Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Case of the Haunted Vampire is Published!

I know this blog has been dead for several month. My coaching business has been very busy (in a good way), and my fiction writing has suffered for it. However, I had set a goal to get The Case of the Haunted Vampire published before Christmas, and I just made it!

The cover was professionally designed, and I'm very happy with it! The book was professionally edited, and I think she did a great job too.

Here's the Amazon link

To celebrate the release, I'm going to give away 15 free copies. All you have to do is comment on the blog, with your email address and the format you prefer. Mobi for Kindle or Epub for almost every other reader. If you goof and ask for the wrong format, just email me back, and I'll get you the right one.

First 10 comments get the book automatically. All other comments will go into a hat, and I'll draw 5 names on Christmas Day for the other giveaways.

Don't worry. I will not harvest your email addresses for any other purpose. If you want to be on a list for future releases, let me know, but otherwise, I won't send you any more messages after the free copy. If you are uncomfortable with leaving your email on my blog, comment below and then email me at, and you'll still be eligible.

I think that covers everything.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back In the Saddle

I realize I've let this blog lapse for a while. I had a lot going on, most of it not conducive to writing. But I'm back and working on the books again.

I sent The Case of the Lost Werewolf Puppy to beta readers and an online critique group, and the reactions have been interesting. Overall, readers have liked it. I've received some excellent suggestions to make the book stronger, and I'm looking forward to sitting down and making some changes.

But I noticed an interesting trend in the critiques. Several people warned me about "info dumping" in the first chapter. It's a fair comment. This is the second in a series, and I do need to introduce the characters and get readers who may not have read the first story up to speed. I tried to do this by interspersing background information and asides by Dafydd to fill in important information. I do think I will go back and look at what really needs to be there as opposed to what can probably come out or be introduced later.

So, good comment. However, the ones who criticized me for info dumping also requested more information! Seriously, readers can't have it both ways. You can't tell a writer, in the same critique, to both take out and add more!

Part of the problem is I could only submit the first chapter to the group. If a reader wanted the entire book, they had to request it directly from me, and not everyone wanted to take the time to read the entire book, which I respected.

But it still made for an odd juxtaposition of comments.

Until next week, then! Back to writing on the latest installment, which finally has a title! The Case of Old Acquaintances. Intrigued at all?

Thursday, August 4, 2011

I'm Improving As A Writer

You know how all those books on writing tell you that the way to get better as a writer is to, well, write?

Yes, I believed them. I mean, it made sense. The more you practice any skill, the better you are likely to be at it. But now I'm seeing the difference that regular writing makes. This year, I've written over 110,000 words of fiction. That doesn't include blog posts or anything else. That's just fiction. And it's only August.

I've never written that much fiction in such a short period of time, and I can see the difference its making in my writing.

I just re-read The Case of the Lost Werewolf Puppy, and it's better than Haunted Vampire, even taking into account that Werewolf Puppy is a first draft. The writing is cleaner. Characterization is better. Description is better. Everything is just better. Once I edit it, the differences will be even clearer. That doesn't make Haunted Vampire bad. It just means I'm improving. Haunted Vampire is definitely good enough to publish.

There were five scenes in Werewolf Puppy that had me worried. Three were fight scenes. One was a ritual casting, and the other was the first introduction to Lounge 201, the vampire bar. Fight scenes used to give me trouble. I'd write and rewrite them and still think they sounded lame. None of the scenes were lame. They need work, but only cosmetic stuff. The final fight scene actually had me tense up, and I wrote the darned thing, so I knew what happened!

The scene at Lounge 201 surprised me. I did some things with description and character actions that I'd forgotten. I think I did a good job setting the mood, which was important. That entire scene was about mood and posturing. I'd never written a scene like it, and I'm pleased with the result.

As for the ritual casting? It took me four days to write that scene, and I hated every  minute. I was sure it sucked. I mean really sucked. When I re-read it, I thought it wasn't too bad. I'll get better at writing them in the future, but it was decent.

So what I'm learning is that writing new kinds of scenes isn't hard. Dialogue has always come easy for me. Action scenes are getting easier. Mood pieces are possible to get right the first time. It feels good to be learning my craft.

Oh, one more result of regular writing. I'm getting faster. Earlier this year, it took me about an hour and half to write 1,500 words. I thought that was pretty good. Now I've got it down to about an hour for 1,500 words. To put that in perspective, I just finished reading a book on writing. The author, who writes full time, sets a daily goal of 1,500-3,000 words. It takes him about 5-6 hours to produce that. I can hit his low-end goal in about an hour. Not bad. I do it by being ruthless about not stopping. I don't edit as I go. Ever. I just keep moving forward. The only time I'll let myself look back in the manuscript it to check a fact. And I don't let myself edit (except for maybe adding a missing piece of punctuation or correcting an obvious typo).

If you're a writer, I'd love to have you share what you've learned from regular writing.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Excerpt from The Case of the Lost Werewolf Puppy

As promised last week, here's an excerpt, showing how I use Dafydd and his non-cambat magics in combat. This is still a draft, so any comments are welcomed!


"We've got company," Paul said.

I looked again. Still nothing. "Where?"

The word had barely left my mouth when two things happened, almost simultaneously. One, I heard a low, menacing growl, maybe 20 feet from me. Two, Paul picked me up and threw me, hard. I must have flown 30 feet, in the opposite direction from the growl.

I hit the ground and skidded several more feet. If I'd had a bit more warning, I might have been able to turn my skidding slide into a controlled roll, but as it was, I hit my head and saw stars for a moment. I forced myself to shake it off, knowing, even in my confusion, that I didn't dare stay down for long. Paul was good, but I didn't know how many there were, and I couldn't rely on him to protect me.

Forcing my legs to work, I scrambled behind a nearby dumpster--Paul had good aim and presence of mind—and, hidden for a moment, glanced around to see what was attacking us.

My heart sank when I saw my friend fighting three large wolves.

Have you ever been to the wolf enclosure at the zoo? You might think you have an inkling of what I saw. Zoo wolves have a wildness about them, even in captivity. They pace back and forth, with a smooth motion that you just know could spring into a hunting charge at any moment. They look dangerous, and, on an instinctive level, humans respond to that by keeping their distance.

Let me tell you that there is about as much similarity between zoo wolves and these creatures as between a wolf and a poodle. Sure, similar species. Fur and fangs. That sort of thing. But wild wolves are tame house pets in comparison to these.

In the first place, the three creatures attacking Paul were almost half again as large as even a big wolf, almost all of it muscle. Their fur was long, shaggy and looked like it would offer decent protection, even against small arms fire. And the way they moved? Pure killing power. I've read that man is the top predator on Earth. No way. These things were way above us.

Fortunately, vampires are also above us on the predator scale, and for the moment, Paul was holding his own. He whirled with easy grace, his claws extended to slash first one wolf, than another. While I'm certain he could have handled two with relative ease, three were too much. As he tossed one wolf aside with what looked like a casual back-handed blow, another slid underneath his guard and snapped at his ankles, aiming to hamstring the vampire. Paul twisted at the last minute, and dropped one leg to catch the blow on his thigh. Then he glided to one side, positioning himself so that he faced all three wolves. He was facing in my direction, and I knew he was trying to keep their attention on him and off me.

