Shameless Self-Promotion!

Every week, for about five years now, I’ve posted something about writing. I’ve strayed a couple times, but the bulk of my posts have been about the craft. It begs a couple questions: Why do I do it? What’s the point?

I have a goal in mind. Probably a wildly irrational goal, but a goal nonetheless, and reaching that goal means I’ve got to generate book sales. To do that, I’ve got to keep cranking out new books. Over those same past five years, I’ve averaged two new books per year.

This year, there might be four.

In mid-February, I released an expanded version of my collection of inter-related, western short stories. The revamped and retitled book is simply called Greeley. There’s a cover shot below.

Yesterday, I released the ebook version of my memoir textbook, The Naked Truth! (Telling Your Story Without Showing Your Ass!) There’s yet another cover shot below. And, it won’t be long before I’m able to release my textbook on novel writing in ebook form as well.

You’ve probably noticed that, technically speaking, none of these books is actually “new.” Well, yeah, that’s true. Ya got me.

What’s happened here is something you’re going to see more and more often. Recycled material offered with a shiny new cover and/or in an enhanced format. In the case of my textbooks, these will be the second and third ones available in ebook form. And they come with a significant price drop–from $14.95 (plus the ever-present shipping and handling fees) down to $4.95, delivered instantly. I’m sure you’ll be happy to know the ten dollar difference isn’t coming out of my pocket!

While I continue to work on something really new, a sequel to… Nah, can’t tell ya, yet. But while thus engaged, I now have additional opportunities to market existing stuff. More titles, more sales, and hopefully I can take a few more baby steps toward my goal.

The decision to re-do the Greeley stories may be of interest to those of you with shorter novels, formerly tagged as novellas or novelettes. The market for shorter fiction has grown significantly. For most genres, work weighing in under 90,000 words (90K in publishing jargon) was considered too short to sell as a novel. That dropped to 60K not too terribly long ago. Now, 30K word “novels” are popping up everywhere.

And, with more and more people listening to audio books, the shorter stories give them more variety at a lower cost. Win-win!

Does that mean it’s okay to write shorter stuff and put it on the market right alongside the longer stuff? Sure. But if you’re smart, you’ll at least make sure it’s ready. Don’t just pump out crap. There’s already way too much of that available.

Take the time to edit your work, or have it edited by someone who knows what they’re doing. Get a good cover. There are plenty of tools you can use to do one, and if you just don’t trust your creative side, there are plenty of places you can go and get a good one done for you–and just for you.

Now, quit foolin’ around and go back to work!

–Josh

Posted in editing, Memoir, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

Don’t Force It

For the past 30-odd years I’ve had a sweet story percolating in my brain and taking up space on several different hard drives. I’m fairly certain it’s a young adult tale, but…  It’s the “fairly” part of the equation that keeps biting me on the posterior. Why, for cryin’ out loud, have I not been able to get this story written?

Because I’m not sure where the damned thing is going!

I’ve written over 20,000 words in at least four different attempts to bring this story to life. If nothing else, I expected to at least move the freaking needle in the right direction, but the same problem kept rearing its hideous head: I’m trying to force my sweet little YA story into something else, something bigger, somewhere it just doesn’t belong. But since I don’t have a concrete ending in mind–despite my fascination with and love for the characters–I keep trying to smush them into a form that isn’t right for them.

Twice now, I’ve written them out of novels I’ve gone on to finish (neither of which was aimed at the YA market). Now, believe it or not, it’s happened again. I saw the light in a novel I’ve been fiddling with since last summer. It won’t work with my sweet, little cadre of YA players, not even as a subplot. But that’s fine for the time being, my hands are no longer tied, and I can go on with the real story–the one I should have started working on in the first place.

I’ll hang on to what I wrote involving those YA players, and someday, hopefully, I’ll come back to them with an ending in mind. So, what does this have to do with the rest of the world’s writing population? Is there a chance I’m the only one who’s faced this dilemma? I doubt it.

Stories come in different sizes and shapes, and forcing one type to fit the mold of another just doesn’t work. You might finish the story; you might even find someone to buy it, but it won’t be as good as it could have been if you’d been true to it from the beginning.

