Tag archive: writing

Finished

I could have written this post a week ago, but summer got in the way. I’ve finished book two of The 1000 Souls. Yes, I’m being cagey about the title until I have it published, but my fans already know.

Revisions are going well, and I hope to be able to turn it over to the editor in just a few days. He’s fast, so if all goes well we’re looking at a launch date of July 20th, 2012. Thanks to all those who have e-mailed asking when book two is coming out, and thanks for your patience. I know I’m three weeks late, but I think you’ll be happy with the results. I’m pumped.

As for summer? Kids out of school. Warm weekend in Muskoka at a friend’s cottage with many other kids. Swimming, water fights, capture the flag and even tubing. Scraped knees, racoons, a deer leaping through the forest, and a blown radiator less than seven kilometers from our second destination. Tow Truck. Car in shop. Swimming at a beach on a river. Running around with the cousins.

All in all, pretty damn exciting. I think the kids are having fun too.

Committed, or Should I Be Committed?

I'm the guy kneeling on the left

The second craziest thing I’ve done in my life is to sign up for the Ottawa Marathon, which will be my second marathon race in less than a month. But when I get an idea in my head, it’s like a worm that burrows deep into my brain, chewing up all common sense along the way.

Like when it comes to writing. I got in on the early days of the film industry in Toronto, working my way from office production assistant to unionized camera assistant in less than six months. The smart thing to do would have been to upgrade asap to focus puller, camera operator or director of photography. I know that because I have friends who went that route.

But I had it in my head that I wanted to be a writer. So I shunned opportunities to upgrade and took B-Camera on shows like Due South so that I would only have to work two or three days per week. I spent the other days researching, writing and editing. Most of my friends in film think I should be committed to an insane asylum, and certainly they’re right in that my bank account would be much fatter if I’d gone full throttle in film the way I do for writing.

But that little worm ate away all common sense when it comes to my career, and so here I am, still writing and now publishing. Today I met with a new cover artist, and I’m charged about a concept that can carry across all five books in the 1000 Souls series. The artist is one talented guy and I can’t wait to see what he produces. I’m still excited about my writing, and I can’t wait for my fans to read the next installment because I’ve had so much fun writing it.

So my car may be old, my house only partially renovated, and I don’t have all the latest toys, but I still love writing. When I have doubts about my career choices, I remind myself that most people don’t enjoy their work.

Oh, as for the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I was writing a novel about Afghanistan (before 9/11 changed everything), and I got it into my head that it would be easier if I visited the country to get a feel for it. It was like a worm that got into my head and ate out all common sense.

That’s me kneeling on the left of the photo. Shameless bragging? You bet. How many people can say they traveled with the mujahideen? That’s just crazy.

 

Does the World Need Another Vampire Apocalypse Novel?

Vampire novels are everywhere.  You can find them in bookstores, at the library and on the electronic shelves of every eBook retailer.  They’re populated with sexy vampires, conflicted vampires and murderous (as opposed to vegetarian?) vampires.  The blood suckers can be found in space, alternate universes and historical fiction.

So why am I launching a vampire apocalypse novel now?  I first thought of  the idea of vampires having a communicable disease back in the eighties, but that theme is so ubiquitous now that it’s now far from an original concept.  My novel is a unique approach, but so are a lot of novels in the genre, those that aren’t simply quick rip offs of Twilight.  I could also point out that vampires are still hot, that the majority of the eBook reading public is under thirty years old and that there’s always room for one more vampire, but it’s not really why I wrote this novel.

It’s all about the 1000 Souls.  I came up with this concept, this new religion, when I met a Russian in Bokhara, Uzbekistan.  The man owned a small hotel.  He was smart, professional and a master at supplying  tourists with everything they could need at fair prices.  He reminded me so much of a South African caterer in Canada that I was stunned.  It was as if the two men had the same soul, even though their DNA had taken very different routes down through evolution.  These men didn’t look at all alike, but they were  the same guy in different bodies.

So as I wrote my vampire novel, the religion of Erics (yes,  plural) and the 1000 Souls was born, the concept that there are only 1000 souls spread between 7 billion humans.  Ever meet someone and swear you’ve met them before even though it’s not possible?  Well maybe you have, but you were shaking hands with a different host body for the same soul.