I appreciated the effort, but I could see he wouldn't last long. Another wolf timed his motion to slash at Paul's side, and the vampire gasped, loud enough for me to hear, even from 30 or so feet away.

Time for me to get into things. Normally, I'm not the kind to get into a dust up like this, but ever since I met Paul, I knew I was going to have to be prepared to get physical, so I've been working on some things I can do quickly. First, I reached into my coat pocket and pulled out a potion. Keeping an eye on the fight, I unscrewed the bottle top and gulped it down. (In case you were curious, small water bottles are a great way to carry around potions. Much better than the glass vials used in most high fantasy novels.)

I felt the effects almost immediately. My vision sharpened. Sounds were clearer, and I could hear the hitching breath of one of the wolves Paul had wounded. The night air moving on my skin felt like it had weight. I nodded. Good. It worked the way I'd hoped.

I pulled out another bottle and yelled, "Paul. Heads-up!"

He truly is amazing. While still holding off three wolves, he hopped back, putting a few feet between himself and the furred buzz saws. I threw the bottle, trusting my enhanced reflexes and senses to get it moving in the right direction.

Paul did the rest. With one hand, he slashed through the foreleg of one of the wolves. It yelped and hobbled to one side, out for the moment. The biggest wolf leaped for Paul's throat, but the vampire spun one way in a quick feint and then reversed the other way, leaving the big wolf off balance.

The bottle flew, one end over another, seemingly in slow motion, closer to the fray with each rotation.

The final wolf saw it and changed direction, hind legs bunching for a leap.

I yelled. "Hey! Fur face. Over here."

The wolf's head moved to look at me, and I grinned, catching his gaze directly. I tamped down my fear, letting none of it show in my eyes or expression.

It shifted its weight slightly, preparing to leap in my direction.

The bottle rotated once. Twice. Three more times.

Paul dodged the big wolf, slashed at the smaller, which had recovered and jumped back to attack.

The bottle spun again.

Paul reached out with his right hand and caught it neatly. With a smooth motion, he lifted the bottle to his lips, and, not bothering to open it, sank his fangs into the smooth plastic and drank it down.

Immediately, his motions were faster, and his strikes had more power behind them. I nodded. Now he'd be fine. Especially since he only had two wolves to deal with. The other was just starting to leap my way.

But I'd planned to draw off one of them, so I was ready for it. I reached back into my pocket and drew out a small container. I held it ready. The wolf leaped, and it was moving fast. Without my potion, I'd never have been able to follow the movement, much less react. Under the influence of my magic however, the wolf's leap was in slow motion, and I was able to time to action for the top of its arc.

I actually moved closer to the wolf, wanting to show it that I wasn't afraid (even though I was), and needing the distance to be just right.

When the wolf was in position, I held up my container and triggered it.

I'd timed it just right. The spray hit it directly in the eyes, like I'd wanted. I jumped back as the wolf let out an anguished howl. It's precise leap devolved into a helpless tumble, and it fell, hard on one side. If it hadn't been so big, its whimpering would have sounded pitiful.

I smiled as I ducked back behind the protection of the dumpster. I held my pepper spray container in front of me, ready to hit it again.

It continued the whimper, and I peered out from behind the ripe metal structure. The wolf was frantically pawing at its eyes and letting lose pitiful whines and whimpers, in between racking coughs. It tried to look in my direction, but its eyes were screwed shut and watering profusely.

After a moment, it stood up and staggered away, apparently out of the fight for good.

I nodded in satisfaction. I'd gone all the way and bought the Triple Action spray, a mix of pepper spray, tear gas, and a UV dye, for good measure. Not that I thought we'd be identifying him in the near future.

I turned my attention back to Paul's fight, while still keeping some of my attention on the retreating wolf.

My efforts had helped. Paul was bleeding freely from several wounds, but the smaller wolf was retreating, tail between its legs and one paw held up while another dragged the ground in an obvious limp.

The larger wolf was attempting a fighting retreat, but its movements were slow, and as I watched, it turned tail and ran.

Paul started to chase after but then sagged, coughing. I recognized the effect of the potion wearing off, and I hurried to him. My own potion was fading, but I could still see well enough to watch both wolves backing away. I held up my pepper spray and motioned in the direction of the third wolf, whose pained howls could still be heard, moving in the opposite direction.

Both wolves snarled but continued to run (or limp) away.

So what do you think?  I was pretty pleased with how well Dafydd did in this fight.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Magic System in the Warlock Case Files

Magic system design is crucial for a fantasy author. You want something that has internal consistency and preferably looks and feels different from other magic systems. By the way, Brandon Sanderson in his Mistborn saga has one of the best-designed magic systems I've ever read. If you haven't read them, do so. They are excellent.

I'm not saying my magic system is even close to his, but I did give it a lot of thought before I started writing, and I've continued to tweak it as I go along. I didn't want Dafydd to feel like a D&D style wizard who tossed around fireballs and called down lighting bolts. I wanted him to use his magic tactically and to give some thought to how he could use his powers.

In the first story, I said he could create potions, do divination-style magic and read auras. I also said that he needs time to do his magic. He can't pop off spells at a moment's notice. He needs time and set-up. As you'll see in the book I'm writing now, I break that rule, but for a specific type of magic. My husband actually came up with a way he could use that type of magic in combat, and I'm looking forward to writing the climactic fight scene in that book where he tries something new.

But until then, I've stuck with the original rules. When I write fight scenes, I have to think carefully about Dafydd and what he'll do. I can't make him sit on the sidelines while Paul does all the fighting. Basically, I've dealt with it by having him augment himself and Paul with potions (enhancing speed, strength and reaction). He uses pepper spray to good effect against a werewolf, and he's used his magic to trick and misdirect.

Sometimes I have him avoid the fight entirely and save someone, freeing Paul up to so what vampires do best. Beat the tar out of bad guys!

Of course, he uses his magic outside of combat. Aura reading has come in very handy while talking to other vampires, and I have a scene where he uses ritual magic to track someone down.

Check back next week when I'm going to post a draft of one of the fight scenes from The Case of the Lost Werewolf Puppy. You'll be able to see both of them in action. I'd love feedback on what you think of how I've written Dafydd and his magic.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Editing and Producing the Best Possible Product

I'm on several ebook forums, and lately there's been a lot of discussion about the quality of self-published works. Most of the discussion has been very distressing to me as an author and sometime editor.

First, let me be very clear. Every author, self-published or traditional, has an obligation to produce the very best product for readers. Anything less is unacceptable, and readers have every right to reward other authors who keep quality in mind.

Okay, now that I've said that, let me also say that editing is tougher than it looks and can be VERY subjective. Many of the people who slam authors for mistakes have obviously never written or edited professionally. It's easy to sit in your armchair with a book and a red pencil, finding errors in a book you never wrote or edited.

It's impossible for an author to proof his or her own work, beyond a certain point. I saw that in spades this week. I was doing a mostly final rewrite of The Case of the Haunted Vampire, and I had been very careful in my re-read and rewrite. Then I pulled out the critiques from the online critique group, Critters. Mostly the story received high marks for professionalism and editing/writing quality. The readers found several grammatical/tense/consistency errors. I had missed all but one in my last re-read.