Forced fits never look good. Imagine a size 20 butt in a size 8 tracksuit–or ten pounds of suet in a five-pound bag–same difference. Whether we’re talking suits or sacks, something’s gonna blow at any moment, and you don’t want to be near it when it does.

There are plenty of stories waiting to be told. Some of them are bound to be good! Be content with letting a story evolve into its own comfortable size and shape, at least in the first draft. You can pinch, pull, poke and prune it later.

That, I’m told, is what real writers do.

–Josh

 

 

Posted in Historical writing, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Why we watch the Olympics

Some version of the Olympics are staged every two years, and I use the word “staged” in all its many shades of meaning. Just why do so many of us drop everything and focus our attention on athletics, even when, for the majority of watchers, changing TV channels without a remote is the toughest physical workout we get?

The answer is obvious: the Olympics are a gigantic short story collection. Most of these stories fall into the triumph over adversity scenario, even for those who don’t medal, and they represent the great majority. Just getting to the games is a triumph in itself. A far greater number, including some amazingly talented athletes, never even get close.

We watch because such stories intrigue us. Some astound us. Some befuddle us. And a few, better left unpublicized, simply embarrass us.

In days past, one’s Olympic viewing time was limited to the number of prime-time hours a network could schedule. Now, the broadcasts are never-ending. During rare breaks in the competition, profiles of the athletes and/or venues are broadcast, but it seems for all the world like more time is reserved for commercials than anything else. Even sadder, there seems to be a limited variety of commercials available, so we end up seeing the same ones over and over again. I see it as a form of the Chinese drip torture.

Why couldn’t some of that time be devoted to lesser-known stories? Granted, such things may not be as appealing to our national pride as watching a celebrated athlete climb onto the awards podium to receive a disk of some rare metal. But still, some of those stories are worth telling. Some, in fact, absolutely demand telling!

I, for one, cast my vote for uhm… okay… full disclosure. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.)

Back in the day, and I’m talking way-way back in the day, the Olympics featured a lesser range of competition, although some of it would be welcomed in our current high-tech world. In fact, a combination of some old and new sports might spark a vast, new wave of interest.

F’rinstance, Tug-o’-War was a big-time Olympic event from 1900 to 1920. Back then, winning was simple: just drag the opposing team across a dividing line. Little has changed in the interim. But what if the dividing line were made more interesting? What if a fire pit were covered with a thin layer of support which would collapse when all or most of a team put their weight on it? What if each team was composed of used car salesmen, lawyers, or politicians (and I’ll be the first to admit telling these species apart is damned difficult).

Both croquet and dueling were also part of the early Olympics. While croquet doesn’t do much for me, I was fascinated to learn about dueling. These guys, and presumably gals, too, would fire wax bullets at each other. Is that cool, or what?

Imagine combining that with the modern biathlon. Competitors would ski up, down, over, and around hills of varying size, then stop and fire paintball guns at each other. The winners would be determined, in part, based on how many times they were hit.

Alas, we may have to simply satisfy ourselves with the antics of Olympic spectators, which, considering the bizarre array of costuming involved–combined with a little imagination–could easily become a competitive event in itself. Scoring, however, might be a bit of a problem, but with the rapid development of artificial intelligence, I anticipate a viable breakthrough would quickly occur.

Yours, for even better games,

–Josh

 

Posted in Historical writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

It’s Nice To Be Noticed

I’m re-posting this from a couple years ago, mainly ’cause I’m under the gun to finish some editing jobs. Plus, when I posted this the first time I only had two or three folks interested in following my blog. Now I’ve got… Hell, I dunno. Several, at least! Anyway, here ’tis:

The Recognition Fairy, caught between jobs.

It’s nice to be noticed. It’s even nicer when someone singles out your work with a compliment. There’s something about that wiggly puppy feeling you get when the Recognition Fairy pops up, wand in hand, and sends a cloud of sparkly stuff swirling through the atmosphere. Even though, over at the EPA, some joy-killing bureaucratic cretin is sure to issue yet another air quality warning: “Whoa! Too much sparkly stuff! Stay inside! And remember to report any tiny, winged, humanoid creatures to the authorities.” (That last little call to arms is just dumb, since everyone knows the Recognition Fairy doesn’t take a humanoid form. Silly bureaucrats!)

