Help Me Out Here, Or Don’t

As I perused the web for inspiring ideas and writer’s tips, other than the standard quotes your writer friends happen to have read online, I found myself reading a small excerpt from Stephen King’s “On Writing.” This book is definitely on my “must read” list. Not just because anyone who’s ever written a book or thought of writing a book has read it. I want to read this because every time I’m looking for inspiration, or every time I find myself stuck, something revolving around Stephen King jumps in front of my moving car and splatters inspiration all over the windshield. I hate and love King for this. Everything I’ve read, watched, or heard from him I’ve enjoyed, but damnit, let me enjoy someone else’s work for a change you entertaining, selfish bastard!

This excerpt I found from “On Writing,” makes the most sense of all the writing tips I’ve come across.

On-Writing“I want to put a group of characters…in some sort of predicament and then watch them try to work themselves free. My job isn’t to HELP them work their way free, or manipulate them to safety—those are jobs which require the noisy jackhammer of plot—but to watch what happens and then write it down.”

When I write, or create something, I do so as if I’m watching the movie play out before my eyes. I often don’t know what is going to happen to the characters, even if I know what will happen to the main character at the end of the story, I never know what will happen during their journey to the end. Some characters may die, others may become crippled, or maybe they’ll fall in love. As a writer, my job isn’t to provide divine intervention on behalf of my characters.  It’s not to dictate what they will and won’t do. The characters must learn to help themselves, so that they may live or die dependent on their own actions. In the truest sense of storytelling, my job is to watch and record, then tell you the story of what happened to these people. Thanks again for the inspiring words, King.

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Top Ten Stories On Television: Part 1

There are so many good stories on television these days. With the art of storytelling reaching its climax, it’s hard to choose favorites. But, in the spirit of storytelling, I’ve chosen a number of television shows from the last couple decades that, I feel, epitomizes the idea of amazing storytelling. Now, bear in mind that this is an extremely biased top 10 list, and while there are so many others that would make “top” lists across the globe, but these particular shows have story arcs built in that seem to do everything right and have left a lasting impression on me.

10. Vikings: Vikings is a show on the history channel that follows a father and husband as he proves himself as a warrior and a leader to himself, his family, and the rest of his tribe. This show is outstanding because of the historical authenticity that the history channel has to offer, while still presenting the show with game of thrones style cinematography. The writing really shines as we see the world unravel around the main character, even though he’s unaware of the betrayal that surrounds him. Although the main character is a bloodthirsty, savage, viking, you can’t help by relate to this loving family man.

9. Dollhouse: The writer of Dollhouse, Joss Whedon, is an outstanding science fiction writer, and although he’s moved on to bigger and better things, Dollhouse is no exception. At first the premise sounds a little strange, an organization that brainwashes “willing” individuals so they may sell their reprogrammed bodies as spies, assassins, companions, hookers, criminal investigators or the criminals themselves, or anything else a client can imagine.  As you watch the show and come to realize that, maybe the organization isn’t as evil as you first thought, and you’ll quickly be proven right and wrong in so many ways.  Dollhouse makes you question the validity of human rights and you’ll marvel as the characters create connections that bleed through their brainwashed personalities and sparks a worldwide conspiracy. Tell me that doesn’t sound intriguing.

8. Spartacus: The Starz show Spartacus is based on historical events, but given an… interesting presentation.  Spartacus is filmed in a style similar to the movie “300” and combined with excessive nudity, language and violence. While all that is great on its own, the story shines as everything he knows and cares for is ripped out from under the main character and no matter what he does to improve his situation, and to be reunited with his wife, things only seem to get worse. The story begins by exploiting the glory of combat and the death of slaves fighting in the gladiatorial arena, then quickly moving into a tale of revolution, love, freedom, humanity, brotherhood, and glory. It truly is a classic tale of tragedy and redemption, reminiscent of ancient mythos. And for those history buffs who know how the true tale of Spartacus goes, it becomes all the more interesting, knowing the fate of all those involved.

7. Doctor Who: Now, I absolutely love Doctor Who, and I would love nothing more than to throw this show into the top 5, there is only a couple things preventing this. The first is that there are still so many questions I have about the over arching story and the main character, the Doctor. The second is that a few of the most recent seasons have been plagued by a number “filler episodes” that hold little water against the episodes with climactic plot twists and huge reveals.

