Category Archives: Life

Against the wind

This past weekend I was a guest at CONtra Flow in New Orleans. It was my first time at the con and visiting New Orleans. Since I was first published in 2014 I’ve mostly stuck to regional conventions, with a couple of exceptions, so this was exciting for me to break out of the usual circle and meet new faces. In the last couple of years in particular I’ve been booked both as a science guest and a writer or put on panels where those two intersect.  As a result I’ve gotten to meet some amazing talent.

Creativity and science are not at all mutually exclusive. Remember, Leonardo da Vinci advanced our knowledge of anatomy and created beautiful art, among his many talents. I have met doctors, astrophysicists, psychologists, mathematicians, rocket scientists, biologists and chemists to name a few among the throng of creatives that populate genre fiction and pop culture.

The scientists, doctors and engineers are simply a subset of the diversity found within the creative community. What’s my point, you may be wondering?

Storytelling and the arts are a key part of humanity, of society. Whether simple entertainment or works of depth and mystery, it’s how we connect and share. It’s the vehicle by which our histories, ideas and truths are remembered and shared. It’s a means of exploring what it is to be human and can change our collective consciousness. So whether you suffer through retail work, write for a living, operate on people, catch bad guys, or send rockets to the stars, we all have the seeds of creativity in our soul. Do not buy the tropes that only certain sorts of people are scientists or writers or artists.

Now, becoming a published author involves enough passion to learn the craft and dance through the hoops of submission and rejection. The same can be said for becoming a doctor or starting a business or learning the detailed methods of becoming a painter. As a society we tell people, “That’s very hard. You can’t do it. Artists are this. Scientists are that. Men this. Women that….” and on and on.

That negative drum that forever echoes is one reason minorities fight for representation. It matters. It’s very, very hard to stay positive, to maintain belief in oneself when all the messages reflected back at you are negative. It takes a certain sort to run full tilt into the wind, to defy the odds and ignore all naysayers. Those of us that heard the roar of “you can’t do it” and laughed, it’s up to us to be the voice in that roar that says, “Yes, you can.

This is me telling you, whoever you may be, whatever your dreams are…

Forget what society says. Forget the boxes and define yourself on your own terms. Work hard and dream big in equal measure.

Pages of life

A couple of days ago I was driving Miss Drama to a birthday party, following GPS directions through an unfamiliar part of town when I suddenly realized that unfamiliar terrain felt very familiar.

Backing up a few pages…

I was born in Memphis and until 9 years of age lived in the area known as Frayser. (Okay, technically the first 4 years were in Raleigh, but those areas aren’t that far apart). These areas are on the northwest outskirts of Memphis. In 1997 I returned to Memphis to attend college and my dad drove us through that area and past our old house, but it was almost dark and I wasn’t particularly interested, what with the excitement of starting college. So having been in the city for 19 years I have never sought out the house I lived in as a kid.

Skip back to current page…

It’s hard to say precisely what triggered that sense of familiarity. The trees? They beckoned like familiar friends. The gentle rolling hills? They reminded me of evening drives in the summer, windows down and the music of crickets, toads and whir of the car engine lulling cranky toddlers to sleep. After dropping off Miss Drama I pulled up Google Maps and plugged in my old address. I was literally a 5-minute drive away. If it had been farther, I probably wouldn’t have bothered. Five minutes? How could I not?

The moment I pulled up to the house recognition hit me in the gut. Someone was parked there momentarily, driving off literally as I pulled to a stop. A for sale sign listed sadly in the front yard. I expected, given the area and the general housing trends in Memphis, a significant degree of deterioration. Based on information on the lock box and a peek through the front windows, it was possible the interior is in better condition than my house.

The gates Papa installed when I was little, probably around the time we got our Beagle puppies, were long gone.The aluminum siding had seen better days, but in many ways it was still so very much the same, albeit much smaller than memory, because I am rather larger than I was the last time I watched the house disappear through a car window for the last time. The open backyard beckoned, a place of primarily happy memories, of make-believe and games, races and gardening, digging for worms, and swinging on the long gone swing-set. The gumball trees still lined the yard, leaving their prickly nuisances that made barefoot play impossible. The giant hill my siblings and I had rolled and sent our big-wheels down now seemed little more than a slight rise. Partly due to my adult size, but probably just as much due to 30 years of rain washing soil and leaves to the lower section of the yard.

