Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Announcing: The full Bones of the Earth is now available

I thought I might as well make a formal announcement:

The full text of The Bones of the Earth, all three parts, is now available in e-book form from Smashwords and Amazon.

For those who have already downloaded Part 1: Initiation Rites, I will give you a coupon for a reduction in the cost of the full version equal to the cost of the part you've already bought.

I'm very happy and excited about this! I must thank, again, my cover designer, Lisa Damerst, and my editors, Roxanne Bury and Will Grainger, for outstanding efforts.

What is it all about?

I wrote The Bones of the Earth because I wanted to read an epic fantasy that did not reiterate all the stereotypes and tropes of the fantasy genre that I kept finding on the shelves in my local bookstore: typically, they start with a crude map of an imaginary land, a map that is so simplistic that it's obvious the artist never looked at a real map. Inside, two-dimensional characters have names that sound vaguely Celtic or Saxon. Place names betray that the authors were looking for short cuts to become the next Tolkein.

I decided to write a story that satisfied what I was looking for, something that's not found in most books. The setting is a place you won't find in any other story: eastern Europe in the darkest part of the Dark Age. I deliberately avoided romanticizing it. Life was miserable for most people.

Setting the story in a real place also saves me the work that took Tolkein so many years. I did not have to invent languages or history. I spent a lot of time in research, yes, but the result is that all the names of people, places and mythical monsters come from authentic sources. Yes, "Javor" is a real Slavic name, meaning "maple tree." Elli, Grat, Vorona (raven), Valgus, Photius—these are all names that real people had 1,500 years ago.

I have also made an effort to incorporate many ancient myths and legends from various cultures that would have had some influence on the people of the setting and time.

All that to say, please take a look at the book. You can take a fairly long peek at Amazon's version—it allows a free sample of about 20 percent of the text, which is about 80 pages. Also, I have a free e-pub version of about the same extent at the tab at the top of this page.

I invite any comments, as well. Let me know what you think of the story, style or approach. And let me know if you figure out what the bones of the earth are before you get to the end of Part 2.

Happy holidays!

Friday, December 23, 2011

Indie author interview with Elise Stokes, author of the Cassidy Jones adventures

My latest guest is Elise Stokes, independent author of the outstanding MG novels, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula and Cassidy Jones and Vulcan's Gift. Both books are setting fire to the indie sales lists, and garnering great reviews, too. She is also part of Artesian Books, a real innovation in the world of electronic publishing.

I asked Elise to share her thoughts on writing, on being an author and on the business of bringing your work to an audience.

What is your goal as a writer? What are you trying to achieve with your writing—other than financial reasons, or trying to sell a lot of copies, why do you write?
Not to be dramatic, but when I write I feel like I can breathe. It’s like yoga for the brain. All the pressures of living on planet Earth just sort of melt away when I lose myself in this really cool world I’ve created in my head. Plus, it’s fun sharing this world with others, especially when they think it’s pretty cool, too.

Is there a central theme for your writing? One message you are trying to get across?
I really don’t have an agenda. I just want to entertain my readers. But if I had to pull a theme from this series it would be learning to be comfortable in your own skin. There’s a reason Cassidy is very fourteen. I want young readers to relate to her, see themselves in her and experience her victories as if they were their own. In other words, I want Cassidy to be a role model and to give girls her age a glimpse of what they can overcome and achieve. Guess I do have an agenda after all. 

Who do you think is your audience? Do you have a specific reader in mind for your books?
My target audience are girls ages 12 to 16. However—much to my delight—this series has proven to have great crossover appeal. Both genders, young and old alike, are Cassidy fans. I guess the action and bigger-than-life, Marvel-like characters makes the girl drama tolerable for the boys. Really, there is a lot going on in my stories.

What is one deep aspect of your main character, Cassidy Jones, that you did not specifically describe in your story, but that you hope that your readers discover or work out on their own?
Cassidy sees those she loves and trusts through rose-colored glasses. This is good for the reader to keep in mind since the story is being told by Cassidy. Her perception could be influenced by this flaw.

 How would you describe your own writing style?I like stories that are fast-paced, have a goal, and are light on description but heavy on dialogue. In fact, I tend to skim through description to dialogue. I like learning about characters via their interaction with one another. So it comes as no surprise that this is how I also write. But I’m not a seasoned writer, so my writing style isn’t set in stone. It can be easily influenced by what I’m reading. This is one reason why I avoid reading when I’m writing.
What is your writing technique or process? For example, do you write in the mornings, or late through the night? Do you use outlines?
I plot out how to reach “the unveiling” in a skeleton outline. My goal is to keep everything relevant in the story, threaded together so tightly that my editor can’t find anything to shave off. For the most part, I write while my kids are at school. I’ve tried to write at night, but frankly I can hardly form an intelligible tweet after 9 p.m.

