Wednesday, February 27, 2013

(For Sakina)

I’m fretting. Here’s why:

There was a guy at the last writer’s conference I went to that had a brilliant idea to increase his revenue stream on Amazon. He had a trilogy that was selling pretty well. His great idea was to take each book in the trilogy and split it into two, thus making a six book set. Whereas he as was selling books at $4.99 each, he could now sell six books at $3.99. Brilliant! He’ll cash in.

I think each of his trilogy books was only about 40,000 words long; each of the new hexalogy would be 20,000, just the right size for eBooks, I was told. So, his whole story came in at 120,000.

Now that got me, a new author trying to make a living with words, thinking. I’ve sensed two creatures in me, one a writer, author and artist. Him I like. Him I want to be. But, alas, in this day and age, because I need to eat and want to sell books, there must also be this business man in me. These two guys haven’t had a lot of fights so far, the business guy just barely started getting ammunition, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t had theoretical debates.

I’m always hearing that the publishing business is in flux. Is this the new new business model?

When I shopped The Finger Trap around, I was often told that it was too long. I thought it was novel length. I was told that it used to be but now that was too long. I shaved it down to 135,000 and finally found somebody who understood what I was doing with it. Before that, however I received so many rejections that it made me question my story, myself, my god and country. I looked for ways to strip it or break it up or burn it, bury the body, deny its existence under water-boarding, but, damn it all, it wasn’t that kind of story. It was a complete and whole. And very nice.

Enter Eleanor. From the moment I picked up a pen and started the outline, I knew it would be a trilogy. However, I didn’t want the book to suffer from my rose-colored three book deal glasses so I was careful to craft a suitable and rewarding ending into the first book. Then I wrote the next two and let them be dependent upon one another to a much greater degree. It worked for that story. I sold it too.

But, even so, each installment of Eleanor’s Trilogy comes in at about 90,000 words. According to the speaker at the conference, it's not a trilogy but a beefy ennealogy (9-book set).

“Series sell,” says Johnny Book Business. “Therefore bigger series sell bigger. You’ll be rich!”

“But I’ll sell out the reader if I just bust up the book for cash,” says the author in me.

"Learn to write in the modern world, you dinosaur," says Johnny Business. "Stories that can be finished in two bathroom sittings. Remember all the publishers and agents who told you never to go over 70,000 words unless your name is Stephen King?"

"Who you calling a dinosaur you soulless capitalist swine?" Johnny Author retorts. "I like branches and subplots, they're important. It takes time and words to weave my tapestry. These lengths allow for contrasts and subtlety which are the bearers of symbolism and mood."

Thus goes the debate.

So now, with more knowledge if not more uncertainty, I’m still writing stories. I'm in a thriller right now, a mystery kind of thing with real sinister underpinnings. I’ve given myself a target and the pages are pouring out. But I’m still working on the old model. It’s already over 50,000 words (2 books long) and has about that much to go.

But more books means more chances and potentially more sales. You see it takes work and energy to write, (gasp) and I can’t help wondering if I couldn’t help my chances at success if I wrote more shorter stories instead of fewer longer ones.

Thus I’m fretting. Can I teach this old dog new tricks? Should I try? Am I making any sense at all?

///// I interrupt this fretting to remind Johnny of the following \\\\\\

To the agents and publishers who say stay under 70,000 words:

Twilight is 115,362 words long
In The Hunger Games, there are 99,750 words
Dan Simmons Hyperion is about 175,000 words
The uncut edition of The Stand is said to be 464,218 words*
    *(okay, not fair, Stephen King is a force unto himself… but still good to know).

And, JK Rowling’s little known titles:
Sorcerer's Stone: 76,944
Chamber of Secrets: 85,141
Prisoner of Azkaban: 107,253
Goblet of Fire: 190,637
Order of the Phoenix: 257,045
Half-Blood Prince: 168,923
Deathly Hallows: 198,227
    Total: 1,084,170!

Just write… it’s all good. It’s all write.


Johnny, Author

///// =============== \\\\\\


Sunday, February 24, 2013

It was the middle of the night at the Blog Mansion and someone was pounding on my door. I’d given my servants the night off. They were still in shock from giving me a sponge bath and needed a little zen time.