I stood by the gumball tree and memories played out in my mind. I could almost hear our laughter. I could almost see the little girls that we had chatted and played with through the fence. When I walked back to the patio, in my mind’s eye I saw my sister trip in her little hard-bottomed infant shoes as she tried to follow me into the grass and tumble before I could catch her, unhurt except for the unfortunate insect bite which made her swell up rather alarmingly. Looking up at the rusting, peeling rod-iron railing on the back step I saw myself leaning over with a stick and string, pretending to fish. In the front yard the giant oak still stood sentinel. I spent many an hour as a child running my hands over that bark, wondering at the mysteries the tree might know, wondering if it had thoughts in its own tree-way. I smiled at the maple sapling that had popped up recently by the house. Papa was forever trying to pull up saplings that sprouted to close to the house. I was forever trying to save them, burying acorns and watering little baby trees I found.

It was all so clear, as if I could just turn the pages of time and it would all be there. It’s a bittersweet thing to see the pages of the past so clearly. It’s a comfort to feel that connection, to know each page and how it brought you to where you are. The sadness doesn’t come from a desire to re-live the past. No. I lived that chapter, and I am happily living my current chapter. The pain and sadness I felt were because in a way stepping into that yard put me closer to my brother’s memory than anything else ever has.

In that house my brother and sister and I became more than just siblings, we became friends. For a time the rest of the world didn’t particularly exist for us. We were an insular little tribe of three, exploring our tiny corner of earth, making plans and dreams. It wasn’t the house that was special, not then and not now. It’s just a house like any other, but for a time it was my world and for a brief few moments I got a peek through time’s pages and remembered what that world was like.

 

 

Writer’s Ramble: William Alan Webb

Today we welcome William Webb who will demystify how an author can use Twitter. This post deals with the pitch and sale of a story. Marketing is a whole other beast for a different day.

The Twitter Tornado

On January 1, 2016, I did not have a Twitter account. I didn’t know what a hashtag was and I didn’t care. Now, four and a half months later, I have 1500+ followers, more than 1400 tweets, am following more than 2000 people…oh yeah, and I sold my first novel, because of Twitter- within six weeks.

Say what?

Twitter is the center of the 21st Century literary world. You can post on Facebook, have a really tricked out website and be the life of every party. You could be a prose sorcerer, writing novels so magical they change lives. It does not matter. The literary vortex for the modern writer is Twitter. Fortunately, Twitter is easy.

Many writers may already have an active twitter account, and simply need some hashtags to get going with the writing scene. Others might not have a clue what Twitter is, or why it matters. So let’s start where I started, the beginning.

Think of a tweet as a post, except a tweet can only have 140 characters. You quickly learn the Twitter shorthand, but an unexpected side benefit to this is learning how to be concise. Your tweets are visible to anyone who is following you, or who checks out your profile. To make them visible to a larger audience you use a hashtag.

Hashtags are the pound or number symbol on a keyboard, #, put before a word. That sends the post to a page where all such hashtags are posted. Think of it as a bulletin board. Common ones for writers are #amwriting, #amediting, #amwritingsf, etc. On a busy day, these hashtags can get more than 5,000 tweets.

You will have to create a twitter name an your online ID, and a way for people to connect to you. This will be prefixed by the @ symbol. For example, when someone wants me to see something, they type in their tweet my ID, @jointhebrigade1. Think of this as my address. It will also display a name I want to be known by. For authors, it is recommended that you use your real name, as I did, William Alan Webb. That way, readers can find you more easily.

You can find all kinds of commiseration on Twitter, as writers share the common experience, but the fun part is selling your book through a Twitter event. These are scheduled well in advance, and the following is a short sampling of the dozens of events:

#sonofapitch, #pit2pub, #pitchapalooza, #PitFest, #PitMad, #QueryKombat, #PBPitch.

All of these events have differing rules, and those rules are posted well in advance at their hashtag. What makes them awesome is that you never know who is reading the tweets.

The daunting part is, you get a limited number of tweets, it differs from contest to contest, to describe your book, along with its genre and target audience. And if that makes no sense, let’s break it down.

