Tag Archives: Craft & Skills

Paid to Play: Writing Licensed Fan Fiction in Kindle Worlds

We’ve all heard that writing fan fiction is something that professional writers don’t do. Fan fiction has a stigma attached to it of being vastly amateur and a waste of time for aspiring authors who should be cutting their teeth on their own works. The truth of the matter is that fan fiction has a very large fan base and can provide a great opportunity for new writers to hone their abilities. Yet, being paid for writing fan fiction has always been reserved for authors who sign literary contracts to write “media tie-ins.” The media tie-in was essentially the sole professional version of fan fiction until Kindle Worlds came along.

Kindle Worlds is a project from Amazon that allows authors to write licensed fan fiction in any of the licensed world. Authors can earn royalties (typically 30%) from their works in a licensed world. Works can be any length from short story to full novels. The only “catch” is that Amazon and that licensed world own your story in perpetuity. Licensed worlds include the worlds of bestselling authors Hugh Howey, Bella Andre, and Kurt Vonnegut. Other worlds include television properties (Vampire Diaries, Wayward Pines, Veronica Mars) and comic book properties (G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero, Quantum and Woody, XO Man-o-War). All an author has to do is have an idea, check the Kindle Worlds quality/content guidelines for that licensed world, write a story, and publish it. It’s licensed fan fiction, and I can say from experience, a huge opportunity.

A few years ago at the World Science Fiction Convention in San Antonio, I met Hugh Howey. We had a great conversation then, and ever since via infrequent emails. I first heard about Kindle Worlds from Hugh. Roughly about the time that I finished the second of his Silo Saga novels (SHIFT), I had an idea for a story in his universe. Knowing that the universe was available through the Kindle Worlds program, I worked up a story and promptly hesitated. On the cusp of submitting the story, I chickened out and emailed Hugh for advice. He told me to publish the story, and I did. I’ve published several short stories via Kindle, but none has sold like my Silo Sage novelette “Vessel.” It’s been out for a couple of years and has never left the Top 200 in Kindle Worlds Science Fiction and Fantasy, topping out at #3. The story has done nicely, putting some extra money in my account while generating name recognition. I never thought about name recognition as a by-product for Kindle Worlds until I had an idea for another story in a different universe.

As a kid, the cartoon series G.I.Joe: A Real American Hero was my favorite series of all time. When I saw that its universe was part of Kindle Worlds, I was amazed and thrilled. In the Kindle Worlds stories, there are some really good ones including those by bestselling author Carrie Vaughn and my friends Peter Wacks and Aaron Michael Ritchey. On a getaway weekend to Breckenridge a couple of years ago, I had an idea for a story in that universe and wrote it inside of a week. After some read-throughs and edits, I used the Kindle Worlds cover builder, formatted the book, and set it live. What happened next is surreal. About 24 hours after I set the title live, I had a Twitter notification on my account (@TheWriterIke). I’d been mentioned in a tweet from Amazon Kindle Worlds that reached almost 35,000 subscribers. They’d also tagged one of the major G.I.Joe toy collector groups, and they then retweeted it to another 6,000 subscribers. The story hit #7 in all of Kindle Worlds within the next few hours. I gained fifty or so Twitter followers. Like “Vessel,” my short story “Friends In High Places” has continued to do very well, and the fact that it’s licensed fan fiction is something I’m very proud of.

I believe firmly that writers should seek payment for our work. Exposure doesn’t pay the bills. Kindle Worlds is a perfect opportunity to play in someone else’s world while earning royalties and gaining exposure. Check them out at KindleWorlds.Amazon.Com and see if there is a licensed world you’re familiar with. Then, if the muse whispers in your ear, sit down and write the best story you possibly can. You never know what might happen with it.

“The Most Successful Bankrobber Ever”

Jack Foley.

