Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Announcing: The full Bones of the Earth is now available

I thought I might as well make a formal announcement:

The full text of The Bones of the Earth, all three parts, is now available in e-book form from Smashwords and Amazon.

For those who have already downloaded Part 1: Initiation Rites, I will give you a coupon for a reduction in the cost of the full version equal to the cost of the part you've already bought.

I'm very happy and excited about this! I must thank, again, my cover designer, Lisa Damerst, and my editors, Roxanne Bury and Will Grainger, for outstanding efforts.

What is it all about?

I wrote The Bones of the Earth because I wanted to read an epic fantasy that did not reiterate all the stereotypes and tropes of the fantasy genre that I kept finding on the shelves in my local bookstore: typically, they start with a crude map of an imaginary land, a map that is so simplistic that it's obvious the artist never looked at a real map. Inside, two-dimensional characters have names that sound vaguely Celtic or Saxon. Place names betray that the authors were looking for short cuts to become the next Tolkein.

I decided to write a story that satisfied what I was looking for, something that's not found in most books. The setting is a place you won't find in any other story: eastern Europe in the darkest part of the Dark Age. I deliberately avoided romanticizing it. Life was miserable for most people.

Setting the story in a real place also saves me the work that took Tolkein so many years. I did not have to invent languages or history. I spent a lot of time in research, yes, but the result is that all the names of people, places and mythical monsters come from authentic sources. Yes, "Javor" is a real Slavic name, meaning "maple tree." Elli, Grat, Vorona (raven), Valgus, Photius—these are all names that real people had 1,500 years ago.

I have also made an effort to incorporate many ancient myths and legends from various cultures that would have had some influence on the people of the setting and time.

All that to say, please take a look at the book. You can take a fairly long peek at Amazon's version—it allows a free sample of about 20 percent of the text, which is about 80 pages. Also, I have a free e-pub version of about the same extent at the tab at the top of this page.

I invite any comments, as well. Let me know what you think of the story, style or approach. And let me know if you figure out what the bones of the earth are before you get to the end of Part 2.

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Indie author interview with Elise Stokes, author of the Cassidy Jones adventures

My latest guest is Elise Stokes, independent author of the outstanding MG novels, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula and Cassidy Jones and Vulcan's Gift. Both books are setting fire to the indie sales lists, and garnering great reviews, too. She is also part of Artesian Books, a real innovation in the world of electronic publishing.

I asked Elise to share her thoughts on writing, on being an author and on the business of bringing your work to an audience.

What is your goal as a writer? What are you trying to achieve with your writing—other than financial reasons, or trying to sell a lot of copies, why do you write?
Not to be dramatic, but when I write I feel like I can breathe. It’s like yoga for the brain. All the pressures of living on planet Earth just sort of melt away when I lose myself in this really cool world I’ve created in my head. Plus, it’s fun sharing this world with others, especially when they think it’s pretty cool, too.

Is there a central theme for your writing? One message you are trying to get across?
I really don’t have an agenda. I just want to entertain my readers. But if I had to pull a theme from this series it would be learning to be comfortable in your own skin. There’s a reason Cassidy is very fourteen. I want young readers to relate to her, see themselves in her and experience her victories as if they were their own. In other words, I want Cassidy to be a role model and to give girls her age a glimpse of what they can overcome and achieve. Guess I do have an agenda after all. 

Who do you think is your audience? Do you have a specific reader in mind for your books?
My target audience are girls ages 12 to 16. However—much to my delight—this series has proven to have great crossover appeal. Both genders, young and old alike, are Cassidy fans. I guess the action and bigger-than-life, Marvel-like characters makes the girl drama tolerable for the boys. Really, there is a lot going on in my stories.

What is one deep aspect of your main character, Cassidy Jones, that you did not specifically describe in your story, but that you hope that your readers discover or work out on their own?
Cassidy sees those she loves and trusts through rose-colored glasses. This is good for the reader to keep in mind since the story is being told by Cassidy. Her perception could be influenced by this flaw.

 How would you describe your own writing style?I like stories that are fast-paced, have a goal, and are light on description but heavy on dialogue. In fact, I tend to skim through description to dialogue. I like learning about characters via their interaction with one another. So it comes as no surprise that this is how I also write. But I’m not a seasoned writer, so my writing style isn’t set in stone. It can be easily influenced by what I’m reading. This is one reason why I avoid reading when I’m writing.
What is your writing technique or process? For example, do you write in the mornings, or late through the night? Do you use outlines?
I plot out how to reach “the unveiling” in a skeleton outline. My goal is to keep everything relevant in the story, threaded together so tightly that my editor can’t find anything to shave off. For the most part, I write while my kids are at school. I’ve tried to write at night, but frankly I can hardly form an intelligible tweet after 9 p.m.

How many drafts of Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula did you write before you published it?
Two: first draft and the rewrite. Aside from a few short stories in high school and college and the “novel” I wrote in 6th grade, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula is my first real writing attempt and the story just sort of flowed. This is not the case with the second book in the series, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, which was released the first week of December. That one dragged me through the woods! It was well worth the fight, however, because the result of all the toil and frustration is an unpredictable storyline and a very cool super villain that I can truly be proud of.
Are your characters based on people you actually know?
My youngest inspired Cassidy’s brother Chazz. My son has a huge imagination. If he’s taken with a character in a movie, he usually pauses the video so he can throw together a makeshift costume of the character, which he is really good at doing. The kid has an eye for detail. The first time he watched Indiana Jones he dug out a white dress shirt and left it unbuttoned almost to his navel. I’d never even noticed Indie showed that much chest before.

Though I didn’t intend this, Cassidy’s personality is a lot like mine. We share the same sense of humor, quirky ways, and shyness, which strikes us at the most random times. We are also loyal to the bone and can be rather hard on ourselves. I burdened Elizabeth, Cassidy’s mother, with my obsession of keeping a clean house. Years ago my husband had dubbed me “The Midnight Mopper.” Writing this series has forced me to lower my standards, though things can still get a little ugly around here on Saturdays, “family house cleaning day.”

If you could actually meet your villain in person, what would you like to say to him?
I’d say, “Arthur King Junior! Shut your trap!” The guy never stops talking.

What one marketing technique do you think has brought you the most sales?
Goodreads giveaways. It is the best opportunity out there for a new writer to get discovered by readers. Thousands of members participate in the drawings, and hundreds will enter for your novel. Incredible exposure and well worth the price of a paperback and shipping. I suggest listing your novel on a regular basis until reviews start to build. Credibility is crucial, because who’s going to risk wasting money on an unknown product?

Tell me about what you're working on that will help other independent authors find an audience?That would be Artesian Books, an online book retailer created for independent authors and small publishers that my husband Dave and I are launching soon. We’re offering quality books to our customers with incentives to keep them coming back, perks for book reviewers and bloggers, and opportunities to our vendors that are currently only attainable with top retailers to big house publishers with deep pockets. We have essentially created a new business model, which is much needed in this floundering world of publishing. As an author, I’m excited what this could mean for my series as well as for the works of other authors who become affiliate members. It’s a sweet opportunity for an indie.

Thank you, and happy holidays, Elise!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The worst and the best of best-seller Russell Blake

This week's guest post is from indie author Russell Blake, author of best-selling political thrillers as well as the illuminating, if not exactly helpful, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated). You can find his blog at Russell Blake, Suspense Writer.

Scott asked me to add to his considerable collection of accounts from authors recounting the best and worst things they’ve done for themselves.

