Wednesday, June 30, 2010

300th Post - Staging a Scene

This is my 300th post on this blog. Whoo hoo!

And today I got a nice review of The Wife of Freedom from the KindleObsessed blog. It was a four-star review, but since she started out by talking about Pride and Prejudice, I think I would have had to slug her if she gave me a five-star review in conjunction with that.

But in the meantime, I finished the first Simon Templar story "The Man Who Was Clever." (Technically not the very first Saint story Leslie Charteris wrote, but he didn't really like the first one, so we'll ignore it.) It brought up a lot of interesting writing issues, but I'll start with the most trivial one, because it's been on my mind for other stories.)

The action scenes were all very clear, if a little miraculous and often glossed over tricky details. When told in summary they were great - such as the first action scene, where we see the results of the fight first, and then hear the story told after. You really could see the choreography of the scene, where a gang of four toughs are quickly and easily dispatched by the elegant Templar. He had it planned, and you feel a kind of whirlwind. Crack, bang, whack whack, boom! And all four are laid out almost simultaneously.

AND you also have a clear idea of what happened and how - but that's partly because it was told in summary. There was time to sort out what happened afterward. When a quick blur of action happens, very often it's hard to portray so clearly and yet believably. In the moment it IS a blur.

And that's where many of the other action scenes in the story fell down. They were described very clearly, beat-by-beat, in the moment. As a result, they felt like those scenes where the bad guys all wait in line for the hero to knock them out one at a time. The other thing that contributed to this problem is that the story is told in omniscient point of view. We neither get a deep sense of one person's experience of any of it, nor do we get the clean objective external description.

I think that one of the best ways to avoid that whole "bad guys standing in line" feel is to use two techniques. First of all, you need to choreograph the scene. What ARE those other guys doing while they are not being punched by the hero? Are there obstacles in their way? Do they get in each other's way? Is there a MacGuffin they have to go after or protect? Does the main character manipulate them in some way?

The other thing you need to do, especially if you are not already an advanced action writer, is put the scene in somebody's head. If that person is the hero - if he's Jackie Chan - he will be thinking clearly about each of his strategies. He will be paying attention to those other guys, and he will be taking action based on the fact that they're coming for him all at once, not just one at a time.

If that person is someone else - maybe someone being rescued - he or she can experience the blur and confusion. The audience will not be confused as long you stay clear about what is happening to that person. And the audience can get the same emotional effect as the character in question.

But back to choreography: it can be important for more than just action scenes. In a traditional mystery in particular, it can be very important to know the exact timing of just who was in the drawing room with Colonel Mustard before and after he died. And if Miss Scarlet is your red herring, how do you hide the fact that she has an alibi until later in the story? Why didn't Mrs. White see her? Or if all the suspects were present when Mr. Green was poisoned, who had access to his glass and when?

I like to play with these kinds of scenes by using little Disney figurines and other small toys acquired from fast food joints. (This adds some fun deciding how to cast your characters. Is your detective more of an Esmeralda, or Mary Poppins?) Have some fun with it, but do it next time you need to visualize a scene or turn of events. It can open up your imagination to new possibilities.

A Pause to Clear the Decks

I am so frustrated at the moment. I spent much of the day trying to sort out the rules of that critique group, and I've decided to quit. I don't have time to sort out all these catch-22s, and find ways around them. All this fighting and spinning of wheels. I used to get paid $100-150 to cover a 120 page screenplay. I really don't need this much hassle to get the rights to read and critique a chapter before someone else beats me to it.

I've just got too many things on my plate. I need to take some time to clear the decks.

And while I sort things out, what I need to track here on the Daring Novelist blog is my reading. I've got to stop tucking my reading time into corners for a bit and be accountable for it. I'll be reading lots of things - including the partially done manuscripts I'm working on. (And I'll likely start editing them too.)

Today I read most of the first novella in Enter The Saint - a collection of Simon Templar stories by Leslie Charteris. The first book is "The Man Who Was Clever" and it's great fun. Of course the style of the period it so make The Saint a little too perfectly heroic - but I keep imagining him played by George Sanders and he pulls it off beautifully.

I've never seen the George Sanders versions of The Saint, except in some YouTube clips, but the man could pull off dry, witty, sardonic, charming villainy like no one has since (except maybe Clifton Webb) and so he wears perfection like a Saville Row suit. Much as I like the Roger Moore version of the Saint, the original Simon Templar was an "anti-villain." (Just like there are anti-heroes.) He has everything that the very best villains have, except instead of taking over the world, he turns his powers on other villains.

I may have a few things to say about Psychological Warfare and Con Games in mystery fiction soon. (I'm also a bit curious about The Saint's girl friend, who makes a brief appearance, and he promises to stop trying to make her live a safe and respectable life and that they will face down the "massed gangs of bad hats in New York, Chicago, Berlin and London" after he is done with this case - which he won't let her into. Will he live up to his promise? Will she make him?)

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Big Disaster Book Sale!

NOTE: this sale is now over - but Smashwords itself is offering a summer/winter sale (since it's winter in the southern hemisphere) for all of July. My books are discounted 50 percent for this time.

Amazon is down. This appears to be unscheduled, and they have some scheduled outages coming in the next day or two, too. This is hurting everybody's book sales, of course. So I'm going to offer a sale at Smashwords.

Here are coupon codes, which will expire on July 1, for all three of my books. Copy them, and you will have a space to enter them at checkout to get the sale price.

HAVE GUN, WILL PLAY funny mystery western

Description: Mick and Casey McKee aren't exactly your average gunslingers. He's young and inexperienced, and has much too sunny a disposition for a gunman. She's younger, meaner, less experienced, but a much better shot. They got married the day they met and still getting to know each other.

