Tag Archives: TWDY
I’m back! Huzzah. March was been a crazy month for a number of reasons, the most exciting of which (for me) is that I bought a house. That was the single most stressful transaction of my life, but it’s all over now, so I can finally feel like a grown-up. Yes, I’m over thirty and my little brother has a kid, but I’ve always felt like I was in a state of suspended post-adolescence, probably because I was in school until I was 27.
One other exciting thing has been going on, writing-wise: I’ve really been powering through my latest work, Blackout, and I thought you might enjoy a sample of the reason TWDY 5 has been a little delayed. I mentioned Blackout in my previous post, but I just to recap: the MC is a math teacher in west Philadelphia who is being periodically possessed by the Angel of Death to assassinate members of a demonic cult. None of this is particularly important in the snippet below, but I’m really jazzed about how easy and quick the sentence long elevator pitch for this book is.
Our hero is one Malcolm Anders, teacher, boxer, amateur parkour enthusiast, and unconscious killer. Here, Pae Xiaolu, one of his former students, now a senior in college, brings her parents and friends to watch him in a parkour competition in Center City Philly. I had more fun introducing her parents than I have any other characters in any story I’ve written, except perhaps for Roland in TWDY. Sundari is a fellow teacher at Malcolm’s school and his best friend. Hope you enjoy.
Sundari marveled as I set about checking the obstacles and planning my freestyle routine. There were fifty competitors meandering about, occasionally doing warm-up front flips off the walls. The biggest crowd was around the Love sculpture and the drained fountain beside it. We weren’t allowed to touch the actual sculpture. Years of being a public work of art ensured it was sturdy, but they couldn’t have a bunch of idiots vaulting off of it for show. Everybody had a plan to incorporate it nonetheless. Other than the Liberty Bell, it was the most famous symbol of the city. I wondered whether or not the stand counted as part of the sculpture. If it was only the letters that I couldn’t touch, then I might be able to vault up and do a handstand, framing the sculpture with my legs for a second before I flipped off. This needed clarification.
Sundari tapped my shoulder. “Why does the scaffolding go up so much higher than the seats?”
“So I can climb it and jump off.”
Her eyes bulged. “Are you kidding me? You’re going to jump off of that?”
I shrugged. “Probably. I might have to for the speed course.”
“That must be thirty feet high!”
I pointed out a raised wood platform. “That’s only about fifteen feet down, and if you hit it and roll, you’re fine. You just have to be ready to jump back off the platform to the ground when you come up from the roll.”
By ten o’clock, the crowd had started gathering. I checked in and got my number and my times to report to the speed course start and the freestyle start. I’m not famous, so I had an early start time. I knew I could be competitive, though. This was my city, my day, and damn it, I still had a buzz from killing someone this morning. I probably shouldn’t have enjoyed that aspect of my preparation, but something in my body really did.
At quarter to noon, I saw Pae. How could I not? She was wearing shorts that were arguably cut to be a bathing suit bottom and a bright pink midriff-baring tank top. Her three friends were similarly attired and proportioned, but had the misfortune of walking next to her. The only person turning more heads than Pae was the taller, older woman behind her. I recognized her instantly: Pae’s mom.
I had thought Pae was bullshitting me when she’d said her mother had been a Swedish bikini model. I forget what the context of the conversation was. That night, I had googled her mother’s name. And that’s how I had come across a few dozen pictures of Aaltje Mikkelsen in her twenties. In some, she wore a barely-there bikini and wore it well. In others, she wore less, and wore it even better. Pae waved and steered the group towards Sundari and I. When they were ten feet away, the cluster of Amazonian blondeness parted enough for me to see a pudgy, balding Chinese man walking beside Aaltje. That would be Yu Xiaolu, who must have saved the planet in a previous life. He wore a yellow, short-sleeved button-down shirt with an Asian-style half collar, khaki shorts with cargo pockets, and Rainbow flip-flops. The top three buttons of his shirt were undone, revealing a white tank top undershirt and a tuft of chest hair. I could only assume he wore his shorts so loose to accommodate his gargantuan balls, because I’ve never seen a couple more mismatched. Aaltje was four inches taller than him without the pumps she wore, and in a clingy blue and white summer dress she started my blood boiling before she lowered her stylishly-oversized sunglasses to get a better look at me.
Pae greeted me with a hug. I wasn’t in much position to refuse. “Hi Malcolm! I had no idea this thing was going to be so huge. Are you excited?”
So it wasn’t Mr. Anders in front of her parents and friends. I could play along for a day. “Glad you could make it, Lucy.” She gave me a relieved grin when I didn’t call her Pae. “I’m always excited for a competition. This is my friend Sundari. Your parents, I assume?”
Aaltje stepped forward and extended her hand in an old-fashioned-lady-style kiss-my-hand kind of gesture. I caught myself leaning forward to do exactly that just in time to turn it into a step forward to clasp her hand in both of mine and shake it gently, the only other way I know how to meet such a greeting. She curtsied and flipped her hair.
