Thursday, April 26, 2012

A treasure trove of old material

Recently while on the search for something else, I discovered a large treasure trove of old files that include a bunch of writing from the last decade.  Most of it isn't publishable, for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is copyright issues - several of the stories I found were submissions I made to the "Strange New Worlds" anthology that didn't get picked.

While I won't be able to release these stories for sale on Amazon, I do plan on putting them here.

But the biggest discovery was that I found the original version of "The Box".  As you'll recall, the whole reason I rewrote the story and released it via KDP Select was because I couldn't find the original to include in "Show Me the End of the World." Reading the story last night, I was pretty surprised to find just how different it is from the second version.  But, if you've read "The Box," what's interesting is that the premise of the story actually allows the two stories to co-exist.  I'm not sure what to do with this old version now that I've found it.  I half gave a thought to packaging it with the new one, but that doesn't seem fair to the hundreds who've already downloaded that.

More than likely, what I'll do is include it as a bonus in my next collection, which I'm already working on in addition to my novel.

Current TV:
'Star Wars: The Clone Wars' Season 3 [blu-ray]

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An old story I found

I took a short story class at one point in college, and this was unfortunately the semester that began in September of 2001.  It was a fine class, but the entire semester was... difficult.  The campus had a certain depressed air about it that I suspect is particularly familiar to many Americans old enough to remember that day.

This class pretty much dropped the syllabus and the professor basically just tailored the entire semester around analyzing our feelings regarding the 9/11 terror attacks.  I wrote this story, "What If Captain America Was Dead?" as one of the assignments in the class.  I don't really remember too much more of the context about it, other than it just came out of me very naturally.  The professor loved it and printed copies of it for his other classes.  I recall not feeling like the story was really all that great, and reading it now it seems almost kind of trite.

Is it any good, or am I just hating on my own work like I usually do?

Anyway, "What If Captain America Was Dead?" can be downloaded on PDF from this link or click on over to the Downloads page.

Current Soundtrack
'Skull & Bones' by Cypress Hill

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Status Update

Just some thoughts:

I'm waffling on the title of my novel.  Whether or not to include the word "City."

The novel itself is coming along well.  Following the outline, piecing back together parts of the 20,000 or so words I'd already written, discarding some, rearranging and rewriting others.  It will be much better now.

At the moment, it's about 9924 words, but there's still pieces to be added back from the original.  I suspect that I'll only lose about 3,000 or 4,000 words and then I'll be ready to start writing the rest of it.

I don't have a goal word-count for this project.  The disparity of online opinions of what length 'officially' constitutes a novel told me I should just write the damn story and see how long it ends up when I feel it's appropriately finished.

I plan on having a couple people read the novel before it's released to get some feedback as well as some extra editing help.  I didn't do that for "Show Me the End of the World" and there ended up being a couple of embarrassing errors.  I did it for "The Box" and felt much better about it, despite one friend's assertion that he got a Grammar-Nazi Eye Twitch (I suspect he was exaggerating).

"The Box" continues to sell an average of one or two copies a day.  Those three dimes keep rollin' in...

Current Soundtrack
"Thor" by Patrick Doyle

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

A couple more reviews

...This time for 'The Box' -

First up is a four-star review here:

"What I liked: Great build-up of suspense. Writing was polished and flowed nicely. It was a fast read and even though I was sort of resisting getting pulled in completely, it made me keep reading until the very end. I think that's the definition of a page turner. Very good pacing.What I liked less: kind of a cliched set-up; group of diverse people called to a lab somewhere to combine their diverse talents. The characters made the switch from investigating the cube to picking up weapons a bit too easily.

Overall, if you don't mind paying .99 for a short story and you like fast flowing adventure, you could do a lot worse than this. It won't be the best thing you've ever read, but definitely worthy of 4 stars.

And next a five-star review here:
"I found this very entertaining. Great character depth, not too much nor too little, which meant I just had to keep reading.
The twists certainly kept me guessing even right up to the last few paragraphs. And the ending was very clever and very unexpected."

Needless to say, I am excited to see these. Since doing the KDP Select free promo, wherein I gave away some 217 copies of "The Box," I've noticed a steady trickle of actual sales happening.

And that put a much-needed smile on my face the last few days.

Current Soundtrack:
'Star Trek' by Michael Giacchino

Monday, April 9, 2012

Outlines are hard like my...

...high school algebra finals.

What?  Where did you think I was going with that?

Anyway, I've written before about my difficulty with outlines. But I decided a novel, as the single largest writing project I will have tackled so far in my life, deserved more than just to be spat out upon my keyboard, spewed forth from my brain without direction of any kind.

