Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Ventriloquism: Or, Trying to Recapture my Early-Story Voice

August 14, 2017

I’m in the process of editing Their Sharpest Thorns, a horror book that is horror in the more traditional sense.  As I’ve written this novel, I’ve realized that this story will require a lot of editing — not just editing to provide more clarity of voice, but also to augment the initial tale.  That’s right, I’m editing in an attempt to add words.

It has been my experience that it is difficult to remove words.  I always want to keep my pearls, and always think that my novels show a cohesion that makes it difficult to remove any links in the chain.  Adding words is even more difficult, as I am trying to add something to my story without inherently changing the story.  The problem, more often than not, is that adding words does change the story — not necessarily because I’m adding plot, but because I’m adding a voice.  There’s two ways in which adding words adds voices.  Of course, added characters or expanded characters add voices to the voiceless.  Whether a TV show like Family Guy or a book like Game of Thrones, characters who were not so important in the early going become more important as the story goes on.  Beyond this, a person’s literary voice is always changing.  Yes, we all have our styles, but there are subtle changes that occur from project to project.  The deeper I get into a project, the more I tend to interject dialogue.  Action gets tighter, description gets sparser, and characterization becomes starker.  Now, months into a project, I am trying to add a character after the fact, and one of the most difficult things to do is to try to recapture my early story voice.  Thus, I am adding a voice to my story, while trying to recapture the early-story voice of my narrative.

I haven’t shared much about this story recently, in part because I’ve hit this voice-related block. I expect to share more this week, and will go Facebook Live at some point in the middle of the week.  Until then, faithful readers, thank you for the kind words and thoughts.

Website Tour: Gillian Flynn

July 14, 2017

Apologies for the delay, folks!  A few late nights at work have thrown my writing schedule off!  I am back with another website tour.  As you now know, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites.  Along the way, I’ve taken a sampling of author websites and identified what works and what does not work about their sites.  The latest stop on the tour is acclaimed thriller author Gillian Flynn.

Gillian Flynn

You may have heard of Gillian Flynn.  Her Gone Girl book is just one of several critically acclaimed novels, and is her first work to be adapted into a motion picture.  Two of her other books have also been optioned into visual media, with Dark Places reaching theaters in 2015.  In 2016, Ms. Flynn released The Grownup; this was on Amazon’s bestseller list when I started my website critiques about a month ago, and is the next stop on this author website tour.

Ms. Flynn’s website opens under a large banner, one that takes up half of the screen.  Below that Flynn has a number of basic buttons and pulldown menus, followed by the image of her book, a brief list of its accolades, and her picture.  Her pull-down menus include a few interesting tidbits: a section titled “For Readers” and a button for contact information.  The remaining buttons / pulldowns, including “Home,” “Books,” “About Gillian,” and “News & Events” are everything I’ve come to expect from an author site.

The Good:

The “For Readers” section is a riot, regardless of whether she is trying to be sarcastic or trying to be serious. The section includes a short blog post that introduces her.  It’s riotously funny, and makes Ms. Flynn out to be someone that you wouldn’t want to invite into your home — or would you? She tells some personal details that some might find offensive, but she does it with a point.  If nothing else, it illustrates her sharp wit and frankness.

The other item of interest is a little box at the side, which includes book club questions for her first three novels. I love this idea, as Ms. Flynn has made the effort to help extend the conversation surrounding her book.  Some of these questions are softball questions, yes, but some of them are the type of questions that you would find in any undergraduate literature course – particularly the literary analysis courses. Here, you find a variety of reader response questions, but also questions about symbolism, themes, and other open-ended questions.  In essence, Ms. Flynn is doing what you see in a lot of websites for other disciplines: she’s supplementing her product (the book) with questions that help extend the book beyond the words on the page.

The Bad:

There’s not much to hate with this site.  It centers upon the books, helps you form a “relationship” with the author, and is generally pleasant in its aesthetics. There are two things that I don’t like, and they both relate to what you see above the fold.

First, the only description we get about her most recent novel, The Grownup, is just a list of Ms. Flynn’s other books and accolades.  The same can be said for information about her other books – at least eight bullet points each about sales figures and accolades, but nothing to tell you about the books themselves, unless you click on the books to go to the books’ separate pages.  As a sub-point to this, the only other information we receive about the book is a list of websites and brick-and-mortar stores where one can buy The Grownup. At least she’s fairly subtle about it, but it is still very much verboten in my mind.

The other item I don’t care for is the size of the banner. This is splitting hairs, yes, but the banner takes up a little less than half of what you see above the fold.  From the perspective of aesthetics, this makes the page itself less busy, but it also means that not much information exists on the page’s first screen.

The Verdict: With a few minor flaws, Gillian Flynn’s website does exactly what it is supposed to do.  There are a few nice additions, including the humorous essay and the series of questions for reading groups, but the website does what it sets out to do well.  It isn’t the kind of site that will knock you out with visuals or with features, but both form and function meet an author website’s needs.

To visit Ms. Flynn’s website, click here.

Once Bitten…

July 3, 2017

Hello writing fans!  I hope you’re enjoying your long weekend.  I wanted to send out a brief post, and share something that has come up out of this weekend.  On Friday, I went down to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and saw Great White run through their catalogue of hits at the Bands on the Beach.  I wanted to share some of my thoughts about the experience, as one “creative” admiring another.

Through numerous lineup changes, Great White has been making music together for 40 years, starting out as a band called Highway with former frontman Jack Russell and current lead guitarist Mark Kendall. Their current frontman, Terry Ilous, has been active in the music scene for 31 years, as a founding member of XYZ before joining Great White in 2010.  In 2017, they played their second consecutive Bands on the Beach event in Santa Cruz.  They were also advertising their June 2017 release of “Full Circle,” their first studio album in five years.  To reiterate, with the exception of a few year-long hiatuses in the 2000s, they have been performing together for 40 years. Truly, their tenure in Great White is not only a job, it’s a hobby.

