Thursday, November 30, 2017

Contentment writes a blank page.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

fantasy is my kryptonite.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Someday, though.

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

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

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Huge news. Lots to unpack.

Bear with me, because it all turns out really well. 

I'd hoped to announce all of this at the same time, but I can see that it isn't going to be as simple a process as that. I have a huge amount to announce all at once. Later on, as these things unfold, I'll discuss each of these events in turn.

1.)  Not long ago, Cohesion Press unexpectedly decided to close shop. Snaked had only been out a couple of months. I'd thought it a little strange that they'd done so little to announce it in advance or promote it afterwards, especially since they had a couple of very good selling "sea creature" books and mine fit right in.

I was asked to keep it quiet at first while they tried to find a buyer.

2.)  While all this this waiting period was going on, one of my other publishers, Ragnarok Publications, also announced that they were letting go of all their current and coming books.

This all happened within a week.

This was a bit of a gut wrench. It struck me harder than I thought it would.  Tuskers IV had only been out about a month. They hadn't even gotten around to releasing an ebook version.

Ragnarok ran into a little trouble a year ago, and several authors left, but the company was sold and appeared to be solid and most of the authors, including me, stayed put. I was paid what I was owed, as far as I can tell because their record keeping was a little shaky. But I wanted to conclude the "Tuskers" saga and so I stuck with them.

3.)  Meanwhile, my original publisher, Books of the Dead, had been quiet for a couple of years. Most of the authors left a year ago, but again, I stayed mostly because I had so many books in the works that I didn't want to have to deal with them too.

Right after Ragnarok's announcement, Cohesion announced that no buyers had come forward and that they were releasing all books.

Through the grapevine, I heard that several publishers were willing to look at books from Ragnarok and Cohesion.

4.)  I signed a contract with  Crossroad Press for Tuskers I, II, III, and  IV and for Snaked. I also offered them my three 80's fantasies, Star Axe, Snowcastles, and Icetowers and they took those too. It turns out they have an expertise in publishing backlists and knew how to scan them.

So right there was a huge bonus for me. I'd intended to self-publish these (I'd purchased the artwork to the original covers to Star Axe and Snowcastles) but the scanning process was much harder than I expected. Plus, with Crossroad there is a good chance that physical copies and audio versions might be done. (That's true of all the books I signed over to them, so that's cool.)

While this was going on, it appears that multiple prospective buyers had popped up for Cohesion. I felt that I'd already promised "Snaked" to Crossroad so told them I'd still be moving, though it would have been nice to have had another publisher.  (As a business owner, nothing drives me crazier than someone changing the terms of a deal after they've been agreed upon.)

But I'm only half over.

I decided this would be a good time to move my books from Books of the Dead. Crossroad was willing, but I'd already moved 8 books to them and wondered if maybe I shouldn't spread my books out a little more.

5.)  I was able to sell my "Vampire Evolution Trilogy" (Death of an Immortal; Rule of Vampire; and Blood of Gold) to Dragon Moon Press, a small but long-established Canadian publisher.

6.)  And it looks like I've also found a home for my "Virginia Reed Adventures" (Led to the Slaughter; The Dead Spend No Gold; and The Darkness You Fear) though since a contract has not yet been signed, I'll hold off announcing where for now. This publisher is also interested in continuing the series, which I'd postponed because BOTD had been MIA. They are very interested in doing audio versions, which is another bonus.

This is fantastic because the Virginia Reed stories are some of my favorites and I really wanted to continue these Weird Westerns. 

All three of these publishers seem interested in doing audio versions of the books. All are active in the business and all seem like very good homes, equal to where the books were before.

Net bonus is new life for the books, plus my 80's books published, plus probably more audio versions, plus new avenues to try to sell future books.

So how weird and wonderful is that?

I was able to get the rights to the contents and covers to all these books. 

It turns out my original publishers all had strong reputations in the horror publishing community for their content, which is nice to know. (In some ways, they were too successful, reaching for mass distribution which was a huge drag on their cashflow. When I started Pegasus Books I was warned of two potential problems: too little business and, strangely, too much business.)

