Thursday, December 31, 2015

Picking a book cover.

I've chosen the book cover to The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Murders.

This isn't as easy as it looks. Generally, a cover artist will give you several options. I try to trust my first instinct. The "Blink" moment. But the more you think about it, the harder it gets.

Years ago, I watched a documentary about a book cover artist (sadly, I don't remember who) and it showed the process of a publisher telling the artist what they wanted and then messing with it.

Almost always, the original cover by the artist was the artistic highpoint, after which the publisher mucks it up. Makes it too cluttered, throws off the design, just generally dumbs it down.

I swore if I was ever in the same position that I would listen to the artist.

Of course, it isn't that easy. First of all, the artist will throw it back at you, "Which do YOU like?" But they will generally give off signals of which ones they like.

I'm more sympathetic about the publishers now. What's happening is that you are often presented with an artistic vision that may not be as utilitarian as something else that isn't quite as artistic.

I read somewhere that sometimes the worse commercials are the best at selling product and the most artistic commercials are the worst. Heh.

The cover artist for several of my books is Mike Corley, who is a well-established and respected cover artist who happens to live in Bend and is a customer of mine. When I apologized for making him make so many small changes, he told the story of how he often spends months with a publisher mucking about, only to have the publisher come to him at the last moment and say, "You know that first cover you showed us? Let's do that."

Ironically, that's pretty much what I did this time around. The choice came down to the original two choices, with very few changes. The first choice was probably more utilitarian -- easily read title, etc -- but as Mike pointed out, the title is right there in print alongside the thumbnail picture.  The second cover was probably more elegant and that's the one I ended up choosing.

Anyway, the choice has been made. I'm hoping to have this out in mid-January.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Well, damn, I'm stuck.

This rarely happens to me. Really, only Faerylander hasn't been finished for reasons of stucktitude.

I have only two or three chapters to finish and I'm done, but it is a tangled mess. I drank some wine last night and got all lyrical as fuck. Which means I'll probably have to cut it.

The villain has to crack in the last chapter, but I just haven't set it up so that it seems believable. But just shooting him, or something, doesn't seem sufficient either.

Well, sometimes you just wrestle with something for a long time and them, Bamm, it becomes all clear. So I have to hope for that.

The good thing is that I have the next week to do nothing but that.

The bad thing is I'm already 10 days over my original schedule.

Anyway, there is nothing to do but keep trying so I'm going to keep trying.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Status of Tuskers III

So I thought I should explain where Tuskers III is.

It was finished and turned in and supposed to be published on October 13. (My birthday, by the way...)

On October 12, Ragnarok Publications announced that they were going to start distributing in bookstores, and that everything would be on hold for several months.

What do I mean by "distributing in bookstores?" This is what mainstream publishers do...they solicit in catalogs, well in advance, let the bookstores order what they want. In the old days -- back when Star Wars was published -- they were distributed in the newstands and such, though I'm not sure that happens as much anymore.

Up until now, my books from both Books of the Dead and Ragnarok were published as ebooks primarily, with physical copies available. I sold quite a few physical copies in my own stores, but not very many outside of that. You could order from Barnes & Noble, but they didn't have shelf space, and you could order from Amazon.

In other words, Tuskers III (along with Tuskers I and II) will be "featured" in the Fall, 2016 catalog. Which means, probably, that it will go out in the summer to solicit for orders.

Something like that.

It's very daring for Ragnarok to do this -- somewhat risky -- because there is always the danger of printing up books and having them returned. The contracts have to be rewritten, the price of the ebooks will probably go up slightly, that kind of thing.

All for the thrill of seeing the books on shelves in bookstores.  If any bookstores order them...

Monday, December 28, 2015


I had a bunch of red-tape stuff to do today. I forgot to get the vehicle registrations in on time. Went to the DMV thinking it would be a nightmare. Last time I went, it took forever. Pulled #167, then heard #48 called out. So I went to the info desk (Linda, "why are you doing that?" Me, "Maybe there's another way.") Sure enough, we were sent to the express lane and got it done in less than five minutes.

Then went to Verizon for one of the many billions of times Linda has gone there to straighten out her bill. Me: "Why don't you change your method of paying?" Linda: "I want to do this way.) That was a long wait, with the boys and girls wandering around with their iPads to help and just a weird way of doing business.

Then on to Pacific Source because when I tried to pay and set up an automatic withdrawal, I couldn't figure it out. Turns out, I have to make the first month payment, THEN I can set up automatic withdrawal. Why? I can't conceive of a reason.

Then to the bank to pay off the Line of Credit with the Christmas money.

Then to Ranch Records to order the latest Squeeze album. "Oh, Duncan! The guy who runs people out of downtown!" Me, "....?...." "I think maybe my reputation is worse than I am...."

Then to Dandy's, where we had to actually sit in a car line to get parked to get Linda's favorite burgers. Killed the battery. Linda: "Let's walk home." Me: gets out of car to tell the very cute rollerskating girl, who laughs and brings out a portable charger and we're rolling a couple minutes later. No looking around at other cars to see how they are laughing at us...

Driving home: "Amazing that lots of people spend there time doing stuff like this and I spend about a day every quarter saving this shit up...."

