“We All Fall Down”

So, it the fall season. It may just be my writer’s imagination buffeting my mind with stray images and thoughts, but in thinking of the season, the snippet of lyric from a well-known children’s song keeps repeating in my head. Do you recognize it?

Now, I’ll admit that it’s sort of a morbid thing to think about, considering the popular interpretation that this particular rhyme is referring to plagues that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Europe in the Middle Ages. But really, isn’t the fall seaons about dying and non-action anyway?

If you think things are getting darker and darker as this article goes on, well, that’s a normal part of the fall season, too, isn’t it?

Do you save daylight?

In the United States (at least in the states that participate), the clocks were just turned back this last weekend to go from Daylight Saving Time to Standard Time, wreaking havoc with many people’s regular daily rhythms. And yes, days are now darker in the afternoon. If you are in an area that doesn’t follow the ridiculous practice, consider yourself lucky.

But I digress. It’s true that the fall is dark and nature begins to slow things down, even in a relatively moderate weather pattern like Southern California where I live. But that doesn’t mean people necessarily follow suit. Holidays, cold-weather sports, and other seasonal activities make the months from October through December some peoples’ favorite time of the year.

Falling Faster

And you know what else? All activities involving books increase during this time of year. Sales, events, even publishing is thriving in the fall months. From National Novel Writer’s Month (NaNoWriMo; see my posting from my experience with it in 2015 or my post on what NaNoWriMo is) and special sale prices to multi-author boxed sets, it’s a good time to be a reader. Or an author.

So, it’s not all doom and gloom. We can all fall down, but there’s nothing saying we need to stay down. Enjoy the cooler weather (if you’re in the part of the world where it is indeed cooler at this time of year), pick up a book by your favorite author, and let your imagination take you where it will.

I plan on having a good fall season. How about you?

 

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Unmasked, Wanderer’s Song, and a Boxed Set

Wanderer’s Song: Song of Prophecy Book 1

I have three things to report. First, Wanderer’s Song, the book I wrote for the Magic After Dark boxed set, is now available as a standalone title in Kindle and paperback formats.

The one to crush the darkness…

Nearly three thousand years ago, the Prophet penned the Song of Prophecy, foretelling a time when darkness would engulf the world and threaten all life. The Malatirsay would come, the Chosen One to save the world of Dizhelim, wielding magic unseen in centuries. To prepare for this future time, the Hero Academy was built, its sole purpose to train the One. But it has lost its focus throughout the ages, not watching vigilantly for the signs of the end.

The time has arrived and the animaru have come, dark creatures of un-life, intent on snuffing out all living things and light itself. But where is the Malatirsay?

Aeden Tannoch, trained as a highland clan warrior, raised by the Gypta traveling people, could be the One, but he cannot use the promised magic. Yet. In the midst of the dark swarm invading his world, he must travel to the Hero Academy to seek the aid and tutelage of the masters there. The enemy has caught his scent and pursues him. If he doesn’t learn to use the power he is prophesied to employ, not only will he fall, but the entire world will die with him.

 

Unmasked: Unlikely Hero Series Book 2

Also, Unmasked, the second book in the Unlikely Hero series, is now out for pre-order on Amazon. The official launch date is December 8, 2017.

Being a hero just became a tougher gig.

Daniel and Amy, as the superheroes Angel and Kestrel, have defeated Crusher, ending the supervillain’s plans for domination. All that’s left to be done is to clean up the non-super criminals and Sueño will be safe again. Or so they think.

Crusher’s father, going by the supervillain handle Pestilence, has other plans for the two heroes, and the city they protect. He won’t stop until both of them are killed in the most painful of ways and the city that supported them is punished. With his powers and the resources he commands, it’s not an idle threat.

Meanwhile, other criminals with super powers seem to be popping up like proverbial weeds. Some of them join Pestilence in his quest for power…and his plans for revenge.

