Sunday, November 20, 2011

Making Time for Yourself in This Time of the Year

Well, here we are again. The holidays. Oh, I know we’ve had holidays before -- MLK’s birthday, Easter, Independence Day, Labor Day.

But, those were just holidays. Each one meant something different, of course. Celebrating the life of Martin Luther King or the resurrection of Christ or our nation’s birthday or the common working man and woman.

And, yes, these next three holidays -- Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day -- each have a specific subject of honor.

We know different, though. Those three events are the megalopolis of holidays. All across this great nation, families are making important travel plans for Thanksgiving. I, myself, will be on the road as well.

I don’t make such grandiose schemes for any other holiday. I don’t have to go to anyone’s barbecue for Memorial Day or Labor Day. The most important thing on Easter is my church.

But, woe to the person who has nowhere to go for Thanksgiving.

After Thanksgiving comes Black Friday (or Black Thursday night if you’re Wal-Mart or Target), kicking off the official Christmas shopping season. So, now, you’re in the Christmas mood (and, no, Hallmark Channel’s 200 days of Christmas movies doesn’t put anyone in the mood).

Should you and your wallet survive the yuletide, you come to one of the most important choices. As Al & Vicky once intoned: “What are you doing New Year’s Eve?”

The point I’m trying to make here is that from this point on, until Jan. 2, we are one a different plane of reality. Family, friends, food, travel, shopping, gifts, celebrations will be on our minds for the next 40 or so days. Some of us may even find time for some good will on Earth, peace towards men.

What we may not have is time for ourselves. And I don’t just mean not hearing screaming kids or chatty in-laws or the belching airline passenger behind you. I mean actual free time for yourself.

If you’re reading this blog, you know I’m talking about writing. Isn’t it ironic that November is NaNoWriMo? The true test of writing a novel in a month is November when you’re bound to be heavily distracted just when you need the most concentration.

Still, you must continue your craft. You must get in that minimum one hour of scribbling per day.

Trust me. After all the hoopla of the holiday season, you’ll welcome an hour of silence in which to write.

The question is: Will you give yourself that hour?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A New Appreciation for Editing

I’ve been doing movies off and on for the last 20 years. From being asked to fill in at the last minute for movies in Hong Kong, Australia and Japan to being a vicious killer in a low-budget Japanese trilogy to being a mystery man in several episodes of Homeland with Claire Danes, there was always one part of the experience I never considered.


Yeah, yeah, I know I’m a journalist and I’ve been doing it for 30 years. Editing is the most important part of the news writing process.

I’ve also published numerous short stories, novellas and, now, novels. The editing portion of those works still gives me headaches.

No, what I’m talking about is the editing associated with radio.

A different monster than movie editing. Robert Zemeckis is primarily concerned with Denzel Washington looking good in Flight, not with the fact that the same black guy in a tan jacket keeping driving by Denzel in a Toyota Prius. I just did what was asked, so I wasn’t bothered. Jennifer Aniston wearing pasties instead of really being topless in Wanderlust bothered me, but the Zemeckis thing didn’t.

Anyway, this past Friday, I got hit with a whole new level of editing when I hosted my new Internet radio show called What's Out There. Thank God I wasn’t on a time limit. I needed three hours to do 60 minutes of interviews. I also learned that I can’t say the word “okay” on the air (George Carlin failed to mention that one). I also found out my voice has modulations I didn’t know existed.

I got to the studio early, got a quick lesson on the layout, including testing the microphone to find out how close I needed to be to it. The special guests arrived and my producer Rob got soul jazz artist Cheri Maree and her manager set up as well. In case you’re wondering, I was so nervous during the interview that I said “soul jazz artist” at least half a dozen times.

Rob had to stop me about 25 times during the interview to correct my mistakes or modulate my, uh, modulations. I still have no idea what he meant.

We did the real interviews in 10-minute segments and needed 45 minutes to answer 10 questions. At least, Cheri Maree and her manager were great and talkative guests. I really only had my sense of humor. (I would like to take this time to apologize to Ms. Maree for pretending to be back on the air that one time she was in the facilities).

All through this time, Rob is monitoring things or attempting to blind me with a laser pointer when the clock was about to hit “0” for a break.

At last, I got to the finish. Then, we had a second interview to do by phone. That was a whole other kettle of fish. Laptop computer. Skype. Headsets. 3-M (the headset volume control got stuck).

The interview went well. Yet, I still felt weird talking into the headset microphone and the radio microphone at the same time.

Now, it’s all done, save for the...get ready for it...editing.

I’m depending on Rob to make me sound like a genius, which is no easy task. I have tried to imagine what he’ll have to do to cut out all the “okays” and keep the flow of the interview going. Most of all, I need a good editing process to make me look good.

Zemeckis, Soderbergh and company are concerned with the real actors, not the extras. Newspapers and publishers have the writers make the changes.

However, this Internet radio editing process is completely in the hands of someone else and it’s the most important editing of all.

Wish me luck.

Update: The show was just posted on Youtube and I sound okay. There’s room for improvement (a lot of room), but the editing obviously went well and kept Rob up all weekend.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Plotter or Pantster? Okay, What the Hell Is a Pantster?

During my recently-finished ebook tour with Roxanne Rhoad’s Bewitching Book Tours, I got an interview question about a word I’d never come across before.

The question asked if I was a plotter or a pantster.

Honestly, I thought this was a variance of the “boxers or briefs” question every politician seems to get (it’s boxer briefs, by the way).

Turns out, after a Google search, I was being asked if I plotted or planned my books ahead of time or just winged it, on the fly.

Of course, I’m a pantster. I rarely make up plots ahead of time. I try, don’t get me wrong. But, I usually run out of steam. I get so anxious to get my thoughts down on paper or to a Word file, that I stop plotting and type as I make it up in my head. Typing 70 words a minute helps but I still can’t keep up with my thoughts.