At the door, I found debut author and Vampire writer Adrienne Monson.

Johnny: I said three o’clock.

Adrienne: It is three o’clock.

It was.

J: I meant in the afternoon.

A: You should learn to be more precise. Can I come in?

J: Sure.

I led Adrienne into my third study, the formal one, off the main hallway. We stopped once to rest and catch our breath before arriving. Even though the hour was late, she was alert and noticed each time my robe slipped open. Note to self: don’t skimp on terrycloth.

There were still embers in the fireplace. I threw a stack of rejection letters on it to get the fire back. It erupted in flame like a meth-addled phoenix.

J: Coffee? No. How about a cocktail weenie? I should still have some in the kitchen from earlier. If I can remember where the kitchen is. They keep moving it.

A: I'm fine, thanks. You probably don't have my preferred diet in stock, anyway.

J: Just push the cats off the couch if you want to sit there. If they hiss, say the words “bubble bath” and they’ll move. Maybe not the black one. I’ve never seen that one before.

A: Don't look at me. I'm the vampire writer - not a witch writer.

J: So what is your book called?

A: Dissension, book 1 in the Blood Inheritance trilogy

J: Who’s publishing it and when is it coming out?

A: Publisher's name is Jolly Fish Press. They released it yesterday,  February 23rd.

J: Why did you call it that?

A: Because my publisher liked that name.

J: If your publisher liked you to jump off a bridge would you do that?

A: Depends on how much they'd pay me and how high the bridge is. Also, it would be a plus if water were below the bridge. ;)

J: So tell me about Dissension.

A: Vampires and Immortals war with each other, both hoping to find the prophecy child first. Vampire Leisha still loves her estranged husband, an immortal who's sworn to kill all vampires.

J: Is Dissension a cliff-hanger?

A: I'd say more open-ended than a cliffhanger. Though a lot of readers have told me they can't wait to find out what happens next.

J: What’s the status on the next two books in the trilogy?

A: The second one has been turned in to my editor - I'm awaiting his notes. I'm just getting started on book three, but I already know how it all ends.

J: Do you see your book as conforming to or expanding its genre?

A: Neither, really. I just write where the story takes me. But it does have some classic paranormal romance in it while recreating vampires and where they came from. So I guess those negate each other.

J: Where did you get the idea to write it?

A: I've always lived a double life inside my head. When I get bored, my mind wanders off and turns into a movie about anything and everything. So that's what happened with this story, too. I was sitting at my high school graduation, got bored, and thought of this idea. From there, it developed into three books.

J: How much sex and violence is there in Dissension?

A: There are references to sex, but no sex scenes. There is a lot of fighting, but it's not very graphic.

J: How long did it take you to write? The book, not the sex and violence.

A: Four years, but keep in mind that I was just dabbling in my free time at that point.

J: Why isn’t it about me?

A: Because I didn't know you then, Johnny! No doubt you'll be starring in my next... well, no. In one of my other novels sometime in the future...

J: Would you consider writing about me in your next book?

A: Sure. You could be the bad guy.

J: Is there still time to edit this book to include more about me? Maybe in the eBook edition?

A: I don't think I'm going to grace that with an answer.

J: What do you like most about me?

A: Your narcissism. It's very inspiring.

J: Explain your process of writing a book not about me:

A: I start with a rough draft – no outlines for me, then revise. Send it out to beta readers, then revise. I revise it again, then send it out to my critique group for a line-by-line critique. I revise again and send it out to my editor friend. Another revision after that and I send it in to the publisher. Lots of revising.

J: This is your debut novel, the first published, but have you written anything else before not about me?

A: I've dabbled with other stories in the past. I have a rough draft written that I'd like to polish up after I finish the trilogy. But no completed works.

J: Tell me how you went from writer to author – how you found a publisher.

A: Good timing, really. Jolly Fish was presenting at my writers group and I happened to coordinate the whole thing. When they invited us to submit our work, I took them up on it.

J: Besides me, who are you favorite authors?

A: Kim Harrison, Karen Marie Moning, Branden Sanderson, Jim Butcher. I could go on - I have a lot of favorites.

