Tuesday, June 17, 2014

My favorite quotes from Hugh Howey's Facebook chat.

Today, bestselling author Hugh Howey had a chat with fans, readers, authors, and anyone else who cared to ask a question. Hugh is rarely in my area for signings or talks, so I stopped by to see what kind of things he was sharing. He talked about everything from writing to traveling to lobster catching. Having nothing intelligent to contribute, I settled for this exchange:

Thankfully, my fellow attendees were better prepared and asked great questions. Hugh provided excellent answers, and the ones that I really got the most from are below.

When asked how to get a self-published novel noticed:
The best way to get noticed is to write and publish more works. I know that sounds like a dodge, but it's 100% true. Practically every successful self-published author will tell you the same thing.

I didn't promote WOOL at all. Didn't even Tweet or FB a link. It was my 7th or 8th published title, and my readership just built gradually over time. I wrote stuff they enjoyed, and they kept coming back.

Amazon's algorithms and recommendations helped. When you publish something new, it randomly notifies some of your existing readers. Which is why write, publish, repeat is the mantra of a successful writing career. Every published work is another chance to grab eyeballs.

A lot of it is luck. But what you can control is what any eyeballs you happen to attract see. Do they see a clean cover, a grabby blurb, a well-edited text? Is your first sentence a great hook? Your first paragraph?

Don't hold anything back. Put your very best sentence right there at the outset. Start with heartbreak or tension or some profound philosophical statement. It has to be good enough to get them through the first paragraph, and that paragraph needs to convince them to read the first page.

When asked about dealing with negative reviews:
Man, great question. Putting our stuff out there to be judged is so painful. Personally, the 1-star reviews that slam my writing ability don't bother me. I don't have much confidence in my writing, so I tend to agree with those reviews. It's the reviews that are written out of spite that are difficult for me to wrap my head around. I've had a number of reviews calling my positive reviews into question, which is someone telling my fans that their opinions aren't valid and their tastes are wrong. Those really upset me.

What really helped to let go was a talk I attended once. Michael J. Fox was asked about criticism, and he said "What people think about me is none of my business." Simple and yet profound. I heard that at just the right time in my life. And yes, even though negative reviews affect our careers and cause real damage, letting them get to us does even worse things.

When asked about what motivates him to keep writing:
Curiosity. I always want to see what's on the next blank page. When you are writing in the flow, it's basically like reading, except your imagination is shaping the story. It's an incredible sensation. I suffer the bad writing days in an eternal quest for more of the sublime ones.

When asked about workflow:
I aim for 2K - 3K words a day when I'm writing. 2-3 chapters a day when revising. And 50K words per day when editing. Toward the end of my workflow, I go through a 100K manuscript in a single day (about 12 hours). I can revise and edit a lot longer than I can write.

I was a member of a writing group in Boone, NC when I first got started. I joined after I'd already published my first book. It was good for motivation, mainly. To keep reminding myself, every other week, that I was a writer.

When asked how he knows a story idea has potential:
When I can't stop thinking about it. When I skip breakfast because I have to keep writing. When it drags me out of bed in the middle of the night to make a note, because it's so good I'm scared I'll forget it. That's when I know.

When asked about the difference in appearance of the UK version of Sand vs. the US version of Sand:
…Random House UK knows how to build a gorgeous book. This is something self-publishing will never be able to do as well, unless you're talking about hand-binding one-off leatherbound stuff, but that's not very commercial or scalable.

I think there's a great market for putting together really quality books to differentiate them between the e-books. Like those special boxed editions of some films and games. But those boxed editions should come with a free e-book as well. I hope we get to that with the market. Really celebrate gorgeous editions.

Of course, as far as paperbacks go, I think the US POD version of SAND is as pretty as paperbacks get. But there's no comparing between the two. I cherish my UK hardback.

When asked about how Wool was discovered, and how new readers discover his books:
Things went viral without any promotion for WOOL. But WOOL wasn't my first work. I'd sold around 5,000 copies of my first 6 or 7 titles by the time it came out. So it was a slow burn until it became a blaze.

I did some local signings and sent out ARCs to bloggers early on, and I've always had a website. But I don't think those are the things that really worked. What worked was being accessible to my readers, even when it was just my first cousin, Lisa. Cherish every one. Don't work so hard to grab new readers, as that mostly turns people off.

