Recovering Orphans

I’m sure most authors have lots of bits and pieces of writing, scenes or chunks of dialogue that got cut from a story because they didn’t fit the tone or killed the pace or just weren’t really needed. Orphans, I call them. Pieces of writing that don’t fit into any existing work, or that were cut for whatever (often very valid!) reason. A lot of it is stuff you might actually like, that could be very well-written, but just not what was needed. They say authors need to kill their darlings, a reminder while editing that just because you love some thing you wrote doesn’t mean it belongs in the book you’re writing. But I’m not sure you have to kill them, per se. I think you can save them, tuck them away in a folder somewhere in the off chance that someday, somewhere, you’ll find the spot for that little piece that you wrote. You’ll find it a home, a forever home, and the warm glow in the pit of your stomach will leave you feelin’ fine.

I’ve got a couple of places I store such orphans. There’s a folder in Dropbox that has everything I’ve written related to Eddie Hazzard over the years. There’s lots of Word documents with a paragraph or two jotted down, an exchange between characters or the description of a scene or a crime that I want to keep because I like the idea. I also have a note on my phone of Hazzard lines, usually short bits of dialogue or a quip from Eddie that I particularly like (these often end up getting shared on Twitter for the #1LineWed hashtag game). Many, if not most, of those will end up in a Hazzard story someday. A couple of them I’ve actually written short stories or scenes in a book around already.

Below, I’ve decided to share an orphan that I really like, one that may someday fit into a book or a short story or…something. I hope you like it.

* * *

It takes a lot to get me to blink. I’m not a man prone to backing off from a confrontation, which has brought me sorrow and pain more times than I can count.

But it’s just not in me to back down from a fight. I can’t do it.

Which is how I found myself staring across a room full of people at my nemesis, one Maribelle Vander Grove. Her skirt was pleated and pressed perfectly, her white blouse was unblemished by wrinkle or food stain, not a hair was out of place on her head. Her whole demeanor put my carelessly rumpled self to shame.

“Well?” I asked, not breaking eye contact.

“Jane Seymour,” she responded evenly.

I broke away first and glanced around at the rest of the room. Ten other children, all aged about 12, sat there, staring back at me. “Is that, um, is that right?” I asked.

Joey Standlin, a skinny kid who managed to project an aura of pocket protector-ness even though he was dressed identically to everyone else in the room and wasn’t wearing a pocket protector, cleared his throat hesitantly. “Um, yes, Mr. Hazzard, Maribelle is correct.”

I straightened up from the defensive crouch I’d instinctively taken during my confrontation with the child. “Well, then, a point to Maribelle,” I said.

My name’s Eddie Hazzard, and I’m a private detective currently pretending to be a substitute teacher. My coffee is most definitely spiked.

 

Book 3 Status Update

I was sick over the weekend and the beginning of this week, which means I got a whole lot of nothing written (well, I wrote exactly two things: a one-liner for Miss Typewell that I like, and a couple lines of what will eventually be a song).

But I was busy last week! During my downtime (mostly lunch time), I did a second draft of Book 3 of Eddie Hazzard’s adventures. In the process of polishing things and making sure it all made sense and wasn’t absolute crap (jury is still out on all that; it needs to go to my beta readers next), I added about 2,000 words to its length. My stuff tends to be short; this book currently clocks in at about 55,000 words. Book 2 is a little over 60,000, and Book 1 was around 56,000. But I believe in getting in there, getting the story told, and getting out. I don’t need to describe every single brick of every single building. This ain’t Tolkien. Could I expand things, make the story longer or add in more detail? Sure, I could probably do those things. But I like economic storytelling. I like stories that can be read quickly. So that’s the sort of stories I write.

Sometime in the next few months, it’ll go out to my beta readers for their opinions and perspectives. I trust them; the two ladies who’ve beta read my other books have offered excellent advice and suggestions. Then, I’ll make a few tweaks based on their feedback and find an editor to pick through it. With any luck, I should have the book ready to publish by early next year.

