Advice on Writing and Publishing

booksBeing an author can be a job just like any other job: raking leaves, coding software, flipping pancakes, working as a mercenary in the Golden Triangle, you name it. I say “can be” because many writers choose not to treat writing stories as a job, but consider it a hobby or something of a similar nature. That’s fine. Both approaches are equally valid. However, I’d like to address the writing-as-job approach.

A recent post by Michael Bunker, author of Amish science fiction and other works, makes the assertion that one shouldn’t ask other authors for advice. I tend to agree with him due to two reasons: first, most authors don’t know what the heck they’re talking about (as most authors don’t sell many books), and, second, the modern publishing industry is such an apparently chaotic and random world that anyone claiming to have a comprehensive theory of how to deal with it is essentially whistling in the wind (or a huckster).

Don’t get me wrong. Individual authors do sometimes achieve partial enlightenment, just like certain restaurants can successfully cook certain items on their menus. Author Jones might figure out a bit of wisdom in relation to pricing. Author Garcia might stumble on a clever way to secure reviews. Author Xianjing might discover the path to serial pacing. However, like I said before, nobody has the comprehensive theory. In fact, most advice is poorly thought out and written mainly to draw tangential attention to that particular author’s books.

Therefore, if you do want advice but are wisely reluctant to ask other authors who either can’t write their way out of a paper bag, or aren’t selling enough books to support their mocha habit, where do you find advice?

Here’s my advice (ironic, isn’t it, that I’m offering advice as an author after saying you should steer clear of advice from authors?): given the seemingly chaotic nature of publishing, seek advice from people who have absolutely nothing to do with publishing.

Go ask your plumber or your banker or your local swami what their advice is. It might not make any sense. It might make a lot of sense. It might make a great deal of sense simply from the perspective that people are people, entertainment is entertainment, and money is money. Ask your newspaper delivery boy (does such a thing even exist anymore?), your hair stylist, your stock broker, your local politicians.

You might be surprised at what you hear.

And if your swami says something inscrutable, such as, “the bullfrog of wisdom hops onto the lilypad of Marxism,” well, there just might be something in that. True, you’ll have to spend some time unpacking his utterance, and it might result in a brain aneurysm, but you might end up with the key to Jeff Bezos’ mind.

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Seal Whistle almost done

The Seal Whistle is almost done. I’m wrestling with the main ending scene. Tying loose strings together into one coherent finish. I find that the dramatic end of a story is quite different, can be quite different, from the personal end of the story for the characters. Which is why I wrote the end of A Storm in Tormay the way I did. It ended with what happened to the characters after the ending climactic scene. After, mind you. That’s the way I see stories ending (I’m writing primarily for myself). Not with a bang and a flourish and a crash of cymbals, but with the long, smooth legato of violins and the sun setting as smoothly and serenely as it always does.

Because that’s who I want to be. And how I want to die. Of course.

I have to bring up death in this context. A great deal of the fairytales, the genuine ones, have to do with death and endings and partings. Things changing irrevocably. The adventure over, the marriage begun, the evil vanquished, the wicked stepmother nailed into a barrel and rolled down into the sea (whatever happened to her next?). That’s exactly what Tolkien did at the end of The Return of the King. He was writing about death and dreadfully solemn endings to life. Things fading away with as much serenity as a ship sailing over the horizon from the Grey Havens. Because those things were even more important than the fall of Sauron.

But, in that, there is joy.

Not for the George R. R. Martins and Abercrombies and Patrick Rothfuss minions of the world. Nope. They’ve thought themselves into a box that is defined, described, bordered (up, down, top and sides) by human self. The style is well done–I won’t fault them on that–but the substance runs dry of hope. Which is logical. The human creature cannot find hope in and of himself.

Which is why you cannot will not will never can never find Tolkien’s eucatastrophe in any of their stories. For me, it’s like deliberately painting in black and white and steadfastly ignoring the dazzling panoply of color patiently waiting on the palette. Waiting and never used. Like going about with a blue plastic umbrella always over your head and thinking, this is my sky. This blue plastic curve is my sky, and that’s it.