Sunday, December 27, 2015

No longer monomaniacal.

Apparently, I'm no longer monomaniacal about writing. I let family and Christmas and business take precedence over the last ten days.

The first few years of writing, nothing stopped me. Nothing. I was so obsessive that I was barely aware of my surroundings at times.

I'm trying to settle into a more moderate pace. 2000 words a day is by most standards a pretty big number. Counting working days and days off, I probably spend 200 days a year writing new material, and another 100 days a year rewriting. Say...400K words a year.

That's a big number, at least six novels worth a year. Not all of them turn into books. Not all are finished. Not all are given a second draft.

So anyway, I'm going to try to settle into a more moderate but consistent pace, also include a little more time for rewriting that I've done in the past.

I've got five novels more or less finished that I'm proud enough of to publish. I'm almost done with a sixth.

That's a pretty good result.

I'm working today at the store, and tomorrow I'm going to attempt to do all the red-tape stuff that's been piling up, and then on Tuesday, get back to writing full time.

And NOTHING will be allowed to get in the way.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Star Wars Xmas continues.

Finished off Star Wars Christmas by watching The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

So the common wisdom is pretty much right on. The Empire Strikes Back holds up really well. Not a lot wrong with it, a pretty great movie. The New Hope hasn't dated as well.

I've always defended Return of the Jedi, but I have to admit that the Ewoks are hard to take. Not so much the concept of them, but how fake they look.

Then Todd and I kept forging ahead and watched the documentary that comes along with the boxed set.

I found it humorous that the "experts" wondered if the new movie would be as huge as everyone expected.

Then again, I thought I'd sell the hell out of the toys. I guess since Christmas is over and the store did really well, I can reveal that the Star Wars toy sales sucked. I'm really surprised.

I took one of the cheap 35.00 lightsabers home to give to Todd and it was big hit. It was just fun to turn it on and hear that sound, and we had a couple fights (I used the saved up wrapping paper rolls.) But, yeah, none of the big toys sold at all, and the little toys sold hardly at all.


Also -- we were shorted all the main characters. And they wonder why the small stores can't compete. Let me tell you, we can compete very well, but not if you don't even let us have Rey or Finn or some of the other major toys. It's pretty disgraceful in my opinion. Then again, should I be surprised that a corporation like Hasbro gives preference to the big box stores? Silly me. (Remember, I couldn't even ORDER these toys until the exact day they were released in the big box stores. This is legal behavior.) Ah, well.

There are so many things that I shrug my shoulders about nowadays. I think the corporations are incredibly short-sighted and poorly run. But the public sees them a ruthlessly efficient. They aren't efficient -- they're BIG.

Thirty years later and Pegasus Books is having our best years and Barnes and Noble and Toy R Us and Topps are on the ropes.

Karma is a bitch.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Star Wars Christmas

We watched Star Wars: A New Hope, which will always be just Star Wars to me.

It's both better and worse than I remember. The "worse" parts are somewhat unavoidable -- such as special effects that mostly hold up but are definitely dated -- and the best parts that I didn't remember is the repartee and affection between Luke, Leia, and Han. I never realized how whiny Luke was the first 15 times I watched it.

Anyway, Sherron had never really watched it all the way through, so we teased her mercilessly when she called the Death Star the Dark Star and when she otherwise didn't get it.

I had to explain "Han shot first" and showed her the wiki entry and she was amazed it was "a thing." Heh.

I almost ordered her out of the house.

I'm going to try to connive to watch The Empire Strikes Back today. Even if I have to watch it by myself.

It's hard to explain how Star Wars struck the world in 1977. I compare it to how the Beatles came along with their irresistable upbeat tunes in 1963, after the Kennedy assassination and other terrible events.

It was so fresh, so fun, so much like the kind of Space Opera I grew up reading, that I was astounded.

Hard to ever replicate that.

Anyway, even though it doesn't have that kind of impact anymore, it's still a fun little movie. Doesn't seem at all ground shaking now.

More like a friend who has gotten older and a little frayed around the edges.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

An actual Christmas.

Giving up on actually writing until after Christmas. Instead, trying to get things done and out of the way.

So I'll be behind on my book by a couple of weeks. I think it may turn out to be a good thing. I've been thinking about the book even if I haven't been writing, and I think I finally have all the pieces I need for a good ending.

Two chapters. Now I just need to sit down and write them.

I've been spending some time at the store over the last few days, which has been a good thing. We have a small chance of beating last year, which I didn't think would happen. Pay off a few bills. Start the year fresh.

Todd and Sherrone are home. We even put up a tree! We're actually wrapping presents! Christmas music!


Retailing makes it hard to feel Christmas, frankly. Usually around 5:00 on Christmas Eve as I go to the store and raid it of any cool stuff I've had my eye on that nobody bought, and the store is closed, then it washes over me.

You get old, you get lazy, you don't have kids home, you don't put up a tree or wrap presents or any of that stuff. And of course, it took just a few minutes and feels good and I really need to get off my butt in the future. Even if it is just Linda and me, I'd like that.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Busiest day of the year.