I’ll probably start doing the next draft of Book 4 in the next few weeks. It needs more work than the earlier books did; of everything I’ve written, it’s the one I’m least-confident in (it’s also technically the second full-length novel I wrote; it’s gone through two massive rewrites since the first draft back in, like, 2013). With any luck, that one will be off to the beta readers before the end of the year.

One of the things I’ve noticed about successful self-publishing authors (from this Facebook group I’m in) is that they’re constantly working on multiple projects at once. They’ve always got things in various stages of completion. I need to do that to capitalize on any momentum I might end up generating with one of my books. Sure, the first book hasn’t really sold well (or at all, to be completely honest), but that’s okay. It’s the first one. I have to build the audience and bring in the readers over time. Eventually, they’ll be there. The sales will be there. I’m mostly doing all of this for fun. It’d be nice to recoup expenses (good editing services are not cheap), but I’m mostly doing this because I love telling stories. That’s not going to change anytime soon.

Status Update

So, it’s the end of summer, and the beginning of a new school year. This time of year is always a bit strange for me. While most folks think of autumn as a time when things slow down as the weather grows colder and the trees shift colors, I tend to feel more energized. It probably has something to do with getting back to school and in front of the classroom.

Summer tends to be a bit of a doldrums for me, writing-wise. I think I maybe wrote 1,000 words the entire summer. I did do quite a bit of planning on a couple of works in progress, but I didn’t get a whole lot of actual words on the page, so to speak.

That being said, it’s the first week of the new school year for me, and already I’ve managed to get quite a bit done. I finally reformatted The Invisible Crown for the paperback version with the new cover and a few minor tweaks to the text here and there. I also formatted the paperback version of The Hidden Throne, though I’m still waiting on the cover for that one. I’ve also released a free ebook version of my short story, “Solitaire,” through the website Instafreebie. The idea is that the short story will serve as a way to pull people into the world of Eddie Hazzard and maybe convince them to buy the book. It’s only been downloaded a few times since I put it up, but it’s already translated to at least a couple of sales, so I’m happy about it.

So, what’s coming up? Well, The Hidden Throne is ready to roll as soon as it gets a cover. In the meantime, I’ve started work on a new Hazzard short story about his first case as a solo private detective. I’m also working on a young adult novel (it’s mostly planned out, though I’ve only written a few thousand words on it so far). Of course, there’s also editing and proofing of Hazzard Pay Books 3 and 4 to be done, and I’m still working on Book 5. Books 6 and 7 are in the rough plotting stage, too. So there’s lots of writing ahead, and my motivation seems to finally be kicking in again after the word drought of summer.

The Doubleclicks – Love Problems

I think the thing I’ve always liked about the Doubleclicks – aside from their unapologetically geeky topics and references – is their earnestness. There’s an open honesty to their songs, an understanding of the human heart that they’ve just chosen to discuss in the context of comic conventions and science and Dungeons & Dragons.

While there are fewer of those references in their latest, Love Problems, the sisters retain that honesty and understanding. It’s a gorgeous album, musically their strongest yet, and more direct in its addressing of their core issues.

Before, the ‘Clicks used pop culture as a lens through which to examine the treatment of women in contemporary society and how forming meaningful connections is difficult and maybe sometimes not entirely worth it? People are awesome, but also sometimes the worst. On Love Problems, they address those concerns more directly. There are songs about gender and sexual orientation, about being sensitive but also very much a badass, and about our need to be important in someone’s life. But there’s plenty about the alienation people often feel, even when they’re not physically alone.

I’ve got a lot of favorites from this album already. The opener, “Lord of the Rings,” examines the ways an old relationship can ruin things you always loved (except LOTR. No one gets to take that away from you). “Kilogram” manages to be a touching love song about the actual Kilogram, the object in France from which all other kilograms get their standard. “Sensitive Badass” is . . . well, it’s exactly that, and it gives me the feels, as the kids these days say. “Big Bang” is a sadly beautiful duet featuring Jonathan Coulton, while “Out of Charge” is an a capella ode to when our phone (or our self) is just too low on battery for us to be able to do anything. “Extra Gin” is the drunken barroom singalong geeks have been waiting for and never knew it.