You know what else was interesting? None of them found all the errors they found as a group. It took eight people to find the errors I corrected yesterday. There's probably a few more out there. I have hired a professional editor for a final review, and I'll bet she'll find some of them. Will she find everything? Probably not.

And this was a work that most readers said was very high quality.

Those were just the objective errors. What about the subjective stuff? A couple of readers commented on my use of tense. One even asked if I had originally written the story in present tense and rewritten it in past. Ugh, no. I wrote part of one story once in first person, present tense. It was an interesting experiment, and I learned a lot, including that present tense is a bitch to both read and write. I went back recently to re-read that story and found a bunch of places I'd slipped into past tense. Never again.

But back to this story, which is told in first person, in a very conversational style. I did use present tense a few times, because it's what we do when we speak. An example is when Dafydd was talking about Annie's, the diner he was going to. I wrote "Annie's is pretty well known as a gay hangout." One of the readers called me on it. Another noted the tense shift but indicated it was okay if I was doing it for style reasons. I was doing it for stylistic reasons. Think about it. Annie's exists today. If I were telling the story to a friend about going there, I'd probably say "We went to Annie's last week. It's a great place to eat!" I wouldn't use past tense in the second sentence, so I had Dafydd use present tense as well.

Subjective, eh? Six different editors would probably give me seven or eight opinions.

What's the point of this rant? Simple. Authors need to have a commitment to writing the best possible story and making it as perfect as possible. If we do that for you, readers, will you give us a bit of leeway and understand it's impossible to make a work perfect, even when we give you our best possible effort?


Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rethinking Marketing Strategy

When I started this series, about a year and a half ago, my original plan was to write a series of novellas, which I would bundle together, three or so to a "book." The first piece, The Case of the Haunted Vampire, cooperated, coming in at about 16K words, a bit short for a novella, but close enough.

The Case of the Lost Werewolf Puppy, the second work, was supposed to be about 20-30K words. Unfortunately, that story didn't cooperate, and I realized about 15K words in that I was working on a full novel. Its current word count is about 90K, firmly in the short novel range. I'm not planning to be an epic novel writer, and 80-100K is a good length for a light, genre novel, as this one is.

This all has left me with a bit of a quandary. There simply isn't enough plot to the first novella to allow me to lengthen it. But the second was always intended to be number two in a series. I don't want to market Haunted Vampire as something it isn't, although with e-books, it's difficult to tell how long a book is until you've bought and downloaded it. Deceiving my readership isn't going to win me more readers.

I've been noticing a lot of authors releasing "prequel" novellas and short stories lately as a way to market a longer book in a series. I've decided this will work well for me.

Lost Werewolf Puppy is going to become the actual first book in the series. I'm pretty sure it stands alone, and I've got some beta readers willing to confirm that for me. Haunted Vampire is now a prequel work. Readers will probably want to see how Paul and Dafydd met, and that's the story I tell there. In hindsight, it's not the best story to be first. Lost Werewolf Puppy has lots of action and more character development. It's a good "first" in the series.

My pricing plan remains the same. Haunted Vampire will be .99 on Amazon and Barnes and Noble (where I can't price a book as free), but it will be free on Smashwords, so I can tell people about it as a freebie intro. Lost Werewolf Puppy will be $2.99 everywhere, as will subsequent books. I'll experiment with putting the longer works on sale, and we'll see how it goes.

I think this will work and allows me to adapt to the changing lengths of the stories in the series. I may have a few novella ideas later, and I can always treat them the same way. Offer them up for .99 or free.

And in case you were wondering, the next book is already in progress. About 16K words in two weeks of writing. Obviously, it's going to be another novel, and it's going to be good. We're finally going to find out who Paul really is and how he became a vampire. There might even be a bit of romance in it. ;)

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Finished the First Draft!

I finished the first draft of The Case of the Lost Werepuppy on Monday. It was an odd experience. I knew I was getting close. When I finished my writing last Saturday, I knew I had just a few more scenes left. I needed to do some wrap up after the climactic battle, and Dafydd had some soul-searching to do. Several people had just died for his fight, and that's never an easy moment for a character.

I sat down on Monday (having seen X-Men First Class on Saturday), and I knew the scene was going to have some of the feel of the Charles/Erik scene in the library (except both Paul and Dafydd were drinking Scotch--no wine for Paul in my scene--and the chessboard was absent.) Ehm. I digress. Think I enjoyed the movie?

Anyway, that dialogue scene turned out to have a couple of surprises for me. I'd been mentally roughing out the scene the night before, and I knew I wanted Paul to finally reveal how old he was. When I was writing on Monday, I literally typed, "I was born in..." and then pulled out my notes. Remember, Paul is based on an historical character, and I had his actual birthday.

That was when I got my shock. Paul's date of birth was September 10. The scene I was writing took place on September 9. Remember my post of last week on resources? The date of the story was driven by full moon phases, and I hadn't remembered Paul's date of birth. It was one of those things I cut and paste into Evernote to refer to later.

It's funny how things work that way. Kind of like it was meant to be, huh?

My other surprise came when I finished the scene. I was done. I mean really done. I'd wrapped up the theme and the story in that scene. I needed a couple of paragraphs to resolve one last plot point, but I decided it could all happen off-screen. It didn't need to be shown.

So I was done. And I'm very glad these guys are in a series. You know the feeling you get when you finish a really good book? One of those you never want to end? Finishing this one felt exactly like that. I'm hoping that means it will be as good for my readers as it was for me.

But it's not really done. It still needs editing. I kind of figured out my themes as I went along, and now I need to go back and strengthen them. Plus fix inconsistencies, crappy wording and make my fight scenes obey me. I hate writing fight scenes. Good thing I can rewrite them passably.

Oh, and just because I could, I started working on the next book yesterday. I do my best writing in the morning. Editing I can do anytime. Might as well use my time wisely.

One final link to X-Men. Want to see what Paul looks like in my head? 

It was kind of eerie watching the movie. This was pretty much exactly how Paul has looked to me. Even down to the slight head tilt. And Fassbender is almost exactly the same height and has the same color eyes as the historical Paul. In real life, Fassbender's hair is lighter than Paul's, but in this role, even that is right. Eerie.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Research Tools For Writers

First some cool news. This blog is now available in a mobile version, so don't hesitate to drop by on your cell phone or tablet. It looks good and loads fast!

Today I wanted to share some cool resources I've found for research. How did writers manage before the Internet?

Since I am writing about vampires (and werewolves in the latest book), sunrise and sunset times are obviously important. Did you know there's a site that lists those? I can search for the times on a particular day, and not just in DC. I can find that information for anywhere.

Moon phases have also been important for this book. I wanted to set the book in roughly the fall time frame, during a relatively recent year, and I really wanted the full moon to fall on a Friday. Pretty specific, huh? Well, I was able to search for moon phases on the same site, and I discovered that September 2009 fit all the criteria. So if you were wondering when I set the book and why, now you know!

What about historical weather? This one took me a bit longer to track down. I don't want to pay for the information if I can avoid it, and until this week, the only sites I found charged subscription fees. Then I found Weather Underground. Mouse over the "Local Weather" tab, and you'll find the option to search for History Data. It's free, and they give you an hour by hour recap. Now I know that it was overcast with light wind during my final fight scene. No rain at the time of the scene, but it had rained a few hours earlier, so there might be some slick spots. Bet I can use that to build some tension.