How many drafts of Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula did you write before you published it?
Two: first draft and the rewrite. Aside from a few short stories in high school and college and the “novel” I wrote in 6th grade, Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula is my first real writing attempt and the story just sort of flowed. This is not the case with the second book in the series, Cassidy Jones and Vulcan’s Gift, which was released the first week of December. That one dragged me through the woods! It was well worth the fight, however, because the result of all the toil and frustration is an unpredictable storyline and a very cool super villain that I can truly be proud of.
Are your characters based on people you actually know?
My youngest inspired Cassidy’s brother Chazz. My son has a huge imagination. If he’s taken with a character in a movie, he usually pauses the video so he can throw together a makeshift costume of the character, which he is really good at doing. The kid has an eye for detail. The first time he watched Indiana Jones he dug out a white dress shirt and left it unbuttoned almost to his navel. I’d never even noticed Indie showed that much chest before.

Though I didn’t intend this, Cassidy’s personality is a lot like mine. We share the same sense of humor, quirky ways, and shyness, which strikes us at the most random times. We are also loyal to the bone and can be rather hard on ourselves. I burdened Elizabeth, Cassidy’s mother, with my obsession of keeping a clean house. Years ago my husband had dubbed me “The Midnight Mopper.” Writing this series has forced me to lower my standards, though things can still get a little ugly around here on Saturdays, “family house cleaning day.”

If you could actually meet your villain in person, what would you like to say to him?
I’d say, “Arthur King Junior! Shut your trap!” The guy never stops talking.

What one marketing technique do you think has brought you the most sales?
Goodreads giveaways. It is the best opportunity out there for a new writer to get discovered by readers. Thousands of members participate in the drawings, and hundreds will enter for your novel. Incredible exposure and well worth the price of a paperback and shipping. I suggest listing your novel on a regular basis until reviews start to build. Credibility is crucial, because who’s going to risk wasting money on an unknown product?

Tell me about what you're working on that will help other independent authors find an audience?That would be Artesian Books, an online book retailer created for independent authors and small publishers that my husband Dave and I are launching soon. We’re offering quality books to our customers with incentives to keep them coming back, perks for book reviewers and bloggers, and opportunities to our vendors that are currently only attainable with top retailers to big house publishers with deep pockets. We have essentially created a new business model, which is much needed in this floundering world of publishing. As an author, I’m excited what this could mean for my series as well as for the works of other authors who become affiliate members. It’s a sweet opportunity for an indie.

Thank you, and happy holidays, Elise!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The worst and the best of best-seller Russell Blake

This week's guest post is from indie author Russell Blake, author of best-selling political thrillers as well as the illuminating, if not exactly helpful, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated). You can find his blog at Russell Blake, Suspense Writer.

Scott asked me to add to his considerable collection of accounts from authors recounting the best and worst things they’ve done for themselves.

First, an introduction. My name’s Russell Blake, and I’m a writer. By year end, I’ll have 12 books out: 10 thrillers and 2 non-fiction. All of which I have released since late May.

The Worst
Let’s talk about the worst things, first. Probably the single worst thing I do is integral to my process, and I’m not talking about the binge tequila chugging sessions, although some might argue that’s not so good, either. Then again, they haven’t stumbled a mile in my shoes, so they can bite me, as can my critics. But I digress.

When I write, I immerse myself in my work-in-progress for 12 or more hours per day. It’s just what I do. I call it an OCD approach to novel creation. The reason it is the worst is obvious—sitting for that long is physically damaging: circulation is impaired over time, as are interpersonal relations, as well as any motivation to go to the gym. A whole year can blur by while your head’s in your books. It’s not a particularly healthy way to live. So my New Year’s resolution is to limit my time to eight hours a day, which should translate into 5,500 words a day, six days a week. I’ll even take Sundays off. That should put me at 90K a month, with time to polish for a week. So I think we can expect a few more books next year, even if life intrudes, as it inevitably does.

The best
The best thing I have done is to just do it. I debated self-publishing, or even writing in any sort of serious way, for years. The reasons were myriad. The chances of success were slim. It was thankless, and required considerable investment of time and money. Even though the ladies love the ink jockeys (and who wouldn’t, given that we mostly look like George Clooney after makeup), it would be a sacrifice. The good news was that I wouldn’t have to quit any of my bad habits, as they are practically de rigueur for being a writer. So there was a ray of sunshine there.

