Author Archives: Amanda

About Amanda

writer, mother, owned by a cat and not necessarily in that order.

Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Meet the Internal Editor

(Work has Kate snowed under and she asked me to post this for her.)

You’ve finished your first draft, you’ve given it a decent amount of time to sit (trust me, for pantsers this is essential), and now it’s time to edit. As with all things pantser, particularly extreme pantser, it’s not that simple. Editor time is when you need to take this thing that’s lived inside your head for months, and put it through the shredder – and most of the pantsers I know (yes, including me) have major problems letting go enough to do this.

Probably the first and simplest tool in the kit for turning on your editor-mind is to phase-shift: to look at the piece in a different format than the one you wrote it in. Print-outs work for this. So does making a copy of the file and getting the copy onto your ebook reader or smartphone (preferably one with annotation or editing capability) and reading it there. The different format is usually enough to keep you out of writer mindset (or worse, “this is my baby” mindset).

Editing somewhere you don’t write is another tool that, while simple, works. The goal of moving is to put yourself somewhere your subconscious doesn’t recognize as writing-space. If you wrote the novel on your laptop while taking the train to and from work, don’t edit it there – or at the very least, don’t mark it up there. It doesn’t matter whether you mark up in approved editorese or not: you’re the only person who’s going to see this stuff, so you’re the only person who needs to worry about it. Highlights on a kindle with a one or two word note to say what it needs are just as effective as handwritten comments on paper, or comments embedded in a word processor file.

A word of warning here: if your word processing application uses any form of auto-formatting turn it off. There are multiple versions of Word in the wild, Word Perfect still happens, and then you’ve got Open Office and its clones, as well as any number of other applications that will create something more or less like RTF (aka “Rich Text Format” – which is text with fonts, bold, underlines and some other formatting, but not the fancy stuff). They don’t all use the same internal codes for anything that is not an obvious keystroke. What that means is that the beautiful file on your Mac ends up looking like someone threw confetti all over it with all manner of weird characters involving tildes and accents where you thought you had a quote mark.

Actually, that’s two words of warning. Do not use your word processor’s embedded comments feature. Not everything you’re likely to be playing with is going to be able to support that. My preference for this is to use something that won’t appear anywhere else in the manuscript as a flag character. So I’ll be writing along and there’ll be something like [add more description] in the middle of the text. That tells me what I’ve got to do and where I’ve got to do it. Sometimes it’s a plot note, sometimes flagging a really crappy sentence, and sometimes a note to remind me that a character’s name needs to change.

For stuff I need to research but don’t want to lose I use the same trick – a sudden burst of [research this] will get added to the story as I write. When I’m done the markup pass-through, I can search for [ and do what needs to be done. The benefit of this is that you can do it with anything, even Notepad (well, if the book isn’t too big – Notepad can’t read very large files. Although if the file is that big, you have other problems).

Okay, so you have your internal editor. Guess what? The editor popped over from Evil Bastard Central, and will cheerfully tell you what you’re doing sucks rocks, while leaning back in a recliner drinking your virtual booze. This is quite normal. I know it sounds like split personality, but heck, we pantsers already host a ridiculous number of personalities anyway. What’s one more?

Quite a few authors externalize the editor-mind, even going so far as to give it a name. Julie Czerneda calls hers the “Great Editor Voice” aka GEV, and posts interesting conversations between her and her GEV on her sff.net newsgroup.

You don’t need to go that far. If it helps to do something like this, go for it. Otherwise, don’t worry. So long as you can flip to editor-mind when you need to, that’s enough.

Of course, the other side of this is getting back to author-mind when you’re done with the editor-mind. That’s… interesting. It’s also crucial – you don’t want to be in editor-mind when you’re writing, any more than writer-mind is good when you’re editing. While the toolset is much the same, they’re used in different ways. The writer-mind is applying the paint, building the picture and framing it, while the editor-mind applies a scalpel to clean up the bits that got smudged, and takes the sander to the frame to smooth off all the rough places and hide the marks where the hammer didn’t quite go where you meant it to, and so forth. Not all writers are good at editing, and not all editors are good at writing.