Do I recommend being a pantster? Not really.

It’s not for everybody. In fact, I’d say it’s not for most people. It’s for me because I’ve honed the skill working as a journalist for three decades. Especially as a sports writer, I often have to type quickly to meet tight deadlines. That means I’m creating the article in my mind as I type.

The habit carries over to my fiction. Unfortunately, I think it’s also why tend to edit my work 20 or 30 times. Because, somewhere under a bus are a slew of plot points I missed or left in the dust. That can create plot holes big enough to qualify for one of those awful Canadian-made Lifetime movies.

If you want my advice, stick to plotting. It gives you a chance to fully develop your characters before hand. It also lets you create the time and place and be accurate with your geography. If there’s one thing I wish I could change about my writing, it’s having to stop in the middle of a scene to research something to make sure I get it right. That’s like stopping in the middle of sex to read the directions for putting on a condom correctly. Yes, it’s very important and must be done the right way, but good luck getting back to the good place you were at before you stopped.

But, this is a free country. So, it’s your choice.

Plotter or pantster? Which one are you?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

Sounds like solid advice, doesn't it? It's certainly the advice I follow when we're doing a construction project. But we haven't done a big job in a while so perhaps I've gotten a bit lazy with the concept.

What else could my excuse be?

Writer's Block? I'm not so sure I believe in writer's block. I believe more in a writer's lack of confidence and inability to focus more than an actual block. Sure, I've been stumbling with my word production lately, but is it a true block? *shurgs* Dunno.

Lack of ideas? My notebook and scribbled sheets of paper strewn about the house with one-liners and story concepts says different. Clearly, I could keep writing for a decade and still have ideas that are worthy to explore.

No direction? The book is almost completely plotted out, so I know where I'm going. And I physically know how to write…. although, I do admit the scenery is not as "clear" in my mind for book three. In compensation, I spent an hour this morning researching the Falkland Islands so I could get a good grasp on what my unchartered island off the coast of Argentina is supposed to look like.

Poor discipline? Ahh… I think we may have the winner for me. My writer friends are always so sweet telling me how much they admire all I get done, my tenacity, my work ethic…. and yet… they don't see the hours I spend not actually writing. Which, as it turns out, is most of my day.

Sure, marketing is important. Anyone who writes and expects to make a living off of it can tell you that. Social networking is a key component in reaching readers, and doing it properly takes a huge amount of time.

When do you take a step back and reevaluate your marketing efforts? When is enough enough? Is it when you reach 3k followers or 5k? Is it after you've done a month long virtual book tour and can't think of one more witty thing to write? Is it when the self-imposed looming deadline over your head makes you lose sleep?

I can't tell you how many times I've read the same piece of advice over and over, just said in slightly different ways. It goes something like this: You want to be successful as a writer, then you must first and foremost WRITE.

We all know that's how you get better. We all know it's how you build a following -- after all, the reader needs more than just one or two books to become a lifelong fan. And yet, a lot of us, including me, flounder at times and feel lost in our work.

When you don't write do you examine why? Do you turn that keen eye of observation inward and try to analyze why you aren't writing? Could there be something to this whole fear of success and self-sabotage I've read about?

I'm not consciously afraid of success, that's for damn sure. I'd say more accurately I'm acutely aware of failure. You see, for all the successes I've achieved a part of me still thinks I haven't quite "made it" yet.

My goal is to earn a steady reliable income, and until I get more titles out I don't think that will become a reality. I'm aware of what it takes to reach the success I dream of, so what pray tell, is holding me back?

How long can I blame my health and the daily care it requires? In all fairness, there are a lot of folks way worse off than me who handle far more, so I never feel right bitching about it. As my buddy Tre tells me time and time again, "be grateful you can afford the care and have access to it", and she is correct.

This past spring I visited my first writing partner, whom I dearly miss working with. She was very proud and excited about all I had achieved and our meeting was months before The Hunt was released. It was nice to hear her praise, and yet I didn't agree with her sentiment. She asked me flat out what would I agree was "success" and I equated it to earnings.

Our conversation ended with her journalism background coming to the forefront and she fired a question at me like a challenge. "What will you have to earn to make this all worth while and where do you think you'll be in a year?"

I told her by May 2012 I'd be earning 40k a year on my writing or it was time to make another career choice. She advised me against setting a goal like that because I was clearly building a readership, and reminded me a lot of authors don't make diddly even on a second book (at the time I was earning about a thousand a month). When you weigh the forty to sixty hour work weeks I put in, I think my goal was pretty conservative. Shockingly, here I am five months later and on track to earning that by May.

I have reached the dream of writing full time and earning a respectable income so that no one will treat me like this is a damn hobby anymore. I've surprised my doctors and my fellow patients with embarking on a new career when I became sick and not shriveling up and 'waiting' to get better before I work again.

And now, I need to do what all the successful writers are doing: I need to set my ass down and write. No excuses. This is a job, don't ever forget it. And if you don't treat it like an actual job with hours you invest, no Internet surfing during work hours, and no social networking when no one is looking, then you're on the track to failing.

I don't expect comments on this blog, you should be writing. But if you read it and want to share your goals with me, I'd love to hear them. And yes, if you write your plan out in a comment I will expect you to work it.

Be accountable to yourself and get past what is holding you back -- YOU.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Andy Rooney’s Departure Matters

This past Sunday was a very notable one. That curmudgeon of the art of telling people about trivial things in his life -- one Andrew Aitken “Andy” Rooney -- bid farewell to viewers of 60 Minutes as he did his last segment of “A Few Minutes With Andy Rooney” after 33 years.

