Monday, September 29, 2014

Blood Tied IV rocks!

   Meet Luke Damien, a fast-talking, hard-rocking, music promoter who just happens to be Klea's grandfather. He's totally happy to meet everyone at last. Or so he says. Damien's just dropped in from . . . well, from some disreputable place, and he has good news, especially for Klea.
   Or maybe it's not such good news. And maybe he's not really happy to meet anyone at all and he's a jerk who's only visiting because he really, really needs his granddaughter to do something for him. Remember those oddball little magic tricks Klea used in Blood Tied II to speed up her homework? Well, there's a good reason why she can do stuff like this. To find out what it is, though, you'll have to keep up with the stories I post every Friday on Wattpad.
   I can give you one small hint. Klea and her boyfriend Gunther may soon be heading off on a quest. (Because if they don't, no one else in Klea's bewitched family is going to bother. It would be a shame if the world suddenly came to an end without somebody at least trying to stop it, wouldn't it?) 
   The first part of Blood Tied IV gets posted on Wattpad this Friday. Each story is getting expanded into a book. The first, Blood Tied I, is fast nearing completion. (Well, what else could I call it?)
   I'll be posting a preview video of this vampire adventure series to celebrate publication of the first book in October. Watch for it and a contest, too.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Words Will Never Die: Audio Books As The Future

     Do you ever have days when you wonder if the steep rise in the popularity of audio books will mean the eventual demise of the written word?
     Oh. So you think I'm a bit out there, do you? Consider this: the oral telling of tales predates that oily little press Gutenberg came up with by thousands of years. Our brains are wired for oral tales--or are they?
     Nowadays, everyone is listening more, but hearing less. More than one study, I think, has questioned the movement towards audio books. Scientists have determined that people tend to become bored and/or distracted more easily when they are being read to--I would suspect that might be the original reason for all the rude hand gestures and mad dancing about the campfire.
     Think of querelous old people who are never satisfied with what you're reading to them. I flash back on that scene in Little Women where Jo is reading an edifying book to her humorless aunt. The aunt typically fell asleep for an afternoon nap during Jo's reading of the latest mind-numbing Bulwer-Lytton. At that point, Jo would whip out something a little more racy, like the Vicar of Wakefield, to read for herself.
    The aunt wakes up and catches her at it, insists on having the new book read to her, and is revitalized by a story that does more than drone ever onwards. Readers need ACTION. Readers need COLOR. Readers need CHARACTERS.
      The original teller of tales (like any writer) must have been miffed that no one was paying much attention to his tale and decided to juice it up. Personally, if I was going to have a book read to me, then I would want at least one caveman leaping about, demonstrating the high points of the tale with his spear--and I'd be much happier if he was joined by the Rockettes. And speaking of the Rockettes, think of early radio. The clopping of horses' hooves, the scream of a train, thundering rain--all of the clever sound effects accompanied by a hurried and suspenseful pace to the dialogue helped to keep listeners enthralled. (Boy, is anyone doing this regularly with the new audio books yet? I might be tempted to try one myself.) But without such aids to keep a listener focused, the retention of audio tales is apparently terrible.
      I have a relative with a rare disorder affecting his eyes. It will not be too much longer, in fact, before he is blind. This is how I always thought of audio books: as a necessity for the blind, but as an unneeded luxury for the rest of us. As I looked into them, concerned for this relative who will soon lose his ability to read books in the ordinary way, I was surprised.
     It's not the blind, but ordinary people who are responsible for the renewed interest and billion dollar boom in audio books. While they're working out, while they're walking to work, while they're on the computer (seems like overkill, doesn't it?)--one has to wonder why society is so eternally afraid of blessed silence. Audio books are newly popular with teenagers, too, which is more than a little scary. Things could get quite interesting down the road if the ones listening to audio books turn out to be the ones who can barely read and write as it is.
     The paranoid would say that it's not enough to dumb down newspapers and books anymore--that the latest Machiavellian move by The Ones Who Are Really In Charge is to make people stupid with audio books.
      Well, if so, I want mine with sound effects, please. But not just yet. You see, I've got this great book to read first . . . .