And refusing to listen to the crash of thunder and the wind and the lightning and the rain and the sunset splashing down in more shades of purple and red and orange you could every find words to describe. All that true sky happening outside and above your umbrella, and you’re still steadfastly muttering “this blue plastic curve two inches above my head is my sky, the sky, the only sky.”

For me, that’s epic fantasy without eucatastrophe. Without joy.

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song sketch Life or Yes, Death is Fairly Imminent

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More musical psychotherapy. This one has the rather bland name of Life. I was going to call it something a bit more snappy, such as Yes, Death is Fairly Imminent For You (yes, you there), but that doesn’t have a real musical ring to it. So, it’ll be Life for now, but I reserve the right to change the title.

I was going to do more with this song, but my computer started choking on the file. This one has multiple layers of guitars and even more of voice. I think there’s a five-part harmony on the very last vocal line. Bit overboard there, but that’s psychology for you (or psychotherapy is–what’s the difference between those two?).

Anyway, you’ll be pleased to know that I worked the IRS, Pakistan, the Russians, drugs, drinking, pets, and the contemplation of mortality into this one.

In other mildly related news (related in that it has to do with music), I did a little impromptu song and dance for my two-year-old this evening. In the kitchen, of course, because that’s where we bond (over food). He stared at me for a puzzled moment, and then started imitating me. So, there is hope.

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Jobs jobs jobs and Michael Bay’s Transformers

If you are in need of a job, may I suggest working on a farm? True, the work is back-breaking, exhausting and often involves hours of being bent over like a croquet hoop (if you’re picking strawberries). However, there’s work here in California. Plenty of it.

In other news, I recently made the mistake of watching Michael Bay‘s current Transformers. $6.50 for a late afternoon ticket. Kids were off camping with the grandparents, wife was down in LA visiting her grandmother, self was alone and in need of seeing robots blow stuff up. So, I went to see Transformers. This might be the understatement of the year, but they blew up a lot of stuff in that film.

That’s also the plot line: an exciting story in which robots blow stuff up. Or smash stuff.

The film seems to be doing very well, scooping in tons of money here in the States and overseas (see: Michael Bay laughing all the way to the bank). But there’s not much of a plot. So what does that mean? My storyteller’s mind stumbles and trips on this. I guess one answer is that Mark Wahlberg has a lot of diehard fans. I also guess that’s not the right answer. Maybe the answer is just that a lot of people like seeing robots blow stuff up. Or smash stuff.

By the way, Mark Wahlberg is an immense improvement on Shia LaBeouf (or however you write that kid’s name). Better actor. Generates more empathy. Plus, he doesn’t go around getting plastered and tossed out of nightclubs and generally behaving like a lobotomized chipmunk.

Which means a lot of people don’t really care about coherent stories, as long as there are robots smashing stuff, and there’s a cute girl who wears short shorts for most of the movie.

Hmm. This has implications for writing stories.

In other news, I ate my first Moon Pie. Ever. I only made it through two bites and then a great deal of my body said, “what the heck is this?” and “get this away from me now or I’ll file a complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services.”

So, no more Moon Pies. And no more stories with coherent plots.

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Hawk and His Boy on Audible

The Hawk and His Boy, the first book in the Tormay Trilogy, is now available on Audible.com. If you’re an audio-book lover, click on over and get a copy. The very talented Wayne Farrell did the narration, and he’ll be narrating books two and three as well. I’m extremely pleased to have another format available. I suppose the next format to tackle would be a film or TV version. If anyone has Joss Whedon‘s cell phone number, please let me know.

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song sketch: clock shout

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This one took about three hours from start to finish: writing through recording and mixing. Yeah, yeah…I can hear some of the smart Alecs out there already (3 hours? it sounds like 3 hours). Anyway, this is therapy for me. Much cheaper than paying some guy with a psychology degree to sit and listen to me not say anything and then scribble expensive things in his notepad.

There’s a lot of messy stuff going on in this arrangement (clipping meters, typically sloppy guitar playing, clueless drums, etc), but I think the shambling whole works with the sum of its parts.

And…instead of writing epic fantasy like I should, on to the next song. Though, I do need to do an edit on the short-form Rangers script. Shooting starts in August, and there’s some cleanup necessary, plus one long scene that needs to be savagely shortened.

