Sunday, July 31, 2016

Adding a new book distributor.

I've set up an account with Ingram's Book Distributors, which means I'm only one day shipping away from getting any book. 

When I first approached Ingrams, ten or fifteen years ago, they pretty much slammed me. "'re a comic store..." 

"Yes, I am. And you carry graphic novels, and besides I want to try my hand at regular novels."

The woman pretty much made it clear that I wouldn't qualify, that I wouldn't be approved. She mentioned I had to buy at least 1000.00 wholesale each month to start. (As this turned out, it wouldn't have been a problem, but it was a new category for me and I wasn't sure I could sell 1600.00 retail worth of books every month to start with.)

Anyway, graphic novels have only gotten bigger, and new books did well for me, and now I'm expanding again. 

Ingram's was considerably more welcoming this time...

I feel a little guilty. Baker and Taylor, the other major distributor, was very nice to me. They've been very good. Now I have to split my purchases between two distributors. Hopefully, by paying attention to the category I can increase sales so that B & T won't notice a drop off. 

Maybe it's time I got serious about being a real bookstore. So far, I've done it the easy way. Carrying my favorites, and the classics, and the books with a cult following, and the obvious tie-ins to a pop culture store. This has been more successful than I expected, and I probably should build on it.

Not so much the bestsellers. That probably won't change. I got a gander at the bestseller list this morning and it was pretty awful. Wow. This is the stuff that is half-price at the feeding trough at Costco.

But I can be more responsive to reordering the books I have and maybe a little more expansive in my selection. As always, the problem is room.

I'm getting ready to take out the sports card rack once and for all. That should allow me to add 3 bookshelves. I have to decide what I want to do with that. I'm thinking a non-fiction section, which I don't currently have. Again, just the best of the best. Things like Hunter S. Thompson, and Malcolm Gladwell, and stuff like that. Pop culture non-fiction, if you will. At least one shelf of that.

I could turn one shelf into "Current Bestsellers" I suppose, if I use a loose definition of that. Maybe a shelf of history, which is a subject I like. 

That will free up a couple of shelves to fluff out the inventory. 

Really, all that's stopping me is the buying of the shelves, and the dismantling of the mammoth card rack, which won't be much fun and will be very messy. Probably should just hire a truck for day and toss a bunch of crap into it and pay whatever dump fees I have to. 

It's work, dammit, and I've gotten lazy.

I'm not normally nervous about my writing--except for the endings.

This seems to happen every time I get within a few chapters of the climax. Suddenly, I'm worried about getting it just right.

I didn't go for my walk on Wednesday, then I worked on Thursday. Friday I wrote a chapter, but I was unsatisfied with it. It was more like the way I used to write. I had a vague idea (without any details or hooks) of what I wanted and just tried to do it.

Didn't go for a walk. Too hot.

Saturday spent the entire day coloring a mandala--yes, my wife has been pro-craft--inating for a few months, but up until yesterday I avoided it. It is entirely too addictive.

I couldn't think of what to write. I'm like 3 chapters from the end, folks.

Again, it was too hot, but I couldn't stand it and went for my walk anyway. Why do I keep talking about my walk? Because it appears that it has become a crucial part of the process.

I was discouraged at the beginning of the walk, but by the end of the walk I had fleshed out the details of the ending. All the cool little details that make it work.

So now I have the hooks that will pull me into the story, and that's what I need. I won't be finishing today, the end of the month, like I'd hoped, but will finish in the next couple of days.

Only one worry. Apparently, I've wrapped my walks into my writing process so much I can't seem to write without it. Fortunately, there are only a few days every year where I can't walk. Just a few days in the winter were too cold or snowy, and only a few days this spring where it rained hard, and a few days this summer where I thought it was too hot.

But I suppose I can always go for a walk, no matter where I am, so that seems like an unnecessary worry.

Besides, it gets me out of the house and is good for me. I tend to get in a little box when I'm writing and feel all constrained if I don't watch out. The walk instantly airs out my brain, my stress drops away, and I'm in the moment.

So cool either way.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

I'm in a strange mood. I'm just not engaging in anything--except my writing.

I still have the urge to write. I'm finishing the last two chapters of Tuskers IV in the next few days. It will be nearly 20% bigger than the other books in the series.

I like it.

I have no idea if it works, overall.

Anyway, my engagement is all inner. I've done nothing about promoting my books and it's starting to show. Nevertheless, I have no intention of doing so. I hate the constant, "Look at me! Look at me!"

I'm writing my books and I'm sending them to where they seem to be welcome and if they get turned down I'll just take them and turn them around. The books with my publishers do much, much better than the books I put out myself. Obviously. It will be really interesting to see how the Tuskers books do in the bookstores.

On the 1st of August, I'm going to try to put up Faerie Punk online. I like this book. But I'm not even going to try to offer it to anyone else. I'm going to announce it here and on Twitter and Facebook--and that's it.

I suspect that means it will sell like 5 copies.

So...anything I say further may smack of sour grapes. I've searched my feelings and I really don't think that's what I'm doing here. I think this is as accurate an assessment as I can make. Reductive, possibly. Cynical, no doubt. But close to the way I see reality.

So does the fact that a book sells 5 copies make that book bad? No. It's the same book.

I've decided that quality is somewhat contextual. What a book is perceived is what it is. How is it perceived? By those who have opinions, who express those opinions, and have the hands on the levers of power.

Was watching a documentary on Vermeer, and it told how "the girl with the pearl ear ring" portrait sold for pennies at a flea market less than 100 years ago.

Now, of course, it's worth probably over 100 million.

Same painting. How could everyone have walked by that table and thought, "Nah, that ain't worth a few cents." ?

The success is the success. Like a tipping point, it is mysterious and definitely not always connected to quality. Or maybe quality is just the starting point. I don't know.

The question I asked myself early on was, "If I wrote a good book and did nothing to promote it, would it succeed?"

The answer, I think, is no. Except through sheer luck. (I still reserve my opinion on whether a "great" book will be noticed, but I'm leaning toward "no.")

Success is contextual, it only exists because the interactions with others with what you've done. Pretty obvious, and if you aren't engaging with others, success is impossible.

I've given up so much in wages to be a writer that there is no way my books could come even close to paying me back. So obviously, it isn't about the money.

