Friday, December 23, 2011

Friends & Flash Fiction

I've been dabbling in flash fiction as an exercise. To increase the challenge, I decided to begin each attempt with a sentence provided by someone else.

I tackled using writing prompts found online, but for some reason they didn't jog me enough. When you're provided a list of a hundred first sentences or prompts and can pick and choose which one to utilize, it's easy to just glance at a prompt, say, "Nope! Can't think of anything for it." and move on to the next. Plus, the fact that some random person posted a random prompt for anyone to use makes it so . . . impersonal. I felt no desire to meet the challenge.

So I tried something different. I asked friends to each provide the first sentence of a story. When the replies came in, my brain finally chugged into action. These were prompts by people who knew me. They were curious to see what I came up with, thus providing me with accountability. They produced prompts specifically for Paul Maitrejean. All these factors gave me undeniable drive to accomplish the mission.

Sure enough: Despite work, kids, a pregnant wife, and other family drama, I managed to churn out roughly one short story a day. The friends who provided the prompts got a kick out of seeing their sentences turned into full stories. And I had a blast while building literary muscle.

I might end up making this a semi-regular practice.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Breaking From The Norm

On a whim, I whipped up a very short short story this morning.

I'm not sure if I'll do anything with it, but it was a fun exercise, and of course I derived satisfaction from getting to the end of the tale and wrapping it up. When one works on longer stories, one gets a little tired of writing, writing, writing, and not seeing the end.

If nothing else, it was a break from the norm and a way to flex my writing muscles a bit. Breaking out of a groove can be quite inspiring.

And this story was a real break from normal writing for me. Crime scene, cops, FBI, and . . . well, another element that I thought I would never employ in my writing but -- tada! -- just did. I won't go into too many details just in case I do decide to make it available in one form or another.

So, fellow writers -- what have YOU written that was a huge break from the norm for you? I'm curious to read your reply!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Writing, Inspiration, and Hobbits

Inspiration is a fickle mistress. Which may be thought by some to be a good thing, considering I'm married and all.

But seriously, the tough part about trying to consistently turn out a specific word-count quota is maintaining the frame of mind necessary to do so. Writers rely on their brains functioning on a certain creative level. Unless we want to become relegated to the "starving artist" class, we can't just sit at our computers waiting for inspiration to return from its vacation and possess us like a Charismatic Holy Spirit experience. Though when inspiration DOES strike, we are inclined to jump up and shout, "Hallelujah!"

But it's rare and fleeting.

In between these erratic bouts of painless creativity, we moan and sweat and sigh and labor. The very thought of typing one word sounds about as attractive as going on a date with with a serial killer. But unless we soldier on, that cursor isn't going to expel any words. The keys need our fingers, the fingers need our brains, our brains need the sheer will of knowing that it MUST write, and cannot rely on a muse to show up whenever we summon it.

For me it raises images of Frodo Baggins dragging himself up Mount Doom. He represents our project, exhausted, dragged down by the weight of all that is expected of it. But when he finally collapses, good ol' Sam Gamgee steps in and bodily hauls him up the steepening slope. Sam represents our will power and the knowledge that our project will never get done by itself. It needs that extra push, even if it is painful and exhausting and often downright irritating.

Huh. I like that imagery.

Excuse me while I head off to my word processor to save Middle Earth.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Epic Freebie Sales -- Yay?

I should be pretty excited.

Since I made it available on Smashwords a couple of months ago, my fantasy short, "Vessa's Grave" has seen over 50 downloads! Coolness, huh?

Here's the kicker: It's free. So people are downloading it without a moment's hesitation because, if it turns out they don't like it, they aren't out anything. Or it's as simple as liking that they don't have to break out their Visa to obtain it.

As for my short supernatural thriller, "Devil's Creek" -- well, let's just say the vast majority of the downloads at this point are by reviewers. And they get the book free.


Marketing something with any price tag, no matter how low or high the price, is a beast.

I'm sure if I were Stephanie Meyer I would have next to no problem selling my latest OMG-my-boyfriend's-a-vampire story.

So what gives?

Simply, very few people know who Paul Maitrejean is, let alone have read his work. How many people are willing to take a chance on an indie ebook writer when they could click a couple of pages over to buy the latest release from an established author they know and trust? Very few.

A writer needs a reputation to hook readers, but can't build a reputation without readers. Another of the writing career's great Catch-22's.