Wikipedia is, naturally, one of my go-to sites. Just a couple of days ago, I was describing my werewolves, and I needed to know how big to make them. A quick Wikipedia search on "gray wolves" gave me what I needed. I wanted them just a big bigger than gray wolves, so now my werewolves are about 6 feet long and 3 1/2 feet tall at the shoulder.

But the coolest resource so far has been Google Maps. Want to see where my final climactic battle is held? Follow this link and click on Satellite view. Cool, isn't it? While I'm writing the scene, I've got this map open, and I use it to storyboard the action.

Of course, great resources can't substitute for a good story and well-crafted writing. A writer could overdo references to time, place and weather. But having an idea of the exact time in which to place the story has given me some good ideas. And I think they've made the story better.

What about you? Any writing resources to share?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Figured Out the Ending!

Just a quick update this week.

The disadvantage of not being an outline writer is that I sometimes have only the vaguest idea of how to get from point A to point B in a story. For the current book, I knew who the bad guy was and that I wanted Paul and Dafydd to thwart his dastardly plans. Revealing the plan step by step was easy. Actually wrapping it up, though? That was tough.

I hit the point while writing this morning where I had to make some decisions. I'd gone as far as I could go without deciding exactly how I wanted to story to end.

As usual, I let my characters tell me. I actually wrote Dafydd asking the question, "What do we want to accomplish here?"

As soon as he asked the question, I knew. One of the other characters supplied the answer, and we're off. It was easy to plan out the final stages of the book. Everyone has their tasks. Now we just lure the bad guy's henchman (actually henchwolf) off for a big boss battle to end the book with a bang.

And of course leave the big bad around to come back with another dastardly plan in a later book.

It feels really good to finally know how to end this darned thing!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Dramatic Tension and Pacing

I've been on a real roll this month. I've written close to 14K words, and I still have two more writing sessions planned before the end of April. I should come close to 16K words, which, I think, is the most I've ever written in one month. The book is starting to come to a close, and I'm estimating about 80K words for the first draft. If I can keep up the pace, I'll finish it next month.

I've been a bit slow this week because I had to go back and add an entire scene. Keep in mind that, although I have written a couple of novels in the past, they were a long time ago. I'd never been in business, and I didn't think about things like "commercial viability." I wrote what I wanted to write and hoped an editor would like it. I'm certain when I go back to look at those early novels, I'll see that they are lacking the punch that would make them successful.

I do know something now about what makes people read and enjoy books, but I'm still learning. The best way to learn what works is to read books in my genre, and I've been listening to The Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher. They are also urban fantasy and are fairly close to what I am writing. If you like his series, you'll probably like mine. What Butcher is very good at is dramatic pacing. He knows when to break up exposition with having a bad guy kick in the door and launch into a fight scene. Last week, I was listening to him as I was VERY slowly driving on I395, and, fortunately for my sanity, the bad guys showed up and Harry Dresden had to kick some supernatural butt.

That got me thinking. How many fight scenes or other scenes with dramatic tension did I have in my book? I realized I didn't have enough, and then I went over the book to figure out where I could add one. I found a spot and added a scene where Paul and Dafydd have to fight off three werewolves. I'm pretty pleased with it. My challenge with fight scenes is figuring out how to use Dafydd. He's not a combat mage, but I don't want to have him sit on the sidelines and have Paul do his thing. I'm happy with what I came up with, and we'll see if my beta readers agree.

The downside of adding a major scene like that is going back to incorporate references to it throughout. A scene like that doesn't happen in a vacuum. It has consequences, and working that out has taken some time. But what's really good is that I think I have an idea of where my final scene will happen. Now I need to travel to the scuzzy side of DC (with a friend) to find just the right location for my finale.

I'm excited to be getting close. But I'm not so excited about the coming editing part. Writing is way easier than editing!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Interview with John Passarella (Part 2 of 2)

Thanks everyone who stopped by last week to read the first part of this interview. I hope you enjoyed last week and are ready for part two. Take it away, John!

What’s the selection process like for a media tie-in? Is it easier or harder to get a contract that way than an original work?

I contacted Lisa Clancy about writing a Buffy novel after WITHER came out. Then she asked if I'd like to do an Angel novel. Years later, her successor called and asked if I'd like to do another Angel novel for a particular slot they had open. For Supernatural: Night Terror, I was contacted by Cath Trechman at Titan Books in the UK. She asked if I'd be interested in writing a Supernatural novel and told me when it would be due. So, I inquired once, but had to prove I could write in the Buffyverse and submit a complete outline before I got the job. For the other media tie-in books, the editors came to me. For the Angel books, the editors either had experience with me or knew I had done previous books in that world. For the Supernatural book, I think my credits and visibility on the Web helped me get the offer. I wrote supernatural novels and had media tie-in experience.

For my original novels, I followed an unusual course. WITHER had a big movie rights sale before we sold the actual book. The book rode the movie sale news east to New York (it was reported in Variety and the Hollywood Reporter) and we had editors asking to see the book faster than our literary editor could get it to them. Without a movie deal, it's much harder, especially when you are an unknown. The media tie-in books come with built-in interest and a fan following. As an independent author, you don't have any marketing or name recognition behind you. Much harder to crack. On the flip side, having published books under your belt gives tie-in editors confidence that you are a professional and can produce a professional manuscript.

Is it faster/easier to write one than the other?

It's definitely faster for me writing a media tie-in novel. First, they are shorter than my own novels. My shortest original novel is about 90,000 with others going over 105,000. That seems to be my comfort zone for length. My media tie-in novels have ranged from mid 50,000s to 80,000 for Supernatural: Night Terror. I wrote Angel: Monolith in 45 days. I wrote the first draft of Supernatural: Night Terror in 57 days. For my own novels, the first draft usually takes 4 to 6 months. Second, for all the media tie-in novels, I've had to write a detailed outline and, for contractual reasons, I stayed close to those approved outlines. That meant I never wrote myself into a corner. I always knew how the story ended. For my original novels, I've only written loose outlines, sometimes at the halfway point. I've been trying to convince myself to write more detailed outlines for my own novels. I'm sure it would help. Third, the media tie-in novels have tight deadlines and release schedules. You usually don't have a lot of time once you get the green light. That forces you to stay focused, to meet the deadlines. For my own novels, I've never had a tight deadline, even when I was under a multi-book contract. The deadlines are more general guidelines. If you become a big-name author, those deadlines become more serious because the publisher wants to release your books every year around the same release month. As far as easier, each type of novel has its challenges, as I've mentioned earlier. But generally, the tie-ins keep you on track and efficient. For original novels, the freedom to write what you want when you want can lead to procrastination and experimentation and endless rewrites. I've met quite a few authors who have been writing their first novel for years, but never seem to get to the end. You have to find a middle ground if you want to be productive.

Have you noticed that fans of your work-for-hire buy your original works?

While I haven't taken a poll, I believe there is some crossover for me, mainly because my tie-in work exists in the same genre as my original novels, modern-day supernatural thrillers with some humor. Humor was a big part of Buffy and it's a big part of Supernatural. At the same time, the horror and thriller aspects are taken seriously. I've had a few of my original novel readers try my tie-in work as well, even if they haven't watched the show the tie-in is based on. One reader said he wanted to watch the show after he read my tie-in. I think all writers of tie-in novels hope to bring some fans from the tie-in universe to their own books.

