Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Internet dependence

I'm writing this post on vacation, and I realize that I need more than an hour of Internet access per day.

If I want to get anything concrete done, that is. 

And it's not my fault. The things I want to do on the Internet each day, if I could just do them quickly, would probably take me about 20 minutes.

Except for writing blog posts, of course. 

My situation
I'm on the Mayan Riviera for a 10-day all-inclusive vacation with my lovely wife, Roxanne (I know, boo-hoo), where I get to access the free WiFi network for at most an hour a day. I could have 24/7 access, but that costs more money. (My grandparents were Scottish.) So, I've been working with an hour's daily  access.

It's been very relaxing and refreshing. I've been mostly disconnected from the real world down here, and I'm only sporadically informed about the Montreal-New York series, the Ukrainian election, Russian invasions, celebrity deaths, mass shootings (blind guess about that, but I'm probably right), and other depressing news.

"You're supposed to be on a beach vacation, not spending all your time looking at the Internet" my lovely wife says when I grumble. So I have another (price included) drink and splash into the Caribbean, or talk to the iguanas. They never complain about limited WiFi, so I guess I shouldn't, either.

And I've learned something valuable: the Internet tortures me whenever I use it, but I do it so much I haven't noticed until I've disconnected.

How the Internet tortures me:
1. Making me wait. Has anyone ever added up all the time we waste waiting for the computer or the network or whatever to stop spinning the ball or the hourglass and update the work we've just done? To make that connection, already, to save the file? When your access is limited to an hour in total—working and uploading as well as waiting for the app to launch and the various servers to shake hands—you really notice all those delays.

2. Limited apps. I love my iPad, but when it's all I have for blogging, email, web surfing and social media, I really notice the differences, the limitations of the mobile apps compared to the full desktop versions. 

Take Facebook, for example. I cannot select a portion of a Facebook post, copy it and paste it into Twitter on the iPad. I don't know if it's because of the touch-screen interface or some combination of settings, but that's completely intuitive on the desktop version.

Hootsuite's iPad app doesn't have bulk tweet scheduling, which is the main reason I use the service in the first place.

In the desktop version of Pages, my clumsy fingers find it almost impossible to change the indents on paragraphs.

The iPad version of Blogger, which I am using to write this very post, doesn't allow me to indent whole paragraphs, or have bulleted and numbered paragraph formats. It also does not appear to have a Schedule feature, like in the full version.

I know, first world problems. But they slow down what I try to do, so I cannot accomplish in an hour what should take twenty minutes: 
- check the email and delete all the junk. On the iPad, I tend to delete news releases and social media updates, leaving them to the desktop when I have more time to devote to them. The iPad only has so much memory, and I try to restrict it to stuff I need immediately.
- check Twitter for mentions
- check the blog status for number of pageviews yesterday and comments, and publish the real ones (as opposed to spam)
- check Google+ and Facebook for important updates and announcements
- upload a new daily spreadsheet to Hootsuite.

If everything went quickly, if apps and networks responded without delay, I am sure that I could accomplish all that in 20 minutes. Okay, maybe half an hour.

Granted, it will take me 15 to 20 minutes to create a .csv file for uploading to Hootsuite. I need more time to respond to the important emails, write some of my own, and of course write blog posts like this.

But being restricted to an hour a day? It's just frustrating.

All that to say, I'll be back in full form, rested, recharged and full of new ideas in a matter of days. Till then, faithful readers, keep on questioning.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Gray Retribution: You preview it here first!

Like most of the e-reading world, I'm anxious for the release of Alan McDermott's next Tom Gray novel. 

I'm thrilled to be able to say that Amazon is releasing Gray Retribution on July 8, just a few weeks from now. For you legions of Tom Gray fans, it features the characters you've grown to love in the three previous books, like Len Smart and Sonny Baines.

And because Alan is such a good friend and all-round great guy, he's giving Written Words a sneak preview. 