First, an introduction. My name’s Russell Blake, and I’m a writer. By year end, I’ll have 12 books out: 10 thrillers and 2 non-fiction. All of which I have released since late May.

The Worst
Let’s talk about the worst things, first. Probably the single worst thing I do is integral to my process, and I’m not talking about the binge tequila chugging sessions, although some might argue that’s not so good, either. Then again, they haven’t stumbled a mile in my shoes, so they can bite me, as can my critics. But I digress.

When I write, I immerse myself in my work-in-progress for 12 or more hours per day. It’s just what I do. I call it an OCD approach to novel creation. The reason it is the worst is obvious—sitting for that long is physically damaging: circulation is impaired over time, as are interpersonal relations, as well as any motivation to go to the gym. A whole year can blur by while your head’s in your books. It’s not a particularly healthy way to live. So my New Year’s resolution is to limit my time to eight hours a day, which should translate into 5,500 words a day, six days a week. I’ll even take Sundays off. That should put me at 90K a month, with time to polish for a week. So I think we can expect a few more books next year, even if life intrudes, as it inevitably does.

The best
The best thing I have done is to just do it. I debated self-publishing, or even writing in any sort of serious way, for years. The reasons were myriad. The chances of success were slim. It was thankless, and required considerable investment of time and money. Even though the ladies love the ink jockeys (and who wouldn’t, given that we mostly look like George Clooney after makeup), it would be a sacrifice. The good news was that I wouldn’t have to quit any of my bad habits, as they are practically de rigueur for being a writer. So there was a ray of sunshine there.

The very best thing I’ve done is to set aside a year to live dangerously, which in this case meant doing this for real. I’ve written numerous works, but scrapped them all, except for a few forgettable non-fiction opuses best left buried. But they were required in order to clock my hours—the infamous 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell refers to when discussing the time investment required to master something. I believe he’s right, because once you get there, it does become easier. That’s a lot of hours; literally years of time investment to make it. But there’s unfortunately no substitution for practice. Except for reading, which is also essential. How can you broaden your chops if you aren’t reading the work of other authors, and adopting the positives to better your own writing? Practice and exposure are the two biggies to improving your craft.

I wish there was a shortcut I could impart, but I don’t know any. If I had to give advice (other than the observation that the world’s not fair or forgiving, so just get over it already and move along with whatever you’re doing), it would be to commit to a certain number of hours per day to write, and then do it. And invest wisely in learning the rules of the road, so that you can be adept, even if you choose to ignore most of them some of the time. And of course, buy the work of indie authors whose writing interests you, early and often. Nothing self-serving about that (wink).

As a special promotion for readers of Scott’s blog, the first ten thousand customers are entitled to five minutes of free long distance Rikei healing for each of my books bought while this blog is live. No thanks are necessary. It will all come back to me in time, I’m sure. Now I have to go write some more. I’m already running behind...

Russell Blake is the bestselling author of the thrillers Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, the Zero Sum trilogy (Wall Street thrillers: Kotov Syndrome, Focal Point and Checkmate), King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, and The Delphi Chronicle trilogy (The Manuscript, The Tortoise and the Hare, and Phoenix Rising). Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel with Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related. Blake lives in Mexico, and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Six sentence Sunday for December 18

Here is the latest six-sentence excerpt from The Bones of the Earth, now available on Smashwords, Amazon and iTunes. 
Your actions have shown you to be one chosen by the powers of the world to accomplish wondrous deeds,” she said, as if she had heard his question. Her hands moved up his arms. Without losing contact with his skin, she moved around him and began spreading the oil on his neck and shoulders. Drops of oil set his skin on fire as they ran down his back. His vision swam, and he felt as if he were rocking back and forth on his feet, no matter how hard he tried to stand still. He couldn’t speak. 
If you're curious about the Six-Sentence Sunday movement, check out their site. This week, I'm listed at number 141. Read some of the other excerpts and leave comments.
If you want to read more of The Bones of the Earth, click the tab at the top of the page for  a longer excerpt and links to a long sample and the whole of Part 1.
And feel free to leave a comment about this week's excerpt! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Fund Your Novel: Guest post by Roger Eschbacher

This week's guest blogger is Roger Eschbacher, author most recently of middle-grade fantasy Dragonfriend

A professional television animation writer who now is at least partly responsible for Scooby-Doo. I asked him to tell us all about the funding model he used.

As just about any “indie” author will admit one of the biggest knocks against our tribe is that often self-published books are rife with errors (punctuation, grammar, typos, continuity problems, etc.). We know how jarring it can be to run across a typo in a traditionally published book, so imagine how distracting it can be to be poked in the eye by dozens of them.

Why does this happen? To be blunt, it’s because the author didn’t have the book properly edited. And by “properly,” I mean professionally. No matter how good at catching errors you think you might be, you’ll never get them all. No matter how good you might think your beta reader/proofreader friends are at finding embarrassing mistakes in your text or story, there are always more hiding in your manuscript. Always.
I can verify this through my own experience. I can’t tell you how many “final” reads I did on Dragonfriend, my recently self-published MG fantasy novel. I’d go through it, find and fix a bunch of errors, only to go back to the beginning for one last look and find even more. I realized I needed professional help. I needed a paid editor with a trained eye to go through my manuscript and find the mistakes that would embarrass me if they ever made it out of my computer and into the wild.

What does any of this have to do with funding my novel? Well…having come to the realization that I was in over my head as far as editing goes, I started looking around for someone to help me out. Guess what? Editors can be expensive! My manuscript was in the 75,000-word range, and quotes for an edit on a book that size ran from the upper hundreds to the low thousands on the sites I checked. Google “editing, novel, proofreading” yourself and be prepared for your jaw to drop to the floor. This is not a knock against the editors, by the way; what they do is very time- and labor-intensive (= expensive).

So what was I going to do? I knew I had to get my book properly edited, but I also knew I wasn’t exactly dripping with cash. I was frozen in place until I could scrape together enough funds for a professional editor. Frozen, that is, until I ran across Kickstarter. is a site that exists solely for raising funding for “the arts.” Based on the artist/patron model of old, Kickstarter provides a platform where you can raise money from friends, family, and total strangers without having to beg in person. You simply set up an account and direct people to it with a “Hey, if you’re interested in backing my book project…” Amazingly, to me anyway, a lot of folks were willing to pitch in and help me out.

If you head over to the site, you’ll find that everyone from filmmakers to graphic artists to greeting card makers have a project going on. Oh, and authors too.

Here’s how it works. You sign up for an account, then pitch your project to the Kickstarter folks. My “project” was to raise enough money to have my book professionally edited and pay for its setup (cover design, proof copies, Createspace Pro Plan, etc.). Frankly, I think this step is included to make sure that only “creatives” get in the door. They’re very specific about not accepting charity or non-arty business projects. This site is about raising money for projects with artistic content.

Thankfully, my project was approved and I set about trying to determine the amount of funding I would need. Having priced out the costs listed above (I picked an editor quote somewhere in the middle of the pack) and factoring in Kickstarter’s five percent account fee, I determined I’d need about $2,100.00 to properly prepare Dragonfriend for publication. Kickstarter recommends that you research your costs and pick a sum that is very close to the amount of funding you will actually need. They say that an appropriately priced project is more likely to succeed, and I think that makes sense.

