Writers are full of advice for one another. “Write every day,” some of them say. “The first draft is you telling the story to yourself.” “Kill your darlings.”
Kill your darlings.
It’s a simple idea: you can’t be afraid to cut stuff you really like if it doesn’t fit. Even if it’s the best scene you’ve ever written, with dialogue crafted into perfect prose, if it doesn’t fit in the book, you have to cut it.
Now, most authors will keep scraps and bits they’ve cut like this in case they find somewhere to put it later on down the road. Just because this particular scene doesn’t work in this book doesn’t mean it won’t work in another book. Your darling may still see the light of day.
And then there’s what I’m experiencing. I’ve been going through book 4, giving it a once-over before sending it off to my editor at the end of the month. And…
…and dear lord, the first third of the book is just dead boring. It’s flat, lifeless, and doesn’t really do much besides move the proverbial pieces around the board, getting them in place for when things do start to pick up. It bored me when I was reading through it. I hated it. It plodded in the worst possible way.
So I cut it. All 20,000 words of it. A full third of the book, just gone.
Am I insane? Couldn’t I have just worked on it, made what was there more interesting? I mean, I’d already invested all this time and effort and energy into the thing.
But no, you gotta kill your darlings, even if they’re not quite as darling as you’d like. You can’t be afraid to put massive swathes of your book on the chopping block if they just don’t work. And this 20,000 words just did. Not. Work.
I’m going to try to rewrite that chunk of book over the next couple of weeks. I’d still like to hit my (self-imposed) deadline to get the book off to the editor by the beginning of June. I spent a bit of time yesterday plotting out what I’ll do in the rewrite. It has me far more excited than what I had originally.
This book has been the most challenging for me to write. It was the second Hazzard novel I ever wrote, way back in, like, 2013, and it’s now on its third major draft (where I’ve rewritten massive chunks, not just little tweaks here and there). This damn book is my problem child, but it’s gonna get written.
Even if I have to kill half of it in the process.
**FINAL UPDATE: Thanks to the hard work of indie author Marie Force and her Indie Author Support Network, my Kindle Direct Publishing account has been reinstated! I cannot thank her enough for her help, and I highly recommend other indie authors join the Indie Author Support Network, one of the best advocacy groups for independent authors out there.**
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been dealing with a behind the scenes problem that has me just this side of pulling all my hair out.
In early March, I saw a sudden, inexpiable spike in page reads through Kindle Unlimited. Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a program you can enroll your Amazon Kindle ebook in that allows people to “borrow” the ebook. For a flat fee ($10/month, I think), you can download any books enrolled in KU at no extra cost. Authors are paid by the number of pages read, called Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP). Each page read is worth a tiny fraction of a penny. Prior to this past March, I averaged between 300 and 600 KENP per month (which means, like, two people read the book that way).
Suddenly, though, I was seeing thousands of KENP each day. Within the first week of it, I was seeing upwards of 8,000 KENP per day, all for the first book in my series, The Invisible Crown.
Now, there are a few possible explanations for this. First, someone out there might’ve found my book and recommended it on a big blog or YouTube channel or something. One of my AMS ads might’ve suddenly started working. Maybe Oprah added it to her book club. None of those were what was happening, though. I used by best Google Fu to search up anything that might explain why hundreds of people were suddenly reading my book. I came up with absolutely nothing.
When I mentioned it to a writing group I belong to on Facebook, a less-than-positive possibility was brought up immediately: click farmers.
See, there are people out there who want to scam the system. They pay someone a bit of money to set up a bunch of bots to read a book on KU, giving them tens of thousands of page reads and helping them rake in the cash.
Occasionally, to throw Amazon off the scent, these click farmers will throw some attention at a book that didn’t ask for it. That’s what probably happened to me.
I did the right thing: I emailed Amazon and let them know what was going on, that I had done nothing to bring on these illegitimate page reads and asked politely that Amazon didn’t do anything to punish me for the actions of someone I wasn’t affiliated with. Amazon did what I expected them to do: they stripped me of the illegitimate page reads, which was perfectly fair.