J: Give me your blurb, the hook, something to catch the readers and draw them in like tabbies to a can-opener.

A: Leisha was once a loving mother with an ideal family. Though this was over two thousand years ago, Leisha still holds that time dear to her heart. But for now, she must focus on trying to escape the eternal and bloody war between her kind—the Vampires—and the Immortals, an undying race sworn to destroy her people. Soon, Leisha finds herself captured by the government only to be saved by a young and mysterious human girl. What entails is the beginning of a long and torturous journey as Leisha and her newfound friend run for their lives while searching for the one thing that can end it all—the prophecy child.

J: How is it to live and write in American Fork Utah?

A: I love the area. It's very family oriented - which is great for my kids. Though most people tend to get that glazed look when I tell them what my books are about. :)

J: We better get going if we hope to find the front door again before dawn. Where can people find you online?

J: Where’d that cat go?

Monday, February 18, 2013

Thriller writer Tammy Maas arrived at the blog just after breakfast. I don’t know how she got there. I’ve since fired the security director.

Johnny: Hello Tammy welcome to Johnny’s Blog. Would you like to sit by the vast pool or in the twenty-acre hedge maze?

Tammy: I think we should sit in the hedge maze; it reminds me of the movie Labyrinth. Maybe Hoggle will pop his head out and say hello.

J: No muppets, but I do have an oubliette. Hey, do you like my Jack Nicholson statue?

T: I love the statue. It’s so realistic. My favorite movie he did was; One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I think about that movie every time I chew a piece of Juicy Fruit gum.

J: Here, have some champagne. 1840 was an excellent year.

Tammy sipped the wine and spit it out like I was trying to poison her. For the record I wasn’t.

T: I am so sorry; let me help you clean that up. I brought my own.

I noticed then a blue Coleman cooler among her stuff, filled with cans of Mountain Dew, vodka and red Solo cups. She made us drinks like she was mixing Jekyll’s formula.

T: This is called a Mountain Screw, guaranteed to liven up any interview.

J: So, God Save Us All, your new book from Rainstorm Press. What’s it about?

T: I must begin by telling you that God Save Us All is a sequel to A Complicated Life in a Small Town. The story takes place in small town Monticello, Iowa where author Lydia Porter is caring for her morbidly obese half-sister Lily and her baby Sophia, both have Prader-Willi syndrome. PWS is a genetic disorder that causes people to literally eat themselves to death if not managed. Lydia’s husband is Chief of Police in their sleepy town and after a failed suicide attempt Lydia is left to put the pieces of every ones lives back together. As things spiral out of control Lydia begins to lose sight of reality.

J: Let’s get his out of the way now. What are your links?





J: How has your relationship been with your publisher Rainstorm Press?

T: My relationship with Rainstorm is great. I write books and they publish them, what more could I ask for?! They may be a small publishing house but I like it that way. Books get published faster and the whole publishing process is more intimate. I don’t have to be afraid to ask questions and Lyle Perez provides professional editors, artists and even blog tours for promotion. In addition I have made friends with the other authors that write for Rainstorm. It’s nice to have a group of writer friends to bounce ideas off of. I’ve also learned a lot about the world and different cultures because not everyone is from the states.

J: What was your inspiration for the story?

T: I had a story idea brewing in my head but things didn’t really come together until I began ‘shopping’ online for a disease. That’s the cool thing about the Internet; you can shop for anything, including illnesses! Once I discovered Prader-Willi syndrome and did some research the rest came rather easily.

J: How long did it take to write?

T: It took me about nine months to write the story.

J: How alike are you to your protagonist Lydia Porter?

T: Lydia Porter is my idle. She’s 50% me and 50% the person I would like to be.

J: What’s your book “rated?” Is there violence in your book? How about sex?

T: My book would probably get a PG13 rating. It has plenty of bad language and some violence but very little about sex.

J: Tell me more about the sex.

T: Move along Johnny, there isn’t any sex to talk about.

J: When you wrote A Complicated Life in a Small Town, did you foresee the sequel? What challenges did you face writing a sequel?

