31 January 2012

Weekly Goals - January 31, 2012

Thankfully, edits have been going well this week. I might even get them all worked out in the next few weeks...whew!

Results for this week:

1. Edited 8 (versus goal of 5) chapters on Death Brings the Victory

And now the goals for this coming week:

1. Edit 5 more chapters on Death Brings the Victory

30 January 2012

Building Up and Tearing Down

This post goes along somewhat with my earlier one regarding surrounding yourself with successful people. Successful people are going to be the ones who build up others, not those who tear them down.

This doesn't mean that you have to celebrate writing that isn't up to snuff, but it's still important to encourage the author. People enjoy being around those who build them up and give them support (something that's extremely useful for anyone in the creative arts, where rejections drag you down over and over again).

So, how can you build a person up and still help them to improve? First, the person has to be willing to accept constructive criticism. If they aren't, then you're dealing with thin-skinned individuals, and it's best to smile and nod...and hope that they develop a thicker skin in the future. Second, it's best to wait for someone to ask for feedback (which doesn't take much in most cases...who among us hasn't asked "what do you think?" to our other writer friends). Once it's come to that point, mention issues as you see them, but offer up suggestions for how to improve. You'd be surprised how your suggestions will be taken, and how your feedback will likely be sought out in the future.

On the alternate side of the coin, publicly pointing out flaws (especially ones you think exist, but actually don't), when there hasn't been a request for a critique, is a great way to alienate yourself. I'd take it one step farther, and restrict public comments to critique sites. People don't want to hang out with those who only tear others down, and if you do so, proceed at your own risk. Even if the flaws exist, it comes off as being petty.

So, wait for that request for feedback...it will come. And then, offer it up with suggestions for improvement rather than just being critical. In the meantime, be supportive of their efforts, and encourage them. It's the best way to build others up.

Trust me.

29 January 2012


I awoke to a seductive female voice. “Aston…”

Too bad for me, it belonged to Jeanie, my ship’s computer. A cruel joke, designed mostly for male pilots traveling long distances alone. It was even worse when I ignored the fact she was simply a machine, programmed to think.

I grumbled, “What?”

“We’re entering the Toris system.”

I sat up from the hard, low-lying bunk, stood and walked toward the front end of my ship. My hope was that Toris would be my gateway to temporary financial security. It was a short distance, nonetheless painful, as metallic floor panels clanked under my feet louder than normal.

As I walked onto my bridge, the hyperspeed engines disengaged and slowly wound down. I held onto my captain’s chair to steady myself until we reached a constant velocity.

I sat down in my chair, stuck my hand into the side pocket, and grabbed the same bottle which put me down after our last stop. “How are we doing on time?”

“Far ahead of schedule.”

In the second of my four cargo hatches was a cargo container full of blue organic crystals. When I’d picked it up, the seller had instructed me to take it to Toris, the outer planet in the system of the same name. I hadn’t been told why they were needed so quickly, but he’d said I’d double my pay if I made it to Toris ahead of schedule. I didn’t need to be told twice.

“Let me know when we reach the station.”

I took a small taste of the light yellow liquid in the bottle. The Vladirian storekeeper peddling the stuff at my last stop had given me the full story behind the drink. An animal native to Vladiria, a small passive thing called a Roshtu, would secrete the liquid as a defensive measure when attacked. The sweet smell and taste of the liquid would cause the attacking predator to concentrate on lapping up the liquid, intoxicating it and allowing the Roshtu to escape unharmed.

I took another drink, this one longer. It was a dangerous combination of tasty and addictive. I had to wonder if those predators ever woke up feeling like this. “So, what would you like me to buy for you once I get paid?”

“I am currently running at peak performance, and have no requirements.”

I smiled and leaned back in my chair. I usually found scuttled and abandoned cargo, then sold it for profit. Scavenging was a less aggressive form of piracy, and usually safer, since you didn’t have to carry out threats of violence. Unfortunately, such cargo tended to be scarce, and had been more so lately. So, when I’d stumbled into an opportunity to carry cargo, I jumped at the chance. An extra bonus for speedy delivery didn’t hurt matters.

I took another sip of the Vladirian liquor and put it away. There needed to be something left to celebrate my newfound fortune with. “ETA?”

She ignored my question. “I’m picking up a ship on medium range sensors.”

The hairs on the back of my neck rose. “Show me.”