Depending on how clean your drafts are (in the sense of dangling plot threads, odd byways you forgot to come back to, ideas that hit halfway through that you need to go back and seed and other such pantser oddities), you might not need much in your edit passes. Mine are typically pretty light: there’s a pass for plot/character issues where I’ll usually pick up most of the typo and grammar as well, and a second pass that takes a closer look at phrasing and tightening. After that will depend on what Amanda and Sarah, my long-suffering beta readers and in Amanda’s case editor as well, have to say. You might need dozens of passes to clean things up.

Or not. Pantsers have a horrible tendency to over-edit until there’s no life left. We really can’t edit our work until we’ve had a chance to forget it, and we’ve got to be careful about who we listen to. If you try to fix everything everyone says, you’ll end up with flat, rolled out tofu. Very dead tofu, at that. Instead, look for the possible problem that sits under what they’re saying, and work out how to address that.

And that, fellow pantsers, is that. Go thou forth and explore the pants.

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Filed under KATE PAULK, WRITING, WRITING: CRAFT

To NaNo or Not to NaNo

November is almost half over and all across the internet you will find writers and wannabe writers talking about NaNoWriMo. Some are gleefully extolling on and on and on about how they have been meeting their daily word counts and will make their 50k word goal for the month. Others lament about how they haven’t been able to keep up with their goal, but they are continuing to try. Some will tell you about the book they started in last year’s NaNo or the year before or the year before, etc. Then there are those who will boldly tell you that you’re a fool for taking part.

Each year, I see someone — usually several someones — condemning anyone who takes part in NaNoWriMo. These oh-so-superior authors are convinced that nothing good can come out of NaNo. They cling to the belief that no one can write 50k words of publishable material in a mere 30 days. To them, NaNo is a gimmick that does nothing more than make fun of their craft. And, yes, I have a mental image of these authors sipping tea, pinky fingers lifted, as they look down their noses at the peons laboring away in the writing trenches.

If you haven’t already figured it out, this attitude more than bugs me. It tics me off. First, it completely misses the point of NaNo (and full disclosure here. I’m not a big fan of NaNo for reasons I’ll go into later). Second, it assumes that every writer works at the same pace as these so-called authors and who are they to tell any of us what pace we should set when we are writing?

So, what is the purpose behind NaNo? That’s simple. Some years ago, a couple of friends got together. During the course of their conversation, someone said no one could write a 50k word novel in a month. These guys took up the challenge and NaNo was born. If you take part and if you follow the original concept of the challenge, you start a new novel on November 1st and work through the month with the goal of writing at least 50k words.

The goal isn’t to have 50k words of publishable content. It is to set a goal and meet it. To simply sit the butt down in the chair and write. Editing comes after that. This is what makes NaNo an effective tool for a number of writers. It is committing to a goal and working to reach that goal. It has been the impetus a number of writers have needed to move past writer’s block or the various distractions that all too often take us away from our writing.

There is another benefit to NaNo, at least for some writers. There is a huge NaNo community. During November, there are meetings you can go to, even write-ins. For a number of writers, especially beginning writers, this means getting to know in meat space others like yourself. That’s important because writing is a solitary profession and all too often our families don’t understand the demands of the career.

My issue with NaNo is that 50k word goal. There are a number of writers who are terrified of that number. They won’t sign up because they know they won’t be able to meet the goal. In other words, they aren’t going to give themselves the chance to “fail”. When asked about it by other writers, I tell them they don’t have to take part in the “official” NaNo. They can simply set their own goal for the month and then do their best to keep to it. One way of doing it is announcing the goal on social media, on their blogs, etc., and then doing daily or weekly upstages. That will keep them honest.

I hear some of you out there asking if I do NaNo. I don’t. I have in the past and, in most instances, I met the goal. However, with my writing schedule, I am rarely in the position any longer of starting something new at the right time for the challenge. That doesn’t mean I ignore the spirit of NaNo. I have weekly and monthly writing goals. Sometimes I meet them and sometimes I don’t. In November, I do my best to hit at least 50k words. It might be on a single project or on several different projects, depending on when I end one and start another. Sometimes, it might be an editing goal. There are times when it is both.