No one writes a firefight like McDermott. 
“Heads up.  We’ve got movement to the north.” 
Simon ‘Sonny’ Baines lay on the roof of the farm building and listened to the approaching band of guerrillas make a beeline for the building. 
Below, Len Smart, Carl Levine and Jeff Campbell took up defensive positions against the low wall that ran around the perimeter of the house.  Their movement was silent in comparison to that of the attacking force, which announced its presence by crashing through the undergrowth like a herd of elephants headed for a waterhole. 
The three men on the ground trained their sights on the tree line that bordered the eastern edge of the smallholding, remaining silent as they waited for the bandits to make an appearance.  The noise grew louder as the attackers approached, then suddenly stopped dead. 
Silence covered the area as the nocturnal orchestra took a time out.  It seemed as if even the animals and insects wanted to watch the action unfold. 
Len Smart slowly wiped a bead of sweat from his brow, careful not to make too quick a movement in case it was seen by the enemy. 
Mosquitoes danced around his head, kept at bay by the insect repellent, but their incessant buzzing told him that he wasn’t in Kansas anymore. 
As if the oppressive humidity wasn’t reminder enough. 
Without warning, muzzle flashes lit up the edge of the forest.  None of the defensive team returned fire, preferring to lull the enemy into advancing out of the trees and into the kill zone.  The small-arms fire continued for a few seconds before petering out, allowing silence to return. 
All remained still for over a minute, then Sonny’s voice came over the comms.  “Got people in the grass at your ten and two.  Looks like they’re trying to flank us.”
Len Smart was on the right of the trio and he saw his target a hundred yards away.  Rather, he saw the top of the three-foot tall grass sway gently as the unseen assailant crawled slowly through it.  Night-vision goggles would have come in handy, but he would have to make do with the sliver of moonlight that cast a dull shine over the African plantation. 
Besides, there were four of them and an estimated enemy strength of around fifty, so in Smart’s mind they easily had the locals outnumbered.
“Got him,” he said, and Levine on the other end of the line confirmed that he also had a bead on his man. 
The AK-47s opened up once more, but the three men continued to save their ammunition and keep their locations hidden.  They spotted a couple of armed men advancing slowly from the trees but held their fire, preferring them to get in a little closer before engaging. 
Sonny watched the scene unfold below him, oblivious to the wraith-like figure scaling the rear wall.  Nwankwo Okeke was clad in an ancient British Army smock and trousers, the disruptive-pattern material a throwback to the late seventies.  His features, like those of the four Englishmen, were obscured by the black and tan camouflage face-paint. 
The exception was that underneath the disguise, his skin was the colour of night, the war paint applied more for effect than concealment. 
The chatter of gunfire from the trees intensified, and the occasional grenade came arcing towards the defences.  They landed pitifully short, but the noise they generated helped to mask Okeke’s approach.  He reached the lip of the roof and peered over.  Sony lay five yards away with his back towards him. Okeke eased himself up on powerful forearms and quietly swung a leg over the edge.  He waited, hand over his holster, but Baines continued to focus on the battle beneath him. 
Okeke eased forward, one hushed step at a time, silently drawing his nine-inch knife from its leather sheath.
Two yards. 
He fell on Sonny’s back and yanked his head backwards, drawing the blade across his victim’s throat.  With Baines down, Okeke made an animal call that signalled his friends below.  They broke from the cover of the building and raked the trio’s positions with AK-47 fire. 
Smart, Levine and Campbell, all facing the other way, realised too late that they’d fallen for a feint. 
They never stood a chance.

Whew. I need a beer.

Gray Retribution will be available on Amazon UK and Amazon US starting on July 8. You can also visit Alan McDermott's own blog

Alan McDermott hails from the UK. His previous novels include the bestsellers Gray Justice, Gray Resurrection and Gray Redemption

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Why I'm not publishing books on paper

A guest reblog from bestselling thriller author Mike Wells

I had to make sure my readers had the benefit of Mike Wells' excellent essay on digital publishing.
At present, I only publish my work in digital format—ebooks and audiobooks. Since many of you are also authors or seriously thinking of writing a book, I thought I would explain my reasoning on this, as it might be helpful to you in making your own decisions.

The main reason that I'm a digital-only author is that if I publish my books on paper, I can't get them onto the shelves of physical bookstores.  It's virtually impossible.  Why?  Because I'm an "indie author," meaning that I self-publish my work outside of the realm of the traditional publishing industry.  Like  it or not, traditional publishing largely controls what's on the shelves of brick-and-mortar bookstores.  (Self-publishing my own work is a personal choice—for more about traditional versus self-publishing, see this post).