I used to believe there was no such thing as too much recognition. Really, I did. I can’t believe anyone ever developed blisters from being patted on the back. It’s just not possible. The body would automatically secrete some sort of anti-hubris hormone which would, in turn, spark a wave of self-doubt and suspicion — Are they really just saying nice things, while deep down inside they hate my guts? It’s true. That’s exactly how these things work. I know; I took a science class in school back in <mumble>.

And then, of course, there’s the ugly flip-side of recognition. When it’s institutionalized, sprayed out like weed killer, and soaked up by a legion of the undeserving dressed in schlep’s clothing.North Korean officers Who wants that? Praise should not be doled out like Tic-Tacs from a plastic dumpster. Recognition, if we can be honest about it, should at least be more subtle than an Elvis impersonator. It needs a bit of soft sell. It can be contained in very few words. I’m particularly fond of: “Wow! Great job!” But that’s just me. Others may require something way more effusive, like: “I just finished reading your latest novel, and I’m still behind on my sleep. It’s going to take days to recover. I’ve never laughed so hard or wept so inconsolably. My emotions pegged both ends of the joy/despair spectrum as I followed your brilliant characters through one stunning adventure after another. If only I could have paid for the book two or three times! In fact, I’d love to send you a humble gift of cash if it will help to keep you writing.”

This, of course, may cause the Recognition Fairy to hemorrhage, so caution should be the byword when it comes to gushiness. Crazy, right? Who knew?

So, if you’ve read something by me that you liked, feel free to spread the word. On Amazon, preferably, or Goodreads. FaceBook would be cool, too. Skywriting isn’t required, but it sure would be memorable.

Hm. Skywriting….

–Josh

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Success requires effort. Stunning, I know…

Over the years I’ve been fortunate to get feedback on my work from a number of incredibly talented writers, Rob Sawyer, Mike Resnick, Kris Rusch, and Steve Sterling to name a few. There have been others, to whom I’m equally grateful, but I don’t wish to be accused of name-dropping. Or, at least, not too many names! The deal we make when accepting help from those who have done well, is that we pay it forward. If, God willing, we’re able to achieve some measure of success, we agree to help those who follow in our footsteps.

meaning_of_life_1763245I had just such an opportunity recently. A young writer was directed to me for advice and counsel on the business of independent publishing. My response may be of interest, and I post it here for what it’s worth. I make no guarantees other than that I fully believe everything I’ve said in here is true.

To wit:

Dear <ID and initial niceties redacted>,

As for self-promotion, I’m probably the worst person on Earth to ask! The name of the game, these days, is “Platform building.” One’s platform is the crowd–hopefully vast–which one can influence. You build your platform by being active in social media, through contacts (professional, collegial, recreational, whatever), and by taking advantage of any and all opportunities to put your work in front of people who can act on it. That means they can buy, review, recommend, praise, and/or promote it.

But understand this: the promise you’re making when you embark on this promotional odyssey is that what you’re publishing is top flight, first-rate, numero uno material. It won’t have sloppy formatting or a wandering storyline. It won’t have lifeless characters or a pointless plot. It’s going to be worth every nickel the reading public pays for it, and more! You’re promising quality, but if you deliver crap–and all too many indie publishers do–you’ll condemn yourself to failure. Worse, you’ll very likely condemn all your future work to failure, too.

So, make sure you’ve got good stuff to sell, or don’t try to sell it. Make sure it’s thoroughly vetted. If your friends and fellow writers aren’t ecstatic about it, hold off on publishing it. Get another opinion. Figure out what’s wrong and fix it. You’ll never get it perfect–no one does. But get it as close as you can, because the market is brutally honest. If your stuff sucks, they’ll let you know in no uncertain terms.

If it’s truly excellent, you might get a few positive reviews. Revel in them! Nasty reviews are much, much easier to write, and disappointed readers are more apt to write them than the happy-talk feedback Mom and Dad give us.

That’s just the way it is.

Best of luck!