Anyway, this inner engagement is very pleasant and I'm enjoying it. I can write my books as best I can, get them edited, arrange for nice covers, put up a nice description, and just put them out in the world.

One at a time, and I'll keep my daydreams going.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A satisfying ending to a novel is the hardest, or second hardest (an exciting beginning being in contention for hardest), thing to do.

It's even harder when you're trying to conclude a long storyline.

The danger is that it will all be too predictable, or that it will just end, or that it will stretch out past the point of interest. Or too cluttered, or chaotic, or leave too many storylines unresolved.

So I'm pretty happy with the way the ending is shaping up for Tuskers IV. I think it will be a cathartic ending, not too neat, not to messy. I wrote a chapter yesterday that was very satisfying. Nailing a chapter this close to the ending is always a good sign.

There were a lot of characters in the four books, but I believe I've given them all their due, even if it is just a sort of valedictory appearance. 

I have a pretty good feeling about the chapter I'm planning to write today, too.

The last two or three chapters are going to be pretty much nothing but action. So that just takes me blocking out the scenes, figuring out the movements, and so on. I have a pretty good notion of what I want to have happen.

I have three basic "armies" if you will. So the question is--do I have one major battle or two?

If I have a first battle, the problem is that I've made those characters antagonists, who later have to band together to fight the Bigger Bad, which I think is basically impossible if they've been killing each other.

So can I get away with going right to the edge of conflict and then not doing it? Would that disappoint reader expectations?

I think I can get away with it because it will be immediately followed by a very big battle, followed by another scene of conflict.

In other words, a scene with conflict but not actual violence, then a full out battle royal, and then another scene with conflict but not violence, resolving the story.

I think, because it is pretty much coming to an ending, that I can have the one battle, where there is pretty much no doubt about who are the bad guys and who are the good guys.

Then a sort of twist to resolve it all that the reader will accept if I've set it up right.

Getting very close to the end. Haven't made any missteps that I can see right now. Just need to keep making sure each of the last three chapters are brought home in a satisfying way.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hit sixty thousand words yesterday on Tuskers IV, with four chapters to go.

It's not going to be easy to fit this under seventy thousand words, which is my goal. (All the other Tuskers hover around sixty thousand.)

The book will be as long as the story needs. I've learned not to rush it. Take one chapter at a time.

On my walk yesterday, it occurred to me that regardless of the quality of my writing, or whether anyone else likes it, it's still a miracle that a story comes alive. I keep saying, writing is satisfying all by itself. I love how a scene comes together, little ideas that start coalesce, and then a chapter comes together, and from a succession of chapters, a book comes together.

It also occurred to me that a "story" is not a "book." It's more like a house before the cleanup, before the fixtures, before the furnishings and the paint.

Something new is happening in my writing. I've mentioned before that I've learned to wait until I have a number of ideas before I start to write a scene. I then get more ideas as I write the scene. Lately, it seems like after I write the scene, but before I'm done for the day--say on my walk back to the car--I get more ideas, embellishments, or things I left out.

I've learned that assembling, or crafting, a chapter takes one step at a time, but the there comes a point where all the pieces come together.

The biggest thing that has happened to me over the last few years is that I have refined a process that brings out my best effort. The level of talent probably hasn't changed, whatever it is, though I've learned a few tricks.

But the preparation, the mental attitude, the timing, the incubation of ideas, all that continually improves.

The biggest part of that is coaxing my creativity--the subconscious ideas, if you will. I heard a movie director call it "coaxing a shy pet from under the couch." The other day, I heard Stephen King call it "catching a butterfly without crushing it." Same basic idea.

Create the time and setting for that shy creature to come out, develop a soft touch so that you don't crush it.

Friday, July 22, 2016

I tried to watch a panel on publishing on C-span the other day, but could only make it about five minutes in.

The condescending elitism was overwhelming. (Not to mention, all five panelists represented the Big Five. What kind of panel on publishing these days wouldn't include a ebook specialist?)

So this may be an overdrawn analogy, but I've been reading and watching shows about the impressionist art movement of the late 1800's. At the time, if you wanted to make it as an artist you needed to be included in the "Salon," which was a judged competition.

In response, the Impressionists mounted their own exhibition. It was filled with such unknown artists today as Cezanne, Cassatt, Monet, Manet, Pissarro, Sisley, know, slop like that.

The Salon exhibition was filled with such great artists know......uh.......

It seems to me that all gatekeepers eventually turn into group think. Almost by definition, anything that breaks the cultural norms isn't going to make it through the cultural gatekeepers. 

So what's really hitting the audience's button today?

Think of all the movies and TV shows that are made from comics.

I think this is because the comic market is relatively open to new ideas, is not constrained by phony measures of what is literary and what isn't. New and fun and exciting and off the wall are not only not discouraged, but are rewarded. One of the interesting things about comics is that I've always found it somewhat difficult to divide them into genres (other than the obvious Superhero genre, which itself can be split into many types). I think the reason for this is that comics much more often blend genres in interesting ways. Is "Saga" a fantasy? A SF? what is it exactly?

What it is, is good.

When I was growing up, there were books that weren't accepted in the reading lists that are now considered classics. And interestingly enough, a lot of them would technically be considered genre if they hadn't been elevated to classic status. (Drives me nuts--books that are obviously SF or fantasy like 1984 or Brave New World, are lifted out of the genre...) I remember having to ask the teacher permission to write a paper on LOTR's, which wasn't part of the approved curriculum.

I never set out to read classics. In fact, I probably avoided them. I read books that seemed entertaining. But now, when I look at the all-time lists, an amazing number of those books have moved into the pantheon.

Ebooks are open to anyone who wants to write a book, and I'm betting that in a hundred years the same thing is going to happen. The authors who people will remember will have gone outside the Salon, breaking through the culturally ossified standards of the gatekeepers.

Like I said, it's probably an overdrawn analogy. But I do think that the gatekeepers closed the gates just when they should have opened them, that group think among critics and bookstore owners and most especially publishers is endemic.

Thirty-six years ago when I first started at Pegasus Books, what I carried was well outside the mainstream. I haven't changed. The mainstream has moved in my direction, thanks to movies and TV and most of all, thanks to a bunch of great writers who ignored the Salon of the day, and wrote what they wanted and persevered.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

For the first time in a long time I don't have an idea for a new book lined up in advance.

