Thursday, June 16, 2016

Recent Reads

On a whim I picked up a copy of Andrew J. Offutt's Conan and the Sorcerer at the used book store last week.  I just finished reading it, and I was pleasantly surprised.  The story was suitably Conan, if a bit "fluffed," and the writing, while not quite up to the Howard standard, was still a pretty good entry for the genre.  I'd say Offutt would place about three notches above DeCamp, and a notch above Lin Carter.  Overall, a fun read.

The edition I have was laden with illustrations by Esteban Maroto, who was largely responsible for how I viewed Conan in my minds eye early on (aside from the Frazetta covers, and before I discovered Buscema's work).  This volume had a lot of action shots, and not a few depictions of the naked female form.  And although I could tell that they were there to plump the page-count, I didn't really mind so much.  I may hit up the book store again and get Conan the Mercenary and The Sword of Skelos, as I am told they form a loose trilogy with this one.

In other reading, I've been digging into a few graphic novels from the library, as well as a few comics.  In the same trip where I grabbed the Offutt Conan, I also grabbed a few old issues of Marvel's Conan the Barbarian color comic from 1977.  These were pretty cool to read, but the real treat was the Buscema artwork, inked by Ernie Chan.  Man, I really wish I had discovered Conan at that time.  I'd love to collect a bunch more of these issues, if I can find them.

I also recently read Captain America - Man out of Time, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  A really fun take on Cap's first few days after being thawed out.  Paired with some scenes of WWII, it really gives you a good picture of how Steve Rogers has had to cope with sleeping through so much history.  The artwork was pretty good, and I found myself really engaged with the story.  Highly recommended.

And finally, I breezed through Skull Kickers Treasure Trove Volume 1.  I had been collecting this series, but only managed to grab the first 4 or 5 issues before having to stop.  So, it was cool to see the whole story play out.  This is a really fun comic, filled with action, humor, great art, and snappy dialogue.  Also highly recommended.

Aside from those, I have started and stopped a couple of books.  They were interesting, but they weren't what my brain craved at the time.  Right now I'm still on a Sword & Sorcery kick, and more specifically, a Conan kick.  So, from my own shelf I grabbed Conan the Marauder by John Maddox Roberts.  Back in my days at the conan.com forums, people often mentioned his were the best that the Tor series had to offer.  So, I thought I would give him a go now too.

Not much in the way of writing.  I have been thinking a lot about it lately, but I can't settle myself on a specific project.  I did manage to submit a sci-fi story that had seen a few rejections to another magazine, so there's that.  I'm also reading Steven Pressfield's latest, Nobody Wants to Read Your Sh*t.  It's as chock full of good advice as his previous works.  And it's actually helping me organize some things in my head.

Friday, May 20, 2016

No one is to blame but me

As a writer, my art has suffered greatly over the past few months. I have barely had the energy to put words to screen beyond the occasional pithy Facebook post and political rant. There are many reasons for this.

First and foremost is the new job. Let me just start by saying that it is boring and tedious. However, the pay is better, the potential for advancement and raises is MUCH better, and it is pretty steady. This last part is what keeps me from writing much. My job keeps me working on stuff all day, unless I consciously take a few minutes (like now) to not overwork myself. Trust me, they are getting their money’s worth with the amount of time that I do actual work.

In my previous job, I had the luxury of having a lot of down-time that I could use to work on my own stuff. That’s how I managed to write so many RPG products, and several short stories over the last few years. But, alas, those days are gone for the time being.

So, you might be asking about my non-work time. You know, when writers with day-jobs usually pursue their passion for wordsmithing. Well, the other downside of this job is that I am mentally exhausted when I get home. Add to that having to deal with various and sundry distractions in our chaotic house, I end up with very little quiet time for myself. And when I do get that, my brain just says “Screw that blank screen! Let’s watch [insert name of show du jour here] instead.” By the time I’ve had my fill of that…oh, look at the time. If I go to bed and fall asleep now *snicker* I can get a solid six hours of sleep before John Mellencamp wakes me up.

So, you see, I have a lot of excuses. And the sad part is, I am fully aware of the fact that they are just that; excuses. But, I’m one of the laziest, most undisciplined people I know sometimes. And unfortunately, my writing is usually the first thing to suffer for it.