I think in the future I'll be more encouraged to submit my books to new publishers, where I'd begun to back away.

Last but not least:

Most of these books are or will soon be out of circulation for a little bit, while the changes are being made. If you hurry (Ha) you can probably still buy some of them.

Meanwhile, my self-published books are still on Amazon (Faerie Punk; I Live Among You; Freedy Filkins; Gargoyle Dreams; and Blood of the Succubus). In my humble opinion they are just as good as the traditional published books, so please buy those while we're waiting. (Ha.)

I feel like I fell out of plane and landed in a soft bed of clover.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Small article about Pegasus Books in The Source this morning under "Legends of the Game." Interviews with new and old businesses in town. It's nice of them to do it, especially since I don't advertise. My old friend Judy Stiegler was the writer, and of course, it seems like such a small amount of information compared to how much we talked, but that always seems the way.

The one thing that didn't make the article was my statement, "I'm grateful for not only surviving, but thriving." Pegasus is a functioning store. May not sound like much of an accomplishment, but it was always a struggle to get there. Years went by when we survived mostly on willpower and stubbornness.

I do believe people are being more supportive of local stores over the last few years. Used to be Black Friday was a complete washout, but now it's more like a slightly better than average day. Small Business Saturday so far hasn't been that impactful, but I think it's gathering steam. (The Halloween promotion this year, for instance, really took off...)

I'm thankful for so much this year. Normally, I'm not much of a sentimentalist, but I've been realizing how freaking lucky I've been. It seems like one thing after another has come to fruition over the last few years. It feels like luck, and maybe just hanging in there long enough.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

A paucity of good TV shows.

This is probably the least number of shows I can remember that Linda and I regularly watch. Only six that are currently running.

Gotham: I like this quite a lot. A nice take on the DC universe, and it hasn't devolved into silly soap opera like so many of these shows do. (I'm looking at you, Supergirl, Flash, and ugh...Green Arrow.)

Lucifer: What it does, it does very well. Wouldn't work without the lead actor. The human detective is a bit boring, (and I can't take my eyes off her weird eyebrows) but the side characters are fun.

Walking Dead: I'll see it through to the end, dammit! I'm getting a little tired of the Mythologizing of the lead characters as if they're badasses when they're mostly lame. (Except Carol. Carol is a badass.) And zombies? What zombies?

Exorcist: This is an original show that goes there. The only thing I don't like is the younger priest ignoring the advice of the older priest as stupid conflict meme. Because he never learns? Whatever.

The Orville: Absolutely stupid and bonkers and I really enjoy it.

Ghosted: Is this a sitcom? I'm not sure, but it's the first half hour show I've watched in years. It's fun, the characterization is right on. Like a live action Futureama.

That's it. I dislike sitcoms, reality shows, so it's mostly dramas, and mostly with a genre twist.

Not counting Stranger Things, which I love like everyone else, Game of Thrones, which is great, Mindhunter which was interesting, but needs to be a little better to keep me.

There is one new show we're only four episodes into, but I'm really liking it a lot.

The Punisher: The reviewers seem to think this is too grim. It's the FUCKING PUNISHER! I think it has exactly the right tone. And it's so far leaving out all the angst that made me stop watching Iron Fist and Daredevil.  Straight ahead story. Good stuff.

Finally, I'm going to weigh in with probably an unpopular opinion about Thor: Ragnarok.

First of all,  to be clear, I liked it. It was loads of fun.

But the tone of the movie, following Wonder Woman and the two Guardians of the Galaxy movies, is a little worrisome.

It came perilously to being campy. I believe campy is the end to all good series. Superman I and II devolves to Superman V,  Batman (original) devolves to George Clooney.

Campy is a certain lack of respect, Hollywood showing its true opinion of the subject matter. Wink, wink, nod, nod.

It's a dangerous direction to be going.

