Greetings and Salutations!

Welcome to the longest-running* yet least-read** blog on the internet! Here you'll find me writing about all the things that I write about, which strikes me, just now, as somewhat recursive. In any case, enjoy :)

* not true ** probably true

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Signs of progress

A small thing, but tonight I crossed the 40,000 word mark on 'The Blade That Whispers Hate'. This means I'm more than halfway home Amra & Holgren books seem to weigh in between 70-80k words. Partially because this is the first person narrative of a character who is rather terse, and partially because it's lean, mean sword & sorcery, not door stopper high fantasy. Since the way I write is an ungainly cross between planning and seat of my pants, it means that I do a lot of editing and polishing as I go. I constantly go back and mess with things. While it means it can take a really, really long time to get a first draft finished, it also means that the story doesn't have to be torn apart when I do finish the first draft. All that's really left is finding typos and ungainly prose, not completely reworking entire sections of the novel. Well, not usually. Anyway, progress. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Smashwords unhappiness

Smashwords is the leading independent ebook distributor, in case you weren't aware. Everything I've released independently, barring those titles on Amazon, have been through Smashwords.

That may be changing soon.

Smashwords has gotten a lot of things right, and by availing myself of their services, I've been able to reach a heck of a lot of readers. but Smashwords has also gotten a fair bit wrong, the worst of which is how they respond to their customers' problems and complaints.

1) From the want ad they placed on craigslist:

"-Ability to maintain positive, helpful attitude, even if client is angry, irrational or misguided "

2) From the Smashwords facebook page (go ahead and watch the whole thing- it's funny, but it's also indicative of how Smashwords views the torrent of customer service queries that comes in. Basically we're impatient and spoiled, and should be grateful that their service exists.)

3) Another from the Smashwords facebook page. Subtext? If your book isn't showing up at the Apple store, it's probably your fault, dummy. When an author had the temerity to question this, they were basically told that their problem only affected five authors. The tone was pretty passive-agressive:

At the moment only ~5 people have this problem out of the ~13,000 on this FB Page

Does Smashwords have angry, irrational and misguided customers? I'm sure they do. I was in retail a long time. Every business does. Have some authors not followed the guidelines, and has this delayed Apple making their title available? I'm sure they have, even though ostensibly once your book has been approved for 'premium' status, that should be the end of it. But the cake-taker is the utterly unhelpful response on their facebook page. If only five people have the specific problem that that author had, that problem should be fixed already. If Smashwords feels the need to remind everyone to read up on what Apple requires, that means a lot of authors are having problems with getting in to the Apple store. I know I am.

And the thing is, all of this would be categorized under 'shrug' if Smashwords had a responsive customer service desk. They don't. As it stands, you have to wait days, sometimes over a week, to get a response that as often as not amounts to 'Sorry dude, can't help you.'

If Smashwords were the only viable way to get ebooks out the door and into retail sites, I'd just grit my teeth. But they aren't. Sure, the alternative is annoying and paperwork-filled, which is why I let Smashwords take a cut of my earnings. But they are shut out of Amazon, the single-largest ebook seller in the world. If they can't manage to get my books into the Apple store either, then their usefulness is limited to Barnes & Noble and all the 'also rans' like Kobo and Sony. Which means their usefulness does not outweigh their annoyance factor.

If the would-be emperor is wearing something, shall we say, scanty, he shouldn't be commenting on my fashion sense, even in a veiled, passive-agressive way.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Excerpt from 'The Blade That Whispers Hate'

"Have you ever hated- really hated, with every fiber of your being? True hate is a powerful thing. It can give you the strength of will to do things you never would have considered. Things you never would have believed yourself capable of. Unthinkable things. Awful and magnificent things. Hate is a powerful force because it lends an impossible strength. With enough hate, you could rule the world. Or end it."

"Is that what you want to do?" I asked him. "Destroy the word?"

He laughed. "I don't give a runny shit about the world, or anyone or anything in it."

"Then by all the dead gods, what do you want?"

He sat down on a cracked headstone across from me and leaned down with his arms on his knees. He looked tired.

"How old do you think I am?"

"Forty? Maybe forty-five?"

"I'm seventeen hundred years old. I saw the fall of Thagoth, and of Hluria. I was ancient when Havak Silversword was imprisoned behind the Wall. You people are mayflies to me."

"You're tired of life."