Also, I am an internationally-oriented author, and I have a large number of readers all over the world—in Australia, the UK, Europe, South Africa, Malaysia, Russia, India, the Middle East, etc.  This compounds the distirbution problem tenfold. Even the biggest U.S. publishers have trouble getting their titles onto the bookstore shelves in every corner of the globe. 

Thanks to digital retailer/distributors like Smashwords, ebooks provide an instant and elegant solution to the problem.  It's a great feeling to know that any reader, virtually anywhere in the world, has equal access to all my books at the touch of a button.

That said, I admit that it sometimes bothers me that I can't pick up a paper copy of my book and hold it in my hands, and that I can't send readers who want my books in paper format to a physical bookstore.  Some people enjoy collecting paper books and building a home library, and I can certainly appreciate that as well. 

While it's true that I could arrange to publish all of my 20+ titles on paper through a company like Lulu or Createspace, this does not fully solve the problem, neither in the USA or abroad.  Readers will still have to order the books online or through their local bookstores—copies will still not actually be sitting on bookstore shelves. 

My experience is that people who want paper books generally expect to walk into a physical bookstore, find the books they want on the shelves, and then take the books the cash register and pay for them.  Having to order and wait for a paper book is a "speed bump" that greatly lowers interest.  Today, most readers, when given the choice of ordering a physical book and waiting a week or two for it to arrive, or downloading the book instantly, in ebook or audiobook format, choose the latter.  Not all, but most.

Despite how easy companies like Lulu and Createspace make it sound, publishing on paper is still a lot of work and takes significant time.  I only have so many hours in the day.  When I ask readers, "Which would you rather I do—produce more new ebooks and audiobooks or slow down and offer everything I write in both digital and paper format?" the answer is always a resounding "More new books please!"  The vast majority of my readers are willing to read or listen to my books in digital format, even the ones who prefer paper.

Of course, there are some people who refuse to read anything but paper books.  I admire their tenacity, but I have to draw the line somewhere.  I believe that there will always be paper books, but I also believe that the number of people who refuse to read anything except paper books will steadily diminish, so that eventually I will reach 99% of the folks who are interested in my work.

But there is another larger, overarching factor in my decision to stay digital.  I struggled for fifteen years in the paper book industry—burned through four literary agents—and made very little progress.  It was the advent of ebooks and digital publishing that allowed me to take full control of my career and caused my book sales to take off.  While I'm sure it would be a wonderful feeling to hold all my novels in my hands and see them lined up in a neat row along my desk, I'm confident that the feeling I have from making a living as a novelist and being able to write full time is far more satisfying.

Perhaps things will change in the future and I will decide to publish on paper.  For example, maybe someday there will be a printing and binding machine sitting in every physical bookstore that can produce a high-quality paper copy of any ebook in a matter of minutes.  There have been attempts at this, but nothing has caught on big yet.  Or, maybe a traditional publisher will come along and offer to print my books as they are, without insisting on fiddling around with the titles and content, and they won't have a problem with me continuing to publish my ebooks and audiobooks independently.  Who knows? 

Never say never.

In summary, that's the logic behind my decision to keep my books in digital format only for the present, and it may or may not apply to your own situation.

Your comments are welcome. 

This post originally appeared on May 1, on Mike Wells Official Website.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A twisting thriller that holds the road

Review of Golgotha Connection by Caleb Pirtle III

I don’t like a lot of the thrillers I read. Most of them seem to be emulating another derivative thriller, just trying to ride some bandwagon to market success. Far too many read as if the author were trying to write an episode of his or her favourite TV cop show.

So when I opened Golgotha Connection, described on the cover as “A Christian Novel,” I was prepared for disappointment. But what I found were realistic characters, solid writing and a satisfying story.

I even liked the main character’s unusual name: “Andrews St. Aubin,” which opens the book. The author recognizes how preposterous this name is, but has a good reason for it.  And having a French last name for a character in an American thriller is unusual enough.