Yes, I understand that movies like Superman versus Batman went too far the other direction. Too serious and grim.

Wonder Woman to me struck just the right tone, and the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie. But already by the second GoG movie, campy was creeping in.

Mark my words, Hollywood is going to take the wrong lesson from the success of these movies.

Just saying.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

A lot going on in the publishing world. I'm not ready to talk about it yet. Still trying to figure it out.

Funny thing is, all the changes may work out to be a good thing. Or not.

Still too early to tell.

So that's why I haven't been posting as much.

Vague enough for you?

Monday, November 13, 2017

Ten personal rules of writing.

What's worse: Getting a rejection--or never hearing back?

I hate to say it, but I think the rejection is worse. The never hearing back allows you to decompress. The uncertainty doesn't really matter, not if you are going to keep on writing anyway.

The current book is a little soft. I'm not digging into it deeply, but that is kind of on purpose. I needed something light to write, something I could just dish out every day. Even if I only write 1000 words a day for the rest of the year, this book would come in at over 70K words. I'll miss a few days because of the holidays, no doubt, but I rarely only write 1000 words.

Just another story to set into the book bank.

At some point I really need to go back to the book bank and start finishing stuff up.

The real project will be next year. The new thriller. I'm throwing two ideas for books together, trying to use the strongest character, doing it in third person, and I will be trying at least to have it somewhat outlined before I start. I really think the book would benefit if I can avoid flailing around for the first 50 pages and really start the story where it needs to start.

I want to really get this book right. Of course, that is a formula for writer's block, so I have to be careful. I have a whole bookshelf full of books about gold mining, which seems to be a reoccurring element in my books, and it might help to read them.

This I know:

1.) Research always helps. It give the story telling detail and often sparks ideas.

2.) I can't meander the first 50 pages again before the story takes off. I need to start where the story takes off.

3.) I need a strong central character. I don't like Duncan stand-ins, they feel amorphous to me, whereas specific strong personalities other than myself are much more fun to write and tend to be stronger.

4.) I should write in 3rd person. 1st person is very attractive and easy to write, but it's hard to gain any real depth, and besides I like have numerous POV characters.

5.) I like numerous POV characters, but I need to set a limit. I think no more than 4 or 5, if I can help it.

6.) I need to write the book to the end quickly, and then go back and fill in with perhaps more characters and elements.

7.) Note taking wouldn't be out of bounds. I often have ideas while writing, then think I'll remember them, and only later when I'm finished will I realize that I left out something that would have been nice to have.

8.) Rewrites are incredibly important. They make a decent story a good story.

9.) The more time I have between rewrites, the more perspective and the more willing to change.

10.) I shouldn't second-guess myself or let others critique the 1st draft. Finish it, and only then make changes. 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Jump Forward

I was stuck for a couple of days.

Finally gave up and went for my walk without my laptop and of course the answer came to me. Hurried back to my car, quickly drove home, and wrote one of the two chapters I conceptualized.

The answer was to Jump Forward to where action is happening. It had been intended as a set-up chapter, where a POV character is responding to events. It was terribly boring. So I ditched all that and went directly to where things change.

Jump Forward.

That's probably a pretty good rule for writing altogether. Skip all the explanations, set-up, meandering character development. Because all of those things can be done within the action if you're clever enough.

For most of my books I've struggled with the first 50 pages. I discover my stories by writing them. I've tried to outline but I just can't seem to do it. In fact, most of the time I don't really understand the book until I've finished the first draft. That's why I don't interrupt myself with second-guessing when I write a first draft. I immerse myself in the story and finish it, and only then do I look back and see what I'm missing or what I'm doing too much of.

The pattern that seems to be developing is that I write the first 50 pages and then the story kicks in. So that's probably where the story should start. But I have just enough set-up on the first 50 pages to be unable to shed them. I can usually cut a good 30%, but it is usually pretty unsatisfying, both because it isn't a perfect solution and at the same time I'm cutting stuff I like.