I mean, I want to finish The Last Sombrero, and write more "last hat" books. I wouldn't mind writing some more Deviltree books. I want to finish The Odyssey of Linger Longfellow. The Reluctant Wizard was meant as the first book in a trilogy.

I want to continue with my Virginia Reed series and have a rough idea of where I want it to go next.

But a brand new idea?

Am I worried? Not in the slightest. I still have to finish Tuskers IV, I still have to finish Fires of Allah, and I'll be into the fall before I can even think about writing something new.

Some of my favorite books started off as a lark, and then turned into something. So I don't doubt that something will come up.

I'd like to mix it up a little. I've been trying different genres and techniques, and I'd like to continue doing that.

I've strayed into Thriller territory, and I enjoy writing that. I worry that I don't get technical details right, though. What police procedure is appropriate, what caliber of ammunition, that kind of thing.

Fantasy is always alluring, but I really don't like the world-building, except whatever world building happens in the course of writing.

Horror is a very open genre, and I'm still intrigued by it's possibilities.

I might try a straight historical novel, especially set in the West, most especially in Oregon. I've got an idea for that. In fact, as I'm writing this, I realized that's really where I want to go. Weird. A Western. Heh.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Indie Next lists are bunk.

I tend to order new books for Pegasus Books that I know will sell. That is, there is a track record. Then I try to seed in new books at a measured pace.

Yesterday, I still had a couple of hundred bucks left in my ordering budget for new books, so I checked the USA Today best-seller list and found a couple of books, and I checked the New York Times bestseller list found a couple of books, and the L.A. Times list and found a couple of books.

Still had a little room, so I checked the "Indie Next" list.


One of the things I noticed when I've visited independent bookstores on my trips is that they all have the same stock. The exact same stock.

And it's all these "literary" books, which would be great if I thought they were really "literary." But just because you package a book in a tasteful way, and write about serious subjects, doesn't make it literary.

I can stand back and wait. Out of the 20 recommendations, 1 or 2 are going to make the grade, both in critical reception and in sales. I can wait to see which ones those are.

But, I'm sorry. These seem like boring books to me. They're all about the same tired subjects. Most of them sound and look the same. They seem pretentious and arty and boring.

So I sell the hell out of George R.R. Martin, and Jim Butcher, and Dr. Who, and hundreds of other genre books.

I also sell the hell out of "literary" books that have endured the test of time. "Fahrenheit 451; Catcher in the Rye, Lord of Flies, To Kill A Mockingbird," and on and on.

But these Indie Next Lists hardly ever have genre books. Which to my mind is pretty pretentious all by itself. Not to mention, short-sighted. know...they sell!

I mean, seriously, has no one told them that out of the 20 books they recommend each month that maybe a third of them could be "popular" books.

Not only that, but in the long run, I'm convinced that many more of the genre books will have more of a life in the future than these so called "literary" books.

Not just a life in sales, either, but in critical terms. Because there are some great books being written that aren't about child abuse, or family dysfunction, or career dead-ends, or the holocaust, or mid-life crisis, or discrimination, or...all the retreaded "serious" subjects.

No wonder people don't want to read. Bookstores shouldn't be just PBS or NPR, but should have a few of the entertainment channels too. And I don't mean shunting them into a corner with a limited selection and feeling like you've deigned to do something for the poor saps who like their stories with hooks and fun.

To be clear, I'm not saying you shouldn't carry literary books, but that you shouldn't take on an Ivory Tower persona, a self-important and pretentious attitude. You should strive to be accessible.

But I'm afraid this attitude is so pervasive it isn't going to change, and it is going to limit how many indie bookstores actually succeed.

I'm happy to have the ability to write a coherent plot with a beginning, middle, and an end. I mean, it would be hard to write a book without it.

But sometimes I think I glide into the ending. That is, I've figured it out and I'm filling it in as ordered, and everything is neat and tidy.

And I don't think that's a good thing.

Yesterday, I figured out I have 9 chapters to write. The first three chapters are further development of the different characters in the three camps, the middle three chapters are all of them moving toward each other, and the final three chapters are the climactic battle.

Neat and tidy.

It's got a certain symmetry, the three camps are paralleling each other in a nice way.

If you think of it as architecture, it's like building the three sections of the house, the middle part and two wings. But while for a house, a nice symmetry is what you want; for a story, I wonder if it isn't more interesting to have one of the wings just go flying off into unexpected directions, maybe both wings, maybe the middle too.

It can't be too predictable, but it also can't be non-nonsensical.

I try to have surprises within the architecture, but I'm not sure that completely makes up for it.

Anyway, I'm looking at this wonderfully concise and ordered ending and wondering where I can't mess it up a little.

I read the first new chapter to Linda last night, and that was pretty much her critique (without even knowing my thinking).

I have a nice orderly chapter and she said, "That's nice, dear, but what about...?"

And she reminds me that the characters are in jeopardy and that I've got them talking like they're all hunky dory, and she's completely right and it was obvious, but somehow I missed it.

That's why secondary readers are so important. I'm so lucky with Linda because she manages to be completely supportive, but she also seems to catch when I've gone off track a little.

Another example was my Snaked book. I had a nice neat ending, and Linda reminded me that it seemed a little too pat, so I tried to fix that. But then, when I submitted the book to a publisher, he pointed out that while I had glided into a nice neat ending with the tsunami, but had dropped the snakes.

Well, the snakes are all the way through, but they do take a secondary importance, and I just assumed that the snakes were sort of stranded by the tsunami and that was that.

But he was right that I had not resolved the snakes story line in a satisfactory way. Thankfully, I was able to write 4 brand new chapters (4 out of the last 8, including the last chapter) with snakes and come to a more danger filled and hopefully cathartic ending.

I've always struggled with the idea of having outlines. I've decided they aren't for me. Too much of the story is created as I go along, not by some cold logical design.

Outlines can keep you from writing yourself into a corner. But the danger of having an outline, even if you allow yourself to stray, is that it tends to be too pre-ordained, at least to me. For me, once I've figured out a story, it's almost impossible to change it.

