Anyway, since I haven't been writing much lately, I've been reading instead and so I thought I would do a book review of my own. I used to be a big Stephen King fan, but then his work started disappointing me and I quit reading him. But I've been hearing good things about him lately again, so I bought one of his latest books, 11/22/63 and gave it a try.
Here is the review I put on Goodreads...
Stephen King is one of those rare
writers that is worth reading merely for learning the art of writing. While his
prose is rather ordinary, his ability to build characters, situations, and
moods as he progresses through his stories is unrivaled.
Having said that, I have always
felt that King sort of peaked a long time ago with the book, “It” and it seemed
his work took a sharp downward turn following that. After “Desperation” and “The
Regulators”, I pretty much quit reading him. They were well written, but they
just weren’t very good stories. It seemed like he had lost inspiration and had
fallen back on contrivance.
So it was with some trepidation
that I laid down the money to pick up a copy of 11/22/63.
Now, after finishing it, I can at
least be content it was money well spent.
11/22/63 is a big book, and it
meanders in places, but it is a great example of a master writer building a world
and characters, and introducing them to the reader. It’s about time travel, and
a man who goes back to try and stop the Kennedy assassination. And while this
is a plotline that has been done several times before, King does it in a fresh
new way and far more skillfully than most.
Jake Epping finds himself
confronted with a time portal, one that seems to have spontaneously appeared
due to some natural phenomenon. His
friend, has been using it for a long time but is now dying and wishes Jake to
undertake a task he failed to finish. Stop the Kennedy assassination.
The problem is that the portal only
goes to one date in time…about five years before the assassination…and the
future end of the portal is most likely about to be destroyed. So Jake has to
go back to 1958 with little preparation and build a life in the past as he
waits for the day of the assassination to arrive. He makes one trial run into
the past to prevent a different murder, just to assure himself that he can
indeed change it, then goes all in.
Much of what this book is really
about is the life that Jake (now George Amberson) builds for himself, and the
conflict that arises between that life and the mission he has taken on to
investigate Lee Harvey Oswald and stop him. What happens when you build
something good, but your efforts to change the world is throwing all that in jeopardy?
The past doesn’t like to be changed, and
it has a nasty way of fighting back.
In the end, this is a good book.
It’s not like his tighter, more
focused works from the “before It” period, but it is a huge step up from some
of the things King wrote immediately after that. It tends to meander, which dilutes
the tension of the story, but at the same time it helps develop the characters.
I definitely got the feeling this book was about more than just stopping the
assassination and changing the past.
King also does a great job of
putting the reader back in the late fifties and early sixties, with all their
beauties and blemishes. It was a very different world, and he does a good job
of demonstrating that.
My only complaint was he had a
rather nasty view of Dallas in that period. And while he defends that in his
afterward, as somebody who grew up in sixties and early seventies Texas I felt
that his take was sadly two dimensional and rather unfair. It also felt like he
tried to balance that out with a rather bucolic view of small town Texas, which
seemed at times rather condescending as well. But that’s a personal gripe on my
part and I’m not going to savage the book for that.
So I do recommend 11/22/63. It is
an engrossing read…an eight hundred page novel that I finished in two days. It’s
not exactly King returning to his old form, but more of him bringing his skills
to a different form and for the most part succeeding.
Yep. It's not really a horror novel, although it does have a couple of horrific scenes, but overall it was good.
Maybe I drifted into being a horror writer because deep down I knew I was supposed to be a super-villain.
I think I could have been a pretty good super-villain. I would have dressed nice for the part, and always carried the role with dignity. I would have avoided excessive monologueing, kept my airducts small and uncrawlable, an never allowed a self-destruct button within a thousand miles of me.
But I would have insisted on a shark tank.
Because if you're going to have evil henchmen, you've gotta have a shark tank. Nothing says, "You have failed me for the last time," like a short, exciting swim with the sharks. And it's a great motivator too.
Or maybe I really wasn't cut out to be a super villain.
I have been getting a lot of positive feedback regarding
Dead Stop lately, and naturally that feels really great. But a lot of that
feedback is coming with a question that is starting to feel inevitable…
“When is the sequel?”
I wish I had a good answer for that. At the moment I’m
working on another novel, and trying to focus on it, but I obviously can’t
ignore a question that keeps coming up this often. So I admit that while I’m
working on Argiope again, I do take a little time here and there to think about
a potential sequel to Dead Stop.
I did leave things where a sequel was possible. But just
because I left a group of characters alive in a situation of temporary safety,
does not mean that a sequel is easily written. If a sequel is going to be any
good, there has to be several issues addressed or it’s going to be subpar. And
as a fan of horror movies, I have seen far to many subpar sequels.
The first problem a writer has to grapple with is character
In a well written story, the character has gone through an
experience that has changed them to some degree, and the character at the end
is not exactly the same one you started out with. So in a sequel, you have to
evaluate where you character currently is and what kind of character arc you
are going to implement.
A good example of this would be the character Ripley from
the Alien series. In the first movie she goes from a somewhat by the book third
officer to badly frightened final survivor who is fighting for her life. In the
second movie she goes from a frightened survivor trying to get her life back to
a woman who is now fighting back and even performing the rescue of a child in
the clutches of the monster. After that the series starts to fall apart, and
one of the reasons is they had pretty much taken the character of Ripley as far
as they reasonably could. There were other problems too, but character was a
I’m going to use Alien and Aliens again for the second
problem as well. And that is the overall tone of the book. Alien was a creepy,
claustrophobic, haunted house in space. It was original, and it was very
successful, so one would almost expect the sequel to try and recreate that atmosphere.