So each living human’s body is playing host to 1/seven millionth of a soul, meaning you could meet quite a few people with the same soul.  It also means that the souls are pretty thinly spread, which is where the vampire apocalypse comes in.  Kill off billions of people, and the remaining host bodies now contain denser souls.  This makes their human hosts more passionate and daring than our thinned-souled present day humans.

Confused?  Like any religion, the devil is in the details.  The Book of Bertrand is just the beginning, and religions evolve over time.  A quick check of the first centuries of Judaism, Christianity and Islam alone prove that the formation of a new religion is a tumultuous time.

But why vampires?  Why not a less dramatic plague like bird flu?  Because every new religion  at its beginning needs to confront pure evil.

But the biggest reason I’m adding another vampire apocalypse novel to the world, is because I enjoyed writing it.  I believe it was J.R.R. Tolkien who stated that he wrote novels that he would enjoy reading himself.  I enjoyed reading (and re-reading) the Book of Bertrand.  I really like Bertrand and his friends, and I can’t wait to write what happens in the next novel.

Apocalyptic Fiction Authors Beware

The Great Blackout of 2003 came without warning.  I was clacking away at my keyboard just wearing shorts because the mercury was high, and when a bead of sweat ran down my temple I  decided it was air conditioner time. But before I could even stand to head for the thermostat, my screen went blank and everything went silent.  That quiet was the eeriest part–no freezer or fridge hummed, the ballasts on the florescent lights no longer buzzed in the background.  My house and my computer had abruptly died.

My first thought was to call my wife–who was off with the kids visiting my mom far out in the suburbs–to tell her not to rush home for dinner.  My cell phone couldn’t find a signal–weird since I live downtown.   That was my first clue that this was more than a local blackout.  The landline worked, but after a quick chat with my wife I discovered the blackout was at least city-wide.  Now I was starved for information, so I dug eight C cells out that miraculously had enough charge left to operate a radio and got the next big surprise: static.  There wasn’t a single FM channel in operation, but I finally found an AM sports channel that had a working back-up generator, and the radio guy had all the excitement of a sportscaster as he described a multi-state, international blackout.  The whole north-east and a chunk of central Canada were suddenly living like it was 1799, except with cars–no traffic lights, just cars.  That was the day I learned that an electrical grid is a fragile construction.

Which is why it gets on my nerves when an author of an apocalyptic novel doesn’t understand that.  I’ve been reading a lot of them lately, since I write apocalyptic fiction myself, and I’ve been shocked by the ignorance.  In Hollowland most of humanity has been overtaken by a zombie plague, but some surviving humans  pump gas at a station in the middle of the desert.  Uh?  Just what’s powering the pump at this gas station?  Not electricity that’s for sure.

In another novel, Selection Event, 98% of the planet’s population dies from a flu virus while our lead character, Martin, is underground for a year-long psychology experiment.  When Martin comes back to the surface he heads to his parents’ house to see if they survived, and when he gets there he rings the doorbell and it works.  What?  Everyone died two months ago but the electrical grid is still up?

I tried to suspend my disbelief because areas around Niagara Falls continued to have power during the 2003 blackout thanks to smart power workers who isolated their section of the grid.  The Niagara Falls hydro-electric generation plants provide very reliable power.

But in Selection Event Martin discovers from old newspapers that environmentalists had lived long enough to blow up all the dams in the west in order to let “the rivers run free.”

Now if environmentalists lived long enough for tooling around with dynamite, surely nuclear power plant technicians had a little warning too.  Despite the Simpsons’ negative portrayal of nuke plant workers, those people actually take their jobs very seriously.  If they knew they were all dying of a flu, at the very least they’d put the plants into a safe shutdown mode.  Ditto for power plants fired by coal, gas or oil, cause you sure as hell wouldn’t want the explosions that go with unmonitored fossil fuel plants.  High pressure steam pipes just can’t be left unattended, and if they are things will go wrong very quickly.  These plants aren’t like the Starship Enterprise, which seems to need a massive crew but can be operated just by Captain Kirk in a pinch.

Don’t get me started on solar and wind, because these incredibly variable sources of power are destabilizing for a grid, creating unexpected power surges and deficits as clouds and wind vary.  They can’t provide a base load, and if other power sources are gone one surge will trip breakers everywhere on the grid, and there’s no one to reset them.