Juli says, I'm one of those who became a fan of John's because of an Angel novel.

How do you juggle both writing and running a web design company? Any advice for budding writers who can’t afford to quit the day job?

When I had a so-called day job, I kept a better writing schedule because I forced myself to write during lunch and in the evenings. Running my own web design company ( has become a challenge, as far as finding time to write. The company keeps growing and the Web design field is in constant motion, so there's always more to learn. For me, it's not a question of taking my work home, I have a home office, so I never leave my work! That makes it hard. I use the same computer to design Websites that I use to write novels, so there's never any getting away from my "work" station. For Supernatural: Night Terror, with the tight deadline, I wrote a lot of the book after midnight. My average time to turn in each night kept drifting later and later until I was going to sleep around 4 AM. That became my norm. I've always been a night owl, but that was getting a bit ridiculous. The challenge for me is to keep up with the Web design world's changes while writing my own novel on spec, with no contract and no deadline. It's always easier to focus on the work that pays immediately rather than on the work which may or may not pay off six months to a year in the future. I read articles about taking back some of the "life" part from the work/life balance. I've made an effort to work less on the Web side on the weekends, but I know that to be an effective writer, I need to write almost every day of the week. I can't put a novel-in-progress aside for five days, then pick it up on Saturday and say, Now where was I? For my own writing routine, I need to be plugged into the story everyday, because the work isn't all done at the keyboard. I think about the story when I'm away from the computer, I think about it before I go to sleep, when I wake up in the morning, etc. If I set it aside for five days in a row, all the subconscious processes go into hibernation. So, I'm still learning.

Thank you, John! I appreciate you being so open and candid with us about being a writer. Appreciate him yourself by visiting his author website and checking out his books.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Interview with John Passarella (Part 1 of 2)

I'm blessed this month to publish an interview with Bram Stoker Award willing novelist John Passarella. John and I met via KindleKorner, a Yahoo! group for Kindle (and other e-book) lovers. Someone on the list reviewed an Angel TV tie-in book he'd written, and I bought and loved it. I've since bought one of his original works, Shimmer, and I've got his other books on my wish list. (So many books, so little time!)

I follow him on Twitter (@JohnPassarella), and he mentioned he was writing another TV tie-in for Supernatural. The book is available for pre-order (Supernatural: Night Terror), and I asked him if he'd be willing to tell us about the differences between writing original fiction and work-for-hire. He gave me some great answers, too much for one blog post, so I'm splitting it between this week and next. Enjoy! And buy his stuff. He's a good writer, and he assures me I'll enjoy Night Terror even though I've never seen Supernatural.

Which do you like better, original or media tie-in?

I prefer the freedom and creativity of writing my own original novels and stories. I have complete control. I can go wherever the story and the characters take me. At the same time, writing media tie-in novels for shows I love is a lot of fun. They bring me even closer to the show, because I study the show on a different level when I'm planning to write a novel about it. And it's a way for me to put these characters in situations I dream up. For me, the ultimate goal in writing tie-ins is to write a novel that fans of the show experience as a "missing episode" or adventure with their favorite characters. I want the story to feel a part of their universe and I want the characters voices and actions to feel right.

How did you get started writing TV show tie-ins?

After my first novel (WITHER, co-authored with Joseph Gangemi) came out, the San Francisco Examiner & Chronicle review said, "hits the groove that makes TV's Buffy the Vampire Slayer such a kick." The Buffy TV series was in it's second year or so and I was a huge fan. That review made me think that maybe I could write a Buffy novel, but I didn't know if I could capture the characters' voices. That was still an unknown for me, something I hadn't tried yet. I contacted Lisa Clancy, who was editing the books. Told her I loved the show, mentioned that review of WITHER and asked if I could write one of the novels. She told me to write a 10 to 12 page outline of the complete book and a sample chapter featuring the main cast. That sample chapter would prove to both of us whether or not I could capture their voices. That sample chapter basically became the first chapter in Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Ghoul Trouble. During the process of writing that book, Lisa asked if I'd like to do an Angel novel (Angel was early in season one), that she thought I'd be a good fit for that show. Of course, I agreed. The result was Angel: Avatar. A few years later, I wrote Angel: Monolith. In September 2011, Night Terror, my original novel based on the TV show Supernatural is due out. That one will be my first outside of the Whedonverse, but it's a good fit for me since my own novels are supernatural thrillers. 

Is it something you’d recommend for a new author trying to make a name for him or herself?

If the opportunity is there for a new author, sure. In some ways, writing a tie-in is easier than a completely original novel. There is no world-building needed -- the world has already been built for you. Same for the main characters. Their history and their voice is established. You come up with ancillary characters only. But in some ways, it's harder to write an original tie-in novel. Not every writer can capture the voices of an established show/world. And, as with all tie-in novels, the toy box metaphor is in effect. You get to play with the toys, but you have to put them back in the toy box the way you found them. A reset switch. That means you can't make changes to the characters' lives or the course of the canonical arc even when the novels aren't themselves canon. And yet, within those parameters, you have to come up with an interesting and exciting story. It's harder to write emotional arcs that resonate in a media tie-in novel when the characters themselves aren't allowed to change. In your own original novel, anything can happen and emotional arcs are much easier to write. Also, in tie-in novels, the author is not the final authority. You have to abide by rules, set the story in a certain time-frame, perhaps not use certain characters or situations you would have enjoyed exploring, and make any requested changes.

Do you find it limiting to be working with someone else’s character? Or does it free you to concentrate on plot since you don’t have to go quite as much character development?

As I mentioned above, you don't need to work on character development the way you would in your own novel, but you do need to master the voices of those characters. If they don't act right or sound right, the fans will let you know. And there are some constraints in the plot because you have to set the story in a certain time-frame within the show's moving arc. Finally, you have to set things back the way they were, no major character changes allowed. If you can work within those constraints, you can have a lot of fun playing in the world, especially if you are a fan yourself. I don't think I would want to write a media tie-in novel for a show I didn't care about as a viewer. I need that enthusiasm to really enjoy the experience. And, hopefully, if I'm having fun in that world, the reader will have fun as well.

Come back next week where John will tell us how he schedules writing around his job as web designer. He'll also tell us how writing media tie-ins has helped promote his original works.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Research! Research! Reseach!

The book is coming along well. I wrote almost 12K words last month, and I'm aiming for about the same this month and next. I think that will just about finish the first draft. Then to the joys of editing.

In anticipation of the next book, I'm starting research now. Book Three in the series (no title yet) will reveal much about Paul's background. I've deliberately kept him as kind of a mysterious character because I wanted to focus on Dafydd. And I thought it was cool to keep some mystery around the vampire.

Paul is actually a minor, but recognizable, historical person. Nope, I'm not revealing it even here, although faithful blog readers will get the scoop first. He "dies" during the Civil War, at the Battle of Gettysburg, and if you are a serious Civil War buff, you might be able to figure it out from that. ;)

Because he was born in a different time, I wanted to read up on that historical period to get an idea of his values. Yes, he's changed over time (he is almost 200 years old!), but the time in which he was human would affect his attitudes and how he thought.