The plot twists and turns, but holds the road.
St. Aubin is a newspaper reporter with some serious PTSD, memory loss and other psychological problems. He’s followed by a dead man only he can see, and only at night, the ghost of a man he killed in a military engagement that he cannot remember. While he’s trying to make a new life as a journalist, he seems to be more of a gun for hire.

The owner of the Texas newspaper St. Aubin’s works for, Richard Brockleman, sends the reporter to Saltillo, Mexico, to find his brother, Danny B. Danny is a DEA officer who might be corrupt, and disappeared in the drug cartel-controlled Saltillo, Mexico. Brockleman says that instead of busting drug rings, Danny has uncovered incontrovertible proof of Christ’s appearance in Mexico before the Spanish Conquest in 1492.

Pirtle then throws in the trope of the disgruntled military men and corrupt, ambitious politicians attempting a US coup by triggering an upheaval in Mexico.

No, it’s not impossible to make this story plausible.
If any author had come to a publisher with an idea for a novel about a detective finding incontestable proof that Jesus Christ lived, let alone walked in Mexico before 1492, and getting caught in a plot to overthrow the US government through Mexico, he probably would have been advised to pick an easier mystery to pen. But Pirtle handles the challenge well, giving the readers just enough information as the plot builds to keep us readers turning pages.

There were a few places where I was afraid the novel would become excessively Christian, where a plot point could only be explained by a miracle or an answer to true faith, but thankfully, Pirtle avoided that. Everything made sense, and while there is a definite religious motif to this book, it makes sense.

The characters ring true.
Pirtle gives us a wide range of believable characters, all with strengths, weaknesses and flaws. I loved some of them, and detested others, but I reacted to each one. All their actions and reactions logically proceeded from their situations and personalities, with no unbelievable transformations. Richard Brockleman’s agonized family relationships add some surprising depth to the story. I suspected the femme fatale at first, but Pirtle’s iron-tight plot made her completely believable.
The only weak characterization was in the US military guys trying to destabilize Mexico in a bid to reform the US government. They were a little clich├ęd; exactly the same personalities played the same roles in a half-dozen other thrillers I’ve read in the past year. It’s too bad, because they’re the only place where Pirtle was not creative.

The author  gives us a satisfying closing.
Pirtle also avoids a facile story arc. St. Aubin’s struggles against drug cartels, traitors, cowards and ghosts, all of whom leave scars.. At no point do we know for sure who’s going to survive the next battle, and it’s never certain who’s going to win.

Pirtle doesn’t cut corners. The book has been produced professionally, meeting or exceeding the standards of commercial fiction. In fact, this book was much better than the commercially published stuff I have read lately.


Visit Caleb Pirtle III's Venture Galleries for links to buy this and other books.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Good versus evil

Image courtest Nicu's Photoblog.
Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License.
It’s the basis of just about every story: right versus wrong, good guys against bad guys, the appeal of the bad boy …

Something I’ve been wondering about for a long time is that, outside of literature, evil-doers don’t seem to consider themselves as committing evil acts. In fact, most seem to think they’re taking an extreme step in defence of goodness.

Everybody thinks of himself or herself as a good guy. The Boko Haram group kidnapped nearly 300 schoolgirls in Nigeria. The group released a video showing the girls dressed in grey hijabs. It claims to have liberated them and to have converted some to Islam.

Boko Haram’s name reportedly translates as “Western education is a sin.” Its stated goals are to impose Islamic law, so clearly its members see themselves—or at least, pretend to—as having a moral objective.

It uses bombs, murder and kidnapping to achieve that moral goal.

Following what can be described as a coup in Kyiv that deposed an elected government, several cities in eastern Ukraine held referenda last weekend on joining Russia—referenda without clear questions, voting lists or secret ballots. In supporting the results of those referenda, Russian President Vladimir Putin claims to support the civil and human rights of Russian speaking people in eastern Ukraine. On Tuesday, militants ambushed a Ukrainian army convoy and killed six soldiers.

Who’s on the side of good?