That's why the freebie is out there. I hope someone eventually likes my writing enough they decide to shell out a couple of bucks for the non-freebie. That's why I'm making my non-freebie available to reviewers. That's why I plug both my freebie and non-freebie. Eventually someone will read it, love it, and rave about it. And gradually more people will love and rave. And from there the numbers could exponentially increase.

And then I'll sell lots and lots of books, and I'll be able to write full time, and everyone will be waiting eagerly for my next great work, and . . . and . . . and . . .

Reality can be a drag, can't it?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Don't Worry, Be Happy (If Humanly Possible)

One of my biggest hindrances to writing regularly and prolifically is not the age-old nemesis known lovingly as "Writer's Block", but rather my mindset. Usually family issues, such as an argument with my wife or a run-in with the in-laws, completely stalls the production of writing juices.

What's interesting is that other stress-inducing factors -- finances, kids, deadlines for anything -- usually don't slow me down. In fact, somehow they spur me. The only thing that really, truly bogs me down is tension within the family unit.

I guess that's a good thing. I want to write. I want to be productive in string sentences together and packaging them into works (I hope) other people will read. I want to churn out fiction faster than a politician. Thus, I want to keep my relationships good.

Of course, that's not my only reason for working to maintain an emotionally healthy family life. I just like to get along with people. And I love my family. And shoot, I gotta keep my wife happy simply because I gotta LIVE with the woman (you know I love you, babe)!

But if writing for a living is my great dream, then I can only hope to achieve it by keeping my home happy, loving, and secure.

If I pull it off, everybody wins.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Writer's Block, Schmiter's Schmock

I've decided writer's block is, nine times out of ten, just a lame excuse for laziness.

Ouch. I'm sure there are folks out there who think I'm being snobbish or harsh, but let me add I'm being harsh to myself as well in the above statement.

Let's face it: Usually when writer's block strikes, the writer/sufferer has reached a scene in the story that is particularly difficult. Or they are having a hard time figuring out how to connect Scene A to Scene D. Or the plot has gotten so tangled the writer just can't seem to find a way to unravel it.

That's where a simple yet painful solution presents itself: Just plow ahead. Go ahead and keep writing. Yeah, you'll write crap, but you can go back and fix crap later. More often than not, just forging ahead will bring you to a solution sooner than you anticipate. It's just a lot of effort at first.

Think about this, too: Usually, when you really blast ahead on your writing, you're writing a scene or scenes that are exciting, cool. You enjoy writing them. And it would stand to reason that readers will find those scenes cool as well. But what about the scenes that stop you dead in your tracks? Most often they're scenes that aren't as interesting, maybe even scenes you've been dreading. Well, if you can't enjoy writing the scene, it's likely your readers will have just as much difficulty reading it.

The fix? Go ahead, tackle the scene, get it over with. Yeah, it'll be awful. For now, who cares? Make a note to redo it later, then keep on to the fun stuff. But in the meantime, ponder that irksome scene. Why was it so horrible? How can you make it better? What role does it play in the story? What twists and hooks and teasers can you insert to make readers salivate? When you're in the right frame of mind, break the scene down and reshape and recast it. Your story is your clay. Don't let it get the best of you -- you're the potter. You call the shots.

I'm writing this to myself as much as to everyone else. There are so many times I've caught myself wallowing in the throes of "I can't do it", and I've had to slap myself silly and send myself back to the front lines of the battle.

Have there been legitimate causes for writer's block? Sure. But as I said, nine times out of ten, "writer's block" is just a cool term we use for "giving up".

Write a poem. Take a walk. Play with the kids. Mow the lawn. Read a book. Then come back and give that "writer's block" a whoopin'.

Okay, I'm done with the pep talk. Time to get some writing done.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Marketing And Volume

There are so many people out there who make their living exclusively by writing fiction. Man, would I love to be one of those people!

The trick with this is surmounting the fact that fiction pays peanuts in comparison to nonfiction (unless you're Stephen King, which I'm not). How is that possible? Two factors: Marketing and volume.

Marketing is a given no matter what you write. In this era, some of the lousiest works make it to the bestseller lists due to marketing, despite being nigh unreadable. Quality is not the biggest factor in determining success, though I do believe that it is essential if one wants to snag more discerning readers and appeal to a wider audience. Books don't sell themselves. They need marketing, and I'm talking unabashed, hardcore, persistent marketing. J. A. Konrath and Christopher Paolini, among others, are testaments to this. Too many writers write a book, publish it, and then sit back to let the dough roll in. That's not the way it works. Writing is the easy part.

