Announcement: The Odera Chronicles

co-authorship.jpgMy friend and sometimes co-author J.R. Handley recently wrote this post about an upcoming book series we are working on together. It’s called The Odera Chronicles, and it’s a science fiction book about one woman looking for redemption and glory. Buy the ticket, take the ride (i.e. give the post JR wrote a read).

If you don’t feel like taking the exodus over to JR’s page, here’s the short version:

Alexis Monroe proves her prowess by being one of the first women through an elite infantry school. Instead of going to combat, she is blacklisted to guard a warehouse in the middle of the desert. Alexis sinks into depression, gets drunk on duty, makes a bad decision, and unleashes a series of consequences involving spaceships, urinating robots, synthetic alcohol, kitten calendars, and cozy recliners.

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JR Handley Blog HeaderHey Space Cadets, how is everyone on this fine day?  I’m doing well, and wanted to bring you my news!  My former editor, Corey D Truax, and I have signed our next series with a small publishing house, Theogony Publishing.  This umbrella publishing house is a part of the larger and more dynamic Chris Kennedy Publishing.  Corey and I scoped him out together, in a totally non-stalker kind of way, and liked how he operated. He’s professional, and another veteran of America’s Armed Forces. I think Corey liked that he was a sailor too, but I forgive them both for their imperfections

So, what to say about The Odera Chronicles without giving too much away?  This story tells the tale of Alexis Monroe, one of the first female infantrymen in the US Army. Alexis was an only child, her dad was a Seabee and veteran of the wars…

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For a Few Credits More: 4HU Anthology

For-a-Few-Credits-MoreMy good friend J.R. Handley and I strong-armed our way into writing for an anthology. We stole some pets, torched a lawn, pooped in some mailboxes — but hey — that’s all part of the author hustle. Some people write query letters; some people resort to criminal mischief.

Moving along! I’m pleased to say our first jointly-written story is coming in September, and it takes place in the Four Horsemen universe (4HU). The anthology our offering will be showcased in is titled For a Few Credits More.

For the uninitiated: the 4HU is a bodacious military science fiction series that was spawned into existence by Mark Wandrey and Chris Kennedy. Instead of trying to write a hack description of the 4HU, I’m stealing the the publisher’s blurb (Seventh Seal Press). We can add this theft to our list of offenses.

It’s the Twenty-Second Century. The galaxy has opened up to humanity as a hyperactive beehive of stargates and new technologies, and we suddenly find ourselves in a vast playground of different races, environments, and cultures. There’s just one catch: we are pretty much at the bottom of the food chain.

Enter the Four Horsemen universe, where only a willingness to fight and die for money separates Humans from the majority of the other races. Enter a galaxy not only of mercenaries, but also of Peacemakers, bounty hunters, and even a strung-out junkie in the way of a hired assassin.

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I’m very excited to be contributing to such a kick-ass series. Here’s the 4HU books so far, and a couple that are projected to release later this year.


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Let Sleeping Babes Lie

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My six-month old puts his head down for a nap; it’s one of the two he takes during the day. When his eyes close, I jump all over the house trying to get things done.

A part of me wonders if I will ever be a productive member of society again. Once a master of organization, now I try to content myself with getting all the bottles washed before he wakes back up. In those odd moments when I have time, I spend most of it trying to decide what to do with it.  Watch television? Read? Edit? Work on my novel? Take a nap myself? Eat every unhealthy thing in the house? Tackle one of the countless chores needing to be done?

Or perhaps I could make a blog post.

I never really understood the value of time until I didn’t have any.  If fatherhood is teaching me anything (outside of patience, diaper skills, and baby fingernail trimming), it is to focus on doing one or two things well, because there isn’t enough time for the renaissance man jack-of-all-trades nonsense anymore.


Roughly a year later…

One of the main reasons I started this blog was so it could serve as a time capsule for me. A lot has changed in the year or so since this post was initially generated. For one, Thor is running all over the place and causing mayhem. Indeed, Past Corey had no concept of how little time he would have.

