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So.

I am finally wrapping up production on the second book in the Skyla Traveler series, entitled THE UMBRAL WAKE. It should be out in the next month and I’m both relieved and a little exhausted. YOu can get the first book, A LATENT DARK for free this week.

You see, I’d never written a sequel before, and as it turns out, there are a lot of ways to massively fuck up a second book. I am guilty of a few of them, and as a consequence, the initial Beta read was not great. You see, sequels are weird in that you already have the universe laid out for you. If your big kick in the first book was in discovering the world, then I got news for you: the second book is going to feel like a chore. Sequels force us to dig deeper, try harder, and show the reader something they haven’t already seen. Here’s a few things I took away from writing my first sequel:

 

1. Every ending is a beginning – Did everyone end up with exactly what they wanted at the end of the first book? Well, then we have a problem. See, stories need to go somewhere and when you end your book on the happiest of endings, it doesn’t leave much room to improve upon things. Every solution has a problem, so what problems does the ending of your first book set you up for?

2. People need to be reminded of just who the characters are again – A LATENT DARK (currently free on Amazon until sept 12th) had a lot of characters. I found myself discovering characters faster than I knew what to do with them. THE UMBRAL WAKE even picks up on a few side characters readers might not even remember from the first book. You have to give some point of reference so that everyone knows who is who. This could be as simple as a sentence or two…

3. But don’t obsess with backstory – The biggest problem I had with THE UMBRAL WAKE was refraining from going overboard with backstory. Yes, Scribble was a side character in the first book, but that doesn’t mean we need an entire chapter dedicated to him that takes place before THE UMBRAL WAKE even really begins. Too much backstory takes away from the momentum of the book.

4. Keep the ball rolling – The point of a sequel is to give readers a continuation. It’s about keeping the momentum of the first book and letting it move along naturally, while at the same time providing deeper insights into the characters. Not to harp on backstory, but too much of that crap and you’ve just stopped your story cold.

5. Dig deeper – Sequels are your opportunity to show how your characters cope even when they think they’ve won. It’s a chance to blindside them (and the readers) into situations they hadn’t predicted.

6. Formula can be dangerous – Your hero defeated a dragon in the first book. Don’t just give them a bigger dragon in the second. There has to be a deeper threat, one that spans the theme of both books combined. Otherwise you’re just writing stories that become as predictable as an episode of HOUSE. The HARRY POTTER series is a good example of what to do. Even thought Rowling kept the theme consistent, the threats were both new and old. Sure it was a basilisk in book two, werewolves in book four, but the deeper, consistent threat was that Voldemort was growing stronger, giving us all that slow build of anticipation to the final battle. Sequels have to carry that momentum through and leave us wanting to read the next one as well.

7. There still has to be theme- Just because you don’t want to be boring doesn’t mean you can throw curveball after curveball. You’re writing a larger chapter of a bigger story. You still have to keep things within plausibility.

8. Every solution has a problem – Your character sealed that door to the netherworld, but she borrowed the nails from a spectral hardware salesman who wants them back. Or maybe you blew up the enemy city which was about to unleash a doomsday device. Well, good job; now that city is in ruins and overrun by mutants. Maybe you finally saved the last unicorn from poachers and it’s living happily on your ranch. You’re in for a shock when that unicorn goes into rutt. Fixing one problem doesn’t mean you’ve fixed all problems.

9. It ends when it ends – The good and bad thing about sequels is that they don’t have resolve the entire story arc. They can be bridges, but they still have to lead somewhere. You don’t have to cram five books of story into it, but at the same time, you have to give the readers some degree of closure. Endings don’t have to be final, or happy, but they have to be satisfying and interesting.

10. Character is still king – Your characters are the vehicles of your story. If you are driving your readers around in an uncomfortable, stinky, shitbox of a car, or a boring beige sedan, it will matter. People stick with stories because they care about the characters. If you’ve given them nothing to care about, they are under no obligation to care about your book.

11. It must, MUST be interesting – This is maybe the vaguest and most honest rule in fiction writing. It can be a five page run-on sentence, it can be an army of prepubescent bear cubs in New York, it can be the self-discovery of a cricket finding itself on the back of a naked gigolo. None of that matters. All that matters is that it’s interesting, whether it be the writing, the prose, the structure, the character, the ideas. Boredom is death for a novel.

