Mark Boss's Blog

November 9, 2015


The following is the third in a three-part series about the craft of writing, specifically characters and situations, why we write stories, and how to refill the creative well. These conversations took place in early October 2015 with author Tony Simmons and myself.
Mark: One last thought. I’ve been thinking about this one a lot lately. I’m convinced — you’re torn so many different ways. You’re expected to blog, you’re expected to tweet and Facebook and all these different things. But every time you do that during the day, I think you use up a little bit of creative energy. Maybe not a lot, but a little bit. And then you have to wonder, is there any left over when you actually go to write? So my question is not whether that’s worthwhile or not — because it’s probably necessary — but rather, how do you refill the well after you’re tapped out, after a long week or a month, or even when you finish a long project? Because with a book, you might be committing to a year or two’s worth or work.
Tony: And that last push leaves you with the thousand-yard stare.
Mark: And by the end, you’re a zombie. How to you refill the well? What goes into that to bring the water level back up? ... I find that I do a flurry a reading as soon as I’m done (writing) a book. All the stuff that’s been piling up on the Kindle or in stacks, and not just fiction, a lot of non-fiction. When I’m working, I might be reading about 50/50. But afterward, man, I’ve got to fill my brain back up. There’s wanting to catch up on all the TV shows you missed and all the movies you didn’t see. So, for like a month, I go nuts. But then, pretty soon, there’s that itch like, man, I’ve got to write something. You can’t wait until you feel full again to start writing.
Tony: For me, there’s a couple of things. One is, I give myself permission not to be obsessed or upset that I’m not writing. I didn’t always do that. I don’t really do a lot of reading while I’m in the middle of a project. I’ll read a comic book, or magazine articles, watch TV for an hour or two — during the writing process. After the writing, I want to go somewhere.
Mark: A change of scenery, literally, to refresh the brain.
Tony: Clear the palate, yeah, and I think that’s why going up to visit Birmingham even jumpstarted that (steampunk novel) idea. I was in the middle of a project, and it was driving me crazy trying to finish it so I could start the new one. I was writing notes on one and working on the other. That’s one thing I do, even if it’s just taking a day, me and my wife going to Apalachicola (about a 90-minute drive from home) and walking around. Just something to change the surroundings for a few hours and get your head out of the space it’s been in.
Mark: Get away from the computer. Plus, you bring up the point: Even though you have a new idea in your head, the discipline — the part that’s the difference between being a professional and not — is that you finish the project you’re on. And then you start the next one. You don’t get distracted and start something else. It’s a small point, but important for other writers out there, and readers.
Tony: Yeah, there’s really only two rules: (/Holds up one finger/) Sit you’re @$$ in the chair and write. (/Holds up second finger/) Finish what you start. Even if that means just getting to a stopping point. I spent too many years dropping a project and starting something new, just to drop that too.
Mark: I think that happens a lot.
Tony: Somebody said it’s like being in love. You’re committed to this project, and all of a sudden you see this nice shiny new idea over there. And you’re like, this project is just not as pretty as I thought she was. She makes me work too hard. But this idea is exciting. I think I’ll go play with this one a while.
Mark: I think it’s fear. I think people fear finishing. When you’re done, the dream is over. Now it’s time to let go. I really do think fear plays a big part in that. It’s easier to tinker than to finish.
Tony: Today, that fear goes even further. I can submit to all these (traditional publishers) and if they say no, then in the old days that was the end of the story. Now you can publish yourself so fairly easily that you don’t have any excuse to keep it hidden away in a drawer.
Mark: You can’t say, “Well, they kept me out. I never got my shot. I never had a chance.” Now, your baby has to get out there and compete, and it might get beat up on the playground. Those are my deep thoughts I had recently.
Tony: I appreciate it, because I had no deep thoughts to bring to the table.
Mark: You’re good at spontaneous deep thinking.
Tony: Or bull*******.
Mark: It’s a craft.
Tony: It can be learned.
(Check out Tony’s stories, available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.)
(Photograph is “Lazy River” from Peter Griffin at PublicDomainPictures.net)
(If you found this interesting, hit the button on the right and sign up for my mailing list. No spam, just good content and a free story.)
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Published on November 09, 2015 10:06 • 2 views

October 28, 2015

Hey Readers, Superheroes Aliens Robots Zombies (SARZverse Book 1) is now on the popular ebook site AskDavid. AskDavid helps you find new books. Hit the link and check out my page, then use AskDavid to find your next book.
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Published on October 28, 2015 14:23 • 2 views