“It is very nice to meet you, Mr. Anders. My daughter speaks highly of you.” Her accent could have come straight out of an eighties porno. “Tell me, you pronounce you name Ahn-ders, not Ann-ders, are you Swedish?”
“My grandfather immigrated. His name was Andersen, but he dropped the suffix when he came to the States. We still have family in Stockholm, but I haven’t seen them in years.”
Pae’s father stared at me from the back of the group. “Why’d you drop out of school, Anders?” If Aaltje’s accent came from an eighties porno, then Yu’s was from Breakfast at Tiffany’s. If I was ordered to come up with a racist caricature of a Chinese man, it would sound like Yu Xiaolu. He didn’t offer to shake my hand, so I stood my distance and didn’t try to shake his.
“I took a masters and went into teaching, Mr. Xiaolu.”
“Pae said you were PhD student when you taught her class. You got masters degree and left. I did my PhD at Stanford; we had people like that. They were dropouts.”
How kind. “I decided to focus on teaching, and I didn’t want to be a nomad, going wherever I could get a post-doc and then hoping someone died so I could find a tenure-track position at a college in a livable area. The market is pretty crowded at the high end for math professors.”
Yu pressed on with the interrogation. “You could do industry. Lots of math PhD’s in computer companies, finance. Pays much better than teaching.”
“I like teaching, and right now I’m quite glad I didn’t take the advice of the recruiter from Lehman Brothers who was after me when I graduated.”
Aaltje never flinched while her husband grilled me. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought I saw the corner of her lip turn up. She found the whole thing amusing. Pae, on the other hand, squirmed in place with a kill-me-now look. She didn’t interrupt her father, though. Her friends stood behind her and looked away, doing their best to hide giggles at the awkwardness of the situation.
Yu folded his arms. “Pae said you help with her classes.”
“That’s what she hires me to do.”
He gestured to the dozens of freerunners practicing on the equipment. “Why do all this?”
Really? I wondered if he thought I was banging his daughter. “Because I like it. I grew up a gymnast, and I like competition. It keeps me in shape.”
“If you have time to do that—”
I cut him off. “Mr. Xiaolu, I teach your daughter math on a contract basis. How I like to exercise and my career path isn’t relevant to that. Right now, I’ve got to go get ready for the first part of the competition. It was very nice to meet you.” I offered him my hand. He hesitated, then shook it. I turned back to Aaltje and shook her hand again. “Ms. Xiaolu.”
She flashed me a practiced, cover-girl smile. “Call, me Aaltje, please.”
“Of course.” I turned to Pae. “Lucy, thanks for coming. I’m up fifth on the speed round. You can probably get the best view of everything from up on in the bleachers there, and you should be able to get a flier that explains the course from one of the people wandering around.”
Pae hugged me again and whispered in my ear. “Sorry about that. And thanks for calling me Lucy.”
“Don’t worry,” I whispered back. “I’ve dealt with worse from parents.”
First things first: TWDY 4 – Blood Money is out an in eStores now! Check it out in the Kindle store or on Smashwords. I’ve been pressed for time due to an abundance of projects lately, and I didn’t get a chance to post a big announcement blog when Blood Money went live last week. I did get the cover art graphic for the front page slider on my home page ready the day of publication, though, which is a first for me.
(Side note for people using Kindle Direct Publishing: it turns out you have to manually add books to your AuthorCentral page, which I had forgotten until I was checking the link to write this post).
As I mentioned last post, I’m sticking to a schedule of four main projects: TWDY, City of Magi (querying), Joyriders, and Blackout. I’m fighting the urge to spend too much time on Blackout, which is natural because that’s a brand new book and filled with all the shiny expectations and simple joy of putting a new story together. There’s really nothing else like it—that’s the reason I started writing in the first place.
To keep myself honest, I came up with a Google calendar schedule that emails me the assignment every morning. I spend at least three days on new material, be that Blackout or TWDY, and two days on query stuff and editing. Needless to say, I look forward to Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings more than Tuesday and Thursday. I’m also going to be keeping more regular tabs on my progress and posting them here.
Joyriders Issue 1 is theoretically ready to be published, though I’ll be seeking at least one more editorial opinion before I pull the trigger. Part of my recalcitrance is that I don’t to commit to two regular series. Keeping TWDY going while querying my book and a short story (which I’ve been neglecting) is already a lot. Joyriders is a great story and deserves to be told. For that matter, it needs more of my mindshare than it is currently getting.
TWDY 5 is a work in progress, with two full chapters complete and probably six more coming. The first season of TWDY is going to wrap up with issue 6, and I’ll be creating a compendium from those to sell as Volume 1. I had originally planned to go just five issues, but there are some threads that need to be addressed that I just don’t see myself getting to in 5 issues. We’ll see. I also have the option of making Issue 5 a monster “season finale.” I don’t intend to lay off of TWDY afterwards—I’m having too much fun writing it and loving all the reader feedback that I’ve been getting. That being said, I do need to slow down a bit. I’m targeting April for the release of Issue 5, and if there is an issue 6 it will likely be June or July, depending on how much writing I do on vacation.