The first time I met Jack Foley was in Elmore Leonard’s novel Out Of Sight. Elmore Leonard was a literary genius and his approach to storytelling and dialogue are two of my biggest influences when I write. You’ve probably been aware of his work (notably Get Shorty, 3:10 To Yuma, and the television series Justified to name a few). When I read Out of Sight, I immediately liked Foley as a character. But when the movie came out, something incredible happened. The movie version released in 1998 and was directed by Stephen Soderbergh. It remains one of my favorite movies and, in my opinion, the best of Leonard’s novels turned into film (in a tie with Quentin Tarantino’s Jackie Brown – which I’ll discuss next month!).

Foley’s career bank robber with a good heart escapes from the Glades Federal Penitentiary in Florida and promptly runs into U.S Marshall Karen Sisco. In the commotion of the escape, they end up in the trunk of a Cadillac as Foley and his accomplice, Buddy, run. By the time we see this, we’re already in love with Foley. He is smart, good looking, charming as hell, and always has a plan. In the trunk of the car, lit by the reverse side of the taillights, Foley and Sisco have a conversation that feels as natural as one that you and I could have. In the midst of the dangerous situation, sirens and flashing lights close by, we’re pulled into their discussion as naturally as possible. By the time they got out of the car, and the rest of the tale unfolds, we’re clearly following both of them and wanting them to get together at the end of the movie.

In the movie, George Clooney plays Jack Foley and Jennifer Lopez plays Karen Sisco. With Ving Rhames, Don Cheadle, Michael Keaton, and Albert Brooks as some of the stellar cast, the movie is very true to Leonard’s novel.

So what’s the big deal? Why is Jack Foley a memorable character?

Flash forward a few years and Elmore Leonard’s sequel to Out of Sight was released. Road Dogs follows Jack Foley after his release from prison as he tries to build a new life for himself but keeps running afoul of shady characters out for money and blood. From the book Out of Sight, which is one of my favorite Leonard titles, I liked Foley’s character. However, seeing him played by Clooney so perfectly, as I read Road Dogs, I could not stop seeing and hearing Clooney in the role. That’s where Foley transcended being a likable sympathetic character into something different. Clooney’s effortless performance as Foley indelibly attaches his “aura” to the character. The likable, memorable character has become something else entirely through the visual medium.

There are a few movies that suck me in when I find them one television. All of them have something in common. A sympathetic, regular guy protagonist with a good heart trying to get by. All of those movies have been perfectly cast so that the main characters are indelibly etched into our minds. Seriously – could anyone other than Tim Robbins have played Andy in Shawshank Redemption? Clooney’s performance as Jack Foley did exactly the same thing. When written stories become films, so many times the elements the make the books vibrant and alive are lost. Sometimes, we cannot see a character in our minds as clearly as the movies define them.

But when a likable, memorable character is played by the right actor or actress – wow. And you all know exactly what I’m talking about. But is it the actor or the character that is memorable? I vote character. No matter the actor’s talent, commitment to the role, or appearance, the character is developed on paper and is the vision of the writer/screenwriter that the actor is to bring to life. When it’s done perfectly in a book, it resonates with us. When we see that on camera, it’s more than memorable. It’s legendary.

Write a short story? I’d Rather Floss Chicken Teeth!

Flossing a chicken’s teeth would be much easier than writing a short story. Or, that’s what I thought.chicken3-240x240

I found myself facing this problem after writing six novels. I couldn’t wrap my head around a shorter piece of work. Everything I tried I sounded like an outline for a novel.

Books on outlining didn’t help. Workshops provided little insight. Critique groups, well, I could help someone to better tell their story. Heck, I’d even edited an acclaimed anthology, but I couldn’t write a good short story to save myself.

How could I overcome this block?

I really wanted to know what eluded me about this form. After many attempts, I found a formula that helped in all aspects of short story writing. This four step process taught me how to write short stories:

1) Read short stories, not novels. By reading short stories I learned what forms and genres I really liked and disliked. There’s no point in trying to write in a genre or with a style that doesn’t speak to you.