I just finished writing a book about the German invasion of the USSR in 1941, Army of Worn Soles. In that conflict, both sides claimed to be on the side of good, as they defined it. The Germans claimed to be seeking living space; the Soviets were defending themselves. In the West of 70 years after the fact, we tend to believe the Soviets were more in the right, but even a little research shows there was plenty of evil to go around. Nazi Germany and the USSR partitioned Poland between them. A few months after that, the USSR invaded Finland in the Winter War to “protect Leningrad.”

I don’t think anyone decides “I’m going to do evil.” 

In 2011, Anders Behring Breivik bombed and shot 77 young people at a camp in Norway. He was sentenced to 21 years in jail. I’m sure all my readers recognize his acts as evil, but Breivik claimed he did it to defend Norway from a Muslim invasion.

So we come back to religion, which defines good and evil. Good will get you into heaven, evil will send you to hell. But Islam, Judaism and Christianity all follow texts that prescribe stoning to death for having sex outside marriage. Christians fought bloody wars for centuries over (supposedly) differences in interpretations of religious tenets. The Church burned hundreds of Cathars to death for believing slightly differently than officially sanctioned Catholicism.

From a secular perspective, we could define “good” as improving people’s lives. The oil industry provides good jobs, and has enabled us to heat our homes and travel, while providing well-paying jobs to some and huge profits to a very few.

Syncrude's base mine. The yellow structures are the bases of pyramids made of sulphur - it is not economical for Syncrude to sell the sulphur so it stockpiles it instead. The extraction plant is just to the right of this photograph and most of the mine is to the left. Source: Wikipedia
On the other hand, the oil industry has spoiled the natural environment for over a century, choking cities’ air (Mexico City, Los Angeles, Tokyo, Beijing), poisoning rivers (Kalamazoo, Michigan) and devastating whole ecosystems (Athabaska River). The oil lobby has prevented meaningful development of alternative energy forms until very recently, and continues to resist measures to mitigate climate change.

Is “good” what’s good for me?

The challenge in fiction is to make characters and their actions believable. Even when we’re writing about vampires, aliens or witches, we—or at least, I—try to create an emotional connection that the reader can identify with.

It’s always fun (strangely) to create a purely evil villain. Dr. Evil. Hannibal Lecter. Sauron. But what makes that person evil? The pursuit of goals, no matter the cost to others? Doesn’t that make 24’s hero Jack Bauer evil?

Good or evil? Source: Wikipedia
Fiction often presents villains as sympathetic characters, drawn into breaking the law or other evil acts to defend themselves or their families: think Michael Corleone in The Godfather, Walter White in Breaking Bad or Jaime Lannister in A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones). They’re naturally good people forced to do terrible things.

Hamlet poisoned his mother. Brutus stabbed Caesar to protect the Roman republic.

What’s good? What’s evil? Can we ever really say, or does it depend what end of the gun you’re on?

Monday, May 12, 2014

What to write and what not to write? A writer’s inner fear!

Creative Commons

Guest post by Samreen Ahsan

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” ― Louis L'Amour

After I published my first novel, A Silent Prayer, many people around me asked what truly inspired me for writing or more precisely—what made me write? 

I never knew I was a writer until now. Those who have known me a long time also asked me if I was a born writer. I believe a person is always born with a talent—be it an artist or a musician. I don’t think there’s such thing as an inborn writing talent. Each individual in this world has a story to tell—everyone has a past, present and a future tied with emotions that make the person think, laugh, cry or contend. For writing, the basic talent you need in yourself is reading and of course, reading is an inborn talent. You cannot force anyone to be a good reader. 

“Indeed, learning to write may be part of learning to read. For all I know, writing comes out of a superior devotion to reading.”  ― Eudora Welty, On Writing

If you’re not a good reader, then you can never be a writer. Reading gives you inspiration, a whole new world from a writer’s perspective. You dive into that world, sometimes you drown yourself, sometimes you just float over it—it depends how deeply the story is being written. 

I believe there’s always an inspiration for a writer. It could be a person, his surroundings, a song, his own life or a minor incident. You just need one end of the rope and then you keep on pulling it, until you hold another end. That one end which you held first is your inspiration. 

Likewise, you can’t wait for an inspiration to write something—it comes to you. It’s just how you see it and how you perceive it. 