Songs like “Now is the Time,” “Women Know Math,” and “Wrong About Gender” deal with sense of self in very direct ways, addressing women’s issues and the sense of fear that women are forced to experience by an oppressively patriarchal society. But there’s a sense of defiance and determination that permeates these songs (and the rest of the album, really). “If you haven’t yet realized that we are political, you haven’t heard us,” Angela Webber sings in “Sensitive Badass,” and damn if that isn’t the truth.

Should you listen to the Doubleclicks’ Love Problems? Yes. Very much yes. While there’s a lot of hurt and frustration in the lyrics of the songs on Love Problems, there’s also a sense of hope and determination there. This isn’t the music of people who are resigned to just accepting the way the world is. This is what it sounds like when women raise their voices and announce they’re not going to sit idly by. Stand up and raise your voice with them.

Blockage

It’s been a couple of months since I’ve been able to sit down and actually write anything on a story. I finished a short story back in mid-June, but hadn’t been able to put the proverbial pen to paper since then. Every time I pulled up a story to work on it, I’d just stare at the cursor blinking, then get frustrated and close it all down. I’ve written a total of maybe three paragraphs since June, across a couple of stories, and while I like what I’ve written, it’s not likely to get finished anytime soon at that pace.

What happened? Why was I previously able to crank out thousands of words a day, but now I can’t even get a sentence out? I’ve hunted in my head for the answers, and I think I might have started to figure it out. I’m not happy with the answer, but knowing might help me get past it.

I think a big chunk of it is frustration with how the first book has done. Since I relaunched it as my own, self-published book, I’ve made a grand total of…1 copy. I’ve done some marketing, I’ve done a couple of promotions on Amazon, and…1 copy. Its very disheartening. I know, intellectually, that without a lot more investment in promotion and advertising, it’ll be hard to sell very many copies, but it’s still frustrating. And it’s got me in a bit of a funk. I kind of don’t want to work on writing more books right now, if there’s not going to be people reading them.

I know a lot of authors say, “Oh, I’d still write even if no one were reading them.” And, admittedly, I’ve written lots of stuff no one has ever read (my previous efforts at self-publishing a couple of years ago can attest to that). But at some point, the whole reason for writing these stories is so that someone else can read them. If it’s just for me, why spend all the money on editing and covers? Why bother?

All of this sounds very self-pitying, and I hate that. I hate the funk it’s got me in. I want to get back to enjoying writing.

But! I’m hoping writing this all down, putting it out there, will kick me in the pants and get me motivated to turn it around. Here’s hoping.

New Cover!

I posted this in the first newsletter (which you should totally sign up for) and on the Facebook page yesterday, but thought I’d share it here, too. The original cover for The Invisible Crown, while serviceable, just wasn’t doing it for me, so I commissioned a new on on fiverr.com and got what you see above. Isn’t it pretty? Isn’t it evocative? The Kindle version has already made the transition, and i should have the couple of changes to the paperback version made before the weekend is out (I hope).

So, what do you think? Do you like the new cover? I certainly do!

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Review: A Fire Under the Skin Trilogy

I was recently followed by comic book writer and novelist Victor Gischler on Twitter, and it turned out his fantasy trilogy A Fire Under the Skin was on ridiculous sale (I got all three of them for, like, $4).  The story centers around Rina Veraiin, the daughter of the Duke of Klaar, a cold and distant duchy in the kingdom of Helva.  When the duchy is overrun by foreign invaders, the Perannese (with the help of an inside traitor) and her parents are killed, Rina is spirited away from the castle and the only life she’s ever known.  On the run, she is sent to a wizard living up a mountain and given the Prime, a tattoo that runs down her back and allows her access to all sorts of magical power.  From there, Rina must seek out new tattoos to increase her powers and new allies to support her in her efforts to retake her home.