2) Choose a genre which speaks to you. For example, I love some literary style authors and I love science fiction stories. Literary style I can read but I can’t figure out the voice. With science fiction I understand the voice and the genre, but I’m not as adept as I’d like to be with the science. Hence, I don’t have the confidence to write it. How did I learn this about myself? Check out point number three …

3) Retell the stories that interest you. This is how I figured out if I had the desire, the passion to write certain stories. When I retold a story, I paid close attention to the plot and how it unfolded. I became aware of style, plot, character and the tropes common to the genre. Most importantly, I had to feel the voice and the passion for the genre. Once I discovered what stories energized and excited me, the final step was easy.

4) Write an original story in the genre and voice that excites you.

That’s it. It’s that easy.

Should you publish or submit a retold story? That’s another matter. Issues of public domain arise and rightly so. Some stories I deleted because my intent was only to learn from them. Others, even if there are no public domain issues, may be published in the future but with full disclosure as to the source of inspiration.

Where did I finally find my voice? With fables and fairy tales and people’s stories of old. I love it. The most curious thing I learned was that it wasn’t about setting for me for I’ve set my stories in worlds of fantasy, science fiction, and yes, there’s even a literary one or two! My real journey was to find my story telling voice.

The cheat of the matter was this: later on, I recognized that my writing voice had always been with me. I had heard it, felt it even but I had tried to squeeze it into forms and stories that didn’t suit it. That was the heart of the problem. That is the heart of this journey – to hear the voice within you and to find the form that fits it.

We’ll Call it a Win

GoalGood-bye 2015!

As always, there were good times and bad. This past month, we’ve focused on some of the good, some of the lessons learned, and some of the milestones we celebrated.

As a group, the Fictorians accomplished a lot in 2015. We passed our 1000th post, and our site was viewed about 65,000 times.

As individuals, we learned and progressed a lot too. Some of us celebrated important milestones:

Jace Kilian completed a novel! i-finally-finished-a-novel

And in December, I celebrated the launch of A Stone’s Throw, my third major release this year. a-stones-throw-launching-a-sequel

We discussed things we’ve learned about writing.

David Carrico on-being-a-gps-writer, Nathan Barra balancing-the-story-engineer-and-the-mad-man, and I franks-pantsing-doctrine wrote about seat-of-the-pants writing verses outlining, and how those two often opposing approaches to story design can work together.

Time management featured large in our thoughts as we reviewed strides forward. From David Heyman, we learned that any time can be productive writing time, even taking a shower. writing-while-you-condition-and-rinse. Evan Braun discussed building habits to deal with deadlines getting-ahead-of-deadlines, and Vickie Morris reminded us to stop worrying. We’ll find the time for those things that are important. creating-the-time

There’s always time for sharing of wisdom, and James A. Owen reminded us to be aware of what we don’t want as much as we yearn for those things we do. all-the-good-things-that-you-do-not-want

Kim May reminded us to always be ready with your pitch at all times. promotion-at-the-drop-of-a-hat, and Mary Pletsch admitted that networking is important. i-dont-want-to-know-that-sometimes-its-who-i-know

Gregory Little shared insights about the publishing process. everything-i-need-to-know-i-learned-in-indy-garten As did Kevin Ikenberry: sometimes-you-have-to-let-go

Jo Schneider discussed the importance of great characters. who-has-time-to-waste-on-people-you-dont-like, and Travis Heermann discussed the importance of making the most out of your scenes. scenes-it-aint-just-the-cliffhanger

Amanda Faith reminded us to take time for ourselves and our personal development. for-me

Kristin Luna reviewed K.M. Weiland’s Outlining and Structuring novels guides. k-m-weilands-outlining-your-novel-part-one and k-m-weilands-structuring-your-novel-part-two

We started presenting author interviews, which will become a regular feature throughout 2016. Ace Jordyn interviewed Jayne Barnard and discussed her steampunk Maddie Hatter and the Deadly Diamond. dueling-parasols-and-creating-a-steampunk-world-jayne-barnard-tells-all and jayne-barnard-on-maddie-hatters-steampunk-society

With so many things to celebrate, we’ll tip our hats to the challenges we overcame and the lessons learned, and we’ll call 2015 a win.

Let’s make 2016 even better.