Once upon a time, I aspired to be a broadcast, rather than print, journalist. It was during those early, heady days at the University of South Carolina that I realized as much as I loved being on the air, I loved writing better.
And honestly, I was probably better at the writing anyway.
For the last 20 years or so, my full time job has been writing or writing related, but I’ve still relished every chance I’ve had to appear on the radio, usually promoting something.
One of the greatest ways to get books into the hands of readers – you know, other than sneaking them into their messenger bags on the subway – is to offer them for free.
I’ve done this a couple of times with some degree of success, especially in the e-book market, where offers of free books are welcomed heartily by all those Kindle readers out there who think 99 cents is just TOO DAMN MUCH to pay for books.
Really, though – everyone loves a bargain, and if handing out books like they were bank teller lollypops is what it takes to get back in there with Uncle Kurt V. at the top of the Satire cart on Amazon, it’s what I’m willing to do. As I often tell people who are considering getting into any kind of publishing – indie or mainstream – giving away a certain amount of free product is a great way not only to get your work in front of more sets of eyeballs, but also to start building a rapport with readers who appreciate the fact that you’re willing to occasionally share your art with them for nothing.
Naturally, as an author I hope for a couple of things in doing this. One, that readers who take advantage of offers like this will return the favor with reviews of the novel. Notice I didn’t say “favorable” reviews – that would just be asking too much. I really want to know what a wide variety of readers thought, and I’m understanding of the fact that my novel isn’t going to be everyone’s idea of a good time. But the more people at the party the better, and I like to hear from everyone, even those who are honestly sharing what they didn’t think was fantastic.
So, if you’re a Kindle reader and have yet to download your copy of Immaculate Deception at the normal low, low price of $2.99, take the opportunity to get it through Aug. 22 for everyone’s favorite price, FREE! Just click the Kindle photo or here to go straight to the e-book site and enjoy.
The other giveaway running simultaneously with that for the Kindle is a hard-copy giveaway through Goodreads, a fantastic social networking site for people who love reading and love interacting with other people who love to read.
In this one, also running Aug. 20-22, five signed copies of the paperback edition of Immaculate Deception will be up for grabs, with the winners chosen by Goodreads’ mystical oracle of all knowing bookdom, then reported to me for final delivery of the books.
While I’d love to give out as many paperback editions as e-books, the economies of scale don’t really permit it (and the resulting marital discord it would cause wouldn’t be worth the hefty legal fees it would take to resolve things). Still, though, I like the Goodreads option because it again gets more eyeballs on the cover and synopsis, luring more potential readers to add the novel to their “want to read” lists, in the hope that someday they will in fact read.
So come join the party either way. Download or enter to win your free copy, have a beverage on me (in a virtual sort of way) and have a scuppernong grape from the table of cyber muchies. You’ll be glad you did.
One of my favorite new media tools for book promotion is the book trailer, which takes all the fun and splash of a motion picture trailer you might see on TV or in the theater and translates it to the world of literature. I recently pulled this one together for Immaculate Deception. Hope you dig it.
We have lots of fun when the Codorus Press crew convenes in person to attend a regional book festival, genre convention or speaking engagement, as evidenced by team member Tom Joyce and his magical movie making machine. This is the second video to come out of our visit to the Gaithersburg (Md.) Book Festival back in May, this one featuring yours truly. Enjoy!
No, we’re not talking about the good ol’ Yusef Islam (nee’ Cat Stevens) tune of a similar name. Today the topic is why you’ve already wasted half your day when you could have been writing. It’s because your morning – the time that you could use to do great things – is broken.
A common lament among people who want to be writers goes something like this: “I have a full-time job, kids, PTO, and yard work to do. How the hell am I ever going to find time to loose upon the world my literary vision of sparkly, sexy vampire aliens who attack earth with non-stop tentacle porn and demands from their leader (who looks remarkably like Oprah) to turn over all basset hounds under the age of three to our new rulers?”
Everyone who has ever wanted to write and simultaneously eat and have a roof over his head has asked the same (OK, maybe not exactly the same) question. And it’s a really good question. How do you find the time to bang out 250 pages of brilliant prose when time seems in short supply.