T: When I wrote A Complicated Life in a Small Town I did foresee the sequel but after writing God Save Us All I realized that one more book would be necessary before it was over. So a trilogy it shall be. I think it’s easier writing when you know you will do a sequel. That way you don’t have to tie up loose ends and you can keep some mystery alive.

J: So when will we see number three?

T: I hope to have it published sometime this year.

J: Can a reader pick up God Save Us All without having read the previous Lydia Porter story?

T: God Save Us All can be read as a standalone book however the books are novella’s, short reads, and are only $2.99 for Kindle or Nook versions so why not just read both?

J: Are you drinking straight vodka now?

T: There’s some Dew in there. Somewhere. We’ve drank nearly the whole flippin bottle John my buddy.

J: I’m always curious to learn about a writer’s journey to publication. I know this isn’t your first book, but can you tell me a little about how you went from writer to author - the journey to getting your book in print.

T: I don’t like telling this story, it’s unnatural and I think it makes people hate me. But I’ll tell you Johnny. When my manuscript was ready I submitted portions to eight publishers at 10:00 pm on a Friday night. Within thirty minutes I had a reply from Rainstorm asking for my complete manuscript. Within a week I had a contract. I was all prepared for a year or two of rejections and I didn’t get any. I was shocked but elated. Things don’t usually turn out that well for me.

J: I hate you.

T: Yes. I get that a lot.

J: Writing great books is one thing; selling great books is something else entirely. Tell me about your marketing. What advice can you offer new writers about promotion?

T: The very first thing new writers need to do is find a platform. Facebook and Twitter are very popular but having a blog is also beneficial and there are tons of website that offer insight on this. Use these tools before you have a publication and you will set yourself up for more sales when your first book releases.

J: You deal with some heavy issues in God Save Us All, suicide, Prader-Willi syndrome. Do you have any personal experience with these?

T: Thankfully I don’t have experience with these situations. The Internet has provided me with plenty or research material.

J: Who are your favorite authors, besides me of course? How would you compare your book to the work of other thriller writers in style and tone?

T: Stephen King is a favorite author on my list but so far I’m not laid back enough to calmly make my way through a book like he does. I get too excited. James Patterson is suggested on Amazon as a writer who is similar to me. How cool is that?! I would never claim to be as good as the masters but if Amazon says it, it must be true.

J: Give me your pitch - your hook, the one line grabber to snag people.

T: This book will grip you from the first line, wrench at your heart strings, and leave you wrung out with a jaw dropping ending.– Jane Isaac author of An Unfamiliar Murder. My friend Jane wrote that, isn’t it great? She also has a quote on the cover of my book. It’s my good luck charm.

J: You’re slurring and weaving. Are you okay to drive?

T: Weaving?! I can’t even knit for Christ’s sake!

J: How is it to live and write in Iowa?

T: The town I live in has less than 4,000 inhabitants so it is definitely calm. But everyone is friendly and there is little to no crime. My kids can actually play outside. I lay my head down at night and don’t have to worry about ‘big city’ things. For the writing part, I could do that anywhere but here in Iowa my head is filled with less worry so that leaves room for more characters.

J: Does everyone have a drinking problem in Monticello?

T: Oh listen to Mr. Bottle Hog. I’m not even in Monticello right now; I’m lost in the middle of this God forsaken hedge trap. Get me out of here!

J: You should have some water. Did you just ask me to go dancing? What would your husband think?

T: What would your wives think Johnny? You live in Utah right? So you probably have a few don’t cha?

God Save Us All and A Complicated Life in a Small Town are both available in paperback or for the Kindle on Amazon.  God Save Us All will be available for the Nook on the Barnes & Noble site very soon.

Go connect with Tammy on her blog, on FaceBook and Twitter.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

I’m attending the Life, the Universe and Everything writers conference number 31 in Provo Utah. I missed the last 30 because well, those cartoons weren’t going to watch themselves were they?

Let me say right now that this thing is HUGE. Compared to the last conference I attended, the Tony Hillerman Writer’s Conference Wordharvest, which was very cozy and cool, this thing isn’t so much a conference as a convention. There are hundreds of people here. More than hundreds. Several of them. Maybe ten. That would be thousands wouldn’t it? Everyone here is a writer or want-to-be writer. There are so many. And they’re all here. And it’s a Thursday. Morning. Don’t these people have jobs?

