Thursday, December 29, 2011

Stuff I Enjoyed in 2011

With the end of the year a scant three days away, I find myself reading a lot of best-of and worst-of year-end lists.
If I really wanted to, I could probably cobble together a handful of top-ten lists, with best TV shows and favorite movies, but as I sit here typing, I’m realizing that my memory can be painfully short, and things I listened to, watched or read at the start of the year are mostly just blank holes in my memory. (For example, I had already figured out what my favorite TV show of the year was… until I realized it wasn’t).
So here, in no particular order, are my favorite things of the year. Always keeping in mind that I probably have other favorite things my mind has tossed into a dark hole, never to be seen again.
Favorite Book: The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. After years and years of hype, I finally got around to reading The Name of the Wind, the first book of Rothfuss’ planned trilogy. I quite literally don’t know if the book could have been hyped any more than it was. Sci-fi authors I knew liked it. Cartoonists I knew liked it. People were frothing for a second book, and had to wait four years, and they were going mad with the waiting.
Over the same time frame people were going nuts for the first book, I had read some other series. I chewed through all the Dresden books, which start off okay and get great. (Until book 13, which I felt like 400 pages of prologue with 40 pages of “by the way, this is why this happened.”) I read all the Hunger Games books. (Good, but too much fashion and love triangle, and not enough action.) I read the Twilight books (a highly readable series in which nothing happens) and I got through the first few Percy Jackson books (super-fun, but pitched a little young for me), The Forest of Hands and Teeth (an amazing story world with about 150 pages too much boy talk per book) and the Sookie Stackhouse series (a bunch of really cool super-powered humans… who surround a character who can mostly only observe, because otherwise she’d be dead).
Granted, I enjoyed all of those books to one extent or another. But most of them fell short of the hype.
But not The Name of the Wind. Or, if it did, it managed to make it 99.999% of the way there. I was sad when it was over, but I was very happy that the next volume had a hard and fast release date. I wouldn’t have the painful four year wait my friends had, at least.
Of course, that’s the thing, isn’t it? Rothfuss had said that volume 2 would be done in a year, then two, and then it took four. Which meant there was a good chance he’d fiddled it into badness, or fiddled it into goodness.
And as it turns out – it was goodness.
Was it better or worse than the first book? I’d argue it was about the same. All I know is, even at a bazillion pages, I still managed to read my way through it in a little over two weeks. Even with a million things to distract me, that book flies.
Best TV Show: Spartacus: Gods of the Arena – If there’s an award for most improved show, this one deserves it. The first half of its first season was overburdened by style, but the back half took all the loose threads and turned them into a tapestry that was never less than riveting.
This prequel, originally created to give the lead actor time to recover from cancer, should have been a series of “of course this happened” stories, and yet… they found a way around that. It was awesome to behold, and just as fun and “no WAY did they just do that” as the first season.
Best Musical Discovery: Pentatonix. The winners of The Sing-Off can probably look forward to a life of obscurity. A five-person a-cappella group doesn’t interest anyone outside of music geeks, judging by the low ratings of the show they won. And the show itself was problematic. Given two hours every Monday night, they broadcast about 24 minutes of music, or less than a third of their air time, once commercials were removed.
But man, did they make their two minutes count every week. Creative, smart, and gifted, they made five people sound like a six-instrument band. After avoiding iTunes and Amazon MP3s for as long as they’ve been existence, I went and downloaded everything they did… including songs I kind of hated in their original incarnation.
Now, these guys are smart pop performers, but at the moment their life is covers. And that’s fine if you want to spend your life as a local opening act but… I want more from them. So here’s hoping they hook up with a really excellent producer, and some really great songwriters, and they don’t blow this chance they’ve got.
Best Musical Re-Discovery: Also from The Sing-Off, Ben Folds, who put out a 3 CD retrospective this year. Putting the discs in, one after the other, I found all the old songs I loved, discovered that I loved a few songs I barely remembered, and was reminded of just how many great songs Ben’s created over the course of 15+ years as an artist.
I’ve reached an age now where I don’t buy a lot of music. Much of what I hear on commercial radio doesn’t interest me, and I no longer feel the pull of searching every nook and cranny for the next great thing. But I’ll probably keep buying Ben Folds albums as long as he keeps putting them out.
Best Movie: Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs/Tangled It’s odd. I have screenwriting credits, but being a dad and an author has seriously cramped my movie-watching time. Pre-kid, I’d watch a movie almost every night. Now, even getting through an hour of TV can be almost impossible.
So, yeah. Kid movies.
Cloudy is technically from last year, and honestly, it’s brilliant from one end to the other. Watch it, then watch it again, and see all the little ideas that appear in the movie come back. Everything is important.
Tangled, on the other hand, contains the single best action sequence I saw in a movie last year. Namely, a sword fight between a horse and a man. And all the things around it.
And that’s mass media 101 from me, folks. Feel free to leave your favorites in the comments, if you’re so inclined.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Well, the Christmas fire sale is over, at least as far as Amazon is concerned (they raised some of my prices).
There are still a few really great deals to be had.
To start with, “Blood Calling,” the first novel in the “Blood Calling Trilogy” – a story about vampires who eat people for all the right reasons - is only 99 cents:
Also 99 cents, the novella that ties into the story - and becomes a bigger part of the story in the second party of the trilogy – “Baby Teeth: A Blood Calling Novelette:”
Both of these books tie into the brand-new (less than a week old!) novel “Misfits: A Blood Calling Novel,” which is only $2.99.
Unrelated to my vampires I’m dropping the price of my book “How to Find a Job” to 99 cents. Over 100 pages of job-getting ideas for a little less than a dollar:
And finally, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that “Fairy Godmother-In-Law,” my modern fantasy story is not only my best seller, but also 99 cents:
Buy one! Buy them all! For less than the cost of a paperback, you can laugh, cry, and find work.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Stuff I’m Selling Cheap (and Giving Away) This Christmas