The very best thing I’ve done is to set aside a year to live dangerously, which in this case meant doing this for real. I’ve written numerous works, but scrapped them all, except for a few forgettable non-fiction opuses best left buried. But they were required in order to clock my hours—the infamous 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell refers to when discussing the time investment required to master something. I believe he’s right, because once you get there, it does become easier. That’s a lot of hours; literally years of time investment to make it. But there’s unfortunately no substitution for practice. Except for reading, which is also essential. How can you broaden your chops if you aren’t reading the work of other authors, and adopting the positives to better your own writing? Practice and exposure are the two biggies to improving your craft.

I wish there was a shortcut I could impart, but I don’t know any. If I had to give advice (other than the observation that the world’s not fair or forgiving, so just get over it already and move along with whatever you’re doing), it would be to commit to a certain number of hours per day to write, and then do it. And invest wisely in learning the rules of the road, so that you can be adept, even if you choose to ignore most of them some of the time. And of course, buy the work of indie authors whose writing interests you, early and often. Nothing self-serving about that (wink).

As a special promotion for readers of Scott’s blog, the first ten thousand customers are entitled to five minutes of free long distance Rikei healing for each of my books bought while this blog is live. No thanks are necessary. It will all come back to me in time, I’m sure. Now I have to go write some more. I’m already running behind...

Russell Blake is the bestselling author of the thrillers Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, the Zero Sum trilogy (Wall Street thrillers: Kotov Syndrome, Focal Point and Checkmate), King of Swords, Night of the Assassin, and The Delphi Chronicle trilogy (The Manuscript, The Tortoise and the Hare, and Phoenix Rising). Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel with Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related. Blake lives in Mexico, and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Six sentence Sunday for December 18

Here is the latest six-sentence excerpt from The Bones of the Earth, now available on Smashwords, Amazon and iTunes. 
Your actions have shown you to be one chosen by the powers of the world to accomplish wondrous deeds,” she said, as if she had heard his question. Her hands moved up his arms. Without losing contact with his skin, she moved around him and began spreading the oil on his neck and shoulders. Drops of oil set his skin on fire as they ran down his back. His vision swam, and he felt as if he were rocking back and forth on his feet, no matter how hard he tried to stand still. He couldn’t speak. 
If you're curious about the Six-Sentence Sunday movement, check out their site. This week, I'm listed at number 141. Read some of the other excerpts and leave comments.
If you want to read more of The Bones of the Earth, click the tab at the top of the page for  a longer excerpt and links to a long sample and the whole of Part 1.
And feel free to leave a comment about this week's excerpt! 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How to Fund Your Novel: Guest post by Roger Eschbacher

This week's guest blogger is Roger Eschbacher, author most recently of middle-grade fantasy Dragonfriend

A professional television animation writer who now is at least partly responsible for Scooby-Doo. I asked him to tell us all about the funding model he used.

As just about any “indie” author will admit one of the biggest knocks against our tribe is that often self-published books are rife with errors (punctuation, grammar, typos, continuity problems, etc.). We know how jarring it can be to run across a typo in a traditionally published book, so imagine how distracting it can be to be poked in the eye by dozens of them.

Why does this happen? To be blunt, it’s because the author didn’t have the book properly edited. And by “properly,” I mean professionally. No matter how good at catching errors you think you might be, you’ll never get them all. No matter how good you might think your beta reader/proofreader friends are at finding embarrassing mistakes in your text or story, there are always more hiding in your manuscript. Always.
I can verify this through my own experience. I can’t tell you how many “final” reads I did on Dragonfriend, my recently self-published MG fantasy novel. I’d go through it, find and fix a bunch of errors, only to go back to the beginning for one last look and find even more. I realized I needed professional help. I needed a paid editor with a trained eye to go through my manuscript and find the mistakes that would embarrass me if they ever made it out of my computer and into the wild.

What does any of this have to do with funding my novel? Well…having come to the realization that I was in over my head as far as editing goes, I started looking around for someone to help me out. Guess what? Editors can be expensive! My manuscript was in the 75,000-word range, and quotes for an edit on a book that size ran from the upper hundreds to the low thousands on the sites I checked. Google “editing, novel, proofreading” yourself and be prepared for your jaw to drop to the floor. This is not a knock against the editors, by the way; what they do is very time- and labor-intensive (= expensive).