But the sequel had James Cameron in charge, who was wise enough to take things
in a direction that was new, but also made sense considering the situation. The
second became a run and gun shoot’em up with strong elements of horror. And
while I didn’t agree with everything Cameron did, I admit it was effective.
So a writer has to consider the tone of a sequel as well.
Can he recreate the feel of the first book? SHOULD he recreate the feel of the
first book? What other tone could be reasonably struck with the characters and
situation at hand. These things have to be considered.
Yes, anybody can write a sequel. The question is whether or
not it can be a good one that is worthy of the first book.
Over at Goodreads, I'm giving away three free copies of Dead Stop. These will be signed copies of the paperback version. I guess I'm in the Christmas spirit since all the stores are already decorating for it. And nothing says Yuletide joy like a bunch of carnivorous dead people trying to munch on a group of victims they have trapped in a truck stop!
(yeah, I better get to writing a new book or the jokes are just going to get worse)
The contest will run until December 10th, so feel free to enter!
Just a little more horn tootin' to get the morning off right :)
Bricks of the Dead, a rather unique blog dedicated to Lego's and zombies, has a a review of Dead Stop. The author of this blog enjoys looking at common situations and cliches in the zombie genre and representing them with Lego scenarios. Check out the rest of his blog.
Headshot Heather over at Doubleshot Reviews has also written a positive review. Doubleshot Reviews examines books and reports on them with a coffee shop flavor...a really cool way to present things.
Other than that, not much to report at the moment. I'm still kind of spinning my wheels, and now trying to excavate my house from under the many layers of kid induced junk in order to try and get it ready for company on Thanksgiving. This is turning out to be quite a tall order...as it seems to buried deeper than normal this year. But I know it's under here somewhere, and I shall keep digging until I find it!
One of the most intense moments of being a writer is reading a review of your work by somebody else. These are the fruits of your labors, the children of your creativity, and you have now sent them out vulnerable into the world to be greeted with accolades, scorn, or indifference. The intensity multiplies when that reviewer is somebody who runs a website or publication that features reviews. You know that they have gone through a lot of material, and their opinion carries weight.
So it was something of an experience for me to have not one, but two of my works reviewed over the course of five days.
It appears she liked it, and I thought it was cool how she did a story by story mini-review of each work in the anthology. Shades was my first attempt at a self published anthology, and it got sort of orphaned without any attempt at marketing after I published it. Now I've finally sent it to a couple of reviewers so I'm hoping it continues to be well recieved.
It appears the novel was well received as well, which is always a relief. I like that he zeroes in on one of the things I intentionally focused on in the novel...reinventing the graveyard zombie in such a way that it actually makes a little sense, and operates in a fashion that would be rational for such an entity. So it was a bit of a delight to see somebody recognize that.
So now I head into the weekend feeling pretty good about the world. I've dusted off Argiope, and started writing on it again. So far, so good...but as I said before, no promises. I'm also beginning to feel the hint of a short story or two tickling at the edge of my consciousness. So things look promising.
One of the things
writers are often encouraged to do is to read other peoples books or go watch
movies in the same genre you write in. The idea isn’t always just for
inspiration, but also to recharge in a way. Sometimes you get inspiration
anyways, and that is always a bonus.
With that in mind, I
went to my local movie theater and sat down to watch the movie Sinister.
The good news is
that I actually found the experience both useful and enlightening, and it gave
me much to think about writing wise. The bad news is that it was mainly due to
me sitting there recognizing one thing after another that the movie did wrong,
or I would do differently.
Overall, the movie starts
out with a solid premise. A crime writer moves into a house where a family was
murdered years ago, as added inspiration for writing a book about the event. So
far, so good…but almost immediately it falls foul of one of my axioms of good
horror movies/writing. That axiom is “Everytime your story depends on your
protagonist either acting a jerk or being an idiot in order for the situation
to work, you weaken your story.”
And in Sinister’s
case the first violation of that rule is the main character keeping it secret
from his family that this is the house where the crime he was writing about
happened. Yeah, okay. The reason given is his obsession with writing another
bestseller since it’s been so long since the last one…but it just never felt
convincing. Then, when he finds a mysterious box with a movie projector and
films…and they turn out to be films of previous murders…does he turn this new
evidence over to the police? Nope. He keeps them to himself for the same reason.
Again, even an obsessed man would realize he wouldn’t be able to use it in his
book because he would get busted right away. Not our boy. And of course, it’s
never really dealt with.
Then, along with
these actions which really sort of took me out of the movie, I got treated to a
few scenes which have me considering a NEW axiom for supernatural horror
movies. That tentative axiom goes “Ghosts and other supernatural manifestations
should be witnessed by the audience along with the character.”
There were several
scenes where the protagonist walks past a ghost without seeing it, or the
audience being treated to an appearance of the ghost without the main
characters knowledge. For some reason, the only effect of that to me was this
feeling that the audience was being let it on something the character wasn’t
aware of and it wasn’t very scary at all.
I kept thinking how
they might be trying to imitate a scene like the one in Halloween where Nancy
Loomis’s character walks past the French doors and the serial killer is
standing in them, then turns around and walks past them again and now he’s
gone. If so, then it’s a mistake because the context is different, meaning the
scene can’t be that effective with a ghost. With a serial killer, you know he’s
still there somewhere and wondering if he’s around every corner the potential
victim turns. With a ghost, it just means it’s vanished.
To me, unwitnessed
ghosts just don’t work.