Which brings us to volume. As I said before, fiction pays next to nothing in comparison to nonfiction. Which means if one is to make a living writing fiction, they need to churn out A LOT of it. Louis L'Amour, R. L. Stine, Issac Asimov, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and others are examples of guys who kept their fiction mills working constantly. And it paid off. They got to do what they loved AND make a decent living doing it.

So here I am, one of many, many dreamers who would give anything to be a full-time writer, working on increasing daily word count and jotting down story ideas despite jobs, kids, and daily demands, and studying marketing strategies in hopes of one day nailing the art.

Someday, I'll be writing a blog post or article about how I overcame all odds and became a career storyteller.

At least, so I hope. 

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"Devil's Creek" Available On Amazon!

Now I can officially say I'm official.

"Devil's Creek" has made its appearance on Amazon at last! I'm pretty excited about it, as I guess any author would be. Check it out HERE!

I've been in contact with author Laura Vosika ( -- mother to a herd of kids, music teacher, author, and ebook marketer extraordinaire -- and she was kind enough to throw a few tips my way. One of these was a nudge in the direction of posting "Devil's Creek" on Amazon. I hadn't known I could do it myself. I'm very excited and grateful for her bit(s) of advice. Be sure to check out her site!

Now it's time to move on to other aspects of marketing. A lot of work lies ahead . . .

Friday, November 18, 2011


Doesn't it look sweet? Of course, I may be slightly biased. But having an actual website, besides the blog and the Facebook page and the Twitter feed, makes me feel more official. Here, check it out for yourself.

At the moment it's just the basics of what I'm after, but eventually I'd like to add resources for readers and writers, as well as cool links and other stuff. So keep checking it out! (And do me a favor? When - er, if - you visit my webpage, click the Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ buttons near the top of the page. You'll do that for me? You will? Oh, you're the best. Thank you!)

In other news, my free ebook, "Vessa's Grave" has cleared all hurdles and is now on the verge of distribution to major ebook retailers such as Kobo, Sony, Apple, and others. Amazon is a mere possibility at this point -- if it happens, it won't be any earlier than this December. I'm keeping my fingers crossed. If you want to find out more regarding "Vessa's Grave", check out the page link in the black bar above.

Ah the thrills. I may need to get out more.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Story Ingredients

A nerd, a punk, a jock, a highschool football star, and the star's girlfriend. Oh, and a Senator. That's the goofy blend I'm stirring for my current book-in-progress.

I love mixing characters together. It's just like cooking. You take a bunch of completely disparate ingredients and mix 'em together. Sometimes you do it with a specific goal in mind. Sometimes you do it just to see what you come up with. Sometimes ingredients work peacefully together and blend well. Sometimes they froth and hiss and bubble -- not liking the combination but still working together to make the recipe turn out.

And sometimes the combination fails entirely. You toss out the whole mess and start over.

My wife loves cooking, and I think she and anyone else who cooks can get this analogy.

Writing is the same way, I realize. You try mixing together certain characters, plot ideas, and other elements, and see what happens. When it works out, it's a delight. When it doesn't . . . hit "delete" and try again.

I wonder if I should start calling myself a cook. A story chef, perhaps? That sounds more impressive.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Death: Destructive Or Merciful?

I just got word of an eight-year-old boy in my area who suddenly died.

When his grandmother picked him up at school, he waved to his friends, ran to meet Grandma, and drove away. Everything seemed fine.

Two hours later, he was dead. His grandmother had noticed something was off and driven him to the emergency room, but whatever killed him acted too fast. He was dead by evening. Nobody knows why yet. I guess an autopsy might reveal something.

It's sad enough when that happens to an adult, but for a parent a story like that is not only sad -- it's terrifying. What if that were to happen to one of my children? What if there's some hidden killer lurking inside one of them, just waiting to strike, like a ticking time bomb? A heart defect -- a rogue virus -- an environmental hazard?

I have no idea how I'd handle it if something like that happened to one of my kids. I can't imagine the emotions of the little boy's parents and grandparents. And what about all the kids at school, wondering why he isn't attending anymore? How are they going to handle the news that their schoolmate is dead? I'm sure some will be scared -- some saddened -- some confused.

Somehow, the impact of a child's death seems to leave a bigger dent than the passing of an adult. Probably because the child had so much ahead, then was robbed of that future. Probably because we see children as the embodiment of vitality, and when death takes them it seems so wrong, like an oxymoron, a contradiction of what that child is supposed to be.

I think a child also stands as a symbol of innocence. Sometimes when an adult dies, we might say he asked for it through his lifestyle, or maybe even they were a bad person and society is now better off. But no child has asked for death, directly or indirectly. No child is so bad that their loss betters society.