Now if just knocking one power plant offline could bring down the entire eastern seaboard, image what knocking out dozens of dams, nuke plants, coal and gas plants would do?  Hydro is probably the one source of power that could conceivably (although not likely) carry on for a few days without human monitoring, but that would have to be a section of the grid that is not interconnected with the national grid, and in this case the environmentalists had done away with that option.

So if you’re writing an apocalyptic novel, keep in mind that the first thing to go will be the electrical grid, and it will be gone in a matter of hours without human monitoring.  Once the power is gone the refineries shut down, so then you gradually lose the gasoline, and well, then it’s back to 1799, only with better guns.

To Blog or to Write: That is the Question

All the great success stories on Amazon–from Amanda Hocking to John Locke–have one thing in common: multiple books.  Joe Konrath says that writing multiple books is the most important thing a writer can do to advance her/his career.  John Locke also warns that there is nothing more frustrating than to have a product’s sales take off and not have anything else for an interested customer to purchase.  In the case of novels, it means that mountain you’ve climbed to promote one novel will have to be scaled again a year later for the next novel.

So I have to examine whether blogging, twittering and promoting is time well spent when I only have one novel and one anthology (in very different genres) up for sale.  What if I get lucky and people start buying Vampire Road in big numbers rather than the steady trickle of sales I get right now?  They might be ready to read more, and if there is nothing to buy until next year, they might forget my characters and move on to something else.

Time pressures are different for everyone.  I write quickly, but I can’t write a book in fifteen days like Amanda Hocking.  My kids eat up a lot of time in the evenings and on weekends, and I’m not going to short change them.  That’s a choice I’ve made.  But if I’m to finish The Book of Bertrand by mid-October and get it off to my editor, something has to give.

So I haven’t been blogging or twittering for the last couple of weeks, but I have been writing.  It’s been fun.  My editor and a couple of reviewers want to know more of the back story to Vampire Road, and The Book of Bertrand delivers.  The progression from computer nerd to saint is a torturous path with euphoric highs, desperate action and unintended consequences that will reverberate down the century to Vampire Road.

But I’m not stopping there.  There are four novels in this series, and I’m going to try and get as many of them up in the next few months as possible.  It’s a lot of work, but I believe the best thing I can do to promote Vampire Road is to have all the other novels in the series available for purchase.

I like blogging though, so I will try to post quick notes on Fridays, but I won’t be posting three of four times a week.  I’ve had to decide whether I’m a blogger or a writer, and novels are my preferred form of expression.

So I’m logging off to write, but I will keep you posted.  See you next Friday.

My Editor has My Other Baby

Fogel and I have been debating how e-books will affect freelance editors.  I’m guessing that people who want to indie e-publish will be swamping freelancers’ in-boxes with edit requests.  Fogel argues that freelance cover artists will get a lot of business, but freelance editors won’t.  She says:

“Most self-published e-books will fall into the same categories paper books do. There’ll be the professional writers who rerelease books that are out of print, and haven’t the rights to the original cover, or hated it. Then there’ll be the rank amateurs who have no business calling themselves writers and self-publish because no legitimate publisher will take them on. The former don’t need editors because the book’s finished; the latter won’t use them because they think they can write, but know they can’t draw.”

I’m sure some indie authors will fall into the Howett category, writers who simply can’t believe they need a substantive editor let alone a copy editor.  But Joe Konrath keeps pointing out that indie writers need two things: a good editor and a good cover artist.  I’m not the only indie author reading his blog.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve gone through the editing process so many times with my short stories, but I can’t imagine publishing without an editor.  So I’ve sent Fogel my other baby, the vampire novel, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that she won’t totally gut my heart out.

The good news is that she’s already read the first two chapters and written back that there are “no show-stoppers.”  From Fogel that’s high praise.

Fogel’s launched a website, but don’t hire her if you’re looking for the sort of praise you’d expect from a mother, cause you won’t be getting it.  You’ll be getting the unvarnished truth.  She doesn’t care about your feelings.  It’s why I chose her for my editor.

Priest Forces My Hand

The first hint of trouble came from a friend who had read and liked my vampire novels.  He sent an e-mail with a link to the website of the movie, Priest, and asked me if it sounded familiar.   The tone of the e-mail indicated he already knew the answer.

Three of the main components of that movie trailer are in my novel: walled cities, vampire armies and warrior priests.  Aside from that my novel is very different, but I know people will draw parallels between the two.