My viewscreen lit up along the front wall of my bridge. A couple of kilpars in length, the lines of the ship were smooth, tapering from the nose to a constant rectangular cross-section around the first quarter of the hull. Near the back of the ship, I could see bell shaped nozzles behind four embedded engines, darkened against the starfield. I recognized the configuration, but wanted confirmation. “Rulusian freighter?”

“Designation Green Three.”

I took another look at the sensor screen beside my left armrest. “I don’t see any other ships out there.”

“There are none in the vicinity.”

A Rulusian freighter in an alien system, all by itself, made no sense. They often stuck together in vast convoys, to give themselves a better defensive position through sheer numbers.

“Status of the freighter?”

“Engines and main power are down, backup systems are in effect. No shields, no weapons charged.” She paused a moment. “No life signs.”

With the condition of the ship, and no crew, I wondered what happened. Then a smile crossed my lips. I was a scavenger pirate at heart and wasn’t about to let a prime opportunity escape. “Any cargo in the bays?”

Jeanie was hesitant. “Yes.”

“Well,” I chuckled, “what is it?”

“Signs of cargo without accompanying records in the transport manifest.”

Contraband. My smile grew. Rulusians were usually law-abiding as well. I had no idea why one of their ships would be hauling illegal cargo, but with three open bays on my ship and plenty of time to spare, there was only one thing on my mind.

Jeanie was too smart for her own good. “The logic of this situation does not compute.”

“It’s nice you worry about me, but I’ll be fine.” I smirked at the thought of a machine having feelings.

She remained silent.

“Access their computer, and drop their cargo.”

“Unable to comply.”

If she wasn’t programmed to obey, I would have been upset. There had to be something wrong. “Explain.”

“The on-board systems were placed under a command-level lock-out by the Captain of the vessel. Only the Captain can remove it.”

I clasped my hands behind my head and sighed. Green Three grew larger in the viewscreen as we approached it. Finding the freighter made me think my luck was turning for the better. Now, the situation was tougher than it first seemed.

My thoughts drifted to the state of the ship. “Looks like they didn’t want anyone else gaining control. Maybe they abandoned ship.”

“That theory appears plausible.”

I ran my hands through my dark brown, wavy locks, then massaged the tension out of the back of my neck. “I guess I’ll just have to go over and drop it manually. Move us to the starboard docking hatch.”

* * *

Soon, I stood inside the airlock compartment of the Rulusian freighter, my Mark II blaster in my right hand. A crude and stubby weapon, it was small enough to hold with just the one hand, with a recoil guard propped against my arm. It had always been there for me, and never let me down. Hopefully I wouldn’t have to put that streak to the test.

I lifted the left sleeve of my black leather jacket up and spoke through the embedded transmitter. “Can you get me through the airlock hatch?”


Green indicator lights above the inner circular hatch told me the pressures had already equalized. I stooped over to the left and looked at my reflection in a dark computer screen mounted in the wall. My face was rugged, covered with a few lines and weathered by experience. My once bright blue eyes were dim from the passage of time. I quickly grew tired of looking at myself and yanked the screen from the wall. It dangled from a large jumble of wires.

It was a mystery which ones controlled the locking mechanism, so to save time, I ripped all of them out amidst snapping sparks and rancid fumes. The screen dropped to the floor and smashed. The door popped loose, just enough where I could put my fingers around the edge. The muscles in my arms bulged slightly as I strained. Finally, the door hit a point where it rolled out of the way on its own and I ducked through the entryway.

“I’m in,” I announced to Jeanie, out of breath.

“Be careful.”

Inside, I broke into a sweat, both from the physical exertion and the climate controls on-board the freighter. Rulusians were from an extremely warm and humid jungle planet, and liked to make their ships feel like home. My heavy jacket didn’t help matters. Lines of sweat made their way down my face, as I stepped away from the airlock hatch.

I turned my gaze down the entry corridor and saw carnage I wouldn’t soon forget. Rulusian bodies were piled on either side of the hallway, burn marks from energy weapons appearing as black patches on their dark green skin. The putrid scent of scorched flesh was in the air. I passed an open doorway on my left, and looked inside at crew quarters. More Rulusian corpses lay amidst sparks and clouds of smoke.

I lifted the transmitter again. “You’re sure there isn’t anyone on this ship?”

“Affirmative. All scans show nothing but yourself.”

“This damage is far too recent.”

“Did the crew abandon ship as we had thought?”