On the other hand, there are other hypotheticals. What if the child's sudden death spared him something worse down the road -- like cancer? His death was quick. Cancer would have dragged on and on, accompanied by the tortures of radiation treatments and chemotherapy. Maybe . . . just maybe . . . that death, rather than being cruel and cheating, was a merciful thing.

We don't know. My optimistic side likes to hope that perhaps death sometimes spares us bad things. In the case of this little boy, perhaps death shielded him.

We'll never know.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

FREE EBOOK: "Vessa's Grave" Revamped

My first version of the FREE ebook, "Vessa's Grave" had a few formatting issues, and I wasn't overly happy with the original cover, so I took it down and tweaked it. I fixed some of the formatting issues, double checked the quality of the writing (since I was there anyway), and designed a brand spankin' new cover for it (above). I think it looks better.

For those of you who might be interested in checking it out (it's available for FREE), just check out the page on the black bar above labeled "FREE Download: VESSA'S GRAVE". Or you could click on the image above. Or you could click this LINK. And while you're checking it out, why not go ahead and download it? (Did I mention it's free?)

Feedback is always appreciated!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Relearning The Basics

Discovering all those little secrets about publicizing one's book or blog is awesome once the results begin.

A month ago, I had no idea about how to publicize a blog or an ebook. Now, thanks to the little proverbial diamonds of advice scattered amid the rough known lovingly as "Google", I have actually begun to make strides. It's pretty dang exciting.

Now I can proudly say that I have advanced from having no idea to having an inkling of a notion. Ebook publishing is still in its infancy, so most of the advice has come from the blogs of ebook writers who've been around this block before. Thank God for information volunteers!

When I was first getting into writing, ebooks were barely a concept, and "conventional" publishing was the only way to go. In my search for information, I purchased a plethora of books from Writer's Digest Book Club, devoured them, and learned like mad. Information was easily obtained and seemingly everywhere. But now that I've ventured into the ebook realm, information is scarce. For the most part, the things I learned about publishing previously barely apply to ebooks. I'm learning all over again.


But now that I'm applying all this cool stuff I've learned, things are starting to look up.

I might be able to master this thing after all!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Ebooks: Fad Or Future?

When people I talk to finally figure out exactly what ebooks are, they look at me askance.

Given the quick publication time and that ebooks are actually digital files instead of, well, books, they question that publishing an ebook is really publishing at all. One individual even called it "cheating".

Is ebook writing/publishing cheating, or a legitimate venue for authors? Is it just some passing craze, or an actual revolution in the way we read and inform or entertain ourselves?

I've been mulling this over for some time, and here's my thought on the matter.

The goal of publication is to be read and/or make money. Publication is not strictly relegated by definition to paper books with covers and bindings. Publication is a means by which you make your work available to the public. Ebooks accomplish the same thing, only through a different medium. The absence of paper doesn't make ebooks a form of corner-cutting or system-bucking.

Ebooks are here, and they're here to stay. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are recognizing this fact, not only selling ebooks but even devices on which to read them -- the Kindle and the Nook. More and more readers are discovering ebooks and loving that they can carry an entire library in their pocket or purse. Titles that cost $20 to $30 on the shelf can be purchased as an ebook for a fraction of that price. In times of economic pinch, buying a new book to read has become less costly.

Does this mean ebooks will overwhelm paper books to the point of extinction? I highly doubt it. Many people still prefer reading print rather than pixels -- myself included -- and let's face it: Nothing beats the feel and smell of a brand new book fresh off the bookstore shelf. What I see in the future is a happy coexistence between the two media. At this point, people just have to adjust.

And adjust they will. People laughed at Henry Ford's loud, obnoxious horseless carriage. Now everybody owns an automobile. Today, folks sneer at or suspiciously eye the ebook. Soon enough, society will accept it as normal and legitimate.

I intend to hop aboard the ebook train while I can, before the crowds and the long lines. I see a bright, profitable future for ebooks, and I want to be in it.

Maybe I'm cheating by cutting to the front.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Birthdays and Ebooks

Wow, it's been a while since I posted anything here.

That's not to say I've been idle. Far from it. This is the time of year in our family when a whole bunch of birthdays converge in a manner similar to a pileup on a freeway. So there are people to celebrate, gifts to give and receive, and all the rest of the joys that come along with it.

I noticed a long time ago that LOTS of people are born in November. Lots. And I have a theory on that. If you count back nine months from November, you land on February -- and we all know what loving holiday nestles itself squarely in the middle of February. Thus, I theorize that the majority of November babies are the result of their parents celebrating Valentine's Day.