Why does Great White do it, after all of these years?  Why do they continue to perform the hits that made them stand out (such as 1989’s “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”)?  It’s about the relationships that they have, for sure, but there’s more to it than that.  These are musicians, and they have been doing this through years of practice, and years of trying new things out, and years of trying to build from their catalogue of hits.  These are the moments that they are trying to recapture, but there are also connections that they’re trying to maintain with their fans and each other.   There’s a reason why they are still doing this — they must.  And there is a reason why people continually go and see them in concert, because they have such a strong attachment to the band that hearing the best cut, the album cut, or the bootleg cut, isn’t enough.  They have to see them live.

I am not a member of the Great White fan club (but I’d love to know what they call themselves).  However, I thoroughly enjoyed the concert.  I think that what I enjoyed most about the concert is that it was clear that they were up there having fun.  As my wife stated, it looked like drummer Audie Desbrow had the enthusiasm of a kid being told that they get to bang on the drums.  Lead singer Terry Ilous was up there cracking jokes with the crowd and making fun of himself, and Mark Kendall was shredding the guitar like a man a third his age.

Ultimately, if I take one thing away from watching Great White go at it, now 40 years in for some band members, it’s this: it’s their job, but they’re having fun doing it.  If you’re a writer, hoping to write for your career, be like Audie Desbrow – be like a kid being told that they get to bang out another novel on the keyboard.  Be like Terry Ilous, and have fun with it, be funny, be charming, and be self-deprecating.  Be like Mark Kendall, and let the writing move you.  You’ll thank them later!

Website Tour: Suzanne Collins

June 28, 2017

Over the past several weeks, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites.  Along the way, I’ve taken a sampling of author websites and identified what works and what does not work about their sites.  A few weeks ago, I kicked this off with E L James, Author of the 50 Shades Trilogy,.  and I followed this up with popular Australian author Liane Moriarty, who will be visiting Santa Cruz later this year.  My next stop on the tour is renowned children’s author Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games Trilogy.  

Suzanne Collins

The next stop on our little website tour is that of Suzanne Collins.  Collins gained worldwide acclaim for her Hunger Games Trilogy, which was adapted into one of the most “tweeted-about” movies of all time and propelled Jennifer Lawrence to become a household name.  Her credentials are numerous, and are plastered all over her websites.  She became the darling of almost every major media outlet, and her books have a mass appeal that extends beyond her young adult target audience.  She hasn’t published any books since a picture book in 2013, but her books remain among Amazon’s top sellers.

Collins has a simple website, which particularly highlights The Hunger Games and The Underland Chronicles, two series that currently stand as her signature works.  With many reviews, including several on her home page, several more on a widget that rests to the right of each page, and oodles more that appear on each book’s individual page, Collins credibility as a writer is overwhelming.  What’s not overwhelming is her talent as a web designer.

The Good:

To borrow from Shakespeare, the books are the thing(s)!  If you live by this one mandate, then you’ll do well enough.  Collins and her webmaster provide ample space for the reviews, and these reviews are enough to attract any discerning reader.  To make a bad play on words, the website is a tribute to her abilities as a writer and as a story crafter.  These reviews come from a who’s who of newspapers and organizations, and each page starts with the numerous awards that her works have garnered.

Collins has personalized aspects of her site, such as humorous photos and an interview.  While her bio is written in the third person, I wouldn’t doubt that she was responsible for much of the content that went into her website.  Despite “the bad” below, that DIY, hands-on look appeals to me.

The Bad:

The general aesthetic of Collins’ website is dated.  No, it’s not dated in the sense that “that was 2013, this is 2017,” it’s dated in the sense that “that was Geocities circa 1999, and this is 2017.”  The website has a great deal of white space, but is packed along the right side, and most of the content on the main page is hidden below the fold.  The site generally lacks balance in that regard.  While technically there is nothing wrong with the site, and it is intuitive to navigate for most things, the lack of balance and the particular arrangement of white and peach make this site seem much older than it is.  Collins hadn’t emerged as a novelist when GeoCities was at its peak, so there is no reason why her site should have this GeoCities-like appearance.

This is a minor point, but there is not enough mention about what the books are about. I know, you’d have to be living under a rock to not know the general gist of the story.  Her works page provides a few sentences about each work, starting with When Charlie McButton Lost Power and moving all of the way up to Year of the Jungle.  However, these descriptions are, at best, the length of a description on the back cover.  Newer entrants in a given series receive fewer words and less concrete descriptions, to the point that the description for Mockingjay doesn’t really describe where the plot as much as it describes the general setting.

Verdict:

I am not for updating websites just for the sake of updating websites, but I think Collins could stand to improve her website and to bring it “up to date” with the present decade.  In terms of content, she has much of what she needs on the site itself, but the arrangement is lacking.

The one thing that I find particularly irksome about this site is that the site has outside links to websites that provide greater depth about Collins’ own content than what she has on her own site.  It makes me wonder if her publisher didn’t want her to have an in-depth site, so that people would be more likely to seek information about her books from other venues (such as the publisher’s site).

My favorite radio show describes things as either “hum baby” or “bum baby.”  Unfortunately, this site is very much a “bum baby.”

To view Ms. Collins’ website, please click here.

Website Tour: Liane Moriarty

June 21, 2017

Over the past several weeks, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites. These are not without some help, as I’ve learned a lot through discussions with developer relations guru David I., but David doesn’t think about books every evening. He thinks about software. I, on the other hand, see the word “writer” and “editor” and think “NOVEL” and “AUTHOR.” This list, compiled sometime in late May, includes a mix of household names and writers that I’d never heard of before. As I look into websites, and if this becomes a regular feature, I’ll only explore well-known authors.  If you’re an independent author and would like some feedback on your website, I’d be happy to comment about it in this blog.  Last week, I kicked this off with E L James, Author of the 50 Shades Trilogy.  This time, let’s focus on popular Australian author Liane Moriarty. 

Liane Moriarty

Not that any of you would have any reason to have heard of somebody like me, so I can’t say much, but… I’d never heard of Liane Moriarty or her body of work prior to doing this research.  It’s funny, really, as she has a number of Hollywood’s A-listers working on adaptations of her two latest books, Big Little Lies and Truly Madly Guilty.  She’s also admirable, and unusual, in the sense that she has had success crossing over from adult to children’s fiction.  Having read synopses of her two latest books, I’d imagine that’s quite difficult.  After all, lust, rape, and domestic abuse aren’t the substance of Newberry Medal winners.