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Bad eBooks Good News For Serious Authors

     Everyone complains of the impossibility of getting anyone to notice their eBook. I say that if your book is any good then readers will eventually seize on it with considerable relief. I'd even argue that you will get farther ahead as an author if you lay off social media altogether for a while.
     I began publishing online scant months ago and have overcome new problems every day--but I've learned that social media is the annoying zit that never goes away.
     I have sympathy for one writer's complaint about the new age. He said he was a loner and didn't want to change. He resented having to do all this other stuff that had nothing to do with writing (actually, he used the word 'crap', not 'stuff').
     I have a limited liking for social media as well. When I first started fooling around with it, I found myself transported back in time to an online Sweet Valley High--giggling, fingering my braces, and hanging around the edges of an established group while begging them to let me in.
     I finally decided I didn't much like these people anyway (this could have been sour grapes). It had occurred to me by then that a flock of authors dripping with shiny five-star reviews (given out by other members of the same group) was not credible.
     There are published authors out there who work much harder at giving the illusion of success than they do at their writing. I'm finding them easier to spot these days because they rarely talk about what they're working on, they talk about themselves. These authors also have poor circulation (in more ways than one) and tend to huddle in groups for warmth. No one is allowed to express an opinion that doesn't conform to the general opinions of the group (e.g., the only reason they aren't on the NY Times best sellers' list this month--or any list at all, for that matter--is because they're too good to be noticed by ordinary readers.)
     Social media is important as a means of promoting your book. But it's my personal belief that it's nowhere near as important as most people believe.
     In the news business, a great story was bound to go places. Even if it started out small and got buried for a few days, someone at a big metro newspaper or wire service would eventually notice it, and pump it larger. Then everyone would jump on it with both feet. A news wire service was really a rudimentary internet and the principle remains the same. If a story was really worth the ink, then it got out there in spades.
     I think that if you're good enough, succeeding at fiction writing is exactly like this. I don't deny there is a large component of luck that goes along with any success in publishing. I don't deny there are successful writers out there who largely suck at writing, but are very, very good at self-promotion. I don't deny the sun will probably rise tomorrow. But I do disagree with disgruntled writers who say it's all luck. I know cream will eventually rise to the top because that belief is based on life experience, not situational optimism.
   There is so much self-published crap (I use this word, too) floating around out there, that we all sometimes wish someone would flush the toilet. And I am not really surprised at the number of established, but possibly mediocre, eBook authors out there who like to blame their stalled careers on luck. They think in terms of luck because they themselves got in on the ground floor of Indie publishing. But the eBook market is no longer novel--it is, in fact, maturing. The gold rush is over and quality is becoming a much bigger deal.   
     I look at it in terms of a traditional newspaper. If you pull a newspaper apart, the star placements are the front of the sports page section and page one. If your stories made it to either spot on a daily basis, then you were a hotshot, the approximate equivalent of a well-known and successful self-published book author. But the bulk of any newspaper was made up of more mediocre local stories, fillers, and advertisements. They all served a purpose, but none of them garnered top attention.
      Working as a reporter gave insights traditionally published authors never receive. I got loads of feedback from the public (some of it not especially pleasant) on a daily basis. But I did well as a reporter because I never made the mistake some of my contemporaries did--of assuming people were stupid. Quite the opposite. To paraphrase Samuel Johnson, it has been my experience that people have a fundamental bottom of good sense.
     Just as art can be appreciated by anyone, so can good writing. And just as page one stories stood out from the less exciting inside content of a newspaper, a good book will be noticed with a reasonable amount of marketing.
      I don't happen to consider writing overfilled with academic jargon or made unintelligible by excessive experimentation--to be good writing. (There are exceptions to this rule, e.g., Finnegan's Wake, but I'm speaking in general terms.) We are what we learn, I guess. Having been a reporter, I feel that if writing fails to communicate with readers, then it is, by definition, not good writing (no matter how erudite its author).
     Where real disagreement may arise is in what constitutes the successful writer.
     As we all know, absolute drivel turns a good profit if it is well marketed. Temporarily. But to write a book that can hold the attention of many and survive over time to continue to hold the attention of many . . . well, that's a different goal entirely. Few ever achieve immortality.
     But give it your best shot anyway. Why not? High goals are better than none, I think. And if you don't set high goals for yourself, then you likely won't have high standards for your writing. These things tend to be symbiotic. For myself, I'm still writing for page one, whether a hole's been left open there for me or not.
     Oh, and don't forget to flush the toilet on your way out.   

