Monday, December 11, 2017

Tuskers IV is Live!

Tuskers IV is out in digital form for the first time, thanks to Crossroad Press.

You know, if I'm allowed to say, this book is a pretty good conclusion to the Wild Pig saga. It's hard to wrap up a long storyline in a satisfying way, and I think I got this one right. I probably shouldn't say it, but I think it's the best of the books, though each book has it's own reasons for being. You know, especially the first, which was sort of a revelation to me in how much fun it was to write.

Crossroad is talking about trying to get a "major promo, and with all the good reviews, it has a good shot" for the first book.

I assume they're talking about something like Bookbub, which for those who don't know, is a big deal. Or perhaps one of the other sites.

Anyway, it's nice to have a publisher being proactive. How fortunate I've been to find new publishers who are glad to have me aboard. Kind of unexpected, you know? I'd figured I'd be going off on my own, which means really that I'd being talking here and on Facebook and Twitter--and that's about it. Not enough in this day and age.

Very encouraging going forward.

I really need some reviews for this book if you feel like it. I really do think you'll enjoy it.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Time and intention.

This is a word splurge, probably because I haven't written on my story for four days.

Anyway, I've had some down time think about where I'm going with my writing.

My intention wasn't to get rich or become famous, though I've had much more activity in my career than I expected. My intention was to try to write a good book.

I was reading about some Indy writers and how much they are producing and earning and it is really quite amazing.

I really can't complain since I haven't really done the marketing work that it takes to make it as an Indy. In fact, I chose not to be an Indy when I went with the small publishers. The idea of putting out eight or ten books a year fell by the wayside. Instead, I've done about three books a year for five years. I could have done more than double that rate, basically. But if I wasn't going to promote I'm not sure putting out twice as many books would have resulted in higher sales.

I suppose if I want to do assembly line writing I could use a penname, and I probably should. But even there, I want to books to be as good as I can make them.

One major difference I see with the Indy writers is that I'm not dependent on writing for a living.

But, man, the amount of money some of these Indys are supposedly making is astounding if true. Then again, we're probably only talking about five hundred of these people in total. They did all the tricks, got in early, were highly aggressive, wrote to the market, produced lots of quantity.

I didn't do any of those things. Nor do I want to.

So like I said, I can't complain.

Meanwhile, the parallels to owning the store are still strong. Today I read a long article about "burnout," which is the thing I think most small businesses do wrong. Instead of staying small, they choose to grow, can't manage their growth, and burn out.

Writing needs to be fun. There has to be a certain level of engagement, and I'm still trying to find that proportion. I know I can't do what I did those first few years, which was put my head down and just write and ignore everything else.

I was afraid if I took my foot off the pedal that I'd drift to the side of the road. I still fear that. Sometimes it feels like that.

But then I remember that I finished a book just two months ago, that I've got half a book already finished. I need to keep the faith that I will be able to immerse myself once again next year. I've got The Last Fedora (maybe my personal favorite) ready to put up at the first of the year. I probably have an audio version of Led to the Slaughter coming out soon. My 80's books are getting published.

Things are happening.

At some point, I'd really like to go backward and completely rewrite all the novels in my Book Vault. Choose which ones to put out under my own name and which to put out under D.M. McKinnon. Also, maybe consider sending some of them to my new publishers.

I was thinking about Takeover yesterday and thinking about how much potential the idea had. I fell short probably, even though I think it has some of my best writing. I fell short because I was trying to do something I'd never done before. I tried for greater meaning.

But how do I imbue it with depth? How do I make it better?

Time and intention.

I have a feeling there is a way. I have a feeling that it involves rewriting in a targeted way. I think it requires time and context. Maybe six months, maybe a year, maybe both.

For instance, I once had the idea of writing a poem for every chapter, looking for the dreamstate words, and then taking those words and adding them. I still think that's a pretty cool idea.

I thought yesterday of how I should look at every page and ask myself, "What could I say that would add to the depth of this?"

Or alternatively, look at every page and ask myself, "How can I add action, color, sensation to this page?"

Or "How can I add to each character?"

I'm not sure if any of this would do any good, but I have in Takeover a good template for a serious book. I have a strong motif and a solid story and interesting characters. I just need to up my game, somehow, someway.