 

Anyway, I’ll be promoting THE UMBRAL WAKE a lot more in the upcoming weeks, including a cover reveal soon. I hope the five of you reading this blog finds this list somewhat helpful.

So I curated a story bundle at StoryBundle

 

I got approached a few months back to not only participate in a horror bundle but to curate it as well. Seeing as I’ve never done bundle curation before, I found the task somewhat daunting at first. Where do you even start? We received dozens of submissions, some of them amazing, many of them difficult to choose from. We managed to narrow it down to these nine books, some of them by authors you’ve no doubt heard of.

http://storybundle.com/horror

All Covers Large

A couple of great things about storybundle is that the books are all DRM free, meaning you’re free to move them from device to device, or share them with friends–though it would be awesome if they bought in as well. The bundle also gives you the option to donate a portion to charity, which makes everyone feel good about capitalism.

 

So swing by if you want to take advantage of it and get yourself some really great books.

STEAMPUNK EXTRAVAGANZA!

 

 

steampunklit

 

 

So there’s this thing going on this week, a steampunk fest, where a bunch of steampunk authors are going to tempt you with their steampunk books. It’s an impressive collection by plenty of solid authors. I had the opportunity to interview one of these authors.

Pauline Creeden is the author of ARMORED HEARTS,  a Victorian era steampunk novel. You can see it there on the graphic next to ALD.

 

1. First, who are you? Introduce yourself.

I’m Pauline Creeden ~ A horse trainer from Virginia who writes for therapy. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, because I have a degree in Creative Writing, and working with horses happens to be very stressful…but it gives me a unique level of expertise when dealing with the Victorian era of Steampunk.

2. As far back as you can remember, what were the first authors who inspired you to decide to become a writer?

The book that sparked my love for reading was Little Witch by Anna Elizabeth Bennett. When I finished that book, I was so enthralled, that I asked the librarian to recommend me another. She recommended The Secret Garden, which, I’m sad to say I found IMMENSELY boring. But this misfortune lead me to decide then, in the third or fourth grade that I wanted to be an author and write books that weren’t so boring. Through high school, I absorbed all things Poe and Stephen King, and in college, I loved Anne Rice and Oscar Wilde. Overall, I discovered that I enjoyed things dark and fanciful. And that is what I write.

3. Let’s talk process real fast. Would you say you’re more of a gardener or an architect when constructing a story?

Typically I’m a gardener. I nurture and pull weeds, but I hardly even plant what’s there. It just sprouts up and I keep the pretty bits.

4. Tell us a little about ARMORED HEARTS? What’s it about?

When Melissa Turner Lee and I got together to pen Armored Hearts, we wanted to create a Steampunk Fantasy that would introduce the genre to an audience who may not even know what it was. I have written short stories in the genre and have another completed novel that is undergoing edits, so Melissa came to me with her story ideas and we hashed things out together. In general, Armored Hearts is a romance – fae fantasy – set in a Victorian retrofuturistic parallel to our own history.

5. The hero of your story, Gareth, is disabled and faces certain physical and emotional challenges. What challenges as an author, did you find yourself running into, writing a main character in Gareth’s situation? 

Gareth is a sourpuss. He’s surly and spoiled, and tends to hate life and nearly everyone in it. The hardest thing to do? Make him likeable. We did our best…and according to the reviews, some felt we succeeded, others, failed.

6. How do you feel a steampunk setting affected decisions made in the story? Did you set out to write a “steampunk novel” or did the story simply demand that it exist in a steamdriven universe?

For the story to fit properly, it had to be right at the turn of the century. Gareth is a nobleman and needed to be in a time when nobleman mattered. Jessamine is a forward thinking American woman whose intelligence is only supported by her intellectually set parents. The characters demanded the time period, and the freedom added to the period by the use of steampunk technofantasy? Makes the genre unparalleled.

7. Of all the characters in this book, who would you most like to meet/least like to meet and why?

I’d want to meet Thompton. Because in our collective imaginations, he looks like David Tennant. And why? Two words. David Tennant.