I prefer to remain in the glimmer moment when I'm playing with the possibilities, and it isn't frozen. That's where the fun surprises happen, when a secondary character suddenly takes on life, where the plot suddenly veers in an exciting direction.

But inevitably, when writing a book, the plot comes in full. That's when the danger of painting by numbers come in. It's all arranged, I'm just writing to order.

And I don't really want that.

So the question I'm starting each day with is--where can I fuck this up?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

So the set up is finished, now for the story. Heh.

50,000 words done on Tuskers IV. I'm finally ready to wrap this up. Well, 3 chapters are probably going to be combination of set-up and moving toward the climax.

I'm jumping a couple years ahead, several generations of Tuskers. I really want to nail this last 15 to 20K words, so I'm not writing anything unless I'm really, really feeling it. Hopefully that's not setting me up for blocking, but these are probably the most important words I'll write in a four book series.

I'm kind of excited by it, and out of excitement comes the best writing. So there's that. I'm hoping for some surprises and some twists, though I have the basic architecture figured out, the theme I'm trying to play out.

It's kind of cool to have written a 250,000 word saga. Out of a tiny idea of pigs besieging a friend's house in Arizona.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Approaching 50,000 words on Tuskers IV. Still haven't transitioned into the endgame.

On one hand, I'd be worried if I didn't have any ideas for the ending of this book and this series.

On the other hand, I worry if the ending comes too easy. There is the danger of it being too pat, too predictable, too boring.

I don't think books need twists for twists sake. But they are always nice when they come naturally. In this case, I've had a "thematic" structure to this book in mind since the beginning.

I figure I need at least 2 chapters in each of the three POV camps, to reinforce the character relations, before I bring them all together for the climax. That's one thing I've learned over the last 3 years--that a book can have an architecture, that the story nestles within, that gives it a solid framework.

Pretty certain this book is going to be bigger than the other 3 books. I'm going to try to keep it within 10,000 words, though. I think it's okay to be that much bigger.

Humming right along. I worry I have too much going on--too many characters, too many plot developments, but that always seems to happen when I'm wrapping up a series. Had the same problem with Blood of Gold in the Vampire Evolution Trilogy. I want to resolve all the various storylines, try to include all the major characters in some way.

I tend to write new characters into every book in a series. In fact, the new characters more often than not, take the lead.

The assumption is that not that many people are going to read the 4th book in a series without having read the previous 3, but I think it's incumbent on the author to try to write a stand alone book for the reader who finds themselves stranded with a single book, say the 4th book in the series, and reads it. Hopefully, that reader can still understand and enjoy it.

Besides, the book is the book, and there is only so much planning I can do. The subconscious decides. Yes, this is right. No, that is wrong.

It's just a feeling, but you go with it.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

I've decided I need to start publishing my books, every three months or so.

The Darkness You Fear came out in May, and Tuskers III is due out in October, so I have a window of opportunity around August 1.

So I'm going to put out Faerie Punk.

I had lots of fun writing this book. It's sort of uncategorizable. Lara, my editor called it an "urban fantasy/road trip/heroic quest/coming of age story."

It's also a big book. 140,000 words, or nearly 500 pages.

I had a neat cover made and its ready and it probably was never going to fit anywhere else, so it's a good choice.

So ready or not, world, here it comes!

Here's my synopsis so far:

"The genius half Elve, half Dwarve inventor Joseph Tindermaker left his inheritance inside an unbreakable Vault, and only a true heir can open it. Iggy Sinclair, a punk bounty hunter unaware of his heritage, is approached for what seems to be a straightforward job; find Carter Tindermaker, the missing son of the great inventor.

Grendor, the evil Ancient One, who was banished by the human One God ten thousand years ago, has returned, infesting a human A.I. , intent on taking over both mankind and Faerie.
As he makes his way from Oregon to New York City, Iggy discovers that Faerie and Mortal Realms exist side by side, with Pixies and Trolls and Ogres...Oh My!

The First Ones emerge from their sleep, and all of Faerie must choose sides. It is up to Iggy, along with his Changeling sister Kerrie, the half-Elve lawyer Maggie Cleeves, and the Ogre Chuck to make their way across a magical America to open the Vault and stop the Ancient One.

Part "American Gods," part "Wizard of Oz," part Kerouac, this an urban fantasy road trip through the ancient and the modern. A story of coming home to a place you never knew existed."

Saturday, July 16, 2016

I have a pretty good idea of what I want the next chapter of Tuskers IV to do, but no clue how to go about it. Thematically, I'm very clear on what I want to accomplish.

Basically, the core POV characters are a group of Tuskers and humans who band together to survive the zombie apocalypse (Porkcalypse: zombies being both Tuskers and human). This group treats each other as equals, with respect, and develop their own little culture.

Meanwhile, in the south I have a band of humans who absolutely hate Tuskers, and in the north a group of Tuskers (and their zombie minions) who absolutely hate humans.

Obviously, the climax is when they all end up confronting each other.

Anyway, this chapter is where I'm trying to show the beginning of the "good guy" culture. After which I'm going to jump ahead a couple of years. (Or several generations of Tuskers).

OK. A little thought and the question: what bonds people together?

Shared danger.

So pretty clearly I need the Carver compound under attack, and the pigs and humans saving each other's, ahem, bacon.

Nice. Action and it fills the need.

LATER: Okay, I didn't do an action chapter. It was too close on the heels of the last action chapter. Instead I go into the POV of Sasha, the Russian bride, the survivalist and all around bad ass.

For some reason, I like writing bad ass female characters. Barbara in Tuskers is a good example. I don't know where they come from, except I've known some strong women in my life.

Anyway, even though Sasha is going to end up being the leader of the "good guys" she is kind of a benevolent dictator. This comes from the personality I constructed. She's still a good guy, she just doesn't suffer fools.

So I wrote the chapter from that basis, and I think it works, and it's a bit of a change of tone, which is always a good idea.
Truth is, I'm happy when I'm writing. All is right with the world. I'm doing what I should be doing.

I always wondered. I mean, you'd think I'd know, right? But I have a tendency to get myself into complications and the more I try to work my way out of the complications, the less fun it is. I'll try to fix something and make it worse, or...even if I make it better, I don't like the story anymore.

Even in this latter career of writing I've managed to do that to myself.

But I really like writing that first draft, I like living in the story for awhile. I like the dream state. The ideas, the flow.