October 17, 2015


(Author Tony Simmons)
The following is the second in a three-part series about the craft of writing, specifically characters and situations, why we write stories, and how to refill the creative well. These conversations took place in early October 2015 with author Tony Simmons and myself.
Mark: That brings me to my second question: What is it in us that demands that storytelling? I think you go to your caveman, and other people (with him) like stories but there’s probably only one person in the tribe or village that’s a storyteller, and he’s probably a shaman or he’s painting on the walls — “Oh, that was the best hunt ever!” (The number of storytellers is) probably a bigger percentage of the population now because the tools are available to write, but telling stories has always (come from) a small part of the population. I think it only feels big now because there’s so many people publishing. Why is it a small part, and why are people like us driven to tell stories?
Tony: If you strip all the publishing away from it and get down to storytelling, I think everybody tells stories. Every conversation we have with our loved ones, we’re telling stories. If my Mom calls and tells me about an uncle that’s not doing well, she’s storytelling. As a people, a species, we developed language and writing — well, in part to keep track of what we were telling —
Mark: To give it permanence, because we wanted to give stories multi-generations.
Tony: But in those days, and up until recently, most people couldn’t read and write, but everybody would go down to the square to hear the town crier tell what happened in the court, or gather around their radio to listen to serials.
Mark: My grandfather told stories on the porch, and neighbors would come over to listen.
Tony: When it comes to writing, I think the difference between most people and people like you and me is the difference between a child drawing a picture with crayons and the artist painting a landscape or portrait. We found something in us that felt fulfilled and we were drawn further to continue filling that empty hole in our hearts.
Mark: You’re so driven, you spend years learning the technical skills, just like a painter. You take it way beyond what most people would do because you spent all these years developing it. If everyone else did that, you’d have a lot more people who were writers. They’d end up at the same place.
Tony: It is a craft, and it can be taught. It can be learned. Those of us who felt drawn to it also had to learn it —
Mark: Over a long period of time —
Tony: With a lot of trial and error. ... If I turn away from it for too long, as you do from time to time, I actually feel heartsick, like there’s something missing. That ‘something’ is telling those stories. At least, for me it is.
Mark: Sometimes it’s the only way I can cheer myself up. If I sit down and start writing, within an hour or two I’m smiling and happy again. It’s unreal. It’s weird how sometimes you purposely turn away from it, then you think, “What the heck was I thinking? Why am I not doing that?”
Tony: What are we hoping to do is to write something that’s going to affect somebody. That they’re going to carry with them, share with other people, and it’s going to make their world a better world, and it’s going to go on beyond you, after you’re long gone. Or, we could just be writing stories to have fun with. If we’re lucky, we’ll be like H. Rider Haggard and a hundred years after we’re gone people will still be making movies out of our stories.
In the next post, we’ll talk about how writers and readers can refill the creative well.
Meanwhile, check out Tony's books, available in ebook and paperback at Amazon.

(If you found this interesting, hit the button on the right and sign up for my mailing list. No spam, just good content and a free story.)
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Published on October 17, 2015 09:06 • 4 views

October 12, 2015


If you enjoy books and writing...
The following is the first in a three-part series about the craft of writing, specifically characters and situations, why we write stories, and how to refill the creative well. These conversations took place in early October 2015 with author Tony Simmons and myself.
Mark: We were talking the other day about characters. You read Stephen King’s “On Writing,” and he says he always starts with a situation; I started thinking, how predominant is that? How many authors start with a situation versus starting with a character? When you told me about your Alabama trip, it seemed like the seed of it, the germ was the character first. What triggered that idea, and then did you build the situation around that character?
Tony: I think that story came out of inundating — immersing myself in a bunch of unrelated ideas. I’m in Birmingham, and there’s a lot of stuff about the Confederacy, it’s an iron town — that whole blacksmithy, iron works, steam era feel to it. And I’m reading a lot of steampunk. All of those things fed into the mulcher, and then, driving home, seeing those old Southern city names —
Mark: Specifically, Jemison and Thorsby. Were they in that order?
Tony: Yes.
Mark: Because you might not have thought of it (if they were in the reverse order).
Tony: Right. That came from character first, from a mixture of the names and a time period I had floating around in my head. So in a way, the situation was kind of already there. I was primed to find a story that was steeped in the Old South.
Mark: Which is quite a departure, because I’d say most steampunk, maybe 90 percent of it, is Victorian England. At best, they cross the Channel to France. So Steampunk-USA is a departure.
Tony: With my Caliban stories, it definitely came out of character first. I was 14 years old and wanted to write Doctor Strange. Before I knew it, I wasn’t writing about the wizard, I was writing about the kid he trained and the development of his potential as a magic-user. Over the years, both of those characters kind of developed in the back of my head. — So, how about you, Mark? Character or situation?
Mark:  Looking at the last few books, I realize I’m going more ‘situation.’ My thing was a “what-if.” What if all these bad things happened at the same time? I love zombie things, and zombies were very big at the time. And yet I thought, okay, what if we ramped it up? Because one apocalypse is not enough for me. That’s just too slow. I want to see us get devastated. So you throw in aliens — the classic thing of alien invasion — and then you throw in a robot uprising, and then we’re starting to get it boiling. We’ve brought it up to temperature. Then I started thinking, everyone is going to be caught in this, but we don’t want to follow the people who just sit in their basement and wait for it to stop. We want to follow people out there actually doing things. The books jump around a fair amount to different characters. Even so, I tried to focus on the excitement: Let’s go look for the most important things happening or the most fun things happening. That was more a situation thing, but I had never thought hard about it until recently.
In the next post, we’ll address the question: Why do we make up stories?