When they get a job protecting the daughter of a stagecoach king--and her grand collection of toys--it seems like an opportunity to go someplace new. But after the wrong kidnapping, a murder, another wrong kidnapping, a couple of jewel heists and a few knocks to the head, Mick and Casey are left holding the bag of toys. Mick, however, is not as dumb as he seems, and as for Casey...nobody steals her gun and gets away with it.

WIFE OF FREEDOM, women's fiction, romantic adventure

Description: The fictional world of New Acton is on the verge of rebellion, and so is Mary Alwyn, the unfaithful wife of a rebel. But when she betrays her lover for the revolution, her husband holds her up as a hero, labeling her The Whore of Freedom both in public and in print. This becomes Mary's scarlet letter. If she's going to live down the first part of that name, she'll have to live up to the second. She becomes a spy, as bold as her reputation. But she'll never be free until she returns to face her past. (Note: the subject matter of this novel is mature, and while the style is not explicit, it does contain some intense scenes and material not suited for children.)


Book Description: In the tiny nation of Lifbau in 1863, girls are not allowed to have adventures. But even at fourteen, Anna is still physically immature enough to pass for a boy. She realizes that now may be her one and only chance to grab an adventure, so she runs away from home. After she nearly thwarts a kidnapping, she is offered a job in the royal stables. There she has the time of her life, playing practical jokes and watching the political intrigues both in the stables and the palace.

But Anna also finds herself caught between an admirable but boring hero, and a villain who, though dead wrong, is a lot more fun. With only one chance at adventure, Anna has to find the right path between the two.

Writing Dash Day 4 - No Words, but lots of plotting

I accidentally called yesterday Day 4. I can't count any more....

Today I spent some time mulling what's missing about this story, and considering whether I should work on a different story to anchor the trilogy. However, thinking seems to be sufficient. I have a grasp on what this story means in the larger arc of Mick and Casey's life. It might take a little more mulling yet, but I have some scenes worked out that I can write now, so I should be back on track tomorrow.

However the thing that took up most of my time is this new, exclusive critique group I got into. They don't make it easy to jump in as a new person. You're not supposed to critique chapters that have already got three critiques. But everything available for critique is like chapter 16 or chapter 22 - and you can't get the beginning chapters to read to catch up! (I wasted some time today reading some chapters that I'm not supposed to critique. Sigh.) I'm waiting for some clarification from the members, but if this is how they work, I may opt out. You can't start in the middle if you're going to critique anything more than spelling.

In the meantime, I'm thinking of doing a small collection of my published mystery short stories, to offer for a dollar, or free if you can still get Kindle to carry free Smashwords titles. (I've heard you can't do that any more.) I just have to decide on a cover concept. I am thinking the best title of my published mysteries is "Waiter, There's a Clue in My Soup!" so maybe that will be the title, and I can use the motif of empty take out containers for the cover.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Writing Dash Day 4 - 1249 Words and Success!

Okay this is just silly author stuff, but....

Have Gun, Will Play has its first review on Good Reads! And The Adventure of Anna the Great had its first review on Amazon! (And another reader on the Kindle discussion area of Amazon sought me out to ask if there would be a sequel to Have Gun.) For a day with no sales, it was still a pretty darn good day.

In the meantime I am working on the sequel. I can't take full credit for all those words, because I am working from old material. However what I'm working form was intended to be a long short story, and I think it might be better as a novella. At the moment it's fun, but it's missing a layer. Having just done a last read-through on Have Gun Will Play, I think I know what it's missing. Pathos. For all the silliness, there is a certain depth to Mick and Casey. They are gunmen, after all, hired to kill if necessary.

While I think the more trivial aspect works in a short story, it needs more depth to live up to the novel. So that's the big job of this next couple of weeks. And I may need to look at the other stories in the collection and see if maybe there is an arc among them. Something they are looking for and developing between them, and between them and the world.

Running Total: 2044 Words.

2044 / 24000 words. 9% done!

In Today's Pages: We learn a little about Casey's past

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Writing Dash Day 2 - Grrraaahhhhk!

I have struggled and struggled again with this, and I realize that the rewrite I want to do is just not right for this story. The world I have set it in has a certain fantastic simplicity. As I said, I wrote it originally wanting it to feel like a drama playing against a theatrical backdrop. And the writing I'm trying to do violates that and weakens it.

So... back to the drawing board, at least partly. Maybe instead of fleshing out Test of Freedom into a bigger story, I need to make this a trilogy of long novellas. I may even want to tighten it from the 47,000 words it has, rather than lengthen it.

But I really do need to spend this time writing rather than editing, so I'm keeping the daily goals of 1000 words of raw writing - but I'm opening it up to other stories. Especially more Mick and Casey stories.

But for all of my sweating and flustering, I figured this out too late to do much tonight. So I have 337 words on A Fistful of Divas, and a lot of thinking to do.

Running Total: 795 Words.

795 / 24000 words. 3% done!

In Today's Pages: We learn about Casey's opera house fetish.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Writing Dash Day 1 - 458 Words

I spent much of the day prepping marketing materials for Have Gun, Will Play. I've got part of a rather fun self-interview that I may post here, or may post on my regular website. I also got into that exclusive mystery critique group, and I'm getting started on doing my duty there. They only require a chapter a month, and I may not submit The Man Who Did Too Much much faster than that at first, so that I'll be ready to whip those middle chapters into shape by the time I have to submit them.

But in the meantime, I have lost some momentum on Test of Freedom, so I only managed 458 words today. This is sad, but I am getting the feel for it again.

Running Total: 458

458 / 20000 words. 2% done!

In Today's Pages: We meet the nearly invisible Mr. Sherman. Mary thinks there is more spy to him than servant in that invisibility, and therefore she likes him.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Twenty-Four Day Scribble Dare

Today I finished up the manuscript conversions for Have Gun, Will Play, and uploaded it to Kindle and Smashwords. Smashwords already has it up, but Kindle takes a bit. (And it will be a week or so before it hits the iBookstore.)