You might be asking about my goals for the month and how have I done so far? My goal wasn’t so much a word count goal as a project goal. I wanted to have the final version of Light Magic finished and ready to publish by the end of the month. I also wanted to have the final version of an untitled holiday short story/novella in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe ready as well. Working drafts of both have been finished. I have also done some work on the expanded edition of Duty from Ashes. But, thanks to a knee injury, I am behind on my goal. Since the short story/novella and Light Magic are time sensitive, they are getting the bulk of my attention right now.

Here’s the thing. No one has to like NaNo. It isn’t for every writer out there. But just because it isn’t right for you doesn’t give you the right to decry it where every other writer is concerned. For those of you who haven’t tried it, or who have tried it and not met your goal, don’t discount doing it again. Remember, there is nothing stopping you from doing your own form of NaNo. If the 50k word goal terrifies you to the point you feel you will self-sabatouge and not meet the goal, set a lower goal. But give yourself incentives to not only meet but exceed that new goal. You might be surprised by how much writing you can get done.

The key isn’t whether you write 200 words or 50k words. The key is that you write. You don’t have to write every day, but you have to write. So many of writers stop writing, not because they have run out of ideas but because they fall out of the habit of writing. Yes, real life gets in the way. The challenges of work, family, school, etc., all have to be dealt with before we can sit down and put ideas to paper. Once we get out of that habit, it is often almost impossible to get back into it.

So, here’s my challenge to each of you. Set a goal for the rest of the month. It can be anything you want. But set the goal. Then set secondary goals. Goals that, if you reach them, you treat yourself to something special. Before you start telling me you don’t have time, give your daily schedule a hard look. Is there some way you can change your schedule or crave out an additional five or ten minutes a day or an hour over the weekend? If you ride the train or bus to work, can you grab your tablet and stylus and make notes (or even just an old-fashioned steno book and pen)? How about giving up five minutes of gaming at night or getting up five minutes early?

You’ll note, I didn’t say you have to write a story. In fact, if you have been having problems focusing on a plot, don’t force it. Do free-writing. When you get up (or before you go to bed), grab a piece of paper and a pen or pencil and just write. Write down whatever comes to mind. It can be your shopping list or it can be journaling. It can even be that letter you wish you could write to your boss or your neighbor or whoever but you just don’t dare. The key is to write.

The key is to write.

And, on that happy note, I’m going to go do just that.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: LIFE

It’s a Business – A blast from the past

(Brad is still busy with life, family and writing. So I thought I’d do a blast from the past. In this case, from last year.)

There are times when I feel like I’m the crotchety parent sitting the kids down to tell them the facts of life. No, not those facts of life but the facts of life about business. It seems like almost every week there is a blog post or newspaper article about a bad contract or troubles in publishing or writers thinking about hanging up their keyboards. Why? Because all too many forget that publishing is a business and it needs to be treated as such.

I’m not going to discuss, at least not much, the publisher side of writing as a business today. Oh, there is plenty out there. Bad publishing decisions coming back to haunt the publishing company abound. But that’s not the point of today’s post. No, today I’m back on my soapbox reminding everyone who wants to be a writer that you have to remember that this is your business and you have to treat it as such.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve talked with writers, some traditionally published and others indie published, who went into this business with stars in their eyes and rose colored glasses firmly in place. The ones traditionally published just knew that once they signed the contract, the publisher would be spending all sorts of money to promote their book and make it into a best seller. The indie writers who are now wanting to go with a traditional publisher because — duh — they will get this huge advance and will be sent on tours to sign their books and will soon be playing poker with other best selling authors ala Castle.

That sound you hear, that slow thud-thud-thud is my head pounding against the wall.

It would be wonderful to live the life of Castle — less the murderers and other crooks trying to take pot shots at you every week. But that isn’t reality. The reality is that the vast majority of writers who have signed with traditional publishers see little if any real push from their publisher. In fact, the publisher — and the author’s agent — expect the author to do their own promotion. Oh, you might get reimbursed for your expenses if you go to a con or do a book tour but don’t bet on it. Don’t believe me that publishers aren’t spending as much on promotion of those authors they haven’t pegged as best sellers or the newest “best thing ever”? Think back to the last time you saw a book signing at your local bookstore. Now ask yourself how many times a year your local bookstore has such signings. How many of those are authors who aren’t best sellers or local authors?