All right, folks. It’s Christmas Eve day, and I’ve spent hours and hours running around, while trying to Tweet all the things that I’m doing this weekend that are Just For You, My Awesome Readers.

But folks… I’m going to be very, very busy over the next couple of days, and I don’t want anyone to miss anything. So I’m sticking this at the top of my blog, so I can point people here quickly and easily.

So, real quick, if you want something cheap or free for your Kindle (mostly), here you go:

First: “How to Find a Job” is currently free on the Kindle:

Grab it quick. It won’t be for long.

Second: “Mercy” is currently 80% off – 99 cents on the Kindle:

Grab it quick. I have no idea how long it will be 99 cents.

Third: “Blood Calling” is currently 99 cents on the Kindle, nook, and Smashwords:

Grab it quick, etc.

Why is it 99 cents? Because the sequel just came out!

“Misfits: A Blood Calling Novel” is now out on Kindle, nook, and Smashwords:

Grab it quick, for no other reason that I had four beta readers say it was better than the first – and another reader has already told me she sat up until 4 AM reading. What more can you ask for?

Happy Holidays!

Monday, December 19, 2011

How to Find More Writing Time

Just because I’m the way I am, I need to start this post with a caveat:
All of these are ideas that work for me, or that I have heard work for other people. I’ll let you know which ones I endorse when I get to the actual essay.
Which leads me to my second caveat:
I am not a world-famous author. I am a mostly-well-reviewed slow-selling indie author. This could always change in the future, but I’m not going to come back here and revise this if my fortunes change. In other words, if I turn into the next Stephen King or Amanda Hocking, that doesn’t really prove that I’m a better or worse writer. Just that I’m a lucky one.
All I’m talking about here is how to carve out more time to write for yourself.
I’m mostly writing this for a couple of friends who’ve asked how I managed to release six ebooks between March and now (December 19, as I type this).
I should start by noting that the count should be eight by the end of the year, as I still intend to release one more novel (Misfits: A Blood Calling Novel) and another non-fiction book (How to Make a Movie) by the end of the month. The books are written, but have stalled in copyediting, which is fiddly and tiresome and no fun, but which is very necessary when it comes to releasing the best book you can.
So, here’s how I did it:
First, I had a pretty deep bench when I started the process. The first thing I released, “Fairy Godmother-In-Law,” was written a few years back for an anthology that didn’t happen. My novel, “Mercy,” was written a couple of years earlier, but never found an agent who wanted to read it. (I had exactly one person offer to read a portion of the manuscript before rejecting it. As I type this, it’s rated at 4 ½ stars on Amazon and over 4 stars on Goodreads).
I also had the first fifty or 100 pages of “Blood Calling,” which was called “The Kids” at the time. “The Werewolf Solution” was in a complete form, but in need of heavy editing, when I started. “How to Make a Movie” is perhaps half new material, and half articles and handouts that I wrote in the past.
The only books that went from 0 pages to complete this year were “Misfits,” “How to Find a Job,” and “Baby Teeth.”
That’s about 465 manuscript pages. Finishing off other partially-completed books adds another 275 pages, for a total of 740 fresh pages this year.
And all of my old manuscripts also got a polish, ranging from cosmetic changes (Fairy Godmother-In-Law) to serious “Why did I release this in this form?” overhauls (“The Werewolf Solution” which, among other problems, had a issues with shifting points of view.)
That’s a lot of throat-clearing before getting to the meat of this post, but I think it’s important throat-clearing. Writing isn’t just writing. It’s going back and making all those little fixes that need fixing, which can be pretty disheartening, when you feel like you’re this close to releasing a book, but part of it just isn’t any good.
So. Okay.
But let’s concentrate on the 740 pages for now.
How did I do it?