It's just a theory, mind you, but I like to think it's plausible.

Anyway, birthdays aren't all that's kept me busy. In the midst of the turmoil I have also released "Devil's Creek", a supernatural suspense story. Personally, I think it's one of my better works, but of course that's up to the readers to decide. I might be a bit biased, it being my baby and all. CHECK IT OUT HERE. It's only 99 cents (at the moment) so grab it while you can! And be sure to let me know what you think.

And on that note, I must move on to contemplate the dilemma of November birthdays.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cheap Date

I'll admit it up front: I'm a man of simple pleasures.

I get a kick out of things to which most folks probably can't relate. Part of it may be that, aside from going to work, I don't get out a whole lot these days, thanks to having two kids under the age of three and a pregnant wife who (this time around) is constantly exhausted, in pain, and/or nauseated. So when I do get to enjoy something, it's usually pretty low-key stuff.

Like yesterday. I wrote over 2700 words on my most recent literary endeavor while waiting to punch in at work, on my breaks, and when I got home. That's despite having a little boy who's gotten into "crashing", which is his term for spinning around the room, flopping against me as hard as he can, bouncing off, and taking it personally if he hurts himself.

2700 words. 2711, to be exact. I think it's a pretty big deal. My wife and my brother, when I bragged to them, nodded and smiled and gave me a "Wow, that's awesome" -- the same way you praise and agree with an insane person so he won't go ballistic and hurt somebody.

Some folks just can't relate.

It's a good feeling though, when you're writing fiction and you surpass the 1000-word mark. Typically, writing more than a couple hundred words can be a massive labor. So when you nail 2700, you feel like you've been flying. It means the story is coming together. The characters are working out their kinks. The dialogue is flowing better. Plot lines are evolving and moving forward without any major issues. And you're that much closer to typing "THE END".

It's great. Time to celebrate . . . Maybe treat myself to a little down time with closed eyes, music, and a pair of headphones.

But only for a little bit. When the story is flowing like that, a writer needs to ride the wave as long as possible.


Thursday, October 27, 2011

Spin City

19th century humorist Henry Wheeler Shaw once said, "About the most originality that any writer can hope to achieve honestly is to steal with good judgment."

Ain't that a fact.

Even Hollywood, with an army of writers and directors and creators and producers, can't seem to come up with anything original anymore. All the really, truly, genuinely unique plots and concepts have apparently been exhausted. I have no idea what they're gonna do once they run the superhero genre into the ground like an overworked racehorse.

But I digress . . .

Writers of fiction sit in a whirlwind of ideas. We can pluck any one of them out of the air, and one can bet, dollars to donuts, that someone, somewhere, at some point, has beaten us to the punch and used that idea already. All we can do is take that idea and put a whole new twist to it. The fiction art has been reduced to producing twists rather than new ideas.

A World War II novel? Already been done. But what if mutant turnips took over Nazi Germany and threatened to destroy humanity altogether, and mankind's only hope was to put aside their differences and band together? Hmm . . . The turnip part may be a bit over the top, but the rest of it? It could go somewhere.

But I still think there's hope. Reality is not restricted by the limitations of our feeble mortal minds. Reality is an unending source of events we could never dream up on our own. It's packed with idea sources for storytellers. The one catch is that the adage, "Truth is stranger than fiction" holds true. Sometimes things happen in real life that would never work in fiction because it just isn't believable. Life is full of coincidences. Fiction has little or no tolerance for coincidences.

So is it worth the pain to sweat and agonize over what is ultimately a different spin on a hackneyed plot? I think so. More often than not, people will recognize that they've read or watched this story somewhere before and bemoan the lack of originality these days. But when we writers manage to disguise the story in twist and spin and angle until the reader sees a rare gem rather than old clothes, the sense of accomplishment outweighs the disappointment.

So, failing originality, I'll settle for spin.

Concerning Dragons

My two-(nearly three)-year-old son, Justin, has a penchant for creating fiction. I'm actually quite proud of him. He'll declare all sorts of amazing and impossible happenings, and of course, my wife and I play along.

His latest fetish has been dragons. He'll come running into the room, an expression of alarm on his face. "A dragon's coming! A dragon's coming!"

We then all cover our eyes, because, as Daddy taught him, the best way to hide is to cover your own eyes -- if you can't see them, they can't see you. (For some reason it works only with dragons. Mama and Daddy can find him right away. It's a parental superpower.) After a while, he'll inform us that the dragons are gone. We uncover our eyes and life returns to normal until the next dragon attack.