Now, look at your local newspaper and tell me how large the arts section is and how many book reviews appear per week. Oh, wait. Sorry. Part of the reason there aren’t as many reviews is that there aren’t as many people reading the newspaper. Reviews, especially book reviews, were some of the first things cut when newspapers started cutting costs to make up for the lower advertising revenue and lower subscriptions rates. Few newspapers have their own book reviewers any longer and the books being reviewed are either best sellers or the newest best thing. Hmm.

But, Amanda, you get those huge advances and you don’t have to work any longer.

Wrong.

And this is where you have to remember that this is a business. Most advances, especially for “new” authors fall in the four-digit range. Yes, some new authors get more but they are the except and not the rule. You don’t get the advance all at one time and you aren’t going to see any more money from the publisher until you have earned out the advance and, believe me, that doesn’t happen very often. How can it when publishers use Bookscan to determine how many books are sold instead of a simple inventory tracker program?

That means you have to make sure you have a way to pay your bills between advances. This is why the vast majority of writers aren’t full-time writers. They have families to feed and are like me. They like having a roof over their heads and food in the fridge. Even if your first book is a success, you don’t know that the second book will be. More importantly, if you are publishing traditionally, you have no guarantee that the readers will remember you two years or more after your first book by the time the second book comes out. Remember, when you publish traditionally, you have no control over when your book is released and you are just one of many the publisher is having to slot into a finite number of slots per month.

I can’t repeat this often enough. Writing is a business and the writer is the business owner. Yes, you might sign a contract with someone to distribute your work (a publisher) and promote it (publisher or someone else) but it is still your responsibility to make sure the job is being done. You can’t just sign the contract and sit back and wait for the money to roll in, trusting the person you contracted with to do the job. You need to understand the supply chain for bookstores and the reality of how long a book is left on the shelves before it is pulled. You need to understand the financial aspects of the business and you need to study the numbers when it comes to sell through, resigning authors, etc.

What started me thinking about this again today was this article. The author in question signed a contract with a major publisher for her first book. It was critically acclaimed and not long before it was released into the wild, she quit her job. Yep, you read that right. The author quit her job — the job that helped support her family — so she could promote her book and write full-time. She did so after signing with the publisher for only this one book. There was no second book that would bring in additional advance payments. Nope. Just the starry eyed vision of living the life of a writer.

Now, I don’t want to kick this woman when she’s down but her story is illustrative of the problems so many writers — and folks who start their own businesses — face. They get a great review for a product before it hits the shelves and based on those reviews, quits their regular job to do this full-time. The problem is that reviews don’t always turn into sales and sales, especially for books, will slow down if the author doesn’t bring a new title out in fairly short order. For those authors going the traditional route, that very likely means no payments after the book is released because the advance isn’t earned out. So what are you going to do for money?

This particular author did finally go out and get a job — for awhile. But what struck me is that she doesn’t really seem to want to work. She would rather be writing but the worry and stress of not having enough money has shut down the writing. But a job makes her too tired to write. You see the circle. I feel for her but, to be honest, she needs to man up — or woman up — and realize that the situation she is in is the same one so many of us face on a daily basis. We face it and learn to live with it as we continue to write and put our work out there.

The lesson to be learned is that if you don’t have at least six months — preferably a year or more — of living expenses in the bank, do NOT quit your day job. If you are worried about putting food on the table for your kids or if you are worried about how you will pay the bills, do not quit your day job. It makes it more difficult to write, yes. But this is a business and you learn to adapt. You find the way to carve out time to write. But having all the time in the world to write isn’t worth anything if you are worrying about losing your home or having your utilities cut off.

It’s a business, damn it, and you need to look at it that way. Have your business plan. Have your promotion plan. Know that you aren’t going to get a regular salary that is the same from paycheck to paycheck.

And since I am a working writer, check out Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Dagger of Elanna, the second book in the series will be released soon. You can check out snippets from the book starting here. (Edited to add, Dagger is out and you can find it here.)

