Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Finding Faded Light: What's It About?

Can I thank you for something before we dive in to this blog post? Thanks for putting up with me while I've talked about nothing else but Finding Faded Light the last couple of weeks. I've tried to keep the posts limited so as not to wear out my welcome. But if I failed to do that, thanks for bearing with me. Just a couple of days left and I'll get back to posting about other things.

But first a couple more posts focused on Finding Faded Light. Today's post, we finally talk about what this book is actually about. I realized that I'd shown you a cover, I'd told you when it was going to be available for purchase, but I'd never actually given you any idea of what actually happens in this story. Well, here's the blurb. It gives you a very high-level view of the plot. Hopefully, it's enough to whet your appetite.

The government has collapsed, RomaCorp is rising to take its place, and Weber Rexall threw the first punch in a fight with Roma that he and his friends weren't ready to finish. With Roma looking for him, he's fled New Eden for the Outer West, hoping to give his friends time to prepare themselves for an inevitable second round. He just never expected that to take two years.

Now Rexall is trying to scratch out a life in a place that isn't home, but it is just out of the reach of Roma, for now. As he begins to find a little bit of normalcy, trouble finds him, both in the form of desperate thugs eager to earn a hefty reward and a Roma security agent who Rexall knows all too well and is tasked with bringing him back home. This leaves him with two choices: He can keep running farther away or go back to New Eden and finish the fight with Roma that he started. 
UPDATE: I'll be honest, this blurb gave me fits. It took a lot of work to get it to what you see above. I was bouncing ideas off of the good folks at KBoards. A couple people kept giving me suggestions on what was missing and what language needed to be changed. We worked together even after I posted this blurb and came up with another version that I think I like better. Would love to hear your thoughts.

The government has collapsed, RomaCorp is rising in its place, and Weber Rexall threw the first punch in a fight with Roma that he and his friends weren't ready to finish. With Roma looking for him, he's fled New Eden for the Outer West, hoping to give his friends time to prepare for an inevitable second round. He just never expected that to take two years. 
Scratching out a new life far from home, Rexall thought he had longer to stay out of Roma's reach. But with a hefty reward on his head, desperate thugs are eager to turn him in, and a relentless Roma security agent he knows all too well has come to bring him back. 
Rexall could run again, but RomaCorp won't stop unless he can finish the fight he started. Yet to do that, he needs more help and resources than the Outer West can offer--and if he fails a second time, there won't be a third.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Finding Faded Light: The Second False Start

I've been working on FINDING FADED LIGHT for a long time. I've told you that a couple of times now. At least it's a couple of times recently. I'm sure I've bemoaned the struggles before now. But these false starts -- the second of which you'll see part of in this post -- weren't without their lessons.

The biggest thing I learned is how important it is for me to have a strong outline. Both of my false starts had them. That's why I think that even though I haven't used those 40,000 words yet, I will. The structures of these stories are good. They are solid little tales. Just because they didn't work here doesn't mean we can't pick them up, switch the settings, then be off and running again.

I think that's especially true for this second false start. Actually, what I think is most likely is that a lot of what I wrote on this version of FINDING FADED LIGHT will find its way into the third book in the series. Mostly, that's because in this version of Book 2 I started it back in New Eden. I skipped all of the time Berger and Rexall are gone. It starts, as you'll see, right away with action, but we don't tell you anything about what happened while they were gone. I got a certain distance into this story and thought that them being outside of New Eden and how they get back is too important to this overarching story. I couldn't gloss over it with a few words or a flashback.

So this version got ditched. But you'll likely see some of this again. Again, it's lightly edited so please cut me a little slack for a couple of grammar problems.



"Let me see your face!" Miller was shouting from down the hall.

Berger and I were tucked inside the door of an office. Berger'd kicked it open just before the shooting started. He dragged me in after him once we saw Miller pull a gun, a semi-automatic from what I could tell.

"Let me see your face!" Miller shouted again.

"Not gonna happen," Berger yelled back down the hall.

"You're on The Signal," Miller said. "Give up now. Make this easy."

"Can't do it," Berger leaned out of the door and stuck an eye around the corner.

Miller shot twice. Quick succession. BangBang.  Wood splintered by Berger's head, and he spun back into the doorway.

"We'll need cover," Berger said. "I'll provide that. You head for the exit door at the end of the hall. I'll be right behind you."

