Tag Archives: Guest Post

Welcome to December – 2016 in Review

This month, the Fictorians and a slew of guest authors are going to share their successes, failures, lessons learned, and insights to the writing journey that we’ve experienced this year. December is usually a time of reflection for everyone as the calendar winds down. Looking back on our year is often a measurement of how far we’ve come as writers and human beings. To that end, this month’s theme is “2016 in Review.”

Each of us will share memorable events from the last twelve months and maybe a few lessons learned. A lot can happen in a year, even one that passes as quickly as 2016 seems to have gone. For me, 2016 has been a watershed year and as it comes to a close, I’m a bit humbled by what’s happened and, if possible, more excited about my journey as a writer than I’ve ever been. A tremendous amount of wonderful things have happened this year for me, and yet as I write this I’m slogging through a work in progress that I don’t want to write, but must finish (damn you, Heinlein!). As a firm believer in perspective, especially at the end of the calendar year, I wanted to coordinate this month for my fellow Fictorians and get all of thinking about the good, the bad, and even the ugly from the last twelve months.

I’ve already talked about my ugly, but I’ll define it. I’m working on an alternate history novel that’s kicking me in the pants every day. I have a solid story, a great outline, and good characters, but I’m constantly chickening out of actually writing the damned thing. I’m 20,000 words in (90,000 projected) and it’s tough to just write. Granted, I’ve started a new job and been taking care of my spouse after a complicated food surgery (which involves the care, feeding, and parenting of two munchkins), but I’m way behind where I wanted to be on this book. And it’s due in February. Sigh. I’d feel terrible about this except that I know I can write fast, and especially write clean and fast. I think I’ll make my deadline, but I’ve got to settle a few other things in my head. Among all that stuff is dealing with the good things that have happened so I can celebrate but not rest on my laurels.

Before I retired from the Army, there was a wide-reaching movement for leaders to consider their “work/life balance.” If anything, mine’s way skewed to the work side right now and not unlike it was when I wrote the first drafts of SLEEPER PROTOCOL in 2012-2013. I was still able to write then, and I can now, it just takes a little self-discipline and determination. When I need that extra motivation, all I have to do is turn my head to the right and a shelf over my desk. This year is framed beautifully by that image and it’s been the kind of year we dream of having.

SLEEPER PROTOCOL was published in January, was reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly, and has sold way more copies than I would have imagined. Just a week later, another publisher released my military science fiction novel RUNS IN THE FAMILY. That book also sold incredibly well, but the small press who published it shuttered just last week. I have a couple of options working right now to get it back into publication (though the audiobook is still available!). I also had short fiction published in several different venues including the DRAGON WRITERS anthology alongside Brandon Sanderson, Jody Lynn Nye, Todd McCaffrey, and David Farland to name a few. I qualified as an Active Member in the Science Fiction Writers of America. The sequel to SLEEPER PROTOCOL is in the final stages of content editing right now. It’s been an incredible year, but I’ll share my own personal highlight at the end of the month.

The stories you’ll see this month will highlight the good, the bad, and the ugly. This is what we writers deal with on a daily basis. Sometimes our efforts culminate in great years, and others not so much. The key is perseverance and determination – we’re sharing our successes and challenges in the hopes they’ll help you and each other out. I hope this month’s posts do exactly that for all of us.

A Little Darkness Can Be a Good Thing

strength_of_spirit_cover_for_kindleGuest Post by Amanda Faith.

Writing is a tricky business. An author has to have just enough of various elements to keep a reader engaged in a story. Characters, as well as plot and setting, has to be believable enough that the reader becomes a part of the adventure they are experiencing. Nothing should be all good or all bad. Having darkness in your story makes for intriguing reading, if done correctly.

People generally have a habit of thinking something dark is horror. Not necessarily so. It could be darkness within a person. It could be a darkness that follows someone. The setting could be a dark place as in the struggles a town is facing and the good people trying to overcome their circumstances. Maybe Big Brother is watching or the character is invited to the Dark Side. Any of these elements make a story have a dark tendency.

Relatable characters make them believable. Plots that have ups and downs will be more entertaining. Nothing is perfect nor should it be. That would lead to a rather dull story. Adding a little darkness (or a lot of darkness) does instill fear and suspense. There are a few things to keep in mind when adding dark elements to your story.