I grimaced. “Doesn’t look like it.”

I continued down the corridor toward the bridge. Smoke particles lingered in the air and I detected a faint chemical odor while my eyes watered. Dark blast marks lined the doorframe and floor, where an access hatch had been blown open with some sort of bomb. I took slow, cautious steps through the opening and became witness to even more carnage. Ten more Rulusians had collapsed against the outer wall or slumped over consoles, all roasted by weapons fire. I definitely didn’t need to meet up with the people who had done this. I didn’t get into the scavenging business to be a hero. Everyone loves heroes, but heroes have a tendency to die young.

I glanced at the console screens while stepping around the short end of an oval-shaped half-wall. All of the displays flickered with minimal power from backup systems, while I stepped over a pair of corpses. I stopped at one and attempted to bypass the lockout. The sweat fell off my face onto the screens and formed little pools which slowly worked up enough courage to slide down the panel. I realized my attempts were useless and walked to a single access hatch at the back of the bridge.

“Jeanie, which bays contain contraband?”

“All of them.”

A huge smile spanned my face. This was definitely a dream come true.

Unfortunately, I only had three bays open and there was no way I was dumping the crystals. Perfect opportunities like these were the exception and after these weapons were sold, I’d likely have to run some more regular cargo. Even in such a huge universe, it wouldn’t take long for word to spread that I couldn’t be trusted to complete a delivery.

“Get ready to pull three containers in. The winches should be adequate.” I had a loading arm installed, and even though it was a lot more accurate, it was slow and cumbersome. There was still a bonus on those crystals to keep in mind.


The door into the cargo hold slid open easily, which I found odd as I walked inside. The air was stale and dry in my lungs as the floor panels clanged and echoed with each step. The door closed behind me and I glanced down the dimly lit corridor at six bays on either side. The best thing would be for me to drop the first three bays and ignore the possibility of a better catch in the others.

A computer console beside the bay door monitored the ambient conditions inside, while a marked service panel underneath drew my attention. I shoved my Mark II into its holster inside my jacket and knelt beside the panel. The cover pried off in no time and I tossed it aside. A lever on the right, and two dimmed lights next to it looked like what I needed. Even though I’d never jettisoned cargo manually from a Rulusian freighter before, there were plenty of bays left to find the proper technique. After I pulled the lever, the lights flashed in an alternating sequence, rapidly increasing in speed before they turned solid. A miniature explosion sounded off as the bay evacuated itself.

Just to make sure I hadn’t destroyed a perfectly good cargo container, I lifted my transmitter again. “Do you see it, Jeanie?”

“Pulling in the cargo now.”

“Two more on the way.”

I moved on to the other bays, going through the same process. As the third bay jettisoned, I heard a metallic clang echo farther down the hold.

I pulled out my Mark II and stood, as a woman with bronze skin and black hair jumped out from a crawlspace under the floor. She raised a disintegrator cannon and pointed it at me. I dropped to the floor just before her first shot hit the bridge door behind me and showered sparks down onto the floor grills. I fired a three-shot burst and she dropped down in the crawlspace again, while minimal damage was done to the aft bulkhead. At least it gave me the opportunity to run toward the bridge door, where the impact mark from her first shot still glowed. Eager for cover, I ducked into a small alcove at the front of the hold as another shot struck the wall. Sparks fell at my feet while I pressed my back firm against the cold hard metal. My heart beat faster than it had in quite a while.

I yelled out, “You can have the rest. I’ve got all I can carry.” I had no idea how this person evaded Jeanie’s scans, but my main concern now was to get out of this alive.

“This is my ship, idiot.” Her footsteps drew closer.

“Funny, you don’t look Rulusian.” I eased my head out and quickly jerked back as another shot hit the corner. More sparks showered the grating at my feet.

“Come on out. You can’t escape.”

“And get myself shot? No thanks.” The blaster felt loose in my hand, while my palms grew damp.

“Slide your weapon out first.”

I had no choice. Disintegrator cannons were outlawed for civilian use almost everywhere, and for good reason. “Okay, okay. I’m coming out.” I slid the blaster along the grill and lifted both hands high in the air.

She taunted me as I walked out to face her. “You board ships, and arm yourself with a toy?”

I didn’t care for her insults, but wasn’t in a position to complain. “I didn’t expect visitors.”

“Glad to see some old tricks still work.” She smirked.