Anyways, by now I
supposed you can figure out that I’m not recommending this movie. Despite what
should have been a good setup for a horror movie, it just wrecked itself in too
many ways. It depended too much on the main character acting an idiot even when
his kids are having problems, and the excuse for that idiocy just didn’t seem
That manuscript that sits unfinished on the shelf. The one that gets pulled down time to time, and grumbles that he needs to finish what he started. The one that goes back up on the shelf as another idea which shows more promise of actually getting finished comes along. The one that soon finds itself labeled as "that project," whose sole purpose now seems to be something to grouse over between other projects.
The "problem child."
In my case, it's a project carrying the placeholder title of "Argiope," and now that I have finished "Dead Stop" it has inevitably returned itself to my attention. And since it is the last of my old projects, I guess it should.
It's the story of a man who recovers from a car accident with moderately disabling injuries only to discover that his brother and family have disappeared on a family outing. Not long after launching a search with his own funds, his detective suddenly turns up dead and he is nearly killed himself in attack at his own swimming pool. Then things go from deadly to unbelievable when a woman shows up the hospital and shoots her way through an entire squad of police officers in an attempt to kill him. He also learns there are real monsters in the world.
I'm about 85,000 words into this story, but the original ending I had just didn't work and as I realized that the writing ground to a halt. I estimate this to be about a 135,000 word novel, so if I ever finish it would be my largest to date.
So once again, I'm going to try.
Since other writers will be doing Nanowrimo in November, I'll be doing my own version as well. I will dedicate November to the effort of trying to get Argiope closer to completion. No promises. No guarantees Just the resolution to spend a month trying and seeing how it turns out. The idea is that by the end of the month I'll know I have something I can finish or something that needs to go back on the shelf.
This gives me three days to mentally prepare myself for this. That's actually an important part to writing sometimes. Sometimes it flows from the start...but sometimes it takes a little firm resolve and a vow or two. Or as my friend Lenka puts it...you have to push off from shore.
I'll push off from shore with Argiope on Nov 1. Then I guess we'll see where we land.
So after getting Shades out the door in February, and Dead Stop published in September, I had these grandiose plans of getting three novel sized projects finished in 2012. Visions of glorious productivity danced in my head. I was certain that words would continue to fly from my keyboard in a crescendo ending in a third project wrapping up at the end of December.
I don't think it's going to happen.
After a bunch of marketing in September, I found myself sort of just staring at the screen this month. I haven't even totally decided what my next project IS yet. Argiope? A sequel to Dead Stop? Another bunch of short stories? Nothing has really grabbed my muse yet and made her go "THERE! There is what we are going to do!"
So the wheels spin.
But I am at least thinking about it. I just haven't gotten anything yet good yet. I do sort of hold out for good these days.. It works better.
In it's two weeks of existence, it has already become my bestseller by far. I'm really gratified to see people enjoy it so much, even as I try to understand why it's doing so much better than my other works.
Is it the cover?
Is it the genre?
Is it the story?
I have submitted it for lots of reviews, but none of those have come back yet. I ran a one day free giveaway on it at Amazon.com and that's when it's rank initially fell below 10,000, but it had actually been doing okay for a completely unannounced work before that. Since then it's rank has held pretty steady around ten thousand, which is the best of all my other stories.
I'm very happy with the story and characters in the book, but I like to think I do a pretty good job in that regard in all my stories. So I'm looking at the way this is happening and I really have to wonder how much cover and synopsis play in all of this. Joe Konrath seems to think these are two of the most important things for indie books, and I'm starting to lean towards agreeing. Remember, none of the review blogs have reviewed it yet, so that seems to be the main basis people are buying it on.
I may go back to look at the covers and synopsis's of my other stories with an eye towards improvement.
Another possibility is that zombies seem to be a very specific genre with a dedicated fanbase. There are some truly passionate followers of the genre out there. So there may be a pool of readers out there waiting for each new release to come out in that field. If so, I'm really glad I did my homework before writing this book because passionate fans of a genre can be the most demanding.
Either way, it's been a pretty good two weeks and I'm about to start off my next project in a good mood. I'm reading through one of my shelved novels at the moment with an eye towards starting it up again. But while I'm doing that, I'll be sure and keep an eye on this in order to learn all I can.
Well, my latest progeny has been out in the world for almost two weeks, and I've been busy promoting, posting, and pestering every book blogger I think might even have a chance of being willing to review Dead Stop. Paperback copies of the novel have been mailed as far as England. Heck, I even got one blogger to review the book I released earlier this year...Shades. And I'm playing with the Amazon KDP Select promotions as well, trying to learn that. That's been educational as well.
So I've been busy.
But what I haven't been doing is writing.
The thing about marketing is that it requires a certain mindset and focus that somehow seems antithetical to writing. It's like you can't do both at the same time. Currently that is okay, but I do need to get back to writing soon. But for now, I just want to focus on getting Dead Stop the best start I can. So I'll focus on marketing a little longer. And since i can't seem to write, I'll get some reading in instead.
Dead Stop is now available at Amazon.com in both paperback and kindle versions.
This is my humble contribution to the zombie genre, using an updated and what I think is a more realistic version of the old graveyard zombie. I actually did quite a bit of research before starting this book. I wanted these zombies to ultimately both make sense and be frightening at the same time. I guess time will tell if I succeeded.
It's the story of a small and varied group of people who find themselves caught in a nightmarish and deadly situation. They are trapped in a rural truck-stop by the residents of the nearby county cemetery during the middle of a fierce storm. Many have already died, and their time is running out before the dead get into the building where they are hiding. Their only hope is to find a way to escape before dawn.
The paperback version costs $8.99 and the Kindle version is currently available for $2.99. .
Dead Stop has been cleared by Createspace and is on it's way to Amazon.com. The ebook version is under review and should hopefully clear in the next 24 hours as well. Both versions should be available soon. I'll be sure and post when they are.
For now, I just wait.
The writing and editing are done. Now I catch myself staring stupidly at my laptop, trying to think about what to do. Novels are like that. They sort of become the reason you're sitting down in front of your computer. Then when they're done, you're left staring at the monitor and wondering "Now what?" Maybe that's why they can become hard to let go of....why the writer always wants to do "just one more editing pass." Because once it's gone, there is nothing to do but start over.
Time to move into the uncharted territory of a new project.
But not quite yet.
There is still a little time to enjoy the sense of closure that comes with a finished project. Maybe even have a celebratory dinner with a friend or fellow author. Then I will have to make sure all the proper announcements are made, and that people get to hear about it. There is still much to do. But...
I've just ordered proof #3 for Dead Stop. Errors from the previous two copies have been fixed, and the placement and size of the title on the cover has been corrected. Unless something really unexpected shows up in this copy, I should be hitting the publish button on the print edition late next week.
I'm confident enough in this draft that I'm now moving on to working on the ebook version. Now it's time to play with the vagaries of ebook formatting. I always love this part (not!). Trying to figure out why it puts spaces between paragraphs when your document doesn't have those...trying to figure out why the third link in your active table of contents doesn't work...trying to figure out why it decides to put a page break where you didn't put a page break...and generally by the end of it I'm trying to figure out why I didn't just become a plumber instead.
Oh well, it is what it is...and I'm almost done. Besides, I really like this story. Hitting that publish button is going to sorta be like saying goodbye. I'll kind of miss these characters. They were fun.
My second author's proof for Dead Stop came in the mail today, and I can already see the need for a third.
I felt the title and name were a little too small on the first proof, so I had them enlarged so they would be more visible in a thumbnail. The result was the cover in the post below this one. I think the enlargement itself was an improvement, but once the actual author's proof arrived in the mail I could see there was a problem. As can be seen in the photo above, the alteration also brought the title right up against the bottom of the cover. That wasn't so evident when just looking at it on the Createspace preview.
So that's no good.
The lesson here is never trust what the preview on your computer says it's going to look like. Always order a physical copy and see what the real deal is going to be.
I will be raising the title part and uploading it again. Then I'll have to order a third proof to find out for sure what the outcome will be. I will also give the interior manuscript another go over as well. It's coming soon, but it has to be right!
I have just uploaded a corrected manuscript of Dead Stop to Createspace. Lots of words were cut, lots of apostrophes were added (one of my proofreaders asked me if I had some kind of moral aversion to apostrophes) and some misspellings were fixed. Overall, the manuscript is almost there. Once I get this author's proof back, I'm hoping it will pass a full inspection.
I also intend to upload a slightly altered cover (above) as well. It's pretty much the same thing, except the title and author part has been enlarged. This is to help it be more visible and clear on thumbnails. It does seem to be an improvement.
So far, that September deadline still looks eminently doable.
Last of all, an author named Dean Wesley Smith demonstrates a rather novel idea on his blog. He is making print copies of single short stories. I have a few of those laying around. Hmmm.....
That wonderful, once-a-year week when we throw two hyperactive children into a small car and drive them down to Galveston...where we will herd them through all kinds of sites and attractions while stuffing them so full of sugar that they will literally be vibrating. And this is what the wife and I call fun...
Anyways, I shall take my proof of Dead Stop with me and do some more error catching while the kids sleep....assuming they ever sleep. Then hopefully I'll be ready to make an amended manuscript to upload to Createspace. But, until then....
Welcome to the Textro Truck Stop…where they have hot food,
hot coffee, and even hotter waitresses.
It’s a slow Friday night at the Textro, and business isn’t
expected to pick up until the football game lets out in nearby Masonfield. Deke,
backed up by his friend Harley, is here on a mission of romance. Rachel
Sutherland has come to unwind from a bad day at the clinic. Thomas “Grandpa
Tom” Burns and “Leaping” Larry Brown are dropping in for some diesel and
coffee while, across the diner, Holly just wants to get her socially disastrous boyfriend, Gerald, home.
Waitresses Stacey and Marisa are taking it easy, serving the few patrons while
waiting for the game crowd to arrive.
But things are about to get busy in an unexpected and deadly way.
There is a storm coming in and the crowd that arrives with it isn’t from
Masonfield…at least, not anymore. These surprise guests are from the nearby
Mazon County Cemetery, and they have their own idea of what should be on the
Now a dwindling collection of locals, waitresses, truckers,
out-of-towners, and one astonished veterinarian find themselves in a desperate
fight for survival against a foe they thought only existed in the movies. And
as the night wears on they discover that if they don’t escape by dawn, they may
I have now uploaded Dead Stop to Createspace, and my first author's proof has been shipped. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, but this step really helps in that process. Having my novel in book form makes catching errors that made it through the early phases of editing really stand out for me. I really recommend that other indie writers use Createspace just for this reason alone. But anyway, while I wait for the proof, I've given my brain a couple days off from writing and editing. Instead I'm just using the time to kind of cogitate and let the lessons of this latest project sink in.
My family and I joined some friends for an outing to Double Lake in Sam Houston National Forest. Unable to frolic in the water with the others, I amused myself by doing some photography. After all, one of those lessons I'm letting sink in is that if you're going to do your own covers, you're either going to spend money on cover art and licenses to photos, or you need to build up your own library of photographs for future use. So everybody had a good time swimming, fishing, and me doing photography.
I also kind of toyed with some story concepts that were inspired by my new surroundings. I have definitely got to get out more, because of that very inspiration. It's too easy for a writer to become a hermit, especially if that writer has mobility issues and kids. I'm gonna have to work on that. Hermits make better philosophers than fiction writers. And photography would probably be a good reason to do it. It's creative, inspiring, and only as physically demanding as you make it.
As I struggle forward in the editing and cover art for Dead Stop, I realize how fortuitous it was that I managed to finish the rough draft before the kids got out of school for the summer. I'm considering the idea of doing nothing but writing during the school year, and setting projects aside once they reach rough draft status. Then I'll do all the editing during the summer when the kids are home and disrupting the kind of concentration I require for writing. It might work better for a guy with my abilities and weaknesses.
I've been approaching being an indie writer, and Dead Stop, in a sort of 'renaissance man' fashion. The idea of being completely responsible for the book, from one end of the process to the other, has a certain appeal. It has been, and still is, a real challenge. While my intent is to ultimately be able to do everything, I do now accept that there will be times that what I want is simply beyond my skills. So places to go for professional editing and cover art have been bookmarked...and all suggestions for such have been very welcome. (Thanks Alva, you also taught me something with the comment about 300 dpi. I didn't know that.)
One definite future use I will have for a professional artist is going to be the already published Shades anthology. I think it lends itself to internal illustrations and would definitely benefit from them. Just because a work is published doesn't mean it can't be improved. I think one or two black and white illustrations per story by a competent artist would be perfect. So that's something that is on my "someday list".
One another note, on the CMT front. As the disease progresses in my hands, I'm starting to have a problem with my little finger not going to the correct keys. It's just the one on my right hand so far, but I know it's something that I'm going to have to compensate for someday in the future. It doesn't worry me all that much, because ultimately typing is something you can do with two fingers if you have to. But it is something I need to start keeping a sharper eye out for when editing....pay closer attention to quote marks, periods and commas, and brackets.
Oh well, that's it for now. Time to get back to rearing children and editing.
I remember once telling a friend that when "everybody" was telling you not to do something, that maybe it was time to stop and at least consider the possibility that "everybody" might be on to something.
With that in mind, I kind of understand how that person felt because sometimes you're just not wanting to hear what a bunch of different people are telling you. In this case, after several eager presentations of the first candidate for cover art to a bunch of different people, the consensus is in. Everybody pretty much likes what I've done with the title, and the blurb at the top, but that the picture itself has just got to go.
And I listened, and I can see their point of view. I didn't want to...heck, I had a cover that wasn't terrible and it hadn't cost me anything. But sometimes you just have to admit that "not terrible" isn't the same thing as good. And this story deserves "good".
So, as I look over the second draft and consider some tweaks here and there, I'm also going to back up and reconsider my options for cover art. The story itself has a couple of scenes that would make a great cover, but that would be way outside my skills as a cover maker. So to go with those ideas would require a pro...which is likely not in the budget but I will do a little research in that area.
Another approach is to try and come up with something that is strong but graphically simple that conveys the tone and story of the book. Not easy, but I will definitely be exploring that option as well. I just don't think this is the type of book that would be served well by a blank cover of some color with nothing but the title and my name on it.
Sigh! Welcome to one of the dilemmas of an indie author. You see? Publishers, even small publishers, DO do things. It's just a different path among many.
Oh well, back to the drawing board.
Update: Alrighty then! Lets look at Cover Candidate Number Two!
The Dead Stop manuscript was officially upgraded to second draft this morning. For me, that's a big step towards finished since I do tons of revisions in each draft. I'm now at the point where I'll just be evaluating the use of passive voice, the way sentences flow and if the different paragraphs and scenes have the rhythm I want, and basically polish.
I've been working on cover art too.
Above is the latest upgrade in the current theme I have going. I intend to explore a couple of other cover ideas, but decided to keep polishing this one until I got the correct photos and elements for the others. In the process, i'm learning more about my photo editor. All this learning is going to give my poor old brain a cramp. And I still have so much to learn.
Now I'll have to start turning attention towards marketing as well. I want to give this book a decent start, so I'm going to have to come up with some strategies for that. Oh well....work, work, work, study, study, study...
Recently, while working on editing the manuscript to my latest project, I remembered a problem the last editor I worked with had pointed out. It seemed I had a tendency to over use the word "that". So keeping that in mind, I decided it might be a good idea to see if it still held true. So using the "find" function in word 2007, I had it do a "highlight all" of the word "that".
Then I watched my document light up like a Christmas tree.
Therefore, lately my job has been herding kids and squashing "that"s. As of now, over seven hundred of the pesky four letter words have been sent to that giant word bin in the sky. Maybe somebody else can use them. But at least the first pass of THAT project is done. Trust me, going through a ninety-five thousand word manuscript just ferreting out and squashing one word is a chore. I still expect to squash a couple of hundred more in the next pass. Then I guess I'll do a pass paying closer attention to the passive voice.
So yeah, editors are those people you never miss until you miss them. But I guess I would have still had to squash the word myself anyways.
Technology has allowed writers to
do more and reach more people directly than at any other time in the course of
history. Nowadays, any writer who spends a little time educating him/herself
can write, edit, format, and publish his own book and put it up for sale in an
online market viewed by millions of people a day. That’s pretty impressive when
you think about it. Especially when you realize this was almost impossible as
little as ten years ago.
