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WORKING

April 13, 2022

            A lot of times, it can be hard for an author to find time, though most of us ultimately do or we wouldn’t be published. This applies, of course, to those that don’t make a living at this passion.

            Most of us, whether writers or authors actually work for a living. I’m not implying that writing isn’t work, per se, but that if you’re passionate about writing, it’s not work, but fun.

            That doesn’t mean that life can’t get in the way.

            The other day I was reminded of that when I had to work on a weekend.

MOST PRODUCTIVE WRITERS HAVE A TIME AND PLACE

            Many if not most writers and/or authors have a routine, otherwise they’d get nothing done.

            This can be any day, time, or frequency. Whatever it takes to get your stories out, there you go.

            When life gets in the way, this routine can be interrupted and for some, it may be hard to get back into the groove. This is especially true if the interruption is for an extended period of time.

WHAT FACTORS AFFECT YOUR INTERRUPTION?

            As the title suggests, work can be a big cause for interrupting your routine.

            It could be uneven work hours, overtime, or stress at work.

            Stress at work can be a real inspiration killer.

            Uneven work times can throw you off. Even occasional work changes can do the same.

HOW TO COPE

            For some, taking a break from writing during this stressful period is the way to go.

            The problem is that for some, once the break starts, it may not end even after the stress factors at work are long gone.

            For some, there’s no letup in stress at work. This doesn’t exactly inspire, does it?

            Lucky for me, I have a job I love. When a monkey wrench gets thrown into my routine, it’s a lot harder to resolve the interruption.

            Unfortunately, for many of you, these work interruptions may be chronic. How do you handle it?

            I have to regress a bit to when I worked for an industrial concern, and the stress level was through the roof. This caused significant personal interruptions in my writing schedule. However, it didn’t stop me.

            Since writing was a passion for me for about five years at the time, it was still very intense in my mind, regardless of stress at work.

            Despite all that was happening on the job, writing was a form of stress relief. True, I wasn’t nearly as productive as when I loved what I was doing at work, but I still kept at it.

            How?

            Besides looking for inspiration in everything, keeping ideas stuck in my head, or writing them down for future use, I still managed to put out some stuff during this two-year period.

            I completed a couple of short stories and joined a local writers group. I once got involved in a short short – 50-word short story contest. On a slight break from the stress due to a regular routine for a few weeks, I wrote about thirty 50-word short stories for this contest. I didn’t win, but it was a fun and stress-relieving exercise.

            In my most recent bout of working overtime, at a job I love, even concentrating all day and having my weekend routine interrupted, I still found time throughout the day to think of writing, think of something to add to my current WIP (work in progress). I wasn’t able to act on any of it at the time, but I still went over stuff in my mind so that the next time I sat down, I had a better idea of what I wanted to do.

EVEN IN TIMES OF STRESS FANTASIZING CAN BE GREAT

            It doesn’t matter how stressed out I am, or under what circumstances I’m not able to act on my writing, it’s never far from my mind. In fact, it helps me deal with things.

            How about you?

            I think a lot of people daydream, even under the most stressful circumstances. I don’t mean, forget what you’re doing and fail at your job, I mean we learn to cope during lulls and think of other things.

            Even when sick, fantasizing is an escape from the body for a time. While this may not result in any productivity, it may help devise a good plot, or add details to a WIP.

            Then again, when someone is severely sick, it may be hard to concentrate on anything.

            Certain jobs can create this same deal. One can become too focused in success at the job, rather than being physically quashed by harsh treatments.

SUMMARY

            Work can be a real inspiration killer, especially if one doesn’t like what they do.

            On the other hand, if fantasizing and inspiration are coping mechanisms, this can be to your advantage. It’s just a matter of either recalling or writing down these inspirations or daydreams when you can find time.

            Happy writing!

MARKETING

March 30, 2022

           The worst part (for most people) of writing a book is the marketing. A lot of people dread it. I’m no exception. It’s like begging people to buy your book, or enticing them, or just yelling on a street corner. However you picture it, it is, at least to me, the worst part of the entire publishing process.

            I’ve done plenty, spent plenty, and gained few results. It’s not like I’m with one of the big six publishing houses that already has a marketing machine there to help. I’m with a smaller traditional press where we pretty much have to sell our own book. That’s not to say the big sellers don’t have to do it either, it’s just that they have a huge initial boost through their big publishing machine.

            For the small indie press, traditional or self-published, you’re pretty much on your own.

SOCIAL MEDIA

            By far, the most common way small press authors try to gain an audience is through social media. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads are just a few.

            By having a constant presence, you can at least get the word out to people you know, and even strangers given some of the available tools.

            The issue?

            It all costs money to go beyond your friends etc.

            As a heavy Facebook user, I’ve tried their ads on numerous occasions. The results were less than spectacular.

BOOK MARKETING SITES

            This is another case of either spending an outrageous amount of money, or going for the cheaper options and still spending more than you get back (usually).

            From my experience, these sites are nothing more than money pits. I know. I can check the amount I spent versus the results and once again, the were less than spectacular.

A NEW ONE (FOR ME) ON THE BLOCK

            I’ve just been introduced (by Amazon) to Amazon Ads.

            Worrying that it’s just another money pit, I made some queries on social media.

            The results varied, but for the most part, the authors that responded spent money and made a bit more into the green than some of the other options.

            The catch?

            Some weird and arcane rules that can get you into trouble if you aren’t careful.

            I actually read the rules, warnings, and legal stuff, and it left me with a bad feeling. Some of the rules seem a bit draconian.

            I mentioned that in my queries and a few responders will never use it because of these rules.

            Others weren’t intimidated and have made at least a little money.

            Then again, those users also gave tips on how they did it.

            Since I haven’t taken the plunge yet, and am not sure if I even qualify given the ominous warning (If You Qualify) statement up front, it all may be a moot point anyway.

BOOK SIGNINGS

            Fortunately, or unfortunately, this is where I’ve had the most luck.

            Outside of a few misses, I’ve managed to sell a book or two at each of these events.

            Some are multiple author events, and a couple were solo in a bookstore.

            I tended to do better at solo signings in a bookstore.

            The issue now?

            With COVID still out there, though things have loosened up a bunch, doing a meet and greet can be risky for some people. It’s not just a matter of shyness, or willingness to get out there, but a real health factor to consider.

SUMMARY

            I’ve talked about all of these issues (except Amazon) in the past and the specifics I won’t rehash.

            As a struggling new author, the marketing is by far the most difficult for a slew of reasons. Yet, it’s something you have to do if you want to sell anything. Just publishing the book and making it available isn’t going to do it. Having someone with marketing expertise at your publisher also helps a lot. Having an already established big machine behind you is, of course, the best option. However, we’re not all with the big six, so we have to figure this out on our own.

            Do what you can, what you can afford, and keep searching for the next big thing. It’s the only way your book is going to get out there to anyone but your friends.

            Happy writing!

TAUTOLOGIES – AGAIN

March 23, 2022

            I got kind of a shock when I saw the file date of this, one of my first articles for Fred Central. It was dated in 2011! I’ve been at this for eleven years. I’d been under the impression I started this blog site in 2012. Go figure.

            What inspired this particular revisit was a multitude of books I’ve read lately. The subject of today’s article is tautologies. I wanted to revisit it again because I’ve seen plenty of examples in many mainstream novels, not just self-published types.

TO BEGIN WITH…

One of the things every writer must do is get to the point. It’s your responsibility not only to entertain your reader, but get there with the fewest words possible. Your job is not to impress your reader with how many words you can spew out, or how big a word count you can use to describe what a flower looks like, it’s how you can convey your word picture in the most efficient way possible. Get to the point!

GET TO THE POINT

Word economy is a huge factor in the writing and editing process. One of the tricks of the trade is to look for unnecessary words and phrases that can be eliminated, redundancies that don’t add anything, words that bog down the flow of the prose. One way to clean things up is to look for tautologies.

TAUTOLOGIES

Now, you might ask, what’s a tautology? A tautology is using different words to say the same thing, even if the repetition doesn’t necessarily provide clarity. I had no idea I was doing this until a member of our writer’s group did a presentation on it several years ago (several years ago, in this case, meaning around 2008 or so). It stuck with me. I want to give her credit, but I can’t remember her name. If I come across it later, I’ll announce it because she changed my life! (NOTE: I still haven’t recalled that person’s name…sorry.)

Once I became aware of tautologies, I discovered that I’d embedded many of them into my writing, embarrassing myself in the process, I found several hundred words I could eliminate from an average manuscript. It came as a wakeup call. I think it did the same for many members of our group.

I’m about to list a series of examples to give you all your wakeup call. I’d venture to guess some of you are going to have a bit of a rude awakening. How many of you have phrases like:

Stand up

Sit down

Whisper quietly

Slam hard

Hit hard

Scream loudly

Run fast

Dig deep

Jump up

Jump down

Crawl slowly

Climb up

Drop down

The list goes on. Every one of those word pairs contains chaff at the end…a tautology…an extra word. Dump them! They’re redundant, they’re obvious, your reader already knows!

Of course, there are always exceptions. Or, are there? For instance, what if a character jumps up on a ledge? Instead, how about the character jumps onto the ledge? Or the character jumps down into the pit? Instead, how about the character jumps into the pit. See? Was that so hard?

Now, it’s time to slash and burn. Try this. Check the word count of your MS before you look for tautologies and write that number down. Now do a word search or just do an edit and look for them. When you’re done, check the word count again. You might be surprised.

One note: Make sure when you eliminate the tautology that what you originally wrote still makes sense! Don’t to an auto find/replace as that can lead to many issues. Be sure to scan each example before changing or altering.

Happy editing!

DRAGONS

March 16, 2022

Right off the top, I want to say this isn’t an instruction article on the how to’s of dragons. Also, if you’re not into writing fantasy, this probably isn’t going to be your thing. Or is it?

STANDARD OF THE FANTASY GENRE

If you write fantasy, the dragon, noble or otherwise, is probably a standard creature, or even a trope of your world. These critters can be from the main subject to just a minor distraction. They might not even be a part of your world, just to be different.

On the other hand, it’s almost come to be expected from most fantasy worlds. What’s fantasy without some kind of dragon?

There are some (actually plenty) of fantasy worlds out there that don’t have them.

WHAT ARE THEY THERE FOR?

Often enough, the story is based on dragons. With magickal powers, breath emissions like fire, ice, and acid to name a few, tremendous strength, the ability to mesmerize, and a range of other superhuman abilities, they’ve earned their status into almost godlike realms.

With that in mind, many stories are woven around this type of world.

They could also just be another “monster in the manual,” something to be dealt with. Usually, they’re one of, if not, the most difficult beasts to fight.

Then again, maybe they’re neutral, and have little to do with anything, except being peripheral to the rest of the story.

GIVING THEM ABILITIES

Many go right to the D&D Monster Manual for abilities. Or, the author may research real-world legend. Some make up their own design from a meld of stuff they’ve heard or read.

There are no real rules for what your dragons, if you choose to use them, have to be. It’s your world, so it should be up to you to decide what their abilities and appearance are going to be. You’re not bound by any genre rules that require you to make them so and so.

I’m certainly not going to try to tell you or dictate those parameters for you.

Some are going to call bull if you “break the rules,” but who can say what they are for a mythological creature?

PHILOSOPHICAL – NON-FANTASY DRAGONS

This section is for you non-fantasy fiction writers.

Who says a dragon has to be a dragon?

A dragon can be a protagonist or an antagonist?

A dragon can be a character of mythological proportions. Some person with almost mythological abilities. This someone can sweep into your story and either help save the day, or create havoc in a way that may seem mythological. You, as the author, will have to lay out the logistics for the reader. Leave a little mystery, a little mythology to the character, without making the reader suspend their disbelief too much.

Yes, you non-fantasy writers can have your dragons as well, in the form of real people.

SUMMARY

In most cases, dragons are either key players, or often ominous creatures (or people) in a story. They’re meant to be so. Some authors choose not to use them at all. Those that do, tend to elevate them into something mythological, something above all other creatures or people in their story. It’s not just a matter of size, but intent.

Happy writing!

ANYTHING BUT WORD AGAIN

March 9, 2022

            I originally posted this article in 2019 but because of recent and consistent questions on the forums, I thought it was worth revisiting.

More and more I see writers seeking some form of writing software that isn’t Word.

They’re constantly looking for something…anything as a tool to write with.

One might get the impression they absolutely despise anything Microsoft.

That’s not necessarily the correct assumption.

Why?

DEVICES

            Many people nowadays don’t write on a conventional keyboard or computer. They use apps and devices. So guess what? As I’ve learned in several painful incidents, apps and what I know of as conventional software aren’t one in the same.

            Therefore, from the feedback I’ve obtained, Word somehow has lost the ball when it comes to the world of apps.

            I do know that at least when it comes to Facebook, I’m no fan of the Facebook app, which I’m forced to use on my phone. If that’s any indication, then…hey, come to think of it, I’m not all that crazy about any of the apps I use on my phone.

            Okay, if I was a writer and had to use an app on a device, I’m all sympathy.

THOSE WITH KEYBOARDS

            There are those with keyboards who still don’t want anything to do with Word. Maybe they’re Apple people who hate Microsoft “juss cuzz,” or they somehow came from some other word processor that’s obsolete. Whatever the case, they’ve heard there’s something else out there.

ORGANIZATION

            Many writers are disorganized. They’re scattered about, or have several different programs to compile their characters, plots, towns, locations, statistics, chapters, outlines, special words, bla bla bla. That has brought up the rise of all-in-one writing programs.

            This is something Word doesn’t do. It doesn’t organize, fold, bend, staple, and mutilate all of this for you in one easy to access place. Some of these software packages do it for you on the fly, or supposedly do.

            Some people are gleefully happy to discard Word for this stuff.

            One problem.

            Learning curve.

LEARNING CURVE

            While writing software packages can be a cure-all for some people, there is the caveat that you have to learn all this crap. Since you have a complex bunch of programs melded together, you have to learn said complex melded programs, and all the ins and outs. This doesn’t happen overnight, though the learning curve may not be as hard as some things.

            It all depends on how much effort and time you want to put into it and how much you want to take away from your actual writing to get it all done.

            It could be worth it.

DEPENDS ON THE TYPE OF WRITER YOU ARE

            If you’re just starting out, it might be worth it to invest the time, money and training in learning one of these complex writing packages to get a step ahead.

            If you’ve been at things a while and are struggling, it might be worth it.

            If you already have a system that works and are just restless, you’re better off spending all that pent up energy on a plot twist.

            If you’re like me, I already have my methods that work, like yellow stickies on my computer desk, an encyclopedia for my fantasy series which I update as I go along, linear plots, and seat-of-the-pants writing style for everything else. I have no need to fix something that isn’t broke, especially after thirty years of experience with the Microsoft package.

SUMMARY

            You’ll notice I didn’t mention any other software package or writing program. First off, this isn’t an instruction article on any of them. I attended a single session on one of them conducted by our own Amanda Skenandore of the Henderson Writer’s Group. While an outstanding instructor, I knew after just a little while, the one she taught, Scrivner I believe (and don’t quote me on the spelling), wasn’t for me and instantly forgot the correct spelling of the name of that software package. She had a few converts at the meeting, but I wasn’t one of them. Everything she taught sounded great for someone who needs organization, but it was also stuff I already do in my own way, using what I already have, with Word alone. I’m not sure if she still uses that software package, but whether she does or not, she’s come out with some outstanding stories and that has more to do with her writing skills than whatever software she uses.

            Happy writing!

PICKING SUBJECT MATTER TO WRITE ABOUT

March 2, 2022

            Picking, or selecting what to write about should be a given, if you’re a passionate writer, or consider writing a passion. However, not everyone is in that same head space. I’ve seen it time and time again on the forums where someone would ask for ideas of what to write about.

            How many of us came into this passion/interest/hobby already bursting with ideas?

            How many of us just wanted to write, but had no idea what to write?

            Turns out it’s a mixed bag.

TRYING TO RELATE

            Someone grew up with an ability (talent), or an interest in writing.

            Why not take that skill or talent to the next step?

            The thing is that while your imagination worked great for term papers or the occasional one-off short story, when it comes to the big Kahuna, a novel, this person doesn’t have a clue.

            Interests may be diverse. Therefore this person signs up for multiple forums on social media (a big assumption but adapted to today’s world) and tries to mine other writers for ideas.

            The reactions with be mixed. A few may toss out ideas while others will not, with the logic being that this person should come up with their own ideas or why do this at all?

            There’s the predicament. This person wants to write but has no or little creativity.

HOW ABOUT SOMEONE WITH LOTS OF CREATIVITY?

            Getting into this deal for the right reasons, one writer may be chock full of ideas. The issue here is what to go for. If the person is (to use a well-worn and probably politically incorrect phrase) scatterbrained, they may have too many ideas and can’t choose between them. They go nuts (figuratively) trying to decide which of them to go for and end up stalled and getting nowhere.

            Sound familiar?

            Therefore, this person gets online (once again, playing to the norms of today) and starts asking around or giving lists of what people think they should write about.

THE SOMEWHAT OR MAYBE NORMAL PASSIONATE WRITER

            When it comes to a novel-sized project, it takes a certain commitment. That takes away substantial time from all the other projects in one’s head bursting to get out.

            For most of us, when we get into this, we already have a project in mind to start with and go for it.

            In my case, in a grand experiment to see if I could do it, I chose science fiction and made up a story, A and B on the spot. I came up with a method right out the gate. Then I sat down at the computer and went for it. If I was able to complete the entire thing, I knew I had something going for me.

            I did, and from there, I went on to the next genre and then the next.

            I had plenty of ideas, my mind bursting with them. However, one thing I also had in abundance.

            Patience.

            I think maybe that’s something lacking, to some degree, with many writers and authors nowadays. No, I take that back. Many writers. Authors have obviously got something to print, so they’ve succeeded at least to a point. From there, who knows?

WHAT ABOUT THE UNDECIDED?

            For the person who can’t decide what to write about, don’t expect miracles from social media. In fact, expect plenty of flack from those that don’t think you even have any business asking.

            On the other hand, what made you want to be a writer in the first place? Something prodded you in that direction? Was it a book, a movie, an incident?

            If you think you’re into writing, are you a reader? If you’re not, you probably need to rethink what you’re doing. If so, what are your favorite books, genres, subject matters?

            To me, it’s always best to write about something you are truly passionate about, let alone interested in. Don’t be one of these tortured artiste types that writes what they hate just because. That is a load of crap.

            Write what you know, what you love, and what you’re interested in. It shows!

            That, my friends, is one reason you get a lot of flack on social media if you start asking for what to write about.

            You should already know what you want to do. Nobody else should be telling you that. Then it’s not coming from you, it’s coming from them.

            Many things can inspire many people. If you go for months, years without coming up with anything to write about, maybe you should either find another passion/hobby or use writing in some other capacity.

            Creativity requires inspiration and originality. By originality, I mean your own take on something, coming from your headspace. Very little if anything is truly original so don’t even fret over that one.

SUMMARY

            What do any of us write about?

            Something we’re passionate about and/or something we’re interested in.

            That isn’t something that lends well to others dictating to us.

            When someone else gives us the idea, fine. Many have received an idea that way, though not usually directly solicited. Nothing really wrong with that. In that way, social media and polling other writers can work. However, don’t expect stellar results or responses.

            For the rest of us, it’s a matter of picking and choosing, unless the whole deal is just for that one great idea. One-and-done. There are those out there.

            Some thoughts to ponder.

            Happy writing!

A BOOK SIGNING AGAIN

February 23, 2022

            I just had another book signing. This time with a group of people at the Clark County Library in Las Vegas, Nevada. While it was a lot of fun, it wasn’t fruitful. Nothing new. It inspired me to go back to this article from 2016 where I talked about an individual book signing. Quite a bit of difference! I’ll tweak and add as needed.

2016

            And then, it happened!

            Okay, I copped that infamous line from at least a dozen, if not more episodes of Sea Hunt. It was worth it.

            It happened, alright. It surely happened (and don’t call me Shirley). If I need to tell you where I copped that line, well you aren’t no movie buff!

            Anyway, I had my first solo book signing and at the risk of repeating myself, it was well worth it!

THE PRELIMINARIES

            My solo event was organized by Barnes & Noble. The idea was to get as many people as possible to show up. The store pre-ordered a certain number of books, on the condition that my publisher accepts returns. That’s the big condition of a major retailer doing a book signing. Either you have to supply them the books, so they can sell them through their cash register at the retail price, which they don’t like to do because it isn’t in their system (more on that in a moment), or they order them from their supplier who accepts returns.

            It’s not that retailers are so much against self-published books. However, when you self-publish, you have no distribution system. A large retailer deals with stock systems and distribution. This means inventory and returns etc. When you try to bring them something outside the system, it plays havoc with their books. In that regard, they simply don’t like to deal with it.

            In my case, since I did NOT self-publish, my book’s available through Ingram and Baker & Taylor distribution systems. Not only that, but it’s available through Barnes & Noble. The only issue was that I’m with a small press, and not the big six. More on that in a moment. At first, there was a glitch, and it was cataloged wrong, but that was straightened out. When I got that cleared, the very nice lady in charge of things said yes to the book signing.

            The difference between a small publisher and a large one is distribution. Because my publisher is not one of the “big six”, my book isn’t distributed to all the stores across the country. In that case, this local store ordered that set quantity for the book signing, on the guarantee the publisher would accept the returns. With that taken care of, it was a matter of pre-publicity.

            Though Barnes & Noble posted the event on their web site, it was up to me to do my own marketing as well. I learned a few things.

            First off, social media was by far, the best way to get the word out under these circumstances. I used Facebook and Twitter, even though 99.9% of my followers don’t even live in Las Vegas.

            On the other hand, I had some mailers and flyers printed. As for the flyers, I deliberately had them printed 5X7 because I figured the larger they are, the more likely someone would take them down from a bulletin board. The smaller size was more likely to stay up longer, even if they were smaller and drew less attention. (Note: For this current 2022 library event, my only publicity was through Facebook like most everyone else that had social media.)

            One little problem.

            Have you noticed that almost nobody has bulletin boards anymore? I found that out the hard way! I went all over the place and found almost NO bulletin boards! When I did, I usually got “It can’t be for any money making event.” Say what???

            Shot down in flames. I had a pack full of useless flyers and mailers. Oh yeah, about the mailers, I ended up just giving them to people that I either see all the time, or are already Facebook friends.

            Lesson learned.

THE SETUP

            The day of the event was tight. Since it was a Saturday, I unfortunately, usually have something going on with my astronomy club as well, and quite often miss my other writer’s group member’s book signings. I couldn’t very well miss my own! Right after this event, I had to rush home, pack my telescope and head to the north end of town for a public viewing session.

            I arrived at the store and they already had a table set up for me to the right of the main door, with my books displayed and a sign with a photo of my book. They also had a display screen with my book and name as you walk through that door above their Kindle display.

            I brought my fold-out banner, my bookmarks and business cards. I also brought a note pad to write down complicated names for signings. I always do that in case someone has an unusual spelling of their name so I get it right, or if someone speaks softly or in a tone I can’t hear very well.

            Finally, a key component, to attract extra attention and for a conversation starter, I added a candy bowl.

            The store ordered fifteen books.

THE EVENT

            The event went very well. The key to a book signing, now this is important, is to NOT sit at your chair (which they supplied) and just stare forward. Remember, you’re there to sell books, not wait for people to come and discover you!

            Some people avoided eye contact. I still said hi. Sometimes they responded, sometimes not. There are certain people you just know not to mess with. Some people are just shy and if you say hi and start talking to them, they respond. With some people, if you say something, you can start a conversation.

            Don’t be afraid to be rejected. Most will, but once in a while, someone will spark an interest.

            The candy bowl was a great conversation starter. Sometimes it was just an avenue for kids. Sometimes adults with a sweet tooth. It made people hesitate.

            I said hi to a lot of people. I found a lot of people didn’t read fantasy, but a few did as well. I explained the book to many. Some showed interest. Quite a few took my business cards and bookmarks, both which have the book title, ISBN and/or my web site.

RESULTS

            As a result of my publicity, four people I know stopped by. Three bought a copy of the book. One stranger bought a copy as well. I went with no expectations. My goal was to sell at least one, so I outdid my expectations and then some!

            That may not sound like much to some of you. However, consider how many book signings virtual unknown authors or even some very well-known authors go to where they don’t sell ANY books!

            I think I did pretty well.

            Oh…and I also got a maybe from one person who had to leave and catch a ride. We’ll see about that one.

            In the end, the store asked me to autograph six copies of the book. They put “autographed by author” stickers on them and set all of the remaining books on a table by the door for a few days before transferring them to the local author wall in the back of the store.

            I’ve been posting that on Facebook to let everyone know. Maybe some of those will eventually sell as well.

            Folks, this is the life of a new author. Unless you’re up there on the New York Times Best Seller List, get used to it. You’ll be doing the same things.

2022

            My current signing was almost none of that. I had a table to share with another author just inside and to the left of the door. No banners (no room) and no standing in front of the table (no point). We had a sparse crowd, which was no big news. At these events, most usually sell only a couple of copies at best. A few maybe more, depending on the genre and who shows. Neither me nor my partner at the table sold a thing. She wrote erotica and some supernatural and also had a lot of swag stuff, which is great if you can go that route. Most of the people I knew did not sell a thing either, though a few sold one copy.

            Still, it was worth it just to get out in public, a rare thing still with the current pandemic. I got to see old friends, have some interesting conversations with strangers who stopped by to check me out, and gave away a few cards, bookmarks and candy. Oh, and I didn’t have a telescope event planned for the evening! It was something else.

            You take what you can get.

            I didn’t sell anything, but I still consider it a victory for just getting out into the world.

            Happy writing!

STRUCTURING CHAPTERS AND SCENES REVISITED

February 16, 2022

            I’ve thought a lot of how chapters and scenes are constructed, especially lately given the wide range of books I’ve been reading. Some chapters/scenes have been short and to the point, while others have been fifty pages long. Some were, to me, poorly constructed, but to tell the truth, that was the least of my issues, yet it compounded them. This particular version of the article came out in 2014. I thought it was worth a revisit seeing as how I just finished a book that was a mix of both the good and the bad.

            Back in 2011, I first touched on this subject but have gained more perspective, experience and insight. I thought I’d revisit it in 2014 in more detail, and now here I am again in 2022. This very important topic is something all writers should have as a top priority. I’ll of course, tweak it as needed.

TECHNICALITIES

            What is the purpose of a story?

            To convey information.

            Technically put, this is your goal in a nutshell. You, the writer, are trying to convey information to your reader. If it’s a fictional piece, the whole idea is to convey pleasurable information. Which emotion that involves is entirely up to you, but unless the story is one of those fifty-word shorts (or something like that), it’s going to be long enough to require some sort of structure beyond the basics all stories require: A beginning, a middle and an end.

            To get from point A to point B, there has to be structure, a pattern that makes it easier for the reader to digest. Therefore, to simplify your story, to organize it and make it more palatable for your readers, you go beyond the basic sentences and paragraphs to organize it into chapters and scenes.

ALWAYS SOMEONE TO BREAK THE RULES

            The most extreme example I can think of is a book I heard about when I was living in Spain. A Spanish author wrote a two-hundred-plus page book, and it was one sentence! The only punctuation was a single period at the very end. That had to be one seriously tedious story. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a best seller, even in Spain.

            As an avid reader, I’ve seen all varieties of structure. Some authors don’t use chapters at all. Their stories are all scenes. Then there are those like James Patterson, who makes every scene a chapter. Lately, I tend toward this approach. Then there are those that use a timeline instead of chapters, or they have parts with independent chapters within these parts instead of consecutive chapters starting with one at the beginning of the book and so on.

            It doesn’t matter which form you take because it still boils down to organization.

ORGANIZATION

            Chapters and scenes organize your story into logical, palatable bite-sized chunks, something the reader can grab onto. This is the same as TV scenes between commercial breaks. The movies do it also, except instead of commercials, they break to a different part of the story, to take a breather, or reveal something. Well…that’s not always the case, especially with some thrillers and blockbusters, but you get the point.

            Organization. Small sections lay out your story so that the reader can help put things together in their mind as they follow along. They can watch it develop as you tell it.

IS THERE A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN CHAPTERS AND SCENES?

            Is there really a difference between chapters and scenes? To many authors, not much.

            One way to look at it is that a chapter is more of the big picture, where scenes are little chunks within the chapter. What does that mean?

            A chapter is a major clause, section, or part of the story. It’s a chunk of action that takes place. A scene is the same thing but on a smaller scale. Because of this rather vague and arbitrary definition, there are no set rules, and many different methods authors use to organize their stories.

OLD SCHOOL

            Not too long ago, the standard was that books were organized into chapters and each chapter should have no more than three or four scenes. More than that was considered taboo and excessive. Bad voodoo.

            I happen to agree with that if you choose to use standard chapters. More than three or four scenes per, fragments the chapters and becomes annoying. That isn’t to say published authors don’t break that rule and get away with it, but to me, it makes for a disorganized story and takes away from the impact.

REGARDLESS, THEY’RE ALL STRUCTURED THE SAME

            Whether it’s a chapter or a scene, they should be written the same. They both follow a basic structure similar to the big picture of your overall story. They should have a beginning, a middle and an end. The only thing missing will be the plot resolution.

LIKE AN INDIVIDUAL SHORT STORY

            You should treat each scene and chapter like a short story because that’s what they are. Each chapter and/or scene is a co-dependent short story that when assembled, coalesces to create the completed whole novel (or short bigger story).

            Each one of these intricate parts completes the whole.

            Every scene or chapter must be treated the same. The structure should be as follows, regardless of length:

  1. BEGINNING: Some kind of introduction to set the scene, to let the reader know what, where, why, when and how. It could be a paragraph, a sentence, or even a single word.
  2. MIDDLE: The meat of the matter. This is where you do what you have to do. Get out the information, whatever it is.
  3. END: This can be the most critical part. The end is not only to finish up the chapter or scene, this is also where you sell your reader, where you compel them to go on to the next scene, where you entice them to want to continue reading. There’s nothing worse than to end the section leaving them flat. If they have no reason to move on, why bother? You’ve just lost your reader. The only scene that won’t compel them to want to read more will be the end. Even then, if you do a really good job, they’ll either want a sequel or can’t wait for your next book to come out.

DON’T FORGET TO DUMP THE FLUFF

            One of the most critical things about any chapter or scene, which I’ve preached in many of my other articles, is that any chapter or scene has to be relevant! It has to move the plot along and not be extraneous material. There’s nothing that brings a plot to a screeching halt faster than fluff.

SUMMARY

            Whether you choose to use chapters and no scenes like I do often (depending on the genre), use nothing but scenes, or something in-between, remember the key is that each bite-sized chunk of your short story, novel or novelette must be a short story within. Each little bit must have a beginning, middle and an end. If you have those key elements and pay special attention to each ending, your readers will stay with you right until the end.

            Happy writing!

BOOKS THAT INSPIRED ME TO WRITE

February 9, 2022

           This is a question that comes up quite often on the forums, though to tell the truth, I haven’t seen it lately. In fact, this inspiration just popped into my head as I sat down to think of something to write this Sunday morning. I know I’ve touched on it before in other articles. After all, I have 580 to choose from since I started Fred Central.

            To do this, I need to take it back to the beginning.

MY FIRST BOOKS

            Back when I first got interested in books, most of you weren’t even alive. My mom used to read me big fat baby books, the likes of my favorite at the time Willy Woo oo ooo The Fire Truck, if I remember the title correctly. It turned into many more including (which I’ve outline before), my grandpa showing me Encyclopedia Britannica and of course, that infamous photo of the Lusitania Sinking.

            I’ve always had a fascination with printed matter.

READING

            Reading has never not been part of my life.

            It wasn’t always pleasant, as early school can attest, though it wasn’t that I couldn’t learn, or didn’t, but my report cards weren’t always the best. Part of that was thanks to my vivid imagination (which would come in handy many decades later).

            The thing is that back then, while I never had anything against reading, which I did as much out of necessity as anything else, what turned me off then was as often the tiny font rather than content.

            Yup, that’s right, the size of the font had a big influence on what I’d read for pleasure.

            Therefore, kid books, with the bigger fonts usually got my attention.

            Next came open space on the pages.

            The more solid the pages, the less I wanted to read it.

            Lazy? Or just that I didn’t like busy pages?

            I gravitated toward the more adolescent books which fit right with my age group at the time.

BEGINNINGS OF MY FICTION INTEREST

            One huge boost in my reading interest came when we were living in Lompoc, California. We had been living in a trailer and my parents finally got tired of that and moved into a real house. The people who owned it and rented it to us had two older kids who left us a bunch of toys and stuff they no longer wanted. For the boy in the family, I got a treasure trove of stuff including a bunch of kids books, a little older than my age at the time, but it gave me a huge boost for reading. This set of books were the original 1930’s editions of The Hardy Boys.

            While the font wasn’t quite as big as I would’ve wanted, I adapted and once I started with book #1, The Tower Treasure, I was hooked!

            Soon, I had exhausted the entire library of books I’d inherited from the kid. Then, they became an occasional buy when my parents would let me, or a Christmas gift until I had the entire series up to that point.

            Along the way, I also got into Tom Swift, Nancy Drew, The Bobsey Twins, and Danny Dunn series.

            I always loved series the best because it brought back characters I liked to see again.

            There were a few one-off books I also got into, like Life On The Mississippi, which was a very hard read for me because of the font and the writing style. I also wasn’t all that hot on either Tom Sawyer nor Huck Finn for some reason.

            I was, of course, forced to read the “classics” at school.

            I hated them. Not only were they boring, but the obscure language and writing styles turned me off. I was being force fed these tomes, told this and that, and had to write about it. That didn’t sit well with me.

            At this time, my writing consisted of the occasional letter to a friend or relative, or whatever I had to write at school. Like most others of my age, I was not a big fan of writing, though I did it, sometimes with great angst. It was also all with a pen or pencil. No typing.

THE END OF HIGH SCHOOL

            Toward the end of high school, my best friend started hanging out with this book collector who was a slightly older guy that lived on the west side of Palmdale. That was, of course, not his main interest in this guy, but I won’t go into that except it was of a party nature. Anyway, this guy got me into books and his fascination with science fiction. He had quite an extensive collection of Edgar Rice Burroughs books. By this time, a bit older, I was able to tolerate the tinier font of a paperback, and at least Burroughs got to the point. I could enjoy his Mars and Tarzan novels.

            I started a modest collection.

            In the meantime, after I graduated, I got my first taste of fantasy as I worked nights at a golf course, running sprinklers. Between runs, I sat in the maintenance shed with my feet off the ground (to avoid scorpions), and slogged through Lord Of The Rings.

            I somehow got through all three volumes, but they left me kind of flat. At that time, not being a writer myself, I had no idea what was wrong with them. I know now what the problem is. Besides the rambling is the omniscient point of view. That lesson would come back to me decades later.

THE MILITARY

            When I first joined, I wasn’t reading as much as when I first arrived in Spain in the early 70’s. Then, living single in the barracks, I was into two main things. Music/electronics and reading. I haunted the Stars and Stripes bookstore.

            It was there I got into a lot more science fiction and again, a bit of fantasy, though much less wordy stuff by Andre Norton and the like.

            I also got my first taste of some great detective and thriller and spy novels like Matt Helm and Doc Savage.

            I also read one significant book that would stick with me for a long time. I can’t remember a thing about the story, but the book was called The Metal Monster. It was science fiction. The only reason I really remember the book is because in downtown Madrid, there was a high-rise that had a big sign on it that said “METAL MAZDA” on it. Every time we went to Madrid, I’d spot that sign on the building in the distance and think of that obscure book. To this day, I still can’t recall anything about that story, but I still remember the title!

            This was when my first inspirations to write came into play.

            So, what happened?

            I had a Royal manual typewriter and in a huge but misguided inspiration, I attempted to start a Star Trek satire. I got three quarters of a page and gave up.

            I realized this crap is hard!

            I shelved it and never tried again for a long time.

NEARING MILITARY RETIREMENT – CHANGING TIMES

            In our last year at Torrejon in Spain, Desert Storm took place.

            In a hangar two down from where I worked, they set up a deployment depot for the troops going to the bad place. My family used to volunteer to help out, doling out coffee and donuts and whatever.

            I’d go down and visit them at lunch time.

            They had an extensive exchange library of paperbacks.

            That’s where I found Raise The Titanic by Clive Cussler and a very early book by Bentley Little.

            Those two books were not only great reads, but they inspired me to think about writing again. I had just completed a writing course for my associates degree, plus a few years earlier, I had learned the Nazi way of writing from my former boss. By this time, some six years since, I’d become to go-to guy in the shop for writing stuff. Plus, my wife and I had a monthly newsletter we did for a group we were in.

FINAL DAYS IN THE MILITARY

            We came back stateside and were living in Oklahoma at my last assignment. I realized we were never going to do much else with our band, which we kept reforming every time we moved from base to base. I needed a creative outlet.

            Along this time, which was mid 90’s now, I’d been haunting the local Hastings bookstore in downtown Altus, Oklahoma. There I discovered Dean Koontz, but in particular, two authors who were a huge inspiration. Elizabeth Forrest (Rhondi Vilott Salsitz), and my mentor and friend, Carol Davis Luce. Their books blew me away. It was then, early 1995, that I sat down at the keyboard, and took up writing and it became a passion.

SUMMARY

            Books/authors that inspired me to write are many.

            Hardy Boys

            Nancy Drew

            Edgar Rice Burroughs

            Danny Dunn

            Doc Savage

            Clive Cussler

            Bentley Little

            Carol Davis Luce

            Elizabeth Forrest

            Ron Goulart

            Andre Norton

            Just to name a few. Notice that I mentioned not only authors, but book series.

            The reason is that it was not just specific books, but the authors and most of what they wrote (and some were contracted out under a pen name). No one specific book did it for me as much as everything.

            Did I pick up writing because I thought I could do better than they were doing?

            Ah, duh! No way!

            I just wanted to write, tell my stories and put them out there for others to enjoy one day in the best way within my means.

            Simple as that.

            Happy writing!

DÉJÀ VU PART II

February 2, 2022

            This isn’t a repeat of the article I published in November. This is about something else.

            Has it ever occurred to you when plotting or coming up with ideas, given that you’ve written multiple stories or novels, that stuff starts to feel or sound the same?

            This is what I mean by part II or 2 of déjà vu.

PLOTTING FAMILIARITIES

            One of the grand poohbahs of writing once said there are only so many plots. As a writer, you mix them up to make them seem unique. As readers (or watchers if a movie or TV), we tolerate a lot because of the voice of the writer.

            That’s what it’s really about. It’s the trappings surrounding the plot, not the plot itself.

            As I’ve said before (here’s déjà vu for you), there are infinite ways to tell or show the story of how the butler did it. It can still be a great story. It all depends on the voice and the trappings that go along with it. The twists and the turns, so on and so forth.

SETTING FAMILIARITIES

            Your hero gets into a bar brawl to pick up a major clue.

            Where have I seen that before?

            In book number three, five, seven, eight…

            Is this a pattern? A fallaback?

            Déjà vu?

REALITY

            While there are infinite possibilities when writing and creating, there are also rabbit holes we can fall back into without even realizing it. There are also old standbys that work just fine. The only real rule is to keep mixing them up so as not to become boring.

            When your readers complain that you’re too predictable, then you may have a problem.

            When your beta readers notice a trend, you may have a problem.

            When you notice a trend, you may have a problem.

CRUTCHES

            One way of putting it is that when writing, déjà vu becomes cliché which becomes a crutch. Then the readers may become bored.

            The issue with that is how broad you want to define what a crutch is.

            The difference between all of it can get blurred when we come to style.

            Nobody that’s a fan of Clive Cussler, for instance, can mistake his style. When you read one of his books, you know what’s going to happen. Is that déjà vu? Is that a cliché? Is that a crutch?

            See? You can take things too far.

            It goes right in the category of fixing something that isn’t broke. Clive found his magic and stuck with it, even when branching out into different series. The style stayed the same.

            Some would call that a crutch, déjà vu, cliché.

            Others would rely on him for writing a great adventure, always knowing what they’re going to get.

            The same could be said for Agatha Christie, or David Baldacci, or Lee Child.

SUMMARY

            When you come across déjà vu in your writing, does it have to do with a plot element, a situation, or your style?

            Something to think about.

            Happy writing!