Ms. Moriarty does a good job of having a dynamic site and fitting in several key aspects above the fold.  She has a simple, but aesthetically pleasing website design with a light blue and black over white.  She uses a rotating image to hit on some of the major features: new books, movie options, and the like.  The Reese Witherspoon tweet gives her a bit more credibility among a broader audience; it is pretty exciting, but it does nothing for me as someone who might be interested in her books.

Below the rotating image, she has a few short reviews from USA Today, Kirkus, and Entertainment Weekly.  These are pretty neat, and are compelling words from some of the major players in the review game.  I’m not quite sure if I would be pleased to be compared to a pink cosmo laced with arsenic (per USA Today), but it does make for an interesting image.

The Good:  I think Ms. Moriarty has done a great job of prioritizing her pull-down menus / tabs.  Home > Books > Children’s Books > About Liane > Appearances > Contact.  She keeps each of the tabs relatively simple, as it is easy to gather information about her books by clicking on images of their covers.

She provides a pretty thorough biography on her site, and includes some old photos.  This is particularly useful in humanizing her as a writer.  It is longer than what I would post about myself, but it isn’t off-putting in any way.  I also like the detail that she goes into surrounding her appearances.  She’ll be in Santa Cruz, CA (my hometown) on September 12th, for anybody who’s interested – and she’s supporting a small business!

The Bad: Her Twitter feed in the website is a bit much.  I’m not sure why it’s there.  Right now, there’s a picture of Blake Lively on a red carpet.  Sure, an attractive actress wearing a provocative dress will sell just about anything, but it doesn’t really tell me anything about her book.  The next tweet down, about Liane Moriarty’s appearance at the “Sydney Writer’s Festival” is of much greater interest to me as a fellow writer, and would be really cool if I lived in Oz and wanted to meet one my favorite authors (for sake of argument).

Another interesting item, and something that makes it clear to me that her publisher is responsible for her website (on some level), is the Subscription widget at the bottom of the page.  This widget, for “BookChat” is an email list for Liane Moriarty, Dianne Blacklock, and Ber Carroll.  It is quite possible that Ms. Moriarty is good friends with these two other authors; perhaps she’s also collaborated with them.  However, without her own personal touch and explanation of why she endorses these two other writers, it feels like something that her publishers have implemented for her.

The Verdict: In terms of website aesthetics, there are some things that I would change, but she covers most of the basics, and provides enough on her site to keep someone occupied for a while.  Her website doesn’t seem to promise any new content, and perhaps that’s for the best.  She’s a fairly prolific writer, and she has more than enough to keep her busy.  The website itself has enough to keep you busy for a little while, and places particular emphasis on her books – which is exactly what it should do.

To see Ms. Moriarty’s Webpage, click here.

Website Tour: E L James

June 14, 2017

Over the past week and change, I’ve discussed some of the best practices for author websites.  These are not without some help, as I’ve learned a lot through discussions with developer relations guru David I., but David doesn’t think about books every evening.  He thinks about software.  I, on the other hand, see the word “writer” and “editor” and think “NOVEL” and “AUTHOR.”  As I’ve been researching author websites for my own website, I took a list of contemporary novelists from “Amazon Best Sellers” and explored their books.  This list, compiled sometime in late May, includes a mix of household names and writers that I’d never heard of before. I tried to eliminate Romance, because that genre seems to play by its own rules.  However, a few of the well-known Romance novelists appear on this list, such as the one discussed today.

As I look into websites, and if this becomes a regular feature, I’ll only explore well-known authors, as I assume that these authors are not making their own websites, and are instead relying on professional assistance in their website development.  If you’re an independent author and would like some feedback on your website, I’d be happy to comment about it in this blog.  I’ll leave this little disclaimer: I’m not exactly out to snipe the indie author, who may be creating their own websites off of a Wix or WordPress template and have just about as much experience with professional web development as I have with professional lacrosse (i.e., none).

Without much further ado, let’s take a look at the official website of E L James, author of the Fifty Shades Trilogy.

E L James

The first person on my little tour of author websites is E L James.  She’s a fairly well-known name, in part because of her amazing story of going from a fan fic writer to one of the bestselling authors of the past decade.  Her brand isn’t my cup of tea, but I do applaud her for writing something that pushes the limits.  She makes no mistake about it when you read her website.  Right below her name on the banner, it says “Provocative Romance.”  Her website above the fold is pretty basic, with a simple banner, a series of pull-down menus, and then a welcome message with her photo.

It has a nice aesthetic, all told.  I wouldn’t put a welcome message quite like what she has on this site, but it has its own appeal, and it is far gentler (in terms of advertising) than some alternatives.  Aside from her picture and a short message, there’s a button inviting us to “browse the books.”  Immediately below that, there’s a YouTube trailer for her movie “Fifty Shades Darker.”  It isn’t until you tap the “page down” button a few times before you see her book covers, or anything of substance about her books.  This might be the natural evolution in her role as an entertainer, as the Fifty Shades Trilogy will likely generate much more as a series of movies than it ever has as a series of books.  At the same time, I don’t think I’ll ever see Michael Crichton (who has Jurassic Park and E.R. among his lifetime credits) as something other than an author, much as I don’t think I’ll see E L James as a Hollywood producer / entertainer.  The irony, of course, is that she is a former TV exec.

The Good:

Between her introduction and then her “About” page, I have a pretty good sense of E L as an artist who is living her dream.  Her “About” page is a glimpse of someone who was once a little girl, growing up in London, and dreaming about being a writer.  She shows humility and gratitude – both useful in reminding the rest of the world that she is, indeed, human.  I like the brevity (yeah, I know, yuk it up) and the sincerity here; in my mind, these are two difficult things to accomplish simultaneously.

She has widgets for her social media, including an interesting little film strip from her Instagram account that appears at the bottom of her site.  She includes several ways of contacting her or her representatives, including via snail mail and email.  My website drafts have some of this, but I’ve never used Instagram or posted anything onto YouTube.  I’ve also never created an email form (and actually deployed it).