I nodded and quickly got myself set. I counted to three in my head and took off for the door. I heard Berger fire five shots at Miller. I stayed low and hit the door with a shoulder. It swung open, and I stumbled into the alley. I looked back for Berger. He was running toward me, his upper body turned and facing down the hall, still shooting at Miller. Miller had pushed himself tight to the wall. Berger brought his big body through the door and we passed the two guards we'd knocked out earlier as we turned out onto the street . They were both still unconscious.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Finding Faded Light : The False Starts

We are less than two weeks out from the release of Finding Faded Light, and I mentioned in the post
announcing the release date that I'd wasted about 40,000 words just finding the thread for this book.

Most of those wasted words came from false starts. If you haven't read Chasing Filthy Lucre -- or if you read it so long ago that you forgot how it ended (understandable, since it was 3 years ago that it published) -- at the end of the book our two main characters have to leave town. I don't think I give away anything saying that. It's how the book ends, but most of the main action has already happened before that.

I like the ending of Chasing Filthy Lucre a lot. It feels very satisfying, at least to me, but still sets up a second story, and that was the goal. I wanted someone to be able to read the book and feel that sense of closure you get from a good ending, but also be intrigued enough to want to read the second installment. I never expected the second installment to take three years, but what are you going to do?

So, I liked my ending a lot. What I couldn't figure out though was how to start the second book.

I think the problem was I doubted my plan. I'd had all four books of this series planned for a while. Yes, it was four at one time. It's three now. And when I started writing what I'd planned as book two something just felt off. So I stopped writing what was a pretty good story because it just didn't feel right. I was about 20,000 words into that version. Started a new version that fast forwarded the story and that felt wrong too, like I was glossing over too much. So I went back to the original idea and tried again. Another couple of false starts, I finally found it -- the thread I needed to get the story started. I knew that I was going in the right direction when I wrote about five pages in less than an hour, a great speed for me.

As we head toward pub day, I thought I'd share a couple of those false starts, at least a couple excerpts from them. Here's the first go at writing Book 2. It's presented with only light editing, so if it looks a little rough that's because it is. It'll give you some idea of setting in Finding Faded Light, but there shouldn't be any spoilers. And don't be surprised if you see this in another story/book. I like a lot of it, and it's still a story with legs, just not as the book after Chasing Filthy Lucre.



Everyone ignored the explosions.

We all heard them. I know because the conversations stopped. But when the echoes of the blasts quit repeating off the brick walls of the downtown buildings, we all went back to celebrating. It was Saturday, and Saturdays in the Outer West were for celebrating.

The crowd around me was laughing and drinking and the smell of alcohol and cigarettes was in the air. I pulled a reader from my pocket and tapped its screen. The thing blinked to life. A photo of a girl came up. I held the screen out in front of me so the guy standing next to me could see it.

"Look at her," I said.

The man kept his eyes down, focused on the bit of drink that was left in his plastic cup.

"Look at her," I said again.

Head down.

I pushed the reader into his face and put my hand behind his head. I pushed his face forward until his nose touched the screen.

"Have you seen her?" I asked, my voice forceful, but not so loud that I'd draw attention.

"I don't know where she is," the man said and squirmed free from my grip. "Not anymore."

"What do you mean not anymore?" I asked.

"That's all I can tell you," he said. He finished off what was left of the homebrew in his cup then crushed it in his fist. "Even if I had seen her recently, I don't know where she is anymore."

The grill that was next to us was full of steaks. The people working that grill had stepped a few feet away when I raised my voice.

"Look," I said. "I don't care about you." I pointed toward Berger, he'd been watching the whole time from across the street. "He doesn't care about you. All we want is the girl. Help us find the girl."

A woman's laugh cut through the commotion all around us. Voices filled the silence. Conversations and celebrating.

"I can't help you find the girl," the man said. He pulled a hand through his shag of hair. "I don't know where she is. Honest."

"But you know who has her."

He shifted on his feet, his hands behind him and resting on the brick wall.

"I know who had her," he said. "She's probably changed hands by now."

"Don't tell me that," I said.  "What did they want with the girl?"

"I don't know," he said and reached into his pocket and pulled out a leather pouch. He shook it a few times then pulled open the drawstring closure. He sat it on the ground in front of him and reached back into his pocket. This time he grabbed a rolling paper. He bent over and reached into the bag. He came back up with a pinch of tobacco and placed it in the paper. He rolled it tight and stuck it between his lips. He went into his pocket again and pulled a match that he struck on the brick behind him.  He held the flame to the end of the cigarette he'd just rolled and took a deep breath in.

"Why do you keep calling her a girl?" he asked. "She can't be less than 25."

"Because the guy who's paying me calls her his little girl."