So I'm sort of making a pact with myself to keep the enjoyable parts as much as I can, and jettison the unenjoyable parts whenever possible.

What that means is--sticking to the original storyline, trying a little harder to get it right the first time, and if the story goes off course, just move on to the next story. Trust my subconscious though to come up with the right answers.

Rewrite once--fix it that once, but keep the freshness. Then move on.

I've been asked if I would be satisfied only writing and not having anyone read me. I wasn't entirely sure of the answer. I mean, I want people to read me and like me.

But...I think the answer is a firm, yes. I would be satisfied with only writing.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

I think I may have worked out the timing issues in Tuskers IV.  It was simply a matter of inserting the information that the events in this book are taking place a week to ten days after the Big Pulse (the event the precipitates the downfall of human civilization.)

I have to explain it away, but sometimes that's all that's necessary. As long as the explanation is reasonably believable, the reader will usually accept it. I mean, are they going to reject a story that has talking pigs because the timeline is a little sketchy?

They might.

The big surprise to me is how important that kind of thing is. People rarely mention the writing, they always mention the story. (Though whether that story is readable depends on the writing perhaps more than they consciously notice.)

It took me a couple of days to write the latest chapter, but when I finished, I thought it was pretty good. It's actually a pretty good example of how I've learned to be a better writer.

So the purpose of the chapter is to bring all the good guys together. In the old days, I might have had the group with the Tuskers and the humans meet up with the other group,  and try to explain why the pigs are talking, and so on.

Instead, I do it by way of an action scene. I have the humans who don't know about the Tuskers escaping the Zombie horde, a yellow school bus with children, almost to the safety of the compound where the others are. They're just about to be overwhelmed when the gates open and out come the Tuskers to save them.

So the bringing together of the two groups, is accomplished by much more interesting storyline AND it introduces the Tuskers in a way that doesn't seem forced, where the believability comes from their actions. It bonds the characters, introduces them to each other in a much more natural way.

I feel like these storylines come to me much more easily than they used to. I think in terms of how to tell the story through the action, instead know...telling the story. Revealing character by action, instead of asserting, moving the plot forward by action, not by narrative.

I suppose that's a cinematic influence. I want to visualize the story all the way through.

I feel as though I'm becoming a better writer. I don't know if it's true, but I feel it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I usually like to do the "crafting" part of my writing before or after the "creative" part of the story.

That is, the planning out of the plot, figuring out how many and what types of characters I need, figuring out thematic structure, I try to do before doing the actual immersion into the writing.

Then, after I come out of the fictional dream, I like to look at with a "craftsman's" eye to see how it can be improved.

One of the things that's bothering me right now is that I'm doing a lot of mixing up of Crafting and Creating on the same day, sometimes the same hour. They are two different parts of the brain and it's whipsawing me a little.

Unfortunately, it is necessary, because I really don't have the ability to dive into the fictional dream until I've cleared away the inconsistencies--because if I do, I'm likely to make the inconsistencies even worse.

I've learned my lesson. Linda has been warning me for years that by not writing sequentially, I was playing with fire. But I got away with it enough that I constantly had new material. Where I didn't get away with it, I set it aside to work on later.

Well, now is "later" and it's proving to be harder than I thought.
I'm struggling a bit more than I'd like.

I think I'm fine. I do seem to come up with what I need to come up with, though it can sometimes take most of the day. I stick to it, I get a few words on page, I come back to it again and again, and eventually, I get there. But it's been a little harder than it used to be. Part of it is that I have changed gears too often, and I have been interrupted a little too often.

But mostly, it's that I had too much left unfinished and I need to finish them.

When I'm done with the tidying up process, I swear I'm going to write one-ups from then on, and that I'm going to write them from beginning to end without interruption.

I figure pretty much the rest of this year is going to be used in doing house cleaning. Then it's a free horizon.

I took two of my new snake chapters to writer's group, and disappointingly, Gary poked holes in them. I mean, that's why I go, so that I can get outside input. I'll make some of the changes he suggested, though I'm still not sure I want to cut the lead character's backstory. He did the ultimate critique of telling me I was "Telling not showing." Ouch.

I've come to the conclusion that if Snaked doesn't get accepted by the publisher(s) I'm sending to, it wasn't meant to be. Not that it isn't a good book, or as good as I can do, but that it isn't mainstream material. (Which may mean I can't deliver mainstream material.) Strangely, and I couldn't tell you why I think this way, this doesn't make my writing invalid in my eyes.

So I wrote yesterday about how I feel like I'm making good progress in my career. This morning I checked my sales, and they are in a lull. (For's happened before and came back as soon as a new book came out...)

It's funny. I think in some ways I'm writing as if my career was going well, like I've constructed this parallel universe where my actions are having effect.

I've done this before. For years in the store I kept doing things that I thought a successful store should do, even though I wasn't getting the results that made me a successful store. If that makes sense.

It isn't faking it until I make it; it's more doing the things that need to be done even when you don't see results. Eventually, success did come, and I was already positioned to take advantage of it.

That is, the work and the result were disconnected, but the work had to come first either way, so why not do it?

It's hard to explain. If you feel like you're doing the right things, you keep doing them even when you aren't rewarded, and the doing the right thing then becomes the reward.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

In my mind, my writing 'career' (if I can use that word) is progressing nicely. My latest Virginia Reed book came out in May, my next Tusker book comes out in October. I'm currently writing the final Tuskers book.

I just finished a rewrite to my favorite book. I'm working to finish two other books I like quite a lot. I'm getting my longest book edited. I'm talking to Cameron about doing an audio version of I Live Among You.

I have four books finished with covers waiting to be self-published whenever I can fit them in the schedule. I have a number of books that need to be edited but can then be put out under my pen name, half of which have covers.

At some point, I'm going to release my  80's novels, Star Axe and Snowcastles/Icetowers.

I feel like I'm refining my writing process, that I'm getting a little better each time. I have plans for more Virginia Reed books, and have total faith that I'm going to have more ideas for more books whenever I'm ready.

Meanwhile, in the real world, my books aren't garnering a whole lot of reviews or sales at the moment. I'm doing absolutely no promoting. Zero. I don't even mention my books on social media, except in this blog, which is more about me keeping a diary than promoting.