So what was I going to do? I knew I had to get my book properly edited, but I also knew I wasn’t exactly dripping with cash. I was frozen in place until I could scrape together enough funds for a professional editor. Frozen, that is, until I ran across Kickstarter. is a site that exists solely for raising funding for “the arts.” Based on the artist/patron model of old, Kickstarter provides a platform where you can raise money from friends, family, and total strangers without having to beg in person. You simply set up an account and direct people to it with a “Hey, if you’re interested in backing my book project…” Amazingly, to me anyway, a lot of folks were willing to pitch in and help me out.

If you head over to the site, you’ll find that everyone from filmmakers to graphic artists to greeting card makers have a project going on. Oh, and authors too.

Here’s how it works. You sign up for an account, then pitch your project to the Kickstarter folks. My “project” was to raise enough money to have my book professionally edited and pay for its setup (cover design, proof copies, Createspace Pro Plan, etc.). Frankly, I think this step is included to make sure that only “creatives” get in the door. They’re very specific about not accepting charity or non-arty business projects. This site is about raising money for projects with artistic content.

Thankfully, my project was approved and I set about trying to determine the amount of funding I would need. Having priced out the costs listed above (I picked an editor quote somewhere in the middle of the pack) and factoring in Kickstarter’s five percent account fee, I determined I’d need about $2,100.00 to properly prepare Dragonfriend for publication. Kickstarter recommends that you research your costs and pick a sum that is very close to the amount of funding you will actually need. They say that an appropriately priced project is more likely to succeed, and I think that makes sense.

Next, you determine how long you want the project to go. The allowable range is between 30 and 90 days. Kickstarter recommends 30 days, advising that if a project is going to be funded, it’ll usually happen within that period of time. I wish I had listened to them. I chose 45 days, only to have my project achieve full funding at around day 25. You have to wait for the project to play itself out before Kickstarter releases the funds, so I found myself cooling my heels for the balance of time left in the project. Another reason not to inflate your request is that if you don’t reach your funding goal within the allotted time, the project fails and no one (yourself or Kickstarter) gets any money. The backers who pledged prior to fail won’t be charged either, which is good, but you obviously don’t want to fail. In short, determine a reasonable goal and don’t be greedy!

Next, you create your backer “rewards,” attaching fun things like bookmarks, signed copies, and future character naming rights to various donation price points. They encourage you to be inventive, so in addition to those traditional rewards, I added stuff like writing a “fake” unmasking scene from the Scooby Doo series I write on. The backer became the villain and was able to pick the name of their evil alter-ego in a customized script. Sure it’s silly, but three backers ended up receiving scenes thanks to some very generous donations.

Then you press the “launch project” button and get the word out that you’re trying to raise money for a worthy project – asking folks to become true patrons of the arts. I ended up raising $2,205.00, which I promptly put into play by hiring an editor. I chose Iguana Proofreading and opted for their complete package of a manuscript critique and proofreading.

I have nothing but good things to say about my Kickstarter experience. It provided the funds I needed to launch my book. Without it, I’d probably still be going through the manuscript and finding error after error after error…

What about you? Do you have any experience with Kickstarter or tips on hiring a pro editor? Please share them in the comments.

Link to my blog:

Link to my (now inactive) Kickstarter project:

Link to Dragonfriend’s Amazon page:

Roger Eschbacher is a professional television animation writer who's worked for Warner Brothers, Nickelodeon, and Cartoon Network. In addition to his middle-grade fantasy/adventure novel, Dragonfriend, he's also written two children's picture books, "Road Trip", and "Nonsense! He Yelled," both for Penguin.
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, he now lives in California with his family and a crazy dog named Lizzy.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A fast-paced page-flicker

Indie Book Review:

Once again, an independent author proven that the big commercial publishers just are not effective at finding good writers. RS Guthrie’s debut novel is a good, fast-paced read that kept me turning pages — or at least, flicking the screen of my e-reader.

Black Beast is an attempt to marry supernatural horror with hardboiled cop mystery. It’s mostly successful, if a little uneven in spots.

Synopsis: Robert Macaulay, “Bobby Mac,” is a Denver, Colorado cop with an artificial leg and a lot of history. The story begins with a death-row visit to the criminal who killed Macaulay’s first partner and was responsible for the loss of Macaulay’s leg, as well.

Macaulay is then perplexed by a series of especially grisly murders in Denver, and other events that bring up old cases he had worked one.

Macaulay’s family history becomes much more present, though, when he’s visited by his uncle, Father West, who reveals that Bobby Mac is the heir to an occult weapon and a responsibility to fight an ancient evil.