So what I need to do is figure out those first 50 pages in advance,  jump forward to where the action really starts.

Jump forward, then jump forward again. And again. Action scene followed by action scene, always progressing toward the end of the story.

There is one trick I've learned. Write as fast as I can to the ending, and then go back and add elements that are missing.

Some books the beginning works, but the ending doesn't. Or the ending works, but the beginning doesn't. Or the beginning and ending works, but the middle doesn't work. Everyone once in a while all three work, but it's rare.

Linda and I are coloring mandalas at night when we're watching TV. So what happens is that you try to guess which colors will work well together, and sometimes you get them right and sometimes you don't but once you've chosen the colors you really can't do anything about it.

The point is no amount of experience can keep you from guessing wrong. Each mandala is intricate and different. So there isn't a point at which you can eliminate mistakes because there is always an element of guesswork.

To extend the analogy,  each time I start a book, no matter how much experience I bring to it, there is a certain amount of guesswork, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. There is a steady progression in writing ability that isn't necessarily reflected in a steady progression of story quality. Some of my very early books are probably better than some of my later books, and it was simply a matter of hitting on the right subject in the right way.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

I was undecided about what to write next, but I wanted to keep writing, so I chose a silly little science fantasy that probably isn't all that good and I'm not sure where it's going but I'm having fun with it. Just writing each chapter as it comes. It may not come to anything, but it's keeping me going and I'm experimenting a little with style and process.

Basically, I'm letting my clunky stuff emerge. Instead of waiting for each sentence to feel fully formed, I'm just jumping at it, clutching the words, slapping them on the page, and wincing. I'm moving characters around and having them talk. About half the book is probably missing.

Like I said, it's an experiment, but it isn't that bad. It reads better than it should. In a way, it's giving me a chance to learn what's really necessary to the story and what isn't.

It may end up being a throwaway book, but it's better to keep writing than to wait around for inspiration.

I do want to write another thriller, but I want to have a killer elevator pitch, high concept, something that can be described in one sentence. "The Donner Party Werewolves" or "Bigfoot and the California Gold Rush" or "Wild Pig Apocalypse."

I do know that whatever I choose will be action packed from the start, very little backstory, just straight ahead plot. Again, probably more of an experiment than anything else.

I keep coming back to horror because I think it's the genre with the most possibilities. Any story can be turned into a horror story. The perimeters are pretty broad. I can write in the real world and yet indulge in my dark fantasy inclinations. It isn't what I expected to be writing, but I keep coming back to the fact that the genre is most suitable for my strengths and weaknesses. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

I don't enjoy world building.

I mean, I love fantasy. I think I have a feel for fantasy. But I know that part of what I love about "Lord of the Rings" is the completeness of its reality. It's as if Middle Earth actually exists. There is a palpable and pervading sense of nostalgia.

But when I try to write fantasy, I just want to tell a story with some interesting characters without all the effort it takes to construct a world around them. I think that's the main reason when I came back to writing that I started in the horror genre, and why the horror genre still attracts me. I can place the story in the real world. The only world building I need to do is the supernatural nature of whatever the threat is, and I can do that much. That much is fun and interesting.

Historical horror, the same way.

With thriller novels, the problem is the opposite. I don't like to have to research all the "realistic" details of a plot, the police procedures, the types of weapons, and on and on.

But I can force myself to do the work, but...I feel like thrillers require me to be an adult and I'm not sure I've ever been an adult.

Or I can just go off and merrily write "Gargoyle Dreams" and "I Live Among You," which are self-contained stories requiring no world building or research.

I could write these stores all day long.

Currently, I'm on a science fantasy book, which is usually not satisfying to either SF fans or Fantasy fans. Heh. The usual world building problems are coming up. In a way, the plot of a fantasy is contingent on the world, the religions, the geography, the customs, etc. My problem is that I plot my books, and then try to fit a world into it, instead of the other way around.