1. I never really stop writing. By which I mean, if I’m in the middle of creating something (novel, non-fiction book, screenplay, etc.) I spend my day thinking about it. I think about it when I get up. I think about it when I’m eating lunch. If I’m in the middle of doing something that requires my physical presence, but not my brain, I’ll keep mentally shaping and reshaping the scene, or section, or outline that I’m working on.
That way, when I sit down to do the actual typing, that’s pretty much all it is. There might be pauses while I try to remember something that’s key to the scene or character, but for the most part, I’m just putting down the bricks in the order the blueprints tell me to.
2. If I have an important thought, and don’t want to forget it, I’ll write it down on a scrap of paper and stick it in my pocket, or my wallet, or somewhere else that I won’t lose it. Then I take it home and put it on my desk, so I have my “notes” there with me when I’m writing.
There are writers who use notebooks for this, and that’s fine, but I’ve never really been the kind to carry a notebook.
3. A Page a Day: I don’t use this one, but I know people who do. A novel is, of course, generally around 300 pages (though this varies from manuscript to actual book length). So if you write one page her day, you’ll have 365 pages. That’s a novel.
4. Four Words a Day. I don’t use this either, but again, I know people who do. Anyone can, of course, write four words in one day. I don’t think the idea is to complete a novel using this system, since if you’re writing a 90,000 word novel, it’ll take you about 61 years to finish it in this manner. But as long as you’re sitting there, and you have your four words, you’ll probably have some concept of what’s next. So you’ll write a paragraph. Or a scene. Or even a handful of lines. Which is more than you had done when you started.
5. Set a timer for an hour, and don’t do anything else but write for that hour. That’s harder than you think. I’ve tried this, and it works, but it usually starts working during the last two minutes. So if you need to go to bed at that point, because you drive an 18 wheeler, this might not be the best idea.
6. Wait for daylight savings time to fall back, and start getting up an hour earlier than you used to. I can’t remember where I first read this idea, but it seems like a good one. After all, you’re already used to being up at that time, it’s just that everyone else has decided it’s a different time now.
7. Get yourself a laptop. Or a netbook. Or really anything you can carry with you and write wherever you are. When I traveled for work a lot, I bought a laptop and used it on the plane. And in my hotel. And pretty much anywhere I went. The opening of my first movie was written on a trip to New York.
8. Don’t get out of the habit. The reason I generally stop writing is because I stop writing. Which is to say, if I take a week off for whatever reason (holidays, etc.) it’s that much harder to get back to it. So avoid breaks, if you can.
9. That said, sometimes a break helps. I generally have a broad outline, but sometimes I just can’t figure out how the characters are supposed to get from point A to point B. I had that problem with my current novel, so I took a break and went to mind-writing, and tried to figure out where my plot was going wrong (or rather, not going at all). After a few days, I figured out the problem, and I just pounded my way through 3000 words.
10. Set goals, even ridiculous ones. When I was writing “Mercy,” I decided I was going to do 2000 words a day, no matter what. I had some nights I didn’t get much sleep, frankly, because I was at 1800 and just couldn’t go any further. But in the end, I wrote that book in about 50 days. And then rewrote it.
11. And that’s important too. Sometimes you get stuck, and you have to power through and write a bad version and come back and fix it later.
12. Have an outline. This is probably the best advice I can give. When I got stuck in “Mercy,” it was because I couldn’t figure out what happened next. So, before you sit down to write a whole lot of novel, put together a list of high points you want/need to hit, and that will allow you to take your characters from place to place to place.
And that’s a novel. Good luck.