  1. You have to keep your audience in mind. If you are writing YA, then you do not want your dark elements so gruesome and disturbing it scares off your readers (and upset parents). If you are writing for adults, you may want to make sure there is an indication on the back cover as to how “dark” your tale is.
  2. Does the darkness fit the genre? Although this one does tie in with the first one, there is a distinction. If you are writing horror, then great. Go for it. What about a dark mystery? Do you have your hard-boiled detective set in that urban underworld city with crime and moral ambiguity? How about the gothic dark fiction? You should have that sense of decay and ruin sprinkled with a touch of persecution. Action thriller? It’s that race against the clock that keeps the reader glued to the pages with of all of the twists and turns. With all of the various sub-genres, the writer needs to keep with the fiction of choice.
  3. World building. This is a very important element. Depending on your story, you will have to make sure that your world fits your problem. It adds the dark tone of the story with all of the history and atmosphere you put in place. Getting the world right sets the mood, making the story more believable.
  4. Don’t make a character too good or too bad. Remember, your audience has to be able to relate to this character. The reader needs to care about the characters. You want that emotional investment to keep your readers engaged. A bad guy can have a redeeming quality or two. The good guy will have some faults. Too perfect, either way, will lose a reader quickly.
  5. Have a clean (or nearly clean) resolution. Sure, the bad guy will lose, but we really don’t want to give up hope for him. Maybe he will realize how bad he is and seek some sort of redemption in the end. He may not become “good.” He may, however, become better than he was. The good guy may lose some of his luster, but given his circumstances in the tale, he was not to come out of it totally unscathed.
  6. Some of the best dark elements are not blood and guts. Sometimes the best dark tales are naked of all ickyness and gore. It can be done. Look at ghost stories, for example. It’s difficult to have a ghost be eviscerated – again.
  7. Good is only good as compared next to evil. You have to have the bad to see the good – and back again.

Adding darkness to the mixture will add depth to your tale and make it seem realistic. There is no perfect world. There are no perfect people. The only perfect thing is to have a reader get lost in your world for a short time.

 


 

About the Author:

Award-winning author Amanda Faith may have been raised in Dayton, but her heart and home is in the South. With a lifelong love of teaching and writing, she had plenty of encouragement from teachers and friends along the way.

Teaching English and doing paranormal investigations doesn’t slow her down from having a great time with a plethora of hobbies. Her published credits include short stories, poetry, several journal articles, her doctoral dissertation, and her award-winning book Strength of Spirit. She is a staff writer for The Daily Dragon at Dragon Con and an intern for Kevin J. Anderson and Rebecca Moesta at WordFire Press. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English, a Masters in Education-English, and a Doctorate in Education-Teacher Leadership. Check out her website at www.amandafaith.net.

The Travels of Leonard Arrington

A guest post by Joshua Bennett.

The travels of Leonard Arrington.

A pentalogy.

 

Invigorating baths!

1Fourteen hours to Addis. Another three to Tanzania with a squawking chicken in 2b. Leonard wanted a bath.

His company had arranged a swanky tourist hut, including a jacuzzi filled with steaming water.

He lowered himself in, sighing. Pressed the “jets” button. Porcelain nest disturbed, a thousand winged ants shot into the water. Leonard shrieked.

 

 

Lively conversation!

2“You can’t stay on a stranger’s couch in Norway,” mother had said. “What if they’re crazy? Axe-murderers?”

At least there won’t be ants, Leonard thought, knocking on their door.

A young couple answered. They smiled, took his bags. “Welcome! How was your trip? Did you know 9/11 was an inside job?”

Dammit, Mom!

 

Authentic accommodations!

3“And then, we will ride horseback to the Colombian coast and sleep beneath the stars.”

Leonard frowned. “I don’t like bugs.”

“Use mosquito spray,” Maria said helpfully.

Leonard used three cans of Deet to arrive in Tayrona unbitten. There was no Deet left for sleeping beneath the stars.

“You have Dengue Fever,” Maria said helpfully.

 

Friendly locals!

4The theater was packed with Londoners and foreigners alike. What luck, Leonard thought. Stageside at the Globe!

The costumes were wonderfully gaudy, the action hammed up, Romeo and Juliet convincingly in love.

Leonard swelled, overwhelmed by the richness, the goodness of humanity. He didn’t complain a bit when someone slipped his passport from his pocket.

 

An experience that will forever change you!

5It was a magical wedding. Leonard and Summer were enraptured. Next, a honeymoon in St. Lucia!

The red bumps mysteriously appeared after a day lying on the beach. Thin white lines squiggled underneath the skin between. Summer had two. Leonard had one hundred twenty seven across his back.

WebMD had a diagnosis:

Subcutaneous.

Parasitic.

Worms.

 

Guest Writer Bio:
Author Joshua David Bennett may have drawn all of these stories from his own painful and invasive experiences. His first novel, Seacaster, is a Caribbean-Aztec fantasy that tells the story of a young man at war with the magic coursing through his veins. Joshua lives in Colorado with his subcutaneous worms, wife and son.

Ten WordPress Plugins for Author Websites

A Guest Post by Annik Valkanberg

Authors need readers. Readers need authors. Why is it so difficult for them to get together?

From the author’s perspective, it’s tough to be seen through all of the smoke and distractions. We have to compete with video games, movies, instant gratification websites, and sometimes even naughty websites. How can we be found in a sea of meh?

One thing we can do is to make sure our author websites have some form of stickiness and interactivity. Like the Fictorians, if there’s something new and interesting, or if there’s some cool little method to interact with others, the readers will keep drifting back to see the latest post or to interact with the authors and visitors.

Here are ten useful WordPress plugins that help the reader to connect with an author.

Contact

Contact means a method to either get in touch with the site authors or to get a bit of feedback when users post. I use both of these plugins in all of the websites I build.