The first book, Ink Mage, focuses on that quest.  Rina makes bargains with unlikely allies, including a boozy womanizer named Brasley (the son of a local minor nobleman) and a stable boy named Alem.  Together, they find more tattoos and return to Klaar changed and ready to fight.

The second book, The Tattooed Duchess, sort of gives away the ending of the first book.  Rina and her companions were successful in their battle to retake Klaar, and things have changed for them.  Rina is now the Duchess of Klaar, facing new challenges and seeking new tattoos.  Rumblings of some greater threat are felt, and Rina must decide what is important to her and who she wants to be.

The final book of the trilogy, A Painted Goddess, finds Rina and her allies facing a full-scale invasion, the total power of the Perannese Empire, threatening to overrun the kingdom of Helva.  and Rina is forced to confront her own desire for the power of the tattoos and the fate of the kingdom.  It doesn’t help that something is killing the kingdom’s gods one by one, and Rina and her allies are somehow tied up in that business as well.

The first two books in the series were originally serialized on the Kindle, released as “Episodes” every so often.  If the books didn’t have a page labeling the beginning of each new episode, though, you’d be hard-pressed to recognize where one ended and another began.

The characters are not always easy to love.  Rina especially makes some hard, questionable choices, most often in regards to the tattoos and her pursuit of their power.  Alem seems to lack much agency, bouncing between a love for Rina and for another character, the gypsy and ink mage Mauziran.  There’s also a group of former prostitutes turned warriors, the Birds of Prey, who were consistently my favorite characters in the books.  Most of them didn’t have much “screen time,” as it were, but they were a constant presence, and it was nice to see them making their own choices and not needing rescue all the time.  I will say, while its nice that the women have plenty of agency of their own, and do most of the rescuing, Alem in particular didn’t seem to have much to recommend him beyond a pretty face and some sexual prowess.  Brasley at least

That brings me to another point.  There’s some fairly explicit sex stuff in the book.  Not really a big deal (there’s also a fair amount of cursing and bloody dismemberment, so your feelings on that sort of stuff will determine how appealing you find the book), if you’re expecting it.

Honestly, my biggest issue with the books – and this is consistent across all three novels – is that their endings feel rushed.  There’s a massive amount of build up in each novel, stage setting with armies and rival ink mages and even a god killer, and each time the enemy is dispatched in the matter of a few pages.  It just feels very abrupt, after the solid pacing of the rest of each novel.  The endings aren’t bad, per se, just rushed.

Overall, A Fire Under the Skin is a solid series.  The characters are enjoyably flawed, the magic system is pretty nifty, and the world is diverse and well-realized.  Despite abrupt endings, the books are generally well-paced and quick reads.  They’re adventure stories for adults, and they revel in that.  Definitely recommended.

If you’re interested in the trilogy, you can buy it here.

Running Out of Things to Write About

I worry sometimes that I’m running out of things to write about.

Not  in the books!  No, I’ve got enough material for the Hazzard novels to run through at least book #7, and plenty of material for short story fodder.

No, I’m talking about on here.  The blog.  What the heck should I talk about here?

I don’t want to do the usual, “Here’s what I think every writer should do,” or offer tips on how to write the perfect first page or craft the best dialogue or whatever.  Folks that wanna do that stuff?  More power to ’em.  There’s lots of new writers out there actively looking for that kind of blog post, looking for that support in getting started.  But I don’t think that I’m the best for any of that.  My usual writing method is, “Oh, this idea seems entertaining/cool.  I think I’ll jot it down and then try to build on it.”  That’s how most of the novels got started: a single scene popped into my head and wouldn’t go away until I wrote it down and then wrote down more stuff around it.

My approach to plot and dialogue is best described as, “Throw stuff at the page and see what sticks.”  There’s nothing wrong with that; I think it serves me quite well.  But that’s not exactly inspiring for other writers, is it?  “I just write stuff down until I’m done writing it down, and I think most of the words are in the right order,” does not a poster slogan make.  Though maybe…

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Nah.  That’d be silly.