Recently, I was up earlier than honest people should be (about 4:30 a.m. – on a Saturday, no less) to drive to a book festival about two hours away. I stopped by my neighborhood Wawa (the Nirvana of convenience stores, for those outside the Northeast corridor/Philadelphia metro area) to get much needed coffee and some breakfast, and there was a guy standing outside the store showered, shaved and fully dressed in office clothes, on his cell phone already taking care of business. After I got my purchases, I watched him wrap up his call and drive away in his very expensive car.
This man reminded me that a lot gets done in this world before most everyone is already awake. The people who truly bust their asses are all up before first light and likely on the job before the rest of us hit the snooze the fourth time. My wife, a nurse practitioner, is one of them. When I worked at an afternoon newspaper (with a noon deadline) I was one of them, too. And when I was determined to finish my novel Immaculate Deception, I became one of them again.
Here’s how it works: You get up early, write for an hour or so, then get on with your normal life. Rinse and repeat for eight months to a year and you’ll have a completed manuscript.
Naturally, it’s not quite that easy. There are zillions of places you can get time management advice that will increase your productivity throughout the day. What I’m going to talk about here is some help for those of you who want to carve out time from your busy life to write, but don’t know where to start. So here’s a little primer based on my own personal experiences, assuming you have a typical 9-5 job and an otherwise busy life.
First of all, commit. If you’re going to whine about shifting your hours around to accomplish this tremendous and admirable goal you’ve set for yourself, look somewhere else. Consider this as a second job, and work at it accordingly.
The night before – Assess your evening routine. Are you addicted to Letterman or The Daily Show or anything else that keeps you up until or past midnight? If so, either break the addiction or DVR everything to watch the following evening (at a decent hour).
Also regarding TV – Consider what you’re watching between 10 and 11 p.m. If it’s just some dreck that you’re using to pass the time until the news/late-night bloc kicks in, eliminate it and make 10 p.m. your new bedtime.
In the morning – ease your wake-up time backwards 15 minutes each day for a week, until you reach the desired wake-up time (I like 5:30 a.m. – early, but not too early). Once you’re there, DO NOT HIT THE SNOOZE.
To ease the waking and working routine, have a reward ready. If you drink coffee, get a timed brewer that can have your Joe ready when you stagger to the kitchen. Get an insulated cup to pour it into so it will stay hot and you won’t spill it, then head to the computer.
DO NOT get online. Don’t even open the browser. Just don’t. This is crucial, since you’re not up at this ungodly hour to check Facebook or personal e-mails. Save that for during breakfast or at work (don’t tell your boss I said that).
Use a kitchen timer or the timer function on your smartphone (I have a great app called Timers4You on my Droid that has three different timers built in) and set it for the desired amount of time you need to work.
Open your word processing program, open your file, scroll down to where you finished the day before and … GO!
DO NOT STOP until your timer goes off.
When the timer rings, stop. Save the file, close it and get on with your day. Save reviews and edits for your lunch hour (you do use your lunch hour, right?). Note: If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where you have a good public transit system, use it. Your laptop plus a half-hour or 45-minute train commute equal even more working time automatically built into your day. While I was finishing Immaculate Deception, my 45-minute train ride to my job in Philadelphia was gold – no family interruptions, no phone, no idle conversation – just work.
Follow these simple suggestions, and here’s what it gets you: if you have to be at work by 9 a.m. and want time for a shower, quick breakfast and a half-hour commute, a 5:30 a.m. wake-up – shazam! – gets you about an hour and a half to two hours of work every day. Assuming you have even a partially formed concept going in, this will get you a completed manuscript in a year or less.
Naturally, no one will tell you that it’s guaranteed to be a good manuscript, but you will at least have a complete first draft to hone and craft to face-melting excellence. That is the difference between telling people you’re writing a book and actually getting the book written.
P.S. Here’s a little musical bonus, hoping that with these new found hours to your day, your soul will indeed be psychadelicized.
