Friday, June 28, 2013

Status Report on My Books

Many of you have asked how my current book is coming along, so I thought I'd give a quick report on all of them:

An Analysis of the Cardassian Language is in its second draft, and I've been posting the chapters as I complete them. However, I don't write sequentially and I don't want to give you the chapters out of order. I got the first 17 done and posted, then started at the end, and am working backwards. I plan on writing the whole 'back' third of the book before Chapter 18. But maybe I'll need a break soon and get 18 done a little earlier than planned. We'll see.

Neither The Claw and the Eye nor Resist the Devil got a chance to get any decent editing, etc. I'm growing more connections now, and I hope to at least make them somewhat better, soon. I'll feel a lot better about promoting them when I feel more confident that they are well-presented.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

How to Keep Your Author Blog a Secret

How often have you heard an author say, "I quit blogging because nobody reads my blog anyway"? I hear it a lot. Maybe I've heard it from you.

This blog gets anywhere from 10 to 40 visits a day when I do my usual routine. It would probably be a lot more than that by now if I hadn't had a family crisis this spring and had to neglect it for a few months, since traffic had been steadily building up to that point.

So if you're dying to be one of those authors who can proudly say, "Nobody reads my blog," I think I can help you. Just follow these simple steps:

  1. Don't post blog entries too often. After all, why should you? Nobody reads them anyway. The great thing about this technique is that it's self-fulfilling: if anybody does wander onto your blog, he or she will see there's nothing new there, anyway. Not worth coming back.
  2. Don't entertain or educate. Just blog about yourself and your books. After all, news about what other writers are doing belongs on the other writers' blogs, and knowledge is power, so you wouldn't give that away for free. Even if you make the mistake of posting every day, you can still effectively repel readers as long as you don't offer any valuable content. Oh, and it helps to gripe a lot, and make them feel guilty for not buying your books.
  3. Do be impersonal. Readers visit blogs (and buy books) because they feel a connection with the author, so your goal should be to look like a know-it-all literary demigod that's probably made of plastic.
  4. Do be unprofessional. Use your blog to badmouth your husband or launch cheap personal attacks on famous people. And don't forget to repeat any nasty rumors you see on Facebook. 
  5. Do push your blog on Twitter and Facebook. Use a lot of CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION POINTS!!!! and tell all your tweeps how great your blog is, frequently. They'll probably unfollow you, but at any rate you won't have to worry about retweets, shares, listings and, worst of all, hits on your blog.
  6. Don't be friendly on social media sites. Don't take an interest in other authors or let people think you are approachable, kind, likable or anything like that. That sort of behavior not only draws people to your blog; if you keep it up you will end up getting enthusiastic fans (if your writing is good). Your traffic will start to snowball, as people you've never even heard of will start promoting you to their friends.
I mentioned I have a routine that helps bring in traffic. Here it is:
  1. I post regularly, every day if I can.
  2. I try to mix up the content a little: some fiction, some writing tips, some glimpses of what life is like for me as a New Hamsphire fiction writer; plenty of guest posts or spotlights on other writers.
  3. I try to be honest. I'm not Stephen King, and since you're not stupid, I would never get away with pretending I am. I'm good at some things and stink at others, so it's only logical that I should give advice where I can and ask for help where I need to.
  4. I try to be respectful. There are certain sides of my personal life that you will never see here, including family squabbles (I have a very loving family, but nobody is immune to spats), things people tell me in confidence, etc.
  5. I use Hootsuite to schedule hourly tweets, most of which link to blog entries. I try to use hashtags that will help the tweets be found by the people who want to read those posts, I mention any Twitter users involved, and I try to keep the tweets informative instead of sounding like an obnoxious midway vendor.
  6. I also use Hootsuite to schedule other tweets that help other authors, and do not link to this blog. I think it's important to be a team player.
  7. I use Tweetdeck to organize my Twitter feeds and interact with other people on Twitter. 
  8. I post a link to my blog on Facebook only when I think a decent chunk of my Facebook friends would be interested. Otherwise, I shut up, because I don't want them to get in the habit of ignoring me.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Guest Post: The Canterbury Tales: The Text Adventure

Luke Bellmason had an interesting idea for keeping himself on track and motivated while writing:

One of the great things about being an indie writer is that the hours are great, and the fact that there’s no boss, nobody telling you what to do or how to do it. The problem with that though is there’s no imposed structure forced upon you, it’s all self-imposed. And we all know that a self-imposed work structure is only as strong as the will of the person enforcing it, i.e. not very. Which is why I spend most of the time I set aside for writing on Twitter or writing blog posts.
What I really need, I often think to myself, is an office. Somewhere I can go that has no phones, no internet access and maybe is near a nice cafe. Maybe some proper, smart looking files to organise everything, and rubber stamps. You got to have rubber stamps! They make everything look all official. Then I think, no, what I really need is a company with a snarling Chief Editor who shouts at me to get my work on his desk by Friday!
Well, I can’t afford all of that, but what would my offices look like if I had unlimited funds? I imagined an old factory building, converted to offices but with the old upper walkway and stairs still intact. A big open ground floor, entry lobby, with a cafe, a video games arcade and perhaps a library. And a quiet room with leather chairs and newspapers. All of the actual writers would be upstairs; the Head Writer, the Story Editor and the snarly Chief Editor.
That was about the time I got a little bit carried away with this idea. After drawing out the upper floor, I imagined all the different stages of the writing process; from concept to planning, to writing the first draft, through the second draft to the final draft and proof reading. As has been said, we have to wear a lot of hats as writers, but for each task I imagined a completely separate writer with his or her own office. The various stories I’m writing for the Canterbury Tales all have to go through these stages, one by one.
So if I could imagine all this, I knew I could build it as a video game. Since my stories are ‘about’ video games, or video game universes, this seemed highly appropriate. And the simplest kind of video game I know how create is a text adventure, also highly appropriate since “words is my business.”
Using a piece of free software called Inform I was quickly able to construct this space (I didn’t bother with the ground floor since all the useful work will be done in the upper offices). I laid out the Project Director’s Office, the Planning Office, the Head Writer’s Office, the Story Editor’s Office, etc. I even built a tea room and a Character Lab, and a Locations Dept. And also an Art Dept.
So what actual use is all of this? Aside from wasting a huge amount of time I could have spent writing? Well, one of the main things I did was create ‘files’ as objects which could be manipulated in the game. Each story has a file and the file contains all of the drafts, outlines and concepts. I can move these files around to represent the stage I am at with a particular story in the so-called ‘real’ world. I can give the Miner’s Tale to the Outline Dept. and at the same time give the Slaver’s Tale to the Head Writer, which tells me where I am with each story.
I also programmed the Project Director to tell me which story is in which Volume and how far along each volume is. In the game environment I can organise the whole project, I can even do it on my iPad without needing to ever save or load the game since the game will be ‘always on.’
The best part though, is possibly the issue of morale. Writing can be a lonely process, and being in the middle of a large project it can sometimes be difficult to feel like you’re making any progress. So another thing I created was ‘posters’, which are game objects which are made by the Art Dept after each story is completed. I can hang these posters on my office wall in the game and see at a glance what I’ve achieved so far! I also added ‘unlockables’ which are little souvenirs of each story. These take the form of small cargo containers which have a little memento of a story inside them.
Interestingly, because this ‘text adventure’ is going to have to run for the rest of the whole project, two or three years, I’ve had to program it for stories I haven’t written yet and so it was while making these little mementos I came up with some interesting ideas. A couple of these ideas may well form the central theme for the Bounty Hunter’s Tale and the Pirate’s Tale, which I hadn’t even worked out yet. I hadn’t set out to come up with story ideas, but this how my mind works. I set out to do one thing and end up with another.
So now I have a whole Volume under my belt, and my virtual text adventure based office complex is ready to swing into action I’m ready to actually sit down and maybe, just maybe, do some writing!

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Book Review: Behind the Ruins by Michael Lane

I just finished reading Behind the Ruins by Michael Lane. I don't make it a habit to review books, but I liked this one so much I thought I'd tell you about it.

I found the book because I was looking for indie fiction that was at least halfway decent. I'd been slogging through a wilderness of awful ramblings, and when I came across Behind the Ruins I didn't hold out much hope. Why would this one be different? Then I read the first few chapters and realized that while it was still entirely possible there was no plot, at least the characters, the setting and the narrative were a great read for now.

And it turned out there is a plot. I won't tell you what it is, but it swept me up.

The Premise

Here's the blurb from the virtual 'jacket':
The world didn’t end when the meteors came; it changed. 

We meet Grey in the process of killing three people intent on robbing and murdering him. The deaths solve nothing; instead, what he finds on one of the bodies leads to a bloody trip through the wreckage of a world scarred by a near-apocalypse, and inward through his own memories. In the process he becomes involved in a plan that could mean the return of the world he knew as a child, in the time before the Fall.

