Monday, February 16, 2015

Start to Finish

Most writers I've ever read seem to agree: write, write, write, then edit when you get it on the page.  I really try to do that.  Honest. The problem is I often find it very challenging to do things that way.
Why? Well, for starters I usually have a conception of where I want the story and my main characters to start and a pretty clear image of how they end up.  There are usually specific scenes and images and conflicts that I see along the road, but much of it is out of focus and (as The Proceena Crusade taught me) even the end doesn't always turn out as I envision. 

I often check in on Facebook when I’m working.  I like to give word counts and let you, the reader, know that I'm “hard” at work on the next great story.  That worked out really well in Lunatic City.  It had a little different feel and it was really easy to take Frank Parker along on his dark and twisted journey into the seedy underworld of Tycho City.  But, with the larger space operas, it seems the challenge is different. 

I want to advance the story, but I’m still feeling out some of the characters and their role on this large and complex canvas.  I often find characters that were first filling a space across from or next to someone at the table grow into complex people with their own stories that fit very well into the plot tapestry I’m weaving. I recently found the perfect role for someone who has really only served as a minor foil.  Now, he’s a full-fledged actor who is not just helping tell this big tale, but has a compelling story of his own that enriches the whole novel. 

This added plot thread now has to go back and be woven into the story I’ve told so far.  It means moving scenes around, compressing or elongating time lines, and sharing the page with other plot threads.  I have to do all of this without making a bloated story that bores or confuses.  This sometimes means trimming from other threads.

Much of that work can come later, during conventional editing.  It doesn't have to be perfect, but the events of my stories (like all other stories) build on the events previous.  I can’t just change this character midstream and then go back and fix it after writing the rest of the story.  OK, I probably could, but it seems so much more natural to go back, add a couple of scenes rather than try to fill in my mind what I think my character said and did in those earlier pages (I often go back and reread where thread left off to avoid continuity mistakes).  The dialogue doesn’t have to be perfect. Every move or thought doesn't have to be just so. But, the foundation for this character’s story and what he’s done so far has to be there for me to build upon.

Only then, can I write the rest of my story.

Monday, January 26, 2015


I believe reading criticisms of my work is essential to becoming a stronger writer.  Every book I’ve signed has included my author email and a request to give me some feedback.  I read every review and criticism and try to weigh that against my work in an effort to find weaknesses in my writing style.  But art is a funny thing.

It’s not concrete.  One person may hate certain types of stories or prefer certain settings or genres.  Some people won’t ever pick up my work simply because it’s science fiction.  On the other hand, I’m not one to read vampire or romance novels.  So, much of what we “like” or “don’t like” is about taste.  That begs the question: when does dismissing a criticism because of personal taste become a cop-out and when should I take the time to address the issues someone has?

I haven’t gotten many reviews (for those reading this and have read my stuff I would be grateful for an honest Goodreads or Amazon review), but I have thoroughly read the reviews of those who have taken their valuable time comment on my work.  I have tried to soak up all I can and want to use your insight to see weaknesses in my work.

I have, (to date) only received one scathing review.  That was delivered privately and not in one of the public forums.  The woman’s opinions were so harsh that it seemed she found my stories not just bad, but offensive.  I was mystified by some of the things that she said and really wanted to refute others, but I reminded myself that it was her honest opinion and my stories just weren’t for her.

One thing she did say that gave me pause (and seemed like a legitimate criticism) was that she felt I told the story through too many eyes, leaving her unsure which characters were the “main” characters.  I really gave some thought to that.  Was I using too many characters?  Should I limit the number of POVs to one or two central characters or should I stay with what I was doing?

Well, I think I have an answer: yes and no. Clear as mud, right? Well, this is art, and the “rules” of art tend to be fuzzy.  There are certain concepts I believe in: kill as many adverbs as possible, don’t change POV in the middle of a scene, avoid the passive voice…the list goes on.  But, the stylistic choice to tell the story through the eyes of many characters is different.

I am aware that I write stories that sometimes require the reader to keep up.  I have complex plot threads (some of them occur completely off the page) that require the reader to pay attention.  There’s a lot going on.  Threads that start out far apart in the beginning of the story come together in (what I hope is) a well-woven tapestry that holds up under scrutiny and (more importantly) is entertaining.

I have always enjoyed complex stories like these, stories that deal with the conflicting motivations of their characters, stories that can make even the villains believable and relatable, stories that bring people who were far apart at the beginning of the tale together for its climax.  This often requires the eyes of several characters.