Now, back to the rewrite of Test of Freedom. I've figured out the next step. I need to do some exploratory writing on the new material. I need at least 10,000 words more, but I want to push it so that I'm cutting rather than stretching.

So the goal is 24,000 words by July 18. That's one thousand words a day for twenty four days, starting tomorrow, June 25.

If I completely run out of new things to say on this book, I can move on to new words for the next book, League of Freedom. This not only gives me the material I need, it's a very specific goal, that allows me to work on other things after I've met it each day. (And I've got a lot to work on.)

Then after a break for another conference, I can sit down and just rip through the final rewrite and polish in August.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

TMI - What Happens When The Consumer Handles the Slushpile?

On Crimespace today there is a discussion about an article written by yet another publishing industry insider who just can't imagine a world without gatekeepers. The thesis seems to be that the publishing industry has nothing to worry about in the brave new world of ebooks, because (GASP!) the consumer will never be able to handle it when they are inundated with tons of junk among which is only a little good stuff.

You know. Like the way the world has been for ten or twenty years now.

The consumer now deals with a slush pile as a matter of course. Whether it's the web, or cable TV, or the mall, or Amazon dot com, or a grocery store with twenty-five different kinds of tomatoes (not including canned), we've long been in a situation where we have to choose the one thing we want out of thousands of things we don't.

Amazon was built on that principle. They wanted to be the world's largest bookstore - the bookstore with every book in the world. (And now every thing in the world.) Apple's motto for the iPhone - "There's an app for that" - also typifies the consumer experience these days. It's not about sorting out the junk anymore, it's about finding exactly what you want.

That's the thing that traditional publishing doesn't get. We don't actually care about the thousands of books we don't want. We don't care if they are well-written or awful. We only care about finding the books we do want. And we learned to do that a long time ago - word of mouth, browsing a sample, taking a chance once in awhile, using Amazon's suggestion tools, Google searches. (Or for that matter, I'm sure there IS an iPhone app for that if you want one.)

So give us some credit, Publishing Professionals. The slush pile is here, and has been here for a long time. Heck, the stuff you publish is in it, along with the self-published dreck, insane political blogs, cable television, and YouTube videos of cats riding Roombas. You may have a special place in brick and mortar bookstores, but you're on equal footing with "Mittens and his Roving Vacuum" in cyberspace.

The future you fear happened yesterday. We've dealt with it. Maybe it's time you caught up.

Have Gun, Will Play - Publish This Weekend?

I'm still recouperating from the trip, and a number of things have come up to make me want to adjust my plans. I want to thank everybody who visited my entry in the Bad Boy Blogfest. I promise I will be visiting the other entries soon.

But right now, the cover is done. The manuscript prep has a little more work yet. I think I'll be publishing Have Gun, Will Play on Thursday, but it will probably take both Amazon and Smashwords a day or so to get it on line. So probably Saturday?

And that means I won't get to Test of Freedom until Friday at least, when I will revisit how I want to approach it. I think I want to do it in two sessions. In July I want to just do mad exploratory writing to get a bunch of new material to work with. Then in August I will sit down to do a serious final draft.

In the meantime I had to end my Summer Book Sale early and raise my book prices back to list price on Smashwords tonight - because there is a lag with their partners, and the Amazon contract states that you can't have a lower price anywhere else. So the books are still on sale for 99 cents at Amazon for a while, but will be 2.99 everywhere else. I will probably do one more coupon promotion before August though.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Back from Duckon - Working on Covers

My brain has been much stimulated by my trip to Duckon and Chicago. I had some epiphanies about just about all of my active stories. And I decided on the concept for my cover for Have Gun, Will Play. Below is a pretty close to finished mock-up. Comments would be appreciated.

After the long trip home, though, I am very very tired, and I have to go to work tomorrow and the next day. I hope to make some good posts here soon, but now I must sleeeeeepppppp.....

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Duckcon Day 3 - Leave the Con, Take the Cannolis

Okay, technically we haven't left the conference, since we're still here and the conference is gone.... but I couldn't help but riff on the famous line from The Godfather (instructions from a senior thug to a junior one just after a hit) "Leave the gun, take the cannolis."

The day began with two fire alarms (one after midnight, the other around 8am). After a breakfast event with Steve Miller and Sharon Lee, we watched a toy robot/car demolition derby and I had had one last panel, which turned out to be one of the most useful. Oddly, the panelists didn't show up, so we in the audience just took over and held the discussion among ourselves.

Then we went back to that great little Italian Restaurant, where we had a big meal we couldn't finish, and we turned down dessert.... until we thought "hmmm, we don't have to eat the cannolis now. We could take them with us for later."

And I have lots material for some writing posts coming up, not the least of which will be a series on What Writers Should Read.

Writers need to be extremely well-read, but we often don't have time to read as much as we'd like once we start writing. But reading isn't just a useful pass-time that we can shuffle to the side. All reading IS research, and foregoing important reading of other novels is a big mistake. But once you have an idea of the most critical objectives, you can do a better job of choosing your reading list - whether you have lots of time or none.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Report from Duckon - Day 2

Today at Duckon the man in the metal suit, standing in a mud puddle while being struck by lightening, accidentally set fire to his flame thrower four times.

There were many interesting and exciting moments today, but I think the Singing Tesla Coil Show (put on by some high end geeks from Fermi Labs) was the most exciting. Although the most thrilling was the Harrier Hawk that entered by flying in right over my head (like only a foot or two above it) at the opening of the birds of prey demo.

Pictures of both of these coming later. (Although here are some You Tube Videos from last year: Video One, Video Two.)