One of the most perplexing, vexing and generally pain in the ass phrases any aspiring writer hears from other (usually more successful and – let’s be honest – smug) writers is “show, don’t tell.”
Really, as if writers didn’t have enough problems with making rent, working the day job and dealing with friends, family and spouses who don’t really believe that you’ve been working on the book you casually (and constantly) tell them about, here comes another god forsaken “real” writer with this tired, worn-out old piece of advice that is rarely followed by a decent explanation.
And that’s the biggest part of the problem – the advice is legit, but those who dish it out rarely stop to elaborate on what the hell it means. Despite what some think, it’s not self-explanatory. Show what? Don’t tell what? What’s the difference between showing and telling? And while we’re at it, why is the chick who wrote those Twilight books rolling around naked in her own money while I’m still working as a barista and eating ramen noodles for three meals a day?
Well, some questions we might never know the answer to, but I can tell you this: There is a decent answer to the question of “What the hell do you mean by ‘Show, don’t tell’?”
And it is this: Rather than indulging in long, drawn out bits of exposition to reveal something about a character, a place or a situation, instead simply allow the details to reveal themselves in the story or – even better – bits of dialogue, relying on your reader’s imagination to fill in details.
You want some great examples? Here’s the shortest I can think of, by none other than Ernest Hemingway: “For sale. Baby Shoes. Never used.”
Absolute friggin’ tragedy, sorrow and desolation wrapped up in what could very well be the text for a six-word classified ad. That is some righteous show, don’t tell, kids, and even if Uncle Ernest never wrote another word after tossing those six out there, we’d still be talking about them today.
Another great place to find excellent examples of show, don’t tell is in pop songs. Why? Well, you’ve got three and a half minutes to tell a story or elucidate on a bit of philosophy. Think it’s easy knocking out even a bad pop song? Go ahead and try it. Chances are you’ll be pulling out your hair by the time you’re on your third ream of paper.
Driving around the other day, I was listening to the radio and realized Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns and Money” would fit very nicely into this discussion simply because it’s an exceptionally short song – three main verses, a bridge and chorus in about two minutes and 50 seconds – that tell us quite a lot about the its main character . It’s essentially an entire Elmore Leonard novel in the time it might take you to shave or do your make-up.
(The punks at YouTube cut off the embedding for this, but you can link to it below. I highly recommend it.)
If you tried to convey all this information – that there’s a guy who got in over his head with spies and a Cuban casino, and is now appealing to his father for assistance both legal and illegal in getting out from under his debt, eventually escaping to Honduras until things cool off – in a linear, expository fashion … well, you’d have the sentence I just wrote and it wouldn’t make a very good song, now. would it?
Consider what we know about this guy. First, he’s a rake. “I went home with a waitress” tells us one thing, but throw in “the way I always do,” and we have a wide open window into this guy’s libido and man-whore tendencies. Second, he’s in Havana, where Americans aren’t legally supposed to be, telling us he lives just outside the normal parameters of the law. Third, he’s a gambler willing to roll the dice on long odds, confirming the lawless assumption. Fourth, he’s probably a douchebag trust fund kid who’s putting his family money on the line and expects his father to extricate him through any means necessary – thus the title – every time he does something stupid.
Honestly, entire film series have been predicated on less information than the lyrics in this song. Just from a few lines, Zevon has drawn an exceptionally rich character that could easily carry a Steven Soderbergh, “Oceans 11”-style trilogy.
The key here is that Zevon hasn’t started with some lame “Once Upon a Time” format like many prose writers do – he jumps right in. If Zevon hadn’t already used it, this first line would make a great opening to a short story. Few songwriters have the luxury of extensive exposition over thousands of words, so to avoid the temptation to ramble on with it yourself. Act as if you have no time to get things clear.
Instead of saying, “It was cold,” have your character react to the cold in a concise fashion that might reveal something about him or her at the same time. Instead of going on in the third person about how your character was fired from her job, have her allude to it in her dialogue, with the other characters responding accordingly. Better yet, if your story is set in winter in New York City, we’ll know it’s cold, so there’s no need to even tell us, unless the character is somehow unreasonably cold thanks to poverty, a mugging, a specific costume or other unusual circumstances.