Obviously, I'm going to fictionalize a lot, but if I have a grasp on what he was like as a person, it will make my writing on him richer, even if most of the details are never presented in the story.

In case you are interested, I'm using Shelby Foote's excellent series on the Civil War. And I was just directed by another blogger to a book that is supposed to have a lot of information about my specific character.

One interesting attitude, which could be fun to work into the story, is how he might view attacking vs. defensive strategies. The South decided to fight a defensive war in the beginning, which meant they were reacting to Northern attacks. Based on what Paul would have seen, I'm guessing he won't be much for being on the defensive.

I also have been seeing some political parallels between then and now. Paul can be an interesting observer of current politics, with his own perspective.

He's going to be a lot of fun, with my challenge being presenting him through Dafydd's first person narrative. I do think I made the right decision to go with first person for the series, but it does provide some interesting narrative challenges along the way. However, writing a narrator with some definite biases is very satisfying. Nothing wrong with having some fun at my character's expense!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Ebook Pricing and DRM

I'm digressing for another week. Nope, it doesn't mean I'm not working on the book,. I've written more than 11K words this month, and it's going well.

But I've been thinking and reading a lot about ebook pricing, and I wanted to gather some of my thoughts in one place, especially since my thinking has changed somewhat with my shiny new NookColor.

I've never been an ebook pricing snob, with a fixed price point I won't exceed. Okay, I probably shouldn't use the word "snob," but some people come across that way with loud pronouncements that "I won't buy a book that's more than $9.99" or "I refuse to buy an ebook that's more expensive than a paperback."

I am more likely to impulse buy something that is $2.99 or less, and .99 is certainly a no-brainer if I'm at all interested in the subject, but I've certainly spent more.

I guess for me, price is less important than DRM. If you don't know what that is, it stands for Digital Rights Management. In simple terms, it's copy protection on a book. If you buy a book on Amazon for Kindle, you can't (legally) read it on another brand of reader. There are ways out there to strip DRM so you can convert from one format to another, but those are illegal.

I understand that I don't really purchase an ebook. I'm purchasing a license to use it, but that bothers me. I've bought electronic versions of books I own in paper because I prefer reading electronically, but I'm only willing to do that once. If I buy a book in Nook format today, I don't want to have to buy it again three years from now because I've traded in my Nook for a Kindle.

It seems that media providers want us to pay each times we read/view/listen to something, and that's just not good for consumers. Look at all the flack about Harper Collins deciding to have library ebooks "expire" after 26 checkouts. This kind of stuff is just nuts and makes books less accessible, which, I think, is contrary to what publishers really want.

I've read conspiracy theories that publishers want ebooks to fail to preserve paper books. I'm not sure I buy it. Never confuse ignorance for conspiracy. I know the big publishers don't understand ebook readers.

They use piracy as the excuse. "If we release a book without DRM, millions of copies will be instantly available as torrent downloads." Hello, they already are!

Basically, DRM treats us all as criminals, even when we're not. I've bought plenty of DRM-free ebooks. I've NEVER shared or uploaded one. Do I know how and where? Yes, but I don't. Because it's wrong.

I guess where I'm going with this rambling is that price is less a concern than lack of DRM. I'll pay $12.99 for an ebook if I know I can convert it to read on today's device. And tomorrow's. And the one for the day after.

All of my books will be available electronically and free of DRM. That's my promise to you. And I won't be charging $12.99 either. I'm thinking more like $2.99. And if you want to share with a friend, I'm okay with that. I'd appreciate you not uploading to a Torrent, but if it gives me exposure, well, I can't argue too much with that either.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

But I Digress...

I've been feeling funny as a (future) e-book author with no dedicated e-book reader. Sure, I've been reading on my iPhone, and it works well, but part of me was feeling guilty.

Okay, let's be honest. I had gadget envy, and being an author was merely an excuse. So, I decided to buy a Nook Color.

I had a Sony PRS-505 many years ago, so this isn't my first reader. But I am in love. I like it more than my old 505.

Yes, I love the color. The screen is beautiful. Books look better than they did on my iPhone, and it's nice to have more words per page. I tend to go for the smallest font, which is still plenty big enough for me. Book covers are vibrant and so very pretty.

The wireless is fantastic. With my old 505, I had to plug it into my computer to load books. I can do that with the Nook Color too, but I have all my e-books archived in Dropbox, and it's easy to use the Nook browser to go to Dropbox and download my books.

I use a program called Calibre to manage my e-book library, and one of the cool features of Calibre is the ability to download newspapers and magazines. It seems like magic to me, but what I think it does is goes to the publication's website and grabs articles. It organizes them into sections, and everything is linked so navigation is a breeze. I'd tried using Calibre to download the Washington Post to my old 505 and the iPhone, but I'd never been happy with the results.

With the Nook, it's no problem. Calibre automatically downloads the Post at 7:00 AM, right when my alarm goes off. I turn on my Nook, snag the current paper from Dropbox and read away during breakfast.

Cool, eh?

What about buying Nook books? Easy and a snap. I can buy from my computer or my Nook, and the new book automatically downloads. Actually, it's almost too easy. I'll have to be careful how much I spend there.

I haven't tried a newspaper or magazine from Barnes and Noble yet, but I plan too. Still trying to figure out which one I really want. Calibre makes it so easy that I almost hate to pay money for something I can easily get for free.

What's the battery life like? About what you'd expect from a back-lit device. I get about 2 1/2 days on a charge, with fairly steady reading during my downtimes in a day. I also use Calibre to convert documents to .epub for easy reading on the Nook. I just downloaded a bunch of blog posts that I'll be using to plan tomorrow's class. So, yes, I can legitimately use my toy for work!

What about books I've bought from Amazon? No, I can't get them on the Nook, but I still have Kindle for iPhone, so it's no big deal.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

When Characters Help Drive the Plot

I'm kind of a free-form writer. When I start a story, I know how it begins and ends, at least in a general sense. But I make up the middle as I go along. This approach does have its down sides. I rarely know how long a story is going to be until it's done. Which is why The Case of the Lost Werewolf Puppy is ending up much longer  than I'd originally planned.

It works for me, although the approach does lead to the occasional writer's block. Like I ran into earlier this week.

I'd written myself into a bit of a corner and decided to leave it until another writing session. I needed a bridge between the scene I'd been working on and a later scene I'd written about a week earlier. Dafydd had pointed out that everyone had research to do for tracking down the bad guy in the book. Except for him.

When I started my next writing session, I read back over a couple of pages and stopped at Dafydd's observation. I had no idea where to go.

And then Paul asked Dafydd to go with him to the vampire bar to help him interview some vampires. I hadn't seen that coming, and, typical of characters, he didn't give me anything else to work with. It was like he threw out that offer and then he and Dafydd sat back to watch where I'd go with it.

I wrote a few lines of dialogue, to kill time and give myself a minute to think. And then it came to me. Paul wanted Dafydd to read the auras of some of the vampires. The aura reading probably won't have much to do with the rest of this story, but it's setting up some of the plot lines for the next story.

Just goes to show that a writer has to trust her characters. Sometimes they really do know more than the writer.