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Filed under AMANDA, MARKETING, PROMOTION, WRITING: PUBLISHING

Loss of Focus or Re-Inventing Themselves?

I had this morning’s post all planned and then I read the business section for the Dallas Morning News. There, on the front page, was an article that had to be addressed. Barnes & Noble is opening a new store in Plano, TX (north of Dallas). That wouldn’t normally be news except for the type of store it is. This is one of their new Barnes & Noble Kitchen stores. Yes, you read that right — B&N “Kitchen”.

Here’s the basic premise. It is still a bookstore. Kind of. This 10,000 square foot store will still sell books. However, it will be stocking 17,000 titles as opposed to the 35,000 – 50,000 titles in its other stores. There will be no music in the new “kitchen” although you will still be able to buy art supplies and journals. (There is nothing in the story about whether you will find all the other non-book items you find at most B&N stores). The big change, however, is in the “kitchen” part of this store. There will be seating for 178 diners inside and on a patio. It will be open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and they are considering doing a Sunday brunch as well. Let’s not forget the bar either. You will be able to order wine or locally brewed beer, among others.

All that sounds like a company in search of an identity. According to the DMN, this version of the “kitchen” is smaller than the three others B&N have opened. They are still trying to figure out the market, etc. This doesn’t fill me with a great deal of hope because B&N has been trying to figure out the market — and failing to — for the last decade or more. Since 2010, the company has closed 114 stores. It has opened 17 stores during that same time. If that isn’t telling enough, their sales % change has been on the positive sign only twice during that same time period and the highest positive change was 1.4%.

Now they think they have found the right way to move forward. However, their own comments about the new store show they still don’t have a clue. This new store will open less than 2 miles from a “traditional” B&N. Carl Hauch, vice president of stores, sees no problem having two stores that close together because he thinks they will be serving different demographics. Yet, just above that comment, it is clear they are stocking the store based on demand from the traditional bookstore down the road. Is this an instance of the right hand saying one thing while the left hand believes something else or is this yet more of B&N not understanding what’s happening in the industry?

If you haven’t already, click on the link in the first paragraph and visit the Kitchen site. The first thing you see is food with a quote from Tolkien. If you keep reading you will finally see books mentioned but nothing else, other than the B&N name, would lead a casual browser of the site to know books are available.

What amazes me is how the company is relying on the new store, with its wine and beer, to be a draw for customers and yet is brags about its large manga selection in the YA section. B&N, and Borders before it, used to be a destination for families. Parents felt safe bringing their children and letting them browse the kids section while the parents looked for a book or had a cup of coffee. How many parents will feel the same now, knowing that someone can have been in the “kitchen” drinking and now, wine or beer in hand, is wandering the store? Plano is the belt buckle of the Bible Belt. This can blow up big time in B&N’s face if they aren’t careful.

As an author, the decrease in the footprint available for books is also worrisome. I welcome the news they will have more focus on local authors but they’ve said that before and it’s never really appeared. It is also another nail in the proverbial coffin for the store when it comes to indie and small press authors. It is already almost impossible to get our books on the shelves of B&N, not to mention having author events there. This means we need to let go of any hope they will work with us.

So here’s the question I have for B&N management — do you still consider yourself a bookseller or are you going to continue this transition to a restaurant that happens to also sell books? Or let’s make it easier. What do you see yourself as? I have a feeling that’s a question upper management hasn’t had a good answer to for years.

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Filed under AMANDA, Book Stores

Halloween Tricks and Treats

This Halloween brings with it the usual tricks and treats in the industry. AAP and traditional publishing is touting a fairly small increase in sales as a huge gain. In the same breath, they crow about the continued slowing of e-book sales (without admitting that slow down is only in trad sales and mainly due to high purchase price). Depending on your point of view, those bits of news can be tricks or treats. Two other news items are definite tricks or, as I like to put it, “What the [expletive deleted] were you thinking?” moments. Fortunately, there are some treats out there.

Let’s look at the “tricks” first.