Furthermore, I feel that telling the story through the eyes of certain characters can help build suspense. If I introduce you to a character and invest time getting to know him/her and then that person is killed in the first or second act, is any character safe? Or, if I have a ticking time bomb in the plot of which the main characters are ignorant, how can I make the reader aware without letting my main characters in on it? The answer becomes simple: show it through the eyes of the villain or other lesser character.  That’s sometimes the only way to preserve the suspense while keeping the main characters oblivious to the danger lurking in the shadows.

Harry Turttledove, George R. R. Martin, and Stephen King have all told complex stories through the eyes of many characters very often. The Game of Thrones series and Needful Things novel are just two examples of how these techniques have been used to great success. But, that doesn’t mean that I should just do this with reckless abandon.

I included some “background scenes” as told through the eyes of Turab Al Saad, Aaron Bell, and Kimball Rhodes in Procythian Reign, but I really like them.  Two of the three sire characters who play at least a supporting role in the next Proceena installment and the other provides an up-close-and-personal view of the Wolf lycosaries, characters I’m trying to get great use out of in the last Proceena installment.  Also, the Battle of Bravura City has tremendous repercussions throughout the rest of the Proceena stories, so it felt appropriate to include those moments of history in the story.

There is something to be said for keeping the story as focused on as few characters as possible.  Using too many point of views can take focus away from the story’s central events.  I struggled with keeping the reader up on important events happening off the page while staying with the main conflict between the Clabar-Bankovs and the Al Saads in The Proceena Crusade. I rewrote and restructured many times, not to change the essential story, but to funnel the story through the eyes of as few characters as possible.  I’m delighted with the results.  I hope you are, too.

Now, I find myself writing my last Proceena story and I have been attempting to minimize the characters through which I tell the story, and this story is blossoming into a story of which I know I’m going to be proud and (I hope) you’re going to enjoy.  But, I think I’ll be adding some more substance to this plot and adding a few characters with whom to tell the stories, but the last Proceena story has to be big. It is, after all, a space opera.

I’m going to work hard to keep the story flowing through the central characters, but I don’t want to short change you with a half-told stories.  I just know it’s going to be a lot of fun! 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

I’ve Missed This

Hello, everyone!  I’ve been missing a while, but I assure you it isn’t because I’ve lost my way in the jungle or because I’ve gotten lazy or lack motivation.  In fact, it’s been the opposite.  I’ve been consumed for the last several months by an important exam that I had looming over my head and have spent day-and-night prepping for it.
Sadly, it has kept me away from writing for months now (Comicon being the sole exception).  My kids have been such sports about dad studying night-and-day and my personal life has…well, there hasn’t really been a personal life.

But, that’s all changed, now.  Even as I ground away at studying, my mind would wander to what I want to do to finish out my Proceena Trilogy.  Where do I take the Clabar fortunes now?  What other characters play a role? What are the conflicts?  How is this long journey going to end?

Then, there’s Lunatic City I have to get it finished, as well.  I’m waiting on final word from my beta readers and I have to put the final touches on it before sending it off to my wonderfully patient editor, Stephanie.  I have some marketing ideas for this one, so stay tuned for news on this dark and gritty detective-noir story.

I really missed writing.  It’s become a real passion and I’m anxious to move forward and finish what I've started with Proceena and the Clabars.  I have other ideas rattling around in this ole head of mine, and (while I enjoy having a couple of different stories going to keep things fresh) I don’t want to move on to those until I've closed out the big project I’m on right now.

So, I’m going to keep this short so I can get back to that thing I’ve missed so much and (I hope provide you with the quality stories you’ve been waiting for.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Tampa Comicon Recap

Hey, everyone!  What a great time I had at the Tampa Comicon!  I got a lot of great exposure among "my people", but, more importantly, I had a great time!  I went home dead tired every night, but the people and the costumes were amazing!  I've included a few pics below.
 I love the Mandalorians.
 Harley bashing me over the head with a mallet.
 My favorite Decepticon.
 I'm not sure who they are, but I felt really bad for the girl.  She was miserable lugging that sword around.
 Note me standing closest to the Sith.
 Tie-fighter pilots!
 A pair of Steampunk Pirate Princesses.
 Another awesome Mandalorian.  Did I mention I think they're cool?  His armor is real plate steel...heavy.
 An Imperial Stormtrooper and I.  I had a great opportunity to get a Sandtrooper, but my partner was away for a while. Someday, I'd like a full-fledged Snowtrooper.
 A friend of mine as Kingpin and his lovely wife as Harley.  It was really cool seeing them both.
 A Chinese soldier from a rare video game I couldn't name.  My interest in all things military demanded that I get his pic.
 My favorite Sith Lord and I.  Who knew Lord Maul was a girl?