My City of Magi work is pretty close to finished, though of course things could always be tweaked. I have a synopsis that I’m trying to cut down. It started at 2100 words, and I’ve got it down to 1512. I’m aiming for 1000, so there’s still work to do. My query letter is more or less in final form. I’ll just have to cross my fingers and hope soon.
Blackout is an interesting creature. It stands at just over 19000 words now, and it’s the first book of which I’ve done a complete plot outline before getting too far into it. I can tell you now how the book ends. But I won’t. It’s also the first book that I’ve ever written in the first person. I’m not going to go out and do present tense because I kind of hate that, but it is a fun experiment. It’s also the first writing exercise I’ve pushed out into a full book.
The only other project I’m jugging is the short story Magi Rebellion – Part One, a short story written in the world of City of Magi providing the backstory for the city of Dein Astos. I’ve shopped it once and need to keep putting it out there. If nothing happens after a while I’ll publish my planned trio of short stories using the magic of KDP. It’s a story worth being told.
I’ve been radio silent for far too long, and mostly it has to do with juggling a million projects at once, including an exciting new one that I’ll post excerpts from shortly. The projects of note are:
1. Those Who Die Young – Issue 4: Obviously. Barring a disaster, this will be published next week and I’ll have cover art up and ready for you later this week. Some of my more loyal readers might notice a title change. At the end of Issue 3, I declared (in the preview section) that Issue 4 would be entitled “Bloody Mess.” My wise editor thought that was horrible when she heard about it, and after much consideration, I think she’s right. I came up with the much cooler (and still applicable) new title, “Blood Money,” which we both agreed was a massive improvement.
2. TWDY – Issue 5: Next week will mark the first time in TWDY history I’ve published issue N without first completing issue N+1. I have written some of it and I know what happens, but I haven’t gotten a rough draft banged out yet.
3. Official Query Letter – City of Magi: I’m super excited about this one. City of Magi is complete, revised, and ready to be queried. There are two minor stumbling points to that, though. One is that to query, you need a query letter. I’ll post a little about that later, or perhaps just leave the interested reader to the eight million conflicting advice columns that already exist. The second is the submission package, which includes…
4. Synopsis – City of Magi: I’m still fumbling with this one, fighting to get it down to size. I didn’t end up reducing the size of City of Magi as much as I had hoped (final length, 273K words), but with a synopsis, your freedom is considerably restricted. This is very much a work in progress right now.
5. Joyriders – Issue 1: This is actually copy edited and almost ready to roll. I’ve had the cover art up for months now, and for some reason I just never judged this as ready for prime time. I suspect my focus on TWDY had something to do with that, and part of my reluctance is definitely that I won’t be able to push out issues of Joyriders like I have TWDY without sacrificing the latter, and I have a big emotional attachment to Lear and Erica, not to mention readers that actively bug me about publishing more. This could come out as soon as next month, but I’ll have to really consider whether I want to make a dangling commitment like that, particularly given…
6. A brand new book. I know, I know. Why? Well, this is something that I just got addicted to. The book is called Blackout, and it’s a supernatural thriller set in modern Philadelphia about a schoolteacher who gets periodically possessed by the angel of death to assassinate the members of a demonic cult threatening both the celestial and earthly worlds. The protagonist has no idea why he is being possessed, only that he keeps waking up over the bodies of people he has apparently killed.
I’ve been spectacularly hooked on Blackout of late, and it’s hard to deny the fun that this story is going to be to write. The difficulty is mostly in keeping my other projects moving, which I absolutely intend to do. My prioritization list reads something like
- City of Magi submission packet
I just have to get my time spent on each to reflect this, as I’ve been succumbing to temptation to write Blackout more than anything else. I also have some crits that I owe my fellow writers. In all of this, one other commitment has been left in the cold: blogging. I’m trying not to do that, and to a certain extent I’m being pushed not to do that by virtue of my upcoming publications, but there are only so many hours in the day that I can spend writing. I’m still learning to juggle stories well. It is taking considerably longer than it took me to learn to juggle actual objects (I can do pins and spheroids, but no more than three).
February is going to be an interesting month, and I’ll do my best to get my work out into the real world instead of the confines of my Dropbox.
So… yeah, it’s been a while. Over a month, actually, which is impressive and disappointing, given that I started this blog with the intent of posting at least twice a month. If you look at the archive, I was pretty good about that. What happened? Well, November happened. November was the heart of my marathon season, during which I ran two half marathons and one full, so that took up a good bit of time. Also, November was holiday-tastic, with an extra family-related unexpected vacation to spare. It was also “Holy crap I wanted to get Trial and Error out on December first and there is so much editing to do” month. TNE took its time getting ready, but I’m really happy with the way it turned out. Issue 4, Bloody Mess, will hopefully be out in January, with Issue 5 in March. This comprises the last of what I’m calling “Volume 1” of Those Who Die Young, and while it by no means is the end of the story, it will mark the conclusion of a major story arc. I think of it as my season finale.