But that technology which has so
empowered us also comes with a dark side. A malevolent force so black and insidious that
we often don’t even realize its dangers until we have fallen deep within its
An evil known as Facebook.
It lulls you in with it’s siren
call of sociability. It even lures authors into it’s deathly embrace with the
promise of marketing and exposure. But that’s not what it really does. Oh no,
the reality is far different. What it really does is something so pernicious
that many writers do not see it happening until they are already in trouble…for
it does just about the worst thing you can do it to a writer.
It wastes time.
It sucks us in, and before we know
it we are a week behind on our editing, and that last chapter is still only
half written. It even gets in our head so that when we are trying to focus on a
particular scene, half of our brain is wondering what we are missing that one
of our friends in another state might be
doing. And what if somebody wants to chat? Oh no! We dare not fail to keep
checking in just so we don’t miss such an opportunity!
Argh! That last is the worst part,
because a writer truly needs to be focused.
So I’m going to work on taming this
evil beast. I shall forbid myself from going near it before noon for a
beginning. We’ll see how that works. It’s not like anybody really has much to
say before then anyways. I think I might also put it off limits after eight
thirty as well. That’s when the kids go to bed…prime time for writing.
I'm working my way towards turning the rough draft into a first draft. Then I guess I'll have an entire manuscript for the proofreaders to dig in to. At the same time I'm still messing around with cover art possibilities.
In this second candidate, I have the same picture art but a new font and logo are used at the bottom, and a new blurb is inserted at the top.
Not a lot else to report. Just lots of kiddo time as the kids are home for the summer, with little snippets of writing and editing squeezed in.
UPDATE: I have had it suggested to me to add the word "just" to the blurb and change it to, "It's a dark and stormy night, and Armageddon has just dropped in for dinner." Hmmmm....
There is also "is dropping in for dinner" to consider. Sigh...decisions, decisions.
Hmmm...the whiter text in the title might look better too...
While the editing for Dead Stop begins, I've also started working on concepts for cover art. The above is my second concept, which takes a bit of a different approach than the first. This one incorporates the element of the storm from the story, while the first one used a bloodsplatter against a white background.
Both utilize the female zombie (nominally the main one that appears in several places in the story) and large ragged fonts in red for the title. They are both comprised of pretty simple elements. Neither are what I would call true book cover quality. But for now I'm just putting together elements and ideas, and trying to figure out what direction I want to go with this.
So now I'm at the stage where I start going back over my labor or love and identifying all the blemishes. It's not always easy to to, and yet at other times it can be too easy as well. That why any writer worth his salt has to have proofreaders. I will begin with the problems I have found myself, and some that have been identified by a couple of prrofreaders who were allowed an early look at the manuscript before it was finished,
Currently that involves a lot of sentences that were too long, an action by a veterinarian character that both a friend and my veterinarian wife informed me was way wrong, a problem with restating the obvious and beating the reader over the head with some things, and several other character interactions that need work. Apparently, the zombies themselves are a big hit with all readers.
Anyways, this is the part of the process that can be the most painful...but it is also the part that elevates your work from the poor or mediocre, to the polished effort worthy of a readers time. Its kind of like preparing a kid to send out into the world. If you're going to go to all the trouble to have kids, it only seems right you should prepare them so they have every chance to succeed. It's the same thing with a novel or collection of short stories....after you have put all the work into writing the thing in the first place, it only seems logical to make sure it goes out into the world in the best form possible.
It's just not as fun as writing the thing in the first place. But after doing it a while, you can really start to take satisfaction as it begins to take shape as an obviously superior product to the original. So there are rewards. It's just the gratification isn't immediate at this stage, and I think a lot of us writer types are all about immediate gratification. I know that's been an issue with me from time to time....just a teensy bit.
Anyways, it's this and the cover art to keep me busy. And busy I shall be.
Today, at the count of 95,250 words, the (very) rough draft of Dead Stop is done.
It is the largest novel I have written to date, but I assure you it will probably read faster than any of the others I have done. It is fast paced, and an almost non-stop thriller once it gets going. And it gets going pretty fast.
Dead Stop represents my foray into the field of zombie novels. As always, I did a lot of research and read a lot of them before deciding how to develop my own take on this genre. I wanted the zombies to be as authentic as possible and fearsome as well. I also wanted the story to be more than just a buffet of 2 dimensional characters fed to the monsters in a bloody assembly line....although there is plenty of blood.
In the end, Dead Stop does a lot that is classic, but it is mixed with a lot that is new.
It's the story of one slow night at the Textro Truck Stop, and how things liven up when the inhabitants of the nearby graveyard drop in for a bite. Things happen swiftly and over half the living people at the Textro are dead before the initial assault ends...leaving a small band of survivors trapped, cut off from the world, and with time running out. Armed with little more than the courage, wits, and skills they brought in with them, the survivors must find a way to escape by dawn.
While the rough draft is done, it is still a long way from being ready to publish. There is going to have to revisions, edits, and multiple tweaks to both actions and characters. There is also the matter of designing and producing a good quality cover. I have a couple of ideas in mind, but they're going to push my photographic and photo editing skills to the limit.
So there is a long way to go. I don't expect to have this book ready to publish until sometime near the end of summer.
It is one that has haunted me for the past five years. It has caused me grief, frustration, forced me to miss deadlines, and at times has even made me difficult to live with. As much as I try to forget it, it rears it's ugly head from time to time so I can no longer pretend it isn't there. No matter how hard I try, I cannot escape it. It's just something I have to grit my teeth and suffer through.