(If you found this interesting, hit the button on the right and sign up for my mailing list. No spam, just good content and a free story.)

You can find Tony Simmon's novels in paperback and ebook at Amazon.
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Published on October 12, 2015 09:34 • 4 views

October 6, 2015

Chimp was overdue for a fresh look. You've probably noticed the new jungle pic, but I'll point out a few other important elements. (Buying a pic of a real chimp writing with a pencil is more difficult than I thought. Stock photo sites just don't cover it.)

If you'd like a free short story, sign up for my mailing list on the right-side column. No spam, just a fun story to read and an occasional newsletter that might make you life a tiny bit better.

I updated My Novels to share my new science fiction trilogy: Superheroes Aliens Robots Zombies, Robot Revolution, and Alien Invasion. If you want to take a look at them on Amazon, they're available in paperback and ebook.

I'm working on fresh content for the site, and it will be the usual eclectic/random mix of goodness. And I'm working on another novel...because that's my thing, man.

Thanks for visiting!
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Published on October 06, 2015 13:41 • 3 views

September 2, 2015

Okay, you’ve loaded your paperback book’s description to Create Space, but when it appears on Amazon the description is one big lump--a single, hard-to-read paragraph. Yuck. (Note: the ebook description you loaded directly to Amazon probably looks fine. Compare the two.)

I’ve searched all over the Internet for how to fix this problem and found few answers. On their site, Create Space says they allow limited HTML. Great. Except that <br>, <ul> and <li> look like gibberish if you don’t know HTML.

How about a simple solution? <p> opens a paragraph, and </p> closes a paragraph.

Here’s what the paperback description looks like on Amazon:Alien invasion. Robot revolution. Zombie outbreak. All at the same time. World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan--generations of war have killed most of our superheroes, so ordinary people like Special Agent Kyle Kane, Sergeant Starla Singer, and millions of others step forward to defend Earth. With the help of four rogue robots and the last heroes standing, humanity must unite or be destroyed. It’s time to fight. SUPERHEROES ALIENS ROBOTS ZOMBIES is the first in the SARZverse trilogy. Read Book 2: ROBOT REVOLUTION and Book 3: ALIEN INVASION for the complete saga.

Log in to Create Space and add your paragraph breaks:<p>Alien invasion. Robot revolution. Zombie outbreak. All at the same time.</p>
 
<p>World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan--generations of war have killed most of our superheroes, so ordinary people like Special Agent Kyle Kane, Sergeant Starla Singer, and millions of others step forward to defend Earth. With the help of four rogue robots and the last heroes standing, humanity must unite or be destroyed.</p>
 
<p>It’s time to fight.</p>
 
<p>SUPERHEROES ALIENS ROBOTS ZOMBIES is the first in the SARZverse trilogy. Read Book 2: ROBOT REVOLUTION and Book 3: ALIEN INVASION for the complete saga.</p>

And in a week or less, your description on Amazon should look like this:
Alien invasion. Robot revolution. Zombie outbreak. All at the same time.

World War II, Korea, Viet Nam, Iraq, Afghanistan--generations of war have killed most of our superheroes, so ordinary people like Special Agent Kyle Kane, Sergeant Starla Singer, and millions of others step forward to defend Earth. With the help of four rogue robots and the last heroes standing, humanity must unite or be destroyed.

It’s time to fight.
 
SUPERHEROES ALIENS ROBOTS ZOMBIES is the first in the SARZverse trilogy. Read Book 2: ROBOT REVOLUTION and Book 3: ALIEN INVASION for the complete saga.
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I hope this helps all the writers out there who’ve been as frustrated with this as I am. If you have tips to share, please comment.