Time is the only thing I can really add to the mix. Time and intention.

Another insight I had on my walk yesterday was that planning and thinking about what I'm going to write is never a bad thing. The more I think about the overall book, the more I think about each chapter, the better they turn out.

The only problem is--at some point I want to turn that planning into words. Sometimes I'm forced to, because if words start flowing and if I don't write them, I lose them forever. So it's a constant tug of war between trying to incubate ideas and the necessity of getting them down on paper.

One thing I really want to do with the next book is take more notes. I often think to do that, but I don't always follow through. (Generally, I think I'm going to remember...) I don't really have a mechanism or process in place for this. I'm going to put a small notebook in my pocket and carry it everywhere. I'm going to open a Notes file for each book. I'm going to have paper at my desk to jot notes down.

The second thing I want to do is use my office as Writing Central. I've become way too dependent on writing while walking, which is fine as long as walking is possible. Right now it is 15 degrees outside, and there is no way I can sit and write when it's that cold. Last year I lost three months to snow.

But any kind of distraction at home also seems to be hard to overcome.

Right now, if the TV is on I have to go to the bedroom because that's the only room in the house where I can't hear the infernal contraption. I'm going to experiment with white noise in my office so that I can work there instead.

I'll probably still do most of my internet browsing at the kitchen table. Drink my coffee. That kind of thing. I'm sitting there right now. It's become my main station.

But I need to separate those activities from full-on writing.

In a sense, I'm sort of re-evaluating what I want to do. I'm ready to slow down, maybe get a little more serious. I mean, I've always been serious, but I have a much greater sense of what's needed. When I started, I chose to write quickly, figure out the best process, let myself write anything that came to me, not impede that progress in any way. My feeling was that I'd learn more about writing by writing than I would by studying or thinking about it.

I think that was true. I got better at it. It didn't always result in a better book, because there is a little bit of luck involved there, but I could feel myself getting the hang of it.

This progress has more or less plateaued, I think. I don't know that writing more books is the answer now. I think choosing bigger targets, spending my time thinking about them in advance, and then spending more time with them after the first draft is what I need to do now.

The middle part, the process of writing the first draft, that works great. I need to stick with that. I think I can give myself the luxury of giving myself at least several months after finishing for recharging and context before coming back to re-write. On some books, such as Deadfall Ridge and Takeover, I think I can give myself even more time. The one publisher who might have taken them hasn't given me a response, so they are orphaned right now even though I think they're good.

I'll be proud to put them out under my own name and impetus. But since I've got time, I might as well use it. I've already improved Deadfall Ridge dramatically with one rewrite. I'm betting I can do it again, and maybe even again. Just keep at it until it works. Same with Takeover; especially Takeover which is the book that has the most potential in my mind.

I kept thinking that if I continued writing I'd find an idea that was open to greater depth. Takeover is that book, and instead of being able to exploit it, I instead just managed a better version of what I was already doing. In other words, I couldn't quite step up to the full potential. Maybe I just have my limits, that's entirely possible. God knows, I read some authors and know I can never do that. But...I can try to up my game a little.

Watching a documentary the other day about session musicians and one of them used the phrase, "Good is the enemy of great.'

Well, good luck with that. If your goal is only to be great, well...that's a recipe for never starting or for quitting when you fall short. But...there is a kernel of truth there. The way I've put it, "Being good isn't always good enough."

I can't take a magic pill. I can't be deeper and smarter and more talented than I am. So I have to look for processes that will bring out the best in me. The two things I can do are "time and intention." Have the intention to write a "great" book, and take the time to do it.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

How else do you survive the modern world if you aren't diversified?

I'm trying to keep my hand in at  Pegasus Books. Feeling a little guilty about leaving everything to Cameron, though it's good practice for him if he takes over the store. I plan a series of tasks, but usually only get about half of them done, and then I've shot the day and even if I don't work the whole day it takes a chunk out of the middle.

We are overwhelmed with material. That's my doing. I've always felt the more we carry the more we sell, but I'm probably pushing the limits. (The basement is a scary hoarders domain.)