Curious things happened with my pricing in the month of November as well. In a run-up to the December release of Trial and Error, Shelter From the Storm and Bearers of Bad News were both dropped to $0.99, from their $2.99 height. I have previously addressed my decision to move to the $2.99 price point. It wasn’t one I made lightly, as I felt forced into making that particular choice by the bizarre cutoff value for a 70% revenue split as opposed to 35%. The latter is all you can select if you price your book outside of Amazon (and other booksellers’) predefined sweet zone of $2.99 – $9.99. I always thought the “natural” price of an issue was $1.99. Two bucks felt right for one episode of TWDY, much as it feels like a good price to pay for an hour-long serial television show to me. The problem was that, at $1.99, I get approximately $0.70 per sale, even on Smashwords. At $2.99, I get $2.00. The craziness is self-evident: by raising the price a dollar, I make more than a dollar more. I really hate that. I want to price it based on what I feel it ought to be worth, not a gimmicky formula agreed upon by the great brain-trust of all eBook sellers.
While I was thinking about that, it occurred to me that I’m not trying to do this to make money. I really like writing, and I really want people to buy my stories. Why should price be a barrier? Hence, damn the formulae, I set Trial and Error to be $1.99. And I left the first two issues at $0.99. If you bought a copy at the higher price, feel free to email me—I absolutely will give you a code to get a free copy of the next or any future issue of your choice. I’m not trying to play the market or put higher numbers on early sales. As I said from the very beginning, writing TWDY is a tremendous joy, but it is also a tremendous experiment. Serial fiction is a strange thing to be toying with.
I did make one other change to my listings on Smashwords. I changed my settings for Shelter From the Storm and Bearers of Bad News to no longer say they have “adult” content. I’m not a big fan of the way that Smashwords filters it’s adult content, largely because they don’t have a sliding scale. It’s adult or it’s not. And although a hardened killer in Shelter does use the F-word when enraged, I don’t have graphic sex in the stories (I don’t actually have any sex in them yet, but I reserve the right for my characters to get laid). The criteria you’re supposed to use is whether or not it has material inappropriate for those under 18. Well… some parents wouldn’t want their kids to read a story that had even one curse word in it, and there is certainly violence in all three issues. TWDY isn’t appropriate for the Harry Potter target audience. However, if you go to Smashwords and turn off your adult filter, well, here are a few of the first things that pop up for me right now if I do so (without typing in any search words) : “Ms. Chanton’s Castle: Threesome in the Study,” “Locker Room Gangbang Quickie Series,” and “On The Floor: A Tish Adams Erotic Short Story – Episode #2.”
Actually, going there today had considerably less porn than usual. In any case, TWDY does not need to be cordoned off into the same section of the store as straight up sex stories (with all due respect to the authors of LRGQS, Tish Adams, and Ms. Chanton’s Castle"). No more “adult” setting for me. I wish they had a movie-style rating scale, so I could say that my books are somewhere near the PG-13/R border, depending on your sensitivities. Alas, it’s a binary scale, and I’m no longer rating myself as a 1.
In other news, I finally sent out the prequel short story to City of Magi to a short fiction magazine, so I’m quite excited about that. The book itself is still in revision, but I’m keeping a counter on how many chapters I have left to retouch. Right now I have 30 ready-to-query chapters and 33 left to go. Yes, it’s a really long book (250k words). I’m doing less slash-and-burn than I expected in the editing process. Of course I’m cutting out the unneeded parts, but I’m not axing entire chapters or characters like I feared I would have to do. I was careful on the characters I added and the scenes I wrote, and it’s something I can really stand behind.
There is one other minor commitment that has been keeping me from my blog, though that’s going to slough off as the days go on. Sadly, I was taken by the great geek apocalypse that is Skyrim. It is, hands down, the most addictive and enjoyable game that has ever been made, and it is a technical masterpiece to behold. I’m even more impressed that they created such an expansive game in this day and age and made it run well on low-powered machines like mine. My gaming/coding laptop didn’t used to be low-powered, but that was two years ago when I bought it. I’m hoping it has enough life left in it to comfortably play Mass Effect 3, and then it might be time for me to retire the old girl.
It’s a happy holiday season, and things are exciting in the writing world. I’ll keep you posted more often as things move along. During my holiday break, lots of stuff usually gets finished (City of Magi was completed in it last year).