Contact Form 7
http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/contact-form-7/
A contact form in general is a grand thing to have on an author website. It allows people to contact us, and it can lead to convention invitations, anthology requests, and even signed book sales. Contact Form 7 is one of the better contact plugins available. It is regularly updated and is easy to configure and customize. This free plugin supports a CAPTCHA system to dissuede spammers and Akismet spam filtering.

CommentLuv
http://comluv.com/download/commentluv-wordpress/
Comments are a wonderful thing to receive on your blog, with CommentLuv for WordPress you can give something back to your community straight away by including a titled link for their last blog post or tweet on the end of their comment.

The plugin fetches the feed found at commenters site URL while they type their comment. It extracts the last blog post title with link and displays it below the comment form. When they submit their comment, the last blog post link gets added on the end of their comment for all to see! This gives your web visitors more reason to leave a comment on your site.

This free plugin also creates cross-links that can help your Google/SEO ranking.

Speed

WP Super Cache
http://z9.io/wp-super-cache/
Nothing screams “go away” like a slow website. The free WP Super Cache plugin takes snapshots of your website and feeds those to the visitors. This way, the server does not have to run everything over and over on each page view, significantly lowering the time it takes to forward the data. It does this by generating standard HTML files that are served directly by the web server without processing comparatively heavy PHP scripts.

Typography Sophistication

Typography is something that gets lost in the rush to get a website up. Planting a flag in a field of flags might help the ego, but one must figure out ways to differentiate. Playing with the typography is an easy way to look unique.

Google Web Fonts for WordPress
http://codecanyon.net/item/google-web-fonts-for-wordpress/242339
Google Fonts Pro is an $11 WordPress plugin that allows you to instantly access over 200 of Google’s Web Fonts. Installation is a snap, and it gives you full control over the font and typography used on your site. Instead of sticking with Times New Roman, Verdana, or even Comic Sans, you can make the typography part of your image.

Security

This set of plugins is the first to get installed, configured and activated. Once your site is hacked and starts handing out malware and viruses, you can guarantee people will never return. Keeping these installed and updated will remove your website from the thousands of low-hanging fruits.

BulletProof Security
http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/bulletproof-security/
The plugin is designed to be a fast, simple and one-click security plugin that creates, copies, renames, moves or writes to the provided BulletProof Security .htaccess master files. It protects both your Root website folder and wp-admin folder with .htaccess website security protection, as well as providing additional website security protection.

It is a bit more sophisticated, and really locking down your website will take some tweaking, but it is worth it in the long run. My website receives an average of eight hacking attempts per hour, all automated. The main system is free, but there are extra perks for the $59.95 Pro version, which includes self-configuration, self-healing, and self-repairing. When it is self-aware, expect the price to go up.

Limit Login Attempts
http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/limit-login-attempts/
This simple and free plugin limits the number of login attempts possible both through normal login as well as using auth cookies. It blocks an Internet address from making further attempts after a specified limit on retries is reached, making a brute-force attack difficult or impossible.

Wordfence
https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordfence/
https://www.wordfence.com/?utm_source=repo&utm_medium=web&utm_campaign=pluginDescCTA
From their website:
Wordfence starts by checking if your site is already infected. We do a deep server-side scan of your source code comparing it to the Official WordPress repository for core, themes and plugins. Then Wordfence secures your site and makes it up to 50 times faster.

Wordfence Security is 100% free and open source. We also offer a Premium API key that gives you Premium Support, Country Blocking, Scheduled Scans, Password Auditing and we even check if your website IP address is being used to Spamvertize. The premium version is a monthly fee, never over $4 a month.

Email List Building

This is another area that authors tend to skip. Building an email list is vital to your author brand, but it’s the one piece most authors don’t think is important. You want a way to politely market to folks who have already expressed an interest in your work.

WP Opt-in
http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/wp-opt-in/
WP OptIn is a WordPress plugin that allows your commenters to subscribe to your email newsletter or autoresponder simply by checking a box automatically placed in your comment forms. The plugin integrates with Aweber, ConstantContact, or MailChimp to subscribe commenters without an extra subscription step. This is an easy way to build a newsletter email list.

Search Engine Optimization

SEO is boring for the average bear, but getting on the first page is important for folks who are looking for you, particularly if you have a nondescript name.

Google XML Sitemaps
http://wordpress.org/extend/plugins/google-sitemap-generator/
This plugin will generate a special XML sitemap which will help search engines like Google, Bing, Yahoo and others to better index your blog. With an accurate sitemap, it’s much easier for the crawlers to see the complete structure of your site and retrieve it more efficiently. The plugin supports all kinds of WordPress generated pages as well as custom URLs. Additionally it notifies all major search engines every time you create a post about the new content.

Yoast SEO
https://wordpress.org/plugins/wordpress-seo/
The free version of Yoast SEO is all you need to get excellent results with search engine optimization with keywords. When you author a new post a new section appears below the text window. After you select a keyword or a key phrase, the system will give you instant feedback as to how search engines will reguard the post before you even hit the publish button. It gives suggestions such as adding in outbound links or images, and it allows you to customize the text that appears on search engines.

These are what I consider to be the minimum one can use to have an efficient and visible blog. Maybe it’s time to give your blog a critical eye and bring it up snuff for 2016.