This is usually our busiest day of the year. We were also getting a large, late shipment. So I felt it was cruel and unusual employment to leave Cameron alone today. Went on in and tried to help. Thought I might be there a couple of hours, didn't get out until six hours later.

If business manages to keep up at the same pace for the rest of the day, it will be the busiest day again. Of course, it might have all died off the second I left.

Anyway, another day of not writing.

I went out for a walk in the Badlands yesterday. A little muddy, but not too bad. Worked out the plot of the last two chapters. So I just need the time to sit down and get it written.

Todd and Sherrone are home, so that makes it hard to concentrate too.

Thing is, for the last three years I've been so diligent about writing that nothing could stop me.

I think I'm just turning human again.

So I suspect everything is going to take a couple of extra weeks, darn it. Not that anyone is holding their breath.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Quit nitpicking Star Wars!

No spoilers I can see.

No sooner had I emerged from the showing of Star Wars than the nitpicking began.

First let me say, I thoroughly enjoyed it. It felt very grounded, not flitting about in a CGI haze. I liked the two main characters, Finn and Rey, in the same way that I liked Luke and Leia and Han. It has an overall upbeat feeling to it, and somehow manages not to be cynical in what easily could be (or is in every other way) the most cynical endeavor in movie history. 

I'd held off watching trailers or reading anything about Star Wars months ago. From the first two trailers, I dreamed of the beginning of the movie and I was amazingly close. Basically, I thought they would use a lot of the same elements at the first movie, and I don't think it's a spoiler to say that they do. And I was fine with it.

But upon getting home, I dove into the reviews and the articles about Star Wars, and it was kind of demoralizing. I mean, most people seem to like the movie, but they can't seem to help but nitpick it.

Normally, I hate the excuse of "It's just a movie." But in this case, "It's just a movie!"

So as far as plotholes and unlikelihoods, need I point out that faster than light travel is probably impossible, a lightsaber is a ridiculous weapon, what's with the stupid armor that doesn't protect anything, and...on and on...and on...

This a space opera, folks. It isn't rigorous.

There are indeed lots of plot holes, and some of them I noticed, and some of them even bothered me a little.

But the core story of the characters was strong and emotionally resonant and I can live with an unlikelihood or two or two hundred, because the whole thing is a fantasy and I get it.

Science it isn't. A fun story it is.

Monday, December 21, 2015

This is taking longer than expected.

Deadline is here and I'm not yet done with The Darkness You Fear. There is just more involved in a historical book. I've barely begun the process of world building. Been focused on plot and characters.

I've passed 70K words and still not done with the first draft. (I'd expected to finish up around 65K words for the first draft.) I mean, this isn't a bad thing, but it is obviously taking longer than I expected.

I've got at least one chapter, probably two still to go. I still haven't found the killer app. The bad guy needs a neat comeuppance, and I haven't quit figured it out yet. I'm sure there is one. I can feel it.

Then I still need to do a thorough rewrite. And then, I want to do another rewrite for the sole purpose of adding in telling details from research. I need description of terrain, of weather, of people, of gear (guns, clothing, wagons, horses, mining equipment), etc. etc.  I need to put in accurate dates.

This is a strong book, thematically, and that's what I want in a book. I don't know if I've pulled off the plot -- that's always the hard part. And...well, the writing is always something I'm concerned about, even though it is rarely mentioned in the reviews.

It's all about the writing, really, the word placement. A weak plot can be covered up by excellent writing, and bad writing can pull down a good story.

So the second draft is where I really try to get that right.

I'm going to be patient. The book will be done when it is done.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Freakishly weird story didn't work.

An update on the earlier entry today.

The freakishly weird storyline I was talking about didn't all.

I tried reading it out loud to Linda and it didn't even make sense to me. So I guess there is a reason no one has tried ending a book with a series of flashbacks.

There is an easy solution. I simply remove a couple of the scenes and make them their own chapters earlier in the book. The only reason I wasn't doing that is because they have to be 3rd person, but told from the POV of characters whose heads we haven't been in before.

Up to now, I've had Virginia's third person thread, which is the main storyline, with two other stories lines told first person through diaries and journals.

But since I have had the third person narration all along with Virginia, I don't think this late in the book it will bother anyone if I go third person with other people. I doubt anyone will notice.

At least, they'll notice less than if I tie myself into narrative knots trying to stick to a first person diary format.

Why can't this be easy?

Freaky subconscious storyteller, making it all weird.

The Darkness You Fear is the most weirdly structured book.

But I like it. So I'm sticking with it. It feels right, even as my brain tells me that it is extremely unconventional. Maybe I'll have second thoughts in the rewrite, but the whole story kind of circles around itself, developing the themes. The themes are strong...I the story works...I think.

The last two chapters, which should be straight forward denouncement are instead turning into three or four chapters of more or less flashbacks. Can you end a book with flashbacks?

I think there will still be action denouncement in the very last chapter, so maybe that will work.

Oh, well.

Freaky subconscious storyteller, making it all weird.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

An ending with impact.

Need to write the ending of The Darkness You Fear, either one or two chapters with a epilogue.

I want to tap into the emotional aspect as much as possible, so I'm going to write that stuff first. Just try to access the poetic, emotional part of my brain, then build the plot structure around it.