When asked about the next great shift in publishing:
Big name authors are going to start publishing through their editors, who will take 15% to do all the managerial work. But the authors will pay out of pocket for cover art and editorial. And they'll make more money, release more books, and have more creative freedom. I'd say we're three years away from this being a thing.

When told by another writer that he is an inspiration to her:
I feel like I'm fumbling through this mess, and that I'm learning something from someone else every day. The landscape of publishing is changing so fast, that I don't really see it as people whacking trails through a jungle and following one another. It's more like a search party fanning out and shouting our discoveries to one another. So if you are writing and getting your work published, I look up to you as much as you look up to me. Maybe we're just looking "over" at one another.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Speed of Light.

Below are some sample pages for my upcoming novel, Speed of Light. Throughout the month of February I am presenting it as my first Kickstarter project, and on March 1 it will be published by my imprint, The Word Made Fresh. Please enjoy the sample, and if you have any questions please leave them for me in the comments.  Thanks for looking at my project!

To briefly set the stage:

Several days have passed since the power went out. Unpreparedness on the part of both government and citizens has led to a complete breakdown of public services-- hospitals, police, and fire departments are either stretched beyond their limits or completely off-line. This makes for a very harsh world when people are used to the comforts of modern society, and a general sense of lawlessness has taken over in the Orlando area and surrounding towns.

Rylie is almost completely out of food and water, and it's become clear to her that help is not coming. She does not intend to starve to death in her own house, and thinking that a larger city would be more likely to have either a FEMA or Red Cross presence, she decides to risk driving into Orlando with her mother's car. She stops by the homes of her two best friends to recruit some companions for her journey. The results of her outing are recorded in her journal below.

(Please click on any image to make it larger.)

It's a long road ahead for Rylie and Courtney, and in situations like this things tend to get worse before they get better. Next stop, Orlando! 
For more about the project, follow Rylie's continuing adventures here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Skydiving, parachute optional.

Today, I handed my revised manuscript to my beta readers.

Then I threw up.

Just kidding. But it was very, very close.

I didn't expect that I would tense up the way that I did. I imagine that this is what it must be like for a kindergarten parent to send her little one off to school on the bus for the very first time. When I lined up my beta readers I didn't anticipate these kind of emotions. I sent them all emails, they said yes, I was happy about it, and that was that. Until today.

After spending a month with this character and listening to her tell me her story, and spending days in November where it seemed like I was living it with her, this novel has become my baby. To hand it off to someone else was terrifying. It didn't start out feeling like that. At first I was really excited.

Wow! I thought. Someone is going to be reading my book!

I packed up five copies of my manuscript, packaged them into five manila envelopes with some basic instructions/requests and a Happy New Year card, and dropped them off for the next few weeks. My last stop saw me deliver one of these little bundles to a good friend of mine who I met during my last year of full-time teaching. A librarian by trade and by training who possesses a wealth of experience in writing thorough and critical book reviews, I asked her to work my book over well.

"Oh, you know I will," she said, a sly smile reminiscent of the moment that the Grinch got his wonderful, awful idea slowly creeping across her face.

(Just for the record, my friend looks nothing like this.)

I said something to the effect of how her help would improve my story and make me a stronger writer and blah blah blah. Then I ran out of her library before I had to buy a new pair of pants.

As I drove home on I-4, the panic struck. What have I done? I asked myself. My book is out there! People are going to be reading it tonight! I was a skydiver who had just just left the plane for the very first time, watching the Earth come at me with blistering speed while having difficulty remembering how to breathe, let alone find and pull a ripcord.

Then I took a breath. And relaxed. And put things in perspective. I'm already a professional writer. I have a healthy Elance customer base, short stories that have been paid for and published, ghostwritten novels that have been published, and numerous other work that has already seen the light of day on many occasions, including this blog, which has nine or ten regular readers! I am not new to selling my writing.

So why I was I freaking out?

I believe it has to do with the fact that this novel has my name on it. In my other projects, I have written for other people and enjoyed the safety of being able to hide in the shadows after collecting my paycheck. This time, I'm writing for me. If it's a failure, I'm attached to it, forever and ever, amen. If it's a success and goes on to do amazing things, I can sit back and smile and say, "That's my book!"

Yes. It truly is my baby. And we'll see how it does out there in the world, on its own.