 A Jedi and I.
 Hey, Indie!  It was a really cool outfit.
 Hanging out with Symbiot Spidey.
 Deadshot and the Wicked Witch.
 My favorite Mandlaorian!
 One of many great Bane costumes I saw during the 3 days.
 One of two really great Cobra Commanders I saw this weekend.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Tampa Comicon!

It has been a long, crazy summer, and, boy, has it been an exciting one for me! I've been consumed by prepping for advancement in my main career.  That burden will be behind me in early September, but I haven't let my writing stagnate. 

I've finished my first draft of my soon-to-be-released Lunatic City, a detective-noir story that takes place on a colonized moon.   It's been sent to my beta readers and I hope to do some tweaking and send it to my editor in September.  I hosted a giveaway on Goodreads, and the interest it has generated in my work has been very gratifying.  The first words of the final installment of my Proceena Trilogy are on the page, and I'm hoping for a New Year release!

None of that, however, is the exciting news.  I'm pleased to announce that I will have a booth at the Comicon convention in Tampa August 1-3!  It is late notice.  I fund my own projects and I can assure you, getting into one of these conventions is very expensive and I got in "under the wire". But I am in, and I will be there!

I welcome you all to come out a see me.  Come by and pick up an autographed copy of Procythian Reign or The Proceena Crusade, or better yet, both.  The price will be right.  Regardless, stop by and chat.  I always enjoy a good conversation, especially if it involves science fiction.  

I look forward to finishing out the summer with a bang and keeping the momentum going into the fall!  Come on out and see me.  And don't forget: Amazon Prime members can read my books for free!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Darkness, Take My Hand

The title of this post is an homage to one of my favorite writers, Dennis Lehane.  His Patrick Kenzie collection is one of my favorite detective series, and I highly recommend it.  Darkness, Take My Hand is his second title in that series and is my favorite.  It should be no surprise that it’s a masterpiece of noire fiction and, without giving anything away, has some very clever, breath-taking plot-twists.   It is worth noting I did not ask his permission to borrow the title.  If he is somehow offended, I promise to rename or pull the post altogether.

I chose this title for today’s post because it describes how I feel in my own writing ventures.  Readers of any of my stuff will note that my work is hardly happy-go-lucky or sunshiny.  There aren’t a lot of beautiful April spring days. People had better keep their heads down should one come along.  It could only be a bad omen.  I have wondered why that’s the case. 

Am I some kind of sadist?  Do I hate people or humanity?  Is there some darker side of my psyche that yearns to be free?  I suppose there’s more truth to some of that than would make any of us comfortable thinking about—I mean you are reading this stuff.  Aren’t you?  But I think that it’s about something else.

Warm April days are great for going out and having a good time, but we aren’t challenged if everyone’s having a great time.  Who wants to read about characters whose biggest disaster is running out of mimosas at the bar?  Where’s the excitement in that?  Where’s the motivation to turn the page?

But if those people are stranded on a desert island and forced to fight some indigenous tribe or (even better) each other for survival, that’s pretty damned interesting.  How are they going to interact?  Does the “nice guy” really thrive in this law of the jungle society?  How about the pretty little maiden?  What happens when she turns into a force as powerful as a tidal wave?

I like fiction that makes me think, fiction that explores that part of life that no one really wants to talk about, the Grim Reaper in the room.  I have tried to write stories that pit likeable characters against each other.  Eric Phillips is flawed, but his journey begins with the greatest of intentions.  Good intentions or not, how could he possibly work with Laura Clabar?  Laura is likable and sympathetic, but she’s still an aristocrat and does seem a little out of step with a bunch of blue-collar revolutionaries, much as I suspect Princess Di would have amidst Marxist uprising.

My stories, so far have been war stories. War is an ugly business.  Politics is, too.  Just spending five minutes watching political ads makes me feel dirty.  How could I write a pleasant, feel-good story steeped in both of these? There’s no way.

I’m now about half way through a novel that's a departure from the galaxy-sweeping space operas of Proceena.  It’s a story about a disgraced cop who lives on the colonized moon.  It’s something new for me, something different.  The book is progressing very well and it’s coming together quite nicely. 

It’s also following very close to the story I had at conception.  There’s just one problem: when put on the page, it casts a shadow over the whole room.  I knew from the very beginning that I was going to be delving into some dark territories.  There really wasn’t a way around it given the very lurid culture in which I’ve chosen to set this story.  But what a great opportunity as a writer to put my hero, who’s flawed in his own right, in a moral conundrum!  How great it is to see him breaking more than the rules in his quest to get the answers he needs!  What master does he really serve?  Do the problems he face warp his moral compass?  Should they? 