And discussion of the interesting panels we attended too. (We had the day booked solid - therefore no great food from outside the hotel.) I am exhausted now.... I will post lots later.

Report from Duckon - Day 1

Friday is always a light day at a con, so we started the day going to the Pewter 'Puter Store (i.e the main Apple Store in Naperville - where I looked at my books in the iBookstore. Unlike Barnes and Noble, Apple had both books with proper covers and priced right. (I added the sample of The Adventure of Anna the Great to the library of the iPad I was browsing on. Hah!) My friend, however, was only frustrated as she attempted to pre-order a new iPhone. She had tried to pre-order online back home, and Apple's website had said she could only do this at an Apple Store, the poor Geniuses got the exact same message when they tried to sign her up. The conclusion was a mistake in the website - the system didn't want anybody to pre-order until it was ready.

Meanwhile back at the con, the art show was small, but had a few nice things. The dealer's room was the same. I found a cool bowler hat, which my friend decided to buy for me. (I'll post pictures later.) And yes, indeed, there were many corsets and other Victorian items - and I was slightly scandalized to see one late Victorian corset paired with a Crinoline petticoat.

Haven't got into much writing related stuff yet. We have been extremely lucky on food, though. The little deli called Schmaltz' was the real deal (not Kosher, though, if that matters to you). There was a fierce storm that went through and trapped us there for a while, but that as okay.

Then late this evening, we decided to try to find this Taiwanese restaurant, and found that Google Maps led us seriously astray -- but there we were by a really good REAL Korean BBQ place called Seocho Garden in Lisle Illinois. It's hard to go wrong with Korean. Even Americanized places have edible bulgogi. And as we went in, we saw that they had Korean language newspaper machines out front, and the place was full of Koreans. Score! (And then we were beset by another storm just as we headed home. And there was no parking to be had anywhere, but the bell guy was willing to brave the storm and do valet parking for us finally.)

Tomorrow our day will be packed with programming, and so I hope to have more writing related things to talk about. (Also the lovely birds of prey demo and the tesla coil!)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Report from Duckon - Day 0

We've arrived safely Naperville (in spite of a white-knuckle half hour on Interstate 80) and had a lovely Italian dinner at a little place called Angeli's. Good, real Italian food, served in a little place with checked table cloths and Sinatra and Bobby Darrin playing in the background, full of elderly people and attentive wait staff (I say wait "staff" because it wasn't just the waiter, the busboy was there every two seconds to refill the water glasses). The driver in our expedition needed a treat, and she was from an area with a strong Italian population. (And it's a cuisine sadly lacking at home.)

And as I sit here, mellow with artichoke ravioli in a light cream sauce, and great bruschetta, I find myself far away from the drive of recent weeks. I can't spend too much time online, and I can't obsess too much about my stats (either on the blog or book sales). And I don't have my active manuscripts with me, so I can't work on them - and that's on purpose. For one thing, there's nothing worse than schlepping around a neglected manuscript when you're at an event and too busy to work on it.

But the other thing is that this is a forced vacation from my active stories. And since I am at a science fiction and fantasy convention, I might as well use this as an imagination booster for the serial. While the serial is primarily (in plot and style) a "golden age" manor house type adventure mystery, it will have a somewhat fantasy setting. And I've got a lot of world-building to do, so I might as well just wallow in that.

Interestingly enough, though we came to see Sharon Lee and Steven Miller, the authors of the Liaden universe, we are both here with classic old mysteries in hand. My friend is reading Kate Ross (and had lately been reading Georgette Heyer's mysteries) and I've got an iPod Touch full of Leslie Charteris mysteries and a copy of Agatha Christie's Man in the Brown Suit waiting at home.

I guess this is a thematic weekend.

(One more interesting note. It just goes to show you how much influence steampunk is having on the science fiction world - in this very small dealers room, there are no less than THREE purveyors of corsets.)

See ya in the funny papers (or tomorrow, whichever comes first).

Off to Duckon

I'm headed out for a science fiction convention, Duckon. I should have wifi access, but I will still likely be slow in approving comments. (It's too bad I haven't got the serial done, or I could promote it there!)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

First Line Last Line Game

Over on the Kindleboards, we were playing a fun game - first line, last line. Everybody posted JUST the first line and last line of their books. (If there was a spoiler involved, like the last line was spoken by a suspect in a mystery, they XXXX'ed out the name or spoiling element.)

My first thought, on seeing the game was "oh, my stories aren't all that suited to that sort of thing" but after I went and looked, I realized it was fun. Plus we all started checking out each other's books...

So I'll start. You can post such things on your blog, or in the comments. (If you post on your blog, put a link in the comments here. If you aren't a writer, never fear, just post the first and last lines of your favorite books!)

Note, the rule is, ONE sentence. A line of dialog that's broken up by tag is okay.

For the upcoming mystery Have Gun, Will Play:
First line: The town was full of donkeys.
Last line: "No," she said. "That'll be a new one."

For the W.I.P mystery The Man Who Did Too Much:
First line: Dr. Cannon was running late.
Last line: "I'd love to."

Gee, my mysteries tend to have short first and last lines, don't they? But my other books tend to have longer starts and stops....

Let's see, for The Adventure of Anna the Great:
First line: On a September evening in 1862, I stood in front of the mirror in my cousin Celeste’s room, snipping a pair of scissors in the air.
Last line: I did not know how I was going to manage it, but one thing I knew for sure, my adventure was far from done.

And The Wife of Freedom (which has kind of a prologue/epilogue thing going):
First line: “Civilization ekes its way slowly in,” said the Baron de Boynton, Royal Governor of New Acton.
Last line: “Your servant,” he mumbled, and they each bowed curtly as he made his grateful escape.