I sold my book at the very first event I entered, #pit2pub. This stands for Pitch to Publishers. Forty three invited small presses were reading the tweets, along with who knows how many unofficial ones. During a 6 hour window you were allowed to make three tweets promoting your book. If a publisher was intrigued by your tweet, they would click the ‘heart’ symbol, meaning they liked it. During an event, this means ‘send me more material according to my query guidelines.’ It’s up to you to find their query guidelines, although honestly it’s quite easy most of the time.

During the event, I received four requests for material. It wound up being three requests for the full manuscript, and one partial. From this I was offered two contracts, accepting one from Dingbat Publishing, a small press in Texas. The publisher and I hit it off right from the start.

My winning tweet was: #pit2pub #A #SF #T In desolated America, innocent slaves are saved by Nick Angriff & the 7th Cavalry riding to the rescue. Bad guys beware!

Dissecting this, #pit2pub is the hashtag. #A = the audience, Adult. #SF = Science Fiction #T = Thriller. None of that is a secret code, the events, publicize these lists. The book pitch itself cannot possibly tell everything about your book, so you can’t try. I’m not going to lie, however, writing a good twitter pitch is hard and takes lots of practice. I probably wrote a hundred variations of this.

If you go to #pit2pub right now, all of those tweets are still there to see.

Other events are structured differently. One of them, I think it was #sonofapitch, had more than three thousand discreet entries. In other words, three thousand people with completed manuscripts were hawking them to the judges. The ones in your genre are your competition, and often become friends.

Finally, there are hundreds and hundreds of agents on Twitter looking for manuscripts. Want to have fun? Check out #mswl. That stands for Manuscript Wish List, a real time event where agents ask for manuscripts in genres they want to read right now. That event became so large there is now a huge website where the agents list what they would like to see from a writer.

Writer’s Ramble: Ethan Nahte’

This week’s Writer’s Ramble welcomes Ethan Nahte’ to my corner of the interwebs. Today’s discussion will be on the hazards and pitfalls of working with small and micro publishers. For the TLDR version:

  1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Money flows TO the author (maybe in pennies, but still).
  2. Network. Talk to other authors. If a company has a bad reputation, word gets around.
  3. Pick up a book by that press. Is it quality work or does it read like a ten year old edited it?
  4. How many authors does the press publish? Are most of the books by the owner?
  5. Check with reputable, professional organizations (Writer Beware, Preditors and Editors) to see if there are warnings or if there’s any positive indicators, like awards, and not the kind your kindergarten teacher prints for every kid in the class.

Now, I turn the digital mic over to Ethan:

Bio

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Ethan Nahté is an author, journalist, screenwriter, photographer and musician. He has also worked in TV/Film and Radio. He has nearly two-dozen stories and poems published in various anthologies and e-zines. His work spans speculative fiction, historical fiction, comedy, tall tale and young adult. He recently finished his first novel and will be releasing his first collection, Of Monsters & Madmen, which contains eight previously published short stories along with two new stories, complete with art by guest illustrators and introductions for each tale. At least two more short stories are due for publication spring/summer 2016.

When Indie & Small Press Suck

There are times when modern technology makes matters worse instead of better. The low cost of what was once very expensive equipment, programs and such has made it possible for about anyone to have a radio show, make a movie, publish their own book, record their own album and produce thousands of photographs because the cost of film and processing is no longer a factor for most people.

A lot of us in the entertainment field have felt the downside of modernization at one time or another. I work, or have worked, in all the fields mentioned above. Believe me when I say just because you can buy the Eddie Van Halen model guitar doesn’t necessarily mean you can play like Eddie Van Halen. Just because someone doesn’t have to spend a fortune on cameras and editing equipment doesn’t make someone the next Cecil B. DeMille. And with the opportunity to self-publish at the tips of every writer’s fingers, yes, including those whose writing is so terrible that even Stevie Wonder would pick up the book and just say, “Hell, no!”, the indie/small/micro press has possibly hurt the already dwindling numbers of readers.

I’m not going to write about those who choose to self-publish without spending the time or money to hire a proofreader, copy editor, etc. Instead, I want to discuss the pros and cons of the indie/small/micro press houses. Before you stop reading or decide to tie me up with typewriter ribbon and paint my eyes shut with whiteout, let me say that I am talking about a particular portion of these small publishers that are a bane to the industry—both the authors and the readers. I’m going to divide this into three categories.