The Bad:

Her blog only contains two posts, and hasn’t been updated since April.  The blog is more “news” than it is her thoughts on life or her thoughts on her writing.  Even then, there’s not much news here.  I probably spend too much time on my blog, particularly for someone who is moonlighting as a writer, but blogging twice weekly doesn’t need to be 500 words every time; it just need some sense of consistency.

Aside from her blog, she doesn’t have much other information surrounding appearances, reviews, an actual news tab, or FAQs.  She probably doesn’t need it.  However, I will definitely want to have these in place well before I have any semblance of success with my own writing.

Verdict:

There’s nothing wrong with her website.  It is clear a professional has created this.  At the same time, there’s just not much to keep people coming back to her website.  An author as big as E L James doesn’t need much to keep her audience engaged, but she’d be in a little trouble if she was someone in my shoes, hoping to build a following from the ground up.

To see Ms. James’ website, click here.

Putting Together a Web Page / Blog Post for Your Book

June 5, 2017

Over the past several years, and particularly the past several months, I’ve shared my writing journey and my thoughts on writing, with you.  Over this time, I’ve discussed a little but about my process, my search for publication, and my various misadventures.  Today, I wanted to share something about other processes.  As you have no doubt seen from this blog, I’ve been working on this blog as a means of building a community and “marketing” myself.  I hate that word, marketing… even though that’s part of what I investigate for my daytime job.  Of course, there are benefits to marketing, if you approach it from the right way.  If you don’t “market” yourself, then nobody will know about who you are, how great you are, and the stories that you have to tell.

One of the easiest ways to share something about yourself today is via a website. The only thing you’ve seen from my website so far is my blog. That’s because I have one major thing holding me back from putting together a fuller site: visuals. I’m working on that, but I spend a lot of time researching websites through my primary employment, so I have a pretty good idea of what I need to do in order to get a successful website in place.  I was thinking about sharing some of that with you, but I decided that I should start a little smaller.  What do I need to do in order to successfully put together a blog post or a web page that specifically markets my book?  For this, I thought I’d share a process that David, my colleague, has shared with me and with our many clients.

My employer frequently shares what it would take to sell development tools to clients, so this isn’t exactly what we explain to clients (and we usually show an idea rather than tell it), but there’s a lot of crossover here.

Before we start, let’s take an example. Michael Wallace’s Quill Gordon Mysteries, because he is already doing a lot right when he introduces “The McHenry Inheritance.

Introduction

The first thing you want to do is introduce your book.  He does this with a slugline “It’s scary, and so wrong,” and then goes into the content that you’d find on the back cover.  This introduces the stakes and a few of the main characters. Mr. Wallace gives about two paragraphs of content, mostly summarizing the content of the book.  What he’s given is good.  The only thing that I might change is spending a bit more time toward the end taking a more distant view of the book.  “This is a mystery in the vein of [comparable author].” or “The McHenry Inheritance takes you on a ride through the sordid underbelly of Harperville, wherein everybody has reason to be suspicious of outsiders.”  This isn’t the best means of pulling away from the stakes, but it does leave a little more to the imagination.

If this is your only book, then it might be useful to share a little bit about you, but this is probably better left fro a dedicated “About the Author” page.  You’ll have plenty of places to share who you are, anyway.

Short Reviews

Okay, so you’re probably low on reviews if you’ve just recently released your book.  There’s ways around this.  You can ask your beta readers for some kind words (but, by all means, don’t give away their identities unless they want you to do so!).   You can wait for some positive reviews on Amazon, and then ask for permission for those.  Mr. Wallace has a review off in the corner.  It is a solid review, but he only needs a sentence or two from that review to let visitors know that his book is a worthwhile read.

If you have a positive review in your local paper, this is the ideal place to put it.  Not everybody will garner this attention in their early career, so if you have something here, might as well put it to good use.

Book Trailer

In an earlier post, I referred back to Mr. Wallace’s book trailer.  I think his trailer works on many levels.  It tells a little bit about Mr. Wallace himself, adding some credibility in the process; it talks about his process; it talks about the book itself; and, perhaps most importantly, it tells readers where they can pick up his book.

I think there’s a few nice balances Mr. Wallace makes here.  He keeps it simple, while still providing a glimpse at the setting.  He’s made a professional video, hiring professional videographers and video editors to make the short piece — I’m not saying you should go for pros every time, but he’s done so to good effect. Finally, he’s used original content.

This last little part, about original content, isn’t necessary — there’s plenty of content in the public domain that will work nicely — but it is important to show that he is the genuine article.  I’ve been gathering ideas for my own book trailer, and one thing that I’ve noticed from other production-quality book trailers is that they’re borrowing from movies (either stills or even short, live action sequences) that are not in the public domain.  This is very risky, as there are items that are covered by “fair use,” but taking an image of Sean Connery from Highlander may show the reader something about your book, but it also is something that others can recognize comes from somewhere else.

Passages

You don’t want to give away too much about your writing content, but it helps to give away something, so people can know what they’re getting into. If you’re nervous about this, you can always provide copyright notice.  Considering how much space these passages might take up, it wouldn’t hurt to hide them via a “spoiler” option if you have it in your given website.  It’s fairly common for BBscript, if that’s available.

If you have visual media, this is also a good place to show some artwork or whatever other pictures or charts you might have on hand.  If you’re going for the George R.R. Martin type of saga, a family tree is always helpful (provided it doesn’t give away too much about your book).

Links

In my daytime job, I’d recommend this if you have technical resources that help people see what your product can do, and how to do it.  With writing, it’s a little different. You could link to relevant items about your book within your site.  If you have full reviews, this is a great place to put them, as well.  Anything that is germane to your book can fit here.  If you’re writing a period piece about ancient Hippo (Annaba, Algeria), then perhaps a link to the Confessions of St. Augustine of Hippo would be relevant, or perhaps there’s a book, site, or society that is dedicated to ancient Hippo.

For Mike Wallace’s book, this might be something about his notes for his fictitious mountain town and some of the landmarks, such as Harry’s Tavern.  He might also provide some of the history of the quill gordon lure in fly fishing, or some other angling sites.  He has some media coverage that would fit in well here, such as this spotlight from our local Santa Cruz Sentinel.