Shameless Self-promotion:

Right now, the last two books are only available in electronic format. You can find them at Smashwords in lots of formats, including pdf or to read online. You can also find them at Amazon for Kindle - which you can read on your computer or handheld device.

The Wife of Freedom at Smashwords, Amazon's Kindle.
The Adventure of Anna the Great at Smashwords, Amazon's Kindle.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Cover For My Mystery

I spent much of the day designing possible concepts for the Mystery Western Series. It is difficult because I have a couple of requirements:

1. Genre - this is a comedy mystery western. Getting the right tone was really hard. It was relatively easy to get it very Western or very Silly, but Mystery is hard. Mystery covers are all over the place (partly because mysteries are all over the place). Artwork that screams "MYSTERY!" almost has to be done to spec. Very often a mystery cover will be another kind of cover with a mystery element in it - but it's incorporated in the artwork. The ability to use clipart is limited.

2. Cheap - I don't have a budget to hire an artist right now. But the other kind of mystery cover is Big Text and some iconic images. That is much easier to do with clipart or dingbat-style illustrations that I can do myself. But it's still hard to get just the right images to show all three - mystery, western, comedy. (Of course, if I can show mystery and western, the title deals with the comedy.)

3. I need to create a 'brand' for the series - so the design has to be something that can be adapted to other books. And in the end, I realized that this was the part I had to do first.

Here is the mock up of my FIRST version of my overall cover. I get "western" dealt with at the bottom - and then I have the white space at the top to deal with mystery. For this one, I'm planning to do something with Victorian toys and a gun. I may add a bloody hand (like a dead person) next to the toys and the gun. Or a badge. I may do a "logo" with a magnifying glass and a badge in the corner.

I could also play with putting in logo at the bottom.

(Note, the brown bands around the top of the image are just there to show the edges - they are not part of the design.)

Tomorrow I get ready to head for Duckcon. I will have intermittent access to the web, but I still hope to post each day.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Outline Dare Day 5 - Both Eyes On the Prize

I think I've got my plan in place, but I'm going to take the notes with me to Duckcon and go over them while I'm there.

In the meantime, I was looking over some essays I've written but haven't posted, and I came across one I wrote a month or so ago. It was about how much I miss the Nicholl Fellowship Competition, now that I'm no longer screenwriting. And it really relates to this whole Traditional vs. Indie thing.

The Nicholl is a wonderful focal point for an unproduced screenwriter. It's not just prestigious. It also has this wonderful ranking system with which you can measure your climb. There's the famous "just missed" note from the coordinator, and the quarter finals, the semis, the finalists, and finally the fellows themselves. It's open only to unproduced screenwriters, it's not profit, and run by The Academy (you know, AMPAS? The Oscars? THE Academy?) and everybody knows about it. At best, it's only the beginning of your career, and it certainly doesn't lead to guaranteed production, but it's universally respected.

For me, a budding out-of-town screenwriter the Nicholl was the Unified Goal Theory. It was the thing I could set my sights on, and forget everything else. Because everything you do to win a Nicholl is good for everything else you may want to do later. You have to produce good scripts, and do it consistently, and since the readers are industry people, you have to gain some savvy about the needs of production and of the biz.

I had pictures of the Nicholl logo on my walls to keep me focused. Whenever I'd see it, I'd say "Keep your eyes on the prize!" and get to work. There is no one thing in publishing like the Nicholl to focus and motivate the pre-published - not in such a universal way. There are things equivalent to the Oscars - for the height of your career - but not like the Nicholl for the beginning.

But the thing that makes me really miss the Nicholl right now isn't about what's out there. It's about the goals inside me. My goals are split. I'm keeping one eye on traditional publishing, and one eye on indie publishing, and it's giving me a headache.

I need to commit to one goal. Both eyes on the same prize. As with the Nicholl, it may not be my final goal, but it has to be only one. And I've decided.

The goal has to be Indie Publishing.

The only comment on yesterday's post about the choice was "Go for it!" And that's what time it is. Time to stop dithering and do it. All hands on deck, all resources to the goal, all eggs in one basket, and all the pies aimed at one clown.

So, depending on whether I can get the images I want for the cover, I hope to put Have Gun, Will Play up on Kindle and Smashwords around July 1.

This does not alter my plans for Test of Freedom, which I hope to have up in August. (How early or late in August depends on how difficult this rewrite turns out to be.)

Forum Discussion of Traditional vs. Indie Publishing

I started a thread on the Kindle Boards about Traditional vs. Indie Publishing.

I'll probably post more of my thoughts on the subject here, but that thread is turning into an interesting discussion. It is somewhat one-sided, though, as most of the authors there are indies.

Outline Dare Day 4 - Is Traditional Publishing Worth It?

I did do some outlining today, but I spent more time thinking.
(For those who may be new to the blog - I have been conducting an experiment in self-publishing ebooks for some of my older oddball, off-genre works. I haven't really considered it for my mysteries, which I consider my main career.)

I'm seriously considering dropping traditional publishing from my plans altogether.

My reasons aren't the usual reasons. I don't have that much problem with the downside of publishing. I never did. Rejection, lack of freedom, poor pay (especially for new mystery writers), that's just the way it is.

Today I stopped to look at what the upside is... and I'm not seeing much of it.

I stepped away from publishing a while back when I saw midlist writers with a decent following, who wrote great books, dropping out because they couldn't make it. The work was too much, the pay was too little, and as often as not their ultimate reward was that they had to change their names every 3 or 4 books to keep the Barnes and Noble computers from shutting their careers down because they weren't a best seller yet. And that meant they had to drop their series too.

Recently I got all excited about publishing again. It seemed like things had changed. I saw more cozy mysteries on the shelves, and readers seemed excited about them... but it seems like bookstores are still churning authors. It's still very hard to build a following. And on top of that, traditional publishers are snapping up electronic rights in ways to make it much harder for authors to get their rights back and go it alone.