So, how can I get through this, and back into a creative groove? I don’t know for sure, but I’m starting by going back to the beginning, and reading for fun. I’m reading all over the place, in the genres that I like to write. I’m also not nailing myself to a single book. I may read a few chapters, then get distracted by another book, and switch over. Fortunately, I can usually pick up a set-aside book where I left off without much issue, as long as it hasn’t been too long. Right now I have four or five books in various states of being read.

I also ran a session of D&D last weekend. For those who don’t play RPG’s, running a game, especially based on your own ideas and worlds, is a very effective way to get creative juices flowing. A lot interesting tidbits came out of that session, and it really got me thinking about made-up stuff.

Anyways, I’m still working on it all. Someday, I think I might even be able to finish something.

Monday, April 18, 2016

The sale is over

Well, that went well. I had my story up for free for five days, and a total of 20 free downloads during that time. I figured I would get more, but it's cool. I probably didn't advertise enough, though I'm not all that sure how much more I could have done.

Either way, that means that there will potentially be 20 reviews forthcoming. Of course, I'm not delusional enough to believe that will happen. But, if I get a 20% return, that will mean 4 new reviews. And that's not bad. More than likely, though, the story will sit in 20 TBR piles, and if/when they do get read, the reader will either forget to review it, or hate it so much that they don't want to review it.

Ok, maybe I'm a pessimist and defeatist. Shoot me.

Anyways, the third Orcs story is done, and gone through my primary beta-reader. Due to some of the story elements involved, I really wanted her opinion. She loved it. I heard her laugh out loud a few times while reading it. And it even solicited an "Oh shit" moment. I'd say it's a success.

I'll let it stew for a bit longer before I revisit it again. I might to try to get another set of eyes on it from a seasoned writer, just to see if there are any ways I can make the narrative a little better (any takers?). Then I have to create a cover, and publish it.

This cycle of stories will probably continue to be Kindles. However, I'm thinking about gathering them all together, once I have a few more written, and publish them as a POD paperback. I've looked into doing so through Lulu, and the cost there is comparable to shelf-bought paperbacks. Just something I'll be thinking about.

In the meantime, I'm eyeing a couple of other WIPs for completion. Both are longer works, possibly even book-length.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Working on Kindles

So, this morning I had some downtime at the office, and decided to look into my Kindle offerings.  First off, I lowered the price of my recent non-fiction work Life on the Cube Farm from $2.99 to $1.50. 

I know the advice from successful writers is to charge what your works are worth.  But, the reality for those of us with little to no name-recognition is that doing so is often a hindrance.  I have made only a single paid sale of that work at the current price.  So, maybe if it's cheaper, more people will be willing to give it a try.  If I sell four copies at the lower price, I will have already made more back than before.  The new pricing should be active later today.

One of the other things I noticed was that a few of my stories have no reviews.  I'd like to remedy that by enticing people to read and review them.  To that end, I'm going to offer a different story for free each month for a period of five days each.  Tomorrow will begin the first sale with Blood from Sand.

The final thing I realized today was that, from the reviews I do have, I see a lot of people stating that they are looking forward to sequels to a few of my more popular stories.  I'm going to try to remedy that too.  I currently have a rough draft of a third Orcs story done.  It focuses on Pekra and Bofdak.  I read it through again today, and I really like the idea, and I think I did some good writing here.  But, it needs polishing, and some more exposition.  So, that's my next project.

I'm still trying to get my motivation to write back.  I figured that building on my short story successes would be a better start than just trying to jump into a longer narrative right away.  I still have a couple of longer works that are getting some attention, though.  So, I haven't given up yet.

Friday, February 19, 2016

World-Building and the Infodump

Now that I have freed myself from some stressful obligations (for now, anyways), I find myself turning my attention back to the creative endeavors that usually make me happy. In this instance, writing fiction. It’s slow-going getting back into it. And most days I can’t muster the energy to actually write anything (life has given me other, newer stressors that I need to deal with), so I am thinking about some of the WIPs I have just sitting out there.

One in particular is a S&S tale with my “Clonan” character. The story sits at about 18k words, if I recall, and is pretty much done. I just need to figure out how to actually end it satisfactorily, and tie up any loose ends. However, some conversations with established writers have me thinking about the whole thing in a different light.

I tend to write shorter fiction. I’ve never been sure why, but I find myself often so daunted by the prospect of an actual novel –length work, that I stick to the shorter stuff. And I recently figured out one reason why that may be.