Monday, January 12, 2015

Finding Faded Light: The cover and the pub date

We finally have a date. January 30. That's when you'll be able to buy a copy of Finding Faded Light at Amazon.

It's been a long time coming. Too long. But after a few false starts that resulted in more than 45,000 words sitting unused on my computer, I finally found the thread of what the second story in the Rexall Cycle should be.

Finding Faded Light opens two years after the events at the end of Chasing Filthy Lucre. Rexall and Berger have had to leave New Eden. They are hoping to wait out Roma in a place called the Outer West, but trouble seems to have found them.

I'm really happy with this book. I think it's a great follow up to Chasing Filthy Lucre. When I started writing these it was never about the technology, the settings, or the data addictions. It was about the  people, and I feel that this second book gives us a peek into parts of Rexall that we never saw in Chasing Filthy Lucre.

I'll have more leading up to the release, including a bit more about those 45,000 words that I abandoned. But if you've been waiting for the followup to Chasing Filthy Lucre, it's finally here.

Also, if you're interested in reading Chasing Filthy Lucre before the sequel is available, you can get a copy from Amazon here.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Plans for 2015: More books, more blog posts, a newsletter

I've been working in marketing for a few years now. It'll be four this year if you're counting, but you shouldn't be. I'm not.

In that time, I've learned a lot of things about connecting with markets, getting products in front of people, and raising your profile among your potential audience. I do a pretty good job of putting those tactics into practice for clients at the day job, but I've never really done it for myself. Exhibit A: I haven't posted here since September. That's not blogging/marketing best practices. Hopefully that all changes in 2015. I've got a few plans in place to increase my marketing efforts that shouldn't put a lot of stress on my day job or my writing time.

The new cover for Chasing Filthy Lucre.
The rest of the books in the series
will have a similar look. Branding!

Most of my plans are pretty basic, sort of must-dos for anyone who wants to say they are taking this
author/publisher thing seriously. First is release more books and stories. There's nothing that sells books like other books, especially when you write in series like I do. I've got the follow up to Chasing Filthy Lucre coming out in the next few weeks. The cover is ready. I've just got to make some last corrections to the story, and it'll be ready for some light formatting then publishing. I've also got four other novellas planned for this year in a new series that I'm excited about writing. Two short stories are planned for that series as well. And, hopefully Book 3 and another novella in the Chasing Filthy Lucre world.

As mentioned, I've got to update the blog more often. I know how to do this for clients at work. It's all about planning posts and standing features. But, I suppose it's easy to do for someone else, not as easy to do it for yourself. Like I said, I've got blog posts planned. I've got some standing features that I'm working on. This place should be more interesting to visit in 2015.

I also need to create an author website to better my web presence. A site is table stakes at this point, and without one I'm not really in the game. I'm working on that now, so that should change some time soon. If I can get past me perfectionism, that is. I have a vision in my head, and I'm reluctant to change from that.

But the first thing I'm doing -- and the one that is most important -- is creating a mailing list so I can update people about new releases and other fun stuff. This is one of the first things we recommend clients do when we bring them on at work. I know what a good list can do, but I've never tried to build one for myself. Well, I am now. I don't plan on sending out message after message, just information about new releases. Maybe a quarterly update. And, for sure, free stories and other stuff as a thanks for being part of the list. If you're interested in signing up, click this link.

So that's it: my plan. Not very sophisticated, but, honestly, nothing about marketing is all that complicated. A lot of it comes down to consistency and common sense. I think I have the second part down, now to master the first.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Modern television classics: Which should be watched first?

I think I've mentioned here before that there was a point some time in the last two years that I kind of stopped caring about the TV shows that I was DVRing. It had nothing to do with the quality of the shows. Nothing changed there, these were still smart and clever programs. Like I said, the change was on my end. I just stopped caring. Episodes backed up on the DVR -- 5, 6, 7 episodes of some shows. I'd go to start watching an episode and I'd make it about 10 minutes before shutting it off. One day, after repeating this pattern, I went through and deleted all but a few episodes of a couple of shows I still watched with some kind of regularity.

Before this big purge, though, my TV dance card was pretty full, and I was pretty happy with the names on my list. It took a lot for a show to make its way onto my schedule, that's why I've never seen an episode of many of the shows that are being considered modern TV classics. No episodes of The Wire. None of The Sopranos or True Detective. No Game of Thrones. None of Breaking Bad, and none of Mad Men. But I feel like I should. These are supposedly great stories well told. It seems like someone who considers himself a storyteller should be familiar with and study what people consider the great stories of the time no matter what medium they're told in. Or am I completely wrong to think that?