The original upside of traditional publishing was that's how you found readers. If you were lucky you might make a living, but mostly not. There's the prestige of being an author, except that if you haven't made it to bestseller status, most people don't see it as all that hot.

At the moment, the only upside I see left is that you get somebody else to do the editing, book design, and catalog copy. Those are no small things, but as a kid I don't ever remember getting all excited about the thought that someday someone would copyedit my manuscript. That's just not on the list of reasons I started writing.

I haven't made up my mind yet. I won't start marketing the mysteries until fall anyway. But I'm just having a harder and harder time not thinking "why bother?"

What do you guys think?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Outline Dare Day 3 - A Side Benefit of Serialization

As some of you may know, I'm posting The Wife of Freedom as a serial on my Daring Adventure Stories blog, three chapters a week.

And today I realized that doing this while I work on the sequel is REALLY useful. Why? Well, because in order to fit the blog format, I have to assess the dang thing chapter-by-chapter. I'm not just looking at the formatting. A serial really needs titled chapters, so as I read through each chapter I pause to assess just what it is. What's it's job? What's it doing?

Which is almost exactly like what I'm doing with the sequel. As I go back and forth - using one job as a break for the other - I get this strange parallax view. It's like one eye seeing a polished chapter and one seeing a rough chapter at the same time. I am struck by the differences in voice, and details. I can see much better what I need to do.

Anyway, today, I think I got the first half worked out. And I think I've discovered my biggest issue. The first part and the last part are not active enough. The characters are too limited in what they can do. I may need some plot coupons to give it a sense of progress. (You know what plot coupons are, don't you? They're mini-tasks the characters have to achieve to accomplish the big goal.)

Ironically, the best way to ramp things up is to slow it down. Give minor issues room to expand, rather than dismissing them quickly to get on to the more interesting stuff.

The other part of this is to do what I mentioned at the top of the post - take it chapter by chapter. Assess what it is, where the chapter needs to go, emotionally. I did some of that today. I'll do more tomorrow... but I'm quickly approaching the moment when I need to start writing it. Which could be a problem given my schedule. But you never know.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Outline Dare Day 2 - Turning Points

Today I got a little overheated. I think it's the humidity. Tomorrow is Eat Too Much Day with visiting friends.

As for the outline: I decided today to go with the three act structure. Not the Hollywood 3-act structure, which is really a 4-act structure - although I messed around with that idea too. I think it works better in three, AND that's what I did for the previous book in the series.

The biggest issue I've noticed with this is that I needed to redivide the chapters. I may even divide them again when I get them all developed properly. The book as it stands is 47,000 words. I think it should be about 50-55k, but I'm not sure it needs a lot of new material so much as the thin scenes need to be fleshed out.

Also Henry's plot starts in Part 2 and develops rather rapidly, but I don't see how to start earlier without messing with the timing. It kind of overbalances the end, because it runs up to a cliff-hanger climax at that time. Will it overbalance the story? The ending on the front story is a little weak there. So... maybe I do need to change the timing. At least if I don't come up with a way to strengthen the main story.

Tomorrow, aside from eating way too much, I need to beat out the first act.

Friday, June 11, 2010

eBook Experiment update - Best Seller and Best Rated!

Due to the fact that I got another good review, and people are still using the coupons from the Twitter promotion, The Wife of Freedom made it to best seller and best rated "women's fiction" on Smashwords. Two very small heaps, but hey, it's at the top and I'll take it.

Sales are begining to be more regular. Still only about one sale a day for Kindle (not including the coupon sales on Smashwords). A few people write to me to tell me they really liked The Adventure of Anna the Great, but still no reviews.

I've begun to set up the foundations of a marketing push. I set up an author page on Goodreads, and I've been interacting some on Amazon's Kindle boards.

Progress update on the Outlines later tonight. (If I don't heat stress first. I wonder if there is enough ice cream for a milk shake?)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Outline Dare Day 1 - Scene List

I did my scene list of the first two thirds of the existing book - the one I'm going to split into two - and I realize that I just might be better off splitting this book later. Which means I may have less work to do.

The problem was this: When I did my read through, I found the first five chapters to be too skimpy. They really do just hop across the highlights of some scenes. Then the next five really pull together to a climax that I figured was the end of the first book. The five after that drag on too long, but end at the other possible ending point for the book.

What I discovered was, on outlining them, that I could seriously edit the last five chapters, and plump up the first five by about the same amount... and I really don't have to make major structural changes. Some of my plans for Henry's story will help in the first five chapters, but I don't have to change his story significantly. As a matter of fact his story breaks in a much more satisfying spot - something of a cliff hanger really, but that's okay for a secondary story line, I think.

And Rocken's story doesn't change at all, because he doesn't figure into those slow five chapters at the end, except for one glowering moment, seen from afar, that fits better at the end of the first book than at the beginning of the next.

Tomorrow I figure out the major plot points, and what would be different about it if I go with my new idea of where it ends.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Challenge of Splitting a Book

When I got to the end of Wife of Freedom, I found I couldn't stop, so I wrote a sequel called Test of Freedom. I never took it beyond the first very rough draft stage. It's twice as long as the first book, and is sketchy and too short at the beginning, rambling and too long at the end. But the first part is actually pretty cleanly told, and with some fleshing out, it makes for a good story of it's own.

So I'm going to split it in two. The main plot, about Jackie Alwyn's troubles, and Mary and Lady Ashton's efforts to rescue him, is straight-forward and splits neatly with the aftermath.

The challenge is in the subplots belonging to the antagonists: Henry, who has his own search for meaning and redemption, and a new character Rocken - a brutal man trapped in a brutal situation who has nearly managed to jettison his soul. Or thinks he has, until Jackie dusts it off and hands it back to him. Which puts Rocken into a terrible crisis, which is the driving force of all the trouble in the last book.