But the extra page reads kept coming, though at a slightly lower rate. Instead of 7,000 or 8,000 KENP per day, I was now seeing 2,000 to 3,000 on strong days. Amazon sent me an email telling me they were again stripping me of the illegitimate KENP page reads, which again I was totally fine with.
And then Tuesday rolled around. On Tuesday, I received an email from Amazon telling me they were freezing my Kindle Direct Publishing account due to the continued illegitimate page reads. I was pretty upset. I emailed them, letting them know I had no control over the issue and that I had done nothing to attract the illegitimate page reads. They reinstated my account Thursday evening, thankfully.
And then, Friday morning, I discovered that all of my Kindle ebooks were not showing up on Amazon.
My print books–which are done through Createspace–still appear when you search for my books, but the Kindle versions are just…gone. Checking my KDP account, all three books show as being live, which means they should be available on Amazon for purchase. But they’re not.
It’s frustrating. I’m sitting here in fear that my books won’t come back up, or that they will and then my account will be terminated because of some click farmer bot guy in Russia who decided to use me as a target to throw Amazon off their scent.
I’m working on a solution now. Book Three, Death Comes Calling, was never enrolled in KU. The other two are in it until mid-July, at which point they will no longer have to be exclusive to Amazon (a condition of using KDP Select, which is the program that puts your books in KU) and I can post the books on other sites as well. Getting out of KU will solve the illegitimate KENP problem, though it does take my books away from those folks who read things through KU. Of course, if the numbers I’ve seen are at all accurate, not many real people were actually using KU to read my books anyway.
As of early Friday afternoon, my ebooks still aren’t available on Amazon. I’m hoping the issue is resolved soon, because it’s pretty damn frustrating.
**UPDATE: My ebooks have returned! And they finally linked the ebook version of Death Comes Calling to the print version! And my KENP have dropped back down to literally zero, so I guess whoever was sending all the illegitimate reads my way got caught and shut down.**
**ANOTHER UPDATE: As of Tuesday, May 15, my KDP account has been terminated. I can’t sell my books (ebook or print) on Amazon. I’m working with some other folks to rectify the situation, but I have no idea when (or if) I’ll be able to sell stuff on Amazon again. However, if you check out the Books page above, you’ll find links to buy the book on a variety of other platforms.**
Over on Facebook, a bunch of my friends have been doing this thing where they post a series of albums that influenced them significantly. Over the course of ten days, you post ten album covers, but offer no explanation as to how or why you chose the albums you did. I just finished doing it myself, but I enjoy explaining things and going into detail about why I’ve made the choices I made. So, for your reading enjoyment, I present my ten days, ten albums, with some explanation.
1. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Damn the Torpedoes!
The first Tom Petty album I owned, and the one that I go back to time and time again. The damn thing plays like a greatest hits collection, and there’s not a bad song on there. I still think it’s the most essential Tom Petty album there is, even moreso than Full Moon Fever or Wildflowers (and I’ve already gone on at length about my love for Wildflowers).
2. The Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
This album was my introduction to the Flaming Lips (I mean, aside from “She Don’t Use Jelly,” which everyone had heard on 90210). The first song, “Fight Test,” just floored me. The mixture of weird electronic squiggles and beeps with the acoustic guitar and Wayne Coyne’s strained, heartfelt vocals . . . I was hooked.
3. The Beatles, Rubber Soul
If you didn’t think I was going to include a Beatles album on a list like this, you haven’t been paying attention. The Beatles are the alpha and the omega, the source of everything I love about music, and Rubber Soul is their best album, if you ask me. It’s the perfect balance between their earlier, more raucous work and their later, more deliberate and formalist efforts. They made more interesting and experimental albums after this one, but they never made another album as cohesive and awesome as it.
4. Bob Dylan, Time Out of Mind
And here’s the requisite Dylan album. Time Out of Mind might seem like an odd choice–there are definitely better Dylan albums to choose from–but it’s the one that had the greatest impact on me. Discovering that he could still produce music that was this visceral and heartfelt, even as his voice broke completely and he seemed well-past his prime . . . it was inspiring. And the songs are pretty damn good, too.