Doctor Who is the story of a Time Lord, an ancient alien race who can travel through space and time. The Doctor, as he is known, is the last of the Time Lords and spends his nearly immortal life traveling to and saving planets, lives, and entire civilizations. Little is known about the doctor, but throughout the seasons bits and pieces of the mysterious man are revealed, creating even more mystery while giving us a bit of insight into the eccentric, fascinating, “brilliant,” and amazing character he is. The unique thing about The Doctor is that Time Lords have the ability to regenerate when near death. This means that when they regenerate, they take on a new personality that has different looks, likes, dislikes, etcetera, while still keeping past memories. This is a great way to keep the story running and unfolding, but can be an issue when you become attached to a particular doctor and then they suddenly change into a new actor, but this does open the way for someone new to take on the iconic role and be a part of something amazing.

6.  Dexter: Dexter is an outstanding story about a blood spatter analyst working for the Miami police department, who enjoys murdering criminals in his spare time. Now, normally, a serial killer is the antagonist of a story, not someone you would root for, but Dexter is a special case. He’s one of the good guys. He rids the world of criminal trash, while trying to blend in by attempting to achieve a life of normalcy.  Dexter desires to have feelings, love, and to live a normal life, but his “dark passenger,” his serial killer side, prevents him from having these things, but it doesn’t stop him from trying.

The tale gets truly interesting as this ‘monster’ who could never achieve such things, begins to care for someone,  actually makes friends, has a family and is able to have a “normal” life.  Now, he struggles with his dark passenger competing for his time and attention against his everyday life.  If that doesn’t make you want to go buy the DVDs right now, then I’m sorry, but you’re missing out on what good story telling is. A past season did suffer from a bit of a dull streak, but the final season reared its head, started off with a bang, and ended beautifully, although some saw it as rather heartbreaking. I’ll say no more. But, life will never be easy for a serial killer; family, friends, police and even other serial killers aren’t going to let him go so easily. Good luck, Dexter.

Coming very soon, because I know you can’t wait to see which show has the honor of sitting in the number one slot, will be part two of this epic list. Some show placements will be obvious, others may surprise you. If you think you know which shows made it into the top five, or think one of these should have, speak up!

Write Your Own Story, Or Publish It

Over the last few months, I’ve been studying up on the art of publishing, and thinking to myself: “I hate waiting for and relying on other people to do things for me.” This thought really began to cross my mind after I started submitting my novel to publishers. I find myself checking my email every ten minutes hoping someone will send me an email reply . And don’t even get me started on weekends, when lots of companies are closed until the following Monday. Then, I can’t sit still as I wait anxiously for a response that is most likely not going to show up in my inbox. So, what does all this frustration mean?

Essentially, it means that I prefer when things are solely base on my performance. That I thrive when no one else is to blame but myself. To sum it all up, it means that I have been considering going the self publication route for my writing. Now you might be asking yourself a few questions:

First question: will I make as much money self publishing? That entirely depends on my effort and the quality of my work. If I hit the ground running and continue to market my work with my growing enthusiasm, then, I believe that I can make as much money. In addition, the royalties are usually higher. The royalties for eBooks when self publishing can, on average, net the author up to 85% of their list price.

When it comes to print books, the royalties may not be exponentially higher, but they are still much better, especially the books sold directly through amazon.com. Using their print on demand method of printing, authors don’t need to print ten-thousand copies of their book, and then find out how to sell them all. The author doesn’t even need to worry about printing at all, essentially, every time someone clicks “buy,” Amazon prints a copy and ships it to the consumer.

Second question: how can my marketing compete with that of big publishing companies? From all the author testimonials I’ve come across in my research, big publishing houses only do extensive promotion if your a previously well selling author, or someone really, really, believes in your novel. Otherwise they tend to leave the author to publicize at their own discretion. So, essentially, it’s a fairly level playing field. I’ve made a number of connections in my past and I plan on using as many as possible to help further my own goals, and maybe do a few favors to further some other friends marketing goals as well.