But for instance, I spent the last few months bringing in toys, finding every square inch to display them, and sure enough, sales on toys have doubled. Concentrating on games and books and toys has added to their totals at a time when Magic and comics are flat or slightly lagging.

There is quite the hubbub in the comic world over how things are going, but due to past experiences I long ago diversified Pegasus Books so that I could turn my attentions to those parts of the store that ARE working and using that money to help with the parts that aren't working. There is flexibility there, helped by the fact that we have customers off the street due to our location.

Due to being in Bend, I was never going to make it with comics alone. If I carried double the comics and graphic novels it wouldn't double the sales. So I was forced by circumstance to diversify. I can't imagined being a shop that only does comics now. Too much at the mercy of the marketplace.

This is the umpteenth time that there has been dislocation in the comic market. Sometimes it's Marvel, sometimes it's DC, sometimes it's both, sometimes it's the Indys, but it is a constant cycle that I've come to expect.

It's not just comics. Books are obviously going through a generational change, games are in constant flux, toys are completely unpredictable.

How else do you survive the modern world if you aren't diversified?

Sunday, December 3, 2017

"How much time do you spend writing?"

My struggles with "Castle La Magie" have unexpectedly highlighted the process I use to write books in ways I hadn't consciously formulated.

Process for me are the methods I use to allow the writing to happen. The habits I've formed to allow the creativity to emerge. I write a book in specific stages, which I've arrived at after much trial and error.

The beginning of the process for me were the Big Rules I formulated before I even started writing again, based on my bad habits from my first career in writing.

1.) No major re-writing until the first draft is finished.
2.) Write every day.
3.) Write one chapter of 1500 to 2000 words per day (then stop unless absolutely compelled to keep writing)
4.) Finish what you start.
5.) Re-write the manuscript a couple of times, but then lay off.

Eventually I arrived at a daily work process that allows all that to happen.

When people ask, "How much time do you spend writing?" I've never had a good answer.

When am I writing?

Is it when I'm lazing around the house? Talking to myself in the shower? Walking in the woods? Laying on my bed with my pillow over my eyes and asking myself questions?

If it is only when actual words are forming on a screen, the answer is I probably write only a hour or two per day. Sounds easy enough. A couple hours a day? I could fit that in between work and family, right?

Well, I spent 25 years proving that wrong. I constantly had the urge to write, I constantly started stories, but I could never get very far. Pegasus Books always got in the way. What became clear to me was that it wasn't the time involved, it was the headspace. Everything had to be cleared away so that I could inhabit the fictional dream long enough for the story to emerge.

So the prerequisite, at least for me, is that I have to be fully committed. The day ahead has to be devoted to one thing and one thing only: Writing.

I can't force it, but I can gently nudge my consciousness in that direction throughout the day. So that is step one of the process. I need to surround the hour or two of actual writing with hours of rumination and dithering.

Writing "Castle La Magie" has crystallized this for me. I have, in effect, been trying to write this book in a two hour window. I go out on my walk without any preparation and I sit down at the first station. (I have places to stop every half-mile on a four mile walk.) I pump out 250 words and continue my walk.

I've managed to make some progress, but it has been vaguely dissatisfying.

Slowly, I've come to realize that I can't write effectively without the full process.

1.) As soon as I've read the newspaper and downed my coffee and perused the internet, I turn my attention to the next chapter I plan to write. Usually this happens by noon.

2.) I dither and try to get my head into the story, not allowing any distractions. It can be hard, especially since I'm not forcing the issue. My brain is like a cold engine on a frosty morning. It doesn't want to turn over.

3.) I go to wherever the house is quiet and just try to think about what I want to happen next. What seems most effective to is to lay on my bed with the pillow over my eyes and just let it happen. I get vague notions, sometimes I get full-on ideas, and best of all, sometimes the words just start flowing. But more often, I run through a series of scenarios in my mind trying to figure out what I'm trying accomplish with the new chapter, which character is clamoring to be the point of view. I ask myself how I can mix it up from the expected, if there isn't something I can do that really grabs me.

Again, sometimes the story comes solid and complete and I never argue with that.

In the rumination process I start to save up ideas. It is only when I feel that I have sufficient material that I go on my walk. By then, I've already got a start to the chapter and some telling details to make it come alive.