During his trek from British Columbia into the former United States he must overcome both his own bleak memories and the murderous forces of an old friend. The lessons he takes away and the decisions he makes will determine not only if he has a future, but whether civilization does.

What I Liked

In no particular order, I liked the characters, the plot, the pacing and the setting.

The people in the book seemed very real. They were easy to tell apart by their distinct personalities and habits of speech, and they had complexities, layers and even inconsistencies, like you and I do.

The plot struck me as well-organized without being either contrived or obvious. I kept guessing what was going to happen, and I kept being wrong, which I consider a good sign. And when the book was over, I thought, "Yes, that is probably what would end up happening, if these people were in this situation."

The pacing felt right. It was slow enough to feel gritty and real: I felt forced to relate to the cold and heat, the dirt, the indecision and the dread. And it was fast enough not to make me feel bogged down or bored. There was, perhaps, one section of necessary explanation that dragged a little, but maybe it didn't. I was tired when I read that part, so maybe it was just me.

Michael Lane lives in western Canada, and the story takes place in the borderland of southern British Columbia and northern Washington State. To be honest, it annoys me a little when novel after novel is set in either New York, Los Angeles or a big-city concept of what a 'small town' must be like (yup, I'm talking about Forks, Washington). Michael wrote about his homeland, and that makes a difference in the quality of the book.

What I Didn't Like

Behind the Ruins has the same problem my own books have: a crying need for editing. In fairness, I do not have the latest version, and some of the errors may have been fixed since I downloaded it. Editing is just not one of those things an author can do for his own work. It's one of the growing pains of the indie author/publisher movement. And, yes, we're working on that.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Guest Post: Alex

We get to have Bronwyn Cair back today:

I could sit here and tell you that I know who I am, where I’ve been and where I’m gonna go, but anything I said would be a lie. Truth is, I don’t know where I came from. I’m pretty sure I have military training and a little brother somewhere, and that I love sushi, but I’d never eat tuna.

Sometimes, in my dreams, I can see children hiding from me -- from other men like me, men with guns in army fatigues -- and I wonder if I was the good guy or the bad guy. G says it doesn’t really make a difference. She hasn’t seen what I’ve seen.

To be honest, I’m not so sure it’s that black and white. I mean, the good guys sometimes do bad things. The doctors make fatal decisions, the senators take bribes, the guy who swears to protect and serve kills innocent people in the name of liberty… So maybe she’s right-- what’s the difference, really? Maybe we’re all a little of both.

I don’t know if I’ll ever know if I’m the good guy who does bad things, or the bad guy who does good things. I know my name. Alex. That’s about it. When I met G, she told me I’d wake up one day and remember everything; my birthday, my hometown, how I got here, all of it. It’s been three years.

I’m still waiting.


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Keeping Characters in Character

Be warned, I'm just going to gripe here: I really don't like it when I get to read some new material involving a character I know well, and then the words on the page just don't fit that character. Maybe it's the dialogue that isn't right, or maybe it's how he or she acts. In either case, I'm disappointed and usually quit reading.

And I know I'm not alone. I truly believe it's our responsibility as writers to make sure we do whatever it takes to get our characters right. Even if the difference seems insignificant (she smiles and says "Thank you" to someone who helped her, when she should be muttering complaints instead, to save her pride), a character who's out of character can really kill a reading mood.

Blatant neglect of this responsibility is a big chunk of what gives fan fiction such a bad name, in my opinion. Pick up any random Star Trek paperback and see if the characters speak, move and think like the ones you know from the screen. Chances are, they won't. As a writer, I find that embarrassing.

Usually, the author has made one of these two mistakes:

  • The characters seem like bobble-heads. They are shallow, exaggerated mimics of their 'real' versions, repeating their signature lines or gestures as often as possible, but not actually thinking, reacting or making decisions like the 'real' characters would.
  • The characters are blank. The only way you know they're supposed to be the same people you saw on TV is because you read their names. Otherwise, they're just strangers. Sometimes it's even hard to tell them apart because they all speak and act alike.
There's just no substitute for getting to know your characters, whether you created them or someone else did. And if you have trouble getting one or two of them right, maybe you know a writer who would enjoy tweaking them for you.

I'll leave you with a scene I wrote involving some characters from Star Trek: Deep Space 9. The mercurial bartender Quark is chatting with my own creation, named Faine:

"I hope you realize those are valuable antiques now," Quark lectured. "You could make some very good money on some of those, some security for your children's future."

"Yeah, I thought about that. I just don't know where I would sell anything."

"I could help you with that," he offered.