When I write my stories, the amount and nature of the information presented is usually dictated by the main character. I present the world through his/her eyes, and confine myself to relating only what they know, and even in that it’s usually only what they know in the context of what is happening at the moment. I tend to avoid the “infodump” about the world outside of them, and I think that may be a mistake.

But how do I correct that? I have often railed against the “doorstopper” novels of GRRM and others for being fluffed with so much tediously-detailed, and ultimately superfluous information, that I instinctively avoid that in my own writing. And I think that could be a mistake. I think maybe I should be adding some of those details, though certainly not the extent of Martin or Tom Clancy.

The question is, how do I do it without jarring the reader out of the story? This is something I need to experiment with, and maybe look for some guidance from others on. So, if you have any advice, let me know.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Ch-ch-ch-changes!

I figured that was an appropriate title considering it’s David Bowie’s birthday, and it’s also my last day at my current job.

I’ve worked for the State of Wisconsin for almost five-and-a-half years.  In that time I’ve done a lot, learned a lot, and experienced a lot,  and that’s just the work-related stuff.  Due to the nature of being admin support, I also always had a lot of “unoccupied” time on my hands during work hours.  So, in that time, I did a lot of personal stuff too.

I managed to nearly finish my Master’s degree, and only have my Thesis left to complete in order to graduate.  I managed to write and self-publish several short stories, and several gaming products.  I’ve communicated with people all across the globe, and reconnected with old friends.  I’ve waxed philosophical, political, and nonsensical.  All from the comfort of my work computer, while still managing to complete all of my assigned tasks, and make my Bureau a better place.

Monday, I will be starting a new chapter in my career.  I have been hired by the Veteran’s Administration as a Voucher Examiner.  Don’t ask me what that is, exactly, because I only have a vague notion that I will be reviewing benefit vouchers for accuracy and potential fraud.  The location is closer to where I live, and I won’t have to pay for parking (I don’t think).  Both will save me a lot of money each month.  And because it’s a Federal position, the potential for advancement and growth is much greater than it is here at the State level (thanks mainly to Scott Walker).

I imagine that, since my job will actually be focused on specific tasks, unlike the “jack-of-all-trades” nature of admin support, I won’t have nearly as much “free” time during the day.  So, those who see me around Facebook will probably see less of me.  And my infrequent blog posts will probably be even more infrequent.

Of course, once I finish school, I will probably turn my evening attentions towards more creative endeavors.  I am always compelled to create stuff.  So, since I will be unable to do that during the day, it will force me to do it at home.  Which, honestly, is where I should be doing it anyways.  I’ve been lucky the last few years, but I know it’s not normal, nor should it be expected.

So, here’s to 2016 being a year of new beginning already.  And I hope that trend continues.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Writing Experiment

I recently read something (that I'm sure I had read before) which states that writers who talk about their current projects too much are more likely to not finish them.  A friend later posted something saying the same thing, explaining that when you talk about your project, your brain gets the same feeling of accomplishment that you would normally get if you actually finished the project, causing you to lose focus and the motivation to continue.

In light of this, I decided to perform a little experiment.  I recently signed up with the "Freedom with Writing" website.  They send out periodic emails with various writing opportunities, and info on how to make money writing in all kinds of ways.  They also offer some free eBooks on the writing life.  The first one was basically about how to write an eBook for profit.

I decided to take that idea, and run with it.  Long ago I had an idea for a book about what it's like to be admin support.  The idea was to describe, in great detail how to land an office job, how to conduct yourself on that job, what to expect, and what you will need to know (and/or learn) to do the job.  That old file is long gone, but the idea remained.  So, I sat down and started writing.

The thing is, I didn't tell anyone.  I didn't even mention it to my wife.  I just outlined the short book, and wrote.  Granted, it was easy to write as it was simply me pouring out my own knowledge based on years of experience.  But, in just under two weeks, I had a 10k+ eBook done.  And after several re-reads with edits, I decided to publish it on Kindle yesterday.

Now, while I hope it takes off and is a Kindle bestseller, I was actually more pleased with the result of the experiment.  It seems that not talking about the book may have played a part in me being able to finish it.  So, in the future, you will probably hear much less about what I am writing (which is saying something, since I rarely talk about writing these days anyways).  And since I have a big writing assignment due at the end of next month, now is a great time for me to start.

Incidentally, if you are interested in my new eBook, or know someone who might be, the link is below.