Thus it was that I completed an outline for my novel (which I have yet to settle on a title - that will be another blog post, I assure you).  It's a pretty basic outline which merely lists a couple of goals for each chapter, sentence fragments of ideas that I think should happen at each point.

"So and so meet at this place and discuss such and such" is essentially how it goes.

"So and so beat the crap out of each other at bla bla" and so on.

But one of the things that struck me while I was writing it was that the structure of it seemed to flow a little better.  The outline adheres to the basic idea of the novel I've had in my head, with some added junk thrown in.  But therein, you'll recall, was my problem - I constantly have new ideas I want to add in which ends up changing the project drastically as I'm writing it.  With the outline, I'm hoping to avoid it, but I don't know if that's possible because I simply found myself modifying the outline on the fly!

My high school art teacher, who always was reminding me that I was very talented but extremely lacking in organization and follow through, once said that "the real world doesn't have outlines."  This was because my naturally cartoonish artistic style meant that every object I drew had lines to define its shape instead of using shade.  It's sort of hard to describe, but essentially it boils down to, Look at the world around you and note that no real object has a black line around it.

This is a completely different kind of outline, but the idea popped into my head earlier as I was finishing the outline.  I thought this was very funny because now years later, outlines are still bugging me and I'm still a giant pain in the ass who lacks organization and follow through.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sample Sunday: "The First Seven Millenia"

Sample Sunday: "The First Seven Millenia" is a story available in my collection, "Show Me the End of the World."

I’d wondered once, what it would be like to be truly alone. I never imagined that it would be quite like this, of course. I thought to be truly alone would be like suffering from some kind of intense emotional wound, a trauma like someone had dug a hole right through my innards and kept on going and going and going, and nothing could ever, ever fill it in.
But really, being alone is much more like an intense boredom.
I’ve spent much of my life alone, in one respect or another. But this, this is absolutely terrible.
This morning I woke up, and, much like days previous, I did nothing. Now, it used to be that when I say that I did nothing, what I really meant was that I’d sat down and pretty much wasted the day by watching television or playing games or some other nonsense that didn’t involve any real stress or human contact. That’s what “nothing” used to mean to me.
These days, when I say nothing, I mean it in the very truest sense of the word that a human being is capable of. I mean that I opened my eyes this morning, awoken to a new day, and I lay in bed. All day. I didn’t get out of it. Ever. I’ve lain like that every day for the past forty-seven years. For as long as I’ve been alive, forty-seven years seems like, well, nothing, if I might apply a different meaning to the word.
To date, I have lived for seven thousand, three hundred and sixty-two years. So forty-seven, from a perspective such as mine, really is quite an inconsequential amount of time. To me, forty-seven years is a span of time somewhat like what a month used to feel like. I still keep track of my years as though they were my days. I keep track of my days as though they were my minutes. It’s bizarre, and slightly discomforting when you really think about it. I have dismissed time as most people think of it. It means nothing to me.
There’s that word again.
I suppose I ought to tell you just why and how it is that I have come to such an extreme age, especially looking as well as I do – that is, as a twenty-nine year old man in pretty decent physical condition.
I was born early on in the wonderful decade of the 1980s. I remember it like it was seven thousand years ago, which is pretty sarcastic of me to say. I remember it pretty well, as well as any normal man might remember his first few years, even though it was much, much longer ago for me than a normal man’s life span. I grew up as any child of the 80s might have, watching TV and playing Nintendo games, reading comic books, playing sports, riding my bike and playing with friends when the weather was nice, staying in when it wasn’t. It was, to put it mildly (and in perspective, considering the events later in my life) a rather uneventful childhood.
I like to think that my parents instilled in me a decent sense of right and wrong, and how to be a generally good person. You can see where I’m going with this, that is, that I was a very middle-of-the-road human being, with no distinguishing characteristics to my life at all.
I went to high school, dated girls, got drunk with friends, experimented with marijuana, all the things high schoolers do. Then college, a small liberal-arts institution in the American northeast. You can see how dreadfully boring it all is, a slice of Americana apple pie. Lots of TV, lots of videogames, lots of simply lounging around without contributing much to the world at large.
This was, of course, the time of the great technological boom, the growth of the Internet, 9/11, and all those things that made the beginnings of my life an exciting and unique time to be alive. But my life itself was not exciting, despite the grand surroundings. I was not famous, I was not a genius, or a star athlete, or anything else that got one noticed in that world so obsessed with success and celebrity.
All this is not to say that I didn’t want success or celebrity. Indeed, I desperately desired those things, just like anyone else of that entirely materialistic age. I wanted to be a writer, of all things. I wanted to make waves; I wanted people to notice me, to like me. I wanted to entertain people, and at the same time, I wanted to make embarrassingly large piles of cash, cash, and more cash – which, I learned, is something few writers actually manage to do. But I’d have been damned if I wasn’t going to try.
But that was not where my celebrity or my success would come from.
One thing that always struck me as being so bizarre during that time period was how obsessed people were with looking young, with staying young. We desperately craved to keep that youth that seemed so fleeting, even though it lasted so long. I never really cared, knowing that, yeah, guess what, people get old. Watching television became a practice in wondering how many new “rejuvenating skin crème” ads would come on during a particular commercial break.
A journalist once asked me when the first time I ever noticed I wasn’t dying was. This was sometime around age one hundred and twelve, give or take. I couldn’t answer him, at first. Eventually, I told him that it wasn’t like I had flipped the “on” switch to my magical immortality machine. It just happened. I thought I was born this way, since I could recall nothing so bizarre happening to me in my lifetime that I thought I had been bestowed immortality. I just was.
The interview took place just after I’d published the first volume of my memoirs, rather egotistically entitled “The First Hundred Years”. I was one hundred and twelve, and I had still not done much of anything. But it was around then that I realized that I wasn’t doing anything, but I was seeing everything. I noticed that I was in a position to offer a unique perspective on the world. I thought maybe I could teach people about the things I had seen, and maybe, for some reason, they would listen.
In my pride, I thought they would connect better with a living storyteller than some dusty history text. And unlike those books, I told myself, my memories were not skewed the perspective of the victor. I was an observer – I could tell them how it was, now how the people who won wanted them to see it.
I began speaking at colleges and universities around America, telling stories to history classes about what my mundane existence had been like a century prior. After I had done countless lectures, TV interviews, and dozens upon dozens of magazine and newspaper articles had been written on my life and times, I came upon a singular realization that changed my life absolutely forever.
They didn’t care.
I wasn’t teaching them, at least not anything important. I was two hundred and thirty years old, and all they cared about was the origins of television. I was quaint, a museum piece that people walk past and say, “Oh, wow, look at that!” and then move on a moment later.
I published “The Second Hundred Years”, selling only half as much as the first book. My status, and my celebrity, were wearing thin after two and a half centuries of life. The world at large did not care about me, that weirdo American who wouldn’t die.
It’s not for lack of trying, either. In those first two and a half centuries alone, I would have no less than fifteen attempts on my life, mostly by bizarre religious nut-jobs who thought I was the anti-Christ. Imagine how surprised I was when bullets didn’t hurt me, or knife blades, or firebombs or any of the other millions of ways human beings have devised to torture and maim each other for less than no good reason. When that little nugget of information got out, I thought it would stop the attempts, but it actually seemed to encourage more of them.
People actually were trying harder to kill me than those that had come before, and were using it as a sort of litmus test to gauge their own strength and cunning against their competitors (or even their friends). And each time someone tried to kill me, it got just a little bit more public.

