Thursday, September 30, 2010

Simplicity and the Art of Writing

No, this isn’t a diatribe on how to craft the perfect sentence or anything like that. This is going to be a short discussion on how to simplify the how of your writing, rather than the mechanics of crafting fiction.

I don’t know about you, but I used to spend an inordinate amount of time setting up things before diving into a task. My wife used to say I’d procrastinate but it was something more distinct than that. I wasn’t procrastinating because I didn’t want to do my work. Hell, writing was supposed to be a fun task, right?

But whenever it came to free time, I should have found myself sitting down, writing fiction. Inevitably, however, I'd find myself messing around with my laptop, my mp3 player or some other piece of hardware or software. In essence, hours would go by and I’d pop my head up and it would be time for bed, all my free time frittered away.

Lately, I’ve simplified a lot of what I do. I’ve pared down my hobbies (I used to have a fair number), I’ve focused my free time on three things: 1) chores and tasks around the house [garbage, pool maintenance, lawn]; 2) my wife and kids [picking them up from school, etc] and 3) writing fiction. In order to focus on these 3 things, I’ve simplified how I do them so that I can keep on track.

For the chores and tasks around the house and the kids’ schedules, I’ve taken my Blackberry, synced my calendar up with Google Calendar and add EVERY scheduled nuance into it. So, if I need to leave work early to pick up my kids from school, it’s in my calendar and a reminder pops up 15 minutes beforehand.

I live and die by this calendar. Everything that makes up my life is in it. It syncs seamlessly between the Google Calendar and the Blackberry. I never used to focus so hard on things like this. I used to think they were for control freaks. Now, I realize I have to stop generalizing and realize that these tools are there to help me. I even schedule my writing time in there to be reminded. I love that this little process helped streamline a lot of my life and help me identify free time.

For keeping up with the writing, I’ve decided to pare down the distractions that used to keep me away from accomplishing it. For instance, I’ve gotten myself an old laptop with a wireless card I can remove. This way, I pop it out and I can’t get online. If I can’t get online, I can’t get distracted with Twitter or my blog or what Lindsey Lohan’s doing or what new books came out this week or what Seth Green had for breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, all those are interesting things (I'm writing this blog, right?). But they’re complete and utter distractions from getting work done.

I simplified my writing environment to include this gnarly old laptop, running Ubuntu 10.04 (a Linux operating system that’s FREE) and OpenOffice for word processing. I don’t bother with a ton of writing tools. I don’t have a big support system of software. I listen to tunes with Exaile and I occasionally IM with people using Pidgin. And through a marvelous tool called pidgin-musictracker, I can combine the two to show people what I’m listening to. My point is this: I’ve pared down the entire writing experience to a crusty laptop that’s still portable (and light), and a word processor.

Welcome to 1987. I’ve basically thrown myself back to the days when I wrote my stories on an old IBM Selectric III my grandfather brought home from RCA when it was going to be replaced. Except I can tote this particular word processor around a bit more easily.

Yes, it weighs more than it looks like it does!

My friend Mike Oliveri’s got it right. He says here that you have to write whenever you get a moment to do it. EVEN IN A HOSPITAL WAITING ROOM. He’s right. You take every free minute you can and devote it to what you care about. For me, I recently realized that what I care about are the 3 things listed above: the home, the wife and kids and writing. Everything else is secondary. (OK, hockey might be nudged in there with writing, but it doesn’t take away from the writing, so we’re still ok there!)

I keep that beat up laptop with me everywhere I go. Anytime might be a good time to write and having a quick-loading laptop with minimal software (for ease of use) is a good thing. And when it’s inappropriate to have an old Compaq N620c under your arm, I have my Blackberry and Evernote to dump ideas into. Just last night, I went out to pick up some food at Friday’s. I had an idea gnawing at me for a few hours so I sat down under one of their incredibly bright, weird star-shaped lights and punched that idea into Evernote. That got it out of my mind and into a place I can see it again later.

I wanted to share these ideas with you because, if you're like me, there's never a good time to write. I'm currently putting this little blog post together on that laptop while watching my kids. You've gotta make the time, if you're going to have output.