In closing let me give you a few pop culture references that keep me from telling rather than showing. The first is the character of Basil Exposition from the Austin Powers movies. As Austin’s boss, he’s there to do just what his name implies – give us exposition to move the plot forward. It’s an age old device employed in almost all the James Bond movies (which the Powers series so nicely mocks), usually in the person of M, Bond’s boss.
All I have to do is remember how ridiculous Basil’s clunky film moments are, and I’m dissuaded from doing the same thing in my own stories.
The other reference that keeps me on track is the concept of monologuing, as described in the Pixar film The Incredibles. It’s an inside superhero joke shared early in the movie and later mentioned by arch villian Syndrome, in which a bad guy so enamored with his own evil scheme rambles on to the main character, describing every detail of the plan up to that point. If you ever – EVER – find yourself monologuing, step back and find a new way to say what you’re trying to say.
Full confession: I never set out to be a writer of erotica, but I’m seriously starting to consider it, if only to tap (heh) the obviously fertile (heh, heh) “horny housewife with an e-reader” market.
I already had a vague notion that this market existed when I started researching e-books in preparation for Immaculate Deception to enter the market in its Kindle version. What I found was a little startling. It seemed like every second title among the Top 100 Kindle books was some form of erotica aimed squarely at women. And not prissy little Harlequin Romance works, either. These tales were hard-core in the traditional (meaning porno) sense.
Lately, one cover I’ve repeatedly seen popping up in 50 Shades of Grey. The frequency of its appearance should have tipped me off to something, but it wasn’t until I read this story in the Philadelphia Inquirer on Sunday that I realized what a phenomenon this book has become.
Headlined “Steaming up moms’ e-readers,” the story details the wave of readership for this naughty novel that details the relationship between a young woman and a significantly older man who’s into all sorts of rough play, known among the folks who haunt leather gear and sex toy shops by the acronym BDSM – that’s bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism to you poor, missionary-position, vanilla, whitebread folks out there who don’t think wrapping your mouth around a rubber ball gag in someone’s suburban basement “dungeon” is a great way to spend an evening.
The story got me thinking about eroticism in my own work, where it comes from and how people have responded to it.
As I said, I never intended to write erotica per se, but I came to a realization a long time ago after reading Eye of the Needle by Ken Follett when I was a teenager. It’s about a Nazi spy who figures out what the Allies are up to with D-Day, but ends up trapped on an isolated island with a lonely Englishwoman who does her duty for king and country in a particularly hot scene that to this day still resonates with me.
That realization was this: The best books are made even better by a little booty.
When I sat down to write Immaculate Deception around 1989, my experiences with things carnal weren’t terribly in-depth. As a young lad, I got away with bringing nekkid pictures into the house thanks to two gentlemen, Msrs. Boris Vallejo and Frank Frazetta, both masters of the fantasy illustrating genre whose pictures of semi-nude and nude warrior women grace many an Edgar Rice Borroughs and Conan novel cover.
As the idea for the Church of the New Revelation developed, I realized that because it was a sex-and-drugs-based church, there would probably end up being some sexy-sexy in the novel itself.
That realization was solidified as the character of Veronica Whitaker shaped up. There was no way a woman of such surpassing hotness and carnal motivation could be represented in my novel without actually displaying how that shaped her behavior, particularly toward her husband, Lawrence, and the main character, Jon Templeton.
So, what has resulted can be easily wrapped up like this: Chapters 28, 29 and 38, wherein Veronica reveals the true depth of her … um, passion in a variety of ways. Suffice it to say that if sexually abusing viticulture was a punishable offense, she would be in jail for a long, long time.
The reaction to these steamy scenes has been particularly puzzling. For instance, before reading the novel, my mom repeatedly told me that my next book needed to be sexy. I assured her that she should read this one before assuming it didn’t fit into that category. From her I have heard not a peep of admonition. However, from her sister, who holds a place in our family as the progressive, open-minded 1960s rabble-rouser, politely suggested that the scenes verged on the pornographic. So apparently I was indeed writing erotica all this time and didn’t even realize it.