Ever since I published Bearers of Bad News, I’ve been trying to push myself into a multithreaded writing mode. What’s multithreading? It’s how we should think of multitasking. At least, it’s how computers think of them. Each processing core, that is. Multicore machines can do true multitasking, but old-school machines can’t, and it’s debatable whether or not humans can. We certainly can’t write more than one thing at a time, thanks to the two-handed nature of typing and our regrettable lack of a second pair of hands and eyes. For the most part, your computer can’t really do more than one thing at a time (even if it’s multicore – most programmers don’t take advantage of that). If you’re playing a game and something is animating while the game is deciding on something logical (like, did you hit that target?), then you’re seeing multithreading. What’s really happening is that the machine is quickly switching back and forth between drawing that animation and making that hit calculation. If you could read the processor’s mind, it would go something like this:
Paint the screen, paint the screen, paint the screen. Divide bullet speed by time. Add to distance. Paint the screen. Paint the screen. Is distance to target less than hit distance? Paint the screen. Yes. Check probability for hit. Paint the screen. Probability is 35%. Paint the screen. Get pseudorandom number. Paint the screen. Paint the screen. Number is 54. Paint the screen. Bullet missed. Paint the screen…
It’s never painting and calculating at the same time, but it looks like it to you because it switches back and forth so quickly. That’s the only thing computers are actually good at—doing simple things extremely quickly.
The relevance to writing is more the one-thing-at-a-time issue, when I really want to be doing multiple things at once. I want to blog. I want to tweet. I want to edit issue 3 of Those Who Die Young. I want to write Issue 4 of TWDY. I want to finalize my short story for submission to a couple of markets. More than all of these, I want to get moving on edits to City of Magi to ready it for queries.
There is absolutely no chance I can do all of these at the same time. I’ve determined that I can do minor edits even when I’m not in full writing mode, so I can banish that to evenings and lunchtimes and still make some progress on it. The biggest conflict here, though, is between TWDY and City of Magi. I love TWDY. It’s by far the most fun thing I’ve ever done in writing, and I love that people are actually buying the first two issues. I feel a duty to my readers to further the story.
That being said, City of Magi is my dream book. It’s a powerful story that is something I want out there in front of the masses, published in for-realsies paperback form and sitting on the shelves at your local Barnes and Noble. And it’s not going anywhere if I spend all my time on TWDY.
Hence, multithreading. I can’t write both at once, but perhaps they can develop in tandem. So I’m going to try something. Monday and Tuesday are for TWDY. Lear, Erica, Mede, Quinta, and Roland will plow forward in their quest to keep the peace and re-enable Lear’s entry to the Infinitum. On Wednesday and Thursday, I’m in for City of Magi. The Grey Ghost lives. Friday’s a toss-up. Whatever needs development gets attention. It may also have to do with my mood after my Friday workout, or how close to my self-imposed deadline for TWDY releases I am.
We’ll see how it goes. Hopefully it’ll look like I’m successfully writing two things at once. At worst, it’ll be an experiment I do away with and I’ll go to single-mindedly prepping City of Magi for a month or so before switching to TWDY-mode for a similar amount of time. It’s all in good fun.
I’ve been putting in a lot of extra hours recently to get things together for the publication of Bearers of Bad News this Saturday, and in doing so I’ve had to think a lot about why I do what I do, and what I hope for it to become. I certainly didn’t start writing for the money. Protip to those thinking about going into writing for the money: you’re doing it wrong. For a more hilarious take on that, see the number one item on the list I link to just about every third post: Cracked’s How to Become An Author in 5 Incredibly Difficult Steps.
I did, however, have actual monetary goals when I decided to really put myself out there. Of course I want to be a mega-millionaire, but I also had a few concrete goals when I started publishing serial fiction. The number one goal was that publishing my works shouldn’t cost me money (My wife supports this goal). I’m not talking about time. I love writing; I’d do it for free – and in fact I am doing it for less than that right now. I have sales that I’m proud of, but they aren’t greater than the price of five covers (three for TWDY, two for Joyriders) and the cost of this site, this WordPress theme, and a handful of programs that I like to use as I write. I had also seen this post by Dean Wesley Smith on math and making money writing before. Suffice to say, the man doesn’t believe in selling your work for $0.99. I agreed with him, but only for full length novels. There is no way I’d sell City of Magi for a buck – but that took three years to write. Each issue of TWDY only takes about a month and a half… but… it’s really more than that.
TWDY has averaged about 35K words an issue, which is about a third of an average adult (non-YA) novel. I write something on the order of 1000 words an hour, usually one hour a day in the mornings. So that’s something like thirty hours of my time writing. It takes almost as long to edit it as it does to write, not to mention the crit input of several of my wise readers, the editor I’m trying out to save me time on the copy editing… and I think DWS might be on to something. Something that’s relevant even for me.
Re-reading DWS’s post made me really ask myself: do I believe in what I’m writing? Is it worth someone’s money, even a little bit? I absolutely believe that. But there’s another question – is the serial format worth more than a dollar? These aren’t short stories and they aren’t chapters of a book. They are individual issues, each with their own story belonging to a greater arc. I had to wonder if I would buy episodes of a television show I liked and couldn’t get for free on TV. I think I would – but I’d pay more for the hour-longs than I would for the half-hours. It just feels right. Well, TWDY is about 100 pages an “episode.” I’d pay probably two or three dollars for that.