The irony of the original post doesn’t elude me. Past Corey believed he was taxed for time. With Thor napping only once during the day now, and my amazing wife consistently being away on a warship, time truly has become a precious quantity. Here’s my takeaways:

  1. Be willing to tell people “no.” When time becomes a premium, then you have to learn to say no more often, even if it’s a project/job/task you think is awesome.
  2. Don’t stress about the small stuff. And man, it took my a while to figure out what the small stuff was. Figure out what you can control and focus on that. You must tend to your garden of f***s and not give them too freely.
  3. When it’s time to work, play, or chill, don’t get sidetracked. In a world where multitasking is listed on resumes, I strive to do the opposite. Multitasking usually means I’m half-assing something. As Ron Swanson would say, “Never half-ass two things, whole-ass one thing.”

These lessons are about as deep as a puddle in the desert, but heck, I never claimed to be a philosophizer. I’m just a dad trying to sort through the madness one day at a time. That’s it for my blog time; I’ll update this post in another year.

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Digital Killed the Paperback Star…or did it?

time cover July 11.jpgNote: I wrote this article a year back, in the time since, independent book stores are continuing their resurgence. Don’t believe me? That’s fine, but please take the time to check out this compilation of reference articles from the American Booksellers Association. More than fifty articles are listed: Independent Bookstores are Thriving


July 3rd, 2016

My weekly Time magazine came in the mail a couple days ago. The cover shouted in red, white, and blue letters, “240 Reasons to Celebrate America Right Now.” I was holding Thor (my baby boy), so I ended up flopping it open on kitchen counter with my free hand. I read articles out loud to him; if he cries, I know the article is boring. Nestled in the centerfold was the title of the 64th reason to celebrate: The death of the bookstore was greatly exaggerated. I read it out loud, and Thor giggled. Okay, maybe he didn’t, but that would of been a nice hook, huh?

The article, written by Lev Grossman, provides a brief snapshot of how independent bookstores are doing. The outlook was pleasing. Here are some takeaways and why it should matter to you as writers and as readers.

Independent bookstores are doing better than some media sources reflect in their reporting. According to the article bookstores have been growing in numbers steadily for the last seven years. Climbing from 1,712 all the way to 2,311 (Grossman cited the American Booksellers Association for these numbers). The growth was attributed  largely to new technology making inventorying libraries easier for small businesses and social media allowing for low cost advertising.

The next reason for this growth jumped out at me; these independently ran bookstores operate in a niche market. Grossman provided a quote from one independent shop owner (Brian Lampkin, owner of Scuppernong Books in Greensboro, N.C.) who stated, “We’re letting Amazon and Barnes & Noble take care of the best sellers. Where are you going to get poetry? Some Barnes & Nobles you walk into, you’re lucky to find Emily Dickinson.”

This quote brings me to my first point.

bookstoreamersterdam.jpgAs indie authors, citizen writers, and artists, why wouldn’t you go and support those who exist to support you? 

If you are a writer of any medium, you should be walking into the local bookstore and seeing what they have going on. You may not be J.K. Rowling or Stephen King (yet), but in your town or city, you might be the best thing since sliced bread. Even better, these struggling businesses want you to talk about your work with customers; they want poetry readings; they want the local flavor to come in and mix and mingle. It’s a powerful tool to reach out from beyond the glow of our computer screens.

I have indie author friends who made sure to go to local bookstores and get their work up on the shelves. I know from the Instagram photographs, Facebook posts, and conversations we’ve had, that seeing their work sitting in a bookstore shelf was one of the highlights in their journey.

print is dead.jpgPrint isn’t dead.  Digital may have punched it in the face, but it’s still in the game. Grossman provides an interesting statistic. “Last year the share of e-books
(at least the non-self published kind) actually receded to 24%. The book market appears to have rebalanced itself into a complex mix of paper and digital, with neither format completely dominating…”.

This is an important thing to consider when you decide what formats you are going to produce. I know plenty of indie authors who only sell e-copies of their work. The worry is they won’t be able to recuperate the costs of printing. But perhaps the tides are changing and there could be profit to go to print? Even if it is just a limited print. Especially if there are local stores who are willing to let you throw down a table, do readings, and toss your books up on the shelf. It is something to consider as you move through the process.

If you want to worship, go to the temple. I urge you to go check out your local book haunt. Plenty of these places aren’t making much money doing what they are doing. To them, that’s not the point. They do it because they have a passion for print. They love the look and smell of a wall of books.

Ask yourself this: are we so different from them? Are you making millions from your writing right now? Even if you are, is that the only driving force behind your stories? To be a successful writer, I assume an element of passion must be there. Surround yourself with those equally as passionate and see your fortune rise.

Final Words: To my fellow Americans, I hope your 4th of July is great and you are surrounded by those you love. To my friends outside of our borders, please enjoy the endless videos of us crazy Americans blowing ourselves to smithereens with pyrotechnics.

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Fear and Loathing at RavenCon 2017

Author Note: This article was lost when my author and editor sites were merged. A big thanks to Yudhanjaya Wijeratne for pointing out the broken link and wanting to read the article in the first place. Now, on to the shenanigans.


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I’m walking through the darkened courtyard of the DoubleTree Hotel in Williamsburg, Virginia, trailing just behind Chris Kennedy. The sun has dropped from the sky, much like my morale after sitting in on a panel where one panelist plugged their book eighteen times. I know this because I kept tally. Eighteen.

Putting this from my mind, I increase my pace and try not to slip on the water-soaked cement. Some kid splashing with a writhing knot of multi-colored pool noodles underneath him shouts up at me from the water, “I bet you didn’t think you’d see someone with seven pool noodles in their trunks!”

jawsIt’s true, kid. I didn’t think I’d see that. Who swims in the dark? That’s how you get eaten by the night sharks who dwell in shallow hotel pools! 

Of course I didn’t say any of that out loud. Careful to not get pulled into an existential conversation about the stuffing of pool noodles into bathing suits with no adult supervision around, I continue following Chris. He is navigating toward a suite being shared by a publishing house. I’m following like a lost puppy.

We’d communicated electronically, but this convention – Ravencon – was my first in-person meeting with him. We had joked about sharing a few beers. Him and I are both Navy vets, so a shared beer is sort of a sacred thing. It seemed Chris was making good on this promise. Unfortunately, the outside door that would give access to the suite is locked, a fatal flaw in his planning.

Undaunted, the quick-witted publisher/author stalks over to the fenced-in balcony where a collection of women puff on cigarettes. It’s the typical metal fencing you see at hotels of this type: waist high, blocky bars, not designed to keep your room from being ransacked, but meant to keep you from passing out and falling into the bushes or wandering into the pool for a final swim.

smoking skull.jpgChris asks the smoke-breathing women if they would mind opening the door to the wing from the inside. Instead, they tell us to jump the fence. Opting for a less acrobatic solution, we squeeze through a one-foot space against the wall, slide the glass door open, and step inside.

A collection of men and women are sitting around and meandering about. A fold-out, veneer table to my left is covered in half-emptied bottles of hard liquor. Despite the age of the occupants attending this venue, the room décor was like that of a college party: plastic trashcans overflowing with bottles and trash, fold out chairs, crappy lighting, hotel carpeting – the works.

Everyone stops talking, looks over at us, then one of the older men tells me to close the door behind me. After I complied with his orders, we walked over to a huddled circle of seated people. The Giver of Orders, a kindly man who didn’t want to be assaulted by cigarette smoke, produced a black cooler bag. It was packed with local craft beer. Happy and grateful to have obtained free social lubricant, I quickly empty the bottle while somewhat awkward conversation happens all around me.

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Everyone around me has titles under their belt, or have contributed to the production of multiple books. I have no published works to my name. As an editor, I’m mildly successful considering I’ve not been doing it professionally for long. But this is a room full of established editors, authors, and publishers. So, I did what I do best: drink, listen, drink, respond, drink, nod, drink, and smile.

drinking buddies.jpgI don’t pass out a single business card – despite having them made for the convention – and I didn’t tell a single person who I was or what I was doing there. I just play the fly-on-the-wall game until we all said our farewells. Chris headed home, and I wandered off to my room. Later that evening, I thought about what a missed opportunity that was while I worked my way through the beers I had stocked in my hotel fridge.

Less than a week later, while I was in the safety of my own home, Chris sent an offer to publish a series J.R. Handley and I have been outlining called The Odera Chronicles. A few weeks later, he informed me a short story I had co-authored will be showing up in an anthology he is releasing in September.

This, for me, is the purpose of something like RavenCon. It’s not about judging the merit of the panels (or panelists), or pimping your books to a room full of disinterested people. It’s certainly not about gloating about your successes and comparing yourself to others. Sometimes, it’s about wandering around, meeting people, pool noodles, jumping fences, and drinking the occasional beer. It’s about being present and open to a strange adventure.

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Free Books on Query Letters & Agents

A while back I wrote a post about looking for agents (Quest for the Holy Sale: Finding Agents). It was a whimsical bit of nonsense with an undertone of importance. I’ve had a lot of conversations, emails, and questions come my way about agents and query letters since then. My response was, “Dudes and dudettes, didn’t my post indicate my level of uselessness?”

Understanding my deficiency, I’ve been gathering all the info I can obtain about the subject. During this period of self-study, I uncovered a couple free gems (these might only be free for Kindle users).

The two books are both by Noah Lukeman:

How to Write a Great Query Letter: Insider Tips and Techniques for Success

How to Land (and Keep) a Literary Agent

Eating A Dash of StyleI was really excited to see these free books. I had read Lukeman’s book on punctuation (A Dash of Style: The Art and Mastery of Punctuation) a few months back and really enjoyed the content. You know, eating my greens and all of that. In case you couldn’t picture what it looks like when I consume books, I added a picture.

Just wanted to take a minute to pass on these two awesome and free sources of information. I found the book on writing a great query letter to be extremely useful. Lukeman talks about what kind of paper to use (yeah, some people apparently write on cardboard to be clever), how to address the letter, how many paragraphs to write, how to structure those paragraphs, and more.

Good stuff!

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What are Plots? Understanding Episodic, Dramatic, Parallel, and Flashback

No Plot.jpg“What’s it all about?” “What’s the point?” If you’re a writer or reader, these are usually questions of plot. They could be the things we whisper in the dark before we sleep, too.

Anyways, moving along.

Let’s start this shindig with a basic definition. I pulled this one from The Making of a Story: A Norton Guide to Creative Writing, by Alice LaPlante (it’s one gigantic book, but a really great one). “So plot, as we will define it, is that series of events, arranged in a particular order, which brings about the desired final effect of a short story or novel” (p. 377).

Highfalutin folks People who have taken some creative writing courses (or read a few textbooks on the subject) will mutter about The Major Dramatic Question. To put it simply, the major dramatic question is the problem the author presents for their characters to deal with; it’s the same problem the reader is confronted with as they go through the story. After the story is finished, the reader should feel they have an answer, or solution, to this problem (even if the reader’s solution wasn’t the same as what you wrote, at least you got them thinking).

While the journey to answering this question is why readers read, as the writer, it’s often important to take a moment to ask yourself: “Just where the heck am I going with this? What issue am I presenting in this story? Does my ending solve this issue? Should it?”

Ignoring the plot is like foreplay without We don’t want to take our readers on an awesome journey and not give them a payoff of some kind. The plot ensures we stay on track. I’ve read/heard many different techniques for ensuring you achieve this goal. I’m sticking with the shortest and quickest ones I’ve found.

Crying Boy No Plot.jpgDon’t plot. Doesn’t get any quicker than doing nothing. Not what I would recommend, but enough people have read Steven King’s book, On Writing, to cherry-pick passages that indicate plotting goes against creativity (as if every writer is creative in the same way and one person’s recipe for success fits all). According to King, this sort of pre-planning ruins the organic process.