When Angel and Kestrel’s biggest secret is revealed to the world, things get even worse. How can the two young heroes stand up to the

 

HMS Boxed Set

Third, I have finalized the cover art (see below) for the Harmonic Magic series boxed set. The set will include Vibrations, Harmonics, Resonance, and Gray Man Rising. For those who are subscribers of my newsletter PEP Talk, I am swapping out a brand new story in the Tales of Gythe collection for Gray Man Rising as a free book for being a newsletter subscriber. I’ll be sending out a newsletter shortly to explain it. The HMS boxed set will launch probably sometime in early December.

 

 

 

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Every Step Is a Victory

 

The Grand Canyon from the upper portion of the South Kaibab trail (beginning of the hike)

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to complete one of the goals I set for myself for this year: to hike the Grand Canyon from rim to rim. It was something I had been thinking about doing for a while, but finally decided the time would never be quite right, so I might as well do it now. Besides crossing another goal off my list, I also learned something from my experience. What I re-learned was that most times, the way we look at what happens to us is more important than what actually happens to us.

I know, that sounds deep and philosophical. It sounds like another motivational story where the teller (that would be me) tries to impart some kind of life lesson on the reader (that would be you). Let’s not suffer through that. I’d like to apply what I learned to the process of writing. Grander applications can be left to those who want to make them. I’m going to keep it light.

Let me give you some background. We can all agree that the Grand Canyon is huge. Hiking it from rim to rim can generally be done either from north to south or from south to north. I chose the latter. Traveling down the South Kaibab trail from the South Rim, it’s nearly seven miles to the Colorado River at the bottom, with more than four thousand feet of elevation loss. The hike up the North Rim is more than fourteen miles, with an elevation gain of 5700 feet. Altogether, it’s a hike of over twenty-two miles.

Not surprisingly, I got tired on the hike.

Part of the North Kaibab Trail

The trail is fantastic and there are adequate opportunities to refill water containers, but it is a long hike. The last four miles or so were an experience in torture and longevity for me, mainly because I never condition adequately for these things. I found myself trying to convince the part of me that just wanted to lie down to keep going, to make it to the top.

I chanted to myself, “One step after another. Keep going. Every step is a victory.” It worked. I was slow for those last few miles. I hurt. I wanted to stop and take a nap, for maybe a day or a week. But I continued and finished the hike.

As I drove home after the hike, I thought a lot about my little mantra. It was true on the hike that every step was another victory, every time I put my foot forward it was closer to the major victory of finishing the hike. Each time I resisted the urge to stop, I won a tiny battle. I thought about how true it is that all the little wins are really what’s important, whether hiking or doing something else.

It applies well to writing. Often, in the writing process, there are sticking points. There are times when we are so tired, so overwhelmed, so sick of editing or structuring or any one of a number of other things, that we want to quit. Just one more word or sentence, paragraph or page, and we have taken another step. We have declared another small victory.

Will this new—although it’s really not new so much as something familiar viewed from another angle—idea help me in my writing, in life? I’m sure it will. The lesson is real to me, branded into my soul by the pain through which I have come by the experience. It makes me feel a little better when I’m tired, beaten down, or just plain want to quit.

The Grand Canyon from near the top of the North Rim (North Kaibab Trail)

The physical experience of the hike was hard, but the exhilaration of finishing and looking back over the canyon, one of the natural wonders of the world, that I had crossed, is indescribable and priceless. It was very nearly the same type of feeling when I hold in my hand a new book I have just published. In my opinion, we can all use a few more of those types of victories. What do you think?

 

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Water & Flame Launch

Water & Flame, a new collaborative story, is now out and available on Amazon in paperback and in Kindle formats. It’s my first foray into the world of paranormal romance (PNR) and advance copy readers have good things to say about it. It’s on special for release week, only 99¢ until June 10, 2017.