Jeanie’s voice was frantic over my transmitter. “Aston, Aston!”

A little late, I thought. I looked at my captor with an edge to my voice. “Mind if I take this?”

She scowled and grabbed her weapon a little tighter.

“My ship’s computer,” I told her.

She gave a stern nod and I held my wrist over to my mouth. “What is it, Jeanie?”

“A pair of attack cruisers are on an intercept course from Toris.”

My captor relaxed her grip on the cannon. “You’re not part of a boarding crew?”

“I’m just a scavenger pirate.” I reached down for my blaster. “We need to go.”

She was loud and abrupt. “Hold it.”

I looked up, the barrel still pointed at my face.

I frowned. “Come on. We don’t have time for this!”

“How can I trust you? You’re a thief.”

I let the insult slide. “Right now, it doesn’t look like you have a choice. You can stay here and wait for those attack cruisers to show up if you want. Me personally, I plan to be on a ship that can run.” I grabbed my blaster and stood.

The reality of her situation finally sunk in. “Okay, let’s go.”

“Finally,” I muttered as we ran back toward the docking port.


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27 January 2012

SFFS: An Excerpt From "Collateral"

Time for another snippet for Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday (don't forget to check out all the excellent authors involved). With me being deep into edits for Death Brings the Victory, I've been neglectful in figuring out what three stories are going to be going into the next Aston West Triple-Shot (and if you've not seen the first, make sure to get a copy). Although today's snippet won't be (since it doesn't feature Aston specifically), it does feature a character near and dear to my heart, Kasey Reynolds. If you like this one, be sure to check out the first appearance of Kasey in my Aston West short story "Entrapment" (available for free from Smashwords). And now, an excerpt from the Kasey Reynolds short story "Collateral":

As they moved closer, Kasey made out finer details of the beast she was escorting. His massive forearms rested against the wall of his cage. Black metal bands wrapped around his wrists while muscles bulged all across his body. There wasn’t a single hair on his body, and Kasey couldn’t tell whether he even had a neck to speak of. Elaborate body markings covered every spot she could see, and likely those she couldn’t due to his thick black shorts. If it wasn’t for the fact he was a known criminal, she may have held some attraction for this specimen.

“This is Estil Ortiz.” The young officer motioned with his head while the criminal stared through Kasey with two dark black eyes. She shivered on the inside; This was no common criminal.

She should have demanded more money.

As of this posting, I've not yet found a home for "Collateral" and I may end up going ahead with an arrangement like I did with "Entrapment" (but we'll see). Enjoy!

26 January 2012

How Many Edits Does It Take?

How many edits does it take to finish a novel after the first draft is completed?

Much like the elusive question, "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?" this is a question that may never be answered. But there really is not a right answer, and the answer will vary depending on the author.

There are certain authors who subscribe to the "look through [one aspect] in the first edit, and change [another aspect] in the second edit, and so on" camp. I'm not one of these. I simply work my way from start to finish, and then let it set for a little while, and then repeat. I'll often times put in electronic notes for myself, to review the next time around, but I'll do this at the same time as I'm working on correcting typos and grammatical issues.

I've also seen some authors who think that short stories shouldn't be edited at all (or perhaps a cursory spelling and grammar check). I personally think this is crazy, because even the best author is going to make a major snafu from time to time, and taking the extra night to make sure isn't going to make or break your writing career.

Ultimately, my edits are finished when I feel I've done the best job I can, and then I send it off to the publisher or start formatting it for the self-publishing gig. Only you as the author can best judge when it's ready, and hopefully you've honed your skills enough to have a good idea when that should be. At the moment, I'm working on final polish edits on Death Brings the Victory. And I've already decided that this is going to be the last one.

So, feel free to comment...do you subscribe to a different plan for edits?

24 January 2012

Weekly Goals - January 24, 2012

Not sure why, but the edits have been going rather slow...here's hoping that the coming week goes better.
Results for this week:

1. Edited 2 (versus goal of 5) chapters on Death Brings the Victory

And now the goals for this coming week:

1. Edit 5 more chapters on Death Brings the Victory

23 January 2012

Where Do I Find the Time?

One of the most common issues I hear about from new writers (and I've been known to make the claim myself from time to time) is that they just don't have the time to get any writing done. Now, I could go down the same path as others, and mention that all the time spent online checking Twitter and Facebook and e-mail, or catching up on all your favorite TV shows would be better served for writing instead. But that would be more like the pot calling the kettle black. All of those things are fun and entertainment, and preventing yourself from doing them is going to be like taking all of the sweets out of the house when you're on a diet. Sure, it will help for a while, but then you're going to start sneaking away to get your fix.