So they are two different things. Always have been. The books themselves are what they are, and don't depend on sales or reviews to exist. So in that sense, my career is just fine. I'm making the progress that I should be making.

But more than that, I have a faith (perhaps a naive faith) that if I keep writing and I keep getting better, that something will happen. What that something is, I couldn't tell you. Just that I feel like I'm on the right track, that I'm living the creative life, and that I need to just keep on keeping on.

Monday, July 11, 2016

I can look back on my writing career in the 80's and realize that I was on the cusp.

I'd had three mass market paperbacks published, I had an agent.

But I dissipated the momentum because I couldn't come up with a 4th book. I think I filtered myself too much. I'd get ideas and discard them.

I stuck with a bad 4th book for too long, and followed it up with a bad 5th book.

The 6th book was better and came very close to being published several times. I was getting letters back from editors--major names in the industry--whose message was, "You're close, you're almost there."

I went off the rails again on the 7th book, as an act of rebellion. It was creative, but it was a mess.

My process was really dysfunctional.  I developed way too many bad habits. I took all the fun out of it.

Real life started infringing. I could see that making a living wage at writing was going to take time, if ever. I had the example of my mentor, who'd written 50 books, who had a Hollywood writing career,  but who lived very modestly.

I got married, with two kids, and the store was offered to me.

Buying the store was the end of it. I couldn't summon the energy to write again for 25 years. My creativity went into the store.

So it's interesting how different it is coming back.

First of all, I fixed my process so that it is now very functional.

Secondly, I stopped filtering myself, letting myself write what I wanted to write, when I wanted to write it.

Third, I'm more mature, with more life experiences.

Fourth, I'm a better writer. I'm sure of it. I'm at least half again as good as I was.

So if I was on the cusp before, and I'm a better writer today, why isn't it easier?

I'd have to say that the competition for that space has grown exponentially.

I think I know why.

Back in the day, the process of writing was grueling. Really, really grueling.  Typing out manuscripts, copying them, mailing them off. (There were lots of steps in-between, all which had to be done right, all of which took time and money.) It really was a marathon.

My guess is that there were lots of creative people who either didn't have the wherewithal to attempt that race, or looked at it and decided not to.


It is incredibly easy to physically write a book. A hundred times easier.

Not only that, but there is always an outlet. Even if every publisher in the world turns you down, you can still put a book out.

So I think inevitably that had to attract a whole bunch of new writers, and some of them are going to be damned good writers.

Writers you didn't have to compete against before.

Assuming that the discover-ability problems of this mass of new writers can be fixed, this is going to result in more good books in the world.

And make it that much harder for any one writer to stand out.

So be it. I'm enjoying this so much, it doesn't matter. I love the ease of writing, the multiple directions I can take.

I'll take my chances.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Wrote the last of the four new "snake" chapters for Snaked.

I like 3 out of 4 chapters a lot. I'm hoping to improve the 4th one through diligent rewriting.

This improved the book quite a bit, and it was already my favorite book. I think it's a "good" book. Will it be seen as such? Not necessarily, but that won't change my opinion of it. It's my first grown-up book in a way, where the writing and the plot and the character and the ideas and the pacing all came together.

I have my own private scale on books. This relates to how well I can write, not a comparison to anyone else. It's not like a * rating. It's just my estimation of how far I have to go and how far I've come.

So when I started, I had the idea that on a scale of 1 to 10, a 7 or better is an acceptable book. One that is worth reading, that a person could read and enjoy. I felt that Star Axe and Snowcastles were in the mid to high 6's, and I got somewhat lucky to get them published. Icetowers was better crafted and was nearly a 7.

I figured an 8 was a decent book, one that could get published, one that I could hang my hat on. (In reality, 6's are probably often published, and 8's are sometimes not...depending on bias, who you know, luck, timing, that sort of thing. That's why an internal scale is useful.)

A 9 is a really good book, the kind of book that a reader might put down and immediately recommend to friends and family, add to their library, maybe reread some day. Most books on the market are between 8's and 9's. I see this as an exponential scale, in a way. That is, each 1/10th of a point is harder to achieve. A 9.5 and above is a "Classic."

So most writers might aspire to writing at least one 9 in their career.  Like I said, this is all intuitive and may be bullshit, but it's something to measure myself by.

So when I came back to writing 25 years later, I felt that a 7 was my starting point.

In reality, I found myself at a 5, struggling to do better. By the third new book, I felt I was back to a 7. And then I wrote Led to the Slaughter, which was a good solid 8.

In a way, by writing Led to the Slaughter I had already accomplished my goal. To finish a book, and to feel like it was a good read.

So I've hovered around an 8 ever since. Tuskers was also a good 8, others are maybe slightly below that, but in similar territory.

Anyway, I think Snaked is a big leap forward. An 8.5 or so. This is an internal scale, but it seems to be holding over time, even after I've written a couple more books which I like. Snaked is better.

It's kind of a cross between Jaws and Earthquake, heh.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Can't wait to finish these three books.

"Snaked" just needs two more chapters written and it's done.

I'm two/thirds through both "Fires of Allah" and "Tuskers IV."

Coming back to these after a long time, I seem to have new ideas, which is both good and bad. I'm not sure my new ideas are seamless with the old ideas.

Part of me thinks this makes the stories a little less predictable and that's a good thing. Part of me is afraid that it changes the tone and plot too much.

I won't know until I finish, so I need to finish.

I'd be worried if I hadn't just finished "Faerie Punk," my 130K word urban fantasy novel, just before I embarked on all this.

Next year I figure it's going to be different. "The Darkness You Fear" is live, "Tusker III" will be out, and "Tuskers IV" will be finished. It will be time to start putting my finished books into the world, probably self-published, and probably at least a third of them under a pen name.

So the next six months are all about finishing up what I've started. Finish the 4 "Lander books." Finish "Deviltree" and "Deeptower." Finish "Sometimes a Dragon." Put them out under the name D.M. McKinnon.

Devote six months to getting everything I've started ready to go.

Then begin anew.

New Rules:

Finish the first draft before you start something new.

Give the book plenty of time to settle, then come back and completely rewrite it.

Don't embark on continuing story lines. It's okay to have a series as long as each book is standalone. 