This would also be a good place to provide links to your book in online booksellers. If you’re looking at American booksellers, Amazon has to be on there.  B&N, Lulu, and others are all important, but nothing does as much volume as Amazon.  There’s an important item to consider here: as much as you might want to feature where to find your book in bookstores, it really needs to be embedded in the rest of your post.  We, as readers, know why we’re looking for books, so it doesn’t do you any good to be pushy in getting people to buy your book.  By passing along your purchase information as just that, information, rather than overt marketing, you’ll attract more people who are on the fence.

Finally, if you haven’t attached links or widgets to your social media, then this should be at the bottom of your post.  It’s not critical to a blog / webpage dedicated to your book, but it is yet another way that you can connect with your audience.

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I haven’t been able to apply the above to my own site.  As mentioned, I’m still missing visual media, including a book trailer and any sort of cover or collateral pictures, but these are items that I’ve been considering, and items that I must take into account as I put this information together.

As if I haven’t stressed this enough earlier, the blog post or website is a means of introducing others to your book and introducing yourself to your audience.  Thus, while I do make mention of telling people where they can find your book in the usual bookstores, I didn’t mention anything about telling readers to “buy it now.”  If you use those three words, you must be very subtle, as using that phrase as a command is bound to turn others off.

A big thanks to David for the idea.

Is there anything I missed? Please feel free to add them in the comments below.

Photo Attribution: Unsplash on Pexels. Creative Common 0 License

Comic Books, Basketball, and Writing: Why They All Connect for Me

June 1, 2017

Prologue: Comic Books and Basketball

When I was younger, I was a comic book nerd.  Batman, The X-Men, and the Hulk were some of my favorites, but thanks to the intervention of my cousin, Joey, I had numerous old Spider-man titles.  It didn’t matter, as I would read my fill of numerous comics, no matter how different, or how silly.  Before sports entered my life in a big way, a day with my friends involved reading comics and playing video games.  Comics, and the trading cards that emerged from them, were so interesting to me, as they not only told a little bit about the character, including real names, hometowns, and vitals, but they also spoke a little bit about the characters’ strengths and limitations.  Furthermore, with character arcs moving  across multiple issues, just as basketball players change from game to game, I was able to pick up a fair deal about characterization through what I’d observed in comic books — as well as the many print books that I simply devoured in my youth.

When basketball came around, my parents and my grandfather each would give me basketball periodicals and books.  I devoured those, as well.  I still read the old Basketball Almanacs for nostalgia, reflecting on what people expected of the likes of Shareef Abdur-Rahim and Kobe Bryant back when they were fresh-faced teenagers who had just made the leap to pro ball.  Years ago, my best man suggested that these, along with the NBA Live video games, were the reasons why we became such big fans of the NBA.  When we truly went from Warriors fans to Warriors fanatics, the Warriors were perpetual underdogs, but we were always happy to think about the possibilities, and of the many characters that came through the San Jose Arena (one year) and the Oracle Arena (pre-Oracle).   The Warriors haven’t been the underdogs for two seasons now, and the general pulse around the rest of the country is that the Warriors are a super-team full of characters worthy of vilification.  If they are a superteam, they are a super-team that still has that tantalizing burden of potential.  If they are villains, then they’re the nicest villains I’ve ever seen.  Tonight, they face off against the Cleveland Cavaliers for their best of seven series for the highest title in professional basketball.

The headlines will continue to discuss Steph Curry, two time defending MVP; 2014 MVP Kevin Durant; 4-time MVP LeBron James; and the nine other players in this series who have played at least one NBA All-Star game.  However, each of these players, and the twelve to fifteen other players who may play in this Finals series, are each on their own trajectories.  Whether a continuing rebound from a nearly career ending injury or becoming the first NBA player from their island nation to play in the NBA Finals, there are innumerable personal stories, and far more than 30 personal career trajectories (including players, coaches, execs, and owners, among many others), that are now hinging upon the next four to seven games.

We’re too close to the action now to see the “character arcs” for these individuals, and how these players will be viewed after their careers have come to an end.  However, we can foresee players roles in this event.

NBA Finals: On Writing

As people are prepared to cheer for their favorite team, and turn their lambasting of the other team and its fans up to 11, realize that most people don’t see their team, their favorite players, or themselves as villains. It doesn’t matter who threw the first punch, or where the technical foul came from, people will generally view themselves as being in the right (even rationalizing things that the average person would consider abhorrent) — up until the point where they admit (to themselves or to others) that they’ve made a big mistake.  Furthermore, an antagonist will go out of their way to find an individual’s negative traits. This doesn’t mean that someone necessarily needs to have an adversarial relationship with somebody else, or that these antagonists are necessarily wrong in their assessment of the other person’s character.

Whether talking about a controversial arm motion (or, if you will, punch) in Game 4 of last year’s finals or your primary antagonist’s raison d’etre as your book reaches its climax, one person’s act of heroism or self-determination can sometimes be viewed as flagrant disrespect by someone else.  I recently read something in a political piece (I’ll leave it at that) that discussed one thing that made the most vicious villains: their obsession with the notion that they were not wrong to do what they were doing, and that they are being wronged by the rest of the world. While a difference of opinions may be what separates the protagonist from the antagonist, it may also be what makes individuals distinct on their own character arcs.  Even in such a small sample set as a playoff series, players are in motion along their own character arcs, and may embark on a variety of side-stories while in the midst of a much larger arc.