Category 1- The professionals

I have had some great relationships with some micro and small press houses. I can depend on honest critiques and professional editing from Yard Dog Press (YDP), ProSe Press, 4 Star Stories and Charon Coin Press (CCP), for instance. I know I will receive royalty statements on a timely basis from YDP, CCP and Seventh Star Press. All of them will get me the promised author’s copy of the book I appear in. I’m certain there are other small publishers that fit within this category but these are a handful of the publishers that have published at least one, if not more, of my short stories. As long as they treat me honestly and with respect I will certainly be willing to write for them again. I also realize that they are on tight budgets and that none of them have quit their day jobs so they can sit in the pool at their million dollar mansions. They treat the publishing business as a business, even if their main office is out of their home and they treat the authors properly. This level of quality will generally carry over to the readers who are willing to take a chance on a book from a small press.

Category 2- MOR (Middle of the road publishers that have good intentions, but poor follow through..and you know what they say about good intentions.)

Some publishers I enjoyed working with and might consider doing something once again for them, but it depends on my mood and if they have made any changes. These are publishers who do no marketing, provide no royalty or sales information, and the story selections and editing of their anthologies makes me question if my writing sucks.

Why?

No one wants their work included with stories so badly written it seems as if they are attempting to crawl out of a basement after being mauled by some insidious creature crouching nearby in the darkness. Now, sometimes it is a case of taste or stylistic differences. Maybe the other authors think my story reeks. Regardless, it’s not a book that I will promote heavily at a convention, if at all.

The lack of promotion is one thing that incessantly drives me nuts. When I am in an anthology with one to two-dozen authors, the royalties are squat. I don’t mean this to be a slap in the face to the publishers. It’s just simple math—if a $10 book, which cost $6 to produce, has finally made its money back for the publisher, the profit is then split between one to two-dozen people, the publisher and possibly the artist. Let’s just say 25 people are splitting $4. That comes to 16 cents each. If 100 of those books sell (after making back its production costs) then each author will receive $16, but unless it’s just a really hot book, that amount may be $1.60 for one quarter and 80 cents the next.

Now, if you are the sole author or maybe a co-author of a full novel, yeah, your cut is much higher if you are working with a good publisher and have signed a fair contract. Although, promotion is still very much on the authors in many cases. Some houses do make efforts to attend conventions and expand their readership base, but others do very little of that. People just don’t seemingly read as much, and those that do don’t risk spending $10-$20 on a small press as often as they spend it on a big name author with a big house.

A reputable publisher should deliver on whatever terms were agreed on in the contract, whether that’s a flat fee for a single short story or royalties, or a combination thereof. The MOR publishers vary on the consistency with which they achieve this. You should receive a statement every six months, or at least annually, showing purchased books, especially when you bought copies to sell.

When an author buys copies of the book they are in they are generally paying 30-40% below the retail cost. Even so, that’s a small margin that doesn’t begin to cover buying space at a convention, travel, food, accommodations, website fees (plus time to design and maintain), taxes and swipe fees for cards. Thanks to retailers such as Amazon that make certain they have the lowest price and cut the retail price back down to near cost, it is near impossible to compete and make a profit. Even worse, odds are the book was printed through their Create Space program, so they made money by publishing it themselves then underselling the publisher and me. Not trying to pick on Amazon, but they are the big white whale of self-publishing and retail at the moment.

Category 3- Avoid

In this category go those publishers who put no effort into promoting their authors or books. They don’t go to conventions, notify book sellers, blogs, or anything. They stick a link on a social media site and expect money to just appear. They don’t pay in a timely manner, if ever. No statements ever show up and if you get the promised copy of the book, your eyes bleed from the horrendous editing.

These are the small press companies that are driving reading into the ground.

It is very easy for a company to make a fancy website with lots of hype to lure writers in, filled with promises they don’t uphold. The newer the press, the harder they are to vet, and while I might miss a great opportunity with a new publisher that is going to hit big, after being burned so many times, I advise steering clear of new publishers until they have established a good reputation.

Things to look for include a poorly put together website. Granted, everyone makes mistakes and after hours of coding it is easy to overlook a typo. Anything more than a single typo tells me that if they don’t care enough to proof their own site (or have the ability) then they aren’t going to put out a good book, assuming they ever actually get the book out at all.