That probably means nothing to most of the readers of blogs today. Rooney is 92 and one of the final cogs of the old 60 Minutes regime (Morley Safer being the other) to bow out. After all, Rooney began his segments in 1978, before many Internet followers were born. If you said Rooney used to write for Arthur Godfrey, the return looks would almost be comical.

Yet, Rooney is part of a quickly dying breed -- the old-fashioned news gatherer and deliverer, that trusted face that generations of Americans came to trust night after night or week after week. A glance at the hosts and correspondents on 60 Minutes reads like a Who’s Who of American journalism: Morley Safer, Mike Wallace, Ed Bradley, Diane Sawyer, Harry Reasoner, Eric Sevareid, Dan Rather, Bob Schieffer, Morton Dean, Charles Osgood, Charlie Rose, Lesley Stahl, Meredith Vieira and Christiane Amanpour.

With all the cable news channels, it’s hard to find such a cadre of news reporters today.

And that’s the point I make with Rooney’s departure. It’s a signal that what once was so great about the world of news and of writing continues to erode, without any replacement. I doubt we’ll be as sad when Anderson Cooper or Bill Maher or Rush Limbaugh leave the air.

It’s the same with the world of fiction. It does us no good to lose an Arthur C. Clarke without a Stephen Baxter to take up for him. The same can be said of Ian Fleming, whose mantle was taken over by John Gardner or Marion Zimmer Bradley whose literacy legacy passed on to Diana L. Paxson.

Readers may hate me for saying this, but, even with the explosion of online publishers and blogs, I don’t believe enough writers are really stepping up to the plate to take the place of writers who are leaving us or may soon be.

For example, if you mention horror, it’s hard not to think of Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Charlaine Harris and Clive Barker.

Max Brooks
Ask about the next generation and, well, it gets fuzzy. Max Brooks wrote World War Z and  The Zombie Survival Guide, but those are just two books.

The tragic death of Leslie Banks (aka L.A. Banks) on August 2 from adrenal cancer left a hole that still has not been filled.
L.A. Banks (1959-2011)
Not to despair, as there are some names out there. Tananarive Due, for example, and L.J. Smith, author of The Vampire Diaries.

Of course, the irony of Ms. Due is that she is black. She writes primarily horror but has dabbled in science fiction, the genre of her husband, Steven Barnes. In the horror genre, she can at least count on the likes of Maurice Broaddus, Brandon Massey, Evie Rhodes, Chesya Burke, Sheree R. Thomas, Zane, Robert Fleming and Terence Taylor.

For science fiction, it must be said that no African-Americans, save maybe Steven Barnes, have stepped up to follow Samuel R. Delany (Babel-17, Dahlgren, Triton). The closest contemporary was the late Octavia Butler. Delany is 69 and still waiting.

What must we do to rectify these aforementioned situations?

We must write and write well. No more incorrectly using “lead” instead of “led.” No more silly arguments about whether or not to get rid of adverbs.

Just because it seems a brand new online publisher pops up every day, it doesn’t mean you give a half-vast effort. The biggest problem with the online world has been this belief that since it isn’t necessary to meet the stringent standards of the traditional book publishers like Penguin and HarperCollins; that writers don’t need to put forth as much effort.

Yes, we do. We need to put out the best product we can. We need to write the novel of the year every time.


Because, instead of being one manuscript among a few hundred at the big publishers, we are now one story among tens of thousands. We have to rise above the throngs and make our work stand out.

Then, one day, we, too, can take our hard-earned places where once the admired giants of our profession once stood, becoming beacons of hope and inspiration for those coming behind us.

Enjoy your new life, Mr. Rooney. And may you live long enough to actually be replaced.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Domestic Abuse Awareness Month

There are so many causes designated for different days, weeks, and months, that most of us will easily miss the next one and not know about it. Should we feel guilty? No. Life is too short to hold onto such a useless emotion.

We do wheat we can and we move on. But some causes hit closer to home for certain people. Like Breast Cancer, Autism, Diabetes… I could go on and on. While a lot of the conditions honored and spotlighted for public awareness can be inherited or your lifestyle can bring them on, many can be brought on by your environment (think nature versus nurture).

Like Lyme disease, asbestos exposure, Gulf War Syndrom… you get the gist. Knowledge is the key to overcoming or avoiding the issues thrust upon us in our daily lives that we don't genetically have a disposition to. Being aware of these dangers can often educate you enough to save another person as well.

I did not know there was a whole month dedicated to domestic abuse. Fellow Indie author, Darcia Helle, of Quiet Fury Books, did a shout out on Facebook last month for writers who either wrote a domestic abuse aspect into their story or suffered some form of domestic abuse to come forward and share their stories to honor the cause this month.

I felt such admiration for her effort I reached out to her. Interestingly enough, even though I did not know about the awareness month, I have suffered domestic abuse in my past. For people who know me well it seems rather shocking. I'm strong, outspoken, and know--without a doubt--my place in the world.

I spent four days crafting a piece worthy of inclusion on Darcia's blog. Her 1500 word limit was my biggest challenge. Hell, I write novels. Trying to pair it down to something cohesive, not overly depressing, meaningful, and yet ending on a good note was a huge task.

Darcia posts an excellent introduction in her Oct 1st post and I'm honored that she liked my piece enough to have it lead her kick off for the month of guest posts planned. She's gathered some great statistics in her post and I recommend checking it out.

I'm nervous on how it will be received. The personal experiences I wrote about happened twenty years ago and putting it all on paper brought a lot of the horror back. Things I pushed deep down and pleasantly forgot about. I know I'm not alone in this type of behavior. It's how we cope. You deal with it, you face the demons, you make choices, you move on.