Write when you can, where you can, HOWEVER you can. Write because that’s who you are and writing is what’s important to you.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Wrap

Tonight, I completed my rewrites on THE TAKEOVER. I've still got a few more new scenes I want to write and insert into it, but, for the most part, the novel is finished.

I'm excited, too. It's been a fun process to revisit this novel and it's helped reinvigorate me with a newfound love of horror and the craft of writing, in general. I'm very relieved to get to the end of a novel. This is a process I started a while back and I was unsure if I'd succeed in completing it. But, sure enough, I've been able to finish this particular task and it's given me a kind of focus for future tasks.

Anyway, I'll be taking the day off tomorrow, enjoying it with the family. But maybe tomorrow night I'll be able to put the stake in the heart of at least one of those new scenes I was talking about.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Wrap

This weekend I took the kiddies to Six Flags' Safari where our windshield wipers were pecked by an ostrich and the family truckster was impeded by a giraffe in the middle of the road. The more entertaining part of the trip through the safari was listening to the rangers/guides yell at every single New York license plate to "roll up your window! And STOP FEEDING THE ANIMALS!!!"

I got very little writing done this weekend (about 1,400 words [all done this evening]). However, what I did get done was completely unexpected and THAT is the greatest feeling for an author--writing something that you didn't even plan out. When the writing takes on a life of its own, that's the sweetest feeling ever.

Both the wife and I got official faux leather book covers for our PanDigital Novels. We apparently did this just in time for my wife's to take an unscheduled leap down a few stairs this morning. Luckily, the cover protected the e-Reader and it works just fine.

I'm just about done with my overhaul of THE TAKEOVER--maybe another week or so of pushing like hell and then it'll just be a matter of fiddling with the edges a little bit.

Luckily, we're coming up towards NaNoWriMo (the month of November), which I'll be participating in and using the time to finish similar rewrites to THE COMPLEX. It'll be a hefty task, but I'm feeling good enough to take it on.

Talk to you during the week!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Takeover Update

I've been hard at work writing some new material for THE TAKEOVER and submitting it to my editor at Screaming Aphony Press. The book should be completely edited and ready for publishing in two weeks. Which means, it will most likely be published in just a little over three weeks.

I'm really excited for this release because of two reasons.

#1 - You, The Reader, get the opportunity to finally read my fiction - something I've been incredibly lazy in terms of publishing.

#2 - This is the first in a couple of releases coming from Screaming Aphony. I'm hoping to keep to a schedule of a couple books released each year, which means more dark horror for The Reader and more fun beating on my antique laptop's keyboard for a little while longer. :)

So, keep checking back and there will, indeed be fanfare when the book is released!


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Special Surprise Release!

Hey All,

Today, Screaming Aphony Press released my long-form story, THE CORRUPT at Smashwords. And as a gift to you, the reader, the story is FREE.

That's right. Kindle, Nook, iPad. You name it, you can download it--FOR FREE.
Tell your friends! Tell your coworkers! Leave a copy on your parents' Windows Desktop, for good measure.

THE CORRUPT is a weird western that blends the horror, fantasy and western genres together in a story that's already been given 5 stars by perfect strangers. :)

It's the first in a five or six story arc that will follow Hell as he continues his quest to find Kelsis, the dark force that's lived a thousand lifetimes. I'll be releasing each one of these through Screaming Aphony. Here's your chance to get in on the ground floor of an epic tale the likes of which have yet to be seen!

Be Seeing You!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Workin' Weekend

I took the kids to the park this morning and played sentry while they darted around three separate playground gym sets. Now, I'm sitting in my backyard, sipping some iced coffee (carefully, the root canal I have tomorrow can't come soon enough) and writing on my laptop.

I'm pushing real hard to get this novel out for a September release and the rewrites I'm working on are really creative workarounds for some fundamental problems I found in the manuscript for THE TAKEOVER.

I'm hoping to have most of the rewrites in place by end of this week and then it's off to the editor for a once-over. After that, I'll be prowling around online, starting promotion (as soon as I have a release date).

Watch this space! Updates soon!

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Uneasy Future of Our Art

It is a turbulent time for the publishing industry and everyone involved (even in the periphery) are perking up their ears and paying attention to the goings on.