 

Fire and water don’t mix…

Water witch Abigail Henderson is focused on one thing: finding the fire witches responsible for murdering her mother. Her coven has finally allowed her to go undercover at the estate of the prime suspect, Margaret Huntsman. The job is to get magical evidence to prove the woman was the mastermind behind the killing and that she actually cast the fatal spell. It’s a dangerous mission, but worth it if Abbie can bring the killer to justice.

But she never counted on meeting Margaret’s handsome, estranged son, Ben.

Now, Abbie must choose between completing her mission or pursuing a relationship with the son of her enemy. It’s not only the success of the mission that’s at stake, either. If Ben is in on Margaret’s schemes, Abbie could follow her mother to the grave.

Even worse, she may have stumbled across a bigger conspiracy than she ever imagined—one that could lead to all-out war among the elemental witches.

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Whispersync: Why I Think Amazon’s Audiobook Program Is Kind of Cool

Amazon has a functionality with some of their Kindle books and the associated audiobooks is called Whispersync, and I am a big fan. First off, let me explain what Whispersync is.

Whispersync

Whispersync is a coordination function that allows synchronization between a Kindle e-book and it’s associated Audible audiobook. So, for example, if you read your e-book and are at page 50, and then get in the car to go to work and want to continue the story, you can start up the audiobook and it will remember where you left off reading. It will start at page 50. No more trying to figure out where you were. I typically read a book and then, after I’ve finished, listen to the audiobook while I’m in the car, driving to work or running errands. Because of this, the functionality to keep my place isn’t that important to me. Some people only listen to audiobooks and do not read text books, so again, this feature wouldn’t be attractive.

Another feature is that when you buy the e-book, the price of the audiobook is drastically reduced for a Whispersync qualified title, and this is more important to me (as a reader and as an author) than synchronizing page number. Put plainly, it can save you money, and everyone likes to save money.

Let me use my book Vibrations as an example. The e-book is $3.99, the normal price for the audiobook is $24.95, and the reduced price for the Audible audiobook is two or three dollars (it seems to change, for some reason). If someone wanted only the audiobook and not the e-book but bought it anyway, they would still save about $18 over just buying the audiobook by itself ($6 or $7 vs. $25). Because I have no control over pricing of the audiobooks for my books, this is great for me because people can read (and listen) to my book for less money. As a reader (and listener), this is great for me, too because whenever I buy an e-book, I always pick up the audiobook if it has Whispersync. I’ve never paid more than $3.99 for a Whispersync audiobook, so adding it is a no-brainer.

One other reason I like Whispersync is that in order to qualify, the audiobook has to keep a pace that allows it to synchronize with the e-book. That means the cadence of the narration can’t be too jerky, can’t speed up and slow down, which can be distracting. I know that titles qualifying for Whispersync have smoother narration that those which can’t qualify and that is an important piece of information for me.

So, whether you are a reader first and listener second, solely a listener, or a hybrid consumer of stories in text and audio formats, I think Amazon’s Whispersync is a good program. I’m a fan of anything that will allow readers to experience the books I write in varied ways and to do so without spending too much money. Both of the titles I have out right now, Vibrations and Gray Man Rising, have Whispersync functionality, and I plan on making sure all subsequent titles have it as well. I am already planning for the audiobook for Harmonics, the second book in the Harmonic Magic series, the e-book and print copy due out this month. Let me know what you think. Do you like Whispersync, too? If so, why?

 

 

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Why Should I Make Daily Writing a Habit?

Typewriter 11We all have habits. Some are good, and we try to cultivate them. Some are bad, and we try to break them. One thing just about anyone would agree with is that if you do anything consistently, it will become a habit. “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going,” Jim Ryun said.  He had something there.

Writing, as with all endeavors, improves with practice. As a writer, I am constantly looking for ways to improve my craft, to find newer and better ways of describing things, to attempt to describe what is happening in a story so vividly that the reader forgets she is reading and begins to see the landscape before her. The wind is not then simply rushing through the character’s hair, but the reader’s as well.