Author Rob Guthrie successfully weaves together the occult and the fact-based murder mystery genres in this tale. I’m not sure whether plotting or character development is his strongest point. Macaulay and all the other characters are absolutely believable (except maybe for some of the buddies from the Marines — but then, I’ve never been in the armed forces). I really identified with the main character’s awkwardness and difficulty with his college-aged son, and the anguish over the death of his wife.
And as for plot, there is only one big coincidence in this book. Everything else that I thought was a credibility stretch is very nicely tied together by the end. To me, this is a mark of a writer who takes his craft seriously.

There are a few places where Guthrie goes a little over the top, mainly in his descriptions of horror and ancient evil and in descriptions of criminals, but I can forgive those. By far, most of the prose is tight and fast paced. I was never bored reading this book.

I cannot understand why no commercial publisher picked this title up. Oh, right — because Rob Guthrie isn’t a celebrity.

He should be, by now.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The perfect novel for a high-school student

Indie author book review: Cassidy Jones and the Secret Formula
This is the perfect novel for a girl or boy.

While she starts on some well-travelled roads — a teenage protagonist who gains super-powers from an accident in a lab — author Elise Stokes actually shows more skill in weaving that plot point into the plot of this book. She knows what it means to be a writer, and demonstrates this with a clear, fast-paced writing style that keeps readers focused on the story, not on her ability to write.

Synopsis: Cassidy Jones is a 9th-grade teenager who is very self-conscious about her lack of athletic ability, among other self-perceived faults. She’s envious of the popular girl in school, Robyn, who is not only athletic and pretty, but seems able to do anything she wants. The first chapter of the story really brings to life the angst and self-doubt of the teen years. Later, Cassidy accompanies her father, a local newsman, on a story as part of an enforced learning experience. Again, Stokes vividly captures the emotions of a teen riding in the backseat as her parent tries to show her a small part of the adult life.

The assignment is to interview a world-leading genetic researcher. In the lab, Cassidy suffers an accident that involves some of the chemical the scientist is studying, and à la Spider-Man, gains super powers.

When that same scientist is kidnapped, her son, Emery — coincidentally, the same age as Cassidy —moves into the Jones’s because he has no one to look after him. This is the one big coincidence of the story, and as I’ve said before, every novel needs one but can tolerate no more.

Cassidy gradually discovers her new super strength and super speed, and teams up with Emery to find his mother and the kidnappers.

So far, pretty standard middle-grade stuff, right? But Stokes reaches a higher level by describing her characters’ reactions and emotions with skill, humour and absolute dead-on believability.

Why is this a perfect book for teens?

Because it depicts a girl and her family so well. The Joneses are not ordinary. Dad’s a local celebrity and Mom stays at home. A smaller and smaller minority of North American families can afford that lifestyle. But the situation is handled well. It makes sense, because Dad is successful in what he does.

The kids are also believable, with the behaviours and flaws that we see around us and within us all the time.

And the plot is not predictable. I’ve read far too many books and seen way too many movies where I can predict the next scene and the next plot development, because it’s been done before many, many times. While Stokes may have borrowed a page from Spider-Man to begin her story, her plot is original. There is a twist at the end that I did not see coming, and there were several points where my predictions about whodunit were proved wrong.

My only complaint is that the end of the plot was wrapped up a little too quickly. The emotional arc of the story was fully developed, but the logical plot was rushed. It would have been nice to read about Cassidy discovering the final details and her reaction to them. This was the one part of the book where I found myself saying (quietly) “show, don’t tell.” It felt as if the author were rushing to finish the book.

Cassidy Jones was clearly written as a character with a series of adventures ahead of her, and even though I’m very far from being an adolescent American girl, I’m looking forward to the next installment.

It’s not every day that you find a really good read, after all.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Six sentence Sunday for December 11

Here is my entry for this week's Six Sentence Sunday. Looks like I just made it under the wire. This is from Chapter 5 of my novella, The Bones of the Earth: Initiation Rites, now available from Smashwords and Amazon.
This week, I'm entrant number 105. I hope I'm not the only entrant who's not in the erotica category.

Chapter 5: the Cave
By afternoon, Javor was panicking with every step as they crept along a ledge narrower than his shoulders. The ledge was covered with a thin layer of tiny pebbles, and each footfall slid and crunched and pushed a puff of dust over the edge.
Cliffs rose almost straight up on their left and dropped so far on the right that Javor felt dizzy if he looked over. There was no sound but the wind. Above, the sky roiled with gray clouds. Clouds don’t move like that, Javor thought. 

For more hot excerpts, check out Six Sentence Sunday.

Friday, December 09, 2011

The best decision and the biggest mistake: guest bloggers Wodke Hawkinson

Karen Wodke and PJ Hawkinson are collectively the writing team known as WodkeHawkinson, authors of Betrayed, Catch her in the Rye, Blue and the soon to be released Night Roads.