"You haven't the least idea. It's much worse than it sounds. Because of the curse laid on me, every moment that passes feels like a hundred. Listening to you talk bores me to tears. Listening to me talk bores me to tears. I've experienced this conversation as though it's lasted all fucking day."

"I'll try and talk faster," I said, but he waved it away.

"Don't bother. You can't speak quickly enough to make the least difference."

"So what do you want, Heirus?"

Suddenly he was in my face. I never saw him move.

"I want the Goddess's gods-damned Blade, you stupid cow!"

"Call me a cow again and I'll stick the Blade so far up your--"

I never saw the fist, either.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Works in Progress (Fantasy)

Time to take stock of what I need to finish. Until these are done, no new (fantasy) stories for me!

First up is The Blade That Whispers Hate. This is the prequel to The Thief Who Spat in Luck's Good Eye. It's sword & sorcery, of course, but it's also something of a murder mystery.

Then there's the sequel to 'Thief Who Spat' which is called The Knife That Parts The Night. That one is about, well, let's just say when you think everything is done and dusted, that's when life tends to punch you in the face.

And completely away from Amra and Holgren's various troubles, I've been working on a... complex epic fantasy that probably has more in common, DNA-wise, with Rashomon and Philip K. Dick than Tolkien or Jordan. This one has taken years, and may take years more. It comes along at its own pace.

And I'm also working on a fantasy novella series (The Sword-monk). Three are planned: Blood-Tempered, Weaving Steel and Kissing the Blade. They also come along at their own pace.

So yeah, that's what's on my plate for the foreseeable future. Of course plans change. Sometimes I get stuck, or get enthusiastic about a new project. But I need and want to finish these. As always it's a question of time, discipline, and life poking its nose in, demanding attention.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The end.

The saga of Thagoth is finished, Dear Readers. Amazon has pulled it. Barnes & Noble has pulled it. Ditto Sony and Diesel.  It's still available at the iBookstore and at Kobo, but should be disappearing from these venues in the next few days.


Nobody say Thagoth to me ever again, ok? Now it's 'The Thief who Spat in Luck's Good Eye', it's been revised,  and it's available, currently over at Smashwords and at Amazon, but soon to all the other places I mentioned.

For those interested in finding all the typos I surely missed despite going over the entire manuscript three godawful times (I'm not bitter), you can go on over to Smashwords and use this handy dandy coupon code to get 'TWS' for free: HH43V. It's good until the 22nd of this month, so get to downloading. And, you know, mocking.

Monday, April 16, 2012


I noticed that I have recently entered a grumpy phase. Please take all words with a grain of salt until further notice. (I suspect said grumpy phase will pass once I've finished the edits on the novel formerly known as Thagoth.)

And now, as a sort of grumpy cleanser for any who have been adversely affected, this:

Friday, April 13, 2012

The worst thing

Did I ever tell you my biggest fear, writing-wise? It's not getting raked over the coals in a bad review. It's not getting undeserved praise in a good one. It's not even sitting in obscurity, no-one ever reading my words at all. These things have all happened to me at one point or another, to one degree or another. They range from unpleasant to deeply painful, but they're not the worst thing.

The worst thing doesn't have to do with any external factor. It's all inside my writer's psyche (wherever that is). The worst thing, the biggest fear, is endings.

Endings are the most important part of the story. The beginnings are where you get to show how clever you are as a writer. The great humping middle is an exercise in endurance and ingenuity. But the ending-

The ending is where you've got to step up to the plate. It's where you have to make a stand, and in some form or fashion let the reader know what it is the book stands for.

A bad ending, a false ending, an ending that takes a cheap or easy way out, ducking the story questions- when I read one of those, I think 'what the hell did the author waste my time for?' I don't have to agree with an ending, or even understand it. But I do have to respect it. Give me truth, or failing that give me beauty, but don't leave me empty handed.

For quite a few years I couldn't finish anything because for those years I knew I was going to leave the reader empty handed. I told myself everything I was writing was trite, and some of it was. But the problem wasn't that. The problem was, I was in a place where I could not end anything with truth or beauty, because they were both things I no longer really believed in.

There are other, valid ways to end a tale, don't get me wrong. They're just not my way. I don't even mind trying and failing. The worst thing is starting over and over, knowing you'll never be able to write an ending.  

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Scalpel, hacksaw, sutures. Meditate

I have been introduced to the arcane art of OCR (optical character recognition software) thanks to Expat @ Large, and am no longer retyping Thagoth from printouts of screenshots of my ebook. This is good.