I think I've figured out how to deal with Henry - just start his story earlier, give him time to develop as a minor subplot. This should actually work better - with a wonderful wrap up that will be great foreshadowing for the next story. But that means Henry's plotline will require the most new material.

The big question is: will the slow, rising tension of Rocken's story work when split in two? I hope it will. It has a natural breaking point right where I want to break the books apart, but I'm most worried about this. Because it's so key to the rest of the story. I guess we'll see, won't we?

So what are the goals in outlining the rewrite of this book?

June 10 - Identify the scenes that will have to be moved from second half to the first. Get them all into the same document. Create a scene list of what already exists.

June 11 - Identify the key turning points that will mark the major acts or movements in the story.

June 12-14 - Beat out the missing scenes and the underdeveloped scenes (i.e. actually do the outline.) That's four acts in three days - so I need to do about an act and a half on each day.

June 15-23 - I'll be working or travelling. No specific daily goals. I'll just post simple wordcounts on how much brainstorming and world-building I do for The Serial. (I need a better title for that.)

June 24 - Start a new Dare for Test of Freedom. 1000 words of new material a day until it's done. (How long? I may be able to guess at that on the 15th, but who knows?)

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Summer of Sequels and Outlines

This summer is going to be the summer of sequels. First I want to get the rest of this ebook experiment out of my way, so the top goals relate to that:

Goal 1 - Rewrite and expand A Test of Freedom, which is the sequel to Wife of Freedom.

Shadow Goal 1a - increase marketing efforts. This is a "shadow goal" because I won't be setting any daily goals in the dare for it, and I won't give myself points for it.

Shadow Goal 1b - Edit my super-humongous YA fantasy novel to publish as a part of the eBook Experiment in fall. This is a shadow goal because I may not do this seriously until fall. But I want to at least LOOK at it this summer.

Goal 2 - Outline outline outline. I have so many projects that have backed up over the years, AND so many new ideas, I'm never going to get on top of them if I don't have some of them better nailed down. Even though I thought I had some good prep work done on the current WIP, part of my problem was holes in that. So here are the sub-goals:

Goal 2a - Outline and possibly write two or three of Mick and Casey novellas. I definitely want to post the ghost story on Daring Adventure Stories for Halloween. And the other three would fit thematically as a collection under a very cool title. I haven't decided yet whether this will be part of the eBook Experiment yet - novellas are hard to find traditional publishers for, but I'll probably look.

Goal 2b - Outline League of Freedom - the third and final book in the freedom trilogy. I have a draft which is ... readable. It also zooms all over the place from high tension thriller, to drawing room comedy, sometimes in the same scene.

Goal 2c - Outline "The Unnamed Serial" This thing is haunting me. Although the stories will be primarily mystery driven, they may fit best in sf and fantasy. It's not steampunk (which is a very mystery-friendly genre) but I might call it "Jazzpunk" as it is early Jazz Age (and early or pre-golden age of mystery too). And I'm not sure these won't end up regular novels, as opposed to the series of novellas I originally imagined. But it needs serious planning and world building.

Goal 2d - Work on outlines for future books for both the Man Who series and Mick and Casey. This may be a shadow goal, but I'm feeling ambitious on the outlining front.

I'll be concentrating on the outlining goals for this next two weeks. I'll post the specific daily targets tomorrow.

Day 31 - 1857 Words And That's All She Wrote

And that's all she wrote for the time being on this book. It is not ready for readers, unfortunately - which is where I wanted to be. But I am in a good place for the next go.

I think tomorrow I need to take some notes for the next pass. I need to develop some of the secondary characters and some nuances that I discovered later on. I think I finally nailed the relationship stuff that will be ongoing into the next story. Also, now that I have it in mostly whole shape, I think I'll be able to thread some of the red herrings better, and also maybe develop one or two others for key locations.

Therefore, tomorrow should probably be a brainstorming and questions session too.

Then on Wednesday, I'll post goals for an interim dare - which will be all about getting ready for the next project.. I have a lot to do, and in a week and a half I have a convention. When I get back, I hope to be ready to start the next project, which will be a rewrite and expansion of the rough draft of Test of Freedom - the sequel to Wife of Freedom.

Running Total: 66759 Words.

66759 / 75000 words. 89% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla puts a few more things together.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Day 29 - 5565 Words But Not As Great As It Seems

At this point, I'm not rewriting, and I'm not trying to mesh new material with old. Most of that word count is the old being put in "as is." I decided to push the old version in there faster so I can concentrate on plugging the holes where I can.

Running Total: 64903 Words.

64903 / 75000 words. 87% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla to the rescue! (kind of) And George - having succumbed to Karla's influence - realizes that maybe he's not Ingrid Bergman, OR The Saint, OR a flamingo... maybe he's Erich von Stroheim.

Handling Awkward Questions

Over at Miss Snark's blog she asked her readers how they handle questions from friends and family about the publishing process. So often family does not understand the arcane rules, or the slow progress and poor pay.

I'm blessed with a supportive circle of family and friends, but all writers, at some time, find themselves in an awkward conversation with somebody who doesn't get it. Sometimes these people are intentionally trying to make you uncomfortable. They may be sneaky about it, and butter you up with compliments and then hit you with a low blow. "So if you're so good at short stories, why haven't you published a book yet?" or "Why haven't I heard of you?" Even people who don't intend it can make you feel awkward.

To handle this, you need aplomb. (I've been told not everybody knows what "aplomb" means. Most people mean keeping your composure, but it comes from the idea of stability. It's related to the concept of tools like plumbobs or plumlines - something that stays straight and true no matter how skewed everything else gets.)