Well, it just so happens that $2.99 is the magic price point at which all online retailers decide the author can have a big-boy cut of his sales. The magic range on almost all retailers is between $2.99 and $9.99. If you hit that, you can get something like 70% of sales. Outside that range, you get in the neighborhood of 35%. That makes the choice between two and three easy enough. Then comes the $64000 question. Would I buy it at three bucks?
My Xoom (and yes, I have a Xoom… I was an early adopter that got burned) isn’t overflowing with serial fiction, so I don’t have a guide to go by or any evidence as to what the answer to that question is. I believe the answer is yes. At a publication rate of one every month and a half to two months, three bucks a pop, quick (but not too quick) fiction, well-formatted and easy to read… I think so. The proof will be in the pudding, though, as I’m going to go out and do it.
As of September 24, Shelter From the Storm will be priced at $2.99, along with Bearers of Bad News (which hits the e-Stands that day). I will, however, be offering discount coupons for a limited time to get them to commenters on this page – provided everything works with Smashwords coupons. I love hearing from people reading the words I toss out there into the electronic ether on a regular basis, so if you’d like a coupon (and it’s before October 15), leave a comment and I’ll email you a coupon to pick up a copy of Shelter for the original price of $0.99.
I’m both excited and terrified about the change. This is the sound of me really believing in my work. I have evidence that it’s worth believing in, and I think you’ll feel the same way. Enjoy a brand new issue of Those Who Die Young this weekend. It might just blow your mind.
If my experience last time is anything to judge by, this week is going to be both exciting and supremely frustrating. It’s Monday, and I’m determined to make front-page graphics for Bearers of Bad News to include with its brand new cover. The brand new cover is a lot like the old cover, but darker. I asked my artist to change up the background a little so they look less like chapters of one book and more like related issues. Because that is what they are (or what I am trying very hard to make them). The new issue is on schedule and should be live on Saturday, September 24th, as planned.
The site will get a few new graphics, the story will get one final, frantic edit, including a read-aloud, and then… on to the formatting. This time, Smashwords meatgrinder, I will conquer you. And I will continue to harp on how irritating it is that Smashwords doesn’t let you do a meatgrinder bypass if you already have nice software that converts your manuscript into whatever eReader format you want. It looks much prettier when I do it than when the meatgrinder does it, but them’s the rules.
My plan is to continue doing the Kindle/Smashwords split, publishing separately in each of them. My experience thus far is that my Kindle sales dwarf my Smashwords sales, but the convenience of being in all other formats is too much to give up (and I don’t want to exclude any readers who decided to buy a Nook, particularly since I think the Nook Simple Touch has a slightly nicer interface than any other device on the market at the moment (and it’s only $139). I do really like the Smashwords dashboard, and if Smashwords negotiates a better split than I currently get with Amazon I’ll merge the versions. As it is, the .mobi file you buy from Kindle is prettier than the one you can buy from Smashwords.
I also hope to have at least one more author interview up from the #writecampaign (which has been a fantastic experience – join it next year if you missed it this time), and maybe post a real blog post that builds upon my popular Death by Social Media entry from a few weeks ago.
Shameless self-promotion moment: Bearers of Bad News is incredible. I’m incredibly proud of the way it turned out. It’s a fantastic stand-alone issue… but… it’s better if you read Issue 1 – Shelter From the Storm first. They’re cheeaapp….
In all seriousness, I think they’re fantastic and I really hope you enjoy them. Donnerin and Ratio will be forever changed after Bearers, and it’s only getting more exciting.
Besides giving a shout out to one of my all-time favorite TV shows, I actually have a point, talking about this now. In particular, I need to talk about it before September 24th. That’s because it is (in theory) the first thing someone might read of TWDY.
I went on and on months ago about the nuances of writing a work of serial fiction rather than a book. The truth is, I’m making this up as I go along. That will continue to be the case until serial fiction writing is a class taught in the 10th grade. That being said, I constantly remind myself as I’m getting each issue ready that I’m comparing TWDY to a TV show. In every episode of Boston Legal, they didn’t take ten minutes at the beginning to re-introduce Alan Shore and Denny Crane. You just knew them – or you didn’t. A new viewer would have to get to know them fresh. They also didn’t re-hash the entire plot of the show going back to the first episode. They would have a quick scene at the beginning with a voiceover, “Previously, on Boston Legal…” and they would show you the crucial details relevant to the episode you were watching. In short, they were giving you the Argumentum.
Quoting the free dictionary: "Argument – a summary or short statement of the plot or subject of a literary work.” I’ve been told by the nice people over at the Latin forums that Argumentum is the right way to describe this same concept in Latin, and as the language of the people of Ratio is basically Latin (note: I’m hardly the first person to make up a pseudo-magical language by “just using Latin”), I thought it was appropriate to title my “previously, on Those Who Die Young…” section Argumentum. It also goes well with “Dramatis Personnae,” which is more familiar as many plays and novels have adopted that Latin title as the section containing just a list of the characters (literally translated, it means “the people of the drama”).