It’s hard for many fans to imagine this now, but Steph Curry, Draymond Green, and even LeBron James were not always the All-Star players that they are now.  They also weren’t vilified by any particular fanbase (except if somebody had it out for Davidson, MSU, or St. Vincent-St. Mary’s).  We are seeing these three players on relative high points in their career arcs (not necessarily the apex, as there’s a lot of the story that is not yet written).  Shawn Livingston may have been on that trajectory, as well, had it not been for a serious injury that almost removed him from the profession.  Similarly, outside of short stories, fictional characters are hardly a snapshot of who they are in a given point in time — even something as basic as a character’s role changes from one point of the story to the next.  Characters change, and how they change and who they are at the end is a product of (at least) five basic factors:

-Who they are on a fundamental level
-Where they came from
– Where they hope to be
– Whether or not they’ve actually made strides toward where they want to be
– How they perceive the World

From a basketball standpoint, the answers to these questions might end up being a few standby archetypes in the sporting world:
– The Chosen One (LeBron, maybe Irving)
– The Golden Child (Love, Steph & Klay)
– The One with Something to Prove (Durant, maybe Tristan Thompson, Javale McGee, Derrick Williams)
– The Unsung Hero (Iguodala, Tristan Thompson, Ian Clark)
– The Gritty/Wily/Cagey Vet (Richard Jefferson, Shawn Livingston, Pachulia, Korver, Deron Williams)
– The Young Gun (McCaw, Felder)
– The One with the “Chip on His Shoulder” (Barnes, Draymond Green)

From a fiction perspective, there are so many archetypes, and so many characters that you may boil down to a few words.  For instance, Absconded by Sin has two major players that fall under the category of the disgraced veteran.  They are secondary characters who ascend in importance throughout the novel, and they each have their own trajectories.  Some of their trajectory relates to their station in life before the novel takes place (Major and PFC), and some of their trajectory relates to where they have been, but their trajectory also has something to do with how they see the World.

Some of the archetypes you may see in your novels are the reluctant hero, the whore with the heart of gold, the damsel in distress, and the so-called action girl.  It’s up to you to determine if those characters follow a traditional character arc or trajectory for those archetypes, and whether that trajectory will be ascending or descending.  It could be a roller coaster; I never watched professional wrestling for enjoyment (just to fit in with friends), but what little I saw surprised me at how often a character could take a heel-face turn, going from good to bad and back again.  It’s no different from professional basketball, except that the heel-face turn largely depends on the court of public perception, and the same may also be true of your novels.  The antagonist may be pure evil, as well see in space operas and epics, or they may be a character that is scared, frustrated, or determined.

Epilogue: Characterization Challenges in My Writing

In a few minutes, my mind will be on the Warriors, hoping that they will be able to beat the Cavaliers at their best, or whatever state that they may be in.  I’ll also try to spend some time working on my novel, bearing in mind the archetypes that I’m using (if they apply to my characters, which they often do), and the types of character arcs I expected of these characters.

One of the challenges  I foresee in my current novel is making sure that the many divergent archetypal characters and character arcs can coalesce at the right points.  I focus on two characters, an aging small-town sheriff and a ne’er-do-well young woman who has lost her direction in life.  These two characters are often together, and thus the only time we get to see character arcs for their supporting characters are through the main characters’ eyes.

Another challenge is in taking the antagonists and making sure that their motivations and character arcs are equally believable.

A third challenge is balancing out the character arcs, and making sure that I am paying particular attention to the inner monologues and motivations that push my characters to the resolution.

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Update #1: Community Writers – presenting Their Sharpest Thorns

I’ve been working on my public speaking. On Saturday, I delivered another portion of an unpublished work, sharing the moment where the aging sheriff mentioned above comes across the second in a series of homicides that plague his small town.  I received a lot of positive comments, and was surprised that I didn’t once hear any mention of the pace.  In the five minutes that I’d read, I only briefly touched upon the dead body or the immediate investigation surrounding it.

From the perspective of an orator, I think I did a better job at enunciating, maintaining a steady cadence, and being forceful in my speech.  There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done, but I hope that I can build on what I did this weekend.

Update #2: Current Work in Progress – Their Sharpest Thorns

I was able to finish my initial draft (let’s call it draft zero, as it is awfully drafty) of Their Sharpest Thorns.  One thing that I’ve noticed as I’ve begun editing it is a disconnect from the beginning of the novel to the end.  There are some inconsistencies in terms of setting (such as the physical location of buildings), and it will help me to work this out via notes, maps, and anything else that I can do to firm up the setting and focus on the quality of the writing.  I’ve read a few books that have this level of inconsistency, and it is sometimes confusing, and sometimes maddening.

As some of you may remember through a variety of conversations, this blog, NaNoWriMo, or even Twitter, I ran into a problem toward the end of my preparation stage this past October, as I lost all of the outlining work I did for Their Sharpest Thorns when my thumb drive ended up in several pieces.  Thus, I am facing the challenges that frequently come from writing by the seat of my pants (pantsing) or only providing a limited outline.  This is not to say that mistakes like this dont happen for worldbuilders, but the efforts that go into mapping out settings and providing detailed character sheets prior to any writing will alleviate inconsistencies.

I’ve heard some people argue that issues like this are why we have editors.  This may be true for some of us. However, speaking as someone who has edited various types of works, I can attest that it is far easier to look at something critically, and to offer commentary of substance, when an author (novelist, analyst, poet, whatever) has already taken a critical eye to their own work.

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Okay, well, I think that’s it for now.  Until next time, cheer for your favorite team and take a critical eye to your characters!

(Go Warriors!)

Recent Musical Finds

May 22, 2017

You never know when inspiration will strike, so I sometimes take a few nights to focus on my blog rather than on my novels.  I have a backlog of blog stubs, nothing nearly as robust as I’d like, for circumstances where I want to focus on my writing.  That backlog didn’t work out so well over the past few weeks, as I haven’t been inspired to publish any of them.  Something happened last week that inspired me to freshen up this one: Chris Cornell’s death.  Audioslave was the soundtrack to my first couple of years in college.  While my roommates and friends had albums from Collective Soul, Depeche Mode, Dashboard Confessional, and U2 blaring from their computer speakers, I picked up Audioslave from one of my closest college friends, and played that album regularly. 

I don’t think “Like a Stone” ever made it to my weekly radio show, but that’s because I focused on bands I knew and loved from the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.  In music terms, I was a throwback; my musical tastes are classic rock, and are probably considered oldies by now.  I rarely picked up new albums, because I was too busy fishing through bands of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the more I listened to bands of that era, the more obscure the bands became.  Things have changed over the past year.  For the past year (at least), I’ve been listening to WKIT: The Rock of Bangor, and I’ve picked up a lot of songs that weren’t standards in my rotation.  One of those songs was Chris Cornell’s “Nearly Forgot my Broken Heart” from his 2015 album, Higher Truth.