"The First Seven Millenia" and the rest of "Show Me the End of the World" is available now at

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Amazon KDP Select Experiment: Phase 1

As I've previously posted, I enrolled "The Box" in Amazon's new KDP Select program.  Now, what this means is two things:

Firstly, that it is exclusive to Amazon - I can't sell "The Box" on any other store, which is fine.  To be honest, most of my sales of "Show Me the End of the World" came from Amazon anyway.  I might have sold four or five copies for the Barnes and Noble Nook, but for the most part, Amazon was where it was going.  Since I only had the one book, I was reluctant to give Select a chance, and some of the conflicting stories I've heard about it made me wary.

Secondly, and here's where the meat of Select comes into play, I am allowed to give "The Box" away for free for five days.  And here's why people are saying that Select is a bad idea if you've only got one book: If you give it away for free, you're not getting any money.  I've read accounts from other indie authors who say that they've given away the first book of a series in order to promote sales of the subsequent books.

Now, if I were to give away "Show Me the End of the World" for free before I had released anything else, my promotion is doing nothing but giving away free books.  Maybe some of those people would remember me and check back later to see if I have anything new coming out, but that seems unlikely.  More likely, I'd simply have given away a bunch of books and gotten nothing in return for it - and I don't even mean just money.  Will those readers turn into fans?  Again, probably not because I have nothing else to offer them and they'll forget about me and move on.

So I enrolled "The Box" in Select because I figured, now I have something out there to offer and the risk is somewhat minimal.  So I can give away "The Box" for free in the hopes that people will like it and seek out and purchase "Show Me the End of the World" as a result.  At least, that's the thinking behind it. I've seen stories of people who have found success in this method, and others who think it's one of the worst mistakes they've ever done as an author.