B&N continues with their efforts to shoot themselves in the corporate foot. It’s no secret they have been behind Amazon when it comes to e-book readers. The Kindle came out Nov. 19, 2007. The Nook e-book reader was available for pre-order for the first time on Oct 20, 2009. That is a delay of almost two years before BN realized it needed to get into the game. It has played a game of catch-up since then and is now throwing in the towel. At least that’s the way it looks. The most recent victim, er indication, is the Nook Glowlight Plus. For those not familiar with the Glowlight Plus, it is BN’s alternative to the Kindle Paperwhite (in a side-by-side comparison, the Paperwhite, the Paperwhite came out on top. The only reason the Oasis didn’t was the price differential.) However, it now appears that BN is phasing out the Glowlight Plus. If you try to buy one, I hope you are willing to pay for a refurbished model because BN isn’t selling new ones. Nor does it appear there is a replacement reader or updated reader coming down the line to replace it. Is this the first tangible example of how BN is going to abandon at least the hardware side of e-books? If so, how will this impact their e-book platform, both for traditional publishers and for indies?

The second “trick” comes from Australia. Gould’s Book Arcade in Sydney has been around since the Vietnam War. Back then, it was a gathering place for antiwar protesters. From what I’ve been able to learn, it’s well-known for its used books as well as remaindered, rare and out-of-print books. But, like many bookstores around the world, it has been facing financial troubles for some time. Now it appears the store has three months before it either has to close its doors or move to a new location. None of this is new in the industry.

What makes this a “trick”, at least in my book, is the attitude of the store owner. Unfortunately, it is an attitude I see all too often in not only the publishing industry but in life in general. Claiming that she is a socialist and “I don’t understand capitalism,” Natalie Gould wants someone to swoop in and save the store. In fact, she would have no problem with local government buying the store, saying, ““If I was (Sydney lord mayor) Clover Moore I’d buy the building. They (the city council) have got plenty of money.”

I would lay good money on the fact Gould has changed little, if any, of the way the store operates over the six plus years she says she’s struggled to keep it open. Reading her comments, it is clear she sees the store more as a place of protest, a gathering place and piece of local culture rather than as a business. She wants to keep having her fun on someone else’s dollar. This failure to adapt to changing demands — or, or perhaps and, in this case the change in the neighborhood — she dug her heels in. Now she wants someone to come in a bail her out. Doesn’t this sound a lot like traditional publishing and it’s failure to adapt to changing consumer demands? Traditional publishing (the Big 5, especially) dearly wants things to go back to the way they were decades ago. Instead, readers are looking elsewhere for their reading enjoyment. They aren’t paying the high prices for e-books from the Big 5 and its ilk, instead turning to indie authors.

Now for the treats.

I’m a fan of a number of the old horror films. One of my favorites is The Haunting. This 1963 film stars Julie Harris, Claire Bloom and Russ Tamblyn, among others. It is based on the book, The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson. The movie airs tonight on 8:30 CST on Turner Classic Movies. This isn’t one of your heavy special effects movies or hack and slash movies. It is one, however, that scared the crap out of me when I was younger and still gives me the chills, especially when it comes to the performance by Julie Harris. I highly recommend it. I also recommend the book, as well as Ms. Jackson’s The Lottery.

Then there’s always Poltergeist. Who can forget Carol Anne saying, “They’re here”?

Finally, I have three titles on sale through today in honor of Halloween.

Witchfire Burning (Now on sale for $2.99)

Long before the Others made their existence known to the world, Mossy Creek was their haven. Being from the wrong side of the tracks meant you weren’t what the rest of the world considered “normal”.

Normal was all Quinn O’Donnell wanted from life. Growing up on the “wrong side of the tracks”, she had been the only normal in the family. The moment she was old enough, she left and began life as far from her Texas hometown as possible. Now she has a job she enjoys and a daughter she loves more than life itself. Their life is normal, REALLY normal, until her daughter starts calling forth fire and wind.

Quinn knows they must go back so her mother can help five-year-old Ali learn how to control her new talents. But in Mossy Creek nothing is ever simple. Quinn’s mother has gone missing. Secrets from Quinn’s past start coming back to haunt her.

And the family home is more than a little sentient.

Can Quinn keep everyone — particularly Ali — safe? And will she ever get back her illusion of normalcy?