I've learned a lot about dragons in the past weeks. Dragons subsist exclusively on fish and pizza. They don't like hot dogs. They come through holes in the wall. They live in the water.

I encourage this safari of the imagination. When his TV consumption is limited to about 30 minutes or so a day, it blossoms. He's learning his letters and their sounds very well, and his vocabulary expands daily. All these factors could culminate in the creation of a great storyteller. Daddy would be proud.

Of course, that's all assuming he restricts his storytelling abilities to telling admitted pieces of fiction. Lately he's discovered another use for his newfound ability.

"Justin . . . do you need to go potty?"


Thy smell betrays thee, kiddo.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pride and Publishing

I recently read an exchange of emails between a publisher and a hopeful author. Essentially, the author submitted a manuscript, and the publisher responded with a personal (not automated) "thanks for your submission, but as our website says, we're closed to submissions at this time."

At which point the author completely lost it. He responded in an obscene tirade and threatened to report them to Preditors and Editors if they didn't apologize.


Anyway, this got me thinking.

Rejection is part of the whole "getting published" thing, right? Most of us writers have reconciled ourselves with that fact. We quickly learn how to take rejection if we're truly serious about our craft. We learn that what we may think is the next Great American Novel may be a horrid piece of drivel to an editor. We learn that doors shut in our faces. A lot of doors. We learn that we don't demand that publishers pick up our manuscripts --we beg and grovel and cajole in as professional a manner as possible.

Those of us who understand this learn humility. Prima donnas don't make it into the publishing world. We only make it if we realize the publishing system is anything but author-centric.

This guy who flipped out at rejection? My bet is he isn't gonna get anywhere. Even if his manuscript does see acceptance someplace, I doubt he'd be able to handle the editorial requests. And any criticism of his book (which he's bound to face)? Ha! I wouldn't want to be anywhere near him.

Writers who make it can be rightfully proud of where they've gotten. But without a huge sense of humility, they couldn't have done it at all.

True writers know exactly what humility is.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Motivational Hatred

I don't like complainers. I really don't. Well, let me rephrase that: I hate the complaining, not the complainer.

Nevertheless, today I'm gonna complain: Just a TINY bit. So bear with me. There's a point, I promise.

I get up well before the sun every day, including weekends -- which isn't so bad until winter rolls around. Even then it isn't much to grumble over until I have to bundle up, scrape frost off the windshield, let the car warm up, and deal with winter the rest of the day.

Then it's an issue.

I passionately hate winter. Yes, I know I live in Wisconsin, where it's winter four to six months out of the year and should be an accepted part of my life -- but I hate it.

(Don't go! The whining is over. I promise.)

This motivates me. I utilize my dislike for arctic weather to get my rear in gear and write. A lot. If I can just get enough income from my writing endeavors so I can flip off the rat race, stay home, and compose endlessly, I will be a happy man. Winter can bring its worst. I'll just stock up in October and hibernate til April.

So my hatred is a useful hatred... a motivator. I want to make money in such a fashion that letting the car warm up only happens when I actually WANT to go somewhere. I could laugh at icy roads. Going to work in December would consist of donning a comfy robe and slippers, making a mug of hot chocolate, wearing headphones playing inspiring music, and getting to work on the latest literary endeavor.

I would finally agree with the lunatic who wrote "Let It Snow".

And I could dislike complaining without being hypocritical. I think everyone would like that.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Digital Scribe

A lot of writers, especially in the less-digital eras preceding this, have written their story ideas on whatever came to hand while away from their computers: Napkins, backs of documents, envelopes, and other disparate (and often desperate) items. Some of the more prepared individuals carried pocketsized notebooks with them wherever they went, so they could jot down ideas, scenes, and other such items when the muse assaulted them.

I was a notebook-carrier. I still am, to be honest. But that notebook functions as backup when my main note-taking and story-writing companion dies.

What is this companion, you ask?

My smartphone, of course.

No, seriously. With a slide-out keyboard and the right apps, I do A LOT of writing on my phone, especially when on break at work or away from my trusty laptop. In fact, I think I can honestly say I do at least 75% of my writing with my phone. I even update this blog with my phone. This very post, in fact, was written and uploaded with my phone.

And it's really great, because it saves so many headaches. When you write a note on paper, you have to tuck it away where it won't get lost before you can transcribe it. And then, of course, is the hassle of transcribing. Gotta type the whole stinkin' thing all over again.

