Leaving Books Behind

[For those interested, my book Unwilling Souls begins a week long Kindle Countdown Deal at 8 AM EST TODAY, February 2nd, 2016! For the next two days, it will be just $0.99 on Kindle, with the price going up steadily every couple of days after that. So act quickly!]

Owing to my post last month which directly related how experience shapes writing, I’m going to take a slightly different tack in approaching the topic this month. Show of hands: how many of you have read Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series? It’s an interesting set of books for a number of reasons. The first is that fantasy isn’t generally King’s genre. I’ve often found that talented writers who don’t usually write straight fantasy then choose to attempt it come up with very unusual entries into the genre. It’s as if not being immersed in the rules of the genre, both written and unwritten, means they approach a fantasy story with a very different mindset. Justin Cronin’s series The Passage has similar traits.

But I digress. The real reason The Dark Tower is such an unusual series of books is that King published them over a period of twenty-two years (1982 – 2004, and thirty years if you count The Wind Through the Keyhole, which came out in 2012). And since books 5-7 were published within a year of one another, the publication frequency became even more lopsided.

This is an impressive feat. Keeping the enthusiasm for a series of books up for that long is pretty much unprecedented, at least recently. As much grief as George R.R. Martin gets, his series has been ongoing since 1996, so he’s just second place on this list of two I’ve generated. There were plenty of Stephen King fans who, prior to 2003, thought they would never get the end of their beloved series.

It’s tough to keep up enthusiasm for one idea for that long. To be a writer requires a lot of enthusiasm, because there is very little in the way of positive feedback, especially in the early going. Certainly there’s no monetary feedback. It’s almost impossible to put fingers to keys if you aren’t excited about the ideas you are putting down, or at least excited about finally finishing those ideas. What readers ended up getting with The Dark Tower was a series of four books, each of which was written in a different style and with a vastly differing plot. No two of those first four books were really anything alike. Each was its own, unique animal, with strengths and weaknesses that largely differed from any other entry in the series. The overarching plot connecting them was very loose and free-form. By contrast, King wrote books five through seven back-to-back-to-back in an effort to finally put the series to bed. As a result, those last three books demonstrated a much more uniform style and a renewed focus on the overarching plot of the series. In the end, the main seven books of the series were written by five different versions of Stephen King over a period of a quarter century.

Talk to enough writers, and you’ll start to hear the same refrain over and over again: ideas are easy, execution is hard. And it’s true. My friend Gama Martinez is famous among his friends in the writing world for being able to take any weird or random notion you throw at him and sketch out a story concept within a few minutes. Most every author has more ideas knocking around inside their head than they can ever write about. And the sad truth is that plenty of those ideas, as excited as you may be about them when they pop into your head, may wither on the vine before you get to them. People change. The things that interest or excite them change too.

After my first Superstars seminar, I returned home with renewed writing vigor. Over the course of two months, I wrote a 100,000 word first draft of a superhero novel. It flowed out of my brain faster than anything I’d every written before. Then I started looking at it and realized how many problems it had. Ultimately, it was a series of mostly cool scenes and chapters that didn’t really fit together into a single, cohesive story, and I wasn’t sure, at the time, that I could find a way to make them fit. I put the book aside and began work on something new, my burst of excitement over my superhero story fizzling.

I told myself I would come back to it, rewrite what needed rewriting to fix the structural problems and not waste all that time I spent coming up with that world and those characters. And yet here I am five years later, and I still haven’t rewritten that novel. I’m neck deep in a four book series, now, unwilling to break my momentum with major side projects. After that’s done, the possibilities of the blank page may call to me more than a massively flawed novel first draft.

Time marches on. Our lives take us in different directions, and the topics we focus our thoughts on shift in compensation with these changes of direction. Sometimes, as writers, we outgrow ideas, or even entire stories. That’s okay. In fact, it’s perfectly natural, change being the only universal constant and all.

Write down your most exciting ideas when you have them. Even if you can’t get to them for years, you may find a way to spin them together in another story. And if nothing else, they are a snapshot of the kind of writer and the kind of person you were at the time.

 

About the Author: Gregory D. LittleHeadshot

Rocket scientist by day, fantasy and science fiction author by night, Gregory D. Little began his writing career in high school when he and his friend wrote Star Wars fanfic before it was cool, passing a notebook around between (sometimes during) classes. His first novel, Unwilling Souls, is available now from ebook retailers and trade paperback through Amazon.com. His short fiction can be found in The Colored Lens and A Game of Horns: A Red Unicorn Anthology. He lives in Virginia with his wife and their yellow lab.