If I don't have this, I don't write. But almost every time, I've gotten enough from my meditations to write a satisfying chapter. Then after I've written it, I think some more on what I've written and make a few changes or additions.

Then I read the chapter to Linda.

Next day, I start to process again.

Of course, it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes I dedicate myself to a chapter for hours and hours, and then late in the day it finally comes together. Sometimes I get an idea or two but decide to wait for the next day.

But basically, I'm incubating ideas all day long, staying inside the fictional dream, not allowing any distractions.

I've realized in writing "Castle La Magie" that I was trying to skip these amorphous hours, going straight to the story, and it doesn't work. Like I said, it's a cold start without any warmup. I've also realized that not only do the ideas for chapters come in the amorphous hours, but that the overall plot of the book is formed as well.

I've decided, starting today, that I'm going to go back to the full process for the rest of the month and finish the book.

Turns out, I can't be lazy about it. Turns out a book requires full dedication, hours of seemingly doing nothing.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

I essentially have three modes of writing.

1.)  The first and best is when I'm fully committed. That means everything else takes second place. I focus exclusively on the story. I spend hours sometimes just getting in the mood, contemplating it, creating a cushion around the actual writing, so that when I finally start typing I have a pretty good idea of what I want the chapter to accomplish, have visualized much of it, and have a bunch of telling details in mind.

I've heard creativity described as a shy pet that you must coax out from under the couch. I want to be persistent but gentle. This more or less takes all of a day. I can't let anything get in the way. Full attention, but not forcing it. Letting it come, but giving myself plenty of time.

When I do this, I usually write a full chapter, between 1500 and 2500 words.  (I probably could write more, but I think it helps to approach each new chapter fresh.)

2.) The second mode of writing is when I'm basically spending the mere hour or two a day it takes to put down about 1000 words or so. Not a lot of cushion or planning or mulling. Just jumping on the first idea that comes along and starting from there.

It's amazing, but this doesn't actually turn out that bad. But it's much less satisfying, somehow, and I suspect in the end there just isn't as much depth. It also requires going back and fixing things.

3.) The last mode I try to avoid. That's when I constantly revisit the same material again and again until I've lost all sense of what I was trying to do in the first place. This happens more often as a followup to the second mode--the idea that I can come back and fix it later, instead of having thought it out in the first place.

So why don't I always do the first mode?

Because it is exhausting and time-consuming. I get a little weird from isolation, I neglect things, my eyes and neck start to hurt. I forget to eat and bath and sleep. It is my price for being a writer.

I let myself do the second mode because sometimes I want to be casual, I want to think about and do other things. Holidays get in the way. Or I just reach burn-out.

The alternative to the second mode is not writing at all.

The third mode happens because there is enough substance to some of these second-mode stories to try to fix them. Most of them end up in my Book Vault, stories I may never finish or if finished, may never put out. None of the effort was wasted, though. I've learned something with every book. Sometimes I start out in the second mode and if the idea is strong enough, switch to the first mode. (And vice verse).

All of this is a consequence of trying to at least finish a first draft of every story I start. (It's very easy to fall into the trap of writing 10 or 20 or 30 thousands words, setting it aside and thinking I'll come back later. Those stories most often never get finished. I've got half a dozen in my word processing program right now.)

So I'm in the second mode right now. When I read the story back to Linda is sounds pretty good, even though I just tossed it off.

When the first of the year rolls around, I'm going to shift into first mode and write the next Virginia Reed book. Two to three months of hermitage while I write the first draft. It's both alluring and daunting. But I think it will get published and that's a high motivation.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Contentment writes a blank page.

This whole five year writing thing has been really interesting to me.

I had incredible creative energy when I started.  I kind of knew that it probably wouldn't last, nor could it be reproduced. That it was probably a one-time thing. I didn't know how long it would last. I probably never would have guessed a full year, much less the five years it ended up being.

The first year I barely raised my head or left the house. Once a week I needed to go to the store and that was probably a good thing. But mostly, I was into writing, writing, writing.

I didn't submit my writing until a full year went by.

The second year wasn't quite as pure as the first year. I was at least partially distracted by the publishing of my first books. Then again, it was quite the motivator.