So, instead, let's look at some ideas for how to find a little more writing time in the same 24 hours of a day:

- Extending the length of your regular day: This depends on whether you're a morning person or a night person, but if you regularly get up at six in the morning, set your alarm for five instead (for morning people). If you regularly go to bed at ten, stay up another hour (for night people). Although an extra hour may not seem like a lot, it will tend to add up over time. Assume that a person could write 500 words in an hour, that's 3500 words a week, and in 20 weeks (5 months), you'd have yourself a 70,000-word novel.

- Utilize time spent waiting to get some writing done: Rather than just sitting around and waiting, do some writing instead. This has a wide range of applications. How much time do you figure you spend waiting in a day? At the doctor's office, at the mechanic's, at a sit-down restaurant, in airports. Although one isn't going to have every one of these on every day of the week (we hope), this is all part of a strategy to find every moment possible. Besides, a doctor's office alone may give you an hour. Plus, if you eventually get published, people will undoubtedly ask you during these waits what you're working on, which can lead to you accomplishing some self-promotion at the same time as you're writing new material.

- Utilize time you're unable to do anything else: This is somewhat along the same lines as the previous idea, but is meant to utilize time that isn't considered "waiting." Think about the time you spend in traffic (if you're not driving). Unless you suffer from motion sickness, there could be hours spent just sitting there which could be used for writing. What if you're dragged to an event for your spouse's family? Certainly, some interaction will be required, but often times, you can huddle off in a corner and spend your time writing. This can also lead to questions from family members, and thus, more self-promotion efforts...

Definitely, these ideas should help give a little more time to your day...and if you have other ideas, feel free to share them. And of course, comments and criticisms are always welcome. And if you didn't already catch my short story "Sweet Embrace", you can still check it out for free.

22 January 2012

"Sweet Embrace" Now Available

For those who've been following my SFFS snippets, I've posted a couple from my short story "Sweet Embrace" now and again. So, for those who were interested in reading the full story, it's now available (for free) over at Mindflights. Be sure to check out the story, and then head to the main page to check out the rest of their fine offerings.


20 January 2012


Time for another snippet for Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday (and after you're done here, make sure to check out all the excellent authors involved). Being as how I've been editing Death Brings the Victory the past several weeks, I decided it was time to bring out another small sample. So, here goes a snippet with Jeanie alerting Aston to how far away a pair of attacking star-fighters are:

“Fifteen kilpars outside of their weapons range.”

Quite a distance, if we’d all been flying the same ships. Unfortunately, my small transport would barely make it to orbital altitude before they caught up to us. There’d still be plenty of distance to cover before we reached the Torian border, let alone the orbital station.

A shiver went up my spine as I remembered a crucial fact. There was still a trio of Torian warships out there.

All in all, it was a pretty dismal situation. I’d been through them many times before, and had always come out mostly unscathed.

So, in other words, I was due.

And of course, if this snippet draws your attention, be sure to check out all of my novels. Some of them (such as The Cure and Seeker) are even available as 99-cent downloads from Amazon, B&N.com and around the internet. But all of them are great reads, so you can't go wrong!

19 January 2012

Excuse The Mess!

For those who haven't already noticed, the blog is going through a few upgrades...would love to hear your feedback, whether pages and links work and all that (especially on mobile devices). And of course, feel free to share a few pages on Facebook, Twitter and other spots...especially those writer-themed posts I've been writing lately.

For now, I've generated pages for my novels, but fear not, my various short stories will be coming along sometime soon.

17 January 2012

Weekly Goals - January 17, 2012

Well, things have been continuing on track so far. Been hard at work with the writing class, along with all of the edits. Throw in a few blog posts, and it's been a busy week Doesn't figure on getting any easier in the coming weeks...

Results for this week:

1. Edited 6 (versus goal of 5) chapters on Death Brings the Victory

And now the goals for this coming week:

1. Edit 5 more chapters on Death Brings the Victory

16 January 2012

Never Stop Learning as a Writer

As I believe I mentioned (perhaps it was on my fan page), I've been taking writing classes for the past couple of weeks, and will do so for several more weeks. Now, you may be asking yourself, with four novels, and multiple short stories published, why would he need to take classes on writing? The answer is simple: Until I reach a point in my career where I can just say "I think I'd like to write another book" and publishers start a bidding war over my un-started novel (or every reader on the planet pre-orders without me writing a word), then I need to keep learning about the craft. And even then, the world will be ever-changing, and there will be new things to learn about the business and craft of writing.