You can reach him at his website (www.gregorydlittle.com), his Twitter handle (@litgreg) or at his Author Page on Facebook.

 

 

Write What You Know or No?

All right, Mark Twain, sounds simple enough.

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard this sage advice: write what you know.

Our experiences help shape who we are and what we believe about the world, so they can be valuable veins to mine when it comes to writing. No one person in the world has had the same combinations of experiences as you. However, many have had similar combinations of experiences and have lived in the same time as you. That connection of shared, similar experiences can help engage readers and draw them in to your book. This is why the saying, “Write what you know, ” is so popular in writing circles.

But this advice isn’t the end-all be-all. Plenty of arguments can be made against it.

Oh, I see what you did there.

What if a physical handicap has limited the writer in combat experience, but the writer wants to write a medieval sword fight?

What if you’re a boring person? Do you just write about owning seven cats at one time because that’s what you’re familiar with? What not showering for three days does to the human body? Not clipping your toenails for three months?

While those topics can be very interesting and you should totally write about those, perhaps there is room for adding more information to your story even if you haven’t yourself experienced it.

This month, the Fictorians will discuss personal experience verses imagination: which

Okay, I don't even know anymore.
Okay, I don’t even know anymore.

is more important and where the two intersect. We’ll also consider how far you can/should/maybe shouldn’t go to experience what your characters experience. We’ll include some interesting experiences we’ve had, which may or may not include learning how to deal with post-combat stress, retracing Nikola Tesla’s footsteps, butchering our own meat, and breaking bones.

Later this month, we’ll get an exclusive interview with Fictorian Frank Morin, author of the series The Petralist.

Now we’re curious. In the comments below, please tell us how far you’ve gone to gain experience for writing!

 

Meet The Fictorians: Evan Braun

“Come in, — come in! and know me better, man!” -Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

We’d love for you, our wonderful readers, to get to know us better. That’s why, each month, Kristin Luna will interview a member of The Fictorians. We’ll learn more about each member, such as their writing processes, their work, where they live, and what they prefer to drink on a cold winter’s day. We hope you enjoy this monthly installment of Meet the Fictorians.

 

Meet the Fictorians:

Evan Braun

1

 

Kristin Luna (KL): Hi Evan! What are you drinking right now at this moment?

Evan Braun (EB): I am enjoying a cool, refreshing glass of Fresca, which is probably my favourite beverage of all-time. (I say “probably” because I go through phases; next week I might answer Diet Dr. Pepper, but I’ll be wrong. The real answer is Fresca.) While I’m on the subject of Fresca, one of my greatest frustrations in life is that in Canada we only have the original citrus-flavoured variety, whereas in the States you have access to the sweet ambrosia that is Peach Fresca and Black Cherry Fresca. Unfortunately, the folks at Coca-Cola, likely in conjunction with the Government of Canada, have decided we don’t deserve good things.

KL: Maybe Canada and the U.S. should come together and have the Fresca Peace Talks? I think you guys deserve some Peach and Black Cherry Fresca!

So, few people other than the Fictorians know this, but you were our intrepid leader since nearly the beginning. How many years exactly?

EB: The Fictorians started in March 2011 as a loose collective of bloggers. Though I was involved from the start, there was no leader per se. I gradually stepped into a leadership capacity about a year and a half later.

KL: What was it like in the beginning? How was the group The Fictorians formed?

EB: The original group of bloggers met in 2010 at the first annual Superstars Writing Seminar in Pasadena. The idea of forming a writing blog came about while we were nursing drinks at the hotel bar, which I think is how all convention-goers come up with their great ideas. We spent the next year in close communication, forming an accountability email list where we’d make weekly goals and report on our progress to each other. And then, almost exactly one year later, the Fictorians made its debut.

Like I said, there was no leader, and in fact we barely had any organization at all. We had a loose commitment to blog once a month, and to schedule our posts for certain days, but there was nobody to make sure any of this got done. We strived to post three days a week, which I think is a good goal at the start of an endeavour like this.

From there, our numbers grew, people came and went, and now we have a bona fide organizational structure undergirding the whole enterprise.

KL: You already let the cat out of the bag, so I don’t mind reminding everyone that you live in Canada. Do you draw inspiration for your writing from your surroundings?

EB: At this moment I’m looking out my window at a seemingly endless field, flat as three dimensions can produce, covered with at least a foot of snow—three or four feet where the snow has drifted—and the overcast and foreboding skies presage an imminent winter storm poised to dump another foot and a half. Once the snow starts to fall, everything will be white and I won’t be able to distinguish the horizon between ground and sky. Beautiful. And horrible. Definitely a mix of those two.