Sincerely,
Mark
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Published on September 02, 2015 13:50 • 4 views

March 20, 2015


In an effort to learn how to use Goodreads, and to promote my thriller, ONE BULLET, I tried my first giveaway. A quick search online will find you a few dozen popular articles on how to conduct a Goodreads giveaway. However, not many of the articles provide any advice on how to deliver the actual books. But we'll get to that in a moment...
First, let's start with how many copies. Advice from articles as far back as 2012, tells you to give 50 copies or at least 25. This is not financially feasible for many writers, and newer advice says 3 to 5 copies. I decided on 3.
Time period. Again, older articles say to run the giveaway for a month, and get lots of entries. Newer articles advise short giveaways of 5 days, but to run them more frequently. I blocked out a five-day period of Sunday through Thursday.
Promotions. Goodreads makes you a nice little widget. You can copy/paste the widget into your sites and readers have a succinct ad with a button. But the widget would not work in Facebook, which seems a prime place to have such a widget. I settled for placing the widget in my blog and on my author site, and for Facebook I pasted a link to the giveaway on Goodreads.
Geography. A helpful article suggested including the entire world, or at least the countries where English is the main language. Without thinking, I followed this advice and opened the contest to the US, UK, Canada, and Australia. This was stupid on my part, because I didn't consider the shipping costs. I suggest you focus on the country where you sell the most and where it costs you the least to send. Remember, you're dealing with paper books, not ebooks.
Entries. Goodreads states the average giveaway receives 800 entries, and gosh, that sounds pretty good. I saw an initial surge of a few hundred entries on the first day, then a lull, and a surge the last day before the contest ended.  Total was 748 entries, which appears a bit below average. Then I looked at the giveaways and saw books which had 5 or 12 entries, and other books by famous authors that had 3,000 entries. Maybe the average is 800, but there are a lot more obscure authors than famous authors, and I'm in the obscure category, so I was happy with 748.
Costs. Oh boy, this is where you second guess your decision. There isn't much detailed advice on how to do this, so I'll tell you my experience and you can do what you think is best.  First, of my 3 winners, 2 were in Canada and 1 in the UK. What? So 3 of 3 are outside the US? I find that...improbable.
The first step is to decide how to fulfill the winning entries. You can order on Createspace or Amazon and send the book directly to the winners. Or you can have the books sent to you, then sign them and include a nice 'thank you' note, then ship them to the winner. The problem with the second way is that you pay shipping twice, which really jacks up your costs. So don't promise a signed copy unless you have the budget to handle the second method. Sending twice seems wasteful to me, so I decided on the first method.
Anyway, I looked at Amazon and Createspace, and while the shipping costs were fairly close, the price of the book isn't. For instance, on Winner A in Canada, using Createspace, I paid 5.17 USD for the book and 6.99 for shipping, for a total of 12.16.  For Winner B in Canada, using Amazon, I paid 8.27 for the book plus 7.48 for shipping, for total of 15.75.  The weird part is that the total for the book and shipping (on Createspace) to send to the UK winner was 10.05. So it's cheaper to send from the US to the UK than to Canada? Again, what?
The one advantage to Amazon is the ability to tag the book a "gift." This means you can type a personal note thanking the reader and encouraging them to leave a review. The Goodreads email about the contest results specifically asks you not to contact the winners with private messages, so having the Amazon option available is useful.
Total cost for books and shipping = 37.96.
Results. Of the 748 entries, 352 people added my book to their "to read" list. Will they follow through later and sample or buy it? I don't know, and only time will tell. Two of them rated the book, which is nice. I am curious if there will be a rise in sales in the next month, and will I get a few more reviews.
Similar to most types of promotions, it's hard to draw a solid line from the promotion to a sale. Rather, you're left with the vague idea that you've somehow made more people aware of your book's existence, and that is good. I'd like to have enough sales to at least pay for the shipping costs and break even, but we'll see.
Are these giveaways a good idea? I don't know. Since I don't have 700 followers on Twitter, or 700 friends on Facebook, reaching 700 new people sounds helpful. And it reached people on Goodreads, who actually read books, so that's nice. Perhaps what this article can do is give you some idea of the costs BEFORE you stage a giveaway, and help you consider what you might do differently and better. As one indie writer to another, I wish you luck.
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Published on March 20, 2015 12:04 • 30 views