Don't have covers made until you know you're going to self-publish them.

Start just putting them out as you finish and they are fresh.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Every day I go to my book sites and there are half a dozen books that look fantastic. Really attractive books. Interesting covers and synopsis's. Just good stuff.

How can I complain if my books don't get noticed. It's nobody's fault.

Maybe because I own a bookstore and order books, I can't help but see it.

The fact that there are so many good writers out there doesn't mean I shouldn't keep doing my thing. Maybe the next book I write is the ONE. Not only in my own eyes, but in the eyes of others. But I'm done pushing myself on others. I'll announce books from now on, and nothing more.

Likely, nothing will happen.

But almost as likely nothing would happen no matter what I did, and at least this way I save on the mental, emotional, and spiritual wear and tear, and can focus on merely writing.

I have a book that I think is my best book so far, and yesterday on my walk I thought about all the things I COULD do with it. So many options.

But...I had a plan, and it is the path of least resistance, and probably the most honorable, and that last little bit makes all the difference.

I need, every day, to remind myself to take the moral high road. To remind myself that the very thing that has the tiny chance of making me commercially viable is also the most repugnant to me.

I'm no saint. If I thought doing those repugnant things had a good chance of success--well, that would be a real test, wouldn't it? But since I understand that nothing really works, except luck and diligence and talent, I need to focus on those things.

Rationalizations all, but also true. I feel better just trying to do quality work and letting people discover it. That's what I did with the store. Just kept going to work, kept trying, kept doing what I thought was best.

Eventually, it worked out. (Even if it did take over 20 years with with all the mistakes I made.)

For whatever reason, I'm still really keen on writing. I'm still really enjoying. I'm making progress. I see no reason not to keep indulging.

Didn't write yesterday because I was stuck.

Tuskers II, III, and IV all overlap to some extent in the timeline, but from different locations and points of view.  I think it works fine, but I have to be careful that it makes logical and logistical sense. In "Tuskers IV" I have the central core group of characters taking up most of the first half of the book, but I wanted to at least have one chapter from each of the other two groups of  main characters in the first half.

I wrote a couple of chapters, and I really liked them.

But in reading them yesterday I realized that, while these chapters made emotional, thematic sense, they were from a different timeline. In other words, they weren't logical; they would have to be moved to later in the book.


My job today is to find a couple of new chapters that do the same thing thematically, but which also fit the timeline. It means I have to revisit some of the events in books II and III, but not repeat myself.  I'm thinking that I need a single event which introduces the characters in book IV, but which doesn't contradict or duplicate what I've written before.

I don't even know if this is possible, and I definitely want to feel the rightness of it before I do it.

Linda is at work, so I can pace the house and talk to myself and work myself up into a lather about it, and maybe, just maybe something will occur to me.

OK. thought about it for about an hour and came up with something for the Southern Group. I think it will work. It establishes a plot point I want to make and adds some thematic gravitas to the story and introduces the character.

(Why couldn't I think of anything yesterday? It's like my brain wouldn't work. Last night, I got a good night's sleep, could it be as simple as that?)

I wrote the chapter, but Linda was still confused by the timeline. Sigh.

Both books III and IV have overlapping timelines, and I'm just hoping it works. I understand the timeline, but I can see how others might have a problem.

But I don't think I can change it.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Another missive about process.

This is just a way to quantify the process--it's a lot more amorphous than this, but you'll get the idea.

So I need only a single idea to start writing. Which is the way I used to do it.

I'd have an opening idea, and usually in the course of writing the chapter, I'd come up with more ideas: let's say, for the sake of argument, I come up with 10 good ideas. That's an adequate number, along with the connective tissue, to continue the story. I'd have to come back later and try to flesh out the story.

But I've changed my process. Now I start with no ideas, or one idea, or several ideas, but I think it through. I wait. I tease it out, let it come to me. Often on my walks, I will have multiple ideas. I wait until I'm almost bursting, at a point where I'm in danger of forgetting all the ideas, and then I sit down and write.

Here's the thing. Instead of starting with one idea, I now start with, let's say, 10 ideas; and in the course of writing, I come up with the other 10 ideas. So now the chapter has 20 ideas instead of 10. I still have the opportunity to flesh it out later, so now I have, let's say, 25 ideas.

Along with the ideas, I also have to approach the day's writing with a "feeling." The feeling doesn't have to be explicated, it just has to be there.

I usually have some trigger when I know I've "got" it.

I trust my subconscious on this. It's amazing how little I forget. Multiple ideas jangling around, but when it comes time, they all come spilling out on paper.

When in doubt, I try to tap into the parallel universe these ideas come from.  That universe is in my head, but it doesn't feel that way. The best stories seem to already exist, or are potential glimmers that need to be brought to reality.

But until they are down on paper, they don't really exist for anyone else.

One last thing: this is fun, and sometimes it's almost euphoric. I don't believe bleeding words on paper is the right approach, at least for me. My writing is best when it comes "easy."

Of course, in the end, it is never "easy." It always has to be worked on, rewritten, rethought, fleshed out or cut. The work comes, but not when I'm writing the first draft.

That's the fun part.
I was overwhelmed with gratitude on my walk. I teared up. The story ideas that were coming to me were just so perfect.

I got a little carried away, came home and wrote a gushing missive to a friend about how great "Snaked" is and on and on.

Thought I sent the email and walked away and immediately had second thoughts. It seemed a little over the top. Came back to my computer and realized I hadn't sent the email. By then, I'd come to my senses and deleted it.

Meanwhile, I read the new chapter to Linda, and she picked holes in it and didn't seem overly impressed, and I figured, just business as usual.

But that's not how I feel.

It's hard for me to admit that I write adequate books, much less good ones. But this one feels like the real deal. I think it has everything I've learned to do, and is well written, and packed, and interesting, the characters are alive, it has some nice plot twists.

In other words, I think it's the 'good' book I've been trying for. Whether others will see it that way is a question, but I know what I've done, and I'm really proud of it.

I have felt that "Snaked" was my best book since I wrote it, and these new additions only add to the feeling. Such a simple editorial suggestion, (bring back the snakes!) but it was right on. (I think I hunger for editorial suggestions...)

Anyway, I do believe it improves a book that I already liked quite a lot. But I need to be careful not to get ahead of myself.

