Tuesday, January 31, 2012

My Favorite Compliment

Even as a learning author, I get a lot of compliments on my writing. Generally from family and friends - so nothing that's going to make me an overnight sensation - but appreciated nonetheless. Part of my love affair with writing is couched firmly in the realm of "daddy issues." My father, before he passed away, was a typical man when it came to feelings. Men of his generation generally didn't sit you down and ask what was going on, even if you were teary-eyed. Especially if you were teary-eyed. (They'd be more likely to scream for their wife, amirite fellas?)

Yet, for all of his seeming emotional stonewalling, my father was a deeply caring man. I learned this not through the sometimes awkward coming of age tales, or the shoulder pats and head-rubs (of which there were enough, if not "many.") No, what my father did, when there was something particularly emotional to share, was write me notes.

Typically, I think he did these in the wee hours of the morning, when everyone else was still asleep and he was consuming his traditional bowl of cereal. (Cereal, every morning, for years.) Neither my father nor I are very good "morning people." Our mannerisms are best compared to a bear whose winter slumber has just been cut short by an unwary traveler. We respond to any and all overtures in unintelligible growls, and our visage was plainly taken from the Will Maw Your Face aisle of the Expression Store.

Morning was like a sanctuary for my father, I believe. There was a short span of my life where I also had a job that required early waking and lived at home. In those days, we both snagged food (cereal for him, a pop tart and glass of OJ for me), and sat across from each other at the table. There were few - if any - words. We prepared ourselves mentally for the day to come, and that was that.

I suspect now that it was during these AM reflection periods (the ones without me, that is) that he wrote me. He only wrote on special occasions. My birthday. The day I took my driver's test. Before exams or the Big Game. The day I graduated from high school. Or just when he knew I'd been having a particularly rough week.

The paper was yellow, likely from a run-of-the-mill legal pad (though my father was not a lawyer). The writing rarely filled more than half of the page. It was always in ink, most often black, though occasionally blue or red. Never green. Or pink. The note would turn up hidden in my lunch, or taped to the computer monitor (I was obsessive about checking my email even then), or near the pop tarts. A place I would be sure to find the words before school. And with those words, I heard his voice. It was as clear as if he were standing next to me, passing along his support or wisdom, whatever the case required. It was a helluva lot more effective and comfortable, too. For both of us.

As I've studied the craft of writing, Voice is something that keeps popping up. I read another good article about it just a few minutes ago. It seems to be one of the most difficult things to describe or learn, yet one of the most important tools in a writer's toolbox. My favorite compliment from the readers that know me, then, is one I actually get often: "I have to admit, it's a little freaky because I could hear your voice the whole time I was reading." Sometimes I'm not sure if its meant entirely as a compliment. From a relative, it may be more like: "Well the romance scenes were sort of awkward because I kept hearing you.... but good." Which, let me say, is likely the right response. It would probably be weird if it wasn't awkward.

As far as I know, my father never trained or studied writing. Perhaps the clarity of the voice in his notes was because of that, rather than in spite of it. Traditionally trained writers can sometimes get mired in the mechanics of the craft, and forget about the art. In any case, I seem to have inherited the ability, and it is perhaps one of the qualities I'm most protective and proud of in my writing. I may not be the most polished in other areas, but I want you, the reader, to be able to hear my voice in everything I write. My father wrote to his son; I'm writing to readers. (I suspect if/when I eventually have a son of my own, I'll find the former more difficult.)

Voice is very important to me, and the more I learn, the more I believe that importance to be well-founded, but it would be a lie to claim that I'd recognized that from the start. Really, I just wanted to relate to people in the same way my father had related to me. It is one of the reasons I dedicated my first book to him. What you read in my books is pretty much how I tell stories in real life - as many of my friends and relatives can attest - and I plan to keep it that way. I guess not all "daddy issues" are bad.
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Monday, January 30, 2012

My Aunt Linda

Posting may be sporadic from me this week. My Aunt lost her battle with cancer over the weekend. My other Aunt already put up a nice little post with some pictures, so I'll link there. She was someone I was close to, so obviously that's the focus this week. She's been called home, and we need to be there to see her off properly.

I'm going to write a proper piece on my personal blog at some point after I've processed my feelings, but it felt right to put something up on here. My Aunt Linda was, after all, very supportive of my writing. She'd begged me on several occasions to "next time write something without vampires." They were too scary for her. Unfortunately, it seems like I was too slow.

Once I get this next book out (Fates' Motif: the first one without vampires, mind you), it's going to be dedicated to her with the tag line: "Hopefully there's a good techie with wings up there to help convert this to an h-book. You know, for her Angel Reader." Because I'm silly like that. Also, there has to be books in heaven, right? It just wouldn't be heaven for me without books...

For the record: heavenly formatted books have no typos, no plot holes, and no horrible cliches. It is known.
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Friday, January 27, 2012

Page 1 of The Dare

I'm feeling a bit lazy today and since I've been talking about my short story, I figured I'd put up the first page for free perusal. It seemed to fit well into a post and I was editing it anyway, so here you go. Feel free to point out anything egregious. I'll probably end up posting the whole thing on here for free. At least, I want to. The hurdle from my perspective is to be able to post it in easily digestible chunks that aren't completely esoteric. As an avid blog-reader myself, I don't much care for giant walls of story or cryptic excerpts. So we'll see how this sharing goes. If you like/don't like the format, let me know. I've been looking into something like Wattpad too: a place where I could release free versions of my stories in a nice, serial format. One that is friendly to the form.

I'm just calling this "The Dare" for now, but I'll settle on a proper title when it's finished. Anyway, here we go...


The bell above the door rang, signifying a new customer.

"How about this guy?" Sally asked.

Mark sized up the man. He wore a colorful ski jacket, open at the neck despite the chill. As he entered, he pulled off his stocking cap and swiped at some snow that had already begun to melt. His brown hair was matted to his forehead and his blue eyes swept swiftly to Action/Adventure section. He walked toward the aisle with a purposeful stride.

"Easy. Spy thriller," Mark answered. "And he'll go to your counter."

They waited for a moment. The man perused the racks of rental movies, eventually snatching one. He flipped it and scanned the back. Looking for more images of the female lead. She would be in a bathing suit, Mark knew.

The man tapped the case twice, turned on the balls of his feet, and made for the checkout counter. He paused after exiting the cinematic canyons--as Mark thought of the racks--and glanced from Sally, to him, and then back at Sally. Mark made it easier on the man; he turned and busied himself with rearranging the stand holding microwave popcorn.

Sally pursed her pouty lips as the man approached. She recited the litany of policies and dates, scanned the movie and the man's card, then removed the plastic security flap.

"Due back next Tuesday," she said with a friendly smile.

The man licked his lips and swallowed before thanking her, trying--but failing--to keep his eyes from sliding to Sally's breasts. A daub of red rose to Sally's cheeks as she noticed, but she said nothing. Mark chuckled to himself. You think she'd be used to that by now.

She led the man around to the exit door and handed him his purchase in a plastic bag. As soon as he was gone, she turned and stuck her tongue out at Mark. He laughed out loud this time.

"I don't like this game," Sally said.

"That's because I always win," Mark pointed out.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2012

#ROW80 - A Seedling Bursts Through

Life has not relented. In fact, I rather suspect that it has decided to press its advantage. We still have the health issues, and then the Day Job decided that they wanted to take this opportunity to shift my position around. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as I welcome the new challenge. Just... change is stressful, and I wasn't really looking for more stress. When it rains, it pours, right?

Since I skipped it last week, let's take a proper look at the goals this week:
  • Lesson Learned - Short Stories are fun to write. May seem like a silly lesson, but I've never been a big short story reader and never anticipated writing them. My brain just works better with novel-sized plots, which may be odd. Still, my current work on the dare has been quite enjoyable. And with the whole Book Revolution, short story popularity has skyrocketed; there is totally a market for these (where there wasn't as much of one before). This was an unanticipated path in my plan, but consider me pleasantly surprised by my feelings.
  • Project Writing - Working on the short story, in the last two weeks I've hammered out 13 pages. I also wrote the first two pages of my next novel (just to get started). Normally, I'm pretty evenly paced in my writing, but the short story has come out in concentrated bursts. With 15 total pages, I blew right by my goal of a page a day with two days off (by 5 pages!). This surprises me because I wasn't really keeping track, just writing when the mood hit me and I had time. On the other hand, I guess it shouldn't because I generally write more when I'm stressed (it's always been a release).
  • Blogging - 6/6 in two weeks on the gaming blog. This'll be 7/6 on here in two weeks. I need to make a personal post, but I've been waiting for the health issues to shake out.
So, really, despite my moaning last week, I've destroyed these goals. Now, generally I expect to meet and exceed the goals each week. That is to say, I didn't make "stretching" goals this round because I recognize my stress is already way up there. When life calms, then I'll try to stretch, but until then, it's just about keeping on keeping on. 

I think the decision to go outside my box and do this short story thing is really the key to my success early on this year. The relaxing thing about short stories is that, well, they're short. That is, it's not expect to have a ton of world-building or back-story or whatever. You don't have time for all that. The focus is on setting up characters, roping in the reader, and finishing off the plot before you get too wordy. It's sort of like paring a novel down to its bare bones, shrinking the plot, and then just writing. This isn't to say I'm "half assing" it or anything, just that, uh, short stories are not as much work as a novel. I guess that's sort of a "no duh" statement, but its been a refreshing realization for me. One that has bumped my output in a time where I would likely struggle to focus on a larger project.

I guess that's a bonus lesson for today: for all you writers out there, if you find yourself in a situation where you're having trouble focusing on larger projects (that you've convinced yourself you need to do), don't be afraid to "take a break" on a smaller project. It can really serve to smooth out the shakes of writing withdrawal.

Before I leave, I want to give to shout outs. First, to fellow ROWer Gene Lempp, for what I thought was a wonderfully written article this Monday. That's exactly how I feel, especially right now. In a way, the short story thing is part of the regenerative process of my creative soil. (Not to be confused with creative soiling, which is a different thing entirely). Poop jokes aside, the point is that this article hit at the perfect time for me, where I'm feeling like a somewhat functional example.

Second, my Aunt Annie has just begun a blog. I wanted to throw her some link love because it's her first blog, and I'd like to think I was at least a little bit inspirational in her starting it. (She's been one of my biggest supports of this whole writing adventure, and writing is something we've discussed at length at many a family gathering). Today she was sharing her latest cooking adventure. She'll also be writing about scrapbooking and does a fair bit of genealogy for our family. If any of that interests you, dear reader, feel encouraged to pop in and say "hi." She's a big reader and wants to hone her writing skills in hopes of someday attempting a book. I think I may try to convince her to join the ROW challenge next, but I'll save that for a future family gathering.

One of my favorite side effects of this whole Internet thing (specifically: how it has impacted writers) is that it seems like more people than ever are braving the world of public writing for the very first time. To me, that's just awesome. Twenty years ago, none of this was possible. None of use would have been online, sharing ideas and encouragement. Support groups and writing in general was a lot harder to get into. We all did it in secret notebooks that we swore we'd never share with anyone, or whatever.

After I completed my first book, my cousin was reading it and her young daughter asked her what she was reading. She explained about the book and who wrote it. Her daughter, in the way of children, immediately decided that she wanted to be a writer someday, too. Just existing, putting our words out there can be an inspiration (even for someone that didn't actually read a word I wrote). What an awesome feeling.

There are a lot of days where I wish someone had told me when I was little that I could be a writer. For so long, writer was firmly ensconced in my mind right next to "penniless vagrant." It wasn't a real job. It was just something I did for fun in secret. There wasn't a real career path, a real future. You couldn't hope to support a family on writing unless you got really really lucky (or knew someone, or were famous already). Pick something with promise, with opportunity, they'd say.

Now, opportunity is knocking. It still takes a lot of work and probably some luck along the way, but I think it's a lot easier to dare to dream the dream. Even if you don't make it a career, even if it is only ever just a side passion, you can find an audience. You can share ideas with complete strangers, and form bonds through words. I'm excited both for myself and for future generations. What a cool time to be a writer!

See what I mean about writing bursts? Sheesh. It's time to end this lengthy check-in. Here's the word count:
  • Since last check in (two weeks): 16,048
  • New Fiction: 4,713
  • Round 1 Total: 22,906
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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Character Closeup: Sharee Swift

Back to the characters of Fates' Motif for a day. I'm hoping to get the edits for the books back within the next week or so. As such, I'm expecting to be able to publish it within the first couple weeks of February. The first novel I published took me years to stumble through and work up the courage to share. This second book is better and quicker for the meanderings of the first, and I'm redefining my process with each release. It's been a great learning experience, and I need to remember to focus on the lessons in times when I'm impatient (which, let's face it, is pretty much always).

But this is about Sharee, the female lead in the novel. I mentioned in Werim's closeup that not only is Sharee his sister, but she serves as co-protagonist for the story. Basically, I took this brother/sister team and attempted to have them walk the same route from opposing viewpoints. Where Werim's path of self-discovery would resemble a stair-step, Sharee is more of a smooth ramp.

Sharee has shoulder-length auburn hair and forest-green eyes, just like her mother. She's thin as a rod, though a lot more graceful than her brother. Growing up, she generally wanted to have shorter hair and wear the same clothes as her brother. All of the other girls in their village are either older or younger than Sharee by several years, which suited her just fine as she'd rather tag along with her brother and his friend on their adventures in the woods.

She often finds herself straddling the world of a child and a young woman. She feels like she needs to keep her brother in line, though part of her always wanted to "be bad" right along with him. She turns 16 early in the novel, and her mother surprises her with some unexpected one-on-one time.

As the story progresses, Sharee displays a passion for learning and an insatiable curiosity, especially with regards to the forest. She's stronger than she gives herself credit for, and every bit as brave as her brother, though she would never cop to it. She's the more introspective of the two, and often gets a bit reflective after the rush of events.

Sharee easily embraces who and what she is. She is equal parts healer and warrior, and will defend those she loves without a second thought. Still, she isn't as completely in control as she would have others believe. Her emotions often get the best of her, especially when tired, though she tries hard not to whine and would prefer that the world not witness any tears.

Though she is capable of leading, Sharee is just as happy following. She's not afraid to question a plan, but respects the knowledge others bring to the table. She is but one instrument among many, and each voice adds value to the greater symphony. (She often feels that her brother is quite loud, though.)

My favorite scene from Sharee isn't until the very end. It sort of snuck up on me as much as it did her. Any time you can have a character blow up half of a building, I think you should, you know, go ahead and write that scene. Just a personal preference.
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Monday, January 23, 2012

The Dare

I mentioned on Friday that a friend had commissioned a story about a pantsless vampire. Today I wanted to share the blurb he gave me and some of our initial brainstorming about it. I'm a little over a third of the way done with story. It'll be short and fun.

Side note: in case you were curious (as I was), pantsless seems to be the popular term over pantless. Neither will earn you points in Scrabble, Words with Friends, or the Chrome spellchecker. Use at your own peril.

The very first incarnation of the blurb is as follows:
The Vampire LeGar terrorizes the city of Houston for months on end. Amateur sleuths Sally and Mark think they've uncovered his one weakness. Is the information credible? Are they intrepid enough to catch a vampire? Can they get him to sit still long enough to put on pants?
 Mind you, he threw this blurb out at me on the spot, off the cuff/wall/pants. Still, we decided that part of the challenge is to try to make the story fit the blurb as closely as possible. In that regard, I feel like I'm reverse engineering a story, and it's kind of a neat way to go about it.

Even so, there were a few changes I suggested that he accepted. First of all, I decided to move the setting further north. I'm not sure I need to nail it down yet, but I have somewhere like the greater Chicagoland area in mind. Not only do I know the area, but they get lots of snow and wind. My friend's dare was to fabricate a believable story based on an absurd premise. I felt it would serve us to make the pantslessness (also not accepted in Scrabble) more profound by sticking our poor vampire in a cold, snowy, winter climate. Sorry Houston, but we have a problem there.

Otherwise, the rough plot I worked out incorporates everything else. I may be stretching "terrorize" a bit. There are only a few deaths. I didn't have the time to build up a long history of mysterious disturbances (this is a short story after all). Also, in conversing with him about the proposed plot, we came up with a twist. It plays on the blurb a bit, but does not invalidate it.

It's been a fun process and now I just need to knock it out. I'm anticipating only around 10k words, so it shouldn't take too long. The chaotic nature of life at the moment has been mucking with my writing time, but I've squeeze in here and there. If I don't wrap it up this week, then I'm shooting for the next. I think I like this whole short story thing...
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Friday, January 20, 2012

A Story Dare

Officially, I'm currently stuck in this "in between" area of writing. I have one project out with editors, extremely close to release. I have another that I've outlined and research and am ready to write, but I find myself reluctant to get in too deep until the other is finished. Thus, I was just sort of dabbling around, trying not to waste time, when I got into a fruitful conversation with a friend.

We were talking about art and the whole patron system of the Renaissance. You know, when people with money used to throw it at starving artists to support the arts and perhaps get a painting or two out of it. Or a symphony. Point being, I was opining that (apart from treating everything with leeches) "those were the days."

In a way, the Internet is bringing the patron system up to date. It's getting easier and easier for an artist to get online and advertise specific products. People can very easily commission custom artwork (whether it be impressionist art, or a hand-painted My Little Pony) with nothing but a mouse and a credit card. And it supports the artist. It's a win-win.

I told my friend that it would be neat if we could do the same thing with writers. That is, what if your favorite author was open to creating a story just for you and all you had to do was pay them X amount of money? Sort of a commission system for authors, though I think of it more as a retainer. For giggles, I threw out a $5 starting point.

Backstory: My friend and I have an inside joke. He's not very fond of vampire stories, and I've tried like hell to sell him mine. He's a traditional fantasy reader, so he views urban fantasy sort of how "manly" men view a Nora Roberts novel. Because of my clumsy salesmanship, he finally told me that the only way he'd read a vampire novel is if the vampire's power was based on being pantsless. Yes, you read that right: he is only interested in a vampire without pants on. By his reckoning, such a silly premise would make a vampire story worth reading.

So, it makes a bit more sense then, that he responded to my commission idea with: "Heck, I'd commission a story about a pantsless vampire for $5." I took that as a challenge. I said "commission accepted," and off we went. We went back and forth on what would be a good starting point, and settled on: he would give me a blurb, and my job would be to write a short story from that blurb. Pretty simple, right?

Personally, I've found this idea hugely exciting. It's challenging as a writer to try and take someone else's story idea, and make it work. We agreed that the story had to make sense, had to be cohesive and coherent. While the concept may be ridiculous, the execution shouldn't be. I can definitely use humor, but it's not just going to be slapstick hour.

The cool part is that, if it goes well, after I'm done I can offer it through all my various outlets for 99 cents, forever. In my mind, this makes a commission system completely viable. Though, to be clear, it's less of a commission (where the payer might expect to get the sales rights), that it is a dare or challenge. It still seems win-win, though. The payee gets the story they want, I get a fun idea to play with and sell. Chances are, if one person finds something entertaining, there will be others out there, and even if not, it's good practice.

I suppose things could get crazy if I were, like, George RR Martin. I'd imagine the requests would be overwhelmingly plentiful. How to choose, in that case? My idea there would be to take a page from the Piano Man's book. If you've ever been to a piano bar, you know that they play requests based on the size of the tip (when there's a queue, the minimum if no line). So, while I may have plenty of time to squeeze in my one request, I could imagine a situation where a bidding war for an author's time happens. That'd be fun, right? (And to make it fair, the author would return the unused bids.) It's sort of like an Ebay-style, Crowd Sourced Patronage Program.

Anyway, we'll see how it goes, and more specific info to follow. I've written the first 1/3 of the story, and it's been a lot of fun, at least. There's a great, growing market for short stories right now, and they're rather fun and simple to write. I love novels, don't get me wrong, but I'm finding that weaving in a short story is both a different kind of challenge and a bit relaxing. It's a whole lot easier to "pants" a short story than it is a novel, and requires an efficient storytelling that stretches me as a writer.

I've added the dare to my current projects list. I expect to knock out this short story before I get my edits back from my novel. It's a perfect little side project to squeeze in. If all goes well, I think the $5 dare is something I'd like to offer to any of my readers in the future. I'll share the blurb he gave me on Monday and explain a little more about the process to further illustrate this idea, but what do you think, dear reader? Would you pay $5 for a custom short story from your favorite (or just this random) author?
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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

#ROW80 - Still Alive

My comments will be protracted today. Not because they were censored by SOPA/PIPA - though that is a future danger that we should all consider - but instead because I'm doing the whole "taking care of more important things" that I mentioned last week. I wanted to at least pop in though.

I wrote some (I'll add it up next week). I blogged some (I think I may have been short). I'm sure I learned something, but I can't really regurgitate it right now. I gained a year (as of yesterday).

But, above all, I'm still alive (if you're a Portal fan, you'll love the link. Otherwise, you'll probably just think I'm weird. Either way: for my birthday, the cake was not a lie. It was ice cream cake. Yum.) Just wanted to go on record with that. See y'all next week!
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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

To The Birthday Wallers

Ima go a bit off topic today. That is, this is a personal musing, and only tangentially related to writing or my books. Not that I expect anyone will have a problem with this, just figured I'd preface it. As an author, I enjoy a good preface. Not as cool as a preamble, but those are a bit classy for me.

Anyway, today is my birthday. *Confetti*

I've found there are two schools of thought about birthdays. There are the folks that think it should be a special day and want to throw you a party. Then, there are the folks that treat them pretty much like every other other day (with perhaps some well wishes). Unfortunately, I'm a member of the latter, even including my own day.

Maybe it's sad, but I don't really feel any different on my birthday. Perhaps a bit older, but after you gain the ability to legally drink (21 is a big age in the US. Not sure how other folks might feel) there's not a whole lot to look forward to. I passed the "rental car milestone" a couple years ago. Its uphill until 40. Then, what? Senior discount age? Woo boy.

That's really depressing, isn't it? My apologies. Birthdays can be great fun, and I don't mean to to be so blue. I actually wish I were more like the first group, but it's something I never really could convince myself of. Don't get me wrong, when it's your birthday, I'll totally throw a few back with you. I'll even buy the beer. Then again, I'd probably buy you a beer today if you asked nicely. I'm that kind of guy. (Plus, you know, buying beer is still pretty cool... see the aforementioned 21 y/o milestone.)

One of the newer traditions I've noticed is what I'll call the Birthday Wall. It happens on Facebook. People you may not have even met somehow are alerted to your day, and magically show up on your wall, wishing you a swell aging process. Don't ask me how this happens. I'm guessing a lot of these people are of the "special day" group. It's important, then, that they stop by and throw out a greeting. And it does make me smile. Who doesn't like being wished well? So mischief managed, you Birthday Wallers, you. I appreciate the thought, no matter how brief.

Yet, the cynical part of me wants to be a bit uncouth. Before you judge, though, follow my logic. I dislike my day job. We don't really get along. I'm rapidly discovering I'm not a day job kind of guy. It's part of my drive behind this whole writing gig. 9-5 just rubs me wrong. I work in fits and starts. Creative bursts of energy. Not steadily over 8 hours. (Incidentally, if/when I make it to a point where I can drop the day job, I still plan to try to spend 8 hours a day on my writing career. I already treat it like a second job, logging hours daily... but I'm much better at harnessing my own finicky productive time than any manager could ever hope to be.)

Point being, when it's your birthday, people often ask what you want, sometimes without any intent of actually getting it for you. (Like, if I said I wanted a golden toilet seat, I'd hope no one is going to shell out for that... it's silly, and not worth it.) What I really want, though, is to not do this day job thingy. Actually, I'm taking tomorrow off as a gift to myself (tomorrow worked out better).

So, when I see the Birthday Wall Phenomenon (BWP), what I want to do is say: Okay, all you folks who are stopping by, what you need to do now is take out an envelope, find a dollar bill, and slip it in there. Then, mail it to... but that's not cool, right? How I was raised, it was considered a bit tacky to ask for money. It was okay if someone asked your mother: "What does Matt want for his birthday? Oh, just get him money. He's unimaginative like that." But if you asked for it, that was rude.

Here's the rub: who doesn't like getting money for their birthday? Honestly, now. Please. Stand up. No one?

The richest I ever felt as a kid was always the day after my birthday. I used to make plans all year, and then BAM... birthday money.  As an adult, with a "real" job, people don't really give you money anymore. It's just another perk of getting older (right up there with the rental cars). You can provide for yourself. It should be about the wishes, right? RIGHT? (Don't lie, you'd still take $1 if grandma was sending it in a card... and probably not even read the card! You jerk.)

Is it any surprise that I want to say: thanks, love you too, gimme a dollar? But since that's rude, I decided to be creative. What I should say, instead, is: give me five dollars. Still sounds rude, I know... so I'm going to cloak it: I'll trade you a book for $5.

See what I did there? My book is only $5, and - what's more - you get something out of it, too. To be fair, a lot of the Wallers have probably already bought my book. That's okay, I can be even more creative. If that's your situation... buy the book and then GIVE IT AS A GIFT TO THE NEXT POOR SOD. See? Everyone's a winner! Two birds with one stone!

Okay, okay. I'm just playing around here. I don't want to be rude. You don't have to buy anything. I'm just pleased as punch to have people that care enough to stop by and wall me. But if you want to know what I want this year? Ditch the day job. Write full time. That's what I want. Probably won't happen this year. I've got a ways to go yet, but damn would that be a good gift, and every little bit helps. Is it weird to ask for a career change for your birthday?
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Friday, January 13, 2012

Character Closeup: Werim Swift

I'm going to get back into doing character closeups now that my second release is nearing completion. For the curious, it's looking like I'm not targeting the first week of February to make the book available. The issues I mentioned on Wednesday have made a habit of getting in the way, but I'm hopeful we'll be able to push through. I'm really anxious to share the story.

In the mean time, I'll introduce you to some of the characters. I'll try to do at least one per week. Today we'll start with Werim Swift.

The challenge I made to myself when I started writing this book was to try and have two equally weighted protagonists. Werim is one half of that pair, his sister Sharee being the other. Werim is a 16 year-old boy with curly black hair and hazel eyes. He turned 16 several months before the start of the book. He's tall and lanky, in that awkward, teenage-growth-spurt sense.

The story starts in the mountain village of Kokamongo, where Werim and Sharee live with their parents. Werim starts off on the childish end of the spectrum, having not really had to face any adversity in his life up until this point. For his 16th birthday, he receives a sword. He approaches swordplay the same as he did playing with sticks in the woods as a kid. It's simply something to do for fun, and a challenge to win.

He idolizes his father and torments his sister. When their father leaves for an extended period of time, Werim's taunting gets worse, and he has some clashes with his mother as well. He doesn't really like being the "man of the house," as a lot of the heavier chores fall to him. It is a role he accepts, just not with a great attitude.

Early on, Werim displays a willingness to break the rules. He gets into trouble stealing bread from the local baker, and apologizes when forced by his mother, doing chores at the bakery to compensate. It isn't until the village is razed by invaders that he begins to realize the things he's taken for granted.

As the story progress, we see Werim mature begrudgingly. Where his sister accepts life's lessons with grace, Werim fights every note. He learns in fits and starts. He's a bit of a reluctant hero, though he does take his responsibility to his family seriously. His sister looks up to him, and - while he still may like to tease her - he accepts his role as big brother and protector.

Werim's cleverness begins to assert itself later on, and it becomes apparent that he takes after his father. "More guts than wits," is what his mother says of them both. Werim's not yet met a fight he doesn't think he can win or a situation he can't weasel his way out of. Werim's belief in himself and his abilities is tested throughout the story.

As a kid, he'd dreamed of adventure, but when adventure finds him, he can't help but long for the simplicity he's lost. Unfortunately, there is no turning back. Pressed onward, he has no choice but to grow up and face the future that the Fates have in store for him.

My favorite scene of Werim's involves a stolen cask of rum, shared with a friend under the starry night sky. Mind you, neither of them had tried hard alcohol before. I discovered that I rather like getting my characters drunk. May have to do it more often...
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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

#ROW80 - Health Hurdles

Still sort of in ramping-up mode. There have been some personal hurdles to the start of this year that have forced writing to take a bit of a back seat. My wife's been having some health issues (we don't know a lot right now, which is why I'm being a bit circumspect), so we've been primarily focused on that, as one might expect. I've still been managing to crawl forward, but I suppose I'm glad this has hit me in between projects. Focusing on whole-heartedly on writing right now would be rough. Instead, I'm just doing some casual outlining and research for the next book, and patiently waiting for my editors to finish up. Here's a look at the goals:
  • Lesson Learned - Some things are more important than writing. Like your health and the health of your loved ones. As much as I'd like to be pressing forward, it does no one any good to push out crap when your heart is elsewhere.
  • Project Progress - I've worked the outline for my next book to the point where I think I'm reading to start writing. I'm going to attempt to do that this week, but I'm going to ratchet down my speed. I was planning to set the goal of one page per day with one day "off" per week. Instead, I'm going to give myself an extra off day, and shoot for just five pages. Even then, if I find I'm not hitting the goal, I may downgrade further next week. The point here is that, while I'm not hard at work, writing is a part of who I am and how I deal with things. It's not going to stop completely... I just have to find the right balance for the current situation (which can and will change weekly).
  • Blogging - Writing posts is a bit easier than writing new fiction. It's simply less taxing on the emotions/brain. I can be a little less formal, a little less strict with myself. Thus, I want to keep up with my blogging goals. I may not be as social, but I can still write. It'll keep me practicing. This last week saw me 3/3 on the gaming blog and 3/3 here. I'm going to knock out my personal post when we know what's going on with my wife (since a bunch of my family reads that, and I don't want to scare them unnecessarily). The posts may not all be gems, and my experimental fiction story lines have ground to a halt, but I'm still writing. That's the important part.
Writers write. I've said that here before, and that's really my mantra. People close to me often marvel at the writing output. The concept of putting a novel together baffles them, and I find it hard to shrug off the praise. Yeah, I know it's an achievement, but what only another writer can understand is that... I've always written, and I always will write. I'm not happy unless I'm writing in some form or another. I may not always be fiction. Sometimes it's simply personal journal stuff, or crazy dark poetry, or whatever strikes my fancy. Writers write. It is simply how we relate to the world. To me, being proud of writing is sort of like being proud of breathing. I know that's totally not fair to myself, but it's just hard for me to be confident when someone tells you that "wow, you breathe better than other people." 

On the other hand, I guess people don't really "work" at breathing better (though you could make the case for athletes and training). I definitely work at writing. Most writers do. It's craft as well as an unconscious reflex.

In any case, I wanted to link to Dean Wesley Smith's recent article comparing "Authors" to "Writers." I've always appreciated his definitions of the two. There are subtle differences, but when I say I'm a Writer, to me that's like saying I'm a Catholic Christian, an Athlete, or a Gamer. It's a way of life, an indication of priorities, where I'm happiest. When I say I'm an Author, it's analogous to when I tell people I'm an Engineer. That is the occupation. DWS does a great job of drawing a line in the sand. For now, anyway, I consider myself a writer first and an author second. I hope to remain that way. I think it holds you true to the craft, and will keep you from growing complacent.

And the words keep trickling out...
  • Since last check in: 4,586
  • New Fiction: 0 (In between projects)
  • Round 1 Total: 6,858
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Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Fates' Motif Magic System

The novel's description starts out with: "A Song for everything, and in everything, a Song." Such is the essence of my magic system, distilled by Renee Swift into a single sentence. Magic users are called muses, and they work melodies in their head in order to have an effect on their surroundings.

Renee also indicates that muses "exist to inspire creation." That is to say, they don't creating something from nothing. Rather, they make use of what already exists - perhaps altering its form or composition - and inspire it to follow the tune the muse plays.

In this first book, we only discover the basics of the magic system. I've taken care that while the system is expansive, it has a rigid set of rules that impose logical limitations. I'm sort of learning from the great Brandon Sanderson here, as I've always admired his magic systems (especially in the Mistborn series). I remember reading a quotation from him concerning magic systems where he was responding to a bit of criticism concerning using magic "rules." Isn't magic, after all, supposed to be about going beyond petty rules? Brandon responded something along the lines that it's his rules that facilitate him in making the magic truly magical. In exploring and pushing the boundaries that he set up, he makes the magic both understandable and amazing. I've attempted to follow the same sort of pattern in my own system.

The key is, magic users have to be clever. They can't just wave a wand and have all their problems solved... yet they can use magic to solve their problems. One of the dangers in writing any fantasy story with magic lies in using magic as a crutch to get your characters out of tight spots. Yet, playing with magic is the fun part, in my opinion, so it becomes a delicate balance.

Having a musical base, I think my magic system develops an intuitive feel. You don't have to have been a muse to understand what they're doing. I borrow a bit from my gaming background here, and use one of my favorite games to help me conceptualize. In Ocarina of Time, Link plays on an instrument (the Ocarina) to cast his spells. In Fates' Motif, the instrument isn't corporeal, rather more of a mental visualization. Each muse, therefore, can have his or her own unique instrument (or not, as the situation warrants). Some instruments may find certain songs easier to play than others. Some may have more carry, or more precise notes. A true virtuoso would likely be able to construct just about any song on their visualized instrument. Similarly, it takes practice for a novice to improve.

Simple concepts have simple notes. Singing a tongue of flame, for instance, out of air isn't completely difficult for a beginner. Fire is a pretty simple concept. Trying to sing a tree into existence, on the other hand, is pretty complicated. There's a lot that goes into a tree, and it has to work... that is, live.  Modifying an existing piece of wood (especially not living)? Now that's a bit easier.

Additionally, a melody can only carry a finite distance, depending on the medium, as you might expect. Hurling a fireball is a bit difficult in my system, especially over a great distance. The further you get from the instrument, the softer the noise. Unless, that is, you happen to have an amplifier, or have anchored the tune in something that'll hold the notes. But we're getting a bit advanced now.

The magic system was a lot of fun to play with, and write within. Who doesn't like playing with magic? I believe that enjoyment shows in the novel. There's obviously a lot more to discover in future novels, but I like to think that the basics of this system will seem pretty intuitive to even the the most casual fantasy reader. I didn't want to construct a huge, complicated system that leaves you making diagrams and scratching your head. Rather, I wanted the reader to feel that they could create magic right along with our characters. Hopefully, I succeeded.
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Monday, January 9, 2012

QotD: Your Favorite Love Triangle?

I finished with my rough outline for the second book in the Spirit Binder Series. As you may have guessed from the title, I'm going to attempt a love triangle. Well, okay, it may not be a proper triangle. It's sort of my paranormal twist on the triangle. At least, I think. Stories do have a way of taking on a life of their own. We'll see.

Anyway, I wanted to write a quick Question of the Day here: What is your favorite love triangle? Title and author in comments... go!

A lot of writers read books about writing. Generally, I have a low tolerance for "how to" books. I've always learned better by experience than by reading about it. The cool part about writing is that, um... you learn by, ah... reading. That is to say, while reference books on writing are neat and all, you can learn just as much by exposing yourself to stories, glorious stories! To some extent, you need to know what to look for, but I've found that the more I write, the more I learn, the more I notice. Which only makes sense if you think about it.

The point is just that I don't feel like I need to subject myself to boring writing books. (I'll grant you that there are good ones, and plenty that are non-boring either... it's a personal thing, promise. I've just never been a nonfiction guy.) Instead, if I'm going to write a fantasy fight scene, I go to my buddy who is a big fantasy reader and ask: What's the best fight scene you can remember, top of your head. Then, I go read that book.

So yes, my QotD here has underlying motives. I'm going to be delving into the steamy world of relationship polygons. It's not going to be as cliche as you might think, promise, but I figure learning as much as I can ahead of time doesn't hurt. I mean, you have to at least be aware of the cliches if you're going to avoid them, right?

