd be that one success story...

What I wonder about is the sort of rich person who puts a bounty like that on an animal and what they'd do with the pelt. Of course, I also wonder what a CEO could possibly do to deserve a 26 million dollar golden parachute. That's over 8 leopards' worth. What did *they* have to kill?

Friday, December 16, 2011

Ask Questions

Someone recently advised when writing a blog to ask questions to get people involved. I have a few rattling around in my brain. The first involves the newest civil rights movie The Help. It's a nice movie about the plight of African-American servants in the south 45 years ago. As I'm watching this on the parent company's cruise ship, it occurs to me that the makers of the movie import people from poor countries to:
+ wait on tourist for NO PAY (except tips)
+ work 7 days a week, up to 18 hour days
+ go 6 months at a time without seeing their families
+ be subject to a rigorous set of behavior and grooming codes that we can't even force high school students to follow.

No one in the company thought this was ironic?
Where's the movie or book about their struggle?
To me, it felt a little like Gingrich trying to impeach Clinton for adultery.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

A Learning Experience with Other Authors

Since Amazon only lets you see sales figures on Sunday, I have no way of knowing what the effects of the Indie Blowout are. I went into this thinking of it as a passive experiment. Nothing could be farther from the truth. This has opened the door to a much larger Indie community than I knew existed! Think of the $25 entry fee as the convention entry fee. Every day, I get email from someone with similar interests, liking my Amazon page, liking my facebook page, following my blog, or willing to swap reads. It has the same feel as going to a gaming conventions -- storm troopers and elves wandering the halls, odd side room presentations, and seminars.

No one learns or becomes successful in a vacuum. The Indie Book Collective has provided a great opportunity here, regardless of the silly daily book ranking. I've learn more about several aspects of the Amazon experience, including tags and bulletin boards (especially the 99 cent advertisement board). People on the bullentin boards have denigrated review swapping with other authors. However, only 20 out of 250 reviewer blogs downloaded my most popular book and 2 have written reviews for Amazon. How else am I supposed to find out what people like? I'm not going to pay Create Space for a review. In my experience, even people in the crit circle tell you the truth. If it's a bad review (3 or lower), they might just tell you and not post. But I've received far more positive feedback this about what to concentrate on for next book. I've actually had reviewers bump me up in their queues after reading what other writers said.

This is the classroom. Each paper you write is graded by the whole world. Use every tool you can--it's open book.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Indie Book Blowout

I'm trying my first advertizing for Jezebel, $25 for a good site/cause. The 12 days of Christmas book event at
For some reason, everything had to be 99 cents, though. That means I'll have to sell 83 extra books in those twelve days to break even.  We'll see.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Productive Vacation

Last month, I worked like crazy at my programming job, helping my wife with her new office, and to finish up "Where the Heavens Meet the Earth" volume one of my sword and sorcery series "the Temple of the Traveler" -- crazy busy. Time for a break, right?

I just went on a 7 day Caribbean Disney cruise with my family. I intended to finish the last 6 chapters and read a few books. But I hit a problem with the geography of the final temple. That's something I needed internet access for. Since I only had paper and pen, instead of finishing the one I'm on, I handwrote 106 pages of the sequel to Jezebel. Normally, a start like this take 6-8 weeks.I got key plot points, boy meets girl, main conflict, and the UN astronaut school. It just wouldn't stop flowing. Wow, that felt great. Even better, I have the rest of the month off.