I stood in line for an hour after an hour drive to slap down a rather reasonable forty-five dollars to come face to face with something that every writer who hopes to make a career in writing has to deliberately deny: There are lots and lots and lots of other writers.

Looking longingly at the registration line vanishing point, my fifty pound briefcase severing my arm at the clavicle, I told myself that I’m a special little snowflake. Just like everyone else here.

For thirty years I didn’t know this gathering existed, but apparently everyone in Provo with a word processor knows about it. So many writers… yeah, I’m stuck on that.

And it’s not like this is some general writing conference where writers of all kinds are drawn, be they writers of fiction, genre, memoir, text or technical. No, this thing is focused. Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Oh. And Mormonism.

From the program book: “There may be nowhere else in the world that has quite the unique blend of science fiction and fantasy, academics and Mormonism.”

I don’t know much about the academics, but since BYU is a mortar round away, I guess there has to be a few students and teachers here. I can however attest to the Mormons. Yeah. They’re here. Lots of them. Lots and lots of Mormon Sci-Fi and Fantasy Writers. Hundreds of them. Who knew there were so many Mormon Sci-Fi and Fantasy writers with free Thursdays in Provo? I didn’t.

Wait. It’s worse. Today isn’t just Thursday, it’s Valentine’s Day. Don’t these people have wives and husbands? This is Provo. Of course they do. Don’t they have jobs? This is Provo. Of course they do. But they’re all still here following in the footsteps of Orson Scott Card and Stephanie Meyers and being excessively polite to tie-dye wearing authors passing out newly minted business cards like they were breath mints at a Greek restaurant.

This is discouraging. If I were to make up a sub-genre of writing that I’d think would be small, a niche I could snuggle into and have few peers, I might come up with Zambian Techo-Thrillers with Paraplegic Sidekicks or Hindu Cooking Dramas that don’t mention curry. Or, before today, I might have thought of Mormon Sci-Fi and Fantasy written by people who can spend all of Valentine’s Day – a Thursday, jockeying for space on uncomfortable chairs in a wifi-less stone-age hotel in downtown Provo. I’d have been wrong. It’s crowded here. The market is crowded. There are hundreds of people here.

I’m not writing in this specific sub-genre. I can’t. I’m not Mormon. But this place is crowded. Considering that I'm looking at only a smattering of the potential attendees, the people who could make a Thursday Holiday seminar – it makes me think, unhappily, about how many writers there are in the genres I am writing in. Nothing too big, just “Horror,” “Young Adult” and “Mystery.”

If you need me, you can find me at the LTUE31 conference in the no free-wifi in the convention center Marriott hotel, downtown Provo, Utah, on a Thursday – Valentine’s day, huddled in a corner, crying.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

I taught myself to drink gin. I made it my drink. I still drink gin. On occasion. But it’s not the sacred sacrament it once was. Before I was an author, when I wrote only for myself, in tantrums and fits, I drank gin. I drank gin because F. Scott drank gin. I drank gin because Ernesto did. I drank gin because my heroes died drinking it and we follow our heroes.

Time and new drinks and new drugs. I drink bourbon because Hunter did,  juleps for William, gimlets for Raymond. I explored the flowers because Ken and his Pranksters led the way. I considered poppies to see what Sir Arthur saw. I cataloged and dared, and didn’t dare, the depths of Jack, Phillip K. and Aldous, and felt kin to them all.

Then I took no drink, no drug and for Virginia and Sylvia, I let my feelings have their way and that was the darkest time of all.

I still drink gin, on occasion, and wine and rum and whiskey. At night I count the wolves in the shadows and fall into dark places. At consciousness, I feel the sand slipping away and rush to express the inexpressible - the terror, the delight, the altered states, the will to live, the desire to create, to make others see what I have seen, to make truth through lies. To scratch the surface, mark the wall, and then try to forget that time will erase every word, every memory, every thought and deed. Kindness and cruelty. It will all go. In time.

I'm better at this now. I can know this and not tremble. So I don't drink so much. But I still drink gin. On occasion.