8. Tell us a little about the Steampunk Lit Extravaganza and what it means to readers?

Steampunk, like children’s literature, can be as wide and varying as Little Witch and The Secret Garden. Mind you, only one of these two books is considered a literary classic, and it wasn’t the one that I enjoyed reading. Tastes vary as much as there are tongues…or rather minds to do the tasting. So this Extravaganza, to me, was created to take the one genre we all enjoy and expose as many people to it as possible to create new fans of the period.

 

ARMORED HEARTS is available on Amazon.

 

Version

Flash fiction is a story told usually in 1000 words or less.

Version

© 2013 Martin Kee

1.1

And here we are. Jennings is still taking the condensers out of the back compartment, but once he gets those situated, I think we’ll be ready to check in with colony prime and have our first official meeting away from home.

Gotta go grab a shower before the meeting. I feel gross.

1.2

Meeting went well, but Jennings laid it on a little thick. I’m sure the supervisor wasn’t thrilled when he mentioned we’re a week off schedule. She made it clear we need to hustle now if we’re going to be ready for that supply drop. Those drones punch through the fabric of space pretty fast, and we’re easy to miss. Hopefully, we’ll have the beacon ready. Cracker rations only go so far. There isn’t enough mustard in the world…

1.3

As far as colonies go, Ragnarok is small, about three hundred folks, which is a good manageable number. I heard Beta-Nine was packed into their chambers like sardines when they colonized. We’ve come a long way.

Jennings is overseeing the comm deployment, which is good news. That beacon is key.

There are thirty-six human colonies, all founded within the last fifty years. I remember hearing that biological evolution moves in jumps, and I’m inclined to believe technology works the same. They’d only just found a way to punch through to another solar system, and a year later people were building ships. I think it’s fair to say nobody could fucking stand Earth anymore, and who could blame them?

We’d known about this place almost ten years before we could visit. Man, does it feel good to get away from all Earth’s problems.

Hold on, Jennings is here.

1.4

Slight hiccup in the comm array, but you know the saying: tell God your plans for a laugh. Jennings says it fell in the night, but I looked at the tower and there’s clearly some incompetence afoot. Thing was bent like a vine when I went out to it. Solar flares or not, it takes a lot more to bend plasteel than “a fall”. I’ll see if I can get to the bottom of it.

In the mean time, they’re throwing a meet-and-greet tonight with the rest of the rations. I’ve advised against it, but Jennings says, “With the beacon up and running, we’ll have more food than we can eat in our lifetimes this time tomorrow.”

Maybe I can sneak away during the dance and double-check that comm array…

1.5

I could only take a few minutes of that music. Ran off to check on the comm array on the hill. I’d asked if they’d scanned the strats before erecting it this time. Jennings confirmed that it’s solid.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“We looked,” he said. “Nothing but dirt and rock. It’s solid.”

So I figured everything was fine. Well, it’s not.

There’s a cable missing, the cable that connects the beacon to the comm array. Am I making sense now? Yes? The beacon was hooked up, but it was just talking to itself. I’m going to have to figure out how to break the news to everyone. Probably need to go tell them now before they eat all the rations. Then I need to wash up and talk to Jennings…

1.6

People are disappointed, but they understand. We’ll start from scratch with what we have now, maybe send out parties to find edible plants. The fauna here is scarce, and they assured us there’s nothing much bigger than a housecat out in those woods, but we’ll send weapons with them just the same.

In the meantime I’m going to discuss our situation with the supervisor tonight and hopefully they’ll send another supply drone.

Fucking Jennings…

1.7

Jennings was found dead today at the comm tower. We’re not sure what it is, but his hands are bleeding and covered in some kind of infection, small slivers of black can be seen under the nails, like he’s been clawing at something, but we aren’t sure what. Doctors should have an answer by the end of the day.

The scouting party returned and with good news. They brought some berries and fruit. We’ll have those tested asap.

I’m also getting a headache from all this stress. I could use a shower.

1.8

The fibers found under Jennings’s fingernails seems to be a kind of fungus. It’s not from Earth. Definitely from here, but they can’t figure out where. Maybe I need to head back to the comm array again.