But do my surroundings inspire me? In a way, yes, I think they do. I’m currently working on a novel about a small colony on Mars, and its population and social structure is quite similar to the small town I actually live in. And of course, on Mars the colonies are isolated and the weather bitterly cold (albeit a lot drier than my prairie reality).

KL: If you couldn’t live in Canada, where would you live?

EB: I guess the easy answer might be… Hawaii?

The only other place I have lived is Huntsville, Alabama, for two and a half years, so I’ve had a good taste of the American south. As much as I enjoyed my time there, and made some of my very best friends, the experience only sweetened my appreciation of home. I guess the point I’m trying to make is that there was a time, when I was younger, when I wished I lived somewhere bigger, better, and busier than the quiet little place I’m from. I don’t feel that way anymore. And it turns out I really like quiet.

Not to make a joke or take this in a cosmic direction, but honestly, how strange and scary and life-changing and inspiring would it be to leave Earth and live on another planet, like Mars? Our generation is almost certainly going to see people do this in our lifetimes, which I think is just mind-boggling. So there you have it. It’s Canada or Mars for me!

KL: I hear you about someplace quiet. And Mars should be reeeeeeally quiet.

You have been busy with your series The Watchers Chronicle. Is the series complete?

EB: Yes, I’m finished that series now. It’s three volumes—The Book of Creation, The City of Darkness, and The Law of Radiance. The third book came out this past spring, and it’s done now. Of course, I reserve the right to go back to it at some point in the future. There are a number of nooks and crannies in that story which haven’t been told yet.

KL: What’s something important you learned about writing and/or about yourself while writing The Watchers Chronicle?

EB: My biggest lesson in writing was that it’s so much harder to finish something than it is to start it and keep it going. While I was writing the third book, I was flooded by one amazing cliffhanger idea after another. It would have been so easy to ramp up the story to an irresistible climax and then defer the endgame for another book—and I imagine I could have kept doing that for quite a number of volumes. Writing a satisfying and definitive ending is hugely difficult.

As for my biggest lesson about being a human being? Well, that would be related to the pains and joys of collaboration (I had a co-author), busting through creative logjams, and working through the difficult and painful process of making compromises.

KL: Speaking of pains and joys, what’s your ideal writing time look like?

EB: In the middle of the night. Being self-employed, I have the freedom to work any hours I choose—and by extension, write for whatever hours I choose. This means I usually get up around noon and go to bed around 4:00 a.m., with my prime writing time happening right at the tail end of that “day.” For me, nothing can beat those quiet, distraction-free hours.

KL: Any words of wisdom you’d like to impart on our readers?

EB: It’s nothing profound. I hear all the time that the one quality that sets really successful people apart from the rest of humanity is dogged determination. You just have to keep going, no matter what. Yes, make changes and adjustments when you hit a roadblock, but never stop. Because getting back up to speed and rebuilding lost momentum is a crushing weight.

KL: Second to last question, I swear, what is your favorite snack? (Crossing my fingers you’ll say Boy Bawang.)

EB: Kristin and I are both partnered to Filipino men, and as such have recently been introduced to the joys of Filipino cuisine. (Except balut, no thank you!) Now, I’m not sure “cuisine” is the appropriate term for a heavily salted deep-fried corn kernel, but anyway, that’s Boy Bawang for you. The best flavours are classic garlic, adobo, and butter.

KL: [Audible stomach growling]

EB: Well, to be honest, while that is the most recent snack to be added to my repertoire, I’m not 100% certain it’s my true favourite. I’ll probably never get over the simple, high-caloric pleasure of eating a bag of Doritos one chip at a time, sucking the last morsel of radioactive-orange nacho cheese into my gaping maw. Sorry, that got a bit gross.

KL: Not gross at all to this Doritos fan! I hope one day I get rich enough or get a really fancy grant or something to sleep on a bed of nacho cheese Doritos. I can just eat my way out of bed every morning, and fall into a crunchy bed every night.

ANYWAY. Final question: what is your favorite Fictorians post that you’ve written so far?

EB: This is an insidious question. Because I don’t recall, at this moment, any one post that I’m especially proud of, I had to go through each of them to refresh my memory. And it turns out I’ve written 67 Fictorian posts to date. So thanks, Kristin.

Well, because I took the time to peruse my entire Fictorians past (it turns out 2013 was a good blogging year for me), I’m going to provide my three favourite posts. Here goes.

3. “It Doesn’t Happen in a Straight Line”, September 2013. Here, I break down the many plateaus of my burgeoning writing career, and what I’ve learned from them.