I admit vampire armies is not that original an idea.  I mean, if you make two vampires and they make two vampires and so on it’s pretty obvious that eventually humans will have to wall off their cities and fight swarms of vampires.

As for my protagonist belonging to a quasi-religious order–well priests have been fighting demons for centuries, and Hollywood has exploited that idea many times.

So I had to decide: slink away with my Priest-like vampire novel or go for it.  Then it occurred to me that this is a marketing dream.  When people ask what my novel is about, I can say that it’s Priest meets the Battle for Helms Deep from Lord of the Rings.

Okay, some of you won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, but the fans who would buy this type of novel will know exactly what I mean.

I can’t wait to see Priest, because I’m pretty sure that the movie’s high-tech take on vampire fighting is very different from my post-apocalyptic novel, where gunpowder is so scarce that people carry swords and cross bows as supplementary weapons, and gasoline engines are a thing of the distant past.

I’m also betting that I have the better story, but I’m judging the trailer so that may not be fair.

So here’s the plan: run my novel to my editor (God help me) and hire a cover artist.  This novel has already been through several readers, so hopefully Fogel won’t totally gut me.  By the release date of Priest, May 13th, I intend to launch my novel on Amazon.

It’s going to be a tight deadline, especially since the Toronto Marathon is on May 15th and I’m training five evenings a week, but it’s exciting.

At Ad Astra with the Stop Watch Gang

The Stop Watch Gang is a writers group that has already generated a lot of great published short stories.  I had a few beers with them last night at the Ad Astra SF convention and went to their reading , and I gotta say there’s a lot of talent in that group.

I’m betting there will be published novels from these writers in the near future.

But speaking of published: the second story I ever had published, Beer Truck, is now available for Kindle.  Take it for a spin, but keep in mind that the story is about people doing very dumb things, taking chances so huge that a Darwin Award is but one slippery grip away.  Don’t try this at home.

Will Authors Start Using the F-word to Generate Buzz?

For Marketing.  It seems the Charlie Sheen school of publicity has hit the indie publishing scene in a big way.  Author Jacqueline Howett took great exception to book blogger Big Al’s review of her indie novel.  Big Al’s crime?  He complained that the typos and grammar errors made the novel unreadable, although he apparently read all the way through and said that the story was actually good.

Keep in mind that this critique came from a man who reviews indie-published e-books as a preference, so he’s probably seen some typos and grammar errors in the past.  Even Amanda Hocking admits that she needs better editors, which is one of the reasons she signed that seven-figure deal with St. Martins.

But Howett’s response was scripted out of a road rage incident with a drunk driver.  She says Big Al didn’t download the re-formatted novel AS SHE ORDERED!  Wow! Who orders around a reviewer who does this job for free?

But the crazy part is that big Al wasn’t complaining about the formatting, but the grammar and the sentence structure.  He gave examples that she didn’t refute; in fact, she claimed there was nothing wrong with her writing.

Now here’s the scary part: after this exchange began her sales spiked.  I guess people were curious to see the train wreck.  I wonder if it was intentional that she dropped the f-bomb in the comments of Big Al’s blog after that.  Twice she stated, “F–k You!” in response to comments.

I checked her Amazon ranking and it’s actually at 41,000.  Way down from the top 1000, yes, but higher than it apparently deserves.  Given the multiple bad reviews, I’m guessing it should be down around the 100,000 level.

So I have to decide: would I go rude and ballistic to make a name for myself?  No.  I just can’t do it.  I was raised to be polite and respectful–especially to people who are doing me a favor.  I’d rather be known as courteous by a few than as an asshole by many.  Oops.  That just slipped out.

 

A Warning for Self-e-published Authors

I prefer not to simply publish links to other people’s content on this blog, but this warning from Amanda Hocking was aimed right at me.

She’s done what I want to do: e-self-published through Amazon and Smashwords, and she’s making thousands a month doing it.  She’s snagged an agent.  She’s making a good living as an author.

But she warns here that she knows another author, J. L. Bryan, who doesn’t sell as well even though he is a good writer and performs the same marketing moves that she does.

The warning is clear.  Even if the writing, promotion and cover are all great, your book might languish simply because you didn’t strike a cord, hit the right topic or simply didn’t appeal to the reading public.

It’s all a big gamble.  Just ask a traditional publisher.  Luckily with e-books, the upfront costs aren’t as huge as print books.