So, where do I start? If you had to tell someone who hasn't seen any of these shows where to begin what would you tell them?

P.S. This post isn't out of the blue. It comes from a couple of podcasts I listened to on my way to and from work recently. Chris Hardwick interviewed Vince Gilligan and Matthew Weiner, creators of Breaking Bad and Mad Men respectively, for his Nerdist podcast. The interviews were excellent, but they usually are. Hardwick has a knack for putting subjects at ease and getting them to open up. Not Barbara Walters open up where we get the waterworks, but just get them to talk. I've seen people paid a pretty penny by other organizations to interview people who can't do it as well as he does. If you aren't listening to The Nerdist podcast, you should be.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Editing: The importance of choosing the right word

I'm in the middle of edits to the followup to Chasing Filthy Lucre. I've had a couple of people look at the story. They both like it, but also both have suggested fixes, so that's what I'm doing now. I'm working in the stuff I agree with. Turning my nose up at the stuff I don't. I'm kidding. There's very little I disagree with.

But in this process I'm also looking hard at each sentence. Can that one be tighter? Is that one too tight? I'm also considering word choice. Dropping cliches. Tweaking certain phrases to add the right amount of power, to convey the exact message I want them to.

A lot of people have a similar philosophy about first drafts that I do. Get it out quick. Recognize it will be dirty. You can clean it later. Well, for me, now is later. All those spots where I just left some filler sentence, phrase, or word have to be cleaned up now.

This has me thinking a lot about the power of the right word, and how it's easy to find a word that's really close but still not be just the word you need. I've got an example of this. It comes from church. We sing Chris Tomlin's Amazing Grace (My Chains are Gone) on a somewhat regular basis, at least we did. But when we sing it we change one word. For reference, here's the song.

The line we change goes like this:
 "My chains are gone. I've been set free. My God, my savior, has ransomed me."

We change it to this:
"My chains are gone. I've been set free. My God, my savior, has rescued me."

Seems like a minor change. The basic meaning of the line is there. God did something for you that you couldn't do for yourself. Except the original line is saying so much more than that. It's not talking about being rescued. It's talking about being ransomed. It's talking about someone, God in this case, paying a price that you couldn't pay to pull you out of spot that you couldn't get out of on your own, in this case an eternity spent separated from Him. Ransomed is rescued on steroids. Ransomed is sacrifice. Ransomed, if you're a Christian, is what the faith is all about. It's so much more than rescued.

That's what I'm keeping in mind as I'm hip deep in edits. Every word is powerful. Using one instead of the other can change a meaning dramatically. I know that as a reader it can be easy to just pass over words when you're sucked into a good story. But if you can remember to do it next time you've got a book in your hand, look at the words the author chose. They aren't all going to be ransomed vs. rescued. Sometimes they are just words. But if you find a passage that you really like, one that feels powerful to you, consider the words the author is using. There's a better than zero chance that there was some serious consideration into what made it to the final page. And if you're a writer searching for the right words, happy hunting.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Hello Kitty and control of the creator

So there was a bit of a modest Internet hub bub last week when the people at Sanrio announced that Hello Kitty, that cute little cat that seems like it's been everywhere for the last 40 years or so, is not actually a cat at all. She's a little girl names Kitty White. She lives in London. She has parents. She even has a cat of her own. This is all from the people at Sanrio.

People were jumping at the chance to write the punniest headlines for this story. Others were claiming childhoods were ruined. Minds were blown. They didn't know what to do now that this creature that they'd known as a cat was actually not a cat at all.

My second favorite thing I read about everything Hello Kitty was this article in The New Yorker. It's a send up of my very favorite thing I read about Hello Kitty. It's this explanation of what she is from a university professor.

Hello Kitty is not a cat. She’s a cartoon character. She is a little girl. She is a friend. But she is not a cat. She’s never depicted on all fours. She walks and sits like a two-legged creature. She does have a pet cat of her own, however, and it’s called Charmmy Kitty.

Christine R. Yano, an anthropologist at the University of Hawaii and Harvard, quoted in the Los Angeles Times on August 26th

 I love that statement for it's matter-of-factness. "Hello Kitty is not a cat. She's a cartoon character." Yeah, Christine. No kidding.

No, she's not a cat in the strictest sense. But she is an anthropomorphic cat. She has some human features, like walking upright. I don't think there's anyone out there who was confused by this. She's like Goofy or Mickey or Donald.

So, say what you want, Sanrio. Hello Kitty is a cat, and there's not much you can do to make it otherwise.