How do you gain the aplomb to handle these awkward moments?

I really recommend working with children. I worked on a playground for years, and the questions kids ask are always unexpected, and often awkward. Kids will test your boundaries. They also have a lot of things they don't understand that grown ups haven't taught them yet. ("Why are you fat?" "What's a freckle made of?" "Why are you doing that?")

Writers who are parents already get this, but those who aren't may want to do some volunteer work, maybe staffing an information booth, or as a greeter at the gate. (Even better is a wrangler position - if you have authority, kids will challenge it.) Of course, any situation where you are supposed to be helpful to the public all day - even when it's grownups - will help you achieve some of that grace under pressure.

At the very least you can pretend you are facing a classroom full of very bright, very rude children whenever you rehearse your answers to questions before a conference. As all children know, pretend is a great learning tool.

Day 28 - 2514 Words Mostly Filling In

I filled in little gaps here and there, and then just typed in the existing material for the next chapter. This is definitely going to take another serious draft to deal with the emotional fall out from the case.

I'm also definitely not going to make 75,000 words - but I'm not sure the story isn't shorter than that now (at least as it stands). More in the 65 to 70 range. So I am, at least, getting to a satisfactory conclusion.

Running Total: 59338 Words.

59338 / 75000 words. 79% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla plays six-degress of Greer Garson and Kermit the Frog, among other things (although I may change that to a connection between Kermie and Joseph Cotton because it may connect up with the plot better, thematically speaking).

Friday, June 4, 2010

Day 27 - 1102 Words All New (and Having Fun)

It was a busy day at work, and I ended up completely fuzz-brained. But when I sat down to write, after much groaning and fuss, I ended up with a fun, new mini action scene.

When you have a character like George - who is larger than life, especially in comparison to the setting - it is both fun and easy to let him be miraculous. I mean, he's the sort of character who walks unarmed into a room full of armed thugs, and you hear a bunch of thumps and thuds, and then George is the only one who walks out again. Except he isn't really like that. He just gives that impression, not intentionally, but because he learned to be sneaky as a child.

And it can be even more fun to watch him do what he does, sometimes. (It's nice to keep the mystery, too, but it can be even funnier if you know he's not quite that cool.)

Running Total: 56824 Words.

56824 / 75000 words. 76% done!

In Today's Pages: George takes a leap and nearly gets whacked.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Day 26 - 4475 Words - Zipping Through Easy Stuff

There is stuff I should work on and fill in here, but I decided that I just want to get through it so I can concentrate on the next bit. Still only about four days to go, and only three quarters done. That's not good enough. But I'm tired and I'm going to take whatever success I get. I haven't got a read deadline, so I can take my time as necessary.

I also spent a little time on the Daring Adventure Stories blog. I have the first chapter up. I used Blogger's scheduled posting feature, which is going to be great for this. I can do batches of chapters at once, and not worry about when I'm out of town or away from my computer. I'm still sorting out how I'll handle layout and links, but that's partly why I'm doing this story right now -- to get the hang of it for later books. I have a Mick and Casey ghost story that I might post as a four chapter serial in October.

Running Total: 55722 Words.

55722 / 75000 words. 74% done!

In Today's Pages: This is definitely the long dark night of the soul.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 25 - 3832 Words But Sorta Cheating

Today's was actually easy because I didn't rewrite much of anything. I did add a couple of new pages. I'm looking ahead at the remaining six days of this dare, and I see that nearly every single day is booked with commitments of one sort or another.

I've got six chapters or so left, some of which are in great shapes, and others of which are just notes. So I need to do more than one chapter one the days I'm working on the completed stuff. I need to really concentrate on the stuff I haven't done at all yet.

Running Total: 51247 Words.

51247 / 75000 words. 68% done!

In Today's Pages: Karla finds out some things she really didn't want to know.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The New Serial Blog Starts Tomorrow!

NOTE: I'm no longer doing serials on the Daring Adventure Stories blog. (That is now a blog for old public domain adventure stories.)

The serials are now published on this blog.  Episodes appear Mondays and Thursdays.  I go back and forth between two series:  In the summer (approx April through September) I publish a light adventure series based on old movie serials.  The first story was The Case of the Misplaced Hero

In the winter I carry on the adventure melodrama which began with my novel, The Wife of Freedom.  The current story is Test of Freedom.

* * * 

Time does fly! It's almost time to start the other blog!

Since I will be preparing the sequel to The Wife of Freedom this summer (for publication in late summer or fall), I decided to publish the first book as a serial this summer on my Daring Adventure Stories blog.

This is another experiment in the overall eBook Publishing Experiment. It not only should be promotional for the sequels, but it's a good dry run for the serial I'm writing for next year.

I'll be posting three days a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday, starting tomorrow, June 2.

Day 24 - 3098 Words of Brute Writing Force!

Not really as much progress as it sounds, but I realized I just need to rip forward as much as possible. I am not going to meet this deadline, but this will be in much better shape than the last time. It won't be ready for readers (which is what I'd hoped) but it will be ready for me to read through for flow, and see if I need to shift scenes and try a different take here and there.

This book has turned out to be a particularly hard book. Or at least a slow one. I need to take my time with it. I considered giving it a break today. I have so many things to write, and this clearly benefits from ripening time.

But I only wanted to do that because I have found myself spinning my wheels at the tough spots. I don't need to give it a rest quite yet - I just need to stop spinning my wheels. So do a little work on the trouble spots - enough time to make some kind of progress - then drop in a note and bull through the rest. These trouble spots will be much easier to handle when I can get a really clear picture of the whole.

Running Total: 47415 Words.

47415 / 75000 words. 63% done!

In Today's Pages: George vs The Cat. Zero vs. George. Karla vs. The Tunes Playing In Her Head. And Rosie just has a headache.