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Vampires Are Good Company In Blood Tied

     While thumbing through the books at a secondhand outlet, I came across a first edition of Anne Rice's first book, Interview With The Vampire.
     These days I'm trying to lay off buying print books and to embrace the brave new world of eBooks wholeheartedly. I had no business buying this one in particular since I'd read it many times in the past. But I couldn't resist it. Rice looked so vulnerable in her 1976 mugshot on the book jacket that I ended up buying it anyway. (Remember that in the future; if you look pathetic in your author photo, there will always be suckers like me who will come along and buy your book.)
     Only a month later and the book is now a talisman on my desk. I find myself pumped to write not just a few stories about vampires as I had intended, but an actual young adult series. Along with writing horror, I have consistently enjoyed reading this genre myself, whether current or antique. And I've always credited Anne Rice as the one author who excels at depicting vampires. Her complex and uniquely troubled characters have a good deal to do with the resurrection and expansion of the vampire genre so popular today. And back then she, too, was experimenting--perhaps a lucky harbinger for me.
     So what am I doing with this coming-of-age series that is different?
     Well, for one thing I am publishing separate stories on Wattpad. Each Blood Tied story is being developed into a novel from the first-person perspective of that character. The suspiciously armed guy you see above is Gunther, the teenaged daughter's boyfriend and reigning star of the third story which begins this Friday on Wattpad. While Klea is a vampire, Gunther is not--he's having to cope with Klea's crazy family, though, and believe me, the axe is quite necessary.
     The first Blood Tied story is a bit of a shocker and said shock relied on writing it in first person. I had no intention of writing the second story in first person--but then I wondered if the characters might not be more memorable, and the story itself more vibrant, if each book switched to the first-person viewpoint of a different major character.
     After writing two stories, I've decided that the personalized approach is working quite well. It will adapt well to a short novel form (what Henry James used to call 'the blest novella'.) This will make writing the series more challenging in some ways, but I also think it will be doubly intriguing to read if I do things right.
     Being an ex-reporter, I've given myself deadlines and a rough writing length. The core stories will be 10,000 words or under and the books themselves 40,000 to 50,000 words.
     I like the idea of putting the stories up on Wattpad. If readers dislike reading about a particular character, they will know in advance; and if they especially enjoy one of the characters, they will know that, too. And kids without the funds to buy books will still be able to experience the full flavor of this series by reading the stories.
     I think I like that best of all.


Tuesday, September 2, 2014

You're Only As Good As Your Next Book

     So never mind how good your published book is--the important book is the next one.
     In reporting, all of your glories and sorrows lay in the future. With a daily deadline, there was little time to enjoy it when you'd gotten off a good one. You were too busy racing to the next story. You enjoyed it even less when you discovered an issue that merited days of coverage. A story that important meant racing about like a mobile home on fire to cover every angle.
     If you did not do this, other reporters--some from your own newsroom, too--would perk up and try to chip off your story by swooping in with a different spin. I would not have allowed this as an editor myself. But cannibalism was encouraged in many newsrooms to keep reporters on their toes. Far better, I think, to have openly assigned a number of reporters to different angles on the same story. It was only ever the mediocre reporters who took up this kind of lukewarm challenge out of sheer laziness, anyway. Maybe editors just did it out of boredom to watch the fur fly.
     These days, being handed a story to do is the sum total of a reporter's life. Things have grown tame; few are left to enjoy the thrill of the kill. Thanks to the speed of internet communication, no one cares who gets the story first. For the few oldtimers left in the business, it is demotion as a big game hunter to employment behind the yogurt counter.
     Print reporting really was a dog's life. Half the time you never knew if you were going to get a pat on the head or be banished to the kennel for a few days to mull over your sins (this happened whenever you upset a newspaper advertiser with one of your stories). But man oh man--it was fun.
     Like reporters, fiction writers need to live in the future as well as the present. Oddly, I think writers are at most risk of failure after the publication of their first book. This is a landmark goal, after all. But that sense of accomplishment you feel can mutate into inertia  if you nap on your laurels for too long. (OMG can I really do this again?)
     As with almost everything else to do with writing, self-publishing demands a greater personal effort. Those with traditional publishers are expected to do a reasonable amount of self-promotion. An indie must do everything. If you can afford hired help, fine. But if you can't, you must do it all yourself. And all that while working on your next book.
     It is a difficult task--not an impossible one. And like a reporter working under a spiteful desk editor, you must never be allowed to get your hands on the golden ball or you'll lose your edge. You can see it, taste it, hear it, smell it. But you're not allowed to hold it in your hot little hands. Not ever.
     Write every day or die. Promote every day or die. Wonderful. Now there's two of them.    
     Thank god we don't need to watch out for cannibals.