Other things to keep in mind:

- I've gone over my sales numbers previously. Needless to say, they can use a lot of improvement. Part of that is going to be from my ongoing conversations with a marketing strategist, as I mentioned before. But some of that may be related to my writing (despite those who tell me how great it is). So, the classes also serve to help me find out how I could improve. This is something all writers should be striving for, to improve their writing.

- We can all use training in alternate ways of doing things we've done all along. For example, I've always plotted out my stories from beginning to end (even if they don't always follow the plan), and have done this many ways. In our most recent class, a new method (to me, at least) was given for the plot progression which I plan on utilizing in the future, to see how well it work.

So, to recap, authors should always continue to keep learning throughout their career. I hope that you take this advice to hear, and I'd be interested to hear from everyone (via the comments) something they've learned about (either the craft or the business of) writing recently.

13 January 2012

SFFS: An Excerpt from my Short Story "Sweet Embrace"

Another week, and time for another snippet to be posted for Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday (and after you're done here, make sure to check out all the excellent authors involved). This week, I've decided to give a tiny sampling from my short story "Sweet Embrace" which is scheduled for publication in an upcoming edition of Mindflights.

Before long, we’d docked with the much larger craft and I stepped through the airlock hatch into an empty corridor. Eyebrows raised, I looked in both directions. I’d expected a welcoming party at the very least.

Raising my left sleeve, I spoke into the embedded transmitter. “We spoke with an actual crew before coming in for docking, right?”


“Where are they?”

“I no longer detect any life signs on-board.”

Can't wait for the whole story to appear, and I'll be sure to let folks know when it's available for your viewing pleasure. Until then, check out the rest of my short stories or if you prefer to pay for your reading, check out my short story collections.

Surround Yourself with Successful Authors

So, continuing along the line of posting my writer's tips, I'd like to put forth an opinion of mine and fish for a little feedback.

As a writer, it's ultimately your choice as to how you fare in the end. Yes, yes, I know...those looking for an agent are dependent on an agent actually accepting them, and of course, publication with a major publisher...

But all of these things are end goals, and getting there is what you have control over.

So, one thing I would highly encourage any writer truly wishing to reach their goals is to surround themselves with successful writers they know. Hang out with them, seek out their feedback on issues you're facing, and take their advice to heart. Now, it depends on the amount of success an author has (most of us aren't going to be sitting down for tea and conversation with J.K. Rowling, for example), but I've found that most authors enjoy hanging out with other authors, even if they've gotten a measure of success.

The alternatives are where I see many authors go awry. They often like hanging out with other writers who aren't serious about their craft, and then wonder why they don't end up progressing in their own journey. These writers are those who spend twenty years working on their grand masterpiece of a novel, or have started thirty different novels and have never gotten past the third chapter, or constantly show up to writer's meetings without ever having written anything to share (no offense to anyone who may be bearing witness to those, and reading this post).

But if you're serious about a career as a writer, this is not where you want to get your motivation and your advice. You want to hang out with those who've gotten contracts, those who have publications under their belt, and those who have reached the level of success you wish to attain. Because ultimately, those are the ones who know the path to get there and can lead you across the Red Sea, Moses-style.

Listen to what they have to say. Take their advice on your writing, and apply what you learn. Above all else, surround yourself with as many of these successful authors as you can stand...because it's ultimately about increasing your chances of reaching that same level with your writing.

As always, comments, criticisms, and general discussions are more than welcome!

11 January 2012

What Makes a Bad Book Terrible?

Reading along over at (frequent commenter to the blog) Angie Lofthouse's blog post "What Makes a Great Book Great?" yesterday, I couldn't help but be inspired to write a companion piece, thus my post today.

Having read several great books, I've also read a lot of stinkers. Not to get into a self-published versus small press versus major publisher debate, but many of these have come from the two former categories. And as I foresee the trend to be for more and more authors to begin venturing into those realms, it's going to be important to have your book stand above the pack.

So, what drives a book to be so terrible that it never gets off the ground with readers?