Barnes & Noble recently put themselves up for sale. Borders is floundering. Amazon is touting that e-book sales have surpassed sales of hardcover books for the first time ever. Dorchester Publishing just announced that they will no longer be publishing mass market paperbacks and will now be pursuing an e-book distribution model. (Dorchester has called this move a “transition” in its press release but, with the suddenness of this move and the speed with which they have let their editorial staff go, the 2 week knee-jerk reaction could only be called a “transition” as much as an abortion could.)

With all that’s going on in the industry, it’s easy to understand why a lot of people have begun to cry “the end is nigh!” and we are on the precipice of the end of publishing as we know it. I, personally, don’t think that’s true and I think it’s inflammatory and ill-informed to say so.

We are at a precipice, I’ll agree. But it’s not so high up and it’s not so scary. Up until now, the creation of content (words, thoughts, ideas, books, etc) has always been controlled by a select few (publishing houses) and then released into the public. This has always led to a bottleneck for creative works (as I see it) as there has always been a percentage of the target audience (you and me) whose prose probably is as good (or sometimes better) than what the publishing houses has let out into the world. However, the literary gatekeepers of the world have decided (for one reason or another) that those works were not good enough for the public. The Small Press helped in this regard somewhat, but not to a great extent. While we've all been introduced to some previously unknown talent by one small press publisher or another, the impact of these has vastly been unfelt, unfortunately.

Our industry (book publishing, specifically) is in a transition period. We are about to enter an era where the content (books, music, etc) will be produced by many, available to all and it will be up to the audience to determine whether what has been produced is good or not. Those novels that are good (even if self-published through such places as smashwords or lulu) will find an audience. Word-of-mouth will happen, no matter what. It’s just what we do as humans. People love to tell other people about the books they are reading or the newest band they just found. You can't get through a lunch with friends without hearing the phrase "Oh! You know what I just read?" or "You have GOT to hear this band!"

As a matter of fact, the publishing industry is going through the same growing pains the music industry did a few years ago. The process might look a little different and it may, in fact, scare the hell out of a lot of people, but don’t worry. We’ll get through it.

Digital content was a new and scary world for the music industry not so long ago. And what happened to them? They created new business models to work with the changing tastes of its audience and success is now being had. Since they can’t make as much money on albums, songs, etc, they are now getting more involved in merchandising and publishing: things they weren’t too interested in before, help their business models now. We, as an industry, simply have to do the same thing. Get through this transition period and find the business model that ensures success. We’ll get there, eventually.

In the near future, there are going to be more and more books published by authors who have decided that “Hey, I can publish an e-book!”. Some of those are going to be good. Real good. (One of my favorite novels of all time is DEAD IN THE WEST by Joe Lansdale, originally published by Space & Time. While not the true definition of self-published, you simply CANNOT tell me that Gordon Linzner (Editor Emeretus of Space & Time) had the same resources as, say, HarperCollins. It just ain’t true! I wish he did!) And some of those self-published books are just gonna stink. Really bad. Like an Oldsmobile after Mischief Night.

It’s really an exciting time, if you think about it. You are going to see more and more already established authors turn to the new medium and use it to their advantage. At the same time, you’re going to see new and unpublished authors start to dip their toe in the publishing ocean the same way. Trent Reznor (of Nine Inch Nails and How To Destroy Angels) has a great model for using digital content to further interest in his work.

His new project, How to Destroy Angels, released an EP in July for free. 6 songs for you to listen to and get to know the new sound. If you dig it, he’s expecting you’ll pony up the cash for the LP when it comes out in 2011. In his words in this video, “I gave this EP of the new band away because it wasn’t a huge work … It was kind of an introduction. A sampler.”

An up-and-coming author can apply this kind of logic to publishing, as well. An unpublished author could effectively publish older (but still good—we still have to have some editorial credit—you can’t publish crap and expect it to sell. Okay, maybe you can) works and start to generate interest and create a brand name for themselves by publishing solid, mid-list works. If they do this through a service like smashwords, then they are able to do it profitably, as well.

You are about to see an explosion of artistry, my friends. We are on the edge of a tidal wave of output the likes of which has never before been seen. It will soon be easier to get books than ever before -- buying them in a blink of a digital eye mere hours after the author/editor has proofed their work.

Imagine how cool that could be.