In the meantime, there are other little novels still developing here at home that need my care and attention.

Good night, readers. Your turn is coming soon.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A losing bet I was happy to win.

During my NaNoWriMo experience I would enter my word count at the end of each day.  This practice kept me accountable to my goal of hitting 50,000 words on time. After recording my daily tally, I would check on my six writing buddies to see how they were holding up.  About ten days into the challenge I noticed that one of my writing buddies had been keeping pace with me, staying ahead only by about a hundred or so words.  I observed her growing word count through the middle of the month and it became clear that we had been on the exact same pace since day one.

My suspicion was that my buddy had engaged in a de facto competition between the two of us to see who could get to 50,000 first. Now that I knew about it, though, I decided to make it official.

I received a response almost immediately:

If you've read my blog in the past, you'll remember Sarah from the whole Butterbeer fiasco. Thanks to her intervention, the warm feelings I have for one of my favorite books, The Prisoner of Azkaban, were preserved.

Since she was ending each day ahead of me, I figured that I was clever enough to use her industriousness against her and get a little bit of promotion for myself in the process.  But she called me on it:

And so the competition went on, and we were producing at about the same rate for several days. Then suddenly...

Taking a big lead was not my intent.  Sometimes, however, when I really get into a story and the characters are talking and the plot is working and I can see the finish line, the flow becomes unstoppable. 

Winning was all well and good, but there was something else that I wanted.  I waited and waited for it, but didn't hear anything from Sarah about the blog post.  There was a problem and it wasn't with her.  In my charge to the end, my story-addled brain had forgotten the specifics of the bet.


Honestly, though, I am glad to have won, because it allowed me to get to know someone that I never would have met had it not been for this foray into the writing life. Being a writer can be a lonely pursuit, and going from the activity and connection of teaching elementary school to the almost hermit-like lifestyle of writing books has been challenging for me on many levels.  I'm thankful for things like Twitter and NaNoWriMo that allow writers to engage one another.  These tools have connected me to traditionally-published, self-published, and unpublished authors and I've learned a lot about writing and publishing in the past six months.  But enough about that, let me tell you about Sarah!

About the Author: Sarah Viecelli

Sarah Viecelli's debut novel is She Who Bears the Mark, the first book of "The Golden Doors" series.  She Who Bears the Mark is a YA fantasy title about a fifteen year-old girl named Sha'ara who discovers that she is at the center of an otherworldly prophecy.  Interested readers can find early chapters of the book on Wattpad

Sarah is a chocoholic with a worldly palate, counting dishes from Chinese, Italian and American menus among her favorites. A fan of Josh Groban and Celine Dion, she enjoys reading fantasy (Tolkien, Rowling and Lewis), young adult (John Green), and historical fiction (L.M. Montgomery).  She is kept busy chasing after twin boys, who she charms with her uncanny abilities to formulate previously unspoken words, such as Daayumm, the definition of which is obviously "extremely impressive."  Sarah calls herself a dork and is proud of her ability to create nearly anything through crochet (including a scale model of Deep Space Nine complete with working teleporter), her talents in the arts and crafts, and her general strangeness.

She Who Bears the Mark will be published in 2014 and I'm going to be the first to buy it, so just back that thing up, people.  For more information about Sarah Viecelli, check out her tumblr here.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Citius, Altius, Fortius.

The creature in the above image is a Bantha.  It is an easily domesticated beast of burden found on the planet Tatooine.  Banthas are known for producing blue milk and being led by the strongest female in their herd.  And if you could put a ladder up to its rear end and climb into its butthole, you'd have some idea of what it was like to spend time in the college apartment of my friends Chris and Dave.

I first experienced their apartment shortly after moving to Savannah.  I had just transferred to art school from an overcrowded state university in Orlando.  Chris and Dave have been friends of mine since seventh grade and I didn't know anyone else in town, so naturally I did my very best to make a general nuisance of myself by hanging around their place as much as possible.

Being great friends, they helped me with my classes anytime I needed it.  I was coming into art school with little in the way of an artistic background so I would stop by their apartment to ask questions about different techniques that my instructors had mentioned.  One day I wanted to repay them.  I stopped by with ingredients to make my famous lasagna.  After browning the beef, boiling the noodles, and constructing the dish in the pan, I went to put the lasagna into the apartment's tiny oven.