I asked them to contribute to the series “the best thing and the biggest mistake writers have made," and they graciously accepted.

In return, I described my editing process on their blog.

Our best decision and greatest mistake so far
Thanks to Scott for the opportunity to guest post on his blog! Scott asked us to discuss the best thing we have done as writers, and the biggest mistake we have made.

We feel the best decision we've made so far is to self-publish. It was not a decision made lightly. We researched the subject and took into consideration not only the stigma often attached to the self-published author, but also the difficulty of self-promotion. Ultimately, we decided to take the plunge on our own, and we are glad we did.

As self-published authors, we have complete control over the content of our books, our covers, and our marketing. Marketing and promotion are often the twin obstacles that intimidate authors considering self-publishing. It’s a valid concern. Independent authors cannot place their books into brick-and-mortar stores as traditional publishers can.

For us, paperback sales have not been high, even though we feel our books have a fair price. However, online sales of the e-book versions are steady and rising, especially for our novel, Betrayed. As for our paperbacks, we have recently discovered a few new venues, which include local bookstores and book signings. Since our last book signing was successful, we are gradually expanding further into that segment of the market. Even traditionally published authors must devote some time to promotion (unless they are mega-famous), but indie authors have to hit it a bit harder. It's all part of the business of writing.

As for our greatest mistake so far, we both agree it was wasting over a year of valuable time pursuing a traditional publishing contract. During that time, we were not idle, for we were working on our next book. But, that time was lost with regard to the promotion of our work. Traditional publishers often have policies that prohibit simultaneous submissions and they control the response time. A writer is often left hanging for months waiting on an answer.

For any new authors holding out for a traditional publisher, we wish them luck. It was not the right choice for us. It's nearly impossible for an unknown author to pitch a book to the big traditional publishers, at least without an agent. And, beware; a good agent is not that easy to come by for a new author. It's difficult to attract an agent if you are unpublished, and difficult to become published without an agent. This is a vicious circle — one we chose to avoid.

One of our marketing strategies did not produce the results we were seeking. Before releasing Betrayed, we put out two short story collections, Catch Her in the Rye and Blue, and priced the e-book version low as a way to introduce our writing to readers. Although we have made some sales of these books, the end result wasn’t what we had planned; it seems readers prefer novels to short story collections. Even knowing this, we put out a third short story collection entitled Alone, simply because we enjoy writing short stories. We don't regard this move as a mistake, but more of a learning experience. We have to be pragmatic, as writing is our livelihood. We'll put more emphasis on our novels from this point forward, because that's where the readership is, but we'll never abandon the short story format altogether. We already have the next short story collection in the pipeline, Night Roads, even though we have put the project on hold for the time being so we can pursue our two upcoming novels.

The decision whether to self-publish or pursue traditional publishing is one with which many authors struggle. There are good arguments for either path. For us, going indie was the right choice.

-Wodke Hawkinson


Our website:

Our reader/author site:

Our books on Amazon: Kindle store > Wodke Hawkinson
Twitter: @WodkeHawkinson

What do you think about Wodke Hawkinson's decision?

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Have you ever read something and wondered “didn’t the writer edit this? At all?”

My job as editor means I read unedited writing. Most of the time, the writer has tried to self-edit, with varying success. I don’t mind that. Unfortunately, I have read a few novels lately that seem as if no one has even tried to correct the text, beyond using the spelling checker in the word processing software. It’s aggravating to read 300 pages filled with grammatical mistakes, clichés and unclear sentences.

Here are some of the worst offences:

Too much detail

This is a sin that I know I must watch for in my own writing. It’s not necessary to write “she put the envelope on the desk and slid it across to him.” Just tell us that “he” took, or better yet, opened the envelope.

And you don’t have to tell us everything a character ate for breakfast. Get to the action. If you want to emphasize that he or she is health-conscious, then describe the grapefruit, yogurt and peanut butter (or whatever) once. One of the more annoying aspects of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series is the number of times Stieg Larsson described his characters eating Billy’s Pan Pizza or liverwurst sandwiches. How does repeating that detail add to characterization or plot?

A few other examples from recent reading (titles and names withheld to protect the guilty):

— “nod in agreement” — Most readers will understand that “nodding” indicates agreement. You could just write “agreed,” but ask yourself if your story or message really needs this detail.
— “collapsed to the floor” — A floor is generally what people and things collapse to, unless it’s the bare ground. If you’ve established your setting already, your readers know what characters are collapsing to.
— “‘You’re going to have to leave,’ said the waitress as she came back to my table.” — If she did not come to the table, how would the customer hear her?