By the way, the aura reading thing is a good lead in for next week's post where I'm going to talk about how I've set up the magic in my world. Tune in for that!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Interview with Author Blake Crouch

I was fortunate enough to score an advanced copy of Run by Blake Crouch. It's a fantastic book, and I highly suggest you read it.

Basically, it's a post-disaster thriller about a family and how they deal with the crazy situation they (and the country) find themselves in. It has action, thrills, chills and some really good moments with the main character and his family. At $2.99, it's a steal.

So go out and buy it. Now. You won't be sorry. And just to further entice you, continue reading for a Q&A with Blake Crouch, the author. He's got some good information about writing the book and self-publishing.

Take it away, Blake.

1. I really loved Run. Post-disaster thrillers are among my favorite books, and this one was great. Can you share what sparked the idea?

It was just a coincidence...I was between books, and watching a documentary on the Rwandan genocide, and a little thought popped into my head...what would that look like if it happened in America?

2. I’m trying not to give away too many spoilers, but I have to ask. You left the nature of the lights in the sky unresolved. I think it was a good choice, but I’m wondering what your thinking was?

To be honest, it didn’t matter to me. Without giving too much away, I wanted some impetus behind the genocide that wasn’t rooted in political, religious, or other familiar ideological motivations. I also liked the idea that the killers were seeking out and trying to destroy those who hadn’t “seen the lights.”

3. I loved the family interaction in the book. One of my favorite scenes was Cole wanting comfort after a bad dream and being afraid his dad would turn him away because he looked when he wasn’t supposed to. When Jack hugged him anyway, I was so glad. I’m guessing you drew from your own kids to create Cole, Naomi and their interactions with their mom and dad?

Very much so. I have a five year old son and a two year old daughter, and being a parent was crucial to being able to write this book. I don’t think I would’ve had the right perspective prior to having my kids.

4. Why did you choose the self-publish this book? (I read your answer on Joe’s blog, but if you don’t mind answering it again here, I’d appreciate it.)

I’m going to reprint the applicable portion of that blog entry, since it sums it up best...

1. RUN is my best book. A lot of my work has a horror bent, and this certainly does, but it’s far and away the most commercial thing I’ve written. It has the most potential to earn me new fans, and now I have a substantial backlist for them to dive into if they dig it.
2. As I’ve blogged about before, I need more novels. My novels far outsell my short story collections, single stories, and novellas. This was an opportunity to add a fourth novel to my catalog.
3. For the first time in my writing career, I can support myself solely through writing. Releasing RUN has the potential to launch me to the next level, and the window for doing that is open and here.
4. Numerous ebooks, already released, have been picked up after the fact by publishers. See
Michael J. Sullivan, H.P. Mallory, the Encore crowd, etc. If numbers are strong, it can help an agent make an argument for the sale and negotiate a better advance.
5. Ebook royalty rate: 25%. This royalty rate is so completely biased in favor of publishers, it’s not even funny. The ebook rights to my catalog are far and away the most valuable thing I own.  To give a publisher the exclusive license to my e-rights when I have no control over pricing, and in light of that 25% royalty rate, is a terrifying proposition. This all adds up to my suspicion that, even if an offer were to come, I would have a very difficult time parting with those rights if the offer wasn’t stellar and life-changing money.
6. No one knows yet what the selling trajectory of an ebook is, although we do know that it doesn’t follow the traditional arc of sliding into coop and needing to sell huge in those first 6 weeks to stay alive. Konrath is a prime example. All of his titles have been his greatest sellers at different points in time, and at different price points. But if a book is never available, you can never find that sweet spot where it works for you. Your old books sell your new books, and vice-versa, and the more books you have available, the more you will sell, and the more you sell, the more you sell.

7. I don’t know what the future of RUN will be. Will I always control the e-rights? Will I ultimately sell them? Hard to say. But I know that having it available right now is a great weight lifted off my shoulders, because there is no longer any benefit to sitting on good work, and waiting for a “Yes.”

5. Any thoughts on a movie? You’ve definitely written it cinematically. I think it would translate well to the big screen. Or as an Internet release.

No thoughts yet. I’m just happy that people can finally read this.

6. Anything else you’d like to say about the book or self-publishing?

The limits on creativity and reaching readers are coming down all around us. This is an exciting time to be alive as a writer.

So there you have it, from a writer who's been both traditionally published and now self-published. He thinks it's a good time. What are you waiting for?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Excerpt From The Case of the Haunted Vampire

As promised last week, here's an excerpt from my first book. Just a tiny bit of background on the story so far. Paul (the vampire) and Dafydd (the warlock) have met and are working together to figure out how to get rid of a ghost that's been haunting Paul. They are off to the library to do research, and they need to get Paul from the Metro to the library, in the sun, without him bursting into flames. Dafydd has kind of an unusual plan.

Excerpt from The Case of the Haunted Vampire

I was yawning the next morning as I hung around the Dupont Circle exit. Brewing the potion had taken a lot longer than I had expected, and I hadn't gotten to bed until a few hours ago. I probably shouldn't have bothered trying to sleep, but I hoped I'd gotten enough down time to avoid falling asleep in the library stacks.

I was checking my watch for the fifth or sixth time--vampires are supposed to be evil, not late--when I felt a cool hand on my shoulder. I probably would have looked funny with my head through the roof, but I managed to keep my warlock cool. Just.

"You're late," I said as I turned around. Have you ever seen a vampire look harried? Hmm. Guess not since you probably haven't seen a vampire before. Suffice it to say he did.

"Sorry. The Red line was hung up. Track maintenance or something. I thought they only did that at night."

I guess he didn't travel much during the day. "Usually, but last winter was so bad they're still catching up."

He shrugged. "I'm here now. Guess we should get this potion thing over with." He looked as thrilled at that as I would be at getting a tooth pulled.

I glanced around for someplace relatively private. It didn't seem a good idea to have him drink the potion and shrink down right in the middle of the ticket area. Paul must have caught the direction of my thoughts. "Over here. There's a service tunnel. I use them all the time. They don't usually say anything if you don't hang out there too long."

We hurried down the tunnel, and I pulled out the potion bottle. "Quick. Drink it down."

He took it and glanced at it doubtfully. "You're sure about this?"

I nodded. "Yeah. It's one of my best. I even figured out how to more than halve your mass, so you'll definitely be light enough to drag."

The vampire frowned, his dark eyes troubled. Then he shrugged. "Well, it's been fun. Give my regards to Natalie if this kills me."

"You're already dead," I pointed out.

"Right. If this makes me deader." He lifted the bottle in a mock toast and gulped it down like a whiskey shot. And made a horrible face. That worried me. It couldn't be the taste. I'd added syrup to hide the less savory ingredients.

"Yuck! Hazelnut! I hate hazelnut."

Oh. I hadn't known. I blushed. "Sorry. I was trying to make it taste good."

He swallowed, hard. "Guess I should have said something. Next time, maybe mocha?"

"I can do that."

He glanced down at himself. "Shouldn't it be doing something?"

"Give it a minute."

Just as I finished speaking, he gave a loud "Oh!" and shrank down to about two feet tall. I grinned and refrained from pumping a triumphant fist in the air. I knew it would work!

"See, oh doubtful one."

His eyes were wide as he looked up at me. "Um. Wow. Everything looks so different down here."