2. “Making the Science Work: Freedom through Limitation”, March 2013. In this post, I examine the relationship between science reality and storytelling convenience.

1. “Platonic Relationships in Fiction (a.k.a. ‘The Glue’)”, February 2013. I remember struggling mightily to come up with a good blog idea for Romance Month, so I waited until the last minute. And then this came out, and it’s my clear favourite.

 

If you have any questions for Evan, please leave a comment below. Thank you for reading!

Expanding Your Amazon Reach

Amazon’s AuthorCentral websites allow readers to see a dedicated page focusing on a particular writer. It’s an easy way for Amazon customers, particularly those with Kindle readers, to find more about an author. The recently re-designed pages now include a sliding window featuring books registered to an author. The images are larger, allowing the viewer to see more details and entice them to purchase another book from an author they enjoyed.

Most of the professional writers have claimed their author page on Amazon USA. Besides the book sliding tool, they can upload headshots and casual images. Another section is available to present a bio, and all of the AuthorCentral sites allow Twitter integration. Only the United States version has blog/RSS integration, so one can highlight their latest posts to visiting readers and fans.

Unfortunately, many professional writers have not claimed their overseas AuthorCentral pages. Most erroneously believe that they are all tied together. This is not the case at present, although Amazon has indicated this may be possible in future website updates.

To create your AuthorCentral page, go to one of the links below. I had to register at all of them separately, but some of my friends already had accounts when they first visited the rest of the sites.

I would recommend you use the Chrome web browser because it has Google Translate integration built in. For example, going to the French AuthorCentral page, I right-clicked and selected “translate this page”. The results were understandable but not perfect. Images and some buttons may not get translated because they’re not text, but the layouts are similar to the US version. If you set up your United States page first, the rest will be similar enough that you won’t have to translate the pages every time.

After you create an account or log in, you will see a couple of your book titles. Select the button that says “these are my titles” and Amazon will populate most of your titles. Some do not import, so you will have to do a comparison to your full catalog. If you have foreign language versions of your titles, you can have both that language and the English ones for sale, which is handy for places like Japan where there are many English speakers and ex-pats. Make sure all of your titles are listed with all languages and all formats (Kindle, hardcover, paperback, stone carvings, etc.)
Foreign markets are counted separately for book ranking, so if you’re a neurotic rank checker you’ll have several places to click. Oddly enough, many of the reviews carry over, but not all of them — it’s very hit-and-miss.

Amazon is working on the China (amazon.cn) and Italy (amazon.it) sites. The Canada (amazon.ca) and India (amazon.in) versions appear to use the data from the United States. Some of the other countries run off of others, such as Austria mostly using the German AuthorCentral system. Eventually, all of them will be available to use. With any luck, they will have all of them integrated to make things easier for the author.

Since this does take time, is it worth the effort? My thoughts are yes, for several reasons. Amazon is a high-quality website, so crosslinking it with your blog may help your Google ranking. Even if you only get a trickle of sales, that is still income for your pocket and a chance for a new reader to fall in love with your work.

To check how your page looks, go to the Amazon shopping page of the country you wish to view and enter your author name. You should see some of your titles with your name highlighted underneath. Click on your name and you will be taken to your author page. You may wish to have your bio translated into the appropriate language and use that version. Friends who speak and write the language, local colleges, asking around online for references, or even using places like Fiverr.com can help you to upload a native version.

I do not recommend using software methods to change the language of your bio since the meaning gets lost in translation. For example, Pepsi set up shop in China in the early 1970s, using the slogan “Come Alive! You’re In The Pepsi Generation”, which roughly translated meant it brought ancestors back from the dead. Great for horror writers, bad for soft drink companies…except it suddenly became “cool” to drink Pepsi and sales took off.

I wish you the best of luck expanding your author empire until it’s a world-wide phenomenon.


 

About the Author:DeMarco_Web-5963

Guy Anthony De Marco is a speculative fiction author; a Graphic Novel Bram Stoker Award® nominee; winner of the HWA Silver Hammer Award; a prolific short story and flash fiction crafter; a novelist; an invisible man with superhero powers; a game writer (Sojourner Tales modules, Interface Zero 2.0 core team, D&D modules); and a coffee addict. One of these is false.
A writer since 1977, Guy is a member of the following organizations: SFWA, WWA, SFPA, IAMTW, ASCAP, RMFW, NCW, HWA. He hopes to collect the rest of the letters of the alphabet one day. Additional information can be found at Wikipedia and GuyAnthonyDeMarco.com.