How do the ghosts affect each of the characters, especially Jonathan Meredith? How do I get into his brain? How do I show how everyone is affected, told from Virginia's point-of-view?

If I could figure out a mechanism to get into Jonathan Meredith's POV, it would be a lot easier. So far, I've been consistent about using written accounts for POV or else Virginia. So how does Jonathan get into that?

Maybe have him find one of the journals and pick it up and start writing himself? That seems unlikely.

I think I'm just going to have to break the template somehow. Somehow have Virginia imagine what he's thinking? Have her be able to read his mind as part of the Canowiki powers? Or have the ghosts tell her what's going on?

Something.  I'll write his POV first and figure out how to explain it later. Because without his POV I don't think the ending works.

I'm a few days behind on this. Plus, I'm really realizing this book is going to require extensive fleshing out. Fortunately, there is nothing really structurally or continuity wrong with the book, which is why most second drafts are necessary. This just needs to be fleshed out, not just with telling detail but with some emotional depth as well. I'll take as much time as is needed. An extra month, if needs be.

I'm reading James Lee Burke and he certainly has no trouble going into other character's POV even though he has a first-person narrator. He also has no problem musing on the moral implications of events and personalities.

I think I just need to reach for emotional truth and not over worry about the structural or plot problems. As long as I'm consistent, people can hang in there on the plot. But without feeling, all I've got is plot. This whole book has been strong on theme, and I've just had to find a plot to provide structure.

So, I'm going to spend the morning spinning out poetry and then find a way to make that work in the final chapter(s).

Friday, December 18, 2015

It's killing me...

It's killing me not to be seeing Star Wars right away.

But I really don't want to fight the crowds. Then again, it doesn't look like those crowds are going away anytime soon. My usual trick of seeing the first showing on a Monday morning probably won't work this time.

Our schedules just aren't working to fit it in, which might mean a later showing, which I usually try to avoid.

Or I can wait until April or so, and see it in an empty theater. Heh.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Schadenfreude overwhelms me.

I feel like I need to comment on this article in Slate that compares what the big chain in England, Waterstones, is doing to what Barnes & Noble is doing.

I definitely think Barnes & Noble needs to find its own Russian oligarch to prop it up. Heh.

The snobbish tone of the article was off-putting. The author talking about the "garbage" he used to read (that is, entertaining, non-pretentious material) and that he never actually spent any money there (so you're that guy.) 

But the basic thrust -- that a bookstore should sell books not doodads -- well, I've been saying that for years.

Barnes & Noble threw the Nook in our faces, more or less told us that physical books were on the way out. I predicted that Apple and Amazon would eat their Nook for lunch, and that too happened. It was pretty obvious.

Now that the Nook has proven to be a disaster, they are resorting to selling whatever Stuff they can get their hands on and can market. Gimmicks like Adult Coloring books.

Another little saying I have -- when your industry starts to resort to gimmicks, you're on the downslide.

So...yeah, having more books, having books that aren't placed in prominent locations because some publisher paid you to place them, having more titles, not discounting, and giving the local managers more control -- all of those pretty much describe what independent bookstores do.

So the irony is that Waterstones is recovering (supposedly, I'm not convinced without the Russian oligarch money) because they are doing more of what the independent bookstores are doing and less of what they did to put the independent bookstores out of business.

Schadenfreude overwhelms me.


I took three days to write one chapter. The Darkness You Fear.

That never happens. Thing is, I was only 3 chapters from the ending and I wanted to Nail It. But whenever I start thinking that way, I create a block. The ideas need to be spectacular.

In other words, I was waiting for inspiration.

I did add one element that seems obvious in hindsight, and which gives some added drama and tension to the ending. But other than than, I wasn't inspired.

Still, the chapter eventually got written and it was solid, if not spectacular, and I'd say it was grounded in the story and that can't be a bad thing.

So...two chapters left. Might be more. I've got a general sense of what I want to accomplish emotionally and thematically. I know roughly where the plot is going. I just need to finish it.

Then I want to give it a beginning to end rewrite and send it off to Lara. While she has it, I want to do some research and add some telling detail, have her vet the additions, and then send it off. On schedule, I hope.

Meanwhile, I got the editing back for Gargoyle Dreams and Lara called it a "terrific" story, which was a bit of a relief. It's a bit different from what I've done before. When I told Linda of my surprise, she said, "It's a good little story with some real feeling."

So... that book is more or less finished. Like I Live Among You it doesn't require research or a whole lot of rewriting.

Really, why am I not writing stories like this all the time?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Star Wars, scumbag brain working out the plot.

Woke up with my scumbag brain busily working out the plot to the new Star Wars.

"Stop!" I say.

But it keeps coming.

I've only seen the first two trailers, but if I start with a certain premise, it becomes clear what the first third of the movie probably is. If I'm right, there'll be some complaints, but I think it'll be fine.

I won't give away any of it here. I'm probably wrong anyway.

I do this a lot nowadays. I'm always figuring out the plot, even when I'm not really trying. I'm conscious of the plot tricks writers are using. Sometimes they're fair, sometimes they're cheap. When they trick me, I'm impressed. Supergirl went straight to a plot point last night that I didn't see coming, but most shows are pretty predictable.