You think I'm talking about my CMT? Nah, I've got that handled.
I'm talking about something that causes me even more gray hair and bouts of elevated blood pressure.
I call it Almostdoneitus
The cause of this horrible condition is unknown, but it's main symptom seems to be that the closer I get done to finishing a manuscript of any kind, the more I struggle and the slower I write. And as I approach the very end, it's like mental blocks start falling into place and I end up sitting and staring blankly at the screen or getting an uncontrollable urge to go scroll thru facebook.
I now have half a scene to go in order to finish the rough draft of my novel. It's the next to last scene of the story, and it has been giving me so much trouble that I skipped ahead and wrote the epilogue to get that out of the way. I figure it will take about three thousand words to finish that scene...something I could usually crank out in a day. But since this is all that's left, I wouldn't count on that.
Somebody needs to come up with a vaccine, because I hate this stuff.
Sometimes it takes a little music to help get the old muse kicked into gear. Here is what I am listening to as I try to work my way through the last part of my novel.
Losing ten days of writing this month, due to Mr. Laptop taking a vacation, has put my June deadline for finishing the rough draft in peril. But I think it is still achievable. Then I'll have the kids home all summer to help me with the editing!
I am happy to report that Mr. Laptop is home and healthy, and ready to resume work.
Remembering how long it seemed to take to get fixed when Mr. Laptop broke down in January, I was ready this time to make better use of the days without my electronic companion. I decided to brush up on my reading, with an eye towards improving my prose. And the man I turned to for that was F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Over the course of Mr. Laptops absence, I read "This Side of Paradise" and "The Beautiful and the Damned." Both are very worthy titles, if you can get into the idea that these are not what usually pass for novels nowadays. They are both more like character studies. They follow the lives of two similar main characters from boyhood to a crucial turning point in their lives. But while I found the characters, and the way their personalities shaped their fates, fascinating....it was also the prose that made these stories work. It was an education reading them.
Stephen King once said, "If you don't have time to read, you don't have time to write. Simple as that." I'm really becoming a believer in that.
There is a lot to be learned from reading masters of prose like Fitzgerald, Chandler, or even Bradbury. After ten days in their company, I looked at my current project with fresh eyes and see how it could be done so much better in places. So my Kindle now has a folder for "Literature", mainly for writers who I'll download for my own edification and to learn as much as I can.
Writing is good. But writing and improving is better.
I'm going to be sure and make more time for reading in the future.
Due to circumstances beyond our control, service to this blog has been temporarily suspended.
In other words, Mr. Laptop went kerblooey! and has been sent off for repairs. This means that writing, blogging, Facebook (sob!), and other things that are taken for granted in the 21st century can now only be done with great difficulty as I try and sit on the floor and use the kids computer.
Please bear with us while we work to resolve this problem.
I intended to start a diet today, but since my son's birthday party was yesterday the house is full of cake, ice cream, and other gastronomical land mines guaranteed to destroy my will power in seconds. So, instead of dieting my new plan is to eat it all up so I can start dieting after it's gone. Yeah, I know there is a flaw in that logic somewhere but it's a plan, and it's what I got.
And the frustration extends to the writing front as well.
Once again, my famous plague of Almostdoneitus rears it's ugly head. Just a few more chapters to go and the rough draft of my next novel is done. Of course, that means every word suddenly becomes a labor to write, and I'm down to churning out a feeble two hundred words a day. Gah! Some people have trouble getting started, while I always start struggling as I approach the end. And the hilarious thing is I know exactly how the thing ends. Fortunately, I gave myself a month to finish this thing and I think I will still make it in under the wire. That will give me the summer to focus on editing, and cover design.
Then I suppose I could dust off Argiope and see what I could do with that. Wouldn't that be awesome? Getting three books out this year? It's actually remotely possible. But for now, I will focus on finishing book two.
Assuming I can finish these last few chapters and not eat my laptop :P
There are those times as a writer,
when you are writing your book and everything is smoothly following the
outline. The scenes, already preconceived, come together with little effort.
And the characters each make their entrances, speak their lines, and follow
their proper cues. Everything hums along, and things are hunky dory.
Now there are also times when the
outline just doesn’t seem to work and the result is flat, contrived, and
uninspired. Sometimes this is the result of a poor initial idea, and sometimes
its just poor implementation of the outline. Either way, when writing with an
outline this is a problem you will encounter from time to time.
But this post isn’t about that
problem. It’s about a different one.
Sometimes, when you least expect
it, a character you are writing will take the bit in his mouth and head off in
a direction totally unplanned. There you are, minding your own business and
pecking away at the keys, and one of the characters suddenly takes on a life of
their own. Sometimes it’s in a minor way, like insisting on a line that you
hadn’t planned. Sometimes it’s more significant, like them stamping their feet
and insisting you are having them do something they wouldn’t do and they try
and do something else on you. And every so often, maybe once in a blue moon,
they go berserk and take over the whole scene and rewrite it at the same time.
(I had this happen today in my
current project when my tough but somewhat stoic waitress suddenly flipped her
lid, went totally cuckoo bananas, and rampaged maniacally through a scene where
she was supposed to be grimly but dutifully supporting the male lead. What was
supposed to be a scene of grim, intense combat against long odds turned into
something darkly hilarious and slightly disturbing. It even foreshadows her possibly
getting together with the male lead later. )
And when that happens, the author
suddenly finds himself with a tough choice. One wanders away from ones outline
at peril. Doing so can slow down, or even stall a project that had been on
track while the author tries to figure out a new way to go forward with the
book. On the other hand, when characters start writing themselves they come
alive to the reader as well as the writer. The new scene is often more
authentic and alive than what was originally in the outline, and it should not
be discarded lightly. It just reads better.