Skeletons in the Closet (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lexie Smithson’s family had never been what most folks would call “normal”. They had more than their fair share of oddballs and loners and even crazy cat ladies. Most families in Mossy Creek did, especially if they lived on the “wrong side of the tracks”. But things took a decidedly sharp turn to the left of weird the day Lexie’s sister came home from school, complaining about how Old Serena Duchamp had given her the evil eye. When her mother decided it would be a good thing to confront the town’s resident witch, Lexie knew life would never be the same. How could it when their loved ones began returning to the old homestead the day after their funerals. Lexie knew she should be happy none of her neighbors reported mutilated cattle or corpses with missing brains. But that can be hard to do when your loved ones have passed but not passed on.

Skeletons in the Closet is a novella set in the Eerie Side of the Tracks universe. It is the first of a series featuring Lexie, her family – both living and dead, not to mention furry – and their friends.

Nocturnal Haunts (Now on sale for $0.99)

Lt. Mackenzie Santos has seen just about everything in more than ten years as a cop. The last few months have certainly shown her more than she’d ever expected. She’s learned that real monsters don’t always hide under the bed or in the closet. They walk the streets and can exist in the best of families.

When she’s called out to a crime scene and has to face the possibility that there are even more monsters walking the Earth than she knew, she finds herself longing for the days before she started turning furry with the full moon.

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Filed under AMANDA, PROMOTION, WRITING

Who is to blame?

Last night, I started my usual prowling through the internet, looking for a topic for today’s post. Nothing resonated with me until I came across a discussion about indie authors. Even though the discussion remained civil, the disdain and condemnation was obvious. I’ll admit, I had a knee-jerk reaction where I wanted to go wading into the discussion to give the indie side of the argument. I didn’t because it would have gained nothing. The people taking part in the discussion are so entrenched in their beliefs, they wouldn’t have listened, no matter how convincing my arguments might have been.

You see, like so many who have been traditionally published, this group simply can’t fathom the speed with which a number of indie authors write. More than that, they can’t accept you can write, edit and publish a book in a month or two. They can’t wrap their minds around the fact that the year or more between books most authors experienced by traditionally publishing was an artificial delay in the production line. But, because this is the system they are used to, it is the only one they feel is valid.

Yes, that is a bit of an oversimplification. They understand that authors write at different paces. It is the rest of it that blows their minds. They have a hard time realizing it doesn’t take months to get edits back and have them finalized. They forget that indies don’t have to wait for publication slots to come open for release dates. Even so, when they start saying they fear for our industry, they point to the speed with which indie writers are putting out their product and assume the product must be inferior because it didn’t go through the same process their work did.

One of the authors pointed out that they had published something like 10 books in a little more than that many years. The author’s view was no one should be able to put out a quality product quicker than that. After all, there’s all that research that must be done, the careful selection of words, the crafting of the story, etc. No one should be able to put out multiple books a year, much less a book every month or so. Mind you, she had no idea how long the books were the indie author who published monthly put out. She simply assumed, just like she assumed they were poorly written.

That particular author’s attitude isn’t new. It’s something indies have had to deal with since Amazon first opened their KDP platform to us eight or so years ago. They’ve complained that we aren’t “real” writers because we didn’t go through traditional gatekeepers. They’ve decried the quality of our writing and editing. They do so, more often than not, without reading our work. They simply join their voices to the cries of outrage coming from the rest of the flock.

What did catch my attention in the discussion, however, was a comment that basically said that instead of focusing on the “bad writing” of indies, they needed to ask why the public is reading such crap. They pointed to 50 Shades of Grey as their examples, pointing out it had sold many more copies than the “classics”.

What that comment failed to note, possibly because it wouldn’t fit the narrative, was that 50 Shades did start out as an indie novel and then it was picked up by a traditional publisher. That traditional publisher put mega bucks behind the push for that book and its sequels. It even contracted for a new book in the series, this one from Christian Grey’s point of view.

The answer to that person’s question is simple. There are those who appreciate the classics and literary fiction but they are not the majority of the reading public. The majority of those who buy books or borrow them from the library read to be entertained. They want a story they can escape into. They want to be able to forget their worries for a few minutes or a few hours at a time. It really is that simple.