The third year I could feel myself slipping a little in concentration, but by then I had pretty good processes in place and I was able to continue on at the torrid pace.

The fourth year started to see a bit of a slow down, a lot of concern about where the books were going and how they were doing. Instead of writing on my own inclinations I was obligated to finish books in a series or write a book I thought someone might like.

The fifth year was a continuation of that. Again, the processes were pretty established and I'd learned a lot about writing and if the energy flow wasn't at such a high level, my knowledge and experience made up for it. So no harm done.


I'm not feeling the urgency. It's just not there. In fact, I'm feeling somewhat satisfied with what I've accomplished. I feel like I can rest on my laurels for awhile.

A long time ago I heard the phrase, "Contentment writes a blank page."

At the same time, I fear that taking time off would mean never getting back to it.

Ironically, by moving to new publishers, my books have new life. I'd stopped writing the Virginia Reed books, though my original intention was to keep writing one of these a year. Virginia would be only 26 when the Civil War starts for instance. She'd be 65 at the turn of the century. So her story can span the whole settling of the West, from the mid-1840's on. I can pluck weird events in Western history.

The new rollout of my published books will probably take awhile and I'm not completely certain what form it will take. How many will be published in physical form, for instance, or what kind of marketing the new publishers will do, or whether audio books will be done. I'll accept whatever happens. To me, this is all very lucky. I'm probably better off for it happening.

I've been writing a book without any sense of urgency, titled "Castle La Magie." I head out for my walk without any ideas. At my first station, I sit and write a quick 250 words. Doesn't matter what. Then the rest of the walk I think about it and more often than not, I manage to get in 1000 words. I miss occasional days, or only 700 words. This is slow for me, but I'm keeping my hand in.

I've written several books this way, sort of placeholders until a stronger idea comes along. I picked up one  my earlier "placeholders" the other day and...damn, it wasn't bad. It was actually pretty good.

Someday I'm going to do something about my Book Vault. But for now, I've got a new Virginia Reed book to write starting on January 1. Tentative title: "The Terrible Mr. Hoskins and the House of Many Rooms."

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

fantasy is my kryptonite.

My natural tendency is to go off half-cocked and just start writing some fantasy or another. Then I usually run out of ideas about 50 pages in, and I fumble around and sometimes I keep going, somewhat lamely, and other times I quit, but if I keep going I realize I haven't thought it through and that the world-building is insufficient and that I'll have to go back and redo the whole damn thing but it is so easy to just start writing these things and I love fantasy so much and I seem to have no end of these kinds of stories in my head or at least the beginnings of such stories so whenever I don't have another project in hand I just go off and start writing about dragons and such.

But when I have a real idea, it is usually something other than fantasy, and that focuses my mind, and the results are usually much better. The more I get the story in the first draft, the better the book.

Somehow, when I write horror or thrillers my mind is much more concentrated on plot and characterization, instead of the fantasy "feel" that leads me astray. Written in a real world I can concentrate on story instead of world-building, and I'm pretty good at pulling elements of history or culture into my stories. 

Anytime I tell myself I can go back and "fix" it, is usually a disaster.

The exception to my fantasy block are my "Tales of the Thirteen Principalities."  They are novellas, and thus don't require huge world building. In fact, over the course of the three and half stories I've written, each story has contributed to the world-building and someday I can go back and try to make them cohesive. 

I've told myself that someday I'll do a proper world-building, have a good strong plot and idea in mind before I start, and write my fantasy trilogy. Someday.

Anyway, I'm writing one of my off-the-cuff fantasies right now. It has a certain appeal. It's fast moving. I love the "feel" of fantasy, but as usual, I started struggling about 50 pages in.

I think I've had about 10 of these projects over the years. I've finished a couple of them and they are in my "book vault" and will probably never be published.

Someday, though.

I'm a writer because of Lord of the Rings. I wanted so much more of that and at the time, there was nothing out there, so my mind turned to creating stories like it.

Once I started writing stories, I ventured off from fantasy, writing weird westerns and thrillers and horror, and I'm really glad I did, but someday, by God,  I'm going to write that epic fantasy trilogy.