So back to the question I was asked after my first book—what made me write? Honestly I was never a writer (I don’t even write much blogs) but I guess my passion of reading and imagining fearlessly has driven me this way. Being a Muslim, I’ve a complete faith on my Holy book—what it has to say about the things we see and the things we don’t see. That inspired me to write about Jinn. We have read countless Jinn stories through Arabian folktales and all the readers have always found them purely fictitious. To me, it is not fiction. I wanted to create a believable fiction story. I know vampires and zombies don’t exist but I truly believe that the Jinn exist, just like angels—the only thing is they’re hidden from us—and that’s what Jinn means. So I started researching on this strange creature and for a few months (during my writing), there was only one activity in my life (besides writing)—read, read and read. 

The Djinn by maeshanne via Creative Commons.
It’s a very common myth among Muslims that the more you try to dig about the Jinn, the more they try to approach you. To some, it was hard for them to believe that I picked a topic out of the word of God and crafted a romantic story from of an Islamic concept—a religion which has always been a part of controversy and extremism. Some even asked me if I’ve actually encountered anyone of them. Really, it makes me laugh sometimes. I wrote because I didn’t fear anyone. I wanted my imagination to take a flight and see where it lands. I’ve been hearing this myth since my childhood. If I had feared and believed in that myth, I wouldn’t have written anything at all. Reading made me fearless.

One thing that I’ve learned in my journey of writing is—avoid self-doubt on your story. Always think it is unique and it would hopefully grab a reader. If you doubt on your own fantasy, others won’t appreciate it either. Self-trust and self-confidence is the prime step. Once you start writing, don’t stop yourself fearing if your idea is sellable or not, if others would like it or not. There are always risks in everything so take the risk and let your imagination fly out of your mind. 

Your imagination should not have any strings pulling it back. It should take a flight like a bird, not like a kite. The worst chances are obviously the failure but that should never stop you from writing. It is not necessary that if one person doesn’t like your idea, others won’t. Every brain works differently. Some people find white not to be a colour, but some find happiness in white. 

If you write something just because you want to make money out of it, trust me, it would always lack passion as the fear of failure would come through your words. 

So always write when you are fearless!

Samreen Ahsan is an author of award-winning romance fiction, A Prayer Series, which include A Silent Prayer and A Prayer Heeded. She is a member of BestSelling Reads, and the winner of the Best Romance in 2014 Los Angeles Book Festival.

Follow Samreen on Twitter @samauthorcanada

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Who’s going to die this half-season of 24?

I’ve been a fan of 24 since it launched. It’s never failed to deliver a season of 24 hours (minus commercials) of riveting television that leaves you breathless. So you know where my butt will be for the next 10 Monday nights: on the couch in front of my TV set for the half-season. I wonder: should we now call it 12?

Writers and TV producers like formulas that work. Even 24 follows a formula: only Jack Bauer can save the world, but he has to defeat not only  the bad guys, but the authorities, too. Even though he has saved the world eight times in a row, even after proving he's a good guy each time, even after showing the doubters that they were wrong eight freakin' times, the authorities just want to lock  him away.

There are other pattens I have noticed, too, after watching eight seasons of Jack Bauer saving America and the world. Based only on the experience and my gut feelings, I boldly make some predictions about the coming season.

Who will turn out to be a traitor:

Steve Navarro, the man in charge of the CIA branch in London, played by Benjamin Bratt. What tipped me off: when he orders super-agent Kate Morgan to leave the field facility immediately, instead of waiting out the term of her job, and says “I really am trying to help you.” Help you stay alive when this place blows, he means.

Mark Boudreau, President Heller’s Chief of Staff, because he’s in the most potentially damaging position for a traitor to be. Plus, he’s married to Jack’s long-time love, Audrey, TV’s most annoying returning character. Can she not close her lips?

Who will turn on Jack:

Chloe, of course. Who has more reason to?

Who will turn out to be the indispensable, unforeseen hero:

Chris Tanner, the drone pilot. He won’t be just a victim, because he has too many skills, he’s too smart and he’s determined to set things right.

Who will die:

Erik Ritter, the guy who wants Kate Morgan’s job and taunted the handcuffed Jack Bauer. He thinks he’s better than he is, and he’s determined to prove himself. He’s just going to get in front of a bullet, but not before causing a lot of damage to his own side.