I hate my book. This is less good news, though perhaps to be expected. After all, it was written almost ten years ago, and it was my first novel, and it shows.

This evening I converted almost 10,000 words to manuscript format (OCR is not good with 'w' or 'I' or 'mr' recognition, and confuses , for . as well as often missing " so there's quite a bit to fix. It also does not catch paragraph breaks. For all that, I'm still moving a lot faster than transcribing by hand.)

The thing is, it started off as over 15,000 words.I took a hacksaw to a major subplot of the novel.

Why? Because it was cheesy, it didn't add anything except a bit of (trite) characterization, it slowed down the pacing, and I hate it with a fiery, hate-filled hate that gives me heartburn. I have no idea what I thought I was doing when I wrote it.

I also took a scalpel to a whole lot of sentences. Needless dialog attributions, unnecessary filler words, snicker-snack, the vorpal word-processing highlighter cut them right out.

Thagoth was, if I recall correctly, about 86,000 words. The complete version of the rewrite will likely not break 80,000. And that's quite alright, as long as every word counts.

First meditation: Every word of your manuscript should pull its own weight. Too much of Thagoth is seriously dead weight. I am tempted to pull it all apart and start from scratch, but that way lies madness.

And the thing is, it's been so many years since I've looked at the book in its entirety, it's almost as if I'm some disinterested observer. Parts of what I've edited so far, I actually got a bit excited about re-reading. "Oh, yeah, the part where she meets the naked old tatooed man and the freaky ghosts. Cool!" Stuff like that.

Those are the parts, the set pieces that were the most fun to write, I realize, when I was sitting in that 24 hour coffee shop across from the University of Texas, chain smoking, wired on caffeine, chuckling to myself. The bits that drag? Those were the times I was just knocking out my apportioned word count. Thagoth never got the second draft revisions it needed, for all that it was looked over by a real live New York editor. (I suspect she knew she was on her way out, and just sort of phoned it in.)

Second meditation: being done with your first draft is not being done. You need to let that baby simmer, then stir some more. Just try not to let a decade pass.

I'm also inserting a few continuity points here and there, since Thagoth (renamed The Thief Who Spat In Luck's Good Eye) will soon be the second book, chronologically, in the Amra & Holgren series (The Blade That Whispers Hate being the first, unless I decide life is just too easy and write a pre-prequel.) It's the little stuff you have to keep an eye out for when you retrofit a novel. Stuff like when Character A says they've never been to Character B's house, but in the prequel they visit often.

Well. Anyway it's late here. Enough babbling.

Monday, April 09, 2012

All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well

I haven't posted. I apologize. Life has been rather busy of late, both work-wise and family-wise. I hope to catch up on all my obligations this week, so if I've promised you something, keep an eye on your inbox.

On the writing front, a few items of note:

  • Random House has agreed that, yes, the copyright for Thagoth has indeed reverted to me, and that they 'grant my request'  that they stop selling it. Of course, they're still selling it at the time of this writing. I'm supposed to wait for a letter that is supposed to arrive this week (cue eye roll). I'll be re-releasing Thagoth (once Random House finally stops selling it) as the full version of 'The Thief Who Spat In Luck's Good Eye'. Target date: Who-The-Hell-Knows.
  • In preparation for this momentous event, I got my lazy ass in gear and took screenshots of every page of Thagoth and and am in the midst of transcribing the resulting jpegs into word format. Lesson imparted: Always, always keep multiple backup copies of your work. Retyping 86,000 words is only slightly more fun than stuffing a pipe cleaner up your urethra.
  • Anybody know a good, cheap typist?
  • After reading this interview, I've realized I need to stop obsessing over the rankings of my books. That time can be much better spent.
  • As expected, I've received a polite, professional 'no thanks' from the literary agent I previously mentioned. I also expected to feel some rancor, or at least disappointment. Instead, my reaction was a sort of mild relief. Now I can focus on the (independent) path ahead. We'll see if my 2013 prediction pans out as well.
  • Much as I love them, and much as they helped me jump start y creativity and overcome writer's block, I'm putting any future Pill Hill Press writer's shootouts on hold. I've simply got to focus on the mountain of longer fiction that I need to complete, not new short stories.
  • Man, I've been especially gassy lately. I love a good fart as much as the next dad, but there comes a point where nobody is willing to pull your finger anymore.