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audio Hawk

Once upon a time there was a little book called The Hawk and His Boy. A narrator got hold of it and decided to turn it into an audio book. And now, in several days (or several days plus a day or two), the Hawk shall appear on Audible.com. That’s that, eh?

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The Rangers in pre-production

Lieutenant Wolf of the RangersThe Rangers is currently in pre-production, with filming scheduled for August. We’re doing a short film of 40 minutes, fully funded from our Kickstarter campaign from earlier this year. In a nutshell, Rangers is an epic fantasy off-shoot of the Lord of the Rings in sensibility and types of characters. The story involves a Ranger unit operating in the wild lands, trying to administer the King’s justice while fighting off bands of orcs. A deeper darkness, however, has come to the wild lands, an old evil that is working behind the scenes to topple the kingdoms of men and elves.

I co-wrote the script for this one, along with Scott Mathias and Ron Newcomb. That’s the same trio that wrote The Fellows Hip: Rise of the Gamers, the indie comedy that won Best Feature at the Indianapolis Gen Con Festival 2012. While that film didn’t get theater play, it has gotten plenty of foreign television deals (France, UK, Russia, the Middle East, etc), as well as straight-to-video deals in places like Walmart, as well as streaming on-demand on Netflix, etc. Ron is directing the Rangers and Scott is producing.

There’s quite a market for epic fantasy films these days, not that that’s apparent from the Prince Korlan of the Dark Elvesmovies showing up in your local cinemaplex; rather, there is a steady stream of low-budget indie fantasies from companies such as Arrowstorm Entertainment. Epic fantasy, as a genre, has a fan demographic that consumes at a fast and rapid rate. Therefore, a great deal of new stories are needed, whether that be in book form, comic form, or film/tv form.

Celistar of the Wood ElvesAt any rate, I’m looking forward to what Ron and Scott and Company pull off. Shooting will occur in the Virginia area. If you’re interested in working on the project in a crew or cast capacity, please get in touch with the production office (there’s info at this link for how to upload Youtube auditions if you’re interested in a part). I’ll post updates from time to time. The images in this post are from some conceptual photo shoots: Lieutenant Wolf of the Rangers (that’s Wolf Sherrill, who played a big role in our previous film, The Fellows Hip), Prince Korlan of the Dark Elves, and Celistar of the Wood Elves).

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Hielo y Fuego

Yo no comprendo mucho español, to be honest. Even though I grew up working in the fields with plenty of Spanish-speaking folks. I did learn, however, a great respect for the humble jalapeno. Anyway, I’ve started securing translations of some of my books recently in Spanish and Portuguese. Fire and Ice is the first to come out of the kitchen. Hielo y Fuego, translated by the cheerful and efficient Ines Galiano. It’s currently available on Kobo, iTunes, Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In other news, I’m tackling a new project that has everything to do with writing books but nothing to do with me writing books. It’s secret for now, but revolves around the fact that I’m more of a reader than a writer. To be honest, I could care less if my books don’t sell another copy. While I love writing, writing is it’s own fulfillment. However, the thought of never being able to read another book…well, that’s a completely different kettle of chanting fish. Never having another book to read would be horrible. Thus, the secret project.

All shall become clear in about two months.

In other news, garden gnomes are making a stunning comeback in the state of California. They’re even voting. Early and often.

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The Rangers – epic fantasy web series

Looks like we’ll be kicking into a summer production for The Rangers web series. The same core team that produced the indie film The Fellows Hip: Rise of the Gamers will be running this project. I co-wrote the script for The Fellows Hip due to an old friendship that traced back to my grad school days. Ron Newcomb, the director of that movie, is going to direct The Rangers, and Scott Mathias, the producer of TFH, will be producing The Rangers.

I co-wrote the script for The Rangers with those two. I must say, I’ve never written a script that fast in all my life. Not that I’ve written a lot of scripts (maybe six so far?). Books are my cup of tea (I tend to only drink mint tea, and then with lots of honey and lemon juice). At any rate, I think the project is going to be a little gem. Both Ron and Scott are dedicated and quite focused. What’s more, they know what they’re doing with budgets and schedules and talent.

Anyway, stay tuned…

…and, by the way, if you know anyone who wants to get involved (either on the talent side or the funding side), let me know.

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