"So that's what this is all about," I nodded, looking him in the eyes.

He turned his palms out and explained, "I have some business connections, and I'd like to help you out."

"I was thinking of selling my purse," I admitted. "I replicated a bag just like it to take home with me."

"Mmm," he grumbled, suddenly unimpressed. "What's a phone?"

"A communications device."

"I might be able to get you a little something for that."

"Thanks," I said, "but I'm going to need it."

"Can't you get another one?" he asked. "Say it was stolen. Come on, a pretty girl like you?"

"It would take time to replace it, Quark," I answered, "and the second I get back I'm going to use it to call my kids."

Quark made a sympathetic grunt and shook his head. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this, but you're not going to be able to do that."

"What do you mean?"

"It's already been through one temporal anomaly. It may not work already. You take it through another one, the circuits will be fried for sure."

"Thanks for the heads-up," I said, and turned around to scan the crowd. Two tables away, a pretty Asian lady nursed a mug and chatted with a ruddy man with curly hair. He wore the gold uniform of an engineer, and I thought I detected kindness in their faces. I grabbed my drink and headed over.

"Can I help you?" the man asked in a mild brogue, glaring at me and puffing his chest out just a little. The woman only looked mildly curious.

"I'm sorry to bother you," I said, "but this is kind of urgent. I'm Faine Channing. I belong in the 21st Century."

"Yes, I know who you are." He stared up at me blankly, like I was taking too long.

"It's very important that I call my children as soon as I get back to my own time," I explained quickly. "I have this device, it's a called a phone, and - "

"Wait a minute," he interrupted. "Can you slow down? I want to be sure I understand ya."

"Why don't you sit down?" asked the lady.

"Thank you." I pulled out the chair I'd been standing over, and sat.

"Who told ya the circuits were fried?" the man asked when I'd explained.


"Don't believe everything that man tells ya," he preached. "Ninety percent of the time he's only after your latinum, and the other ten he's after your skirt."

"Miles!" the lady protested.

Miles turned to her. "Well, it's true," he argued, "and Faine here has the right to know."

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Attila in Wonderland: Characters and Plot

I hear plenty of discussion about whether a story is plot-driven or character-driven. To hear people talk, you would think it was a basic either/or choice like PC or Mac, left or right.

I don't see it that way. I see it as two doors to the same house, or two sides to the same cookie. In my mind, the characters make the plot and the plot makes the characters. It's the old nature and nurture theme. In fiction or in real life, the personalities of the individuals involved shape what happens and what happens shapes the personalities of the individuals involved.

As an example, let's imagine the beginning of Alice in Wonderland. Alice's sister reads a book while Alice grows bored because the book has no pictures, and wanders off and falls down a rabbit hole. Those things couldn't have happened unless:

  1. Alice's sister liked reading books without pictures.
  2. Alice found books without pictures boring.
So the whole plot of Alice in Wonderland would have been different if the characters had been different. What if we replaced Alice and her sister with two other people, let's say Don Quixote and Attila the Hun? Would Attila in Wonderland read like a pro-wrestling match? Maybe. It certainly would be a lot different from Alice's version.

Now what if we kept Alice and her sister, but changed the events? What if, instead of having a white rabbit run by in a waistcoat, we had a boy fall out of a tree and accuse Alice of trying to kill him? Again, the story would be very different. The story comes from the interplay of characters and plot.

But why is this important? If all good stories are driven by both characters and plot, then why care if the writer imagines it one way or the other? Because I believe that as a general rule, the best stories are written by authors who look at the cookie from both sides.

Most stories I've seen described by their authors as 'plot-driven' actually have shallower plots because they have shallower characters. There may be more action, more danger, etc., but it doesn't feel as exciting because we are not as invested in the people of the story. And most stories written as 'character-driven' tend to be more sappy than relatable.

I'm sure there are plenty of great ways to come up with a story concept, but in case anyone wants to know, here's what I usually do: I imagine a situation where something is wrong and urgently needs to be made right, and I imagine at least two people in that situation with desperate and mutually-exclusive agendas for solving the problem.

These agendas, of course, stem from their backstories and personalities, and their stories and personalities will of course become shaped by their interactions with each other and the situation.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bartholomew Cubbins

One of the most wonderful things about being a writer is that through my characters, I get to be all sorts of different people in all sorts of different places doing all sorts of different things. I get to wear 500 hats, each one more beautiful - or more exciting, or more thought-provoking - than the last. And even if, like Bartholomew Cubbins of the delightful old children's story, my characters are in danger of having their heads cut off by an outraged king, I get to experience all the excitement and none of the danger.