"You may want to move the oven rack down a couple," Chris said.  "The element kind of hangs."

I opened the oven door and peered in.  The element was attached to the top of the oven only near the front and had no support at all in the back.  It was hanging down at about a thirty degree angle.  I moved the rack and slid the lasagna into the oven.  Forty-five minutes later I set a half-black lasagna on the table.

"If you cover that side with your hand, that lasagna looks really good," Dave said as he closed one eye and held his open palm toward the dish.

Once I went over to visit and saw a plate of half-eaten spaghetti sitting on the kitchen table. A couple of days afterward I visited again with a question about crosshatching.  The spaghetti was in the same place, hard and dry now, the once-red sauce just a shade from black.  Days later I returned to find a fuzzy dark mass on the plate.  I frowned.  It frowned back.  Dave threw a pencil at it and it got up, scurried out the door and spent the rest of the night terrorizing Savannahians up and down Liberty Street.

In spite of the frequent geyser-like sewage backups and a roach infestation resembling what one might find on an 18th-century merchant ship, the apartment was somewhat quaint.  The lack of a centralized climate control system encouraged the propping open of windows.  This allowed the air of the city to flow through, bringing with it the fresh scent of the local paper mill.  Situated on the ground floor of a historic Savannah building allowed for a unique living experience, especially considering that the apartment had never been improved since the time of its original construction.

The apartment that Chris and Dave locked themselves into every night for three years had very little to brag about.  In fact, it only had three things to brag about.  But these things happen to be the three most important considerations in the real-estate business:

Location, location, location.

This apartment was located in a prime spot to watch Clint Eastwood film a pivotal scene for his film "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil."  It was located near the center of the college's network of classroom buildings, allowing for quick travel to classes.

Most important, however, was the fact that Chris and Dave's apartment was located along the path of the 1996 Summer Olympic Torch Relay.

Months prior to the Games, the Olympic torch is lit using a flame borne of the sun itself. Seven women playing the role of Vestal Virgins use a mirror to concentrate the sun's rays, stealing the fire for the benefit of humans as in the days of antiquity.  From its origins in Greece the Olympic flame travels across the Earth's six inhabited continents, passed from runner to runner in a relay symbolic of the ties that bind all of humanity into one people.  Thanks to the location of the apartment we were to be eyewitnesses to the newest edition of this time-honored ritual.  It felt as though nothing could spoil the purity and excitement of the moment.

"Oh crap," Dave said as we took our place on the corner.  "Look."

He pointed down the block.  Standing in the front row of the crowd was a group of young men, one of whom held a well-used toilet plunger high into the air.  It was clear that they were waiting for something exciting to happen.

"Who is that?" I asked.

"Pinball Sex Machine," Chris said as he shook his head in despair.

Pinball Sex Machine was a local punk band that briefly roared through the Savannah club scene in the mid-nineties.  Being that they were next door neighbors of Chris and Dave, they too enjoyed the benefits of an excellent location.  As they filled the plunger with lighter fluid it appeared that they were about to make the most of their position.

A cheer from the crowd at nearby Troup Square told us that the Olympic flame was just minutes away.  As the Olympic torch bearer rounded the corner and jogged toward us, the members of Pinball Sex Machine set their plunger ablaze, the young man raising the foul-smelling pseudo-torch triumphantly into the sky.  The crowd took several steps away from the road as he joined the torch bearer stride for stride, the two of them running in silent tandem as the roadside observers looked on in a mix of pride, curiosity, and horror.  The spectacle ended quickly when the Olympic flame turned down Liberty Street and the imposing flame burned its way through the plunger and spilled onto Habersham.

The lighting of the Olympic cauldron was the main event of the evening.  Being the venue of the yachting events, Savannah was entitled to a maintain a flame of its own for the duration of the Games.  Chris, Dave and I made our way with the crowd to Forsyth Park where the cauldron would be lit and the opening of the Games celebrated.  Speeches from politicians and music from local artists blur together in my memory of the evening, few parts of the event meaningful enough to remember clearly .  After a short laser-light show the final torch bearer finally arrived at the stage and lit the huge flame to great applause.  The mass of people dispersed as the event concluded.  Dave disappeared somewhere in the sea of people and Chris and I headed north on Drayton Street.