–Josh

Posted in editing, Historical writing, Memoir, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Edit your writing; don’t edit your life

 

Most of us have had moments in our lives when something bad happened. The scale of “bad” is incredibly broad. It stretches from forgettable to life-changing and covers a  staggering array of situations, actions, reactions, and consequences. For memoir writers, there’s a strong temptation to downplay if not ignore such episodes. Doing so, however, creates a false narrative, a snapshot of a moment the way it “should” have been, rather than one which depicts what actually happened.

When writing in the abstract, like this, it’s easy to toss off advice that doesn’t impact the advice-giver personally. That doesn’t mean it isn’t valid.

Anne Lamott is often quoted when this topic comes up, as it often does in my memoir writing classes. One of my favorites from her is: “There is nothing as sweet as a comeback, when you are down and out, about to lose, and out of time.” Since I primarily write action/adventure fiction, this admonition feels as if it’s designed especially for me, or more accurately, for my characters. It’s doubly true for memoirists.

I suspect there are two kinds of memoir readers: those who seek a “There, but for the grace of God, go I” revelation, and those who prefer to become absorbed in real-life struggles against adversity. This latter group mirrors fiction readers quite closely. They’re less interested in the outcome of a fight than they are in the tenacity, ingenuity, and integrity of the fighter.

And that’s precisely why difficult topics should never be glossed over in either memoir or fiction. The difference is that a reader can always grab another story by the same fiction writer. For the memoirist, there’s only one tale to be told.

All too often my memoir students worry about the feelings of those who treated them badly, but for the life of me, I don’t understand why. Nor, evidently does the redoubtable Anne Lamott. Here’s my other favorite quote of hers: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

Yes, people do ugly things to each other, and when someone does it to you, is it really that hard to write about? I imagine it would be significantly more difficult to write about the horrible things we’ve done to others. But even then, what’s the point of glossing over it? To make ourselves look better? Will that change who we are, or does it merely postpone the discovery for those who don’t know us well?

Tell the truth, even if it’s ugly. Tell it, even if it’s painful. Tell it, because if you don’t, you’ll never get past it, and you’ll never become the person you long to be.

–Josh

Posted in Memoir, Uncategorized, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Why bother with writing exercises?

If you’re inspired enough to take a writing class of some sort, you’re almost certain to be presented with a creative challenge of one kind or another. Usually, these are in the form of writing exercises. Some writer friends of mine absolutely hate them. These are folks who occupy a wide range of experience and ability within the craft. And yet, almost all of them dig in and do the exercises–every time.

Why? The question is especially relevant when applied to the most accomplished among that crowd.

The answer is shockingly simple: they’re very likely to generate material they can use later. For many of them, it’s like putting money aside for a rainy day, a day when their creative well runs a little dry. At that point, having a supply of story openings, experimental scenes, and/or character descriptions can turn a disappointing writing session into a productive one. In some cases, the resulting output can be a creative bonanza.

“But,” you say, “I’m working on a non-fiction book. Doing an exercise about a fictitious character or some bizarre situation won’t help me at all.”

That’s a reasonable argument, assuming your current project is the only one you’ll ever work on. It may also be reasonable if you’re unable to imagine how writing from an alternative point of view might give you a better understanding of what your readers want, or that you won’t discover a way to say something that’s valuable because of its innate good humor and/or poignancy.

Writing exercises often strive to force students out of their comfort zones and into situations they’re unused to, or in extreme cases, afraid of. One can generally trust a writing teacher to find appropriate topics. It’s highly unlikely for instance, given the makeup of my current classes, that I’d ask them to write a sex scene or an execution. On the other hand, it’s entirely possible I’ll ask them to write their own obituary, provided they make it humorous. If I were working with a group composed only of published fiction writers, having them tackle an erotic encounter or some equally difficult scene is much more likely.

So who gets the credit when a student uses a writing exercise to produce something new and totally unexpected? The student, of course! The exercise, no matter how carefully planned, is merely a catalyst; the magic happens somewhere else, inside someone else.

And that’s the true beauty and power of those annoying exercises. Lift and stretch, y’all. Lift and stretch!

–Josh

Posted in Historical writing, Memoir, novel writing, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments