Nothing to show off–yet

Well, didn’t complete any artwork this past week. I have a landscape in progress, but all art is on the back burner as I work on my 12 Books Publishing Challenge.

My new year’s resolution this year was to do Dean Wesley Smith’s publishing challenge, which is to publish 1 book a month. You don’t have to write the books. This is just a way to kick those books out the door that are written, but just need revisions and a cover. I have three books just sitting here, staring at me. So out they go!

I’ve been working on the second After Atlantis book, and also updating the first book to bring it more in line with the worldbuilding in Vid:ilantes (due to be published in March, if all goes well). This is a light superhero fantasy series–hero teams having conflicts, mustache-twirling villains, robots, and superweapons. I wrote it a few years ago just for fun, and I’m just now emerging from my Destiny fugue and deciding to, you know, actually publish some stuff.

I was looking at my vast collection of Destiny fanfics and realizing that they’re all earning ad revenue for the sites hosting them. Alllllll those fanfics and alllllll those chapters … ads upon ads, day in and day out. And they get hundreds of hits a month.

This kind of burns me.

So I’m looking at just writing and publishing my own stuff steadily, the way I did my fanfics. I know how to do developmental editing, and I have a couple of very good copy editors lined up. I can also make my own covers. There’s literally nothing holding me back from writing and publishing as many books as I want. I’m not super concerned about making a ton of money as much as I am about making my stories accessible. Even my fanfics are only available on two websites. My books can be available on dozens and dozens of bookstores.

My end goal is to entertain people. People have hard lives, and a book can help them forget that hard life for a few hours. I want to write more books for my cozy mysteries, for my superhero series, and heck, maybe some short stories. I also want to mess with science fiction, the kind of space opera stuff that Destiny and Star Wars are, that I love so much.

So hopefully a new book will be coming along in the next week or so. Guardian’s Vow is in the second round of revisions, just polishing and deepening a few scenes. Have to do a cover for it and update the cover on book 1, and off we go.

A look back and a look forward

Welp, it’s 2020. I checked my resolution for 2019 to see how I did … I’d resolved to read all the unread books on my Kindle.

Welp. Failed that one. In fact, I now have more unread books than I did in 2019. Bad llama. According to Goodreads, I only read 15 books in 2019, and half of them were school books I read aloud to the kids. But hey, that counts, right? I’ve been in survival mode with a crawling baby, so that’s my excuse.

Over the course of last year, I wrote 12 more fanfics, most of which were novel-length, including two trilogies I’m very proud of. Now, if I could do that in 2020, only with original books, I’d be golden.

Speaking of which, Dean Wesley Smith is running a class challenge where everybody is supposed to publish 12 books in 2020. That’s 1 book a month. You don’t have to write them, only publish stuff that’s been sitting around, languishing and collecting dust. I think I could do 6 books, since I have three sitting around, waiting for revisions, and I could write a few novellas before June. I have another baby due in June, so after that I can’t commit to any work-related stuffs. That’ll be my sort-of resolution for 2020, is to try to do that challenge and see how I do.

I did start picking up art commissions in the end of 2019, so that was fun to get back into. I think it was Butch Hartman who said something like, “Go out there and do the thing. Eventually people will see you doing the thing, and they will come to you and ask you to do the thing.” And that’s what I’m seeing happen.

Here’s a big one I did and couldn’t post until after Christmas, because it was a Christmas present for the client’s boyfriend.

This pic took about three weeks of back and forth with the client and with critiques from an artist group. It came out all right, but I was kind of overwhelmed by the end.

So we’ll see how the year goes. I don’t really have a word for this year, since I really have no idea what will happen. Each year has been so drastically different from the one before, I’m hesitant to make any real plans. I have a couple of easily achievable goals, and I think that will suffice.

Never run down your work

Ever see a piece of artwork that just blows your mind? It’s incredible, and it looks like it was painted it just a few strokes. Yet it somehow captures the essence of the subject in a way you’ve never thought about before.


Then you read the description. And the artist says something like, “I whipped this up in five minutes. It’s not very good and I hate it. I’ll probably take it down later.”
And you feel let down, because YOU liked it. But the artist knows better than you, right? And it must be crap, somehow. So you go away slightly offended without knowing why.


Dean Wesley Smith talks about this in a blog post called No One Cares. He’s talking about writing, but the same rule applies:

When you wrote a book and got it out, it was the best you could do at the time. Some readers paid good money for it and many liked it and bought more books from you.

So you go learn something and now YOU CAN SEE WHAT WAS WRONG. Before, those same words looked fine to you, but now you can see “the problem.” Oh, no…

But no one else can see. And no one cares that you have learned something you add to future books that wasn’t in older books.

Only you know. Only you care.

And one additional thing.

NEVER PUT DOWN YOUR OWN WORK. Especially older books.

Some reader might think your older book is the best thing they ever read and the last thing they want is to be insulted by you putting down their tastes in books.

Keep your mouth shut, keep learning, write the next book, and get it out. Repeat.

And if you really do realize no one cares but you, the freedom in your writing is amazing.

Go have fun.


See, when you put down your own work, whether it’s writing, artwork, dance, music, or whatever, you’re insulting that person who liked it. Sure, you can remark that you have room for improvement. Don’t we all? But stand by your work. Don’t run it down and cheapen it. Your audience liked it. Don’t insult them.

I could go on about what’s wrong with this pic. Or I could point out what’s right with it. Negativity doesn’t make anybody feel better.


Good storytelling owns all

No art to show this week! I’m working on some, but it’s not done. Maybe next week.

Meanwhile, I wanted to write about something that I don’t want to write about. I’ve been dragging my feet on writing this blog post. Because I don’t want to admit that maybe, just maybe, all of the education I’ve given myself on how 2 rite gud is more or less worthless.

I won’t say that learning story structure and characterization and grammar and the rest of it is meaningless. That’s the basics of the craft, after all. All those are important for a writer to know.

But there’s a vast chasm between writing and storytelling. And a good storyteller can tell a story despite their lack of craft chops.

This is a hard pill for me to swallow. I’m a literary snob. When people misspell things or use bad grammar, I snicker at them. This author actually said “She was such a beautiful site”. Haha.

And then those books go on to be bestsellers. My literary snobdom means nothing.

When I was in high school, one of my assigned reading books was Smokey the Cowhorse by James Will. At first, I thought it was the worst-written book I’d ever seen. Here is the first page.

As a know-it-all teen, I rolled my eyes at this vernacular. Oh gosh, what pile of trash am I reading THIS time? I moaned. But it was assigned, so I kept reading.

And wouldn’t you know, it turned out to be such a good story, a kind of Western Black Beauty, that I stopped noticing the vernacular. I was hooked, and to this day, this book remains one of those shining reads in my mind.

The other day, I was poking around fanfiction dot net for something decent to read. I ran across a Destiny story that sounded interesting, took a look, and after a few pages, was hooked. I read all ten chapters and I’m waiting breathlessly for more.

And yet, this is the first page.

There’s passive voice. There’s boring description. The paragraphs are long and dense. There’s very little dialogue. And yet, the story being told is absolutely riveting. You wouldn’t even know it’s Destiny, because it’s set about five hundred years before the game, after civilization has collapsed, and humanity is ruled by these warlords. It’s like medieval fantasy post apocalypse science fiction, and it’s great.

The writing, itself, is obtuse and hard to follow. But man, the story. I would drop cash to read this story. It’s called The Lords of Ambros, if you’d like to take a look.

All this is to say, the writing community obsesses about adverbs and character arcs and all the other minutiae of the craft. In the end, only story matters. As a literary snob, this galls me to say. But it’s true.

Mystery boxes in stories (and why readers love them)

I’ve written 19 fanfics since last May, and it gave me a lot of leeway to experiment. Mostly, I’ve been able to step back and look at which stories consistently get the most hits.

I like to write in a lot of different subgenres. For Destiny, I wrote sci fi > drama, sci fi > romance, sci fi > mystery/thriller, and sci fi > humor.

While all of them found a decent number of readers, the ones that always do the best are the mystery/thriller types. Or, as I like to call them, the mystery box stories.

Now, you’d think that romance would be the most popular. And stories with a dash of romance have performed well for me. But the mystery box stories have them beat, hands down.

What is a mystery box? This is a concept JJ Abrams talks about in his TED talk here. A mystery box is simply a box with something in it. But you don’t know what it is. So you open the box and solve the mystery.

But what if there’s another mystery box inside that box? Ah, the puzzle isn’t solved, then. You have another box to open. And so on and so forth, mystery after mystery. The human brain is wired to be curious. We can’t stand mysteries. We have to find out the answers or it bugs us.

My first mystery box story was about a girl who gets revived by a ghost who can’t talk. (Ghosts are these little robots.)

Why can’t he talk? First mystery box. Turns out he’s broken. But why is he broken? Second mystery box. This is hard to find out because he won’t let anybody touch him. Why not? Third mystery box. Turns out, he’s been rebuilt with alien tech. But how, and why? Fourth box. And on it goes, each mystery getting the heroine into hotter and hotter water. The final mystery isn’t solved until the very last chapter, when the heroine is on trial and only the ghost coming clean will save her neck.

That story went crazy for a while. It got a ton of hits and interaction. People had to see the mystery solved. It still gets hits, even though it’s a bit older, now. It doesn’t have any romance–only the somewhat stressed friendship between the girl and her ghost.

Right now, I’m posting another one that also deals with mystery boxes. In this case, it’s a very Bourne Identity setup–a guy with amnesia just might be a covert operative with the key to a super weapon in his memory. And it’s getting a ton of hits and interactions. People want to see what’s inside that mystery box.

I’m considering doing a romance/thriller to see how it does. All the romance stuff AND mystery boxes? Of course, I’ve been partial to romantic thrillers since I first read Mary Stewart’s books. She does the mystery boxes hardcore. I still think about this one twist in the Moon Spinners that took me completely by surprise.

Anyway, I think all genres can benefit from a few mystery boxes. Not only do they keep the reader curious, but they keep the suspense engine running. I think all authors do this more or less by instinct. But it’s fun to actually build your boxes and scatter them throughout your story. Because, in a story, mystery boxes are also Pandora’s box–opening them should unlock a whole bunch of new problems for your protagonist.

Story noodlings

I’ve been writing along on my superhero story and just got royally stuck.

Actually, I was royally stuck on it months ago, when I jumped ship and went back to fanfiction. So I’ve come back to it, full of determination … and I’m still stuck.

So I’ve been trying to figure out exactly why I’m stuck. And I think it has to do with how I’ve written these characters over and over and …. O V E R. These are the Spacetime characters, which I’ve been trying to get right for years.

I’m afraid I’m stuck on that treadmill of perfecting that first book by rewriting it over and over. I should just throw it out and write something else, but every so often I go back to these characters and try something new. First they were … something like urban fantasy. Then they were actually urban fantasy. Now they’re more superhero. I think superhero fits their personalities the best, but the story is giving me fits.

At one point, one of the characters becomes a werewolf. I’ve done this in different ways in each incarnation of the story. The first version was a really cool science fiction werewolf that had the guy actually having two bodies, and one of them was always swapped into hyperspace. I still think that was my favorite version. But the story also had this whole Fortnite plot of OMG teh giant storm! And it was … uh … lame.

See, this is cool. And stoppable. I never could come up with a good way to stop the storm in my old stories.

So then I had him be a more traditional werewolf, and that worked all right for urban fantasy. But for the superhero world, it doesn’t work as well. I actually don’t want him to be a werewolf this time, because his other powers are so cool. And really, once he turns, he steals the spotlight from the other hero. Maybe I should just give him his own book for that.

Anyway, as soon as I started messing with that plot angle, my story came grinding to a halt. I think my brain was trying to tell me that it wasn’t right for this particular story. This story, aside from being about superheroes, is also about Youtube politics. And I was getting away from the Youtube politics thing.

So I think I’m going to have to delete about 2k words of this story, go back to before this particular plot point, and let the story go a different direction.

My writer friends, at this point, are screaming at me to re-outline the story. I’m writing this story without an outline, just following the logic of the characters and their choices. I used to write with outlines. The stories they produced were shallow and too quick. I’ve gone back to writing by the seat of my pants, making it up as I go. But as long as the hero and villain have strong enough motivations, their clashes drive the story quite nicely. And if I have no clue what will happen next, neither will my readers. 😀

Money – the ultimate success metric?

I was looking over my blog post Writing Books of the Heart. It springboarded off a blog post by Kris Rusch, who talked about writers burning out, writing in a genre they don’t really like, but can’t stop writing, because it pays the bills.

I had another thought percolating related to this one. I was lurking in a writers’ discussion where people were talking about why they write.

People have a lot of different reasons for writing. A lot of them want to change the world, or help/encourage people in some aspect of their lives. Some people talk big about “if I help ONE PERSON then this book will have been worth it!”

Then they turn around and talk about how they made four bucks in book sales last month. Everybody shrugs and laughs, embarrassed.

And I’m over here thinking, but what if those four bucks came from that ONE PERSON who really needed to read your book?

But no, the only metrics that matter, when you get down to brass tacks, is the money. The numbers of books moved doesn’t matter. It’s pretty well known by now that free book giveaways don’t do anything, because readers never read something they picked up for free. You can move a million units and nothing happens.

But when people buy a book, they’re more invested in reading it. Aha! Writers latch onto those sales as a measurement of worth. Somebody wanted my book bad enough to pay ACTUAL MONEY for it.

And let’s not even get into the rabbit hole that is reviews.

So, I’m curious, now. Which is it? Are we writing to help people, seeking validation that way? Or are we only validated by making gobs and gobs of money? Or are we only helping people when they’re paying us gobs of money?

What I learned in 2018

I went back and looked at my first post for 2018, back when the year still had that new, fresh smell. Ah, I was so optimistic.

My word for this year was Steadfast. And that was a good word, because it wound up describing everything I did, including getting unexpectedly pregnant and hanging on to life by the skin of my teeth.

I had mentioned wanting to publish a new Spacetime book, as well as the second dragon cozy. Welp. I published the cozy. But the Spacetime book got 30k in, and I had too much of the old books in my head. So I set it aside to get some distance.

I had planned to write a fairytale book. And I did wind up writing a short story with the idea I had, and it appears in this anthology. (A guy and a girl share a psychic link, which gets more interesting when she is cursed and turns into a dragon. The idea of the story was that psychic links would let you share too much information with the other person, so the story is called Too Much Information.)

I also revised and launched the first book in a series that is superhero fantasy. People with powers fighting each other and such. I have two other books in the hopper that only need revisions and editing, but I didn’t have the brain.

What did I wind up writing? Fanfiction for the game Destiny. The space opera setting just appealed, for some reason, so I wrote 17 fanfics in it. I really wanted to read official novels in the setting, but there aren’t any, so I had to write my own. It was kind of a self-therapy, working through being pregnant for the sixth time. I was so very sick with this baby, and when I stopped being sick, I was in massive pain. And I was so scared of labor. So all that got rolled up and dumped into the fanfics.

I now have a whole bunch of readers who like the slush I was cranking out, and I don’t know if I can write it anymore, since I had the baby. Sorry, readers!

I did come up with some really great characters who I’d love to transplant into other stories someday. And I found that I really dig writing space opera. Writing the physics of space ships and battles and space marines on other planets was totally fun.

But yeah, this year went nothing like I expected. I’ll write a goal list tomorrow, so I can laugh at them next December. 😀

Destiny fanart. Nell is sitting in a tree, chatting to her ghost Hadrian.

Writing books of the heart

Writing books of the heart

This past week, Kris Rusch addressed writers burnout on her blog. She had just finished teaching a workshop to professional authors. She said that over and over, they lamented not being able to write what they wanted.

One of the comments I heard the most at this year’s Business Master Class was a bit wistful. And the comment usually came in a discussion about something else.

  • I sure would like to get to the place where I can do what you folks do: where I can write what I love.
  • As soon as this [insert detail] is over, I might be able to write what I love.
  • Writers who write what they love are really lucky. Sure wish I could get there.

Over and over and over again. Those phrases have been going round and round in my head, partly because I have a lot of compassion for the speakers, and partly in conjunction with other things that have happened this past year.

About a year ago, I wrote a blog post on burnout.  It, and the subsequent posts, got reprinted in the magazine for the Romance Writers of America, the Romance Writers Report or the RWR. I got a lot of email from the original blog posts and from the RWR reprint. I had hit a nerve.

I was aware of the nerve, but not thinking about it too much, except to realize that so many writers were on the hamster wheel of doom—trying very hard to write more and more and more to make the same amount of money they had made a few years ago. We’re in a mature market now, and the highs aren’t as high (and the lows aren’t as low). Things do change, sometimes daily, in this new world of publishing, but the business models remain the same.

Source

What happened was that people start writing books that sell. And at first, they’re marginally interested in them. Say an author hits it big in contemporary romance. They keep churning out romance because they’ve gotten used to the money. Writing indie is particularly killer, because you’re encouraged to write books and release them as quick as you can–a month apart, ideally. In traditional, you release books a year apart, at minimum.

So here’s this author who has written five to twelve books in a year. They’re getting tired of contemporary romance. An idea has been percolating for a hard sci-fi. But they’re riding the tiger, dependent on that income from the romances. They don’t dare switch genres for fear of alienating their readers and losing that dough.

Kris Rusch calls this the hamster wheel of doom. You run and run until you burn out and take up selling cellphones at a mall kiosk. Anything but writing.

This “writing to sell vs writing what you like” thing is debated constantly in my own writing circles. We’d all like to make a little dough, right? But then we also want to write about space elves fighting space dragons in space. Who in the world would buy that?

Spellship-TITLE-FinalText-716x1024

Someone, apparently.

Switching gears, here. Last weekend was Blizzcon 2018, where the game developer Blizzard Entertainment courts its fans and investors with sneak peeks of upcoming game stuff.

One of the games they announced was a HD version of Warcraft 3. You know, the old real-time strategy where you command an army of orcs or elves and beat on other armies of such.

Warcraft-3-Reign-of-Chaos-Download-Free-Full-Version-PC-Crack-10

The man announcing the game remarked that Warcraft 3 had invented whole new genres. That stuck in my brain, because I saw it happen.

My siblings were big RTS players. And while Warcraft 3 was fun, the map/scenario editor became the hottest thing of all. People invented a game mode where you run around with just your hero character, and maybe a few minions, and beat on other heroes, Diablo-style. This gave rise to the game type called a Multiplayer Online Battle Arena, or MOBA. Games in this new genre include League of Legends, DOTA 2, and Heroes of the Storm. None of these games would have existed without homebrew maps in Warcraft 3.

In the genre arena of books, certain authors invented genres, too, simply by writing books of the heart. John Grisham started the “lawyers in trouble” thriller subgenre. Joe Nobody invented the “prepper thriller” genre. And those are just the ones I know about–there’s lots of others. If they had “written to market” (that is, wrote what everybody else was writing because it was selling), those new genres would never have been invented.

If you write a book that you love but doesn’t sell, what does it hurt? You’ve produced something you love. It’s no worse than writing a fanfic that gets zero hits. And if you keep writing books in your little niche that nobody reads, eventually somebody will read it–as long as you’ve created something of good quality. And you may create a whole new genre by accident. This happens all the time.

As a reader, I can spot a book miles away that the author loved, vs a book the publisher made them write. The sparkle disappears. Just compare the earlier Mitford books (Jan Karon) to later ones. The characters are grouchy and the adventures are awful, compared to the wonderful stories and characters of the early books.

Or try to find anything worth reading on the Kindle free book list. “Shovelware” books, written overnight with no revisions or editing, aren’t worth the electrons it takes to deliver them to your device. Often I’ll download ten different books, and all but one will be badly-written tripe. Sometimes I don’t even get one good one.

Point is, there’s a lot of reasons to write what you want to write. Indie publishing has removed the barriers between you and your audience. Kris has a lot of good advice for people already on the hamster wheel of doom who want off. I hope this gives you courage to write that book that’s been gnawing at you.

Doubting Thomas and the entertainment factor

Last week, I was hanging out on Facebook, reading discussions in the various groups I hang out in. I happened across a fairly benign question: If your characters are Christians, how much do they express the tenets of their faith?

Since it was a Christian writer’s group, I didn’t bat an eye. Then I started reading the comments.

“My character struggles with doubt.”

“My character doesn’t really believe in her religion.”

“My character is angry at God after a tragedy.”

The entire comment thread was like that. A whole crowd of people writing about characters who don’t really believe their own religion.

I commented about a character I’ve been writing who has unswerving faith in his deity, but this brings about other problems in his social circles, because he goes and does things nobody else would dream of doing, and people think he’s crazy.

Then I asked why there were so many Doubting Thomas characters. I was writing the only character who had any faith at all. I was told that doubting characters are written by doubting authors.

Which is troubling.

Now, I know that doubting the unseen is a common thread in speculative fiction. Characters doubt whether anything spiritual is real, in urban fantasy and paranormal romance and all those. But Christian books seem especially prone to it. Every Stephen Lawhead character is like this, and pretty much all Ted Dekker characters … my reading pool of Christian books has shrunk over the years, so maybe the doubting character thing isn’t as widespread as it was.

Or, judging by that thread, maybe it’s alive and well.

Angel-of-Renewal
Angel of Renewal, Magic the Gathering card art

Now, I can understand why you’d have a character struggling to believe some cosmic truth. No character really wants to be the Chosen One, destined to fulfill the prophecy or slay the vampire king or take down the dragon or whatever. It’s a stage in the Hero’s Journey, after all.

But when the main theme of the book is a character who doesn’t believe in their own religion? Come on. If you’re going to bother putting religion in your book, make it worthwhile. It’s got to be either a bad religion, with cultists summoning eldritch abominations, or a good religion that helps people in some way. And have the characters either believe or disbelieve it. The lukewarm dithering thing gets old.

I think what bugs me the most is that any other religion gets represented well in books. If a character is a Buddhist, I see them trying to live out the tenants of their religion by trying to be a good person, eschew material goods, etc. If a character is a Muslim, they observe the holidays, the food laws, the prayers, and so forth. So, why is it only the Christians who whine about “Is God really real? Why should I bother doing any of my religious stuff?”

I think it’s an alarming indication of how lukewarm we American Christians have become. I would love to read a book, even speculative fiction, where a Christian character actually has faith, lives by it, and goes through all the ups and downs of that. Kind of like Father Tim in the Mitford books, which is the only example I can think of. And he’s Episcopalian, which is closer to Catholic, so not even the Protestant branch so many of my writer friends are.

Faith in any religion requires life changes. And in fact, it increases the entertainment value if a character’s faith motivates them to get stuck in all kinds of interesting situations. At this point, in a book, I’d be happy with any kind of fantasy religion, as long as the author is true to the character’s choices about it. The Queen’s Thief series is like that–there’s a pantheon that interacts with the heroes, depending on their actions and beliefs. And those books are tremendously entertaining.

Does anybody remember Testament, by John Grisham? A super rich man dies and leaves his fortune to a niece or something who is down in the jungle in Brazil as a missionary. A troubled lawyer is dispatched on an epic jungle adventure and tell her she’s inherited a zillion dollars. Missionary doesn’t want it, back the lawyer goes to the States to settle the crazy relatives who are fighting over the will. Hugely entertaining. Wonderful presentation of a character who lives by faith in the jungles, and the impact of her faith on the lawyer.

So, I guess my point is, authors, dare to write about characters who FREAKING BELIEVE IN SOMETHING. It’s more entertaining than a wishy-washy character who doesn’t really believe anything and you know will have some kind of cringy “return to faith” scene at the 3/4ths mark.