I honestly have no idea whether or not this will work, because I’ve never really read something like this before. I am determined, however, to do everything in my power to make Bearers of Bad News theoretically independent of Shelter From the Storm. You could enjoy Bearers even if you haven’t read Shelter, but reading Shelter absolutely makes Bearers better. I’m aiming for that same balance found in TV shows. You don’t have to see the episode where Alan and Denny, both older, single, successful lawyers, start having sleepovers like children because they’re fun just to enjoy their back-and-forth, but it makes every joke that much funnier if you have. It also makes the episode where Denny saves Alan’s life that much more powerful if you have also seen the one where they are sleeping in a cabin in the woods in British Columbia, and Denny mumbles “Denny Crane” right before he farts loudly. Some things you just have to be there for.
If I really do it right, someone who picks up Bearers of Bad News will feel compelled to go back and get Shelter From the Storm so he can see how it all went down.
I had the good fortune recently of attending an Orson Scott Card writing class – I highly recommend it if you have the means and he happens to be holding one in a place you can get to. There were a lot of topics he spoke on that helped me think about my writing in a better light, but the issue I’m most compelled to talk about is that of openings, largely because it made the most dramatic impact on how I write. I’ve been a member of Hatrack River Forums (the OSC-sponsored writing forum) and they have a concept of a “First Thirteen.” What they mean by that is the first thirteen lines of your (appropriately formatted) story. The reason they place such emphasis on it is that an editor will often only look at the first page of your manuscript before deciding whether your story belongs in the slush pile or in the pile worthy of further attention. Editors are overworked and underpaid, and your story needs to fight for their attention. Thirteen lines is (approximately) what fits on that first page.
I spent a long time working on the first thirteen for my story to submit to get in to OSC’s Boot Camp. It was what I was going to use as the introduction to Shelter From the Storm. I didn’t need to worry about an editor (since I was my editor) on Shelter, but I did need to worry about getting people to buy it. That opening was still important.
I spent a long time doing everything I could to create the perfect first thirteen; these would be the best-written, most beautiful thirteen lines I had ever written and put at the front of a story. This is what I wrote.
Erica was cold, wet, and tired. Tired was a feeling she didn’t mind; it was only natural. Hiking seventeen miles in a day gave her no way to avoid it, particularly as the trail went up the slope to the plateau ahead. After a while, the gentle tug of fatigue at every step on the grimy, ill-kept path started to feel familiar. Her aching feet reminded her that she was alive. There had scarcely been a time in her life when she hadn’t felt tired. Tired was an old friend. Wet, though, was a feeling she hated. She’d been on the road for almost a week and had exactly one sunny day, most of which she’d been in a forest. Wet made her feet and thighs itch; it gave her blisters on her toes. Wet was an annoying cousin that ruined her socks, spoiled her mood, and made every footfall treacherous. Cold was worst of all. Cold made the wind bite through her leathers; it made the rain her enemy. Cold could be deadly if she didn’t keep her wits about her. Cold, wet, and tired. The life of a traveler.
The sun hastily made its retreat below the horizon, leaving her to make out the trail in rapidly dimming light. One more ascent stood between her and the plateau roads. If the stories were to be believed, roads on the plateau were covered in straw on the sides for those on foot and brick in the middle for carts. Half-true would be a blessing.
I loved it. It has rhythm. It has symmetry. It’s pretty. It was also rejected, and rightfully so.
It took me a while to really figure out why it got rejected. That first opening was beautiful, but it didn’t tell the reader anything about the story. What do you know after reading that? You know Erica is cold, wet, and tired. You know she’s on a long hike – you don’t even know where she’s headed, except “the plateau.” You know that things are slightly nicer there, or at least they’re rumored to be. You also find out it’s getting dark, and you get a vague impression that she’s had a tough life when I say “There had scarcely been a time in her life when she hadn’t felt tired. Tired was an old friend.”
A few weeks after I got that rejection, I finally realized that the opening to the first story I was ever going to publish was crap. OSC (and the other Boot Camp slush readers) were right. It’s fun for me now to look at the changes I made and look at whether or not I changed it for the better. Let’s see. Here’s the beginning of Shelter as it was published.
Nothing was ever as easy as it sounded. Deliver the letter to the Viscount – that’s it. That was the one and only task Erica’s half-brother Markus had entrusted her with, along with four coppers for lodging along the way. Maen wasn’t hard to find; follow the big road out of town. She’d know she was there when she got to the top of a plateau and found a huge city. Markus had even pointed out the trail on a map for her. Six days ago she had actually been excited to be finally trusted with something important for the family business. Six days ago she had been dry and the city guard had assured her that the road was safe and that it only took four days to make the trip. Five and a half days ago, a cold west wind had blown in and brought a storm that had yet to let up. Nothing had gone right since.
