Paul Briggs's Blog

March 19, 2019

Who Writes Short Shorts?

First of all, good news.
Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise has been named as a 2018 Foreword Indie Finalist in the field of science fiction. It’s competing against a book of poems by science-fiction legend Robert Silverberg, which is impressive, if daunting.

Among the things I’ve been sharing on Twitter have been ultra-short stories. I think this one is the most popular:
The moon fell in love with a princess locked in a tower by the sea.
For her sake it raised a tide that let her swim out the window.
Seeing the now-drowned city through the water, she wondered what would happen when she had to tell the moon she didn't love it back.

Here’s another.
We don’t call it Alpha Centauri B in conversation, of course. Not here. The same way we just call A “the sun,” we call B what it looks like from here—“the gold star.” A reward from some cosmic teacher… or a memorial for those who died to bring us here.

I’m quite proud of this little passage. I started with some dry astronomical facts—the average distance between Alpha Centauri A and B—then considered how B would look from someone on a planet orbiting A at roughly the same distance Earth orbits the sun. An essay by Isaac Asimov that I can’t remember the name of told me it wouldn’t be close enough to have a visible disk but would be (at certain points in its orbit) about 100 times brighter than the full moon—thus, a very bright star. It seemed to me that since Alpha Centauri B is a K7 star, it would have a more strongly yellow cast to its light than our sun or Alpha Centauri A—thus, a gold star. Then I started thinking about the different meanings of “gold star” in our culture, and lo and behold I had something that at least implied the existence of a story.

Speaking of things that imply the existence of stories, I plan on fleshing this one out into a novel at some point:
On July 30, 2076, over seven billion miles from Earth, the planetoid 90377 Sedna collapsed into a micron-wide black hole.
We don’t know why.
It then expanded into something else.
We have no idea what.
But now we have a reason to go out that far.

Some of them are just sort of light:
Submitted to Ripley’s: After the accident, I had to get prosthetic eyes. My roommate talked me into letting him boost the resolution.
Big mistake.
Ever try to kiss a girl when her face is crawling with dust mites and you can see every single one of them?

“One last thing, crew. The ship’s new atmosphere recycler can process CO2, but it seems to have trouble with methane. So if everyone could hold in their farts for the next 18 months, that would be great.”

It's true what they say — elephants think humans are cute.
Some idiot taught them to use smartphones. Now there’s a herd of them roaming town, filming everybody in sight.
And every time one of them gets in the room, nobody wants to talk about it.

This one, as you may recognize, is a riff on this:
This is not a place of honor.
No deed is commemorated here.
Nothing valued is here.
What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us.
And it is alive.
This is its stronghold.
It fell from space.
We tried to contain it here.
If you can read this, we failed.

These are from the #badwordsat hashtag game, on the topics of (respectively) bad parents and bad bosses, so expect them to be a little uncouth:
It takes a while to realize you have bad parents. It starts with little things—using the word “fuck” a lot, as in “Last night Daddy fucked the babysitter so loud I couldn’t hear ‘Kill Bill’” or “Want to buy some lemonade? Mommy put some ‘Fucking Vodka’ in it.”

The worst motherfuckers in this company to work for, Anal Annie Counter of Pens and Eccentric Jerry the Scatterbrained Skateboarder, are at war for control of the office. I wouldn’t say our loyalties are divided, but we can’t agree on who we want to lose.

Finally, here’s a little Star Wars fanfiction I wrote for Twitter. I hope you enjoy it.
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Published on March 19, 2019 11:50

March 11, 2019

Guess Who's Back? (he shrieked adverbially)

What can I say after being away this long? Lots of things kept me away—not just writing, but a play, book promotion, hashtag games on Twitter (I’ve gotten my followership over 1,000) and of course looking for work. I’ll try not to let this blog slide so long again. (If anyone would like copies of the first two Backstory Files, let me know.)

On Saturday I attended the Bay to Ocean Writers Conference. There I had an insight. Writing students and new writers get a lot of advice on their craft. The most common piece of advice, after “replace all dialogue-tag verbs with ‘said’,” is “destroy all adverbs.” As an extreme example, in Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise I wrote:

All Thel wanted was to help her family. Carrie had been the same way at that age. And then, at a slightly later age, she had been completely different.