This did bring up a question I have, and the seven paragraphs up to this point have all just been lead up to this. But when does a creator lose absolute control of his or her creation?

When does a creator lose control of a creation?
All of this Kitty stink reminded me of Star Wars. We all know that it went supernova when it was
released in the 1970s. There was the merchandising -- the toys, the bed sheets, the Underoos. Then there were the novels. They took the original stories and created an expanded universe. New characters. New adventures. New history for future movies to be based on.

Except when the new movies were announced, starting with the seventh, creators had to go back to the expanded universe and determine what was and wasn't going to be canon. There were whole parts that were left out. It's like they were saying that those elements didn't actually happen for the purposes of continuity. Those events were girls, not kittens.

So, here's my question again. And I want to clarify that I know, in the end, a creator has the ultimate control of his or her creation. What that person wants to do with it or say about it, they can. I just wonder is there a point of no return with something that becomes popular. Does the creator lose some bit of control because there are so many people who love what they've created? Does that crowd of fans have some sway? Do their expectations/should their expectations of what will/should happen have any influence on the creator and the next steps forward?

I'd love to hear what you think.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Emdrive: The engine that runs on sunlight

A quick post because a pretty cool story came out of NASA yesterday about a rocket engine that's called an Emdrive, that's it above. That brass-thing that looks like it belongs on something from a steampunk story.

It's an engine that converts electrical energy into thrust. And, according to this article over at Sploid, that electrical energy can be generated with solar power. That means this engine doesn't need fuel. There's nothing that it needs to burn. That means that absent some mechanical breakdown, this engine could run forever. The idea wasn't NASA's. Credit for that goes to a team at Satellite Propulsion Research Ltd. Scientists at NASA built the second independent working model.

I don't know that I will ever come close to understanding the science behind the engine, I just know that the people who do understand it all can come up with some cool stuff.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Trying to stay realistic in a difficult self-publishing journey

Zechariah 4:10

So, at church on Sunday we heard the last message from the summer At the Movies series. That's kind of what it sounds like. The pastor takes popular movies and shows clips providing Biblical lessons three or four times throughout. This week's movie was Rocky, something I hadn't seen in years but want to rewatch now.

Rocky. Obviously an underdog story. The first verse that the pastor shared was all about that. It was Zechariah 4:10:

"Do not despise these small beginnings,
for the LORD rejoices to see the work begin ..."

I've been thinking about this whole self-publishing/author-publisher thing I've been doing. It's slow and can be incredibly frustrating at times. I feel like I have written good books. I've told good stories. They are just having a hard time finding an audience for some reason. I did some math late last year. I think I've sold roughly 200 books since I started this in 2011. By itself, 200 isn't a small number. But in comparison to what others have sold it's nothing. I sell a book a month. Maybe two. It can get discouraging.

Organic discoverability is impossible
I try to tell myself a couple of things when it gets depressing checking sales and not seeing anything added to my ledger. First thing is there are over a million ebooks at Amazon. If anyone walked into a room and more than a million books were spread across the floor, what's the chance they'd pick up my book? Less than slim. But if I'm not doing anything to get my book in front of the people who might like it then that's exactly what I'm hoping will happen. I've run a few promotions for Chasing Filthy Lucre to varying degrees of success. And, again, success here is a relative term. I've got another promo ready to run this week. I'm hoping that will gain me a little visibility and jump start sales, at least modestly.

But hoping that people will just find my book isn't going to happen. And, as weird as that sounds, that helps me to handle the slow sales. Other than a tweet once a week or so, I'm not pushing the books so I can't really expect them to be found. There's just too much competition for eyeballs.

Most books don't have a long tail
The second thing I tell myself is that most books don't have that classic long tail of sales. Chart them, and most books sell a lot at the beginning and then the graph quickly falls off. Most of my sales of Chasing Filthy Lucre came in the first six months or so. Then things began to drop off and quickly reached the levels they are at now. So, again, it's a little unrealistic to expect sales to spike again. Could they pick up? Sure. But I'm not going to suddenly become a best seller, and I don't want that. Lie. I don't expect that, but I want it. I welcome it. But chances are much better than not it won't happen.

All of this sounds a bit like excuse making. I prefer to think that it's being realistic. It's me trying to temper that small part in the back of my brain that is always hopeful I'll see a handful of sales the next time I check my reports at all the sites I've books posted.

But I'm going to try and remember Zechariah 4:10 from here on out. "Do not despise small beginnings, for the Lord rejoice to see the work begin ..." And, looking at all the stuff I have planned and want to write, I have definitely just begun.