Only one farm that she passed would even let her stay the night – and they had demanded a whole copper! She didn’t know whether to count herself lucky or cursed that she hadn’t found another place to stay on the road. The cold and the rain was miserable, but it was free, and she’d have to make the trip back with just the three coppers in her pack. Five and a half days of constant marching along a road that was rocky at the best of times and a soupy mess now was beginning to wear on her. She’d been through worse. This, at least, was only physical discomfort.
The opening of a story is all about making a contract with the reader. What is the story about? Why should he care? Let’s look at Shelter’s new beginning and see how I improved it.
In the first two sentences, you know Erica’s objective. It’s all she’s trying to do for the first story, and (not a huge spoiler) it is the task she completes at the end of the first issue. What else do we know? After the third sentence, we know she was sent on the trip by her half-brother Markus. We know why she’s going. We know she was given four coppers. We don’t know whether or not that’s a lot of money, but we get the impression that it isn’t, especially later.
In three sentences, I’ve made the story more interesting than I did in the entire opening that I submitted for Boot Camp. Shelter was improved by this change – it is a much, much better story after having been rejected by OSC. I thanked him for that personally. I don’t think I would have seen how horrible my original beginning was without his input.
Let’s keep looking at the second opening to find out what else we learn. We learn she’s been walking for six days, and that the trip was only supposed to take four. Things have gone very wrong on her trip; it had been something she was really eager to do. We find out how short her money supply really is; the first place she stayed charged her a quarter of her funds for a single night’s stay. We also find out that she wasn’t expecting it; four coppers is a lot of money to Erica, but not to the owners of that farm.
We learn a few other things by implication as well. Markus had to point out the route on a map for her, so she either isn’t very familiar with how to read maps or just plain can’t read. We’re also left wondering – why is Markus sending his half-sister out on a four-day journey by herself? This implies she’s an adult or that Markus is a grossly negligent caretaker. We also are left with the somewhat vague statement that she’s had a tough live, but we have something more to go on here than we did in the first opening. “She’d been through worse. This, at least, was only physical discomfort.”
One big takeaway that I got from OSC’s class was that the worst sin a writer can commit is to withhold information from the reader. Tell the reader what the story is going to be about. You gain nothing by leading him along bit by bit, because he only ends up feeling cheated at the end. If Erica knew what was in the letter she was carrying, it would be pointless of me to hold that information back until it was crucial. It violates that contract that you make with the reader, that if he is in the mind of a character, he knows what that character knows. The reader should never be operating blind.
So what contract have I made with the reader? What is this story going to be about? Just from the intro, we know it’s a story about a journey. We have a sympathetic female protagonist. We know she’s had a tough life, we know things are all going horribly wrong, and we know she’s got a lot to overcome. We know she’s trying to deliver a letter for her family. All of these are important to the plot as it moves forward, so I think I’ve done a fairly good job of giving the reader a reason to care. Having taken the class and had the “no withholding” concept drilled into me, I probably could have improved it, but then again a story can always be improved. There’s no such thing as a perfect manuscript. One of the other big points OSC made in his class was that you shouldn’t tinker. You will rarely improve your first draft – that is the only living draft of the story, and aside from copy editing (correcting your grammar, fixing misspellings, etc.), there’s not a lot you should do.
If I were writing it again, I don’t think there’s much I would change. I might do away with the first sentence, or perhaps transpose the first two. I would probably mention that she knows the letter has something to do with taxes, since that’s the extent of her knowledge. You don’t meet Lear for five more paragraphs (about two pages), so I might bump that up, but I don’t think I would put the wizard in the opening. Erica doesn’t know Lear when the story starts, and the story is her story, no matter how interesting the land of the wizards is. She is the woman trying to find her place in the world, no matter how hard it tries to reject her. Those Who Die Young is now and will always be a single viewpoint story. I don’t always write single viewpoint stories; City of Magi jumps around from chapter to chapter, and I think it works beautifully.
When I mentioned to OSC what a positive change his rejection had made in my story, he said that was the first time someone had ever thanked him for rejecting them. Aside from taking it personally, I see no reason not to learn from a rejection. It’s an objective evaluation of whether or not your story (or portion thereof) is good – you need to improve it. The matter is settled. He also suggested I submit it for IGMS, now that I had improved it, but of course I couldn’t do that because it had already been published. Also, it’s 37000 words, a bit longer than that which is usually in IGMS. I will, however, be submitting something for IGMS, having had such a great time in the class, and I can’t wait to send it in. Maybe it’ll even get rejected.
PS – For the curious, the short story I’m working on will be set in the City of Magi universe, and I’m actually really psyched about it; it’s turning out to be really interesting and very well-suited to short story format. I’ll keep you posted about how things go. And don’t worry about Bearers of Bad News, that’s in copy-editing and final revisions stage already. It should be ready to go by the planned release date of September 24th.