The point of that last sentence was to convey Carrie’s wary anticipation of the rebellious-teenager phase her daughter hasn’t entered into yet. Believe it or not, a former editor of mine tried to take out all the adverbs, leaving behind a sentence—“And then, at a later age, she had been different”—that has no reason to exist at all. The only possible response to it is “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that someone once told Jonathan Safran Foer to retitle Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close Loud and Close, or suggested that the film Truly, Madly, Deeply be released with a title consisting of two commas.

The problem a lot of writers have with this is sort of thing that if you pick up any best-selling novel and turn to a random page, odds are you’ll find dialogue tags other than “said,” some of which make more sense than others. (“‘He shrieked’? Who shrieks in complete sentences? ‘Smiled’? ‘Sneered’? Those are facial expressions. WTF?”) And, of course, you’ll also find some adverbs.

The reason writers get this sort of advice when they’re starting out isn’t that following it will invariably improve your prose. It’s that following it will stretch your writing muscles, forcing you to get creative when describing speech and actions, and also to think about how much description any given action or line of dialogue needs. Adverbs are a tool, but as Neil Gaiman wrote in The Doll's House, “Tools can be the subtlest of traps.”

In the meantime, if you want to see an example of adverbs used well, here’s my advice. Next time you reread the Harry Potter books, notice every time someone says something “quietly.” What J.K. Rowling is telling you is that this person is speaking in a lower than normal voice. What she’s showing you is almost always a lot more than that. Here are two examples, from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:

”What’s in the Department of Mysteries?”
“What did you say?” Snape asked quietly and Harry saw, with deep satisfaction, that Snape was unnerved.

Well, yes, he was. For context, Snape has spent the last few pages shouting and snapping at Harry while telling him to “empty yourself of emotion” and “Control your anger, discipline your mind!” (Potions Master, heal thyself.) Now, when Harry asks what sounds like a random question out of nowhere, Snape responds “quietly,” for the first time showing a hint of the same iron self-discipline he must use when he’s in the same room with Voldemort.

”Did Hagrid breed you, like the thestrals?” asked Dean eagerly.
Firenze turned his head very slowly to face Dean, who seemed to realize at once that he had said something very offensive.
“I didn’t — I meant — sorry,” he finished in a hushed voice.
“Centaurs are not the servants or playthings of humans,” said Firenze quietly.

Firenze doesn’t say it “sternly,” much less “angrily.” He says it “quietly.” You are left to imagine the tension in his voice as he contains his rage while imparting the information necessary to make sure Dean never makes this mistake again. (And yes, Dean asks “eagerly.” This is Rowling telling us that he sounds eager, but showing us that he’s making an innocent blunder—which is necessary when a character we’re meant to like says something so demeaning.)

For writers of this skill level, rules like “no adverbs” are unnecessary and confining. How will you know when you’re that good? Other people will let you know. But when you’re good enough to put more than one layer of meaning into an adverb, you’re probably good enough to use it.
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Published on March 11, 2019 09:15 Tags: adverbs, writing-advice

May 6, 2018

Good News and Random Observations

The reviews are coming in, and I’m feeling great about them. In addition to the promised review from Midwest Book Review (you have to scroll about a third of the way down the page to read it) and some good reviews on NetGalley, I have a fairly positive review from Kirkus. When you’re an indie writer on a low budget, a Kirkus review is the sort of thing you dream envious dreams of. I’ve also mailed a physical ARC to the UK.

* * *

I had a long conversation with a friend the other day. (Note: introverts don’t find all human interaction to be draining. We need to interact with others, but we need it the way a camel needs water or a whale needs air—less often but in larger helpings. What’s really draining is small talk.)

My friend, who’s a graphic designer, pointed out that the cover of Locksmith’s Closet (which I mostly designed) looks more like horror than YA/middle-grade science fiction. Hard to argue with that.

We got onto the topic of a short play I once wrote, “Breakfast Special,” about a weird little restaurant where “choice of meat” means literally any kind of meat. My friend suggested that at the end, it should turn out that everything the customers order is actually chicken.

I should have thought of that myself.

* * *

Over the past year or so, I’ve managed to increase my Twitter following by a factor of ten. I’ve done this using hashtag games—daily games where writers talk about themselves or (especially) include a snippet of their own writing in response to a prompt.