The good news is that the fruit checks out. People are eating and happy, so that’s good.

Still, I hate the air here. Sticks to you.

1.9

The array is broken again. This time twisted and laying in pieces. There’s no way we’ll get it repaired now. I explained to Phillips, who took over after Jennings.

He just gave me this look. Not sure what that meant.

I washed up and… here’s the thing…

My shower head is filthy, black mold coming off the nozzle in long strands. Also, I found marks after I shaved my head this morning, like someone was clawing at the back of my head. The hairs look an awful lot like those tendrils under Jennings’s nails. Dark. Wiry. I think I’ll take them in to the doc in the morning… on second thought, better not.

2.0

I found the body today, crammed into the cooling duct above my bunk.

I’ve suspected most of the night, and I imagine the crew has too, otherwise they wouldn’t have locked me in my room. But they’re in for a treat once it takes them too. There’s no way to tell when it’s happening. None. Hell, I didn’t even know until I found my own face, staring back at me from this cooling duct.

It’s fine though. We’ll all be better adapted to life here in the end.

For now I’ll just wait.

A new review for A LATENT DARK

Patricia Eddy of Author Alliance gave ALD a 4.5 star review, which makes me feel all fuzzy inside. Or it could be the whiskey.

Read it here if you like.

In other news, things are moving along. The space opera novella (currently titled PATCHER) is due to be back from beta readers and into the hands of editors in the next few weeks, and ALD2 is heading off to an editor hopefully by the end of the month.

In other other news, this current project is killing me. KILLING. ME. I am at the point now where I see very clearly that I will need to once again, re-outline and rewrite from the beginning, perhaps throw out the current world as well, just like I did with BLOOM at around revision 8.  I’m on the third revision of this one, and yeah, I can see the signs. So no I’m torn between the feelings of “I have to finish this no matter what” and “I know now what I have to do to make it better, so do it.” And it’s not a fun place to be.

This book also covers a lot of familiar tropes as well, which I think, is part of the problem. I don’t want this to be “another science fiction book about X that reminds you of that other book that did it better.” I want to break some new ground on this, and that birthing process is often painful and destructive. But my wife is gone all this week, so I might find myself with nothing to do but write. Which could be fun, assuming I can stay away from the video games. Maybe I’ll play DISGAEA and just call it research.

Misadventures in social network PR

 

 

There’s a misconception among non-writers, that we writers simply make a book, put it up there on Amazon and watch the millions roll in. Now with the AuthorEarnings site up, there’s even more speculation over numbers. I’ve posted before about how there is no one path and that even if you write a great book, nobody may ever read it. That’s where social network marketing comes in, and there’s a lot of it.

So I decided after flailing a little on this one novel I am in the middle of, that I would bite, and check out some of these social media services, since I myself, am not nearly as gifted at gaining a following on Twitter as most people, and that seems to be the one thing all authors need to do these days. And don’t get me wrong, even if you are a traditionally published author, they still expect you to do this, promote yourself on the Twitters and Facebooks.

Now granted, I understand, and believe in the capitalist law that you have to spend money to make money. That being said, I tried two small experiments (now, keep in mind that with my lack of experience, I could have possibly done these better).

The first was a Twitter shotgunning site. These are where a twitter user has thousands of followers, who you can reach by paying them to tweet your book. In this case, it was a bargain for my shoestring budget. 500 tweats for somewhere in the neighborhood of $10, which for a starving, obscure author, seems like a deal and a half. So I signed up. It was pretty much as easy as a paypal signature and linking my book. They aggregated everything else from the link and my author profile alone. Easy!

Within a day I had an author page up on the site, linking to BLOOM, and I decided to try a second approach as well. I posted a link to the author page on Facebook, then decided to boost it using Facebook’s ad engine. Again, I went cheap, and maybe that’s part of my naivete here. I paid for a boost of about 10,000 views, which, to me seems like a lot. Again, this was all very tentative on my part. For the next 24 hours I watched my page views go from the tens to the tens of thousands. Yay me!