The following includes some of my more-or-less recent finds in music.  These intentionally excluded bands and musicians I knew, such as Alice Cooper’s new band, Hollywood Vampires; David Bowie’s last album, Blackstar; or Chris Cornell’s “Nearly Forgot My Broken Heart.”

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Recent Finds for Music

A few months ago now, I caught myself trying to remember the lyrics to Midnight Oil’s song “Beds Are Burning.” A year ago, I had no idea this song existed.  Heck, I didn’t know that the band existed.  It’s one of those bands, much like Manic Street Preachers, where I had no idea who they were in their heyday, and it wasn’t until much later (“Bed are Burning,” for example, was a popular song in 1987), when I stumbled upon the song for the first time.

Mountain Climbing – Joe Bonamassa

How is it that I’m only now hearing about Bonamassa?  The 39 year old Bonamassa opened for B.B. King 27 years ago.

I’ll let that sink in.

As WKIT calls him, “Joey B” was only 12 when he opened for B.B. King.  When I was 12, I thought my little tan recorder was too difficult.  As a teenager, he was rubbing elbows with famous guitarists, such as Robbie Krieger of the Doors, and was playing in a band with Krieger’s son, Waylon; Miles Davis’ son, Erin; and Berry Oakley’s (of the Allman Brothers) son, Berry Duane.  Bonamassa first charted on the Billboard Blues chart as a 23 year old.

In 2016, the 38 year old Bonamassa released Blues of Desperation.  On that, he included track number 2, “Mountain Climbing.”  If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear this track was written and performed by Robert Johnson after he made a deal with the Crossroads Demon.  (Johnson, one of the original members of the “27 Club,” died in 1938).  This may be classified as a blues song, but make no mistake about it, this is a hard rocker.  It has the B.B. King sound, but it could just as easily be Jimmy Page on the guitar and Robert Plant penning the lyrics.  Bonamassa’s movement between ‘clean’ guitar work and distortion adds a unique voice to his guitar, and compliments the throaty tenor of his singing voice.

Rebel Heart – The Shelters

The Shelters owe their big break due to producer Tom Petty’s ear for talent.  Guitarists Chase Simpson and Josh Jove were studio musicians on the 2014 Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers album Hypnotic Eye.  After forming The Shelters in 2015, the four person band released their eponymous album in June 2016.  The first single off of that album, as well as the first track, is “Rebel Heart.”

So, what makes “Rebel Heart” special, aside from the fact that I first heard of it on WKIT?  Well, it’s a throwback.  I think that the folks at WKIT compare it to the Monkees, but I don’t see that.  It does have a poppy, ‘60s style to it, but the guitar work reminds me a little bit of the Byrds, and most particularly of Jim/Roger McGuinn’s guitar solo on “Eight Miles High.”  There are elements that remind me of a Beatles single, as well, but the vocals are decidedly from this century, as Josh Jove’s lead vocals, as well as the band’s backing vocals, are melodic without being the silky smooth harmonies that were popular in the ‘60s.  I haven’t heard any of The Shelters’ other work, but this song alone hearkens back to an era of rock that has been buried by album after album of pop and R&B.

Heartbeat Smile – Alejandro Escovedo

First, let’s talk about the man and his pedigree. Alejandro Escovedo, a first generation Mexican-American from San Antonio, started his career with San Francisco punk band “The Nuns” in the mid-‘70s.  He has been a part of the Austin music scene since the ‘80s, and has cut his own solo albums since 1992.  His family includes his niece, Sheila E, one of Prince’s frequent collaborators; his brothers Coke and Pete, one-time members of Santana’s band; his brother Mario, the frontman for the Dragons; and brother Javier, former frontman for the Zeros.  Clearly, Alejandro has both years of experience and a family bond that ties him to music.

In 2016, the 65-year-old Alejandro released Burn Something Beautiful.  The second track on that, “Heartbeat Smile,” is a catchy tune with some pleasing rock riffs.  The lyrics aren’t deep, and he’s not going to be confused with Robert Plant anytime soon, but the simple aesthetic of his lyrics lends itself to something that is a cross between sorrow and joy.

Two Stroke Machine – 7horse

A lot of people have side projects, and the same is also true of professional musicians. Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt have been members of the alternative rock band dada since 1992, where Calio is a singer and guitarist and Leavitt is a drummer.  They lose guitarist Michael Gurley when they tour as 7horse, a blues and rock duo, and Leavitt takes the lead vocals duties.  In 2016, 7horse released the album Living in a Bitch of a World, with the song “Two Stroke Machine” as one of its lead singles.

“Two Stroke Machine” isn’t the most uplifting of songs, as its full of signs of serious family dysfunction, and I like to pretend that I don’t know the lyrics when it comes on, because it is a bit of a downer. However, it is a catchy song with pace and instrumentation that’s reminiscent of old school blues and rock and roll.

When I first heard this song, I was under the impression that this was a much older song.  The lead singer reminded me of Tom Petty, only without his characteristic twang.  It surprised me to read that he (Leavitt) has made a career out of something other than lead vocals.

All I Wanna Do Is Make Love to You – Halestorm

First of all, nobody quite compares to the divine Ann Wilson when it comes to vocals, just as nobody quite builds upon the almost engineer-like precision and complexity of sister Nancy’s guitars.  The only way you could improve upon Heart is by getting rid of the synth in their poppy ‘80s era and replacing it with a combination of electric and acoustic guitars.  Lzzy Hale doesn’t quite have the depth of Ann Wilson’s voice, but she manages to provide a sharper edge to Ann Wilson’s lyrics in Halestorm’s interpretation of “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You.”

If you look at my music collection, you’ll find a lot of males: male drummers, male guitarists, male bassists, and male vocalists.  This is what I get for insisting that it must be rock.  I have looked at bands with female leads.  Yes, some of them absolutely rock, but none of them carry that sustained intensity that comes with Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who or Steven Tyler and Joe Perry of Aerosmith.  Halestorm is one band with a woman who rocks.  Out of Red Lion, PA, Halestorm may only have one woman, but she absolutely delivers as both a vocalist and a guitarist.  I am not as keen on their original work, but Lzzy and the band shine on some of their covers.  They’ve covered Joan Jett, AC/DC, and Soundgarden, but I think their best cover is that of Heart’s “All I Wanna Do is Make Love to You” off of their ReAniMate: The CoVeRs EP (2011).