What’s particularly amusing is reviews that warn readers of things like the “overwhelming amount of NC-17 content” in the novel. Really? Overwhelming? If the entire book was based on sheer sexual activity and character motivation and development (like, for example … um … 50 Shades of Grey), I could understand. However, the above chapters are really the only that contain any measurable explicit behavior. So why don’t reviews for any other books that have a few naughty bits carry big, scary warnings? Beats me.
I do, however, know that plenty of other people enjoyed those parts (just how much, I suppose we’ll never know, other than by the soft moans we hear from their rooms as they re-read those dog-eared pages). And that’s really what they’re there for. In working in literature as a medium, my end goal is always to provide entertainment. If it’s entertainment that informs, is thought-provoking or titillating, so much the better (especially if it’s all at once).
I’m proud to say that I’m a member in mediocre standing of a great writers’ group, the Brandywine Valley Writers Group, that regularly features great and informative guests at its meetings. My mediocrity stems from only being able to make about half of their monthly meetings thanks to my wife’s rotating work schedule.
So when I was able to attend the November meeting with no elaborate scheduling shifts or kid hand-offs required, I was pretty excited (of course, it might have also had something to do with the meetings being held at a great Irish pub with Guinness on tap, but that’s neither here nor there).
The speaker that night was Dennis Tafoya, a writer of modern noir who lives in another part of the Philadelphia area
and whose novels include Dope Thief and The Wolves of Fairmount Park. The vibe at BVWG meetings is pretty informal, much like a dinner party where one guest is allowed to hold forth and everyone else gets to eat, drink and be educated. Dennis was very gracious in sharing with us his process of writing, his literary philosophy and what drives him to do what he does.
One thing I found particularly interesting was that his success in mainstream publishing can be directly attributed to his having short stories published with a few online journals, then discovered by a West Coast film agent who steered him in the direction of an East Coast literary agent. It’s that magical publishing kismet that you sometimes hear about, then hate having the knowledge that this apparently really happens to some people.
My first response to this was surprise that Hollywood folks, who only seem able to rehash old crap or generate new crap these days are actually trawling through online fiction journals looking for great stories and their authors. My second thought was, “Wow … I’ve really got to up my short story game.”
That would be, at this point, a game that doesn’t really exist. Approximately 20 years ago, I managed to bang out and finish a nice little story that was published in the University of South Carolina literary magazine, Portfolio. Please ignore that it was at the same time I happened to be the fiction editor. Really … that had nothing to do with it. I swear.
Anyway, that story won an honorable mention in a statewide competition, which was very cool. Since then, though, I’ve been stuck. No nice little awards – not even honorable mentions, mainly because there haven’t been any stories.
See, my trouble with short story writing is that A) the things I begin working on intending them to be short stories morph into full-scale novels that end up taking 20 years to finish (please see Immaculate Deception), or B) I have great ideas that I get started on but never actually finish.
As I speak, I have between 10 and 15 half- or 1/4-complete short stories sitting in a computer file awaiting my attention after months or years. If they were people, they would have given up and moved on long ago. Even though they’re just stories, I still imagine them tapping their feet and looking at their watches impatiently, wondering when I might return.
Yeah, me too, guys.
I try doing a little self education every so often, attempting to get myself into the short story groove by re-reading collections like William Gibson’s Burning Chrome and Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things, and even the hefty (especially in paperback) collection of Mark Twain’s shorties hoping that some of their excellence at brevity will rub off on me. I like to think that rather than soaking it up right away, I’m slowly processing and absorbing it in the hopes that at some point it will blossom within me and I’ll be able to easily crank out some stellar (and short … and entirely complete) piece of fiction.
So far, though … nothin’. Well, that’s not true. I did start something the other day, but if I had a nickel for every time I started a story I didn’t finish I’d have … um … it looks like about 75 cents.
Forgot to mention last week that Immaculate Deception was named a reader pick for “great beach reads” in the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Summer Reading package from the June 26 edition of the paper. Find the story online here.