Next, you determine how long you want the project to go. The allowable range is between 30 and 90 days. Kickstarter recommends 30 days, advising that if a project is going to be funded, it’ll usually happen within that period of time. I wish I had listened to them. I chose 45 days, only to have my project achieve full funding at around day 25. You have to wait for the project to play itself out before Kickstarter releases the funds, so I found myself cooling my heels for the balance of time left in the project. Another reason not to inflate your request is that if you don’t reach your funding goal within the allotted time, the project fails and no one (yourself or Kickstarter) gets any money. The backers who pledged prior to fail won’t be charged either, which is good, but you obviously don’t want to fail. In short, determine a reasonable goal and don’t be greedy!

Next, you create your backer “rewards,” attaching fun things like bookmarks, signed copies, and future character naming rights to various donation price points. They encourage you to be inventive, so in addition to those traditional rewards, I added stuff like writing a “fake” unmasking scene from the Scooby Doo series I write on. The backer became the villain and was able to pick the name of their evil alter-ego in a customized script. Sure it’s silly, but three backers ended up receiving scenes thanks to some very generous donations.

Then you press the “launch project” button and get the word out that you’re trying to raise money for a worthy project – asking folks to become true patrons of the arts. I ended up raising $2,205.00, which I promptly put into play by hiring an editor. I chose Iguana Proofreading and opted for their complete package of a manuscript critique and proofreading.

I have nothing but good things to say about my Kickstarter experience. It provided the funds I needed to launch my book. Without it, I’d probably still be going through the manuscript and finding error after error after error…

What about you? Do you have any experience with Kickstarter or tips on hiring a pro editor? Please share them in the comments.

Link to my blog:

Link to my (now inactive) Kickstarter project:

Link to Dragonfriend’s Amazon page:

Roger Eschbacher is a professional television animation writer who's worked for Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network. In addition to his middle-grade fantasy/adventure novel, Dragonfriend, he's also written two children's picture books, "Road Trip", and "Nonsense! He Yelled," both for Penguin.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he now lives in California with his family and a crazy dog named Lizzy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A fast-paced page-flicker

Indie Book Review:

Once again, an independent author proven that the big commercial publishers just are not effective at finding good writers. RS Guthrie’s debut novel is a good, fast-paced read that kept me turning pages — or at least, flicking the screen of my e-reader.

Black Beast is an attempt to marry supernatural horror with hardboiled cop mystery. It’s mostly successful, if a little uneven in spots.

Synopsis: Robert Macaulay, “Bobby Mac,” is a Denver, Colorado cop with an artificial leg and a lot of history. The story begins with a death-row visit to the criminal who killed Macaulay’s first partner and was responsible for the loss of Macaulay’s leg, as well.

Macaulay is then perplexed by a series of especially grisly murders in Denver, and other events that bring up old cases he had worked one.

Macaulay’s family history becomes much more present, though, when he’s visited by his uncle, Father West, who reveals that Bobby Mac is the heir to an occult weapon and a responsibility to fight an ancient evil.

Author Rob Guthrie successfully weaves together the occult and the fact-based murder mystery genres in this tale. I’m not sure whether plotting or character development is his strongest point. Macaulay and all the other characters are absolutely believable (except maybe for some of the buddies from the Marines — but then, I’ve never been in the armed forces). I really identified with the main character’s awkwardness and difficulty with his college-aged son, and the anguish over the death of his wife.
And as for plot, there is only one big coincidence in this book. Everything else that I thought was a credibility stretch is very nicely tied together by the end. To me, this is a mark of a writer who takes his craft seriously.

There are a few places where Guthrie goes a little over the top, mainly in his descriptions of horror and ancient evil and in descriptions of criminals, but I can forgive those. By far, most of the prose is tight and fast paced. I was never bored reading this book.

I cannot understand why no commercial publisher picked this title up. Oh, right — because Rob Guthrie isn’t a celebrity.

He should be, by now.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The perfect novel for a high-school student

Indie author book review: Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula
This is the perfect novel for a girl or boy.

While she starts on some well-travelled roads — a teenage protagonist who gains super-powers from an accident in a lab — author Elise Stokes actually shows more skill in weaving that plot point into the plot of this book. She knows what it means to be a writer, and demonstrates this with a clear, fast-paced writing style that keeps readers focused on the story, not on her ability to write.

Synopsis: Cassidy Jones is a 9th-grade teenager who is very self-conscious about her lack of athletic ability, among other self-perceived faults. She’s envious of the popular girl in school, Robyn, who is not only athletic and pretty, but seems able to do anything she wants. The first chapter of the story really brings to life the angst and self-doubt of the teen years. Later, Cassidy accompanies her father, a local newsman, on a story as part of an enforced learning experience. Again, Stokes vividly captures the emotions of a teen riding in the backseat as her parent tries to show her a small part of the adult life.

The assignment is to interview a world-leading genetic researcher. In the lab, Cassidy suffers an accident that involves some of the chemical the scientist is studying, and à la Spider-Man, gains super powers.

When that same scientist is kidnapped, her son, Emery — coincidentally, the same age as Cassidy —moves into the Jones’s because he has no one to look after him. This is the one big coincidence of the story, and as I’ve said before, every novel needs one but can tolerate no more.

Cassidy gradually discovers her new super strength and super speed, and teams up with Emery to find his mother and the kidnappers.

So far, pretty standard middle-grade stuff, right? But Stokes reaches a higher level by describing her characters’ reactions and emotions with skill, humour and absolute dead-on believability.

Why is this a perfect book for teens?

Because it depicts a girl and her family so well. The Joneses are not ordinary. Dad’s a local celebrity and Mom stays at home. A smaller and smaller minority of North American families can afford that lifestyle. But the situation is handled well. It makes sense, because Dad is successful in what he does.

The kids are also believable, with the behaviours and flaws that we see around us and within us all the time.

And the plot is not predictable. I’ve read far too many books and seen way too many movies where I can predict the next scene and the next plot development, because it’s been done before many, many times. While Stokes may have borrowed a page from Spider-Man to begin her story, her plot is original. There is a twist at the end that I did not see coming, and there were several points where my predictions about whodunit were proved wrong.

My only complaint is that the end of the plot was wrapped up a little too quickly. The emotional arc of the story was fully developed, but the logical plot was rushed. It would have been nice to read about Cassidy discovering the final details and her reaction to them. This was the one part of the book where I found myself saying (quietly) “show, don’t tell.” It felt as if the author were rushing to finish the book.

Cassidy Jones was clearly written as a character with a series of adventures ahead of her, and even though I’m very far from being an adolescent American girl, I’m looking forward to the next installment.

It’s not every day that you find a really good read, after all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Six sentence Sunday for December 11

Here is my entry for this week's Six Sentence Sunday. Looks like I just made it under the wire. This is from Chapter 5 of my novella, The Bones of the Earth: Initiation Rites, now available from Smashwords and Amazon.
This week, I'm entrant number 105. I hope I'm not the only entrant who's not in the erotica category.

Chapter 5: the Cave
By afternoon, Javor was panicking with every step as they crept along a ledge narrower than his shoulders. The ledge was covered with a thin layer of tiny pebbles, and each footfall slid and crunched and pushed a puff of dust over the edge.
Cliffs rose almost straight up on their left and dropped so far on the right that Javor felt dizzy if he looked over. There was no sound but the wind. Above, the sky roiled with gray clouds. Clouds don’t move like that, Javor thought. 

For more hot excerpts, check out Six Sentence Sunday.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The best decision and the biggest mistake: guest bloggers Wodke Hawkinson

Karen Wodke and PJ Hawkinson are collectively the writing team known as WodkeHawkinson, authors of Betrayed, Catch her in the Rye, Blue and the soon to be released Night Roads.