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As mentioned, the occasion of Chris Cornell’s death wouldn’t have reminded me of this post if I hadn’t heard “Nearly Forgot my Broken Heart” recently on WKIT.  It’s funny, because before I heard this song I’d never really thought about Cornell’s vocals, his charisma, or even his guitar as what made Soundgarden and Audioslave special.  Instead, I attributed it to the ensemble of each group.  Now that I have been able to single out Cornell, I realize the gravity that Cornell’s death has with respect to the total rock scene.

I listen to music throughout the day, but I don’t always listen to music with lyrics when I write because I prefer to focus on the words on the page.  Perhaps in a future blog post, I’ll discuss what I listen to when I write.

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Update: Absconded by Sin (5/22/2017)

I am still looking into publishing Absconded by Sin.  I’ve shared bits and pieces of the novel through Facebook Live and through writers’ circles, but its publication has taken a backseat toward completing other projects.  If you’d be interested in seeing Absconded by Sin in publication, please let me know.  I’ll talk more about this in later posts, I’m sure.

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Update: Their Sharpest Thorns (5/22/2017)

Last night, I finally completed a very rough first draft of Their Sharpest Thorns.  It was very drafty, as I wanted to get most of the story on the page, and I will soon commence going through and tightening it, firming up characterization and improving overall cohesion.  The initial draft is ~92,500 words, which is a little shorter than what I anticipated.  Considering that I am already aware of areas that need more verbiage, I wouldn’t be surprised if I have 105,000 words by the end of my second or third review.

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Update: The Modern Meltdown

I’m still in the queue in terms of my debut on a podcast.  No word yet on when that might be, but it’s still at least two weeks out.  The host, Holly Hunt, publishes about twice per month, and her most recent post was on Friday.

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Do you have something that you’d like to see me discuss in my blog posts?  You can reach me through this blog, or by tweeting to me at @jowenenglish, or by connecting with me by other electronic means, if I’ve otherwise provided them to you.  Bear in mind that I’m already work full time, and I’m moonlighting as a novelist, so it might take a while before I get to blog about your topic.  That said, I’m always interested in new ideas!

Picture credit (applies to links from other sites only): Tookapic via Pexels, CC0 License.

Where Can Authors Promote their Books in Media? How about Podcasts?

May 9, 2017

Prior to the 1940s, the radio was the primary form of mass communication in entertainment.  It took years of experimentation, but television evolved rapidly through the 1930s and 1940s.  In 1946, just a year after World War II formally ended, standardized television schedules and broadcasts were just coming into existence.

Television’s first years of existence were not as innocent as they may seem.  Much like the radio stations that preceded (and ran concurrently with) them, popular shows were sponsored.  Some of these sponsors are still household names: Kraft, Esso, and Texaco are among them.  Beyond that, shows would regularly have a significant cast member, whether Harriet Nelson pitching ketchup or Lucille Ball pitching food conglomerates (in the early 1950s), or the narrator, such as Dick Wesson of David Janssen’s The Fugitive, announcing that the show has been sponsored by Acme Safe Company.

Ads today are more overt, separate productions that have production costs beyond John Wayne endorsing a line of cigarettes.  The 2017 Super Bowl has the most extravagant examples of this, with price tags in excess of $2.5M for a 30-second spot.  That may seem like a lot of money –indeed, it is – but consider that approximately 111M people saw the Super Bowl; that’s 2.3-cents per viewer!  I don’t know what kind of estimates they make based on a funnel of viewers to buyers, but I’m sure 2.3-cents is worth it when considering the average price for a Big Mac in the US is now $4.62.

Interestingly enough, authors have also used television ads.  In the past, I’ve seen trailers for James Patterson and Dean Koontz.  I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed, but I rarely watch any network television at this point in my life.  Still, television is not necessarily the medium of readers.  I know many book fans who also are fans of many authors, spanning across multiple genres, but I’d find it hard to believe that fans of reality television would kick back with a nice Thomas Pynchon novel and dive into his world.  With authors like Stephen King and Danielle Steel, there probably is more of a crossover between television fans and book readers, but these authors have had their books adapted into many movies and TV shows (successful and unsuccessful alike).

Where does that leave authors?  Books generally don’t have ads (although I see them pop up on my wife’s Kindle when she’s put it down for the night).  Television and the radio remain media that are dominated by corporate interests.  I’m sure you’ll find more ads for beer than you’ll find for any New York Times Bestseller.  Another medium, the Web, has become the refuge of the self-marketing author.  Social media like Facebook, Twitter, and even Pinterest allow writers to reach a broad community, while book-specific social sites allow writers to reach known readers.  In recent months, I’ve also seen “book trailers” on YouTube, and some of them have been done to great effect.  I’ve even mentioned Michael Wallace’s Quill Gordon book trailers in a previous blog.

However, there’s another resource that reaches the ears, if not the eyes, of targeted audiences every day: podcasts.  If YouTube is the democratizing of visual media (let’s not kid ourselves, it’s different from TV), then podcasts are the democratization of audio media.

There are plenty of podcasts out there for readers.  Bookriot provides one list of them right here.  I am in the process of recording for one podcast, but this takes a slightly different tactic.  The Modern Meltdown Network provides a podcast for writers every two weeks.  This podcast, Beyond the Words, hosted by Holly Hunt, takes writers through various aspects of the writing process.

I hope to share the link with you if / when it is released.  Until then, I plan on sharing some lessons learned about recording interview questions and thinking up responses to a recorded interview in an upcoming post.  At least one of these lessons learned will also apply to writing, so I hope you’ll enjoy the parallel.

In the meantime, I am continuing to write.  My first complete draft of Their Sharpest Thorns is still a few weeks away, but I am optimistic that I will finish this month.

Picture credit (applies to links from other sites only): Tookapic via Pexels, CC0 License.