5. Queen, A Night at the Opera
Queen blew my tiny little middle school mind like nothing else. The obvious epic, “Bohemian Rhapsody,” is there, but so is the biblical apocalyptica of “The Prophet’s Song” and the nasty character assassination of “Death on Two Legs (Dedicated To…).” The sheer stylistic range on display is incredible, with heavy rockers, music hall goofs, and folky acoustic numbers with soaring harmonies. God, the layered harmonies. And don’t forget Brian May’s guitar work. The album kicks ass from start to finish.
6. Pink Floyd, Meddle
This little-known Floyd album is one of my all-time favorites. The pulsing bass of opener “One of These Days,” the dreamy quality of “Fearless,” and the laid-back fun of “San Tropez” and “Seamus” make for a varied, entertaining album that doesn’t get weighed down in the concept album pretensions that most Floyd albums have to deal with. And the closer, the epic “Echoes,” with the sonar ping and murky, underwater feel…classic.
7. Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins, Rabbit Fur Coat
I had the privilege of seeing this album performed live in its entirety last year, and it was one of the best concert experiences of my life. The harmonies are the obvious highlight, but Jenny Lewis’s lyrics and songwriting are just as sharp and incisive as they were almost 15 years ago when this album came out.
8. The National, Boxer
My introduction to the National was through a bootlegged live show right after this album came out. The show was made up almost entirely of songs from the new album, and I was intrigued so I sought Boxer out. Now, they’re one of my favorite bands, and this record is the reason why. Personal favorites include “Slow Show” and closer “Gospel,” though there’s really not a bad song on the album.
9. Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
Until the release of the likes of Ghost of Tom Joad and Devils + Dust, Nebraska was a weird outlier for the Boss. Solo acoustic, just his voice and guitar and a harmonica with a four-track recorder: that’s pretty much all there is to Nebraska. But it’s haunting, and glorious, and full of fire and brimstone and the sort of carefully-sketched character studies that Springsteen is known for. It’s the polar opposite of what Springsteen was known for: stripped down instead of piled high with overdubs, loose and slightly sloppy instead of precision-perfect.
10. Wilco, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
My introduction to Wilco came when I was listening to a Glen Phillips (of Toad the Wet Sprocket fame) bootleg solo acoustic show. Folks in the audience were calling out what they wanted to hear next, and some dude kept asking him to play a Wilco song. And then he threw in a reference to them in one of his own songs, and I decided to check them out. YHF blew my mind, with its mix of acoustic instrumentation, weird blips and beeps and effects, and phenomenal songwriting. The fact that this album led me to so many other amazing bands–The Minus 5 and Uncle Tupelo being the two most prominent–and also led to me finding out about the Mermaid Avenue collections (Billy Bragg and Wilco play around with old Woody Guthrie lyrics? Hell yes!) is just gravy.
I’ve been stalling out working on novel-length stuff lately, but I have been working on short stories.
I’ve always liked short stories. I enjoy being able to get in, tell a story, and get out. You don’t have to worry about setting things up for the next book in the series or building a massive, epic narrative. You can tell small, simple stories that are complete in and of themselves.
I often use short stories to experiment with themes, narrative devices, and storytelling styles. The Hazzard Pay novels have a very specific tone and style to them that doesn’t allow for me to try lots of new things from book to book, unfortunately. And while I definitely enjoy writing in Eddie Hazzard’s voice, it’s fun to try out different things sometimes, different tones and genres and narrative conventions. And since they’re experiments, if they fail? No big deal.
Anyway, I’ll probably put up one of the stories I’ve written lately here on the website in the next week or so.
The new book, Death Comes Calling, is out today! Go pick up your copy from Amazon right now! Tell your friends! Tell your family! Tell random strangers you encounter on the street! Shout it from rooftops and with bullhorns and while frothing at the mouth and grabbing people by their lapels!
Well, okay, maybe not that last one. But definitely the rest of them!
About a year ago, I reviewed Steen Jones’s debut novel, The Door Keeper. There was a lot to love about it: the characters were great, the plot was tight, and the story kept me engaged from the very first line. So I was pretty excited when, a few weeks ago, she released the sequel with little-to-no-fanfare.
The new book, The Lost Door, picks up seven years after the end of The Door Keeper. Life for Eden and her family – both the one she’s made for herself on Earth and the one she rediscovered in the first book on the world of Caelum – is good.