Unless they're like Leftovers, where there is no figuring out the plot.

"I don't understand what's happening!"

"Me either."

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Nerdly elitist. Star Wars, bleh.

There is something off-putting about the pervasiveness of Star Wars.

It is no longer mine, it no longer something special. It's about as special as McNuggets.

Everyone is both into it and weirdly blase about it. About as blase as anything else that is so widely available.

The movie will be one thing, it will be good or it will be bad or it will be something in-between. But the culture of Star Wars has been watered down to nothing.

I know this sounds weirdly nerdly elitist, but I can't help it. Bleh. 

I remember when Dark Horse did their first Star Wars comic years after the movies, but before the prequels. There were actually people who questioned it, other people who weren't aware of the comic for a long time. It could still slide under the radar. People fought over the toys, but it was the same people.

Now it is literally everyone. Everyone.

Even the prequels, as big as they were, still seemed more nerd than mass culture, though of course they were completely mass culture, but somehow they were still...different, special.

Nothing feels special this time. It's about as special as white bread and milk.

See you at the store!

I'm working at the store today. I'm going to have Linda drop me off before she goes to church and then pick me up again at the end of the day. She has 4-wheel drive, I don't.  I might do a little writing before opening at 12:00.

I've been certain that this was the year snow was going to impact on us, and so far I've been right. We are plenty stocked. I haven't had to do too many reorders yet. Maybe a few to fill in the holes, but pretty much stick with what we got.

The stock market went backward this year, which hurt our retirement funds. Oh, well. At least we have retirement funds. Linda says it's time to sell the used bookstore. I'm resisting, but not too much.

The writing is still going well.

I'm reading another James Lee Burke book, and he always makes me feel like a piker when it comes to writing. Some of his books are getting kind of repetitive -- like he has a stock cast of characters and just recycles them. The book before this, Wayfaring Stranger, was genius though.

I have to shake off Leftovers when I watch the show. So bleak. I turn to Linda and say, "I'm so thankful we have simple lives."

I'm beginning to realize that I'm probably going to have to stay off the internet for whatever length of time there is between Star Wars coming out and us seeing the movie. Probably about a week or ten days. I can just concentrate on my writing. Besides I'm getting really, really sick of looking at Trump and Cruz's and the rest of their ugly mugs on every article. Yuck.

Just life as usual. Thankfully.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Cellphones are a miracle.

I thought my car headlights would automatically turn off when I turned off the car. They do, but I also have to open the car door, apparently.

So I'm out in the Badlands, sitting in my car writing, after walking my loop and freezing. I try to start the car and all I get is clicking.

I call Linda and she comes out and we jumpstart the car. Trying to imagine what I would have had to do if I didn't have a cellphone.

Meanwhile, I'm freezing. It is two hours later at home and I'm still cold.

Thing is -- I'm writing about people crossing the same kind of territory in wagon trains, with none of the luxuries, none of the safety I have.

It's a good way to really feel that lesson. (In a really minor way, of course, but a reminder.)

Heading for the ending.

I have three basic storylines in The Darkness You Fear. The day before yesterday, I finished up the second storyline. This storyline is sort off to one side of the other two storylines.

Yesterday, I wrapped the third storyline into the main storyline.

In one hand, I am proud of myself because I took a fairly complicated, dare I say sophisticated, plotline and managed to pull it together. It takes a certain amount of confidence -- or hubris -- to try that many narrative devices.

On the other hand, I'm a little worried that it is little too tidy and static. Basically, one character telling another character a story that ties all the parts together.

As I wrote it, I realized that the story the narrator was telling in a conversation could actually be several fully fleshed out scenes, but that would require several more narrators, and I already have, like, 3 or 4, and I don't won't to confuse people too much. I've got the main narrator, Virginia Reed, in 3rd person. Everyone else is telling their stories 1st person in journals and diaries and letters, so that is already stretching it.

Anyway, it is now a straight shot to the ending. Until yesterday, I had a structure in mind and it was simply a matter of writing those chapters.

Now I just have the more vague goal of "ending."

I pretty much know what I want to do, but don't have a clue about how.

Still, I think that's all right. I've been writing made to order for quite a bit of the book, so in some ways it is liberating to just be making it up again. I'm feeling strong. The feeling is there, so I'm pretty sure the story will emerge.

I'm at 55K words, so my guess is that I'll end up at 65K or so. A quick rewrite will get me to 70K. Then and only then will I do the research. The details I add from the research are what are going to "make" this book. Picking the right telling details to add flavor and historical truth.

I know I do this backward, but to me, the characters and the plot are internal, and the research is external. The research is like clothing, not the body.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Christmas Roulette.

I talk about this every year, but it seems to become more a trend with every year.

The vast bulk of the Christmas sales happen in the second half of the month. It's gotten so the first half of the month is actually slower than average, which didn't happen a decade or two ago. It used to be that there would be the big kickoff on Black Friday, which for us used to be much bigger deal, and then it would drop for maybe a week, and then starting the first week in December slowly build until exploding in the last week.