The reason I don’t recommend this is because it’s hard to overhaul a plotless book. These novels/stories stretch on forever, largely because the writer is simply writing without a goal of any kind. They rock back and forth and whisper, “The ending will come, the ending will come…” Bad news, sometimes, it’s not coming. Sometimes, you must have a somewhat realized concept of what the plot was to effectively close it out.

Side note. The lack of any sort of plotting and blind writing is not something I advocate or dissuade people from, generically. Every writer is different. Some can power through to a conclusion that makes perfect sense. Some will get lost in the middle and never find the end. Some advice shouldn’t be stone, it should be sand. So, shift your style to fit your person, even if your person shifts year-by-year.

Plot points. Unlike an in-depth plotting project where you write pages of discovery material, this is a page or two where you numerically number the major plot points in chronological order and cross them off as you move along. This gives you the freedom to connect those dots however you want, and even change them along the way. This provides the writer an endgame, even if the conclusion is in flux and changes as you close on it.

Mission Statement. One of the best and least time-sucky methods I’ve seen comes from the book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer, by Roy Peter Clark. He states you should take the time to draft a mission statement for your work. The mission statement, according to Clark, is a list of “I want” statements.

Examples. I want the hero to to lose his hero-status and die. I want to show space pirates have a heart of gold. I want to turn (insert trope) on its head. I want to show that kittens are superior to puppies.

These “I want” statements highlight what your goals are for the characters and conflicts in the story. They also can quickly become dramatic questions. Just replace I want with how do I. Suddenly you have a series of questions to answer with your writing. This allows you to be run wild with organic story telling, but also creates a loose set of guidelines to reel you back in.

Moving on.

There are four “main” types of plots out there. Honestly, there are more than four, but these seem to be the most common in current literature: dramatic, parallel, episodic, and flashback.

 

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An example of a dramatic plot. 

Dramatic Plots. This follows one main rising action to a climax, then tapers down to the end. Most of the book is spent establishing settings, characters, and conflicts. One main conflict reigns supreme, and the characters ride this action to a crescendo. There is a period of lull after this climax (called the denouement) where the reader gets to take a breather, then the writer closes the story.

 

Episodic Plots. These follow many actions or events chapter-by-chapter. The events stack, and are typically related by a character or theme. The goal with this sort of plot is to show a larger event, place, time, or idea from many different angles. Much like the namesake, many television shows are set up with an episodic plot. There are central characters and themes to drive the show, but “filler” episodes could be shuffled around without impacting the series much.

Serving Up Plots.jpgSome military fiction uses this style. Each chapter highlights a different member in the military, tackling a different aspect of the battle or war. Ultimately, these vignettes join to paint a much larger understanding of the conflict.

Parallel Plots. This form allows you to take multiple dramatic plots, usually two or three, and run them at the same time. Remember how the dramatic plot has a rising action that leads to a climax in the story? With parallel plots, the multiple arcs usually all crash together at the climax. Because the reader has followed multiple rising actions, they might be more emotionally involved in the climactic moment.

Flashback, flashback, flashback… This plotting device allows the author to start the story in the middle of a high-action point, and flash backwards to lead back up to it. Giving the reader all the backstory and moving them back to the high-action moment. The clichéd version of this is certainly the, this is how I died, intro. Of course, I should eat my words as one of the most talked about and controversial shows on Netflix right now is 13 Reasons Why. A show about a girl who commits suicide, and each episode it basically a flashback to events leading up to it.

thanksThat’s a wrap for today, thanks for reading! No matter what plot you go with, or if you’re going into the work plotless, you owe your readers that moment at the end of the book where they sigh, look up at the skies, and say, “I feel…something.” Let’s just hope that something is a positive connection, one that will keep them coming back for more. Until we cross quills again, keep reading, keep writing, and as always—stay sharp!

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