Jordan Reed: Chloe’s boy Chloe. He’s too nice.

President Heller: He’s dealing with incipient Alzheimer’s, his health isn’t perfect, he takes a bunch of pills and he’s heroic. He’ll do something that gets him killed around episode 9.

Mark Boudreau: Because we all hate him.

I didn’t catch his name and cannot find it online, but he’s Jack’s driver and assistant gunman in London. He has Friend of Jack Bauer Syndrome. It’s fatal.

Half of Chloe’s goth hacker group. Because Jack was once in the same room with them, thus infecting them with the same ailment that will kill the Jack's driver.

About three dozen British and American police officers and soldiers. Because that’s just what happens when Jack Bauer’s in town.

Those are my predictions. Now let’s see how accurate I was in 10 weeks.

Monday, May 05, 2014

Go pro, or go home

Guest post by Kevin Johns, author and creative writing coach

You may be surprised to learn that, as a writer, the best thing I have ever done didn’t involve plotting a story, crafting a poem, or composing the lyrics to a song. Rather, it was a simple email that I wrote and sent to four friends, and it changed my life forever. 

But before we get into that email, I want to discuss my biggest mistake as a writer.

For several years, I edited an online arts and culture magazine. I wrote almost a hundred articles for the magazine, and edited hundreds more. The website got thousands of hits every month, and by the time I left the magazine, dozens of young writers, photographers, and illustrators had contributed to the magazine. 

And no one made any money from it.

Sure, we received a few small grants that allowed us to pay our contributors a small fee per article, but as an editorial team, we never identified or implemented a real long-term plan for monetization of the magazine. 

This was largely because monetization had nothing to do with why we had started the magazine in the first place. 

We created the magazine because we were a group of young writers, journalists, and artists who were passionate about the topics we were writing about. 

I, like the other editors at the magazine, was in it for the art, not the commerce… and that was my big mistake.

Being in it for the art is just fine, if you want to treat your writing like a hobby. At the magazine, we called ourselves “journalists” and we were treated as such, but ultimately, we were really just hobbyists. 

It is only when you learn how to monetize your art that you make the transition from hobbyist to true profession.

At some point, the transition from amateur to pro becomes absolutely essential, primarily because monetization is a huge part of sustainability. 
You can romanticize the starving artist persona all you want, but the reality is that not much art gets created when you haven’t eaten all day because you are too broke for groceries. 

 If you plan to be a writer, or an artist of any kind, who is in it for the long haul, you need to make the conscious decision to turn profession. 

Which leads us to that fateful email I mentioned earlier… 

See, the entire time that I was working on the magazine, I was also drafting a novel. When my children were born and I chose to leave the magazine to ensure I had time for my growing family, I continued to work on the manuscript. 

After eight long years of fiddling away at the book, like the hobbyist that I was, I finally made the decision to go pro. That decision was made in the form of an email that I sent to four of my closest friends. It read something like this:
By way of this email, I am committing to completing and publishing my novel in the next six months. 
Kevin Johns
That was it. It was the best thing I ever did, because it was what forced me to make the leap from amateur hobbyist to profession novelist. 

After eight long years, I suddenly had a deadline, and it was only six months away! I had to hire a cover designer, interior layout designer, and an editor, and, ultimately, I needed to sell enough copies of the book to recoup those costs. 
After writing a hundred articles for a magazine that never made a dollar, after scribbling away at a manuscript for almost a decade, I had final taken real action to monetize my art and go pro. 

And from that moment on, there has been no looking back.

Kevin T. Johns is a creative writing coach, and author of the young adult horror novel, The Page Turners. His instruction book for aspiring authors, The Novel Writer’s Blueprint: Five Steps to Creating and Completing Your First Book, will be published in May 2014. Get his free ebook, 12 Common Mistakes Rookie Author Make, at

And read Scott Bury's simultaneous guest post, "Learning the hard way," at Your Novel Blueprint.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

First look: My new novel, Army of Worn Soles

A Red Army anti-tank squad in World War II
Photo source: WWII in color
I'm very excited because my third book is getting closer to publishing! 