Now, it's a rather lackluster Black Friday, and then basically nothing for two and half weeks. We are still having record Christmases, mind you, but all because of those last 15 days, and most especially the ten days before Christmas.

Here's the thing:

If anything happens in those last ten days before Christmas -- a big news event, or a big weather event -- it would be a huge disaster.

Especially in Bend, and most especially in downtown Bend, we depend an awful lot on those vacationers and visitors who are looking for a unique experience.

Most years, I operate as if the possible disaster won't happen. And so far it hasn't. But it does seem to me to be only a matter of time. So for instance, there is supposed to be a big snowfall this weekend. Even if it doesn't hit Bend itself, it certainly will restrict travel over the mountains. (Linda had planned to go to the valley this weekend and is canceling, for instance.)

So that many fewer visitors.

The last big snowfall of a couple weeks ago had a major impact on sales, at a time when the drop for the average was an inconvenience. A similar percentage drop from December 15 to 24 would literally costs thousands and thousands of dollars in lost sales.

Linda has a saying, "Don't borrow trouble from the future."

Then again, when you're ordering product for the "future" you at least have to be aware of "trouble."

I don't know what the solution is. It's a behavior change that if anything is growing more pronounced. All I can do as a store owner is be careful.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Review of "Leftovers."

The early word was that the second season of Leftovers wasn't as downbeat. I'd been on the bubble about whether to watch this again, but these early reviews made me go ahead and tape them.

The acting in this show is fantastic, the writing is wonderful, the directing is great.

But man o' man is it bleak.

Each episode is a little jewel of a short story, adding to the overall thematic structure of the show. The first season did end up having a satisfying story-arc -- barely. But it was a story-arc built not on plot but on an overall theme.

The themes can't get much bigger than those in this show -- the nature of God and miracles and sin and redemption and...

Says the crazy lady to the pastor: "What's your favorite book of the bible?"

The pastor: "The Book of Job."


Small validations.

In sort of a lull as far as books are concerned. Not my writing them -- I'm as diligent as ever about that -- but the publishing part. It's not something I wanted. I figured out early that if I wanted to keep any kind of momentum in sales I needed to put out a new book every 5 months or so. 

I'm hoping Books of the Dead will get The Darkness You Fear out soon after receiving it. Lara has agreed to edit it in January, so sometime after that. Close enough not to hurry one of my other books out. I'm a few chapters from the end, and I'm going to do a rewrite over the second half of the month.

Anyway, I was feeling a little down. A few negative reviews and slower sales.

So I look for glad tiding where I can.

Linda, of course. She's a huge supporter of me -- listens to each day's chapter and nods her approval, or points out problems.

Then there is writer's group. They usually seem to like what I've done. Pam looking at me when I finish and saying, "That's some good writing," is pretty gratifying. Gary saying, "It's good," and then pointing out a few small issues is gratifying too, because he's harder to please. Susan repeating over and over again how "great" Led to the Slaughter was.

Then there are the people who come in the store and volunteer that they liked my book. Sometimes they are very generous in their praise.

And finally, Lara, my editor. I pay her, so I suppose I should take it with a grain of salt. But for instance, she's editing Gargoyle Dreams, and I was having doubts about the book, and she says she's "loving" it. You know, just the sound of that word is nice.

So I'll take encouragement where I can.

In the end, it's up to me. And I try to give myself encouragement too. Mostly about each book. This is a "good" book, I tell myself. As long as I feel that way, I just keep going.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Hit 50K on The Darkness You Fear

So I'm heading for the homestretch.

I figure about 10 chapters left to go. I have the next three chapters pretty much figured out, and then I go into the last act, of which I have only vague notions.

It's a complicated book, not formulaic at all in structure. I like it. I feel like I have a knack of writing in the modern idiom with just enough of the old-time feel to it to seem authentic.

I'm not sure why, but I really love writing in the Western motif too. So Weird Western is like a perfect genre for me. I want to write a Virginia Reed adventure at least once a year from now on. She was born in 1831, so I figure I can take her all the way to the 1920's, heh.

More and more I'm thinking I need to do what I want to do, and hope that others like it.

The proposal for "Not by Water, But by Fire" was pretty much my attempt to be "mainstream" and it's okay, but if the publisher turns it down, (which I expect because I demanded a contract...balls), I'm going my own way on it. Which will be slightly more SF, maybe with a hint of the supernatural. Because that's the kind of book I like to write.

I have so many books to complete. I think I'm going to dedicate 2016 to finishing off all the projects I've started. If a really strong book comes to me, I'll break off and write that, but mostly, I'd just like the clear the decks. Start putting them out myself.

Went out to the Badlands again yesterday, did my 5 mile circuit. I have a "writing stump" that is situated about halfway through the route, and all the ideas I get in the first half of the walk I sit down and write, then go to the end, come back sit on the Writing Stump again.

I can't use the Writing Stump in the summer because it's infested with ants, but that's okay because it's warm enough to plop down on the sands and write there.

Planning on heading out there again today. I try not to let threatening skies stop me -- Central Oregon can have threatening skies a lot of the time, and never deliver. Wind seems to be the biggest thing, right now, and that's pretty harmless when it's warm. Even when the weather is bad, I can write in the car.