And the third major question is: how would I even get started? Major publishing houses have been around for nearly a century and have the market fairly well cornered. But, as I mentioned, I’ve been researching this quite a bit and there are a lot more resources available to authors on the subject, now more than ever. With the options mentioned above, I can sell my book through a number of venues and not pay a dime to get started. Through Amazon.com, I can sell a print version of my book by merely allowing Amazon to take a percentage of the sale each time a copy is sold. So, not costing me anything out of my own pocket. Additionally, if I choose to pay an additional $25, I can allow my book to be purchased wholesale by large retailers, such as Barnes & Nobles, which allows for greater distribution. When it comes to the eBook side of publishing, the two best sites I’ve found for publishing are Smashwords & Lulu. Each of these put your eBook up on on a number of sites and on all major eBook reader stores. And again, they only take a percentage of each sale, not requiring you to pay any upfront fees.

There are a few more steps in regards to self publishing that I have been working on and preparing for. I’ve written an ever growing, 15 page business plan, with market projections and production schedules. If i choose to self publish, I’ll want to make it a self publishing company, so, I’ll need to create a business name, register with the local government for tax purposes, and open a bank account to do business as that company. Websites will need to be created, contractors may need hired for work that I’m not as skilled with, such as cover design, and there are some more steps which I have been slowly working out as well. But so far, I’ve come quite a long way from anxiously waiting for someone to sift through an enormous pile of manuscripts, hoping they’ll get to mine next, to being ready to “write my own story,” so to speak.

I’ve moved on and I think I’m ready to take my future into my own hands and be responsible for my own success or failure. But anyone who knows me, knows that I don’t take kindly to failure, and that I will sweat and bleed for this opportunity, because I know it’s what I enjoy, it’s what I want to do, and if I can access a bit of my “good old fashioned Irish luck,” I may just hit the big time. That’s the end game though, and we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience as a self published author, about the ups and downs, success or horror stories. Don’t hold back, I can take it, and I’m more than intrigued to hear what anyone has to say!

What’s A NaNoWriMo?

Ok, I know that I dropped off the face of the earth, or just WordPress, for a little while. Maybe more than just a little while. You know how it goes, life always seems to find a way to force itself into your plans and ruin everything. But that’s just a low down, dirty excuse. So, hopefully, I will be coming back with a vengeance and bringing you plenty of fun and informative posts through the end of the year! So, with that in mind, what are we going to be talking about?

As mentioned a short while back on Facebook, I have lined up a few good posts on a variety of subjects, my novel included. Coming up next is a pair of posts that I enjoyed writing, too ten stories on television: parts 1 & 2. I broke it into two posts so that I may analyze and explain what the show is about and why it made my top ten list. The shows that made te list aren’t all still going on tv, but have all made a significant impact on me as a story teller. More on that later.

Following that post, or maybe between them, will be two post strictly dedicated to my novel “The Drive Home.” The first will feature a short excerpt from the book that really sets the time for the characters and its one of my favorite scenes that, I feel, really brings realism to the characters. The second post about the novel will draw blood from the same vein, only a small pun intended. What good is writing a murder novel if you don’t talk about the minders? So the second post will be a good excerpt from the novel that shows the darker and much more gruesome side of The Drive Home. And I do mean gruesome while I’ve never murdered anyone, I didn’t pull a lot lot of punches when going into detail about the deaths of certain characters, so it may not be for those with weak stomachs. Just sayin’.

Now I’d like to touch on something that I’m very excited for, and the title subject of this post, a little competition known as NaNoWriMo. You may ask yourself. “What the hell’s a NaNoWriMo?” Other than sounding like an awful type of criminal, it’s essentially a writing competition in which the participants are tasked with writing a novel of at least 50,000 words, throughout the month of November. It’s definitely tough, but those who persevere are rewarded. The best thing about the competition is that anyone who completes their 50k word novel, wins! So, all you have to do is finish and you’re a winner! Now, there are some prizes for the best story and they’ll receive some better prizes and that’s my goal for this November. If any one is planning on taking part in NaNoWriMo, sign up on their website and give me a shout, I’d love to hear what you’re writing this November!