New clichés

You’ve read about all the standard clichés to avoid (like the plague ;)). But new clichés have emerged — phrases that sounded fresh once, but have had the life squeezed out of them through overuse by lazy writers.

— thin blue line, meaning the police force
— splitting headache
— fallen on deaf ears
— snapped like a whip
— peppered with gunfire
— master plan
— pushing the envelope
— out of the box
— going forward, meaning the future
— hit on
— tagged and bagged, meaning a dead body
— more than meets the eye — the writer’s job is to show the reader more than their eyes will see.

Think of new ways of getting these images across. No, it won’t be easy, but did you think the writer’s job would be easy?

Finally, the worst cliché of all, found in Hollywood scripts and beginners’ novels: everyone is attractive. Look around you: how many people do you see in your office or on your bus that are really that attractive? How many men are muscular and fit with washboard abs? How many women are beautiful?

Flawed characters are much more believable than perfect ones. Those flaws can be physical, as well as psychological, economic or moral.


In writing, using too many words to express an idea is a felony.

Read over your work carefully, and ask: can you delete these words or this phrase without reducing the amount of information in the document? Delete them!

Watch for phrases like these:

— mutual cooperation — all cooperation is mutual, or it’s not cooperation
— with a look of disappointment — try “she/he looked disappointed”
— with reluctance — “reluctantly”
— long drawn-out voyage — just “long” will do, or express this in a new way
— swirling vortex — all vortices swirl; it’s what vortices do
— rises up — I’ve never heard of anything “rising down” (although I remember upsydasium, the element that “fell up” from Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons)
— the colour of bronze
— the month of December — December is not anything BUT a month
— place of business — This can be anything. Be specific. Use “store,” “office,” “restaurant,” or whatever is the case.
— due to the fact that — write “because”
— dead corpse
— are in evidence — write “are.”


Finally, remember to keep it simple. Don’t try to impress the reader with literary flourishes, and don’t show off your vocabulary. A book, document or report is not about the writer, even when it’s an autobiography. It’s about telling a story or a message to an audience.

The following are a few examples I see mostly in science fiction and fantasy, but also in historical fiction and even in business reports:

Don’t write              use instead
  • countenance   face
  • assistance       help
  • perpetrator     attacker/invader/burglar — be specific
  • fatigued          tired 
  • attempting       trying 
  • sufficient         enough
  • regarding         about
Do you have any tips or pet peeves about needlessly complex, overblown or wordy writing? Leave a comment.

Monday, December 05, 2011

The best (and the worst) of being an author: Guest post by Andy Holloman

The latest author to volunteer his thoughts on the best and worst of being an author is Andy Holloman, author of Shades of Gray and blogger of Musings of a Debut Novelist (and other nonsense). Based in Raleigh, North Carolina, Andy is a former travel agent and now author. When he’s not writing guest posts for me, he claims to be working on his next novel.

The best parts (and the worst parts!) of being an author

A big thanks to Scott for inviting me to guest post and I really like his topic suggestion.

For me, the best part of being and author is getting to interact with readers. My debut novel, Shades of Gray, has just been released and I’m finally getting a chance to hear from readers and reviewers.

I’m fascinated and thrilled that folks have been enjoying the book. Also, I truly enjoy the comments that readers provide because they often find different meaning from the work than I had intended. This is wonderful because it opens up a whole slew of new perspectives—and this is just not available to us authors while we are creating a novel. I LOVE readers and I LOVE readers’ comments!!

Now, on the the WORST part of being an author: I truly despise the editing and rewriting process. Although any novel requires multiple rewrites, this is the worst part to me because it requires less creative juices than the actual construction of the story. Likewise, editing doesn’t excite me at all. I was fortunate to have three different professional editors review my book, so I was able to avoid the bulk of this work.

However, no author is ever immune from editing. Unfortunately it is an essential part of the process by which a book gets “made.”

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Six sentence Sunday for December 4

It's Sunday, and I'm participating in Six Sentence Sunday, again. The sample below is from Part 2 of The Bones of the Earth, "Tests."
This excerpt is from Chapter 12, and takes place in ancient Dacia, north of the Roman Empire — a land long reputed to be haunted. 

"One day as they crept through thick brush toward the road, Photius stopped dead in his tracks, his hand out to stop Javor. He held his finger over his lips and pointed with his other hand. Peering between the branches and leaves, they saw something their minds could not accept: a young woman, a girl, really, naked, tied spread-eagle to two rough logs cut and lashed together in an x-shape, then propped in the middle of the road. She was thin with long, light-brown hair that cascaded over her shoulders. They could see her ribs under her small breasts. Javor thought she was probably the same age as he was, perhaps a little older."