If the submission details on a site are extremely vague, unprofessional, or disorganized in the details, I tend to bypass the publisher. If they can’t put together a simple list of requirements for submissions, is follows that they might be disorganized and unprofessional about everything else.

Publishing is a creative business, but it is a business and should be conducted as such.

Authors, do yourself a favor and strive to work with reputable publishers. If you aren’t aiming for a big house, there are still some great indie/small/micro press publishers. Check sites such as Preditors and Editors or Writer Beware. Ask fellow authors about their experience with XYZ Publisher. Check reputable industry outlets and awards for recognition of an editor or publisher. The winner of The Joe Cool First Annual Great Publishing Awards, you know what I mean, is a no.

Readers, do yourself a favor and search for the same thing. If it’s a publisher you aren’t familiar with, at least flip through a book or two, if possible, and look for mistakes or to see if the writing really grabs you. Check the grammar, pacing and sentence structure. Don’t just read the hype on the back cover or the five stars on a review site. If a book averages a high number of stars and has had several reviews/ratings, then it is probably worth a shot. If it has an average of four stars and one person gave it a five and one gave it a three, then it’s a maybe or a no. I can go and give all the books I am in a five star rating and if it’s a new book I can be the first one to rate it and make it look like it averages five stars. Then I can brag on it (if I had no self worth or conscience). Be intelligent in your selections. If you find something promising, give that small publisher or indie author a chance. Who knows, you may end up with a signed first print of the first book of the next Terry Pratchett that you can proudly display on your shelf, and that beats having a shelf full of garbage that you hope you can trade at the used book store to replace your copy of a book you love.

If you’ve liked anything presented here today, show Ethan some love and wander over to one or both of his sites or visit him on Facebook!

http://www.livenloud.net

http://www.NahteWords.com

 

Lessons on Love

My youngest, Miss Drama, does not have a phone or tablet of her own. She uses my phone to sometimes text her friends. It didn’t occur to her that since it’s MY phone, I’m totally going to read what was said.

For all you men out there reflecting back on your adolescence and wondering what girls said about you, well, it was pretty much this, and some of my friends’ spelling was equally bad and they couldn’t blame it on auto-correct.

 

According to the texts, her friend has a crush on a little boy, but clearly beauty is in the eye of the beholder because Miss Drama just isn’t seeing it.

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But back to her admirer….

So class, what have we learned? The way to a 10 year old’s heart is to be funny and not have a triangle head, and maybe not to go overboard with saying “you’re hot” all the time and trying to “protect” your crush when she doesn’t ask you to. That gets you named a “do do bird”.

La la la…I can’t hear you!!!

What one word inspires instant embarrassment in Miss Drama?

Puberty.

I had her captive in the car with no one else, so I took the opportunity to ask if she had questions. She’ll be heading off to middle school this fall and this is about the time I had the talk with her brother and sister.

She got very squirmy in the back seat. “I know everything!”

Uh-huh. When I quizzed her a bit, she did indeed know the basics, but was highly relieved to discover that babies cannot spontaneously sprout from her eggs.

When I asked her if she understood what sex was, she stuck her fingers in her ears and gave me a very eloquent reply, “Lalala.” Her brother and sister squirmed too, but wanted to fact check what they knew. Miss Drama hasn’t gotten there yet.

I dropped the subject, letting her know I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable, but if she had questions, she could ask them whenever.

Fastforward a couple of days. I woke to cthulu calling from the deep through our pipes. Sewage water backed up in both bathrooms. Gross. The plumber is on his way.

I gave Miss Drama instructions not to flush or stick toilet paper in the toilet right now. Not long after she informed me she opted to pee in the litter box instead.

Better than the yard?

Oh the blackmail fodder she hands me!

Somehow, I don’t think dating and sex are going to be important topics for her for a long while yet.

 

 

 

Book Release!!! “Betrayals”

I am ecstatic to announce that book 2 in the Crossroads of Fate series is now out!

Betrayals

I hear you, my dear internet followers, “But,” you say, “I haven’t read the first one!” Never fear! I have your back. For the next three days you can download Daughter of Destiny for FREE!!!!! Just enter the magic code: ST53U

Daughter of Destiny Cover AMAZON

Why are you still here? You have a book to read!