Meanwhile the twitter shotgun was firing every day, perhaps several times an hour, “Magnificent Fantasy Dystopia!” with my tag, and the link to the book. People retweeted, people tagged me, people posted this over and over… until I realized that they were all pretty much tweeting the same thing, all of them “Magnificent Fantasy Dystopia!” Every one of them. Word for word. It was, in essence, an echo chamber, all of the twitter accounts following one another, all of them giving the impression that they had thousands of followers, when in fact, they were the followers.

End result? One sale.

That’s it.

One.

I gained maybe 5 twitter followers, but there’s no direct correlation there. Now, this isn’t really a cautionary tale, or a warning or any of that. Maybe with a wider net, it’s possible I could have sold as many as TWO copies of BLOOM. That’s almost a latte at Starbucks worth of profit!

All this being said, and all joking aside, the thing that sells books is word of mouth. If you love a book, you tell people about it. I buy books because people reference them on Reddit, or they tell me about them, or they buy me that book. For indie authors it’s the same thing. And this all goes back to the same old saying again and again: word of mouth is king. Because books are a commitment, and nobody wants to waste their time.

It also makes a good case for traditional publishing houses. Why? Because like it or not, they vet their books. You can argue till you’re blue in the face about “But TWilight!!  BuT FIFttY SHADES OF GREAYYY!!!” all you want. Fact is, trad-publishing houses know how to market. Most of us don’t. It’s still by and far the one reason I will never stop sending queries to agents and publishers as my first choice.

I’m proud of my books. I treat them with all the professionalism I can. I invest in them, but nobody is going to read your book if they don’t know it exists.

Oh, and the shotgunning site is still tweeting me, by the way.

It ain’t all bad and it ain’t all good…

As I sit here procrastinating revision of a new book, I find myself looking through my favorite guilty pleasure.

You see, there is this website called Reddit, and in this website, there are a number of what are called subreddits, little mini forums where people vent, share and generally contribute to the community of heir choice in the way of their choosing. My two favorite subreddits (when I am feeling particularly self-indulgent) are /r/writing and /r/writingcirclejerk. I won’t give direct links to these, because, well, it’s like jazz–if you have to ask, you don’t get it.

/r/writing has been through a lot of changes over the years. When I began work on my first novel, I found the subreddit to be a font of useful links (I discovered Chuck Wendig’s site this way), clever insights (Oh! Show, don’t tell), and generous advice for new writers. Maybe it still is. Honestly, writing is like that. After a while you don’t need to hear “show don’t tell” or “remove your passive voice” over and over. And for some people, this is still valuable information, and I love that about the subreddit. Somewhere down the road however, there came a point where /r/writing became silly. I don’t mean this in a bad way… or maybe I do… maybe it’s the whiskey. Let me explain.

Writers love to talk about writing. I mean, we fucking LOVE it. WE. FUCKING. LOVE. IT. Don’t believe me? Ask any writing question to any writer in any venue and you’d better have a comfortable chair handy, because we will talk your fucking ears off like a rat on a corncob about whether we are pantzers or plotters, morning or evening, drunk or sober. ASK ME ABOUT MY PROCESS! DO IT! ASK ME!

I am guilty of this, as are all writers. Please, for the sake of our friendship, don’t ask me about my process, because I think there are few authors out there who love anything more than talking about writing. And it’s only interesting to us. And therein lies the problem.

/r/writing has become this: writers talking about writing. And it’s fucking addictive to writers. We’re like little bees, buzzing around our little hive, shaking our stingered asses to show everyone how WE found the nectar and how to make the best fucking honey money can buy. It is a downward spiral of self-indulgence that I think, sucks almost very writer down into its nether-realm, myself included. Why else would I be venting about this instead of revising this book?

Enter /r/writingcirclejerk, the irreverent silent goth kid in the back row, who loves nothing more than to make fun of the English majors sitting at the front of the class, trying to be Hemingway.  /r/writingcirclejerk is hilarious, and cruel, and clever all at the same time, and it has been a saving grace for me during times when the drain-spiral of self-indulgent writers has become too much to bare.

So it is with this post that I salute you, /r/writingcirclejerk, for making me remember to stop talking about writing and just fucking write this damned thing, because that’s what writers do. We fucking write.