It's very strange how creative I'm being currently. I'm literally writing two books. "Tuskers IV" in the first half of the day and "Snaked" in the second half. It's not what I intended. I thought I'd finish "Tuskers IV" and only then turn to "Snaked," but the ideas are coming to me and I don't feel like I can turn them down. Plus, well, I need to write only two or three more chapters on "Snaked" and I'm done.

I also intend to finish "Fires of Allah" by the end of summer. 

It's going to feel really good getting these three books finished.

I'm on a really good streak (which is nice after being bogged down on "Faerylander" and "Zombielander" for a month.)  I've worked out a process that appears to maximize my writing effectiveness. The biggest part of that is the four mile walk I take every day. I don't know why, but it seems like I always come up with good ideas on my walk.

Basically, I tease the ideas out. Sit around, lay around, not forcing but continually reorienting toward the goal, waiting for the ideas and for the scene to flesh out. I'll ask myself questions about what I want. Sometimes I nap, grab stray ideas out of the air. Play a game of solitaire, but always coming back to the goal. If specific words come to me, I write them down, otherwise I wait until I have a bunch of ideas.

There is always the trigger, the moment when I know I've got it. Only then do I sit down and write it. Sometimes I stop halfway through and recharge my batteries, sometimes I have enough creative juice to finish the chapter.

Then I go for my walk, and often either a new chapter will come to me, or I'll burnish the chapter I'm working on.

Notice, I talk about chapters.

So here's how I once might have written the "Tuskers IV" chapter I wrote yesterday.

....Back at the barn, the humans are disgruntled with Enrique's leadership, which is turning dictatorial. Barry and Jenny talk it over, try to figure out what to do about it. Blah, blah, blah....

Here's the way I really wrote it: Barry is out on patrol, they capture a Tusker, (named Houdini), Barry treats it honorably and the Tusker acts honorably in return. Barry brings it back to the barn, where Enrique treats it horribly, and so on. In other words, I get all the same ideas across, but I do it through action and events and character building reactions.

Much better.

Both "Snaked" and "Tuskers IV" are coming to me in a very organic way, somehow. That's happened before--"Tuskers I" for instance--but never as complete as this.

But I'm trying not too get excited by it. I often have this reaction when I'm writing my latest book, and it's just part of the creative process. I'll have to wait and see how I feel about it when I'm done and can look at it with some perspective.

Sunday, July 3, 2016


I wrote a full chapter of "Tuskers IV," then went for my walk, and my mind drifted to "Snaked: Deep Sea Rising," and a chapter started coming to me, so rather than fighting it, I came home and wrote it.

And it was good. Actually, really good.

In the course of one week, I have worked on four different books. That's got to be a new record.

Last Saturday, I wrote a chapter of "Zombielander." Then over the next couple of days, I worked on "Fires of Allah," then I turned to "Tuskers IV," and today, I wrote on "Snaked."

Crazy. My brain hurts.

But while I do feel scattered, I also feel like I'm on the right path. I like the changes to "Snaked." The editor was right: the snakes needed to be highlighted in the last half of the book, instead of fading. It reminds me of how I went back and added a backstory to "Blood of the Succubus" which very much added quality to the book.

I like "Tuskers IV." Thematically, it just has a nice feel to it.

And I like the "Fires of Allah." I'm backing off hurrying it up, even if it means losing some of its timeliness. But it was timely last year, and it is timely this year, and it will no doubt be timely next year. I mean, I will finish it this summer, I'm pretty sure, but I'm going to take a few months to add research to it.

So why was I spending so much time on "Zombielander?" I have no intention of publishing it soon.  Why am I even considering going back to it?

There's a four book series there that I'm still fond of. I'm more and more inclined to start putting books out under a pen name, since I have more than enough books going out under my own name. So...these books will be written as best I can, but will have less push on my part.

The "Lander" series falls under this idea. 

I'll have two tracks I'll be working on, because I'm prolific (I work hard and spend an inordinate amount of time doing it...) and the books are piling up.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

I've decided to finish "Tusker IV: Rise of the Cloven" since Ragnarok has set out to get a cover from Mike Corley for it. So they are trusting me to get it done.

The biggest challenge will be to get my head into it. That may take a day or two. I need to get immersed again in that world. Feeling a little whipsawed, my own fault, because I went from not quite finishing Zombielander, to doing Fires of Allah, to having some thoughts about how to fix Snaked, to now doing Tuskers IV, all within about a week.

So this is what I'm going to do for the next month, dammit.

I was half done. (Actually more than that, but I cannibalized much of it for book 3).

So this first half is all told from the "good guys" point of view; the humans and pigs who have banded together for survival.

So question #1. Do I bring in the other two factions somewhere in the first half? I have the humans who hate pigs side, and the pigs who hate humans side, and the "good guys" are in the middle.

So I get halfway through, then jump ahead a couple of years, and the good guys have developed a nice cooperative culture. But somehow both other sides find about about them and converge on them where an all-out battle takes place.

Question #2. How much explaining do I need to do about what happened in the first 3 books? How likely is it that anyone would read the 4th book in the series without reading the first 4?

But I do believe all books should have a satisfying story arc on their own. So I have to at least try.

I have a few days to really think about this and get a good sense of what I want to do. I have a "thematic" structure, so I figure the plot will follow. And again, as with all these half finished books, the second half is almost always more action-packed, which for me is easier to write. 

Friday, July 1, 2016

I wasn't sure what would happen when I picked up a book that was half done, and hadn't been looked at for months.

In the last few days, I've written two solid chapters. I have ideas for more.

All is right with the world.

So I pretty much have the next few months mapped out.

First I finish Fires of Allah. If I think it's good, and I get it edited, and I have a cover, I may even publish it late this summer. I don't want it to be an unseemly rush though.

Then I want to spend a week or two writing snake chapters for Snaked: Deep Sea Rising.  Bring the snakes back to the foreground and deal with them in a satisfying way. Hopefully, the publisher will like the changes and take the book on.

Then I'll start right in on Tuskers IV, with my worries about having it sit half done for a year pretty much dissipated. It's got a good thematic structure, and from that the plot should be accessible.

So like I said, all is right with the world. 3 good books to finish. Writing NEW material, and enjoying it. This is the kind of writing I like to do.