Then mysterious things start to happen with the doors, and Eden rushes off to solve the mystery. Instead, she’s kidnapped by a new foe who wants to use her unique gifts to open up other worlds to allow him to conquer them. Together with her family – especially her daughter, Gabby, who discovers her own gifts this time around – Eden must protect the doors and save the day.
I’m not doing the plot justice. It’s both more complex and much simpler than how I’d describing it. Steen Jones remains an excellent plotter; the action comes quickly but isn’t rushed, and the only lulls in the action are of the “calm before the storm” variety.
Steen splits the first-person point of view between Eden, the protagonist from the first book, and her daughter Gabby. Both characters have distinctive, separate voices, and the trading off of POV doesn’t distract as it can often do. It’s never easy to pull off the multiple POV trick, but it’s to Steen Jones’s credit that she makes it look effortless.
In addition to the main characters carried over from the first novel, there’s a whole host of new protagonists and a new antagonist. Steen manages to set up the new antagonist, Aslek, as both a sympathetic individual and an evil, dastardly villain. She walks a fine line, but sticks the landing on it. I was a bit surprised when his character seemed to disappear about halfway through the book, to be replaced by a secondary antagonist left over from the first book, but Aslek does manage to loom over the proceedings despite receiving very little actual time in front of the reader.
I do have a few points of criticism, though most of them have nothing to do with the story or its characters. I love those things. But it feels like the book needed another round of editing to be ready. Really obvious mistakes – consistently misspelling lightning as lightening, misplaced apostrophes in plural possessive words (making the words singular possessive instead), rod iron instead of wrought iron – cropped up every few pages. Lord knows my own novels have typos in them (there’s probably at least two just in this review, I betcha), but a good editor should have caught these. Most of them are consistent, recurring mistakes, especially the lightning/lightening thing. The errors rarely impeded my ability to understand what the author was trying to say, but it did happen on occasion and I did sometimes have to go back and re-read sentences to make sure I understood what they were trying to say.
Overall, The Lost Door is a fun, adventurous sequel to Steen Jones’s The Door Keeper. It’s fun, fast-paced, and enjoyable. It’s nice seeing characters who make an effort to understand one another, whose relationships are driven by character and genuine emotions rather than what would be narratively convenient. Everyone’s actions make sense, their choices feel genuine, and the story leaves me wanting more. I can’t wait for the final act in the trilogy.
I’ve been teaching my World History I classes about the Middle Ages the past week or two, which led to a brief discussion on epithets. Y’know, those descriptors folks had back in the day instead of a family name, it seems? Eric the Red, or Charles the Bald, or Charles Martel (which means “the Hammer” and is my favorite)…everyone seemed to have one back in the day. Brandon the Bearded. Lothar the Dungstomper. Steve the Exceptionally Irritating.
So I came up with a short activity: the students had to think about five adjectives that could serve as their epithets, then pick one and explain why that’s the one that they think best describes them. I’m not sure how seriously they’re taking the assignment (or any assignment I give them; this is a tough freshman class, y’all), but it got me thinking about my own description. What epithet would they give me, if I were a king or other important personage? Would I be Charlie the Wise? Charlie the Educated? Or maybe Charlie the Amiable. Charlie the Anxious. Charlie the Storyteller. Charlie the Diabetic. Charlie the Hopeless with Maintaining Basic Routines (that one is maybe a little unwieldy for daily usage). Charlie the Inept.
Epithets were both boasts and pejoratives, an elevation of character and a verbal jab at weaknesses. And I’m not so sure of myself that I’d be certain my epithet would necessarily be a positive one. I’m sure everyone thinks about their legacy and how they’ll be remembered when they’re gone. I’m not unique in that respect (or, possibly, any other respect. But that could be the depression talking). How would those who knew me best remember me? How would my students or coworkers remember me? Or my readers? It’s a frustrating question to ask, because there’s no one right answer to it and no way for me to know before I’m gone. I hope – as do most people, I’m sure – that I’ve left a positive impression in my time on earth. Or any impression. Being forgotten seems more than a little sad to me.
What would your epithet be?