 

How Do I Find the Time?

But how? How can a writer improve their craft while still doing all the myriad things necessary to structure, map out, develop, write, edit, and polish a story? It seems simple enough, right? Write a story and put it out there, write the next story, and as you go along you become more adept at the craft. Well, no.

There are so many aspects to publishing a book (even self-publishing) that there is actually very little time spent just writing. After all the upfront work (for those of us who structure and plan stories), there is a blissful chunk of time wherein the rough draft is written. That is pure writing, without all the fluff and necessary incidental work. But that’s it. The majority of the author’s time is spent on other parts of the process.

After the rough draft, it is an endless stream of edits and revisions, checking facts and timelines, and making sure everything works. Then comes the actual compiling and publishing. Don’t forget all the work that goes into product descriptions, gathering of metadata, cover art, and the publishing process itself. Then, there is marketing and blogs, mailing list work, and (if lucky) fan mail to read and answer.

All of this leaves the author without much time to actually write. So what happens? We become rusty. Editing is great and is necessary, but it’s not freeform writing. The problem then, is to figure out how to write consistently, making it a habit, while doing all this other work. For those of us who work a “day job,” it is even more difficult. There are only so many hours in a day and if we take them all to edit or market or do any number of other things, we’re left at the end of the day with no time to actually write. What to do?

Many authors set a word count for themselves to write each day. Come hell or high water, they get those words in. I have read comments from them, heard of the benefits, but still I resisted trying to do daily writing quotas. I didn’t have the time. I had too many other things to do. I may get around to it eventually, just not now. It was always something to do in the future.

November caused a few cracks in my argument. If you don’t know or remember, November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), wherein writers are encouraged to write a 50,000 word novel by writing each day. I participated in 2015 (you can see my journal of it here) and found that I liked it. No, despite how difficult it was to find the time, I loved it. Writing each day gave me a little treat as I saw a story, one I had done the structure and scene list for beforehand, unfold before my eyes. Still, as I said, it was difficult and I was glad to go back to my lazy way of doing things in December.

 

The Commitment

As the new year came and I read more and more about the benefits of daily writing quotas, I finally succumbed. Starting in February, I set a goal for myself to write at least a thousand words a day. I resolved myself to doing my writing as soon as possible each day. If I could do it before work, that would be ideal, though that does not happen often because of how early I have to get up already just to go to work. Normally it means coming straight home each night and writing first thing. On the weekends, it’s the first thing I do in the morning. I have kept up with the task, making it a habit, for 44 days as of this morning.

It’s tough sometimes. I recently took a road trip on which I drove more than 20 hours a day. I’m sure the writing I did on those days will be heavily edited, maybe even thrown out of the rough draft. But I did write. My string of writing days stayed intact and I got my needed practice.  As with anything worthwhile, keeping up with my daily writing requires sacrifice. I think it’s worth it.

 

Benefits

Writer & Muse 01

As mentioned, the main reason for writing daily as a separate, word-count driven activity is to get much-needed practice. Writing in a journal is great and helps to become more articulate, but that does little to develop the skills for weaving all the threads of a story together into a coherent whole. A chunk of time sitting at the keyboard and searching for the magic is invaluable for sharpening the writer’s tools. Following are some benefits I’ve already experienced with the daily writing quota habit.

Speed – I type relatively quickly. Sure, I could be faster, I could be more accurate, but in general, I think my speed is good. Normally you hear the rate at which someone types expressed in words per minute (WPM). While that’s a good indicator for gauging how long it takes to write a letter or to have a standard metric with which to compare two typists, it is inadequate for writing novels. There, words per hour are more informative.

When I began my daily quota, I was writing at about 1200 words per hour. So, to finish my writing each day took me about an hour. Keep in mind that this total includes time taken to think or to look something up, so it’s not just straight typing. At this point, I’m at almost twice that rate. It’s not just that my typing speed has increased. I believe that by practicing, by creating my habit, I have improved the efficiency by which I write. That means, simply, I am able to think through a scene, develop how I will describe it, and then put it onto the screen in less time than it took before.