One that I’ve rarely been able to take part in is #TrickyTues, which is mostly about using big words like “mendacious,” “aggregate,” and “stoic.” This has made me realize how well I’ve learned the lesson that language is for communicating with and cured myself of the childhood habit of using the biggest, fanciest word I know, unless that also happens to be the best possible word for the job. Which it sometimes is. (I’ve actually used the word “aggregate” in Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise. It happened to be the word that the character would say at the time.)

* * *

Speaking of Twitter, I think every author today has a certain fear of the Twitter mob. Watching an angry Twitter mob in action is like watching the hunting and feeding habits of the African wild dog. A pack of them will chase a zebra or antelope across the savanna at a steady and relentless pace, possibly attacking the sinews of the hind legs if the opportunity is there, but mostly just following. What adds an element of surreal horror is that the dogs’ faces are fixed in an expression that looks, to human eyes, like a goofy grin, as if they’re starring in a pet food commercial. If you’re old enough, you can practically hear them saying “Kibbles ’n’ Bits! Kibbles ’n’ Bits! We’re gonna rip out your Kibbles ’n’ Bits!” And when the prey collapses from exhaustion, the dogs don’t go for its throat or snap its neck like some predators would. They just dive in and eat it alive, starting with the rectum and working their way inward. Not a pretty sight.

That’s what Twitter in its wrath reminds me of, and I’ve seen it break the hearts of better people than me. But every once in a while, if you’re very lucky, you get to see it turn its wrath on somebody who really, really has it coming.

* * *

Continuing to speak of Twitter for some reason, you’ve probably noticed conversation on Twitter and Facebook about “male authors” who describe their female characters like they’re typing with one hand. You may be wondering if these people are referring to any particular author or authors.

They might be talking about this guy.
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Published on May 06, 2018 09:18

March 27, 2018

Coming June 15…

Once again I’ve been away from this blog for a while. Once again, it’s because I’ve been busy.

First, the good news. Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise is coming out June 15 and is available for preorder. It also has some early reviews. Positive ones. One of which will be appearing in the Midwest Book Review before too long. Another you can read here. And here’s a snippet:

Most novels or movies on the impacts of climate change usually show all hell breaking loose in a single day (or skip that part altogether). Altered Seasons is different, and much more realistic, in that it describes the process over years. Still it manages to remain captivating, as we follow these events through the lives of four main characters.

Looking forward to more reviews. At some point, when I can manage it, I’ll start writing “The Backstory Files,” little stories that help flesh out the characters in Altered Seasons. Now that I have a newsletter, this will give me something to put in it.

* * *

Speaking of reviews, here’s a review of Elliott Downing’s Some Distant Sunrise. I know I promised some other people reviews, and I swear I’m getting to those, but there’s good and then there’s great and then there’s “I MUST TELL THE WORLD RIGHT NOW!” Don’t let the cover design put you off—buy it and read it.*

* * *

I’ve started experimenting with the Pomodoro Technique for taking care of some of my less fun writing duties. This involves spending 25 minutes writing at top speed, and five minutes resting in between. It’s recommended that after four in a row, you take a longer break.

What I’ve discovered is that the Pomodoro Technique, like the “JUST WRITE” method I keep hearing about, works if and only if you already know exactly what you want to write when you begin. It also helps if you’re listening to classical music. And if you keep a record of your word count and how close you’re getting to it during the writing sessions, it’s the next best thing to being able to afford Adderall.

*One of Downing’s greater accomplishments in writing this story was getting permission to quote song lyrics. This is a recurring problem for writers, which we normally get around by mentioning the title of the song and letting everybody look it up on YouTube. If we really need lyrics, we usually have to make up our own. (If you’re a lawyer in the music industry, I want you to know something: I’m your wolf and I’m your tiger, and I’m rising like a shark/I’m the fear and the desire that you dream of in the dark/I’m your devil, I’m your demon of determination firm/And I’m here to fill you up with foreign sperm. I wrote those lyrics and it’s all your fault. Now you just sit there and think about what you’ve done.)
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Published on March 27, 2018 20:35

January 7, 2018

No Kindle Scouting Merit Badge for me

If you nominated Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise, by now you’ve heard it wasn’t selected. I suppose I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up—about one in fifty books is actually selected. Maybe one in ten to fifteen, if you only count the books where the submitter had a professional-quality cover and actually followed all the instructions.

I’m not sure why they didn’t choose it. I understand the reasoning behind rejection without explanation — once you’ve made up your mind, you don’t want to be drawn into an argument. It just sucks. I can understand, though, if they were a little leery about taking on a book where the primary antagonist is a weather pattern. And there’s also the possibility that I was being judged as a marketer rather than an author, in which case the partnership was doomed from the get-go. For what it’s worth, I’ve looked at some of the books that did get selected and they don’t seem to be doing remarkably better than some self-published authors I know.

And I’ve learned a thing or two. Apparently Facebook ads are least ineffective after 5 or 6 p.m. and on weekends. You can also target them to your followers and their friends, if you have a lot more followers than I do. Twitter ads, on the other hand, are most effective around 1 p.m. in the middle of the week… as far as anybody can tell. (Again, I heartily endorse Twitter analytics for anyone who wants the reliability of disemboweling sheep and reading the entrails but doesn’t want to clean up the mess.) You can hire people on Fiverr who are much more effective than either. Oh, and if you’re looking for a book-tweeting service, I recommend Author Shout rather than TweetYourNovel.

So now what? Now I coordinate with my publisher and figure out how to market this thing on my own. Now I try to get some ARC reviews so my publisher will have something to put on the back cover besides my own assurances that this book is awesome.

And I get back to doing what I’m supposed to be doing—writing.
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Published on January 07, 2018 01:46

November 28, 2017

Going for a Kindle Scouting Merit Badge, Part 2

Before I start begging for nominations againg, let me vent.

I just made some absolute-last-minute edits to Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise. The reason was that in a few scenes I caught Isabel thinking of and referring to her father as “Dad” (how I think of my father) rather than “Pop” (how she thinks of her father). So I had to go back and change those.

As a writer, this is the sort of inconsistency you have to watch out for. If you have an editor—especially a highly recommended editor who’s being paid upwards of $500—this is the sort of inconsistency that editor is supposed to catch. It’s a lot more important than, say, making sure year numbers are written out in dialogue.

* * *

I learn from this blog post by Justin Sirois that between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the worst possible time to do one of these campaigns. On the other hand, (a) his campaign, which ran at the exact same time last year, was a success, and (b) he got 330 page views total, and spent 71 hours on “Hot & Trending,” mostly towards the end. In four days I’ve gotten 56 hours on “Hot & Trending” and 1,255 page views.

The thing is, though, nobody really knows what will work. You need to get on the Hot list to come to the attention of the publishers, but ultimately they’re the ones who make the decision. They say you need a good story (check, in my opinion), a good cover (check), and even though they have their own editors, you should already have had editing done by a professional in keeping with the Chicago Style Manual (check).

So, what exactly am I doing to get the word out?

For one thing, I'm on Goodreads. (Nominate my book!) Also I did a bunch of Facebook posts. I posted a couple of times at, where this story truly began, but the mods have made a polite but firm request that I dial it back. I haven’t tried LinkedIn yet, but I will. (It’s a 30-day campaign. I’ve got to leave something in the tank.) At the same time I’m doing all this, my family and some of my friends are making their own efforts on my behalf in their own social networks.

And of course I’m using Twitter. The problem is that Twitter’s analytics are looking about as trustworthy as a Magic 8-Ball. I have tweeted links stories from DeviantArt, checked Twitter’s stats and found no link clicks, and then gone to DeviantArt and found 11 views. I’ve seen online contests on Twitter screwed up because the number of likes and retweets wasn’t being recorded properly. And don’t get me started on my fluctuating number of followers. And there’s a weird gap in the number of impressions—first it told me I had no impressions on the 21st, then it said I had no impressions from the 21st through the 23rd. Twenty-three likes on the 21st, twenty-six likes on the 22nd, twenty-four likes on the 23rd, two replies each on the 21st and 22nd, one retweet each on the 22nd and 23rd… but somehow no impressions. Now it’s re-remembered the impressions of the 21st and 22nd, but forgotten those of the 24th. You’d think a system built around limiting people to 140 (now 280) characters would be able to do math.

Speaking of analytics, Kindle Scout’s analytics are really good, but they have one big flaw—they update only once a day, just after 4 a.m. EST when even I am usually ready to go to bed. Which means I basically have to wait a full day to find out what worked and what didn’t. About half my external page views come from various Facebook posts, but of course I have no way of knowing which ones. The biggest single source was one of those posts.

One interesting and hopeful sign is that almost all of the page views I’m getting (91 percent, as of Monday morning) come not from my own efforts, but from people already looking at Kindle Scout. From what I can tell, this is not normal at all—a half-and-half split is more normal.

There’s a whole community of people who frequent the site. I assume not everybody there is an author, and that in fact most of them are just looking for good books for free.* And in addition to this community, there are the people who are drawn there by various authors’ pleas and who (as book shoppers always do) stay to look around. Apparently these people are liking what they see. But from what I’m told, the crowd of regulars always show interest for the first few days but soon get tired of looking at your campaign every day.

I probably won’t get much sleep for the next month.

* At some point it would occur to authors that (a) you have to spend at least some time on the Hot & Trending list to even be considered for nomination, and (b) only twenty books can be on that list at any one time… so as much as we like to say we aren’t in competition with one another, in this case we kinda are.
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Published on November 28, 2017 14:00

November 27, 2017

Going for a Kindle Scouting Merit Badge, Part 1

Well, the time I was planning to spend writing, I mostly spent preparing for publication. Specifically, I’m running a Kindle Scout campaign for Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise.

What is Kindle Scout? I’ll let them explain:

Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books. It's a place where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate, easy rights reversions and featured Amazon marketing.

Emphasis added. Featured Amazon marketing. Sweet. All I have to do is… persuade everybody in my social network, plus a bunch of people I don’t even know, to nominate it.

And the bad news is, if a book isn’t selected, it’s worse than getting nothing. Amazon sends a note informing everybody who nominated it that it wasn’t selected, which as H.D. Knightley points out is basically telling all the people who believed in you “we, the experts, don’t think it’s that good.” From a writing-career perspective, you end up worse off than if you’d never tried.

So the process is nerve-wracking, even though it seems like I’m doing pretty good so far. After being introduced to Kindle Scout early in the morning on Friday, Monsoonriseachieved “Hot & Trending” status after midnight Saturday morning and held onto it for one hour short of a full day, then dropped off the list. Then on Sunday it became hot, then not, then hot again, finally going all the way up to the top of the list, down to thirteenth on the list, then up to seventh, up to fourth, down to eighteenth, up to third, down to sixth, down to twentieth, up to fourth, I mean second, for a while, then whoops down to eleventh, with some other stages in between that I missed because I had to get some frigging sleep. Trying to get a sense of how this is going is like… trying to extract climate data from weather patterns, actually. There’s a trend line in there somewhere, but it’s going to take a few more days to emerge. (Also, I’m not sure the “Hot & Trending” list is actually ranked.)

Still, 32 hours out of 72 on the hot list, and more today. That’s got to be worth something. (Also, two other Kindle Scout campaigns are making use of Author Shout. If they move ahead of me, I know who I should be doing business with.)

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Published on November 27, 2017 14:25

November 7, 2017

I Hate Chicago, Illinois Nazis

I have discovered a new curse of being a writer—the Style Nazi. This is a kind of editor you don’t run into as an independent author. As an independent author, you’re doing well if you find an editor who can do basic proofreading and notice discrepancies in the story. (Me, for instance.)

The Style Nazi is kind of like a Grammar Nazi, but more professional. He or she is usually a high-end editor who has committed the Chicago Manual of Style to memory. Coming from the world of journalism, I was raised on AP Style, so there’s obviously a certain potential for conflict. Now I’m okay with using the Oxford comma. I don’t mind not having spaces on either side of my em dashes—you’ll notice I left them out when writing this post. I refuse to do anything that might risk an ellipsis appearing at the beginning of a line, but that’s a small matter.

They also rely on the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which can lead to some odd outcomes:
“You just hyphenated ‘manchild.’ You’re probably right.”
“Okay, you just hyphenated ‘startup.’ I’ve never seen anybody do that before, but technically it seems to be correct.”
“Now you’ve hyphenated ‘face to face’ when it isn’t in front of the term it’s modifying. I know for a fact that that’s wrong.”
“Wait, since when is ‘friendly’ an adverb? What, just because it ends in ‘ly’ it’s automatically an adverb? What about ‘ally’ and ‘gully’—are they adverbs now?”

They have other rules as well. One of them is that if a word can be replaced with “said,” it must be replaced with “said,” no matter what nuance is sacrificed in the process. I kid you not—these are people who will replace “interrupted” with “said, interrupting” and never stop to think “Dear God, what am I doing with my life?”

Another rule is that all numbers in dialogue must be written out. A reasonable editor will make exceptions for things like years, very large numbers and the numbers in 9/11, 7-11 and 401(k). A Style Nazi will make no exceptions ever.

The worst thing about them is that they have preferences that they elevate to the status of rules. You know that one person in your writing group who really hates ellipses, em dashes, or the use of italics to denote interior monologue, and who complains every time you use them? Imagine having that person as your editor.

In this case, it was parentheses. I admit, I overuse parentheses. I’m trying to cut back. But my editor removed all of them, cheerfully reducing sentences and paragraphs to meaningless jumbles of disconnected words and ideas. It reached the point of self-parody during the scene in Congress, when I introduced characters like Rep. Jared Chiang (D-CA) and they took the parentheses out of (D-CA). At this point I was like “I’ve been trying to figure something… in my head and maybe you can help me out, yeah? When a person is insane, as you clearly are… do you know that you’re insane? Maybe you’re just sitting around, reading Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary

One good thing Style Nazis can do for you is show you what your own literary style looks like. Most of us know we must have a style, but we don’t necessarily realize what it is. The Style Nazi will show it to you by trying to destroy it. The only literary style these people understand is Chicago Style. (Deal with Style Nazis very long and you’re going to hate Chicago even more than Republicans do. You’ll find yourself hoping Mrs. O’Leary’s cow returns from the land of the dead and brings some napalm with her this time.)

If you’re prone to verbosity or purple prose, Style Nazis may actually improve your writing. Even if they don’t, you may improve it while repairing the damage they do. For example, when I said I overuse parentheses, what I really meant was that I make too many parenthetical remarks—which is to say, I get sidetracked a lot. I found ways to better work some of these remarks into the flow of the story.

There’s other things they inadvertently helped with:

“Holy shit!” her daughter suddenly blurted out.

This line, I confess, needs work—I’m a little embarrassed that I didn’t fix it myself. Normally, a good editor would remove the word “suddenly.” As an adverb, “suddenly” shouldn’t be there unless it contributes something vital to the sentence, and it doesn’t. The phrase “blurted out” already implies all the suddenness I need to convey. An editor who believes that any word that can be replaced with “said” must be so replaced will do this differently, of course:

“Holy shit!” her daughter suddenly said.

While trying to decide what to do with this, I realized that I really only needed two words. “Holy shit!” already sounds like something blurted out, and we learn who’s doing the out-blurting in the very next sentence (“Thel!”)

So… Style Nazis are not all bad. They don’t deserve to be punched.

I just hope not all top-of-the-line editors are like this.

* * *

Patrick Hodges’ Pawns, which I'll get around to reviewing one of these days, is free until Friday. Also, here’s a chance to get a lot of other really good indie novels free, although you have to join the Rafflecopter site.

* * *

For the first time in years, I’m not doing NaNoWriMo. The way it’s set up, NaNoWriMo is a good thing to do if you have one work in progress that needs 50,000 words of work ASAP. What I have is a couple of works—Locksmith’s War, which was last year’s NaNoWriMo novel, and Altered Seasons: Age of Consequences, the predecessor of which has been my NaNoWriMo novel for two previous years. Plus my ghostwriting work. Plus learning to be a scopist. And I’d like to get some progress made on “The Dead Skunk.” And I have an idea for next year’s Short Attention Span Theatre. And, most of all, I have to get ready for the big launch of Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise. My plans for this month are to get five chapters of Locksmith’s War finished, along with 20,000 words of Age of Consequences.

Oh, and there’s a short play I want to get written before the end of the year, which I'm calling “Based On a Story I Found On the Internet.”
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Published on November 07, 2017 08:04

October 17, 2017

Images and Music

First, I’m happy to announce that Altered Seasons: Monsoonrise has an e-book cover, courtesy of We Got You Covered.

go boating, they said, it'll be fun, they said

It’s very hard to pick the right image for a 140,000+ word novel, but I think this one does it. Seriously, look at it. Every single element in this image is beautiful without trying to be. You can practically smell the sea air and feel the coming danger. Isabel even looks… close enough to the way I pictured her, which if you know anything about the book cover business is a minor miracle. The one downside is that having this on display next to the Locksmith Trilogy book covers is going to make them look distinctly amateurish. (And yes, that title font is our old friend Bebas Neue. Deal with it. It looks good, catches your eye and gives you a sense of what to expect without giving away too much. There’s a reason everybody wants this font on their book, and the designer did good things with it.)

On another subject, authors are sometimes asked if there’s one particular song they associate with the book they’re writing — one song they’d want playing over the end credits, if this book ever got a movie deal. My first choice would be David Bowie’s “Five Years.” It’s perfect. To start with the obvious, the novel begins in Year Zero and occupies the five years that follow it. And just listen to the lyrics…
A prediction of doom and disaster for an interconnected technological civilization.
A multitude of details, enough to give you a headache.
A horde of characters, some the world would call important, others not so much, but all needed.
A series of seemingly unconnected images that create a sense of rising chaos, even while some people appear strangely unconnected, as if they didn’t know they were part of a larger story.
A desperate need for authenticity, for family, for the people who matter most to you.
It's all there.

My second choice would be Bastille’s “Pompeii,” better known as “That ‘Hey-Yay-Oh Hey-Oh’ Song” or sometimes “That Song About Egg Rolls.” Again, listen to the lyrics, assuming you can understand them — a struggle to remain optimistic in the face of destruction on a massive scale. A sense that somehow or other we brought this on ourselves. And much of the world still going on as before, to the point where if you failed to keep your eyes open you could pretend nothing was happening. Like the Stones’ “Paint it Black,” this song somehow turns grief and pain into something you want to sing along to. (The chorus is actually singing “eheu, eheu,” an ancient Roman expression of mourning.)

Oh, and I’ve finished Chapter 10 of Locksmith’s War. Admittedly I did this by reading through it again and realizing it only needed two more sentences, but still.
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Published on October 17, 2017 21:39

October 6, 2017

Tell Your Mama, Tell Your Pa, I’m Gonna Send You Back to Ravenclaw

In honor of the Harry Potter festival in Chestertown, I’m going to use this post to speculate on which Houses my characters might be sorted into. (This is the part where somebody screams “READ ANOTHER BOOK!” If you only knew how many books I’m reading right now…)

In the Locksmith books… Lock himself would be in Gryffindor. This would be a great surprise to him, and to no one else.

Gary, most obviously, would be in Ravenclaw. Tara would probably go to Gryffindor just for showing up, given the nature of her problem. Although Brandon’s instinct is to side with whoever is strongest, which is a Slytherin trait, he would most likely Sorted into Hufflepuff — he doesn’t have much of a mean streak and is of somewhat malleable character, so the best thing to do would be to put him with kids who are nice and have a good work ethic.

In the Altered Seasons books… I think the Bradshaws would end up being one of those families where everyone ends up in the same house. Like the Weasleys, they’d be in Gryffindor. All of them are not so much brave as fearless — Chelsey takes stupid risks because she has no sense of self-preservation, Isabel just doesn’t have time to be scared and Kristen is on a first-name basis with Jesus. As for Scott… well, I’ll get to him in the next book. Isabel’s boyfriend Hunter would be a Hufflepuff, and would be convinced he'd brought shame on his family because of it, but again, that House would probably be better for him.

Sandra Symcox — obvious Ravenclaw.

Holbrooke Morgan — obvious Slytherin, and the kind who gives the House its reputation.

Carrie Camberg — tough call, but probably Slytherin. (All politicians are Slytherin until proven otherwise.) She is highly ambitious, and at least on her mother’s side comes of an old family. (An old Jewish family, but that wouldn’t be a problem for wizards.) She has a basic decency to her, but so did Harry Potter himself and that didn’t stop the Hat from wanting to Sort him into Slytherin. She is also highly… conscious of her own self-interest. Her right-hand dude Jerome Ross would also be a Slytherin.

Her husband Roger, on the other hand, would be a Gryffindor. He’s a glaciologist, which seems like a Ravenclaw sort of occupation, but it involves a lot of him traveling by himself into dangerous parts of the world, and he isn’t happy when Carrie makes him stop. Their daughter Thel is also very much a Gryffindor. If you’re guessing that this leads to conflict, you’re right.

Henry Pratt is particularly hard to place. He’s smart, and has a knack for lateral thinking, but he also has his blind spots. He’s ambitious and aristocratic, but strongly principled and doesn’t reflexively seek power or advantage. There’s at least one crisis that he handles like a Gryffindor. But I’m going to say Ravenclaw, for the same reason I’d say Walter Yuschak goes into Ravenclaw — they’re both men of ideas. They both fall in love with their ideas, and are too slow to realize when their ideas are letting them down.
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Published on October 06, 2017 19:06 Tags: harry-potter