It’s Not The Size That Counts…

Before I began writing my novel, I did a lot of research into “how long should my novel be?” What constitutes a short story? Can a novel be too short or too long?” What’s the difference between a novella and a novelette? For anyone starting to write a novel these questions can be a bit daunting, especially since there really is no exact answer for how long your book should be. That is putting it rather frankly, but it’s actually true, to a degree. So let’s break it down into a number of different categories: flash fiction, short stories, novelettes, novellas, novels, and sagas / sequels. In my research I have found many definitions for each of these categories and have put together, what I feel, is a good scale to gauge story lengths by.

Now, there’s something important to mention here, and I can’t stress this enough. There is no set rule or specific length to classify your works by. Everything mentioned below is simply a guideline. Publishers may classify their book types differently than what you find here, or they may be exact, you just wont know until you work with a publisher. Sometimes they state their novel length preferences upfront, on their submission page, other times it’s a simple luck of the draw.

Additionally, there are always exceptions to the rule. Just because a certain type of book is harder to sell than others, doesn’t mean that a unique novelette wouldn’t grab a publisher’s attention with ease. So, here we go, a few guidelines to help classify your work and give you a goal to shoot for when writing.

Flash Fiction – Under 1,000 Words: Flash fiction is a type of story that is often found in magazines or publications to fill a single page. I’ve found that writer’s often tend to take on flash fiction (and short stories) as a sort of challenge. It can be difficult to write an exceptional story in under 1,000 words and still have a beginning, middle, and end. Being able to include those, and still develop a sense of character is a worthy challenge for any author. (I even plan on undertaking this challenge eventually)

Short Story – 1,000 to 7,500 Words: A short story is, obviously, short. If looking to get published, short stories can be a bit more complicated. Unless you happen to have a number of completed stories. Publishers usually aren’t looking for a single short story, only coming in under thirty pages, it’s often hard to justify the cost of publishing. A number of publications, such as magazines, newspapers, websites, and e-magazines, accept single short stories and are great ways to publish them. If, however, you have a number of short stories, that can add up to the approximate length of a novel, a number of publisher do publish compilations.

Novelettes – 7,500 to 20,000 Wrods: Novelettes are a tad easier to write than short stories or flash fiction, because you have more pages to work with. The trouble with novelettes is that they may be harder to sell to a publisher. The reason being is that they are too long to fit into a magazine, and they are too short to be published as a novel. From the research I’ve done, it seems that authors often times combine a few novelettes into a compilation. But, as stated above, there have been novelettes published by themselves. In my opinion, they’re actually perfect for a majority of modern day, on-the-go readers. A short, easy, good read that you can finish quickly and pick up a new one.

Novellas – 20,000 to 50,000 Words: Novellas are excellent for modern day readers, just like novelettes. They’re good for an easy read, but can be just as in depth as a novel. Characters can be deep, plots can be complex, but can still be finished in a couple days depending on how fast you like to read. While many publishers won’t bat an eye at a novel this short, novellas are excellent for e-books. Just like novelettes, they’re easy to pick up and put down, and reading it in your spare time on a screen just seems to work. Additionally, there have been many novellas published as standalone books, so if your story fits this category don’t try to stretch it out any longer than you need.

Novels – 50,000 to 120,000 Words: Now we get to what many writers, including myself, aim for. Novels are the easiest to publish (easy being a relative term, most accepted book length to publish, if you can get a publisher to read your book). The most recognized range of published novels would be between 70,000 and 100,000 words. As I said previously, I can’t overstate the fact that just because you’re not in that “sweet spot” doesn’t mean you won’t get your novel published. My Novel, “The Drive Home,” comes in just over that 50,000 mark. If your work is nearing the higher end of this range, you may want to consider some strict editing and cut your word count back a bit. For a first time author, or an author with little credentials, a publisher might be wary to publish anything over 100,000 to 110,000 words.