Quality – It’s an interesting thing that the more you practice something, the faster you get, but also the better the quality of what you put out. I have noticed that my more current stuff is better, less in need of drastic editing, than material I wrote even a month ago. I’m analytical by nature and so I imagine lots of new neural pathways being formed by my new habit. I am actually rewiring my brain to not only write faster, but to do it better. If I continue to improve, I can see a time when my rough drafts will be as good as my second or third revisions are now. Who knows what the limit is.

Writer's Block 01No Writer’s Block – The trio responsible for the Self-Publishing Podcast, as well as three excellent non-fiction books on writing (Johnny Truant, Sean Platt, and David Wright) have stated repeatedly that they don’t believe in writer’s block. I would have to agree. I have had rough spots where I couldn’t write a particular scene in any way that seemed acceptable, but I’ve never been incapacitated by a blank screen. Part of this is the pre-writing preparation. If you have a list of scenes that you have to fully flesh out, you can almost always type something. Writing daily, being comfortable with transferring thought to screen, does a lot to keep blockages from happening. If you keep the machine moving each day through action, it is not as likely to seize up when you try to start it at a particular time. That’s my take on it, anyway. I never have a problem with being able to write, just with having the time to do so.

Lots of Stuff in the Queue – Another benefit from writing daily is that you can quickly build up a collection of rough drafts. True,  you still need to find the time to edit and revise those drafts, but having them there, waiting in the wings, does a lot to build confidence and keep motivation. Chipping away at a novel of over 100,000 words by writing small parts of it each day almost seems effortless. Isn’t that what habits are supposed to do? Right now, I have several stories in-process. Keeping up with my daily writing, I can foresee most of them being published by the end of summer. No doubt, by that time, I will have started on several others to feed my habit.

 

But Does It Take Up Valuable Time?

Ok, so all that is great, but what about the edits and revisions that need to be done? Does writing for a half an hour to an hour each day take up valuable time that could be used for doing those other tasks? Yes and no.

Joanna Penn has famously said that she believes there are different types of time. For example, there is creative time during which your mind is imaginatively working overtime and you are making art. Then there are times when you are less creative, more analytical. Still other times you are so tired, such as at the end of a work day, that about all you’re good for is checking e-mails and maybe scheduling some advertising campaigns. The point is, I feel that the editing part of my brain is not the same as the creative, rough-draft writing part. When I’m most creative, I’m really not sure I want to waste that on an edit pass where I’m focusing on grammar or fact-checking. I would rather use the creative juices to, well, create.

Also, the benefits of being able to let loose and imagine can’t be underestimated. So many times, I begin writing a simple scene that should be very short and somehow, during the process, I come up with something that changes the whole story trajectory. A simple scene may become two chapters and may be the linchpin on which the entire tale becomes based. I liken this to a muscle. Letting the mind do its creative thing relaxes it, makes it more efficient, more fluid. It lubricates all the moving parts (figuratively speaking, of course) and then when I do go to tackle the editing, maybe an hour or so after, my brain is clear and uncluttered. In a word, it’s efficient. So, though I do spend time on writing other works, I think the net gain in my efficiency in working on my top-of-the-list project more than makes up for the time. Again, that’s totally my opinion, but I think I have a basis for stating it as truth in my situation.

I have found that making a habit of writing every day, targeting a specific number of words, to be beneficial. It makes me happy, makes me feel as if I’m developing my skill, and it goes a long way toward completing the projects I have planned out for my year. Sean Covey, the son of Stephen (7 Habits of Highly Effective People), stated: “We become what we repeatedly do.” I myself want to be a writer who improves with every story I write. What better way than to write every day? Would this work for you? Why not give it a shot and see. I’d love to hear about your success.

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