So in the end the author is left
with three choices… discard the outline, discard the scene, or try and make the
two coexist. When the third is an option, I’m pretty sure only the most
pedantic of writers won’t take it. (fortunately, today’s character blowup for
me falls in this category). It’s when it’s not that the writer must make that
toughest of choices.
And to be honest, I don’t know how
to give advice on this one.
I have one novel stalled because I
followed the character, but then discovered that later scenes I had mentally
outlined no longer worked because of it. On the other hand, two different
characters in that novel are much more interesting because of that, and when I do
figure out a way to go forward the book will be the better for it.
So I guess if I have to follow my
own example I would advise following your characters when they are willing to
take the lead. But be very wary if they start to wander far. Characters don’t
know where you are trying to go with a story, so always keep that in mind. They will give you scenes even better than the
ones you originally imagined, but they may also end up causing your manuscript
to sit on the shelf while you try to figure out
how to finish the thing.
When I was a youngster, the most magical day of the week was Saturday.
The weekend had begun, the neighbor kids were all hunting something to do, and Sunday school was still a day away. Nothing that we had to get up early for, nothing that we had to take a bath or dress up for, and the parents were still too tired from their own work week to be too restrictive about anything that kept us out of their hair.
From the time we got up till two o’clock in the afternoon, we built secret hideouts, and had bike races, and fought our own versions of wars against the nazis or the communists or space aliens and roving biker gangs. During the autumn, there was often an impromptu game of football between all the neighborhood kids or we rode our bikes over to the abandoned hospital and told each other stories that we “heard” about how haunted the place was.
But at 2:00 all of that got put on hold.
Many of us would race home to watch the Saturday Afternoon Matinee. And then the magic would really begin…
The Mummy, The Creature From the Black Lagoon, Godzilla, Vincent Price, Gamara, Tarantula, Christopher Lee, Dracula, The Black Scorpion, The Werewolf, The Lost World, King Kong, Sinbad, Jason and the Argonauts, Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein, The Blob, The Valley of Gwangi, Earth vs the Flying Saucers, and on and on and on…
While my parents worked to provide food to feed a growing boy, these were the fuel of a growing imagination. Afterwards us boys would meet and enthusiastically discuss the merits of the movies and the monsters involved. Heated debates would erupt over who would win battles between the true stars of these pictures, and much thought was put into the chances of any of them ever coming true. And sometimes at night, when going to bed, some of those monsters became just a little too real and happened to be just the right size to fit in the closet at the foot of the bed.
Then parents would be summoned and they would grumble and wonder aloud why we would want to watch things that kept us up at night. And naturally we completely agreed and swore off monster movies forever. But next Saturday at 2:00 PM, our posteriors were once more planted in front of that TV. Because those movies were magic, and kids know that magic matters.
So today I listened to my son bewail the fate of being a bored eight year old and happened to think of those movies. Just out of curiosity, I did an internet search to see if I could find clips from any of those old movies. So imagine my surprise when I discovered you could find many of them in their entirety on Youtube…for free.
In no time at all, laptop was hooked to big screen TV and boy was planted firmly on couch with strict instructions not to move. And the first movie selected was “The Black Scorpion,” a fun little tale of giant scorpions from deep within the earth that now threaten Mexico. It took a little effort to keep him still through the “talky” parts, especially early in the movie, but when the scorpion showed up I saw the magic appear in the boys eyes.
It was a hit.
So next week I think we might try “Tarantula,” or perhaps something other than a giant insect. “Valley of Gwangi” would probably go over pretty big with him too. Seriously, how do you top cowboys and dinosaurs?
But as I watched the movie with him, I realized that all those years ago while I sat enraptured in front of that black and white TV, the seeds that would one day help me become a writer first took root. And while I have no idea if the same will happen again, I like the idea of passing those same seeds of imagination to my son. It’s kind of a legacy of sorts.
And I intend to watch more for my own benefit as well. Maybe even some I missed as a kid and always wanted to watch. Those old movies had a certain enthusiasm to their imaginings that I find missing in most films today. They weren’t slick, or polished, or sometimes very well written, but they were magic.
And if I can capture even a hint of that magic in my writing, I will consider it a job well done.
Well, it’s time to start the next writing project.
After the way I did things with Shades, I’ve learned that it’s not a good idea to keep reporting on everything you are doing with a project, so I’m going to play things a little closer to the vest for a while. I’ll wait until I have something concrete to report on the project before making a big deal out of it.
So for now, all I’m going to say is that I’ve started working on my next project.
I guess that will limit my posts to other things for the duration. That’s fine. I’ll go back to using the blog to talk about writing in general, and occasionally throw in snapshots of life as well. Maybe even practice my photography. I know I’m not near good enough to be a cover artist, but it’s still fun to play with and see what I create.
Other than that, I’m just going to go quiet and work.
There’s only two months left until the kiddos are home for the summer. So a deadline of sorts already approaches.
D. Nathan Hilliard lives in Spring, Texas with his veterinarian wife, two children, and two cats. He draws his inspiration from a childhood living in different small Texas towns, accented by teen years spent in western New Mexico. He has experienced life through a diverse collection of jobs ranging from meter reading and being an assistant manager at a convenience store, to working at cotton gins, window factories, and uranium mills. After coming down with Charcot Marie Tooth (CMT) at the turn of the century, Mr. Hilliard now happily settles for tending house, raising his kids, and exploring the field of writing.