So, off the top of your head, dear reader, do you have a favorite? Or, conversely, a least favorite? Something that, should I do it, would make you feed the book to your ravenous pet rabbit. (Seriously, public service announcement: don't leave books where rabbits can get them). Let me know. I'd love to learn. Bonus points if you have a short story. You know, for a quicker lesson.
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Thursday, January 5, 2012

Fates' Motif Description

I mentioned yesterday that I've been finalizing the blurb for Fates' Motif. I wanted to share what I've got today. It's short and simple, which seems to be a trend among fantasy books. I find that funny given the average length of such works, but I now understand why. Fantasy can be complicated, and it's as much about discovery and world building as plot (sometimes)... you don't want to give away too much. It made me feel like I was being all mysterious and such, but there are worse ways to feel about a blurb. I also end it with a question, which I think of as a somewhat "cheap trick," but I suppose I'm not above such conventions. Okay, okay, enough hedging. Here it is:

“A Song for everything, and in everything, a Song. Muses exist to inspire creation, Sharee. It's what we do.” – Renee Swift

Werim and Sharee Swift, teenage siblings living in an idyllic mountain village, have known nothing but the sweet song of peace. When that melody is destroyed and their mother slain by an invading dark Warlord, they discover that growing up can be a discordant tune. Escaping to find a nation steeped in turmoil, the two must learn to play their own song as counterpoint to the clangor of war. Will they grow to embrace their inner power, or be silently swept away by the savage horde?

~ + ~ 

Fates’ Motif is a full-length fantasy adventure, the first installment of a new series from author Matt Hofferth.

What do you think? Enough? Too much? Would you read this book?
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Wednesday, January 4, 2012

#ROW80 - Just Starting Off

I'll be super-brief today, since this is only really "day two" for me. I just got my goals together yesterday (after coming out of Christmas semi-hibernation), so there's not really progress to report. I'll set up the format and pop this in the Linky for grins. If you're interested in stopping by, look for me on Wednesdays. I'm a weekly checker-inner. Here's where my goals stand in the last day:

  • Lesson Learned - I missed the comforting presence of ROW80 while we took our end-of-the-year week off. Having something long-term that you're working toward (and tracking) is a good feeling. Without that, I spaz a bit and feel lost.
  • Project Progress - I started outlining my next project and also worked on the description for the manuscript that is with my editors right now. I'll share that tomorrow and start doing character closeups for it soon.
  • Blogging - Getting back in the swing. Since it's not really a full week, there's nothing to track here, but I did have 1 post on each blog yesterday, and one on each today. Go me.
That's it. Short, as promised. Oh, and we'll end with the word count (even though it's for just the day), as usual:
  • Since last check in: 2,272
  • New Fiction: 0 (In between projects)
  • Round 1 Total: 2,272
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Tuesday, January 3, 2012

#ROW80 - Round 1 Goals

Ahhh! I missed the start date. Sorry, was afk. Back now. Joining up as I write this. Linkies to go in the Linky upon hitting the publish button. I will be here! I will lurk and comment as much as I can. Definitely excited to be a part of this and... WOW look at all those entries. So. Many. Writers. Good luck to all! Want more info on the challenge? Check out Kait Nolan's Round 1 kick-off post here. I love her description of the "Test Mile" and it is a concept I regularly abuse when setting my own goals.

That in mind, here are my Round 1 goals:
  • Publish Fates' Motif - That means an editing gauntlet at some point. It's out in my editors' and betas' hands right now. It'll be back when it gets back. I'd love to have this out by the end of the month, but I refuse to rush it just for the sake of rushing it.
  • Begin my next project - Tentatively titled "The Binder's Husband," it is the second in my Spirit Binder Series. I need to get an outline going, and that's my goal for this week, to start (and maybe finish) that endeavor.
  • Keep learning - I always try to publish one lesson learned each week. Could be a writing lesson or a publishing lesson, or maybe even a life lesson. Just as long as I'm learning and improving. That's the over-riding goal around here. Even if I muck up the smaller goals, so long as I'm learning something from the experience, it isn't a loss.
  • When editing, outlining, and generally not "writing," the goal will be to spend at least an hour each day, with one day off per week. When in writing mode, the goal is to write at least a page per day, with one day off per week. This pace has typically served me well in the past.
  • With blogging, the goal is to write three posts per week here, and three on my gaming blog, per week. I'll try to throw some experimental fiction in here as well. Also, I have a personal blog that I want to check in at once per month.
  • At the end of it all, I'll throw in a cumulative word count just for grins. I'm not a big word count guy, prioritizing quality over quantity, but it's good to know if your methods are paying off, if you're sticking with it, and a word count is a good (if arbitrary) measure of that. After all, the essence of being a writer is putting thoughts into words. I won't have a goal of x words per day or whatever, but I like to look back and realize how many words I did type. I think its proven encouraging. Last year, in two rounds of 80, I racked up 130,472 words. Good times.
  • I'll be checking in on Wednesdays. Sundays tend to be my day off, and, having weekly goals, it makes sense for me. So don't look for me so much on the weekends, but rather count on Hump Day for me to poke my head up and ROW a bit.
That's all for now. Wednesday is already threatening at the door. I'd better get started!
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