Many, many women and families have suffered far worse than I have, and many more still do. Take a gander as I bare my soul and reveal things better left to the past:

And please, if you've suffered abuse yourself you can leave an anonymous comment on her blog or pass the link on to others. Survivors need to stick together. Hold your head up proud you got out of a bad situation and let go of the hidden shame that you were in one to begin with.

We all make mistakes and bad choices in life, it's how we deal with the consequences that defines us.

~~ C.J. Ellisson ~~
Guest Speaker at Vamps at Sea – A vampire themed cruise to Alaska 6.23.2012

Friday, September 23, 2011

In Awe of Multi-Taskers

This week is an open topic, so I thought I’d offer a few thoughts from my book tour to promote the release of Hunters.

Probably the one thing that stands out is the blogging. Many of the tour stops have been guests blogs, such as Mad Moose Mama, Lissette Manning. I’ll be the first to admit that, even though I’ve been writing for more than three decades, these blogs are kicking my ass.

This is why I’m in awe of bloggers who multi-task by writing more than one blog. I wonder how they keep their subjects and topic straight. More importantly, I wonder how they avoid bleeding, by which I mean having one blog topic spill over into another so it looks like one of those chain letters you get at election time.

I’m serious. During football season, I cover multiple college games and write separate articles about each game, usually doing write-ups of 5-6 games. Each one has to be tailored to a specific game.

This experience has nothing on blogging.

With the sports, I know specifically what to look for. For example, I can look at tonight’s game between Hampton and Bethune-Cookman and see how fumbles, interceptions and penalties decided the game.

Not so with blogging. I find myself scouring my brain for a topic for the blog. Since there’s typically nothing substantive in my head, this is a harder process than it seems. Thank goodness Roxanne Rhoads, the coordinator for this tour, has given me some topics. Other times, however, I go to the blogs themselves, see what kind of articles are being done and try to tailor my guest blog to that format.

I certainly thank these blog sites for giving me the time to hawk my wares and speak to their subscribers and fans.

And I certainly thank them for giving me the (badly needed) experience of writing for multiple blogs.

So, how about you, the reader? Do you write for multiple blogs? If so, how do keep everything straight?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Chatting About YOUR Book

This week we were given a choice on topics because some of us already posted about the query letter process and didn't want to do it again, I even went so far last spring as to post my very first rejection letter.

Instead, I plan to talk about selling yourself and your novel in basic converstaion. I'm not talking about an elevator pitch to an agent, I'm talking about to a potential reader, which in my mind is much more important.

First and foremost, we are all readers -- get that important fact through your head. Some of us may be more well-versed about speaking on the concepts of the craft (the writerly folks) and others only have time to read emails, but we all are essentially readers at one base level. If someone isn't reading a book right now it could be for many reasons: their work or home schedule, health issues, or sheer lack of interest in reading (the latter being much harder to overcome).

I had the pleasure of reading an interview from a former co-blogger of mine, Sharon Hamilton, where she interviewed the succulent eye-candy man himself, Jimmy Thomas. When he revealed he doesn't read anything but his emails I lost a lot of respect for him. I admire his work ethic, his attitude, his martial arts skills (a love since my first Tae Kwon Do class when I was five)… but to tout over and over about being on so many book covers and you don't even like to read books? Even if it was another genre… something!!

That's like being the cover model for the number one selling clothing line in the world and you refuse to wear it.

Okay, I digress, back to the topic… how do you discuss your books? First off, develop a rapport with the person. It's also called "make casual conversation". Could be about the weather, about the game last night -- whatever. The first thing you need to do is get someone talking.

I do this everywhere I go, with every person I'm standing next to for more than five seconds. Much to my husband's amusement (he no longer is shocked), I'll even talk to the people at the table next to us at a restaurant. Sometimes, it's just a pleasant passing comment in an elevator, other times it is an actual back and forth exchange. If you are unpracticed in this art form, you will need to read cues from the other person. Do they refuse eye contact? Do they nod and not verbally answer? Is their tone clipped and they seem distracted?

You never know what someone is going through in their lives at any given moment, so be respectful. If they send out the signs they don't want to chat, leave them be. Read body language. We all have the innate ability to do this, it's just that most of us have become so damn lazy with acknowledging our fellow human we need to brush up our skills and remember our manners.

Before you attempt to start talking to strangers in the grocery store check out line or the waiting room at your doctor's office, you must know one very important thing: your target audience for your book. I'm not saying you don't chat up the bulky delivery guy with the clip board because you write a romance, but I am saying analyze the person and accept that they might not be your target, but I bet they have a family member who is.

Understanding if they are your target audience or not will make the difference in how you approach them on the topic of your book. If you did your research, you know you market well and you know the people who watched ____ movie, live in ____, or like ____ sport or activity will also like your book.

Granted, this concept of talking to people will not always garner an opening where you can steer the conversation around to your book, but even if it doesn't, by speaking to lots of people you get past your introverted shell and start to feel more comfortable talking to others in a public place.

I honed this skill for years in sales. This is not an ability you will pick up over night. Be patient and swallow your fear. Do you want me to tell you how I know these things? I was almost abducted when I was seven. I ran when the man tried to pull me into the car. It gave me a unique perspective at a very young age about the wisdom in not traveling alone and to make connections with your fellow human being for safety.

I started talking to people around me simply because there is safety in numbers. If you said hello to the large solitary gentleman in the overcoat, or the tired mother of three, they may be more likely to step in if you were harassed in the hallway by a group of hoods. We're stronger when we stand together.

It's human nature. You can't easily avert an eye to someone's situation after you have made a personal connection. I honed this Chatty-Cathy side of myself in an effort to be safe, and it worked. Of course, I learned the hard way in a pre-Giuliani NYC that making eye contact and meeting the world head on was a no-no, but hey, we all have to learn life's hard lessons ;-)

Now, let's move on to the point where you've practiced your small talk and you no longer seize in panic when you have to speak to a stranger. Notice them, see if they carry a newspaper, a magazine, a book, or an ereader. No visible clue they might be a reader? Ask if they saw something on TV "did you catch that local story on….?"

What I've found works best is if you talk about something obvious about them -- "Those are great shoes, where did you get them?"; simply "that's a nice coat"; "That color looks great on you" (okay, that last one works best if it's between two women, but you get the idea).

Use your observation skills to keep the conversation going. Learn to steer a conversation graciously. Don't just bumble out with "What do you like to read?" unless you have the spectacular opening of seeing them with an actual book, newspaper, or magazine.

Good God, now that I really sit down and write this post, I see I would do better teaching a damn class on it -- which is essentially what I did when I used to teach sales to a bunch of corporate types. Essentially, it's all about making a connection. How about I list some bullet point ideas and you try your best.

  • Make an observation to start a conversation (game, weather, clothing, book they are holding)
  • Ask questions to get them engaged and answering you
  • Pay attention to body language and responses, shut up if they are not open to talking and leave them be
  • Share an anecdotal story that is short and will help you relate to them (example: if they are a mom with a crying kid, talk about your own issues with the rugged nap-time/refusing to nap)
  • Carry a Kindle, have one in your hand or purse -- if it draws their eye they will ask. If not you can ask "have you tried one of these yet?" then formulate responses based on how the conversation is going "Oh, your cousin has one? What do they say about it?"
  • Within a few exchanges about reading you can mention your book

Is it really that simple? Yes, it is. Carry lots of business cards and have the book's description printed on the back. Don't be shy in saying "Here, can I give you this for your cousin?" be self depreciating and honest "The publishing industry is changing so much right now, the best way to spread the word and reach readers is to shamelessly hand out my card." And smile when you say it, be genuine. I know I sure as hell am. 

That fact that a total stranger took the time to talk to me about anything for two minutes makes me feel like a winner. After all, who the hell am I? Just some damn pushy redhead.

When talking about yourself or your work be sure to remember -- make a connection first. Stop if they seem uninterested. Hold your head up proudly, there is no reason you need to feel awkward about what you have done in creating a book. Sure, if it has explicit sex in it like mine do there is that weird moment that may clutch your heart when you have to admit what you write, but hey -- if I survived it, then so can you.

Wishing you all the best and may you go forth and converse!

Have any funny stories you'd like to share about trying to talk about your book? Please share! I always enjoy knowing I'm not the only one who has crashed and burned so spectacularly.

~~ C.J. Ellisson ~~
Guest Speaker at Vamps at Sea – a Vampire Themed Cruise to Alaska

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Coming Attractions

So, I made a decision earlier this summer to embark on the epublishing / self publishing path. I hold open the option to publish my novels the traditional way, but for the next twelve months, I'm going to concentrate on getting my work out there for public consumption.

This is something I've been thinking about for at least six months, and many factors went into this decision. First and foremost, I can't build an audience unless I give an audience something to read. Second, science fiction is a very small piece of the book/fiction market. Third, cyberspace is well-suited and better suited, for target marketing and genre fiction. Fourth, no matter the path we choose, marketing and building brand is still pushing a boulder uphill.

My first releases were at the end of June 2011, my free reads: Plantgirl, Translations and Small Graces. I did OK for not marketing them much besides some tweets here and there, my blog and my website. Most of the response was very positive and I made a few fans, more than I had before. Links for download can be found on my website:, or on my blog:

So, I decided my next release would be Semper Audacia. As an ebook, I was no longer constrained by word count and blossomed this space opera story into a novelette. It'll be my first release on Amazon, and will also be released on Smashwords and B&N, same as the free reads. Semper just came back from the editor. Yea! I have very little to do to it, but I have to get the first three chapters of Stopover polished and get Semper formatted. I'm now setting a release date ... October 4th.

Alone. Leda is the last living member of the brigade, the sole defender of her world. War took everyone she knew, leaving her in the company of memories and ghosts. Or is it madness?

The siren blares. The enemy is coming. Or is it? The approaching vessel isn't a friendly design, but it answers with the correct code. Leda must figure out whether the arrival is reinforcements or the final assault. In an aging flyer, she ventures out to meet her world's fate, the last stand.

The release after Semper Audacia will be the first in a series of space opera novellas, Stopover at the Backworlds' Edge. I've completed the first draft and am polishing the first three chapters to add to the end of Semper Audacia. I also started on the first draft of the second novella in this series. I anticipate releasing Stopover by the end of this year. Yea!

Humanity, bioengineered humanity created to deal with different environments, has spread out to other stars and planets in the galaxy, called the Backworlds. In the far future Craze's Tavern sits on a backworld's backworld at the fringes of expansion. Last stop for one hundred fifteen light years, Pardeep Station is a heap of dust and little more.

The lepper opens, bringing in a ship that should no longer exist. Stamped with the Foreworlds' mark as if spoiling for battle yet the war ended two generations ago. The vessel drops off a Water-breather, a type of backworlder thought to be extinct. She brings rumors and subterfuge, danger and troubles. Craze knows he has stepped into her trap the moment she walks into his bar. His only hope is that it isn't too late to find a way out.

Still tweaking the blurb copy for Stopover and will be redoing the story trailer.

My most popular download has been Plantgirl. It won me my first fan when I read it at the library over a year ago. So based on that story, I'm creating a second series of novellas and am about halfway through the first draft of the first story. As of yet, it's untitled.

My goal is to get out two to three novellas in each series in the next twelve months. For special deals, sneak peeks and more, you can sign up for my newsletter.

If you'd like to help me promote my release, leave me a comment. :D

What about you? What career plans have you made?

~M. Pax
The stars are the beginning ...
website / blog

Monday, September 12, 2011

Writing and Pulling Teeth

It's personal topic week at the Wicked Writer's blog and it couldn't have come at a better time for me. Boy. Yeah. Okay. So I somehow convinced myself that Book 2 would be easier to write than Book 1. You know, I'm wiser now. Book 1 was hard because I was new to writing novels. I was still learning. But I know exactly what I'm doing now.

So why does writing the dang sequel feel like pulling teeth? And why am I still using cliches like "pulling teeth"?!?!

*Facepalm followed by headdesk*

When you're a writer looking up at all the published authors sitting on their pedestals, all shiny and important, you might think "man, life must be so easy for them, with their fancy royalty checks." Truth is, we're all just writers. We all make peanuts for a living. And when all is said and done, each new manuscript still begins with two words:  Chapter One.

....Followed by a good ripping of the hair, lots of caffeine, and a hefty dose of insanity....

What's a writer to do?

Remember the reasons why you started writing the first place. Yeah, remember those? The good ol' days when it was fun and magical and every word felt like a roller-coaster ride on a gold-tinted rainbow? When you were an artist and every scene came from the heart. You didn't care about grammar or point-of-view or if all your characters' names started with the same letter because to you it was perfect. Every flaw was somehow right. You did that, you made that, and it was awesome.

Remember that feeling. Hold it close. Bathe in it. Eat it for breakfast. Sit down at your computer and say to yourself "Today I am writing for me, and I don't care if no one likes what I write because I love it and that is all that matters!".

J.D. Brown
Website ~ Blog ~ Facebook ~ Twitter

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Is Print Dead? Part 2

Just in time to back up my blog this past week comes this article from the Atlantic Wire. It deals with the booming ebook industry.

You can link to the article here.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Is Print Dead? I'm Afraid to Look Anymore

I’m scared.

I’m not afraid to admit it.

Why am I scared?

Because of the coming death of my industry, namely print publishing.

You all know me as a science fiction and horror writer, with a dose of fantasy and western thrown in. But, before I became known for fiction, I was first a print journalist.

I’ve seen a lot of things in the industry in my 30 years covering the news, including the looming death knell of newspapers. They've only begun to listen but it seems like it's too late for them to catch up with the 21st century. Too bad for so many of my former colleagues who stayed the course, while those who jumped ship and changed professions now look like Mensa whizzes.

The owners -- namely the big publishers and the syndicates like L.A. Times, Knight-Ridder, Tribune, McClatchey -- all felt that the Internet was a passing fad and they failed to embrace it. Sort of like when IBM dismissed the personal computer as a fad and then struggled (and failed) to play catch up when the PC took over the typewriter/processor industry.

When I was with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, we belatedly took a flyer with the Internet, in the form of me posting high school football scores online, while the newsroom posted a few top stories online. Of course, those were only meant to tease readers into buying a newspaper.

In the past decade, newspapers have been bleeding red ink. Periodicals that were founded more than a century ago have faded away like the Clipper ship and Pan-Am. Others, like the Boston Globe and Philadelphia Enquirer, struggle to hang on. Most newspapers have drastically cut staff much like my old employer, the Star-Telegram, did back in 2008.

Cut to the present. The publishing industry is treading the same pathway that newspapers did, right toward the same cliff.

The North American Big Six -- Hachette, McMillan, Penguin, Random House,  HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster -- still cling to an old business model, missing the obvious signs. One big sign is that three of those Big Six aren’t really North American, though they used to be. Hachette is French, HarperCollins is under News Corp’s umbrella and German conglomerate Bertelsmann bought Random House in 1998.

You see, it’s common among big business to cling tighter to models that proved successful in the past, but are not quite so successful in the present. This leaves the companies open to takeovers. However, international ownership hasn’t made much improvement.

Despite all the ebooks being sold on Kindle and Nook, the Big Six seem to shun online publishing. If they sign an author, they go for ebook rights as well. Then, they’ll undercut the ebook price or shelve the ebook edition. Many times, they won't even consider signing an author whose work has mainly been online. 

You can’t blame them too much, though. They are profit-driven corporations and a 35 percent cut from each sale of a $20-25 book is more appealing than a similar percentage from a $2.99 ebook like Hunters.

It’s a shame because we know both mediums can co-exist. There will always be people who want to have a paperback in their hands at the beach or on the plane. There will be people who have libraries in their homes that need books to fill the shelves. But, there will also be many more, especially in the up-and-coming generations, who will fully embrace the online world (they're the ones who go straight to the computers in the library while we older adults browse the aisles).

You would think that profit-driven companies (and their stockholders) would see the money to be made. Sometimes, though, it’s hard to change. Admittedly, I didn’t get into Internet journalism seriously until October 2009. Even my fiction didn’t make it to the digital world until 2007 when I signed up for Hell, my PC is from 2005 and my cell phone begins with the letters T-R-A-C. 

But, even I have long recognized the future.  So have others. Until then, though, the little guys will scarf up all the profits and get first dibs on the hottest new writers.

I don’t know if the Big Six will ever change. As C.J. mentioned yesterday, Simon & Schuster signed that print-only deal with John Locke, so maybe someone finally installed a skylight in that thick glass ceiling. On the other hand, big corporations keep forward thinkers on notoriously short leashes, waiting for them to fail so they can say "I told you so."

Will they finally see the future and embrace like Amazon and Barnes & Noble or will they ignore it like Hollywood Video and Blockbuster did with NetFlix and Redbox?

I’m tired of being scared about my industry, so I’ll hope for the best and hope they don't continue to fail me.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Times Change - The Big Six Do, Too!

This week here on Wicked, we're talking about changes in the publishing industry. The biggest story I've heard in the last few days has been John Locke's print only deal with Simon & Schuster.

He got to keep his ebook rights and can price them however he sees fit. Good for him!!

Why is this such a big deal? Well, it proves the big six is finally willing to think outside the box. Previously, they have always grabbed all the rights they can on a book. It's lead to them pricing ebooks out of the market and even occasionally having their print books listed at under the price of the ebooks -- just a few short months after the titles release.

The old model of "three months to sell" and then your title is rotated by bookstores off of shelf space, still exists. But for small authors with a strong Internet presence, a low price on an ebook, and the dogged determination to sell their little hearts out, it has been proven they can reach more readers over the long term than the big guys can short term.

Take my own July sales figures posted a few weeks back as an example. Sales slowed down quite a bit in August, but they by no means suck. If I had been signed by a big name I'd have more book store presence, sure (compared to right now, which is nil). When considering the Industry's unwillingness to pour money into an untried author, I'd still be doing what I'm doing. My agent informed me I'd be selling just as hard with the big six as I have been without them.

No book tours for the little guy means we need to sell from our computer terminal. We blog, we tweet, we post on FB, some even do book trailers on youtube and live readings in podcasts -- the numerous ways to reach readers is more diverse now than it was just five years ago.

Would I accept a large print deal that allowed me to keep my ebook rights? You betcha. I'd sign that puppy in a heart beat. I don't think the publishing giants will ever fall, like so many others have predicted. Their reach in print distribution far outweighs the number of people who own ereaders -- especially in foreign markets.

Print won't ever die, but I do think the coming years will weed out the small and large publishers who don't think outside the box, like Simon and Schuster has. If I bust my hump building my readership and hand selling almost every ecopy of my book, why should I give that hard work up?

I may not be anywhere near selling what Mr. Locke is. But give me a few more titles under my belt and then we'll talk ;-)

~~ C.J. Ellisson ~~

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Valor is My Choice

Genre: Science Fiction / Subgenre: Space Opera

My favorite space opera series features Staff Sergeant Torin Kerr. Her goal is to keep both her superior officers and her troops alive as they face deadly missions throughout the galaxy. She more than proves her mettle when a diplomatic assignment and a scientific expedition both turn dangerous.

The Confederation Series is penned by Tanya Huff, better known for her Blood Books, featuring detective Victoria Nelson.

What I loved about the Confederation books is Torin Kerr is an unsung hero in some respects. She's put into these horrible situations and has to figure out how to get her troops and herself out of them. The plots are creative, original and kept me on my toes. I could not stop reading these books. It's the first series that pops into my mind whenever anyone asks about my favorite. Torin Kerr is a great, strong character and the action is fabulous.

My favorite stories are those where the main character overcomes terrible odds. They're the kind of stories I enjoy reading and writing most.

So check these out:

Valor's Choice
The Better Part of Valor
The Heart of Valor
Valor's Trial

There's a compendium of the first four novels in one book. And, I see there's a new one out, Truth of Valor. I'm off to get it.

What's your favorite series in your genre? What makes you love it?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Study Your Peers - The Southern Vampire Mysteries

Today I'm taking a critical look into the Southern Vampire Mystery series by Charlaine Harris, aka The Sookie Stackhouse novels, aka the books that started HBO's TV series, True Blood.

Why am I attempting to analysis the work of a highly successful vampire author who's craft is one-hundred times better than my own? Well... that IS why. She writes vampire urban fantasy... I write vampire urban fantasy... She's famous... I'm just getting started. I'm trying to learn something here by studying one of the masters.

What? Surprised I didn't chose The Vampire Lestat for this post? There is no argument from me that Anne Rice is certainly a vampire master, but the industry has come a long way since the days of Interview with a Vampire and Harris' books are bit more current. Plus I am currently obsessed with True Blood, so of course I jumped to talk about it. *wink*

So here we go:

Blurb for DEAD UNTIL DARK - Book 1

Sookie Stackhouse is a small-time cocktail waitress in small-town Louisiana. She's quiet, keeps to herself, and doesn't get out much. Not because she's not pretty. She is. It's just that, well, Sookie has this sort of "disability". She can read minds. And that doesn't make her too dateable. And then along comes Bill. He's tall, dark, handsome - and Sookie can't hear a word he's thinking. He's exactly the type of guy she's been waiting for all her life....

But Bill has a disability of his own: He's a vampire with a bad reputation. He hangs with a seriously creepy crowd, all suspected of - big surprise - murder. And when one of Sookie's coworkers is killed, she fears she's next.

What I love most about this series:  Right off the bat in chapter one, Harris makes it known that humans are well aware of the existence of vampires. But they didn't always know. The vampires had recently "come out of the coffin" before book one starts. Unlike hundreds of other vampire books, the focus is not to keep the vampire lover a secret. Instead of focusing on the secret world of vampires, Harris plays on what would happen if we found out vampires were real? How would politics handle it? Would they have the same civil rights as us? Should human-vampire marriages be legalized? How would the church react to this? Do vampires have souls? Etc. Even though this is all going on in the back ground, Harris does such an excellent job of making it real - as real as the battle for gay rights, for example.

Why it works:  Plan and simple - it's different. I can't think of anyone else who's taken this approach before. In fact, it's so different that no one cares about the fact that she uses the stereotypical type of vampires (the exploding in the sun, needing permission to enter your house type).

The Characters:  The characters are always the reason why I love or hate any book. So of course that means I love Harris' characters - vampire and human. She does an excellent job of making each character 100 percent unique and quirky. My favorite character is - without a doubt - Eric Northman, the viking vampire and true alpha male and hero of the series. *Spoiler Alert!* I have to admit I was disappointed when Bill and Sookie broke up. I kept waiting for them to get back together - the flirting with Alcide was okay, but I really didn't care for that bald tiger guy. But Eric and Sookie, on the other hand, Oh - My - God! It's not even the fact that Sookie and Eric are together, it's the way Harris put them together!!! She was extra sneaky about it and it worked.

However, there were a few things that didn't work for me. Harris has a ton of secondary characters that just didn't seem necessary at all. Have you seen the show? Only about a third of the secondary characters from the book made it into the show. I'm glad the books are written in first person without any head-hopping (with the exception of Sookie's mind reading ability) or it would have been worse.

Also, a lot of her characters have some funky names and/or names that are spelled weird. I'm not sure if that's because her characters are from Louisiana or what, but I had a hard time trying to guess the proper pronunciation. This always annoys me to no end. If I can't pronounce a character's name, I'm not going to use it and not going to remember it either.

The Setting:  I've only been to New Orleans once when I was a kid, but you can tell Harris is from the area. I have to assume that's the major reason why she used Louisiana. She writes it well and she writes about Southern values and traditions from Sookie's point of view like she's been doing it herself her whole life - which she has. I always think using a setting you know well gives the author a huge advantage. It's easy to make it real because you've been there. Plus the twist - southern vampire racism - is oh so fun in this story. Does 'till death do you part have any power with a vampire lover?

The Writing:  Ah, here is we run into some issues. Before we all start to judge, I'm just going to say my own personal opinions here. You are all free to disagree. Ever since I became a writer, reading for pleasure as oppose to critiquing has gotten difficult. I have to tell my inner editor to shut up and just enjoy the story - no matter what I'm reading - so it's really nothing personal to the author.

However, I had a hard time with the flow of this series. The beginning of each book is always long and drawn out with little to no action. There are a ton of little passive scenes about Sookie doing her grocery shopping or some other errand that has absolutely nothing to do with the plot. It's slow and boring and I sometimes skip over a lot of it. The only slight advantage I can see to this is that there is NO question as to what kind of person Sookie Stackhouse is because we're forced to follower her everywhere. It's a good thing Sookie is the type of heroine I like; strong, stubborn, and witty.

The middle is usually where we get the conflict - and the hot lovin' which is pretty much all I care about. LOL. Now as a new author who had the "rules" drilled into my head time and time again, presenting the conflict in the middle of the story is a huge no-no. It should be in the beginning! Harris likes to break this rule, especially in the later books.

It does lead to a fast and intense conclusion, though. And Harris likes to do the cliff-hanger ending which I both love and loath. Love because I just HAVE to get the next book! Loath because have to WAIT for the next book! :-(

Overall:  Guys, I really have no idea why The Southern Vampire Mysteries are a hit or why HBO decided to make it into a TV series. IMHO, the plot is week. The show is better - plot wise at least. But what it does have going for it is 1) The characters are awesome and dynamic. 2) Sookie is a strong leading lady that doesn't take vampire crap. 3) It's different. There is no other vampire book like it that I know of. And I think that's the most important element. And 4) Eric Northman would eat the Cullens for breakfast and make it look hot.

~ J.D. Brown ~
author of the Dark Heirloom series * March 2011

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

As Real As You Can Fake It

As C.J. mentioned Monday, this week we are talking about how we create the fictional worlds of our books and short stories.

Most of us are, no doubt, jaded by the fantastic world we see in the movie versions of books like Lord of the Rings, Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter.

One must also remember that the creation of the worlds in those classics took years. In some cases, authors like J.R.R. Tolkien died while still fleshing out their new worlds.

My worlds are not quite that extensive.  Why? Because they don’t need to be. There was only one J.R.R. Tolkien, only one C.S. Lewis. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel.

Fortunately, I don’t have to and neither do you.

I form my fictional lands from what I have or see around me. A childhood visit to Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket can be the inspiration for an island of a fantasy age for Damsels of Distress.

For Land of the Blind, the lead character, Devereaux Marshall Fox, operates in a futuristic world, but one not more than a century or two beyond this current age. Therefore, I need only to bone up with an issue or two of Popular Science to get the juices flowing and come up with potential new technology for the future.

And I also use what I view. I see Tom Cruise uses special gloves to physically move items around a three-dimensional computer screen. Then, I see a prototype of that computer where users use interactive technology to move things around a flat screen. The computer can be displayed on any surface with a holographic fully functioning keyboard beamed onto any hard surface. Amazing stuff that I need only advance a few years for my world – say, in the form of a cell phone that can do all that.

I see a spy magazine advertising glasses with miniature cameras attached so the wearer can have both hands free. With a little imagination, those glasses can become view screens for computer information like map directions.

And why stay on Earth. Pay attention to the news. They found ancient waterways on Mars. So, imagine what Mars might have looked like with canals and oceans. Transfer those thoughts to a completely new world.

We all took science in school. We all know or have heard about novas, supernovas, black holes, quasars, red giants, pulsars. We might not have paid attention but we heard of them. Use that stuff. Make that journey through space much more realistic, so that when you do introduce something totally made up, it will seem natural.

Think of the Wormhole from Star Trek. That theory is so out there, it literally only exists in the minds of sc ience fiction writers. Scientists can barely get past the theory of dark energy and cold fusion. But, by using the foundations of basic science, writers can create wormholes to travel across entire galaxies in mere hours instead of years and, voila, readers and viewers think wormholes really do exist.

And, most importantly, remember the two most important aspects of your fictional world.

One, it must be survivable.

Create something so inhospitable that your characters have no chance of survival and watch the readers chuck the book or erase it from the Kindle. Your characters must be able to adapt and survive

And two – the most important feature –YOU have to like it. Seems like a no-brainer, but if you create a world that repulses you, you’re not going to revisit it to create your stories. It will be like one of those houses you see on Hoarders. After one visit, the likelihood of you stepping across the threshold again is somewhere between slim and none.

But, if you create it and feel comfortable with it, you’ll visit it again and again.

And, so will your readers.