As an indie writer, I wear a lot of hats in another sense, too. I'm not only the writer, but the editor (which is impossible: you can't edit your own work), the designer, the marketing staff, the maid and so on. Even the act of writing these blog posts is a marketing task.

I like blogging, even if sometimes I resent it because it takes time away from the central task of my life: writing fiction. Some other jobs I wish I didn't have to do, and editing my own work is something that of course I can't do at all, to the necessary standards.

Fortunately, I don't have to wear all the hats myself. I can trade hats with other indie writers, making editing possible and some of the other jobs much less distasteful.

I know a lot of my readers are fellow indie writers, so how about it? Who wants to wash my dishes today?

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Guest Post: Cover Art

This is the final post in the special series of guest posts by Luke Bellmason to celebrate the recent launch of his new science-fiction book, The Canterbury Tales, Volume I. These posts are repeated from Luke's own blog. I wanted to share them with you because they give a nice little glimpse into what it's like for him as a writer. They were written before the book's launch. Here's Luke:

They say you shouldn’t do your own cover art for your book. It’s probably good advice, but I’ve always wanted to do book covers. About six years ago I did a full two year course at my local college in Graphic Design. Not because I wanted or expected to get a career as a graphic designer (though I admit it would have been nice), but simply because I wanted to learn more about how to do logos, cover art and such professionally. I got a HND in Visual Communications out of it, which is like a starter pre-university qualification.
This means I am actually even more qualified to do my book cover than I am to write my book; writing is something for which I have no professional training at all! It also means that I am in a fairly unique position of being able to truly reflect my book and my writing style in my cover art.
This is still the concept cover, but it’s beginning to grow on me. I wanted a cover which was like my writing style; bold, simple, straight-forward and clear. This design hopefully gives some indication of the four characters who’s stories feature in the volume. One of the major problems with having a title like ‘The Canterbury Tales’ is that I didn’t want to mislead people into thinking this was the original book, but really I’m going to have to hope that people read the blurb on the back before buying it so they know it’s not. The other factor I needed to consider was that the other two volumes need to have the same style of artwork, but look different, so I’ll be using different background colours for each one, and each character is going to have their own colour as well. I also wanted something which would stand out on the Amazon Kindle store, where the vast majority of sci-fi titles have starfields, ships, planets and such.
Of course, if I could actually draw I might have gone with all that stuff, but I can’t draw! So I use Adobe Illustrator, which is a piece of software so fiendishly difficult to use that few people get past the first two hours of trying to make it do anything even remotely useful. But I’m a video game player, I’m used to software which is difficult to control, which actively tries to make life difficult for you and which reveals its secrets to you only after you’ve shown it that you’re the boss! Learning to use Illustrator seemed a lot like that.
So, for those who are interested, The Canterbury Tales Vol. 1 nears completion. I have spent the past months editing, proof-reading and finishing off the text. Then came the task of taking the finished files and formatting everything into a word document to get it Kindle compatible. After that, I took almost three days to write the Preface and finally, I got to do the cover art – probably my favourite part of the whole process.
I posted this concept cover on my Twitter feed last night and this morning I woke to find it had been favourited by Ray Dillon! Don’t know who Ray Dillon is? Well he’s a writer and artist who does the artwork for HBO’s Game of Thrones and who has done a massive amount of work on comics, cover art and trading cards. After you’ve finished admiring my lovely cover, head on over to Ray’s page and marvel at his gorgeous images. Needless to say, I am super psyched about my cover getting favourited by such a luminary and wow, what a huge compliment. Thanks Ray!
My book’s going to hit the Kindle store in the next week or so, assuming I can successfully wrangle with MS Word and the upload process. I’ll be sure to post here when it’s finally up, check back soon for more news!

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Guest Post: Artwork

Here's another guest post by Luke Bellmason, as part of our series honoring the recent launch of his novel, The Canterbury Tales, Volume I:

SabaccAs I get closer to the publication of the Canterbury Tales Volume 1 (it’s coming, it’s coming!) I start to bring together all the ideas I’ve been having over the last months about what the cover should look like. I had a few ideas about what I didn’t want the cover to look like; NASA star fields look fantastic, but a lot of sci-fi books all tend to go with that. I wouldn’t mind some starships flying around on the cover, but I can’t draw that well and again, they’re all much of a muchness.
So I went back to another game I had thought up about a year ago. As regular readers may know, The Canterbury Tales is based on a board game I was trying to develop, but it turned into a book instead. It’s quite fitting therefore that the cover and internal artwork for the book comes from another game I was tinkering with – namely a Sabacc card game.
443px-Sabacc-GOIThe Sabacc game is from the Star Wars universe and there’s a few sets of rules out on the web which describe the cards and how they work. The major problem with recreating this game in the real world is that the cards in Sabacc are electronic and can change without warning. The cards actually shuffle themselves in your hand and the only way to stop them doing this is to put them in an interference field on the table, which of course reveals them to your opponents.
I found some images of what the cards might look like in one of the Star Wars comics and decided to develop the visual theme into a whole deck. I managed to make a set and print it out, but playing the game was a lot more complicated than most players could handle, so it got added to the growing pile of abandoned projects.
Until a couple of days ago. As I thought more about the artwork for the book I realised the visual style I’d used for the Sabacc game could easily be adapted for the individual characters. My thinking is that the Merchant, Assassin, etc. are cards in a deck that spacers might carry around with them, much like we have decks of cards knocking about all over the house. These cards replace the King, Queen, Jack of a standard deck – and handily there’s 12 such cards in a deck and 12 characters in The Canterbury Tales.
So here’s the first batch. The Assassin, the Knight, the Merchant and the Smuggler. The colours correspond to the theme I’ve got for each character, although in the print edition I’m going to have to go with black since I can’t afford full colour!

So, can you guess which is the Merchant, the Assassin, the Knight and the Smuggler? These are still early versions, but I’m thinking  about the general visual style and how I can use it in promotional material and to create the ‘branding’ for the book. A good, strong visual image is always useful to make a book stand out from the crowd, but I think the images are a bit too ‘bold’ at the moment and need toning down a bit, maybe with some effects or by printing onto something then photographed. I could even go into printing these out as wall art or screen prints, but I’m getting ahead of myself – I need to finish the damn book before I start getting wrapped up in promotion!

Monday, June 17, 2013

Guest Post: Launch Day!

My fellow Suckers Guild member Luke Bellmason has just launched his new novel, and I'm very excited.

The book is called The Canterbury Tales,Volume I, and here's what he has to say about it on his blog (and yes, I do have permission to repeat it here):

The Canterbury Tales – Volume 1 is now officially available for download in the Amazon Kindle store. The ebook is available on the US and UK stores as well as all the other global stores.
Kindle Prime members can borrow the book for free and there’s no DRM so you can even lend it to your friends (or foes).
The Canterbury Tales tells the stories of twelve space travellers on their way to Vale aboard a passenger liner, the GSS Canterbury. Volume 1 contains four short stories; the Smuggler’s Tale, the Merchant’s Tale, the Assassin’s Tale and the extended two-part Knight’s Tale. Volumes 2 and 3 will follow in 2014 and 2015 and introduce the Pirate, the Bounty Hunter, the Commander, the Spy, the Scout, the Slaver and more!
The style is heavily influenced by 80s video games and by Chaucer’s own idea of having a story telling competition among a group of pilgrims. If you like action/adventure space fiction, tightly woven plots and bold characters, with a dash of humour thrown in you’ll probably like The Canterbury Tales. One of the most original and inventive new works to come out of the publishing houses of Ursa Minor in recent years.
The Canterbury Tales, Volume I is not a Suckers Guild book, as Luke joined the Guild very shortly before the book launch. But we're all very excited for him. I've been privileged to see a little bit of the book, and I can't wait to read the rest of it.
Watch here for more about The Canterbury Tales.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Guest Post: Self Publishing Authors Are ‘Suspect’ and ‘Cheats’

Please help me welcome today's guest blogger, indie novelist Derek Haines:
Book PromotionIs paying for advertising, promotion or even reviews cheating? I read this press release and wondered what point it was trying to make. Yes, it of course refers to John Locke buying reviews, which I must admit is becoming very old news now, but it goes on with carefully chosen vocabulary referring to self-published authors being labeled as unethical, suspect, spamming, inferior and cheats if they pay for promotion.
Then Sean Platt, the author of the press release, admits to having bought thousands of Twitter followers. Talk about hypocritical in the extreme.
So it’s OK to buy Twitter followers, but it’s not OK to buy promotion, advertising or book reviews?
But it did start me thinking about this whole issue of paid promotion, and I’m beginning to wonder if this is not a carefully managed attack on self publishing as a whole. It’s no secret that self-published titles are doing very well, and it wouldn’t surprise me if this success has ruffled a few ‘established ‘ feathers.
In my mind the whole issue is boiling down to one basic point. That is, that it’s OK to spend a bucket-load of money on book promotion if you are a major publisher to ‘buy’ an audience, but if you’re an ‘Indie’, you’re expected to do everything on the cheap and free and wait around for your family and friends to buy your book. Then if you admit to spending money on book promotion, you get labeled as a cheat.
What’s wrong with the idea that self publishing is a business like any other and as such there are marketing expenses and without this investment, books struggle to sell? I think it’s up to every individual self-published author to decide how they operate their business, and from my own particular viewpoint, no one is going to tell me how I should run my own business.
And if you’re wondering. No, I have never bought Twitter followers. Yes, I have paid for advertising. Yes, I have paid for book promotion. There are always expenses in any business. Even self publishing.
Derek Haines lives in Switzerland, and is the author of Eyes That Could Kill and several other books.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Suckers Guild