1. Poor editing: Yes, this is a bit of a generality, but it deserves to be said. Books absolutely HAVE to be edited, there is no getting around it. And like it or not, there are a lot of authors out there who don't want to spend the money to get their books edited. Which is perfectly fine, if you have a significant background in editing, and have plenty of honest beta readers, and can look your own work over with a highly critical eye.

That's a lot of ifs, by the way. So, make certain you're not just taking the cheap way out by eliminating an external editor.

And if you do get with a small press, make certain your editor is doing you justice. If they give you back your manuscript with a few spelling and error corrections throughout, then perhaps it's time to start looking for a new publishing home.

2. Major errors with points of view: Nothing is going to drive a reader more crazy than a book that goes back and forth between first and third person, not sticking with the character's point of view you've chosen (head-hopping), or lacing everything with a load of author intrusion. Not to say that it can't be done, because it can, but you definitely need to know what you're doing.

The best advice I had was reading a book on POV, in which they likened it to watching a film. First person is all seen from your main character's point of view, and you can only see what they do from the camera, with that character narrating as they go. Same goes for third person, but the camera isn't being held by any particular character. Thinking of this analogy reminds you that you're not going to be able to tell things to the reader which they can't see from the camera's vantage point (author intrusion).

3. Playing a game of red-light/green-light with the reader: People like fairly consistent flow through their reading. No one likes to be going along and then all of the sudden, the author tells them to "STOP!" This could happen in any number of ways, including making large jumps in the timeline of the story that make the reader stop to figure out where they've just been taken to, and what happened in between then and now. If you find yourself trying to fit a huge timeline into a single novel, perhaps it's time to ask yourself whether it can be condensed into a smaller timeline, and whether more continuity could be had.

There's also the problem of being in the middle of a scene while you're trying to get your bearings, and then the author decides now is the best time to go into a bunch of infodumps, which bring the reader's enjoyment of a story to a screeching halt. Avoid these at all costs. Readers like to find things out about the characters and the worlds you've built, but just like when we take cold and flu medicine, we don't like large doses at once. Sprinkle it around a little, spread the joy, and you'll find people still get the same amount of information, but love every minute of it.

I could go further (and maybe I might for a later post), but for now, I'll let everyone digest this information for now...and as always, I do love comments, criticisms, and other interactions, so feel free!

10 January 2012

Weekly Goals - January 10, 2012

Hope all of you have been enjoying the "writerly" posts lately. But for those who haven't been around for long, I do like making a weekly post of my writing goals. This mainly serves to hold me accountable, a necessary evil when trying to get into (and keep) a rhythm going with our writing. So, without further adieu, here's the recap for the week.

Results for this week:

1. Edited 5 chapters on Death Brings the Victory

And now the goals for this coming week:

1. Edit 5 more chapters on Death Brings the Victory

08 January 2012

What a Character!

I've always been hesitant to post blogs in the past which made me out to be an expert in writing. But that was the past, and if you've read my most recent posting, then you know that it's time for an attitude change. And this isn't to say that I'm going to make myself out to be something I'm not...but I've been at this writing gig for a while, and have a lot of wisdom that can be helpful to authors, both new and experienced.

So, today I plan to discuss characters. How do you come up with good ones?

One would think that you need to figure out what your character looks like. Maybe that's important to you, but to the average reader, they're going to fill in most of the blanks you leave. If it's important to the plot, or is indicative of your character's life, then put it in the story. Heck, even if it's not, you can still put it in. Just remember, the more important details need to have a greater exposure in the narrative. What I mean: Something that's important, spend more time on. Something not so much, then give it the briefest mention possible.

Take my space pirate Aston West, for example. I give a little bit of a mention of his "extended" gut, because he's a heavy drinker and gets no exercise. I might mention his hair when he runs his hands through it. But if you were to have ten people who count themselves as loyal Aston fans describe him from head to toe, you'd likely get ten different looks. Why don't I blather on about his looks (and quite often in my series of short stories, I barely describe him at all)? Because that's not where the story is, and story is what people are reading for.

So, we've established that looks aren't all that important. So what is? I'd say you need to figure out what makes your character tick. Why does he do the things he does? Why does she react to life the way you have her do so? What does he like or dislike? If you don't know these things about your characters, it's going to show in your writing. And as a result, your characters are going seem flat and uninteresting.