I'm not ready to declare anything like that at the moment.  Right now, I'm sort of laughing at myself because for the week or so that I offered "The Box" for a mere 99 cents (it is, after all, just one short story, maybe even the low end of novella but that seems like I'm stretching) I sold about six copies.  Now, because the list price is so small, I only make about 35 cents royalty on each one of those.  I don't get the whole dollar, not by a longshot.  But I put some advertisement out there... I put links on my personal Facebook page, on my Olympus Mans page, on Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and Goodreads that I was doing this promo.  And then when the time came and the book was live for free, I put the links out there again and asked people to share it around.

So in over a week I'd sold six copies of my 99 cent story and made a grand total of about two bucks.  In 12 hours, I gave away over 100 copies (about $30 that will not go into my pocket).  At this point, "The Box" has given away more free copies than I sold of "Show Me the End of the World" in total.  Am I happy about that fact?  Eh.  Like I said, this is a promotion.  The whole idea is that I'm trying to build an audience, that this audience will hopefully enjoy "The Box" so much that they'll go buy my other book.

Has that happened? Actually, yes.  According to the sales reports, while at this moment I've given away over 100 copies of "The Box" someone did, in fact, purchase "Show Me the End of the World" today.

Obviously, I'll need more time to look into how this whole thing will work out.  For the moment, I'm a little impressed that I managed to give away so many copies.  I hope everyone who reads it will enjoy it, and I hope that I get some fans and some feedback.  "The Box" was, after all, sort of a holdover from "Show Me" anyway, even though I think I got a little more attached to it than I thought I would.

So if you're reading this, and you've read "The Box", please sound off on your thoughts in the comments.  And if you're feeling really generous, rate it on Amazon.  I'd love to get some gold stars up on that page.

Current Soundtrack:
"X-Men: First Class" by Henry Jackman

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Free! Free!

That's right, folks - Everyone's favorite word!  Today (April 4, 2012) and tomorrow (April 5, 2012) my new short story "The Box" is free for everyone on  Feel free to download it to your Kindle, iPhone, iPad, Android device, PC, Mac, read it right on your fancy-schmancy Internet browser, or... I guess you could print it out if you feel like putting too much effort into something.

But it's free!  So do whatever you like!  Read it, share it, tell all your friends and family how freaking awesome I am... :)

But above all, enjoy.

Current Soundtrack
"John Carter" by Michael Giacchino

Monday, April 2, 2012

The dreaded outline

I am not what you would call a particularly organized person.  I tend to just sort of let things happen, let them pile up.  I don't really plan things all that well, and I'm sometimes very poor at budgeting my time.

Of course, this is a problem for a person who wants to tell stories.  Disorganized stories can be a huge turnoff for a reader.  But my writing style is very "get started and see what happens."  The number of times I've started a project only to decide halfway through to veer off in another direction because I had what I thought was a better idea is astonishing.  It also means that there is a graveyard of unfinished stories, screenplays and half-baked ideas littered like slaughtered corpses throughout my hard drive.

For writing short stories, this is actually rather an easy problem to overcome.  They're typically short enough that I can just write and see where it goes and generally be pleased with the outcome.  I had some struggle with "The Box," but overall the writing of it went smoothly.  Of the stories in "Show Me the End of the World" only "DreamTime" and "Man's Best FrienD" went through any serious revisions.

But writing a novel is an entirely different animal.  I've even written screenplays without any real outline... they just sort of come out of me the way they do, and I rarely feel the need to go back and change them.  I've been slowly revising one that's been gestating since college, but even that has remained largely the same in terms of its structure.  Each time I read it, I see where I could make a funnier joke or that I need to add an earlier reference to pay off something that happens later, but for the most part the skeleton of the thing hasn't changed in the years since I originally sat down to write it while working crappy desk shifts in good ol' Larned Hall.

For this novel, I attempted to come up with an outline.  The problem is that when I sat down and started writing the novel I almost immediately started deviating from the outline!  I've struggled with this problem for all the time I've been a writer; rigid boundaries simply don't agree with me.  Outlines for school papers were a pain in the ass, and when teachers forced me to do second and third drafts as part of the assignment, I often simply passed in the first draft again and they'd get upset.  Even at work, I hate being constantly boxed in by design concepts older than I am, and I'm constantly battling with people over this.

I guess what I'm going to try for the novel outline is to simply write a simpler one.  I was trying to sketch it all out down to the individual scenes, but that isn't working for me.  I think I'll just put one or two sentences down for the goal of each chapter and hope that I can stick to that.

But maybe I'll get halfway through and decide, no, that's not how I roll.

Current Soundtrack
"Total Recall" by Jerry Goldsmith