Late last fall, I got into a conversation on Twitter about how much better things would be for both writers and readers if there were an indie writers' guild. It started out very light-hearted - an offhand comment and a couple of joking responses - but very soon we realized we were onto something.

The Premise

The idea was that as much as we may want to, no one writer can ever produce a truly professional book all alone. It's not that we can't teach ourselves anything we would need to know. It's that no one of us could teach ourselves everything we would need to know, at the necessary level of expertise. And then there's the fact that you just can't edit your own work. To produce a truly professional book requires at least a few different pairs of eyes.

There are only three possible ways I can think of that an author can get a book out there, without compromising quality:

  1. Traditional publishing. I mean really traditional publishing, with the full editing and marketing force that goes with that. This option is like the lady's slipper I found this morning: we can't exactly pick that one, because it's an endangered species.
  2. Extremely expensive self-publishing. You pay for four, or at the very least, three expert editors, in addition to experts in layout, graphics, electronic formatting, printing, marketing and distribution. I've probably forgotten a job or two. Obviously, most writers simply don't have the money for this one.
  3. Collaboration. Like bees in a hive, each of us has a specialty, or develops one, and we all work together to publish and sell books we're not ashamed to put our names on.

The Plot

So that's the idea behind the Suckers Guild. We looked around and didn't see any writers' group already out there that worked like this, so we started one. To learn more, you can visit the Suckers Guild site.

The Title

I know you're wondering why we named it the Suckers Guild. It came from the half-joking remarks that began the whole conversation, about how we don't want our books to suck, about how our lack of access to publishing resources sucks, and even about PT Barnum's famous saying, that there's a sucker born every minute.

In the end, we chose it because it reminds us that while we strive against all the odds life throws at us, there's no need to be stuffy and take ourselves too seriously. Because -  yup, I'm going to say it - that would suck.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Guest Post: The Plot

Here's another treat from Luke Bellmason. He has a couple more coming up, too.