As soon as I turn onto the road to the Badlands, my mind starts churning. Cool.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Every book is different.

It's a bit of a cliche, but so true.

I've never written a book like The Darkness You Fear. I'm full of ideas for the book, but when I sit down to write, the words are just trickling out.

Frankly, and I probably shouldn't say it, usually the words are outrunning the ideas. I purposely slow down the word count to regenerate ideas, because I'm quite capable of writing a couple thousand words with shallow content.

But with this book, the themes are deep enough that when I approach a chapter they are already pregnant, and I'm just trying to give birth.

And it's been agony.

Yesterday was a good example. I knew exactly what I wanted to achieve, I had some starting ideas. Even though it was raining hard, I drove to my usual spot in the Badlands. I find that just driving down the road seems to generate the urge to write.

So I sat there for an hour in the rain, the windows fogging up, trying to produce the words to describe the vision in my head, and eking out maybe 300 words.

Then the skies cleared, rainbows broke out everywhere, and even though it was extremely windy, it was also warm so I went for my usual walk. Along the way, the rest of the ideas of what I wanted to write came to me.

So the entire chapter was blocked out, and that is usually the hard part.

I stop midway, and eke out another 500 words. I'm only 1/3rd my goal with half of the usual writing day over. I get back to the car a couple hours later, and sit and eke out another 300 words. It starts raining again.

I get home, I take a nap, I try to summon the words, and nothing comes.

Linda gets home, it's the time when I'm usually relaxing after a productive day, and I'm still a good 1000 words from my goal. Finally, at about 8:00, I get the final push and finish the chapter. I think it's good, but it feels sketchy. The important thing, is that I got the IDEAS down. The writing can be improved later.

It's an interesting -- and new --- experience, not having the words come despite being clear where I'm going. As I've said, I think this is going to be a good book, with some depth, if I can just managed to wrangle it together.

I wonder if this is how other writers feel all the time. I'm just trying to be disciplined. Getting the work done. Really, when you get right down to it, the tapping of words on the computer probably only takes an hour or two. All the rest is trying to create the mood and conditions for those two hours of production to happen.

Monday, December 7, 2015

There's a good book in there somewhere.

I feel like this could be a good book. I'm a sculptor staring at a block of granite and I can glimpse the beautiful shape inside. I've almost afraid to take a whack at it.

So I'm chipping away at it, not really getting at the core, hoping for the moment when I'll know exactly where and how hard to strike. As long as I'm chipping away at it, I feel like I'm making progress. Not as fast as I'd like -- but only because I think there is something there that needs to be coaxed out.

The potential is just a feeling, but that feeling is always a good sign. It means that the book is worthy of pursuing. I always say that I write for entertainment, that the most important part is coming up with a good story.

But usually I decide on an underlying theme, which gives meaning and purpose the scenes, gives the characters and the plot a little more depth.

I don't know how well I succeed at it, but I know I want to give the books a little extra texture.

So Led to the Slaughter isn't so much about the werewolves as it is about loyalty and endurance and honor.

The Dead Spend No Gold isn't about Bigfoot as much as it is about greed and the Indian genocide.

This new book, The Darkness You Fear, is about family abuse and the helplessness of children and women in the Old West.

So for instance, one of the three storylines in the book is the actual haunting of the miners. Now I could just make this a horror show, and I'm going to try to do that -- but adding extra dimension is the theme that the ghosts represent an injustice that must be resolved, that they are are a manifestation of remorse and regret? That what really haunts the miners isn't some supernatural beings, but the memory of their own failings.

Not only does that add a little to the story, but it makes the story easier to write. I can create for a purpose more than just the story and the entertainment. But only in so far as it adds to the entertainment, the story. Not to take the place of the story but to add some underlying meaning.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

A series to be proud of.

Went walking in the Badlands. I've decided it's not the temperature that counts but the wind chill. It was windy. But I started walking and the more I walked, the easier it got.

I was about halfway up the hill when two cars drive by (four cars altogether on my walk, which is about four cars too many) and the driver says, "Are you all right?"

I nod.

"Are you Okay, man?" He said it like, "What kind of moron would be walking in this?"

"I'm great!" Heh.

Anyway, I'm fully into the book again. "The Darkness You Fear: Ghosts of the Lost Blue Bucket Mine." It has taken a couple of days to remember where I was at, mentally and emotionally.

I'm sort of shutting everything else out for the next couple of weeks. Get the first draft done. I don't think I'll send it to Lara until the 1st of the year, since the second half of December would probably not be the best time. And it will give me a chance to give it a rewrite.

It's just a matter of doing it. Just putting in the work each day. I want this to be good book. I want the Virginia Reed books to be a series I'm proud of. Just trying to immerse myself completely in her world. The 2000 words a day seems to be the new standard. I'm spending just as much time thinking about what I want to write as in actual writing.

So this whole process is probably going to take a month longer than normal because I'm trying to be diligent.

I want these to be the kind of books that could sit proudly in someone's library.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Badlands writing.

Housebound and not writing for four days. That hurts.