If not, how does he serve both masters?  Who, in this Lunar Sin City can he really trust?  And, can he really have the luxury of friends?  If not, how does he do it all alone?  Do those questions sound interesting to you?  They sure do to me.  So, I thank you all for reading my work.  I’m grateful to you for taking the time to read this blog. 

But, if you’re going to read me, please understand one thing: I’ve grown up with All the King’s Men and Salem’s Lot and Gone Baby Gone.  I like dark fiction, fiction with villains that will make you hate them, and troubled, imperfect heroes who are sometimes unlikely…I’m looking at you The Proceena Crusade.  I like my danger to be grave (is there any other kind), my conflicts to ask questions and my triumphs to come at a cost, much like real life. 

I don’t see any other way for a story to be satisfying.  We bleed in real life.  We hurt in real life.  Why would we want our stories to be about someone’s lost mimosa?  That's not the story I want to read or tell.  So, as I think about the sordid world of Frank Parker and all of its wicked complexities, I say: “Darkness, Take My Hand.”  I know no other way.



Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reason for Optimism

Preface: I wrote this post for a fellow author looking for a guest blog.  She was looking for something uplifting and it sounded like she was looking for some encouragement, so I took a few hours out of my day to pen this little post.  That was in October.  I figured I’d make some minor edits and post it as my own…since it is. J
“I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career.  I’ve lost almost three hundred games.  Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed.  I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life.  And that is why I succeed.”
Most of you might recognize this Michael Jordan quote.  It’s come to be one of my favorites, not only because it’s about one of our most iconic athletes sharing his human fallibility, but also because of the simple truth in those words.  I’m new to the writing business and can see where people would get frustrated with the constant work that seems so slow to pay dividends, but I knew that writing was a career steeped in disappointment and aggravation when I set out on this path and tried to prepare myself for it.
I’ve always enjoyed the creative process.  I spent my childhood daydreaming.  I suppose I spend my adulthood daydreaming, too.  I just put it in writing and spend hours refining it into a finished product.  I could have written the full Proceena Trilogy, never published and enjoyed every moment.  But, I’d have missed out on the excitement of others reading Procythian Reign and sharing their enthusiasm for it.  It’s so rewarding to chat about their favorite character or how surprised they were by a plot twist.  It feels like Christmas and my kids are going to open a really cool gift I want them to enjoy!
But writing can be a fickle master.  There are all the long hours writing, rewriting and finishing just one work, something that will be repeated every time a new piece is written.  Then there are things like getting cover art, formatting your document for e-publishing and setting up your print book.  And this is the easy part.  The Twitter Machine consumes hours of my day.  There’s marketing research to do and business infrastructure to build.  I have become one with my phone and carry my computer everywhere I go, just in case I can sneak a few minutes to compose a review request or (Heaven forbid) write.  Then, there are the public appearances.  And, through it all, the wheels of progress seem to turn a little slowly.  Ok, sometimes it seems like they’re not turning at all.  But, that’s where Mr.  Jordan’s famous quote becomes so important. 
We are all human.  That means that we are all fallible.  Each and every one of us has failed at something, and, on some level, everything we’ve ever done.  George Washington’s first command was surrounded and captured and resulted in an international incident that sparked The Seven Years War.  Abraham Lincoln failed in business two separate times, lost eight elections and suffered a nervous breakdown before being placed at the helm of this nation in one of its most pivotal moments.  His future right hand man, Ulysses Grant, had resigned from the army to be with his family and failed at farming and real estate before going to work in his dad’s leather store to await destiny’s call. Winston Churchill was a failed First Lord of the Admiralty of World War I notoriety whose brain child was a campaign to open a new front in the Turkish Dardanelles.  The resulting battle, Galipoli, is still considered one of the great tragic wastes in a war full of great tragic wastes.
We all fail.  But, it is through failure that we grow and get better.  I have a new book, The Proceena Crusade, getting painfully close to a final rough draft.  That story has already undergone huge rewrites and cuts with more to come.  And, it’ll be a better, stronger book for the experience I have had with Procythian Reign.  When it’s time to publish, I’ll know ahead of time pitfalls and struggles I had the first time around, and will, hopefully, avoid most of them. 

The business of writing should be fun.  After all, isn’t that why we do it, to do something we love?  How many times have people of all walks of life said: “That’s the ticket, if only I could do that”?  Is it really any surprise that it’s so damned hard?  We just have to keep our butt in the chair and fingers on the keyboard.  We’ll stumble and bumble at times, but we’ll learn, and, with determination, we’ll persevere.  That’s the key to “success”.