“There are two kinds of people in the world, those who believe there are two kinds of people in the world and those who don’t.”
- Robert Benchley
We are sometimes told that there are two kinds of writing; ‘discovery’ and ‘outline’, and that most authors tend to favour one or the other.
I know I am an outline writer because I love to plan things out, to structure my work around a solid plot and to know the reasons behind every action the characters take. Basically, I like every part of the writing process except for the writing part, which I will do anything to avoid.
I think this obsession with outline and plot comes from how I started out writing in the first place. My first stories were actually attempts to write up Role Playing Game (RPG) sessions. I was fascinated by the stories that could be created in these games, since they were not wholly the creation of one person and the characters were a lot more real for the fact that they were all being played by different people, with their own backstory. Each character reacted to the same situation in different ways and almost everything the characters did was governed by their skills and rules and the fickle fate of dice (dice have a great sense of humour). So no matter how much planning you put into a game scenario nobody could ever predict the outcome. Even running the same scenario several times would create a different story each time.
Of course, in RPGs, plot is very important and the outline aspect is quite hard to get right before the game is run. You don’t want your characters to be too restricted else they will get bored since there’s really no decisions for them to make. On the other hand, if you give them too much freedom they won’t do what you want them to and will kill the princess instead of rescuing her, make friends with the dragon instead of killing it and maybe even kidnap the wizard who sent them on the quest in the first place.
The reason a lot of RPGs are in dungeons, or on derelict spaceships or other in remote places is so there’s some structure that you can plan for. The walls of the dungeon are like the plot. Characters have a little freedom to choose which corridor to go down or how to handle a particular puzzle or trap, but they can’t get out of the dungeon. The players will always surprise you of course, and that’s a good thing, but in the end, hopefully, someone will emerge with the gold.
As an interesting side note, I like to think of outline writing as being plot driven and discovery writing as Character driven. With discovery you come up with characters first and then you let them go, taking you on their journey, making the decisions that they must make. Like in the role-playing game, different characters will want different things, will have different experiences and will go down different paths, which makes it hard for the author to impose plot onto them. The flipside of this is that with outline, the story is already set so the destiny of the characters you put into that plot is set.
20 Master PlotsThere’s always this famous statement that’s thrown around that there are only 7 stories in the world, or sometimes it’s 9, or 1, or 42, or whatever. But the book I most like to consult for plots is 20 Master Plots, by Ronald B. Tobias. I can highly recommend this book as it’s been without doubt the most useful writing book I’ve ever read. This reference guide is really at the heart of my latest project The Canterbury Tales.
“20 Master Plots and how to build them” is a refernce book I use constantly when planning a story. It takes you step by step through plots such as Revenge, Rivalry, Quest, Escape, Underdog, Temptation, Discovery, etc. and gives you examples from popular culture to illustrate them. It breaks down these plots into 3 acts. To give you an example, here’s an outline of how the Rivalry plot works;
Rivalry starts out with Act I being the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. Your two main characters, the antagonist and the protagonist are equals, but they might not be evenly matched in certain areas. One might have money but not be wise, the other wise but poor, or it could be something else, but as the story begins there must be equilibrium.
The rivals want the same thing, so there’s a power struggle, conflict. The antagonist initiates against the protagonist, which is the catalyst scene, which should come just after the start of the story where you’ve established the status quo. Now the protagonist is falling while the antagonist is on the rise, with these ‘power curves’ being linked. As one goes up, the other should go down by the same amount. Perhaps the rich man frames the wise man for murder and has him sent to prison so he can no longer achieve the goal, leaving the rich man to work towards it unapposed. When the protagonist is sent on his way down we move into Act II.
This is where the curves bend around and start to level out towards the middle of the story. At first things keep getting worse for the protagonist, and better for the antagonist. (It’s just personal choice, but the midpoint is where I like to put a little twist into my stories and send the plot off in a surprising new direction). At the midpoint a reversal of fortune sees the protagonist start to make a come back. As their power curves are linked, a rise for one means a fall for the other until by the end of Act II the rivals are back on equal terms again. Maybe the protagonist met someone in prison who knows the rich man, and who has information to help the protagonist beat him. The twist could be that this information will cause trouble for the protagonist too, but since he’s a wise man he might be able to figure out a way of making things bad for his rival and good for himself. So now it’s time to settle the score as we move into Act III, the final conflict.
In the final act, the protagonist beats his rival, or maybe he doesn’t if you want to really throw a surprise in there. The events of acts I and II will determine the nature of the confrontation. Maybe the wise man has been studying while he was in prison and has learned to exploit the flaws of the rich man’s elaborate security system. This makes the defeat of the antagonist all the sweeter since he brought it on himself by sending his rival somewhere he could learn from criminals. Finally, at the end of Act III, one of them is defeated and order is restored.
It might all sound very formulaic and you would expect that any story written along such a strict format would be stale and clich├ęd, maybe even predictible. That is where the skill of the writer comes in, the plots are simply a framework which will allow you to build a story. The author has to come up with the details and there are many ways to throw the plot in surprising new directions. Remember also that the further apart you can throw the curves at the midpoint the greater the rise to victory will be. Alternatively you might decide to play with the curves so they hardly diverge, just to see if you can maintain dramatic tension some other way, maybe by not revealing which is the protagonist. You could even kill your protagonist at the midpoint and yet still have hime somehow achieve the goal and defeat the antagonist, all that limits you is your imagination.
When I first started planning The Canterbury Tales I used “20 Master Plots” to work out which Character was going to have which plot. I didn’t know anything about the characters at this point other than their ‘title’; Merchant, Smuggler, Assassin, etc. Because I didn’t have any strong ideas about the characters or who they were, only what they did, I thought that allowing the plots to guide me would be a good way to come up with the characters.
Writing a series of short stories would also give me an opportunity to try out a lot of different plots, working my way through the book and trying out the ones that interested me. In the event it’s taken me a lot longer to write these simple short stories than I anticipated, but I wanted to become an expert at the mechanics of plotting!
So each of the twelve stories has a different plot from Tobias’ book. I’ll describe each individual plotline in separate posts, and hopefully give you an insight into the agonisingly slow weeks, months and years that some of these plots were developed over.
So watch this space and sign up to follow this blog [That's Luke's blog, of course.] for more information.