Take Aston as an example again. He absolutely hates getting involved in anything unless he absolutely has to. Why not? Because of his back story...he served in his planet's military as a plan of last resort, and nearly died as a result. Getting involved is a great way to get yourself killed, and he has a big helping of self-preservation. Will he get involved? Only when he feels that great moral imperative that was instilled in him by growing up an orphan with his two (since deceased) brothers. Do I come out and tell the reader all this when he's declining the chance to get involved? No, and that's not my job. My job is to present facts along the way, sprinkling the back story in as appropriate and letting the reader connect the dots and come up with the "aha" moment. [Spoiler] So, at the end of my novel Heroes Die Young, when he ultimately has to decide whether to get involved, he ends up doing so (despite not getting involved at any other point in the story) because he feels responsible for the pain and suffering that is going to be inflicted on people (i.e., that great moral imperative I mentioned before).[/spoiler]

Why your characters act the way they do is going to directly relate to how they handle themselves throughout the plot and with other characters (thus hopefully developing conflicts), both of which will end up being future posts. Make sure that your characters react believably (so that readers will believe it) based on their backstory, and you'll have characters that readers latch onto and love for a lifetime (as so many have claimed about Aston).

So, to recap, it's as people always claim and what you have on the inside (of your character) is what really matters...and looks are just skin-deep.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, and if you have different opinions, feel free to share in the comments.

Good writing!

06 January 2012

SFFS: An Excerpt from my novel DEATH BRINGS THE VICTORY

Well, after a few weeks' vacation, it's time once again to get back into Science Fiction Fantasy Saturday and since I'm neck-deep in the editing phase of my next Aston West novel, Death Brings the Victory, I figured I'd give a small snippet from that one.

“There it is,” I muttered. An orbiting superstructure rotated on the viewscreen before me, silhouetted by the bluish-white planet Toris. This monstrosity was far smaller than its sibling, the Torian orbital station, but still far larger than the Rulusian vessel we rode in.
I studied the hulking mass of dark gray metal which symbolized so much pain and suffering. A long boom, half the length of the satellite, jutted toward the planet. At the very tip, a sensor sphere conducted scans of the planet. Beams penetrated deep under the planet’s surfaces and bounced back to large cupped blades surrounding the satellite’s cylindrical body. The strength of these beams tracked the planet’s citizens, rooting out large gatherings of anti-government forces. Violent executions had run rampant, and had to be stopped.
That’s why I was here.

I'm hoping to get all of my (polish) editing completed in the next few months, and then it's time to 'choose my own adventure' if you will. So, until then, check out the rest of the novels and short stories from the Aston West universe, over at AstonWest.com.

05 January 2012

Attitude is Everything - How's Yours?

The holidays are often the times when many start feeling down, or sorry for themselves, and toss a writer in the midst of that, and you have a recipe for disaster.

So, I follow a lot of writer blogs and websites, and so many of them have stories filled with success. Thousands of copies sold over the Christmas holiday. Myself, not so much. So, I'm left wondering what am I doing wrong? Don't leave such an open-ended question out for a writer used to constructing elaborate plots, because the number of reasons for slow sales could be mind-boggling.

Then I realized that a "woe is me" attitude in regards to low sales (the same could be said for lack of acceptances when querying or submitting to magazines) is counter-productive. A defeatist attitude is going to only lead to further defeat, and the vicious cycle will continue. So, instead, I decided it was time to do something about boosting my attitude out of the gutter, and improving my lot in (this writer's) life.

Friend of the Aston West Universe, Lisa Pietsch, and I began discussions, and we're starting off on figuring out a marketing strategy to improve my sales numbers. I'm positive that with her experiences as a marketing strategist, things will skyrocket in no time (how's that for a positive attitude? *smile*).

So, how about all of you? How's your attitude (and this isn't just limited to writers, but everyone)? Does it need some improvement? How are you going to do it?

03 January 2012

Weekly Goals - January 3, 2012

A Happy New Year to you all! Although this week wasn't as good as I would have liked, it was a fairly decent one for me, output-wise. However, now that we've passed into the new year, it's time for me to make good on my promises, and shifting gears to get my final polish edits done on my next Aston West novel. So, Resurrection will be placed on hold for the time being...

Results for this week:

1. 2000 words (vs. goal of 2500) on Resurrection
2. Edited 1 of 32 chapters on Death Brings the Victory

And now the goals for this coming week:

1. Edit 5 chapters on Death Brings the Victory