I opened up the suitcase. "Quick. Inside."

He glanced warily inside. I had cushioned it with a couple of towels. "Great. Looks like the inside of a cat carrier."

"Don't argue. Just get in." I glanced over my shoulder. "That attendant is starting to look suspicious." I was blocking his view of Paul, but if he came over, the game would be up.

The vampire sighed. "Here goes." And he jumped into the suitcase. I quickly zipped it closed and left the station before the attendant could ask me what was going on.

What do you think? Was it fun? Want me to print more excerpts in the future?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

A Changing Marketing Plan

Honestly, it's killing me to sit on a nearly finished book without releasing it, and sometimes I wonder if it feels like a tease to the readers of this blog. So I thought I'd talk about my original marketing plan and how and why it's changed over the last year. Which will explain why I continue to sit on my first book.

About a year ago I started reading an excellent blog on self-publishing, A Newbie's Guide To Publishing. Follow it. It's excellent, and I'm stealing most of what Konrath talks about as I make this journey.

Soon after I started reading the blog, the characters of Paul and Dafydd sort of dropped into my head and said, "Write us!" How could I refuse the request of two incredibly hot guys, one of whom was a vampire? I thought this through. The main keys to success in self-publishing seemed to be:

1. Have lots of books
2. Sell them cheaply
3. Have a great cover and description

I decided I could do that. But I didn't have a huge pile of unpublished novels sitting on my hard drive. I had two, both of which required as much work as writing new books. And I had these two guys bugging me to write their story.

So I figured I could cheat. Instead of writing full novels, I'd start by writing novellas of about 15K-25K words. I'd publish them for .99 each and try that. Over time, I figured I'd graduate to full novels. I'd even decided to rewrite one of the existing unpublished novels as a Paul and Dafydd story. I was going to trumpet it as "Paul and Dafydd's first full length novel!"

The Case of the Haunted Vampire cooperated nicely, coming in at about 18K words. I thought it would take me another six months to write two more like it and then I'd be ready to release.

Then Amazon added a new royalty structure. In addition to the 35% plan, they started offering a 70% plan. The kicker? The book had to be priced between $2.99 and $9.99. But how could I resist a doubled royalty?

Back the drawing board. I'd always planned to release the first book for free at Smashwords and for .99 at Amazon (indie authors can't offer books for free on Amazon). So, I decided, instead of releasing each novella alone, I'd bundle them at two or three per "book." That would justify the $2.99 price. I'd still release Haunted Vampire for free/.99 as the introduction to the series.

No problem. Write two (or maybe now three) more stories, and I could publish!

But The Case of the Lost Werewolf Puppy didn't get the memo. It's at almost 30K words now, and I think the story is about half done. And, as I was writing it, I realized I need to make some significant changes to Haunted Vampire, but I want to finish Lost Werewolf Puppy first and make all the changes at one time. That's the biggest advantage to holding the first book in a series until finishing the second. Dafydd has changed jobs from a part-time stage magician to a multi-level marketer (in addition to being a warlock). Now I can go back and make that change to both books. I'll probably also see if I can lengthen Haunted Vampire by about 5K-10K words. I suspect I can add a few scenes to make the book stronger.

Long story short. Plans change.

But to reward my loyal readers of this blog, next week I'm going to post an excerpt from Haunted Vampire. There was a scene that all my beta readers particularly liked, and I think it gets across the feel of the series very well. Look for "the incredible shrinking vampire" next week!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Sometimes You Just Have To Write Crap

Note that I said "write." I didn't say "publish." It's an important distinction.

Last week was brutal for working on The Case of the Lost Werewolf Puppy. I hit, not really a block, but a very hard section to write. Since I am writing about a warlock who does ritual magic, I thought it might be a good idea to actually write a ritual.

If I'd known what I was setting myself up for, I might have written a series about a vampire and, I don't know, a zombie, maybe.

I was trying for something realistic. Not that the ritual had to work, but I wanted it to sound like it could work. So I did a lot of research on ritual magic, materials, circles and the like. Research was easy. I found herbs and some chants that seemed to fit. I figured it would be easy to pull all that together into a cool-sounding ritual.

Was I ever wrong!

It turned out to be the hardest 1200 words I've ever written. The set-up was easy: getting the space ready, giving Dafydd a bath to purify him, locking up the ferrets so they couldn't get in the way. No problem.

But actually writing the steps to the ritual? Wow! It took me three days to write, and I'll be honest. It's horrible. No one will ever see that draft.

It's okay. I can go back later and rewrite and make it work. But to get to the rewrite stage, first I had to write it. And some authors never get that.

It's possible to psych yourself completely out of writing by worrying about the first draft. "Does it sound okay?" "Do I repeat words?" "Does it flow?"

None of that matters the first time around. Just get down a rough concept. I'm not even sure my tenses are straight in that scene. For some reason, I kept trying to write in present tense, and I'm not sure I caught all the times I slipped. I'll fix it in rewrite. By the time it's done, it'll be cool.

Which is the lesson today. Sometimes you just have to write crap that you can go back and rewrite into roses.

And now, thankfully, I'm back to writing good Paul/Dafydd action. No, not that kind of action, you dirty-minded reader. They're off in search of some dead bodies.

Anyone else want to share how you got past a tough scene (or scenes)?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

I'm Back!!!

Okay, I admit, the end of last year sucked for me and writing. As in, I didn't write a word on my book from about mid-November on. So I've made some changes in how I keep myself accountable.

First, I've recommitted to writing as a regular activity. While I didn't write anything for the past month and a half, I did read a lot of blogs about self-publishing, and things are changing. Authors are starting to see success without having a huge back list. A ton of e-readers were sold for the holidays. If there ever was a time to be self-publishing e-books, it's now. Writing for vanity is one thing. That's easy to procrastinate. But writing to make real money? Hey, that's worth making a priority.

Okay, so all well and good to say I've made it a priority. That and $1.69 will get me a medium iced tea at Panera. What specifically have I done to make sure writing happens?

For 2011, I have three areas I am focusing on, for work. One of them is publishing. The other two are related to my coaching business. Each morning, I am dedicating time to planning my day. One of those three areas must be represented each day. And each evening, I look back on the day and write down (in my iPhone, of course), what I did that day to advance each goal. So far, I'm on track for the first two days I've used the system.

I'm also being more specific about my tasks. Instead of a recurring "Work on Werepuppy" task, which I mostly ignored, I'm creating specific tasks based on what I think I can accomplish that day. For the last two days, the task was "Re-read Werepuppy." It had been so long since I'd worked on it that I thought I needed a refresher.

Starting today, my goal is even more specific. Today the goal is "Write 2000" words. I think I can do that since I don't have any meetings scheduled, and I've burned through a lot of admin-type tasks that accumulated over the holidays. Other days, the goal will be smaller. Some days, I won't work on the book at all. That's okay. I'm looking at each day and setting realistic, specific tasks for the day.

I think it will work. I committed to my coach to work on getting these systems working by the end of the month. I'll report later on how it's working.

Enough about process, though. Tune in next week when we have some fun. I'm going to be interviewing my main character, Dafydd the warlock. If you have any questions you want to ask him, put them in the comments, and I'll include them next week.

Here's your chance to ask a fictional character anything you want. Don't miss out!