I've settled on a title: Army of Worn Soles. Thanks to my good friend Martin Champoux for suggestions that led me to this.

I've just received the second editing pass by my editor, none other than the renowned Rebecca Tsaros-Dickson. So while this may be a little premature, I think the first chapter is pretty close to being done. So, here it is. Let me know what you think in the Comments.

Chapter 1: Prisoner of War

Kharkiv, October 1941

Maurice sat on the ground, put the bottle beside him and took off his shirt. Spreading the officers uniform on the smoothest piece of ground he could find, he lay the bottle near the collar then pushed down and rolled it over the shirt. The lice cracked under the glass. He rolled the bottle back and forth, feeling a dull satisfaction at his first pathetic victory in more than half a year.
Crunch, crunch.
The effort was exhausting. He stopped. His stomach ached and his throat burned with thirst.
He slumped back until he leaned against the barracks. Men in grey uniforms stood or walked across the cobbled courtyard of the ancient castle. One came toward him, a slim man with light brown hair and hazel eyes. He stopped in front of Maurice and leaned down.
Maurice? Is it you? he said.
Breathing required effort. So did looking up. Maurice had not eaten in days, but he still trusted his sight. He knew the man with the light-brown hair and hazel eyes, even in a Wehrmacht uniform. 
Maurice?" the young man said again. "What are you doing here?
He couldnt swallow. His mouth held no moisture. Dying. Im starving to death, Bohdan. Maurice closed his eyes and hung his head.
Bohdan crouched beside him. You got drafted?
Maurice made the effort to look up again at his old friend. The Red Army made me a lieutenant. What the hell are you doing here in a German uniform, Bohdan?
The Germans kicked the Russians out, something we couldnt do. Why shouldnt I join the winning side? And it's Daniel now, not Bohdan. He looked around to make sure no one noticed him, a Wehrmacht officer, talking to a prisoner of war. Im glad you survived, that you were captured instead of killed. The Germans killed a lot of Red soldiers.
I know. I was there.
Bohdan looked around again to make sure no officers were watching him talk with a prisoner. "How did you get here?
Like you said, we were captured, the whole army, outside Kharkiv. They brought us here.
Bohdan shook his head. Are you all right? Ill see if I can bring you anything, but I have to be careful.
Maurice looked into his friends eyes. Get me out of here.
Set a prisoner free? Are you crazy?
Bohdansorry, Daniel, youre my best friend. Or you were. If I ever meant anything to you, get me out.
DanielBohdan, looked left and right again. I cannot let Red soldiers go, he whispered.
Maurice took a dry breath. His strength was almost gone. Daniel, youre an officer in a victorious army. You have the power. You can get me out, me and my boys. You have the power to get us out of here.

Daniel shook his head and stood. Stalin's going to surrender within six months, and then all the prisoners will be freed. Hitler has promised freedom for all nations. Well all be free. Ukraine will be free.
Maurice looked at the ground between his splayed legs. He could no longer lift his head. I cant wait six months. I cant wait two days. If you wait, youll find a corpse. Well all be dead. You have to get us out now.
Daniel, the Ukrainian man in a German uniform, hesitated. He looked around the camp again, but no one paid attention. So the Reds made you an officer, did they? Where are your men? All dead?
Somewhere, Maurice found the strength to stand up again. He staggered to the barracks door, went in and called his odalenye, the unit he commanded. Step over here, boys.
Daniel followed Maurice inside, and Maurice wondered if he wasnt breaking some regulation by entering prisoners quarters unaccompanied by at least one guard. Maurice scanned the room, taking in the injured, starving and defeated men. He realized when they saw Daniel, they saw their captor. 
Daniel stepped out of the barracks and waited for his friend outside the door. Ill see what I can do, Maurice. But youre on the wrong fucking side. He left.
Maurice picked up the bottle on the ground beside him and returned to crushing the lice out of his uniform shirt. It was the only thing he could do to reduce his misery.
He thought about the last time he had seen Bohdan, before he was Daniel. It was in the gymnasium, the pre-university school in Peremyshl. What used to be Poland.
Wikimedia Commons

Watch for Army of Worn Soles on June 1!