Book 2 Progress Report

As the school year draws to a close, I’ve been digging into Book 2 and getting it prepped for a fall release.  My editor sent me her edits and notes a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been going through them and making changes and corrections as needed.  In fact, I finished up just this week and have moved on to formatting.

Formatting has been a bit of a challenge.  I found the font Royal James used, so there’ll be visual consistency in the books, and I’m doing all the little, fiddly things that have to be done to make it look like a real, professional book.  Margins are set, title pages are created, and I’m messing about with the header text and page numbers now.  There are some challenges with getting everything exactly the way I want it, but I’m confident it’ll all be ready in September.

Once the formatting is done, I’ll be in a holding pattern, waiting for my artist to create the cover.  I know he has other jobs ahead of mine, so it’s going to be sometime this summer before he even begins, but once I have the cover in hand the book will basically be ready to go.  Between now and then, there’ll be a short story called “Bad Press” (anyone who got the old Hazzard Pay collection from a few years ago will be familiar with this one, though I’ve added a few new bits).

So, all in all, things are moving along well.  I feel I’ve got a much better handle on the stuff I have to do to self-publish this time around, and I think the results are going to be fantastic.  My editor was tremendously positive about the manuscript, as were my beta readers, so I’m hopeful this one will be a hit.

Envy

Well, after having the cover to my book as my phone background since November, I finally changed it earlier this week.  I tend to change phone backgrounds pretty frequently, so my dedication to the book cover background was unusual.

I switched to the image above, a sketch by the artist Nick Derington.  A quick perusal through his website – especially the sketchbook section – was pretty inspiring and impressive.  I love the guy’s art style.  Reminds me quite a bit of Chris Samnee or Darwyn Cooke.

And his stuff makes me extremely jealous.

I mean, that Batman image is a rough sketch he did with a ballpoint pen.  My finished art has never looked that good.  Never will.  Part of me is so envious of his talent.

It’s the same way with lots of authors, too.  I read their work and I’m jealous of their talent, their skill, their ability to craft a story or a character or even just a line of dialogue.  “I’ll never write anything that good,” I say to myself, discouraged and deflated.

Here’s the thing, though: everyone who does anything creative or artistic feels that way at some point.  When someone as talented and well-regarded as Neil Gaiman can still experience impostor syndrome, you know it’s a worry that weighs heavily on all of us.

So I constantly have to remind myself that someone else’s skill does not detract or reduce what I do.  I think back to a thing I heard, years ago, about music: every song is someone’s favorite.  By correlation, every book or comic must be someone’s favorite, too.  So, while there’s folks out there who absolutely love that image of Batman up there (like I do), there’s probably someone out there who prefers something I’ve drawn.  For every fan of Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, there’s someone out there who loves some other book more (maybe even my book, though I’m not so full of myself to think that’s actually true).  Hell, there’s probably even someone out there who likes the “song” (and I use that term loosely) “Revolution #9.”

Am I still jealous of Nick Derington’s skills?  God, yes.  Am I going to let that stop me from creating my own stuff?  Hell, no.

Seeking Reviews

The success of the self-published author, as many have said, is all about reviews.  We live and die by them.  The Invisible Crown is the most-reviewed book I’ve ever put out, and even it only has *checks Amazon page like he doesn’t know off the top of his head* five reviews.  I need more.

So, here’s the deal: if you’ve read and enjoyed the book, awesome!  Tell folks about it by leaving a quick review on the Amazon page.  It doesn’t have to be a gushing five-star review.  You don’t have to write paragraph after paragraph detailing your favorite bits and how your greatest sadness in life is that you don’t get to spend every waking moment of it with me (that can just be subtext).  Just a line or two saying, “I really enjoyed it, you should totally check it out if you like mysteries with snarky protagonists who drink far too much” is plenty.

And hey, if you haven’t read it yet, and happen to review books for a website?  Hit the Contact page and drop me a line, I’ll hook you up with a review copy!  Just like that?  Just like that.

I want reviews, folks!  Help a guy out!