In my "Tales of the Thirteen Principalities", I've written two full novellas, one novella 2/3rd finished, and another 1/2 finished. In each story I've discovered more about the world I'm writing in. My goal is to write half a dozen of these novellas, and cross reference the different aspects of the world I discover in each story, which I can do as long as I don't publish. The stories are already probably more detailed than any other fantasy I've written, and it is because each story has brought out a little more of the world.

Anyway, I'm going ahead with my current little science fantasy and hoping it comes together. It's a little dangerous. I've got about 10 books set aside that I don't think made the grade, and this could be another one of those. But it is better to write everyday in my opinion than wait around for the killer idea or inspiration.

As I've mentioned before, whenever I'm confronted by a dilemma, I ask myself "What is the moral high ground?"

The answer here, I think, is that I probably need to challenge myself in my writing. As fun as "Gargoyle Dreams" and "I Live Among You" are to write, and as well as they come out (and I do think they are as good as anything else I've done) they aren't a challenge, and if I'm ever going to get better (and after this many books, that's a question) I need to push myself a little. At the same time, let myself write "fun" books every other time as palate cleansers so to speak.

I've held off writing my Trilogy. I have in mind an epic fantasy, when I'm ready. Everything else is in preparation for that. But I'll know going in that world building is absolutely crucial. I've learned that much about myself by writing.

Monday, November 6, 2017

D & D and Stranger Things

We sold out of most of our D&D this past weekend.


It's great that people are finding or being reminded of what a great game this is by a TV show. What's more, the kids in the show are so appealing that it gives the game a nice halo.

I've put in an quick order this morning, and then will stock up for Christmas next week. How cool. Everything old is new again.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Buying toys with a vengeance.

I tend to cycle through my product lines at Pegasus Books, paying close attention to one at a time.

These last few months, it's been toys. I'd sort of neglected them over the last few years, picking up one or two, here or there.

When I finally got around to doing something about it, I kind of went crazy. I ordered mostly off the liquidation lists. The weird part about liquidation lists, and this is true of new books as well, is that the stuff I can order there at a steep discount probably range from 00 to 80% desirable, while if I was ordering new toys at regular discounts, the desirability range is 00 to 100% and I try to order the 90 to 100% toys anyway.

In other words, other than absolute standouts, there is no point not ordering a decent toy every time it is offered.

But inevitably, there are more decent toys than I can afford, and even more importantly, than I can make room for.

It occurred to me the other day that the way my store works is that I consistently OVERLOAD it with product, to the point where I have to be very creative in how I display, or I let some overflow spill out into places that it shouldn't probably be, or I am forced to remove older product.

This last option is always there, but the overflow generally stops just short of that.

Not this time. This time I told Cameron to just remove any old, dusty, or yellowed toys to make room for the new ones. It should brighten up the store. It's not that the new toys are any more likely to sell. I find with toys, posters, T-shirts, and other accoutrements that it's very difficult to know WHAT will sell and that I'm continually surprised.

Yet another reason to buy toys that are being taken off the lists by the wholesalers.

Another reason to buy this discounted product is that by the time I get it, it has cycled through the bigger stores so...ironically, I'm likely to be the only one who has them. The long tail theory that I just need that one person who wants that one toy.

Meanwhile, I had the brainstorm of asking my Facebook friends and followers what new books I should order. I had five books I wanted to order, and I needed to push that to twenty books, so I had an open call.

Boom. Great suggestions, one after another, and as soon as it started I decided to order every single book suggested if possible with the thought that one person's all time favorite book is probably a worthy book.

I was hugely gratified that I already had about 2/3rds of the suggestions in stock, which if I may say, means that I have a pretty good sense of what people are looking for. But it was a fun exercise and I'm going to do it again soon. Maybe should try that with games, or graphic novels, as well.

Finally, enamel pins are a thing, especially in comics, but I noticed that there were enamel pins for books as well. I found an outlet with 40 different titles, from Lord of the Rings to Pride and Prejudice, all great books. I couldn't resist and ordered 20 of the titles and they are now in the store.

If you love books, you should check them out. They are very cool.