March 16, 2015

.goodreadsGiveawayWidget { color: #555; font-family: georgia, serif; font-weight: normal; text-align: left; font-size: 14px; font-style: normal; background: white; } .goodreadsGiveawayWidget img { padding: 0 !important; margin: 0 !important; } .goodreadsGiveawayWidget a { padding: 0 !important; margin: 0; color: #660; text-decoration: none; } .goodreadsGiveawayWidget a:visted { color: #660; text-decoration: none; } .goodreadsGiveawayWidget a:hover { color: #660; text-decoration: underline !important; } .goodreadsGiveawayWidget p { margin: 0 0 .5em !important; padding: 0; } .goodreadsGiveawayWidgetEnterLink { display: block; width: 150px; margin: 10px auto 0 !important; padding: 0px 5px !important; text-align: center; line-height: 1.8em; color: #222; font-size: 14px; font-weight: bold; border: 1px solid #6A6454; border-radius: 5px; font-family:"Helvetica Neue", Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; background-image:url(https://www.goodreads.com/images/layo... background-repeat: repeat-x; background-color:#BBB596; outline: 0; white-space: nowrap; } .goodreadsGiveawayWidgetEnterLink:hover { background-image:url(https://www.goodreads.com/images/layo... color: black; text-decoration: none; cursor: pointer; } Goodreads Book Giveaway One Bullet by Mark Boss One Bullet by Mark Boss

Giveaway ends March 19, 2015.

See the giveaway details at Goodreads.

Enter to win
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Published on March 16, 2015 09:35 • 18 views

December 4, 2014

In the New Cold War, everyone is invited.

A few weeks ago, a buddy told me about a site that shows hack attacks across a world map.  (Please see map.ipviking.com)  Now the Norse Corporation that sponsors the site probably feels that the scary map is good advertising for their security products, and I’m sure it is.  The map portrays the country where an attack originates, the country that is its target, and the type of attack.  There is also a helpful stock ticker of attacks as they take place.  Frightening, interesting stuff.

I also began reading Fatal System Error: The Hunt for the New Crime Lords Who Are Bringing Down the Internet by Joseph Menn.  The book was published in 2010, so it’s a bit out of date, but it does a fine job of making the reader realize just how widespread and sophisticated cyber attacks are now.
What’s my point? It is as if we’ve entered a New Cold War era, but instead of the USSR and its allies versus the USA and its allies, EVERYONE is invited.

Let’s look at some of the actors in the current cyberwar/cybercrime scene.
1.  Countries:  When the Chinese military hacks the US military, and vice versa, they are acting in an official capacity, at the orders of their superiors, no matter how much they might deny it in public.  This is the old school style Cold War, and it was a closed shop where only the big boys played.
 
2.  Corporations:  Often the favorite victims of criminal hackers.  It’s like the old joke about robbing banks because that’s where the money is.  And corporations are getting hacked every day for valuable data like credit card numbers and personally identifiable information.  But there is also the lesser-known side of this where corporations hack each other in the modern form of industrial espionage.  Sometimes it’s easier to steal an idea or a tech than to bear the costs of developing it themselves.
 
3.  Criminals:  Cybercrime uses technology and social engineering to carry out the same crimes that would have been done with a gun or a knife in the past.  Sure, there are new crimes like identity theft, but data hostage schemes are just the new model of extortion.  It’s simply about the money, and politics doesn’t have much to do with this area because politics is the province of the...

4.  Hacktivists:  Tech savvy folks who use their skills for political causes.  This one is slippery because it may not be a formal group, but simply a loosely organized one-time act by like-minded people.  And the motive is to disrupt or punish people, organizations or countries they don’t agree with.  A hacktivist can even be a single person who sees something outrageous and decides to do something about it.

5.  Terrorists:  The Internet isn’t just for communications, and some terrorists have learned they can strike at their enemies in non-direct ways.  In other words, they don’t have to strap on a bomb vest and run to the nearest market when they can use a computer to attack an enemy’s infrastructure.

All of these entities are using the same Internet and Darknets, and often using the same techniques and Bitcoins, but they all have their own agenda, from the lone wolf to the nation state.  The New Cold War is open to anyone with skills, a grievance, or a lust for money.  Is it scary? Of course.  But you know what? It’s still way better than a hot war fought with guns and nukes.

Author's Note:  If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting Chimp With Pencil by buying one of my books.  Thank you.
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Published on December 04, 2014 12:20 • 26 views

October 10, 2014

Hey Readers,

If you're interested in learning about my new novels, special deals and bonus content, join my Mailing List.  Just type your email address in the box on the right -- it's easy.

Thank you!
-- Mark

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Published on October 10, 2014 12:30 • 21 views