With my phone, I use an app called SpringPad. I save my writing in a SpringPad file. Then, when I get home to my computer, I log onto and find the file. Copy the text, paste it into my word processor file, and bingo! All done.

Technology can be a writer's best friend.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Out Of Breath

One of the things I love about a good adventure novel or thriller is the escalation.

The story starts with a problem. The characters must solve the problem. As they work to solve the problem, it evolves and builds into a bigger and bigger dilemma through a series of new developments, failures, mistakes, and sabotage. Like a snowball careening down a hill, the action and suspense grow and grow until finally, a mere chapter from the end of the book, the hero(s) avert the ultimate disaster that threatens to annihilate them all. And when the story ends you realize you've been holding your breath the entire time.

Good stuff.

That's the kind of fiction I like to write. But I've learned it's so much work. The original idea usually isn't good enough, so when you finish the first draft you have to go back, add scenes and thread and storylines, remove others, and make all sorts of things introduce themselves at the beginning and add together by the end to create a "wow" ending.

When I write stuff like that, I develop even more respect for authors such as Michael Crichton. Man, that guy could put a person on the edge of their seat and keep them teetering there. When I think of writing thrillers and adventure novels, that's the guy I point to and say, "I wanna be like him."

Usually, it involves putting the protagonist in a harrowing situation, then sitting back and wondering, "Hmm . . . how can I make the dilemma even worse?"

Reference my previous posting. I am very cruel to my characters. But that's the nature of the beast.

And the cool part is, once it's finished and all the strings come together, the author experiences quite the feeling of accomplishment.

Now to work on some pesky story threads . . . .

Friday, October 21, 2011

Nothin' Personal -- Jus' Good Bidness

I really fall in love with my characters, even the bad ones. I love getting together with them. They tell me what to do; they take me on a wild and wonderful trip.  -- Jackie Collins

I feel sorry for my characters.

That old saying that a writer becomes attached to his or her characters is true. The imaginary person takes on dimensions and traits and personalities that evolve over the course of the story, and by the time you get done you've come to appreciate the character as if he or she is a living, breathing person. As you type the last words of the manuscript, you experience an odd combination of regret that the story-journey is over and sadness that you may not ever get to work with this character again.

Unless the story becomes a series . . . but let's think realistically here.

But here's why I feel sorry for my characters.

I create them, sort of like God. I conceive them in my mind. I mold them out of the clay of my imagination. I set their life course with character sketches and plot lines. And then I set them free to follow their lives, to grow and develop.

But I'm also a cruel god to my characters. Without conflict, there is no story. And my characters encounter lots of conflict. I bash them around, frighten them, destroy their lives, send them into danger, maim them, make them fight each other, freeze them, cook them, starve them . . . and eventually (at least, in the case of many) kill them off. Only a few come through to see a happy ending, but not without going through a lot of misery beforehand.

I should actually feel guilt that I've been so mean. Relief that the ordeal is over for those who survived. Pity for the characters in my next work of fiction.

And sometimes, such as now, I do feel a certain amount of sympathy for what they go through.

I love them -- but I certainly have a funny way of showing it.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Conflict of Interests

By and large, I tend to read nonfiction far more often than fiction, especially in recent years. When I was a boy (and on through my early twenties), I devoured fiction of nearly every kind, mostly thrillers and fantasy, with a smattering of mysteries. I was up on most classic fiction -- heck, I even read War and Peace three times. But now that I'm older and my priorities have shifted, I'm far more apt to read nonfiction.

This in itself isn't strange. What's strange is that, while consistently reading nonfiction of late, I continue to write fiction. They say you're supposed to read what you write. If you write scifi, read scifi. If you write chicklit, read chicklit. If you write about cosmic marshmallow unicorns jumping through holes in the universe, read about cosmic marshmallow unicorns jumping through holes in the universe.

I have ignored this cardinal rule.

Well then, why don't I write nonfiction?

Here's the trick with nonfiction: In order to market and sell most nonfiction, the writer should have what is known as a "platform". For example, if I were to write about tumors in parakeets, I would be able to sell the book if I were a vet or ornithologist who lived with the parakeets in the spirit of Jane Goodall and made their tumors my object of study for ten years or so.

But I haven't, so I couldn't sell a book like that.

The nonfiction books I want to write would require a career in politics, a degree in history, and/or a position of theological eminence. I have none of these. I am not Sarah Palin, Stephen Ambrose, or Joel Osteen. Thus, were I to write such books, I would be unable to market them with much credibility.

So fiction remains.

Not that I resent being relegated by circumstance to the creation and sale of fiction. While I may not spend much time reading it of late, I do enjoy writing it. It's an escape from the real world that, to be honest, nonfiction does not provide.

I like escaping reality on occasion.

Making a career out of it wouldn't be so bad.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frozen Assets

If every single book, short story, or article I ever wrote was published, I'd be a happy man.

Anyone who's ever tackled writing (successfully or unsuccessfully) knows what I mean. They likely have file folders and boxes filled with manuscripts that saw anywhere from quarter- to full-completion, then went into indefinite retirement under the bed. If all those works were published, Stephen King would be scrambling to keep up his reputation as a prolific author.

But reality is different.

. . . Dang it.

I was once a firm believer in the philosophy that, once you finish the first draft of a manuscript, you should put it away somewhere and let it "freeze" for a week -- at least. That way, when you return to edit, it's not as engrained in your brain. You're less apt to consider each word your baby, more apt to cut, slash, eliminate, and redo.

For me, the concept works great in theory.

In execution, it's more like this: The manuscripts I put away to "freeze" usually experience an Ice Age of Hoth-esque proportions.

And then, once (if) I break out the old manuscripts again with a mind toward completing them, the plots are so ancient I feel like I'm trying to rollerblade on a gravel road. I have to spend time refamiliarizing myself with the story and its concepts... and these days time is too precious a commodity.

No more "freezing" for this guy. Pick a project, stick with it, finish it.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Headed Off At The Pass

I don't let myself get carried away by my own ideas - I abandon 19 out of 20 of them every day.  -- Gustav Mahler

For the longest time, I was tossing around an idea for a series of paranormal stories. The concept seemed really cool. A young lady who could see and communicate with the dead. Ghosts that remained in this world due to unfinished business, crossing to the other side when things were set right. Bad guys from the spiritual plane wreaking havoc and terror on the physical. There was more to it, of course, but that was the idea in a nutshell.

Then my wife talked me into getting Netflix, and for kicks and grins we started watching Ghost Whisperer.

Boy, talk about an eye-opener.

A young lady who can see and communicate with the dead. Ghosts that remain in the world due to unfinished business, crossing to the other side when things are set right. Bad guys from the spiritual plane wreaking havoc and terror on the physical. 

Frickin' frackin' . . .

Granted, my version gave out far less of the chick flick vibe and had a far darker undertone; the characters were different and the setting was Wisconsin -- but still. If I had continued with my big idea, editors would have nodded and said, "Uh-huh. This guy is a Ghost Whisperer junkie."

Nose dive into the slush pile. (Do they even have slush piles anymore in the new dawn of the electronic era?)

Mind you, this doesn't mean I'm scrapping the idea altogether. I just need to find a unique angle to it, something people will notice far sooner than the subtle Jennifer Love Hewitt echoes. I just have to rethink, revamp, and redo.

Still, it's frustrating. The fact that they made a pretty successful TV series out of the idea tells me I'm onto something.

We'll see what happens.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Back In The Saddle . . .

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. -- Ernest Hemingway

Writing can't be a feasible aspect in one's life unless it takes a certain amount of priority. Thus it was, when I was single, I could write until the keys threatened to rattle off my keyboard and no amount of Visine could hide the fact that I was staring at a computer screen for hours every day.

But then I got married and had kids. Writing gradually moved further and further to the bottom of my "Important Things To Do" list. Pretty soon it felt as though writing was something I did in a previous life, something I vaguely remembered doing. I rarely attended writers group meetings -- I still rarely attend, thanks to having two young boys and a pregnant wife.

But now that I've made the step into the publication world, that priority has shifted a little closer to where it was in my bachelor days.

However, there's one little problem. Now that I've been out of the game for so long, I simply sit and stare at the blank page on my word processor, watching the little cursor endlessly blink. This is tough. I need to get back into writing mode.

Of course, I find little excuses here and there. I have to work on my author's website. My publisher needs input on the cover art of my upcoming novella. A diaper needs changing. A book needs reading. Facebook needs updating. The lawn needs mowing . . .

And the little cursor continues to blink, waiting for me to write something . . . ANYTHING!

It's time to relearn how to lose myself in the world of fiction writing. Practice makes perfect.

Dude . . . I swear that cursor just skipped a blink.

Cover Design For "WARD" -- Fresh From The Artist!

After a great deal of back-and-forth with the designer, a great cover design for my adventure novella, Ward, has been released. Many kudos to David Bowman of Bluewood Publishing!

Once the editorial process has been completed, a release date will be determined. Stay tuned!