I decided on 50,000 words for my goal, because over the last couple years, I have participated in the NaNoWriMo competition. Thirty days, at least 50,000 words, that was the goal. So, that was my goal for my first novel. 50,000 words for someone who hasn’t written a full length novel before can be pretty a daunting task. When I began writing “The Drive Home,” I thought that goal was impossible. Now that I have finished, that seems like a piece of cake. During the time between finishing my novel and beginning the editing process, (“they” say you should put your novel away for two months or so, I took two weeks) I took the free time to start writing something more science fiction oriented. In that two week time period, I wrote one hundred pages, which came in just under 25,000 words. And I have only progressed through about 30% of the story line. By completing my first project, my confidence, my writing, and my speed have increased exponentially.

Epics / Sequels / Sagas – Over 120,000 Words: Novels of this length are often turned away when written by first time authors. If you fall into this category, you may want to consider separating your novel into a sequel or trilogy. Writers who create this type of novel are often well established, to the point that the publisher doesn’t really care how long your novel is, because they know it’ll do well. The most obvious and overly used example: Stephen King. If he wants to publish a novel that’s under 50,000 or over 150,000 words, his publisher will take it on faith, because he’s good at what he does. Personally, I love the idea of writing something that matches the weight of a newborn baby. A book that when you set it down on a table it shakes and lets everyone know, “Hey, I’m reading an enormous book!” But, until I make a name for myself and sell millions of copies, I can be satisfied with writing a trilogy of shorter novels, rather than a something this size.

Wow! That was a lot of information. Hopefully, this sheds some light on where certain word counts are classified. But the bottom line really is, that the story dictates the length of your novel. You don’t want to stretch something over 300 pages when it really should have only been 150 pages. The reader may get bored if you drag your story on. The opposite is true as well. Don’t upset the reader by denying them deep characters or climactic plot points, when you have enough content for a 250 page novel. Either of those scenarios could very well affect the sales of your current or future works.

That’s it. That’s your cue to start, or continue with your writing. No matter what the length, genre, or content, get it done and enjoy what you’re writing. It’ll be finished when it’s supposed to be finished and not a moment sooner.

Thanks, But No Thanks

Something that comes with being an aspiring author is rejection. I began by submitting a query letter, with a portion of my novel, to a few literary agents and a few publishing companies. Within approximately two weeks I received my first rejection letter. While the idea of a rejection letter has no affect on my morale whatsoever, my first rejection letter was… let’s just say, less than comforting.

At very least, I expected to receive a form letter:

“Thanks so much, we read your work, unfortunately it’s not for us, thanks anyway, etc., etc.”

My first rejection letter was much more impersonal. More impersonal than a form letter? Yes. My first rejection letter simply said:

“Thanks, but no.”

Nothing more, nothing less. Again, this doesn’t bother me because I was rejected, this particular literary agent knows what they’re doing, they’ve been in the business for some time, and knows what they’re looking for. The reason this irked me, was because it was so severely impersonal, and “empty.” But, I’ll live and I’ll persevere.

Additionally, I received my second rejection letter.  (Yay!!) This one filled me with excitement. I’m almost certain it was a form letter, but it was thought out. A full email page, four paragraphs worth of:

“Thanks, but unfortunately not what we’re looking for,” and “Keep trying, just because it’s not our forte doesn’t mean it’s not good work.”

As I said, a form letter, but I read this and thought, “Thank God, that this was a thought out, full letter.” It made me feel that the work I put into my novel was worth it, not just brushed aside with a few words. Hell, it even made the anxiety from simply seeing the bold “new email” font in my inbox, worth it.

So, the moral of the story is simply this: Keep trying, don’t let rejection get you down. You can scour the internet for aspiring author stories, and ninety percent of them will say that they received dozens of rejection letters from agents and publishers. What I’ve come to realize is, that rejection letters shouldn’t be viewed as failure, rejection letters should be viewed as a milestone, as a rite of passage. The number of rejection letters you receive will showcase how hard you worked to prove that your story needs to be told. But I guess that’s just one authors opinion. And this author, I’m going to shoot for ten rejection letters. I think that sounds like a nice round number to aim for. Ten rejection letters, then the world will be ready for “The Drive Home.”  If it comes sooner than that, perfect. If it comes later, let’s hope it doesn’t come to that, but I’ll still persevere and I guess I’ll have to raise that expected number by a few. Coming up soon I’ll examine the research I’ve done in regards to sending query letters and book proposals. See you then.