We didn't walk long before we saw an older man in an Olympic torch bearer's track suit leaving one of the houses that looked out on the park.  We stopped at the gate of the home.

"Is that the Olympic torch?" I asked him.

In his hand he carried the long, slim staff we had watched come up Habersham Street a few hours before.  He lifted it so we could get a better look.

"It sure is," he said.  Then, before I could ask: "Would you like to hold it?"

Would I?

The torch was lighter than I imagined it could be.  A wooden handle in the middle made it perfectly balanced to stay in an upright position.  The top and bottom of the torch were circled in shafts of aluminum that spread out slightly at the top.

Chris and I took turns running up and down Drayton with the torch, then thanked the kind man for the opportunity that so many others wish they had.  As we walked back to the apartment, Chris slapped his forehead.

"I should have taken pictures!" he cried, a camera dangling from his wrist.

It didn't matter.  The electricity of the evening still permeated the air as we strolled through the dark Savannah downtown.  The night itself would be a memento, the feel and smell of the Olympic torch a memory more clear than any photograph, more bright than any flame.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Winning NaNoWriMo.

 Just finished cooking up something good!  Love that sweet smell of accomplishment.

When I was fifteen, I traveled across the southern part of the United States with a busload of other boys.  We were on our way to Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico.  Our journey had begun in Tampa and it would take six anticipation-filled days to get to Philmont.  Following the bus ride, we were to begin a twelve-mile trek that stretched for fifty-three miles through the mountains of New Mexico.  The hike was brutal in parts and tested our will to continue.  In other places we found great enjoyment in the experience.  There was one place on the trail where we were scheduled to stay a second overnight and made no progress in distance or days.  In another place, we completed a hike that seemed impossible for miles uphill, hauling gallons of extra water to a campsite where we would find none.

At one point in our trek, we got to a point near the end where we picked up the pace.  It was maybe day ten or eleven, but everyone suddenly was in the best of moods.  We were conditioned to our task and found less challenge in it.  On the last day, as we came over the ridge, we caught sight of base camp.  The end of the trail.  To set foot on that soil was to become Philmont alumni and walk away with a patch to forever wear on our uniforms to designate us as finishers. 

As winners.

I remember the cheers that rose from my crew as the camp came into view.  Being of the same mind at that point we began running down the hill, our exhausted legs finding new life with the promise of the end of the journey.  As we checked in at the bottom, we dropped our packs and congratulated each other on seeing the trek through to the end, our previous trials forgotten, leaving nothing but good memories to take home to Florida.

I revisited this memory as my NaNoWriMo journey came to an end today.  The two experiences were similar in many ways.  Some days were full of great beauty and found me accomplishing a great deal, others saw no progress at all.  Some days took everything I had to keep going, taking me to the point of tears once.  And at the end, when I discovered that I was less than 10,000 words until the end,I started running, chasing my main character down the hill and into the hallowed ground of the winner's page.  She told me the rest of her story at machine gun pace and I averaged around 3,000 words per day over the past three days.  It turned out to be the easiest and most enjoyable part of the novel.

And now it's over.

And I won again.

 A well-deserved Twix after wrapping up the novel.  Revisions begin December 25th!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Checking in, nine days later.

I haven't posted on this blog in nine days, and I haven't decided yet if that is a good thing.

NaNoWriMo has become a huge part of my life, and I'm actually enjoying the abuse that completing this novel has inflicted on me.  The commitment and challenge were much needed.  My blogging has suffered, unfortunately, as has my fitness level, and I'm nervous about my yearly physical exam tomorrow.  Wrapping up a novel during October and writing a new one during November has not left a lot of time or motivation to follow any type of regular fitness schedule and I feel like crap.  I'm sure my physical will reflect that!

I have started a post about one of my favorite teachers which I plan to finish and publish tomorrow.  I also challenged one of my writing buddies to a race to the 50,000 word mark.  The loser has to write a blog post about the sheer awesomeness of the winner.

I'm looking forward to writing it.

My main character is tormenting me less these days.  I think that since her story is winding down, she's beginning to fade.  Her voice is weary and quiet, and like a warrior coming home from a battle, all she wants to do is put her feet up for a moment and rest.  She'll be gone soon and I will miss her greatly.


#NaNoWriMo word count so far: 36,063
#NaNoWriMo words to go FOR THE WIN:13,937

Mood: Exhausted.