I asked them to contribute to the series “the best thing and the biggest mistake writers have made," and they graciously accepted.

In return, I described my editing process on their blog.

Our best decision and greatest mistake so far
Thanks to Scott for the opportunity to guest post on his blog! Scott asked us to discuss the best thing we have done as writers, and the biggest mistake we have made.

We feel the best decision we've made so far is to self-publish. It was not a decision made lightly. We researched the subject and took into consideration not only the stigma often attached to the self-published author, but also the difficulty of self-promotion. Ultimately, we decided to take the plunge on our own, and we are glad we did.

As self-published authors, we have complete control over the content of our books, our covers, and our marketing. Marketing and promotion are often the twin obstacles that intimidate authors considering self-publishing. It’s a valid concern. Independent authors cannot place their books into brick-and-mortar stores as traditional publishers can.

For us, paperback sales have not been high, even though we feel our books have a fair price. However, online sales of the e-book versions are steady and rising, especially for our novel, Betrayed. As for our paperbacks, we have recently discovered a few new venues, which include local bookstores and book signings. Since our last book signing was successful, we are gradually expanding further into that segment of the market. Even traditionally published authors must devote some time to promotion (unless they are mega-famous), but indie authors have to hit it a bit harder. It's all part of the business of writing.

As for our greatest mistake so far, we both agree it was wasting over a year of valuable time pursuing a traditional publishing contract. During that time, we were not idle, for we were working on our next book. But, that time was lost with regard to the promotion of our work. Traditional publishers often have policies that prohibit simultaneous submissions and they control the response time. A writer is often left hanging for months waiting on an answer.

For any new authors holding out for a traditional publisher, we wish them luck. It was not the right choice for us. It's nearly impossible for an unknown author to pitch a book to the big traditional publishers, at least without an agent. And, beware; a good agent is not that easy to come by for a new author. It's difficult to attract an agent if you are unpublished, and difficult to become published without an agent. This is a vicious circle — one we chose to avoid.

One of our marketing strategies did not produce the results we were seeking. Before releasing Betrayed, we put out two short story collections, Catch Her in the Rye and Blue, and priced the e-book version low as a way to introduce our writing to readers. Although we have made some sales of these books, the end result wasn’t what we had planned; it seems readers prefer novels to short story collections. Even knowing this, we put out a third short story collection entitled Alone, simply because we enjoy writing short stories. We don't regard this move as a mistake, but more of a learning experience. We have to be pragmatic, as writing is our livelihood. We'll put more emphasis on our novels from this point forward, because that's where the readership is, but we'll never abandon the short story format altogether. We already have the next short story collection in the pipeline, Night Roads, even though we have put the project on hold for the time being so we can pursue our two upcoming novels.

The decision whether to self-publish or pursue traditional publishing is one with which many authors struggle. There are good arguments for either path. For us, going indie was the right choice.

-Wodke Hawkinson


Our website:

Our reader/author site:

Our books on Amazon: Kindle store > Wodke Hawkinson
Twitter: @WodkeHawkinson

What do you think about Wodke Hawkinson's decision?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Have you ever read something and wondered “didn’t the writer edit this? At all?”

My job as editor means I read unedited writing. Most of the time, the writer has tried to self-edit, with varying success. I don’t mind that. Unfortunately, I have read a few novels lately that seem as if no one has even tried to correct the text, beyond using the spelling checker in the word processing software. It’s aggravating to read 300 pages filled with grammatical mistakes, clichés and unclear sentences.

Here are some of the worst offences:

Too much detail

This is a sin that I know I must watch for in my own writing. It’s not necessary to write “she put the envelope on the desk and slid it across to him.” Just tell us that “he” took, or better yet, opened the envelope.

And you don’t have to tell us everything a character ate for breakfast. Get to the action. If you want to emphasize that he or she is health-conscious, then describe the grapefruit, yogurt and peanut butter (or whatever) once. One of the more annoying aspects of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series is the number of times Stieg Larsson described his characters eating Billy’s Pan Pizza or liverwurst sandwiches. How does repeating that detail add to characterization or plot?

A few other examples from recent reading (titles and names withheld to protect the guilty):

— “nod in agreement” — Most readers will understand that “nodding” indicates agreement. You could just write “agreed,” but ask yourself if your story or message really needs this detail.
— “collapsed to the floor” — A floor is generally what people and things collapse to, unless it’s the bare ground. If you’ve established your setting already, your readers know what characters are collapsing to.
— “‘You’re going to have to leave,’ said the waitress as she came back to my table.” — If she did not come to the table, how would the customer hear her?

New clichés

You’ve read about all the standard clichés to avoid (like the plague ;)). But new clichés have emerged — phrases that sounded fresh once, but have had the life squeezed out of them through overuse by lazy writers.

— thin blue line, meaning the police force
— splitting headache
— fallen on deaf ears
— snapped like a whip
— peppered with gunfire
— master plan
— pushing the envelope
— out of the box
— going forward, meaning the future
— hit on
— tagged and bagged, meaning a dead body
— more than meets the eye — the writer’s job is to show the reader more than their eyes will see.

Think of new ways of getting these images across. No, it won’t be easy, but did you think the writer’s job would be easy?

Finally, the worst cliché of all, found in Hollywood scripts and beginners’ novels: everyone is attractive. Look around you: how many people do you see in your office or on your bus that are really that attractive? How many men are muscular and fit with washboard abs? How many women are beautiful?

Flawed characters are much more believable than perfect ones. Those flaws can be physical, as well as psychological, economic or moral.


In writing, using too many words to express an idea is a felony.

Read over your work carefully, and ask: can you delete these words or this phrase without reducing the amount of information in the document? Delete them!

Watch for phrases like these:

— mutual cooperation — all cooperation is mutual, or it’s not cooperation
— with a look of disappointment — try “she/he looked disappointed”
— with reluctance — “reluctantly”
— long drawn-out voyage — just “long” will do, or express this in a new way
— swirling vortex — all vortices swirl; it’s what vortices do
— rises up — I’ve never heard of anything “rising down” (although I remember upsydasium, the element that “fell up” from Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons)
— the colour of bronze
— the month of December — December is not anything BUT a month
— place of business — This can be anything. Be specific. Use “store,” “office,” “restaurant,” or whatever is the case.
— due to the fact that — write “because”
— dead corpse
— are in evidence — write “are.”


Finally, remember to keep it simple. Don’t try to impress the reader with literary flourishes, and don’t show off your vocabulary. A book, document or report is not about the writer, even when it’s an autobiography. It’s about telling a story or a message to an audience.

The following are a few examples I see mostly in science fiction and fantasy, but also in historical fiction and even in business reports:

Don’t write              use instead
  • countenance   face
  • assistance       help
  • perpetrator     attacker/invader/burglar — be specific
  • fatigued          tired 
  • attempting       trying 
  • sufficient         enough
  • regarding         about
Do you have any tips or pet peeves about needlessly complex, overblown or wordy writing? Leave a comment.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The best (and the worst) of being an author: Guest post by Andy Holloman

The latest author to volunteer his thoughts on the best and worst of being an author is Andy Holloman, author of Shades of Gray and blogger of Musings of a Debut Novelist (and other nonsense). Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Andy is a former travel agent and now author. When he’s not writing guest posts for me, he claims to be working on his next novel.

The best parts (and the worst parts!) of being an author

A big thanks to Scott for inviting me to guest post and I really like his topic suggestion.

For me, the best part of being and author is getting to interact with readers. My debut novel, Shades of Gray, has just been released and I’m finally getting a chance to hear from readers and reviewers.

I’m fascinated and thrilled that folks have been enjoying the book. Also, I truly enjoy the comments that readers provide because they often find different meaning from the work than I had intended. This is wonderful because it opens up a whole slew of new perspectives—and this is just not available to us authors while we are creating a novel. I LOVE readers and I LOVE readers’ comments!!

Now, on the the WORST part of being an author: I truly despise the editing and rewriting process. Although any novel requires multiple rewrites, this is the worst part to me because it requires less creative juices than the actual construction of the story. Likewise, editing doesn’t excite me at all. I was fortunate to have three different professional editors review my book, so I was able to avoid the bulk of this work.

However, no author is ever immune from editing. Unfortunately it is an essential part of the process by which a book gets “made.”

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Six sentence Sunday for December 4

It's Sunday, and I'm participating in Six Sentence Sunday, again. The sample below is from Part 2 of The Bones of the Earth, "Tests."
This excerpt is from Chapter 12, and takes place in ancient Dacia, north of the Roman Empire — a land long reputed to be haunted. 

"One day as they crept through thick brush toward the road, Photius stopped dead in his tracks, his hand out to stop Javor. He held his finger over his lips and pointed with his other hand. Peering between the branches and leaves, they saw something their minds could not accept: a young woman, a girl, really, naked, tied spread-eagle to two rough logs cut and lashed together in an x-shape, then propped in the middle of the road. She was thin with long, light-brown hair that cascaded over her shoulders. They could see her ribs under her small breasts. Javor thought she was probably the same age as he was, perhaps a little older."

You can check out some other fine samples of upcoming and published work at
What do you think of this, or any other samples? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The best and worst of being an author: Guest post by Wendy S. Russo

Wendy S. Russo is the third fellow writer and blogger to participate in the Best and Worst series on the author's life.

A wife, mom, and IT analyst by day, Wendy S. Russo enjoys inquisitive characters, slow reveals and snowballing climaxes. She keeps a blog and is actively seeking publication for her YA Sci-Fi romance, January Black. Her blog is called simply Wendy S. Russo: Writer in wife/mom clothing.

The best thing I’ve ever done for my writing? That's easy … Zoloft!

I’m really not joking. What I’ve found in recent years is that when I have a difficulty in my life, regardless of what it is, it’s usually a symptom of something larger. Where there is one symptom of a problem, there are usually others. I struggled with one particular WIP for ten years. Toward the end of that stretch, I started taking Zoloft to deal with episodes of anxiety. Within six months, I had shelved the WIP, edited 80,000 words out of my first novel, and written my third novel. I dealt with my anxiety … my writing problem resolved itself. Coincidence? I’m not a believer in coincidence within complex systems.

But, that’s not a fun answer, is it? So how about I tell you about the second best thing I have ever done for my writing? I hesitate to mention it because it usually triggers this question: “Slash?” No. Sorry to disappoint you. Yes, I have written Star Wars fan fiction, but no…I did not have Luke and Lando crossing lightsabers on The Brokeback Falc—

[Wendy fires off a quick email to Marie Sexton about a gay Luke/Lando parody. Marie replies, "That’s been done every which way…and yes that is an innuendo."]

I’m sorry, where what I? Oh yes…Star Wars. I claim my fan fiction masterpiece with pride; I really do. Also, I encourage anyone who wants to write a novel but doesn’t know where to start to try it.

Writing a novel is a lot like building a bookshelf from scratch. Whether you’re throwing stuff together, or planning it out to the very last detail, you still have to know how to safely use the table saw. Think of fan fiction, then, like building from the pieces of an IKEA box.

I’ll talk about Star Wars because that’s what I know. The back story is provided. The alien species and worlds, the weaponry and advanced technology, the ships, the characters…it’s all provided in “Essential Guides” published by LucasFilm. They have a dozen series set within a timeline that covers thousands of years. It has a supporting cast of thousands.

This is what I did: I rewrote “Sleeping Beauty” in a setting 24 years after Return of the Jedi. I set her up as an Old Republic Jedi Master who’s come out of suspended animation with retrograde amnesia, so she has no idea who she is. I put her on a ship with Mara Jade and then crashed it on a world where Luke Skywalker and Han Solo just happened to be at the time. I tossed in some romance and some planet-hopping terrorists, and just had a really good time. And you know what I got out of it? A lot of great lessons in composition, world and character building, and how to use dialog.

Was it good? Does it really matter? I got a trilogy out of it. My second project was a two volume fantasy epic; it weighed in at 280,000 words and took me only ten months from start to finish. Without those Star Wars novels, I may never have finished a first novel at all. Without them, I wouldn't have had the confidence to start an epic, and I probably wouldn’t be writing this post now.

This is about when I did the worst thing ever for my writing. I took a Short Novel Writing class. Oh, no, no, no! Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret taking the class. I got an “A.” Given a chance, I’d take that class again in a heartbeat! Where it went wrong had nothing to do with the instruction and everything to do with what I did with it. There were things I had done wrong with the SW trilogy. I continued to do these things incorrectly in my fantasy epic. And there I was, in a formal setting, with a very respected Southern Lit author explaining to me why these things are wrong. The professor gave me some cool new tools, like story types, timeline variations, foreshadowing…. She taught me how to keep from bouncing from one POV to another, to cut excessive detail, and to avoid deus ex machina. And you would think these are pretty good things, right?

They are splendid things, and they’ve done great things for me. But at the time, I didn’t simply add/replace tools in my storytelling toolbox. I let the tools rewrite me. I used to write by the seat of my pants…(280,000 words in ten months, remember?) I plowed right through that epic like it was nothing. Now, I'm a plotter. I look at that shelved WIP I have, and I see another epic-length fantasy. I'm five chapters in and I've already worked it to death. Just looking at the old scenes frustrates me because I love them, but even after years apart, I just don't care enough about what comes next to pick it up again.

There really is something to be said about doing things in moderation.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Try and not write lightening, and other mistakes in your and your fellows’ writing

There are some errors that drive me crazy, not because they’re so terrible — anything can be corrected — but because they appear so frequently, and they’re really so simple that it’s hard to imagine how people make them.
Lightning image from Suvro Datta

“Lightening” for “lightning.” People who should know better make this mistake all the time. Even some websites where I found the images of lightning called it “lightening.”

“Lightening” is a progressive verb, meaning “making lighter”—in weight or in colour.

  • “Using bleach is lightening the colour of my shirt.” 
  • “Help from the community is really lightening my workload.”
 The flash in the sky that accompanies thunder is “lightning.” There’s no e in it.

“Try and” is another common error.
  • “I’ll try and get there before 8:00.”

It’s a childish expression. To interpret the above sentence strictly, you get two ideas: “I’ll try,” (what are you trying?) followed by “and get there.” Are these two different things? The speaker intends to say he or she will try to arrive before a specific time. Solution: “I will try to get there before 8:00.”

“Two-month anniversary.” Newscasters, who should know better, kept using this phrase as the Occupy Wall Street protests continued into their third month in November. An anniversary is something that happens once a year. The syllable “ann” comes from the Latin word for “year.” The protest may have reached the “two-month mark” or “point,” but not an “anniversary.”

The most awkward sentence construction I have ever seen takes this form:
  • “This causes problems for our and our supplier’s accounting departments.”

The first time I noticed it, in a memo brought to me by a student from her employer, I thought it would never happen again. However, I have seen this kind of phrase in a few places lately:
  • “The document must bear your or your representative’s signature.”
  • “This copy is for his and his agent’s records.”
The writers of these phrases are trying use words efficiently. The effort is commendable, but it leaves this dangling modifier: “his and ...” Read it aloud and you’ll hear how strange it seems.

The solution: rewrite the whole sentence. Start over by thinking about what you want the reader to do after reading the sentence. (That’s the G for Goal in Get a GRIP).
  • “The author and his or her agent should retain copies in their records.”
  • “Please sign this document yourself, or have an authorized representative sign it on your behalf.”
  • “This causes problems for our accounting department as well as our suppliers.”

That’s the Writing Tip for this week. Use the Comments section below to add your own!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Six sentence Sunday

I have finally done it. I have finally remembered to register in time and get myself to the computer before 9:00 a.m. on a Sunday. Here is my entry for Six Sentence Sunday.

Six Sentence Sunday is a simple blog hop for authors and aspiring authors. You sign into a Linky list at between 6 p.m. ET Tuesday and midnight the following Saturday, including the link to your blog; then before 9 a.m. that Sunday, you put exactly SIX sentences from your novel—any novel, published or in progress—on your blog. Readers then follow the link on the home page to read the samples. If the author asks for a comment, you can leave one, but it's not mandatory.

Sounds simple, but for some reason, I've managed to let it slip past me, week after week, until now.

So, here are six sentences from Chapter 2 of The Bones of the Earth, now available on Amazon and Smashwords.  

“I can’t kill a sleeping man,” Hrech said in a very small voice.
Javor look at Hrech directly, something he almost never did. “You know what they’re going to do to the girls—rape them repeatedly. They’ll take turns with them, and when they get tired of them, they’ll kill them and go to another village and take more girls. We’ll never see them again alive, unless we do something right now. Are you with me or not?”

Hope you like it. Comments welcome!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

The best and worst of being an author: Guest post by RS Guthrie

Rob Guthrie is becoming known on the Internet, not just as the independent author of Black Beast: A Clan of Macaulay novel, but also for  founding RABMAD, or Read a Book, Make a Difference, where authors donate a portion (or all) of the proceeds of their works to good causes.

I asked Rob to tell answer two questions: what's the best thing or aspect in his personal experience of being an author, and what is the biggest mistake he's made.

As you'll see, Rob, in his inimitable way, decided to answer those questions in reverse order.

In return, I've written my best and worst on Rob's blog, Rob on Writing.

Over to you, Rob:

The worst and the best of being an independent writer
As indie writers, we must carry a machete to cut through the tangled mess of the publishing world. I personally prefer two. This way I can double-fist them, cutting through twice the vine work, and also have a backup when one blade becomes too dull to be of any use.

Seriously, how many pre-published indie writers understood the magnitude of marketing that would be required to make even a cursory attempt at reaching the masses of readers? Not I. In my deluded mind, I envisioned an endless supply of readers, just waiting for the next great book. I was realistic: I knew that eventually the work would have to stand on its own merit. But I never dreamed it would be such a challenge to reach the readers.

That was my biggest mistake. Not figuring out the marketplace—and more importantly, the level of effort required to make a go of book promotion—before putting out my first book. The reason I consider that a mistake is that I feel I have more or less sacrificed my first work to the altar of acquiring marketing base. In other words, I sell diddlysquat while learning how to sell more than diddlysquat.

Which is okay, because I think that is part of the equation for any writer, indie or not: you have to get something out there. A sacrificial novel, as it happens to be in my case. I just think I would have put something a little less involved. Perhaps a collection of short stories or a novella. I put a lot of work into my first novel and I fear by the time I have finished honing my marketing plan, achieved my true rhythm, and established my reader base, the first book will have become a giveaway to enhance interest in the second, third, and so on.

In a short time I have learned one incontrovertible fact: writers need each other. I never would have guessed this maxim beforehand. I likely wouldn’t have believed it, even if someone had shared it with me. But the best decision I made was to join the Twitter and Facebook writer communities and to saddle up with a collection of likeminded indie writers. 

Cross-promotion. That is the way out of the forest. 

As one, we are weak—as many, we are a force.

Too many writers still don’t get this concept. I think the biggest misconception is also the one that keeps many writers from joining forces: the idea that we are competitors, not allies. If this were, say, the auto industry, that might be true. Readers, however, unlike drivers of automobiles, have a unique qualifier (particularly in the digital “99-cent” age): a turnover rate that approaches the relative speed of light.

A consumer keeps a car for a minimum of three years. The average is probably more like five. A reader, depending on speed and time available, can read up to a book a day. And I think there are more readers today than ever, probably in no small part due to the lowering of price by the digital market (not to mention the ease of access—literally press a few buttons and your book is at your disposal).

My point is, there are plenty of readers for all of us. There really are. That our biggest task is grabbing market share is a false challenge. The mirage in the distance. As indie writers our biggest challenge is NOT ensuring enough consumers for our product. It is NOT creating the best product we can (although that is a close second). The biggest roadblock for the indie writer, by far, is getting his or her work out to the readers. Period. Nothing else comes close. 

Call it what you will: getting noticed, finding a readership, showcasing your product. If you have not yet realized how deep in the jungle an indie writer is, you haven’t really tried to sell your book yet. We indie writers are half a world away from our audience: 

The readers are THERE…they just don’t know you are.

The good news is we can help each other send out the word from the mountaintops. We can build buzz, product, credibility, and most importantly, we can leverage our collective reach to establish an audience. Think of it this way:

Bill writes a great mystery. So does Suzy. If by helping each other, they can reach 1,000 people they would not have had access to alone (all, presumably, mystery lovers), what do you think the chances are that the majority of readers will read both books? Why wouldn’t they? Assuming they are both entertaining, well-written, engaging mysteries that is (remember, I said before that eventually your work has to stand of its own accord).

Another example. Say you are a reader. You aren’t going to attend a mystery writers' conference only to pick one excellent author or book. In a perfect world they would all be great and you’d have an endless supply of reading material, right?

I’ll repeat it one last time for effect: the best decision I ever made was to join with other likeminded authors and to cross-promote. It is through writers helping writers that we will walk from the darkness of obscurity into the light of a hungry, awaiting marketplace.

You can find Rob's books on Amazon and on his site,

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest post: Alan McDermott on being an author

I've asked some bloggers to contribute guest posts, where they answer two questions:

- what's the best thing you've done, as a writer?
- what is the hardest thing, or the biggest mistake you've made?

I am contributing posts on the same subject to their blogs.

The responses have covered topics from the kind of writing they do, when they write, their writing process and even managing their personal lives.

The first is Alan McDermott from the south of England, author of Gray Justice (which I reviewed on this blog last week). His blog is Jambalian.

Take it away, Alan!

The best and worst of being an author

The best part is easy. You might expect me to say it’s looking at those sales figures and seeing them tick over, but to be honest the thing that pleases me more is when I get a review from someone totally impartial. There haven’t been that many (I think around 16 in total, spread over a few sites such as Amazon, Smashwords and Goodreads), but each one gives me the determination to keep going on the next book.

Readers might think that the book in their hand was written by someone spending hours at the keyboard in an idyllic mountain retreat, but I’d bet that 90 percent of the time the author is like me, working a day job and coming home to a family. As any parent knows, that leaves very little time for anything, never mind writing a novel. This means I have to get up at dark o’clock every morning in order to scrape a couple of hundred words together before setting off for the office. When I get home there are three lovely ladies waiting for me, and they all want a piece of Daddy, and when I get an hour to myself in the evening I am so worn out I can just about say Hi to my friends on Twitter before the sandman comes calling. Weekends are not much better, but at least I can manage a thousand words over the two days.

It’s a tough regimen, but every time I see a new 4- or 5-star review it tells me that someone got a lot of pleasure from my book, and that makes it all worthwhile.

The hard part about being an author? To be honest, I don’t think there is an easy part. Notwithstanding the above routine, I had to come up with a storyline which gallops along at such a pace that the reader cannot put the book down. Having written that story, I then had to tame the beast that is impatience. The beast rears its head as soon as the last word has been confined to the page and screams “Publish it NOW!” I succumbed with my first novel and boy, did I pay the price. I’d given copies to friends and family the day before I published it on Smashwords and the emails soon started coming in, mostly entitled “List of errors.” I cringed as I realized I had given away over a hundred copies and all of these readers would have their reading experience ruined by needless typos. Even after fixing these errors, I got feedback from customers telling me they had found even more! Lesson learned, and for the next instalment I will be doing a heavy re-read and passing it to a few friends well before I publish it.
The next hurdle is probably the hardest to overcome. You now have a perfectly-formatted, error-free book, you think it’s a fantastic read, but how do you get it into the hands of readers? Sure, I’ve got a few friends on Facebook, but when I announced the release I got a couple of responses, both saying “well done,” but neither offering to read it. So I went back and told everyone they could have a free copy, and six people took me up on the offer.
Next came the Google search performed by all new authors: “How to sell my ebook?”

Up came about 150 million results and I started scrolling through. Most of the links took me to writer blogs and the general consensus was that I should get a Twitter account, which I duly did. I signed up and began telling the whole world about my book. After no sales that week, I discovered that people had to be following me in order to hear what I was saying. So I went in search of authors and the numbers began to rise, but still no sales. As I started clicking on blog links in the tweets of others, I discovered some of the cardinal rules of Twitter: don’t just tweet about your book; don’t send new followers direct messages asking them to buy your book; do always thank people who retweet your words; do try and make genuine friends rather than just potential customers. The list goes on, but these are the ones I have concentrated on.
One of the last things I ever considered was having my own blog. With no time to eat, never mind write, how could I begin to pile more work on myself? Nevertheless, it was seen as an essential part of the whole writer-selling-books deal. I already had Jambalian and I added a few posts about the book, but I realised that a proper blog was needed and created a free Jambalian blog on Blogger:

I have tried to keep the focus on writing without saying “BUY! BUY! BUY!” but I find it hard to get time to even think of a topic, never mind commit one to pixels. I’m getting better, though.
At the moment, things are moving slowly, but having stuffed impatience back in his box, I am prepared for the marathon.

Now to get some writing done…

Monday, November 21, 2011

Writing tips: don’t try to be a writer

Some readers have told me they like writing tips. Here’s the most important: keep it simple.

Too many people try to be writers. They get stuck trying to construct new kinds of sentences, trying to shine or to equal Shakespeare or Fitzgerald. Or worse, they try to write like a business person speaks—or worst of all, like a politician.

Instead, try to tell your story or get your point across.

Some writers and editors recommend writing without any revising. Just get the words down, worry about grammar, spelling, tense, voice or anything but the ideas. That requires knowing clearly what those ideas are. (See my previous series of posts, “Get a GRIP” for more about making sure you have a clear idea of what you’re trying to write before you start writing). Just state as simply and as bluntly as you can what you want to say. Almost always, that’s the most effective—that is, that kind of writing achieves the goal you started with.

Don’t be afraid to make mistakes; you can always go back and fix them. Writing means re-writing. Once you have a draft, you can move sentences and paragraphs around, change words and clarify your expression. But you can’t do that until you have something written down.


Wherever possible, use verbs instead of strings of nouns and adjectives.

Instead of:

“On issues related to ...”—write “about”

“in the six-month period” of “over the course of”—write “between Date 1 and Date 2”

“expressed discontent with”—write “were dissatisfied”

“taking a leadership role”—write “leading”

“relates to the fact that”—write “because”

“in recent years”—write “recently”

“would expect to”—write “expects”

“these measures enabled management to discern any areas in which improvements can be made by operations”—write ”management could identify improvements operations could make ...”

“the regulated firm is typically given 30 days to respond”—write “the regulated firm usually has 30 days to respond”

“X achieved high rankings for new online presentation of resources and tools”—write “X revised its website, making online tools and resources easier to access.”

I recommend dropping the phrase “achieved high ranking,” because that focuses on the organization’s goals, not the reader’s. Why should they care about the company’s satisfaction rankings? What they care about is what it does for them. Yes, there may be some value perceived in the testimonial aspect of high satisfaction ratings, but still, what is important in that example is the new functionality of the website.

See how much shorter and clearer the revised messages are?

The next post on writing tips will focus on what to watch for when you’re re-writing. In the meantime, tell me about your own pet peeves—what phrases or styles of writing bug you the most?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The message of Occupy Wall Street

“Protesters and Officers Clash Near Wall Street and in Zuccotti Park”—NY Times

“Dozens arrested in Occupy Wall Street march in New York”—Globe&Mail

“Occupy protesters march on NYSE”—Chicago Tribune

From the Guardian - OWS protesters re-entering Zuccotti Park Credit: Mario Tama/Getty Images
I had expected to read a lot of negative reaction and analysis about the Occupy Wall Street movement in the major mass media. I was wrong. MSNBC continues to portray the protesters as unable to articulate a single message. But most of the other major media present credible, balanced and even sympathetic coverage. CBC radio has repeatedly made this point.

Today, November 17, 2011, the state apparatus in the US is moving in concert to shut down the protests across the country. In several cities, they appear to have succeeded. By latest accounts, the protesters have been pushed out of Manhattan’s Zucotti park but are now disrupting the streets in other parts of the city, and they haven’t been defeated nor have they surrendered, yet.

Still, it looks like the movement is reaching a turning point, one forced on it by the government. So I thought I would blog about my thoughts on the movement and its portrayal in the media.

First, I should state that I’m largely in favour of the movement. It’s fundamentally democratic. This is a broad-based group of people gathering in public areas around the world to voice their opinions. Whether you agree with them or not, in democracies, they’re allowed to speak their minds.

It’s not surprising that the state would oppose their ideas. It’s not a conspiracy, but it does prove the theory that the government apparatus of the US, at least, is controlled by the wealthy elite.

However, the elite’s and the state’s response has not been effective. From the beginning of the protest, the elites and the mass media have tried to portray the movement as disorganized and incoherent, without a clear message.

That argument against the OWS protests is an illustration of the “Big Lie” school of propaganda: repeat an untrue statement loudly enough, often enough, and people will believe it.

Actually, I find the message is pretty cohesive. Lately, the “99 percent” mantra has come to sum it up. Yes, the protesters represent a number of different causes: financial and tax reform, eradication of poverty, reduction of unemployment, elimination of debt, even environmental protection.

But this is not incoherent. What ties these causes together is that, if successful, they would benefit most people, at least in the West. However, they’ve been blocked for decades by the corporate elite that controls the politics of the developed democracies. The message is simply that the 99 percent are fed up with the way the wealthiest 1 percent blatantly abuse their power to benefit themselves at the expense of the majority.

The movement has broad support: professionals, trades people, teachers, professors, even airline pilots have demonstrated. The behaviour of the protesters have been exemplary. Until today, there have been no real problems (notwithstanding two deaths over so many thousands of participants). There has been no looting, no rioting, no bad behaviour. In Ottawa, for example, the Occupy protesters moved their tents and other effects to make room for Remembrance Day ceremonies.
The only disreputable behaviour has been on the part of the state against them, pepper-spraying seniors, bludgeoning people, making mass arrests people for walking on the street.

Things are starting to look ugly in New York now. But it’s still a good time to ask: has Occupy Wall Street succeeded?

Superficially, no. Debt and unemployment are still high, the financial system has not been changed, the rich are getting richer, wealth continues to concentrate in fewer hands and the middle class continues to see its position erode.

But they did succeed in raising the issues and increasing awareness of the concentration of wealth. People — voters — are now more sensitized to these issues.

The test will come not in the next election, but in the next scandal where the top 1 percent are caught with their hands in our pockets, again. What will the state do? What will the people do?

What will you do?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

So much for a writer to do ...

It’s almost time to launch Part 1 of The Bones of the Earth, the first novel I have actually finished writing. But while I could post the EPUB on Amazon and Smashwords tomorrow, there are still so many tasks that I have to do as a publisher.

I have already done a lot. I have written the book, then read it, rewritten it, edited it, re-edited, re-written, re-read and re-written again.

I have given it to two different editors and accepted most of their advice. I have found a terrific cover designer in Lisa Damerst, who has given me a dynamite cover.

The publisher’s job

As an independent author, the publisher’s job is my responsibility. There is so much advice to follow from blogs, websites, books etc. — too much to read it all, let alone implement it. But it seems that most agree on one thing: the importance of the author’s “platform.” All the book-promotion pundits make it seem deceptively simple, if time-consuming.

I started building my “platform” with this blog; I also have a presence on Twitter, goodreads, LinkedIn, Google+ and, of course, Facebook. I know I have not done enough to take full advantage of social media yet, but I am working on it.

At this point, I have to do the following at least:

- make more friends on goodreads (hint!)

- create a fan page on Facebook

- expand my Google+ page and Circles

- join writer-specific social networking sits like the Independent Author Network and Scribd, and possibly paid promotion sites like Book Buzzr

- start a blog tour.

Then, I must follow the advice of last month’s guest blogger, marketing expert Becky Illson-Skinner:

- join some writing groups where I would meet real, live people in the flesh, as opposed to online.

- set up some events such as book signing or library reading.

I have been fortunate to receive a number of positive reviews for my short stories. Those for Dark Clouds, my little Hallowe’en story, were completely unlooked-for; I also got some unsolicited and very positive reviews for my benefit story, Sam, the Strawb Part; even the reviews I requested were all positive. I feel good about that.

In the meantime, I keep blogging (see?), commenting on others’ blogs, reviewing books, tweeting and reading; and of course, I’m working on my next work for NaNoWriMo. Doing that requires writing 1,700 words a day — not a huge amount, but making sure that I do it every single day is a challenge.

Then, there’s life to live: a family, events, and of course, work. Did I mention that this blog is not my day job?

Time to revise the old saw: an independent writer’s work is never done!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Indy book review: Gray Justice, by Alan McDermott

Tom Gray has a cause. It looks like revenge, but it’s more than that: he wants to change a system that he thinks is rotten. He’s sure that most of the people of his country think it is, too, and the government is just too hidebound, incompetent and cowardly to do anything. So he takes matters into his own hands and uses terrorist tactics to bring about that change.

That’s the premise of Alan McDermott’s Gray Justice, a novel that reads like a season of 24.

His action sequences are great. They’re fast, gripping and lucid. I can tell exactly what’s going on, I can picture where every character is and where they’re moving. The plot is strong, with no excess details and no dangling subplots. McDermott, like his main character, knows how to focus.

The characters have clear motivations. We readers know exactly why every person in this story does what he or she does.

Overall, I liked this novel, independently published as an e-book by the author. A portion of the proceeds from sales of the book go to two British charities: the British Heart Foundation, and Barnardo’s the leading children’s charity in the UK.

The book is not perfect. While the main character is nominally Tom Gray, it seems to me that more pages are devoted to Andrew Harvey, the special security agent tasked with stopping him. There are sections that are information dumps, especially when the author introduces new characters and tells their back-stories. It could have used a friendly, but firm edit early on.

Some of the dialog is a little forced, but most is believable. I can hear people speaking that way.
Another problem is that Tom Gray is just a little to capable, cool and calculated for me. I have trouble believing that anyone could plan a caper down to this level of detail, calculating every move his opponents will make (with one major exception that drives the second half of the book). But that’s the only credibility stretch in the book, so we can forgive the author. My book, after all, breaks credulity from the get-go.

A point here about the political dimension of the book. The main character proposes changes to the UK’s criminal justice system with much stricter sentences and prisons and even the reinstatement of corporal punishment. I could point out the practical futility of many of the proposals. On the other hand, [SPOILER ALERT! IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE END OF THE STORY, SKIP THE REST OF THIS PARAGRAPH], the story itself does show how some of the ideas backfire. Personally, I think that the reasons for crime are deeper than the punishments for them.

The point is that McDermott tells a compelling story. I read this book in record time because I wanted to find out what would happen next. And that’s the mark of a successful novelist: he makes you want to read more.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Word of the year: “bailout”

What does it mean to “bail out” a business or a country?

Italy is going to get a financial bail-out from the taxpayers of the rest of the world. A lot of that will come from countries that have managed to stay out of financial trouble, but a lot will also come from taxpayers in countries that are facing their own financial challenges, including unemployment and government austerity measures.

Just days ago, Greece’s bailout was settled—although it’s still uncertain that the Greeks will accept it and avert worldwide financial chaos. Portugal and Ireland have received bailouts recently.

Three years ago, taxpayers in Canada, the US and elsewhere bailed out automotive manufacturers, at the same time that the whole world, it seemed, had to bail out the banks and other financial companies. And what did taxpayers, the source of all this money, get in return? Job security? Housing security?


We seem to be caught in a never-ending cycle of crises and bailouts that spark more crises. We taxpayers have to bail out these companies, and now whole countries, because not doing so would cause the end of the economic universe we now inhabit, according to the powers that be.

(It’s interesting that the men—and it’s overwhelmingly men—who warn about doom and make the decisions never suffer from the chaos they preach. But that’s the subject of a whole different series of posts, or probably more fitting, a completely different blog. Or may a movement that would involve occupying public spaces near stock exchanges ...)

The different meanings of “bail”

The current usage refers simply to “rescuing,” but it comes from a different source. Which one applies most closely to this situation?

  • “Bailing out” means parachuting from a doomed plane. But that doesn’t fit—we are not getting out of failing economies, but getting more committed to them by pouring resources into them.
  • It can also mean scooping water out of a sinking ship—this is closer, but what we’re doing is putting something INTO the economy, so that doesn’t fit, either. 
  • “To bail out” means to pay money to get out of jail pending trial—this may be the closest meaning to the current situation, but it raises questions: will there be a trial? Of whom? 
  • According to the Concise Oxford Dictionary, “bail” also refers to detaining with intent to rob. Is that what the financial elite is doing to Greece, Italy and other countries? What are the strings attached to the rescue plans?
Which image comes to your mind when you read “bailout” of a failing economy: a falling plane, a sinking ship, getting out of jail or robbery?