A look at this week’s New York Times best seller list tells the tale. Of the combined print and e-book list, four of the first five entries on the list are genre fiction. They are written by authors like Dan Brown, Stephen King (2 entries) and Nelson DeMille. The 5th book is a book of poetry. Looking at the hard cover list, none of the titles are what you might call “literary” fiction. Considering the fact this particular best seller list is determined by push and pre-orders (not completely, but to a large extent), it is obvious even publishers understand readers want something that has entertainment value to it.

Does all this mean indie writers don’t have challenges we need to meet headlong and overcome? Absolutely not. To start, we need to understand we have to put out the best product we can. That means our writing has to be good and it needs to be edited. We need to be prepared to take the slings and arrows of criticism leveled at us by those who have yet to realize there are more paths to success than traditional publishing. We need to develop a thick skin and be prepared with facts and figures when people come at us, telling us we aren’t “real writers” because we didn’t go through the gatekeepers. What those critics don’t understand is that our gatekeepers are our readers. If we don’t do our job well, readers won’t buy our product.

Now go forth and read — and write. If you read a book by an indie author, do them a favor and leave a review. Those help more than you realize. I’m off to find another cup of coffee now and then it is a day of writing. I can’t afford to wait a year or more between books coming out. Guess I’m not a “real writer”.

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Filed under AMANDA, WRITING: CRAFT

Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide: Pacing

Kate got caught up by real life and asked me to post this for her. This is the second in her “Return to the Extreme Pantser’s Guide” posts. You can find the first one here. — Amanda

This chapter is the first of several covering various aspects of plotting and characterization technique from the extreme pantser’s perspective. The thing to remember here, is that this is stuff that matters, and if you as an extreme pantser don’t ‘get’ it free, you’re going to have to work a lot harder than a plotter would to get there – but not necessarily work in the same way.

One of the more interesting things I’ve found as I’ve developed as a writer is that I typically have a vague, not terribly clear feel for the techniques, but I’m not applying them with any sense or consistency because I don’t understand what the heck it is I’m trying to do, much less what my subconscious is throwing at me. Those unfortunate enough to have read some of my early stuff know what I mean here. You can see the shape I’m after but it’s kind of like a small child trying to color inside the lines.

I still color like that, but at least I’ve got better at writing.

So, pacing. This is what makes a story feel fast or slow. Unless you’re planning on writing literary fiction, you’re going to want a variety in your pacing – enough fast sections to drag your readers along with you, and enough slower ones that they have time to breathe. SF and Fantasy, particularly recently, tends to want to start fast, then have something of a slowdown before a series of increasingly sharper accelerations until the climax of the piece. Most – but not all – authors will give a chapter or three of wrapup after that at a nice, gentle pace. Sarah refers to this as the post-climax cigarette.

Pace is partly influenced by vocabulary: short, sharp verbs with minimal assistance from adverbs, action verbs in the sense that someone (preferably your protagonist) is acting… these tend to signal ‘fast’ to readers. Polysyllabic with lots of descriptive usually signals ‘slow’. We as readers are remarkably sensitive to these – to the extent that a particularly fast-paced scene in someone else’s book is quite capable of having me breathing heavily and feeling as though I just outran a bear.

So… read what you can about pacing, but also read fiction with known pace. L.K. Hamilton’s first three books are close to perfect examples of fast-paced. Terry Pratchett’s pacing is generally more leisurely, but again, pitch-perfect.

What tends to happen is that after immersing yourself in well-paced books, the extreme pantser builds a feel for pacing that manifests as “Something needs to happen soon” or “My character needs a break” – also, “Slowing things down here will increase tension” has been known to occur. In my case, rarely quite that explicit, but I do still operate at this level.

I know this sounds very vague and almost – horrors! – frou-frou, but it does seem to work this way at least for me. I’ve had to learn to trust in the pants, not least because the bloody things know more about how this works than I do (As a side note, this is one of the reasons why I’m bloody dangerous when I’m over-tired. It’s not just the narcolepsy, although that doesn’t help. It’s that all the ‘this is not socially acceptable’ filters stop working – which leads to unacceptable truths being aired out, often loudly).

 

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Filed under KATE PAULK, WRITING: CRAFT