Having a hard time getting back into The Darkness You Fear. Four days of not writing. I was planning to research, and I have a book that I think is going to be a goldmine for that (no pun intended.)

But I'm just not in the mood for research. I want to write the basic story, and then hang the research on that.

So I'm going to drive on out to the Badlands, which should be a good trigger for me. It's probably a muddy mess, but even if I just sit in the car and get a couple thousand words down, that will get me started. In some ways, the snow has been the biggest hindrance. I probably would have gotten going by now if not for that.

I think this could be a good book, especially with the research adding verisimilitude to it.  So we'll see what happens in the Badlands.

Later:  Ah, I missed that. Couldn't go walking for four days because of the snow. The Badlands were clear, and I got to walk the full circuit (five mile roundtrip) and it was great. Back to going out there every day.

I didn't actually write out there -- too cold to sit, but I got back into the mood. This is going to be a good book (subjectively, of course, but by my standards) so that encourages me to keep going.

Came home and wrote 1800 words.

I seem to have a talent for writing about journeys and making them believable, even though I'm making it all up. I also seem to be able to capture a slightly "out of date" tone to make it seem like it's old-timey, without it being distracting. (Again, if I do say so myself.)

I have to finish the journal entries of the main backstory before I can write any more. This is a fairly complex book, with three storylines, and I have to find a way to make them all fit. The main storyline got ahead of the backstory, so I'm going to put two backstory chapters back to back throughout the book, and make the sequence work better.

Also thinking about eliminating two characters and consolidating them with others. (I have 6 children in one family, and I think I can cut that to 4.) Going to be confusing enough as it is -- to the point where I may include a Dramatis Personae.

I'm thinking about cutting off social media for the next 10 days and just baring down. Of course, I probably can't do it. But...I'd really like to immerse myself.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Sitting through the credits.

I've taken to sitting through the credits of most movies. I'm not sure why, but it seems to enhance the overall experience.

Usually there some nice orchestral music playing, as the movie fades away slowly to the theme music. A little after dinner aperitif.

So, what...I could be walking through a dirty noisy parking lot? Sitting in my car?

No...sitting there, not abruptly changing the mood, is more preferable to that. Five extra minutes, and then I'm ready to go.

Linda indulges me. The theater workers give me exasperated looks. But I kind of like the whole experience.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Best Laid Plans...

Early on, I researched how long books tend to sell and came to the conclusion that you have between 4 and 6 months before they fall off the table.

So I've tried hard to put a book out every 4 months or so.

I was right on schedule with Tuskers III, which was supposed to come out in October, and then Ragnarok decided to go to a bookstore distribution model, and it has been delayed 6 - 8 months.

So...unless I finish The Darkness You Fear and unless Books of the Dead gets around to publishing right away (which has not been happening -- months and months go by) there is going to be a long delay between books.

And sales are falling off the table at around the 7 month period from the last book published.

It's frustrating. I have multiple books written.

I do have books ready to put out myself, but I really wanted The Manic Pixie Dream Girl Murders to be the first out the gate, and I'm waiting on a cover. Hopefully by January, anyway.

This is always going to be a problem with collaboration. One of the joys of owning my own business has been that I've been able to make my own decisions. However, even there, I'm at the mercy of the producers to get good product out on a timely basis, which is always touch and go.

Oh, well. It's not like I was getting rich either way. But I worry about losing a certain amount of momentum. Hopefully, people will still remember me when I finally get something out again.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Arguing with Memes.

A Facebook friend posted a meme about how nice it would be for his friends to have secret tunnel to his house.

Shudder. This is an alien thought and emotion to me. I can't imagine anything worse.

I just went through a five day period with people in the house all the time. People I love very much. But yesterday, the first day to myself, was glorious.

Such a loner.

I picked up a book while they were here and read it in a day. Probably some form of escape. Then picked up another book last night after turning off the T.V. and to my great surprise, Panga jumped in my lap and went to sleep, the first time she's done that in ages.

But then, when was the last time I was reading a book on the couch?

So if I'm going to have a New Year's Resolution -- which I don't believe in -- it is to pick up the reading pace again.

Another meme I read recently was how writing was like prostitution. First you do it for love, then you do it for friends, and then you do it for money.

Well, exactly. At least, the progression is very pronounced that way. I'd sort of like to get back to phase one -- the writing for the love of it.

Up until recently, I'd only gotten a couple of negative reviews and they were so off base I could sort of ignore them. But over the last three months, I've gotten a few without explanation. Just a one or two star.


So...I always check, sometimes find out that they're giving Stephen King and George R.R. Martin one and two star reviews also. So that helps put it in perspective.

Thing is -- none of that is within my control. I don't know if I'm any good or not, I only know when I think a book is as good as I can make it.

I'm guessing I'm going to need to go to self-publishing soon -- if for no other reason than that I'm incredibly prolific.

I've checked out a couple of "open submissions" lately, and the terms were unappealing and they gave off the stench of a "cattle call" and why do I even want to go there?

I'm really working under two opposing impulses. One is the private world of writing, without any regard to anything outside. The other is the wish that people can find me and read me.

I've decided the first impulse is by far the more important.