You can check out some other fine samples of upcoming and published work at
What do you think of this, or any other samples? Leave a comment below.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The best and worst of being an author: Guest post by Wendy S. Russo

Wendy S. Russo is the third fellow writer and blogger to participate in the Best and Worst series on the author's life.

A wife, mom, and IT analyst by day, Wendy S. Russo enjoys inquisitive characters, slow reveals and snowballing climaxes. She keeps a blog and is actively seeking publication for her YA Sci-Fi romance, January Black. Her blog is called simply Wendy S. Russo: Writer in wife/mom clothing.

The best thing I’ve ever done for my writing? That's easy … Zoloft!

I’m really not joking. What I’ve found in recent years is that when I have a difficulty in my life, regardless of what it is, it’s usually a symptom of something larger. Where there is one symptom of a problem, there are usually others. I struggled with one particular WIP for ten years. Toward the end of that stretch, I started taking Zoloft to deal with episodes of anxiety. Within six months, I had shelved the WIP, edited 80,000 words out of my first novel, and written my third novel. I dealt with my anxiety … my writing problem resolved itself. Coincidence? I’m not a believer in coincidence within complex systems.

But, that’s not a fun answer, is it? So how about I tell you about the second best thing I have ever done for my writing? I hesitate to mention it because it usually triggers this question: “Slash?” No. Sorry to disappoint you. Yes, I have written Star Wars fan fiction, but no…I did not have Luke and Lando crossing lightsabers on The Brokeback Falc—

[Wendy fires off a quick email to Marie Sexton about a gay Luke/Lando parody. Marie replies, "That’s been done every which way…and yes that is an innuendo."]

I’m sorry, where what I? Oh yes…Star Wars. I claim my fan fiction masterpiece with pride; I really do. Also, I encourage anyone who wants to write a novel but doesn’t know where to start to try it.

Writing a novel is a lot like building a bookshelf from scratch. Whether you’re throwing stuff together, or planning it out to the very last detail, you still have to know how to safely use the table saw. Think of fan fiction, then, like building from the pieces of an IKEA box.

I’ll talk about Star Wars because that’s what I know. The back story is provided. The alien species and worlds, the weaponry and advanced technology, the ships, the characters…it’s all provided in “Essential Guides” published by LucasFilm. They have a dozen series set within a timeline that covers thousands of years. It has a supporting cast of thousands.

This is what I did: I rewrote “Sleeping Beauty” in a setting 24 years after Return of the Jedi. I set her up as an Old Republic Jedi Master who’s come out of suspended animation with retrograde amnesia, so she has no idea who she is. I put her on a ship with Mara Jade and then crashed it on a world where Luke Skywalker and Han Solo just happened to be at the time. I tossed in some romance and some planet-hopping terrorists, and just had a really good time. And you know what I got out of it? A lot of great lessons in composition, world and character building, and how to use dialog.

Was it good? Does it really matter? I got a trilogy out of it. My second project was a two volume fantasy epic; it weighed in at 280,000 words and took me only ten months from start to finish. Without those Star Wars novels, I may never have finished a first novel at all. Without them, I wouldn't have had the confidence to start an epic, and I probably wouldn’t be writing this post now.

This is about when I did the worst thing ever for my writing. I took a Short Novel Writing class. Oh, no, no, no! Don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret taking the class. I got an “A.” Given a chance, I’d take that class again in a heartbeat! Where it went wrong had nothing to do with the instruction and everything to do with what I did with it. There were things I had done wrong with the SW trilogy. I continued to do these things incorrectly in my fantasy epic. And there I was, in a formal setting, with a very respected Southern Lit author explaining to me why these things are wrong. The professor gave me some cool new tools, like story types, timeline variations, foreshadowing…. She taught me how to keep from bouncing from one POV to another, to cut excessive detail, and to avoid deus ex machina. And you would think these are pretty good things, right?

They are splendid things, and they’ve done great things for me. But at the time, I didn’t simply add/replace tools in my storytelling toolbox. I let the tools rewrite me. I used to write by the seat of my pants…(280,000 words in ten months, remember?) I plowed right through that epic like it was nothing. Now, I'm a plotter. I look at that shelved WIP I have, and I see another epic-length fantasy. I'm five chapters in and I've already worked it to death. Just looking at the old scenes frustrates me because I love them, but even after years apart, I just don't care enough about what comes next to pick it up again.

There really is something to be said about doing things in moderation.