Tag Archives: Writing

Writing update

I broke 107,000 words on Grimnoir Chronicles: Hard Magic yesterday. Overall size should be around 130-150K, but you know how those estimates go. I figure that the 1st draft will be done by the end of August. Not bad since the idea for this project started only 4 months ago and I had to spend bunches of time doing research rather than writing.

Mike is down to approximately his last 27,000 words for his half of Dead Six, so we’re getting closer there. When he’s done I’ll be editing the two together.  Him being on Active Duty has screwed with our schedule, but he’s doing an awesome job writing in his free time. (massive hat tip to Chris Byrne and the Gun Counter boys for getting him that laptop).

If everything goes according to plan, I should have both of those cleaned up and ready for submission in the next few months.  That will give me three active series at one time.

MHI:2 is just awaiting publisher feedback, and as soon as she says jump, I’ve just got to say how high and make the corresponding changes. So if that happens soon, everything else gets put on hold.

I’ll be doing the Writing Excuses Podcast this week sometime. If you aspiring writers out there haven’t listened in, it is excellent.  http://www.writingexcuses.com/  The guys on there give some excellent advice on the craft of writing. I’m just hoping that I don’t screw it up. Let’s just say that I’m a writer for a reason. I’m extremely witty and clever when I’ve got time to think it over, then go back and edit. On the stump… not so much. Now for those of you who met me through being your firearms instructor, sure I may seem quick and funny when I’m teaching, but keep in mind that I’ve taught thousands of people. I’ve heard every question you can think of, and I’ve got a good answer. However the first time I was asked that question, I probably thought of my great answer on the drive home from the range.

On that podcast note, I haven’t listened to their latest, but it is about genre blending. I’m interested in that one because I’m currently writing a serious novel that has magic, ninjas, alternative history, John Browning, talking animals, lots of guns, gangsters, Tesla super weapons, J. Edgar Hoover, Imperial Japan, teleportation, Al Capone, more guns, Black Jack Pershing, dirigibles, dirigible fights, the Great Depression, air pirates, and the FDR of my world is one step below the Emperor from Star Wars. 

Meanwhile as far as genre blending goes, my one published novel has been described as a X-Files meets Rambo meets Heavy Metal with a Wonder Years narration… Go figure.

I have seen the future, and it is awesome

Look what came in the mail today:

It Lives!

The early copies of MHI: The Baen edition are shipping. No, it wasn’t the kukri, that just seemed like a very Owen type thing to throw in the background. These are the first ones, and I think right now they’re just going to reviewers. (I even got Fangoria to take one) The official shipping date is July 28th, but I’ve heard from several folks that it is common for books to ship early, so if yours is on order, it shouldn’t be too awfully longer.

As you can see, they are smaller than the old version, but much fatter, and all my wordy goodness is still there. Baen’s people squished them in there, in a print that was still readable, and said damn the margins! It is AWESOME. The Pollack cover looks great.

We’re almost there folks Thanks for sticking with me.

Writing bad guys

Last night I was having a phone conversation with Mike. He was driving home, running on zero sleep and the Amp and Mountain Dew had worn off, so he was using me to keep him awake so he wouldn’t fall asleep and drive into the river. And everyone knows that if you drive into the water in Florida, you will be immediately consumed by alligators, so I did my duty as a friend and talked his ear off about my current writing project.

Mike is one of my alpha readers, in that he actually gets to see what I’m working on as I write it. He isn’t too tough on my rough drafts, because since we’ve written a book together he knows how lousy my first pass can be.  The other alpha for Grimnoir is Bob Westover. Then the ultimate first reader is Kathy Jackson, but she doesn’t get to see it until it is actually all the way done and cleaned up, because Kathy’s a professional magazine editor and her time is valuable, (and her criticisms cut like razors!) so she gets the cleaned up version. Then I can show other people.

Well, anyway, I was telling Mike the backstory of one of the bad guys in Hard Magic.  I realized that I had talked for about twenty minutes going over this one villain’s past and his motivations.  He made the comment that I did good villainy. After I hung up I started thinking about how much effort I put into fleshing out my bad guys.

As a writer, I’ve found that I’ve become more unforgiving as a reader. I can’t really stand reading fiction with one dimensional bad guys.  I’m kind of dead set on my main antagonists being actual people. If I ever have a dude who is evil just for the sake of being able to wax his mustache and build death rays for no discernible reason other than to have a cool death ray, then I’ve failed.

There are several layers of bad guys in Monster Hunter International. The main one got quite a bit of treatment, and I think I made him plausible. Basically he’s a sadistic dick who wants to rule the world, but that wasn’t really too much of a stretch for a five hundred year old conquistador. Then there’s one of the bad guys who works for him, but I can’t say too much about her, as that would be a spoiler. Now she was fun to write. (and those of you that have read the POD version know who I’m talking about). She was everyone’s favorite.

MHI was my first book, and I’ve tried to grow as a writer since. The main antagonist in MHI:2 has a history and reasons for doing what he does. He honestly thinks he is the good guy and he is going to save the world.  He has a family. He has kids. He made a deal with the Old Ones to conquer the world in their behalf, so that he could rule it mercifully instead of the blood and fire way that they would go about it. He’s also bug nuts as a result, but hey, everybody has their issues.

It is particularly tough, because I would really like to talk about some of the other characters that I’ve written, but those books haven’t been published yet, so I can’t give too much away.  By the time you get to read something I’m already two projects ahead.  I guess that’s why I’m working on three series at one time.  

For those of you that read Mr. Nightcrawler on THR, you met Big Eddie.  He’s got a little more development in the novel that that mega-thread evolved into , Dead Six, plus over the series you get to meet his family and learn where he comes from.  Picture Carson from Queer Eye, now make him an international crime lord. With a poodle. There you go.  

Beyond that though, Eddie is a complex man with serious issues. He grew up as the bastard son of a super wealthy man. His older brother was the heir and chosen one.  While he inherited all the upstanding parts of the business, Eddie got the dark side. He plays the fop, the playboy, and people underestimate him. He’s sick and twisted and hurts people for fun, because it makes him feel like the big man.

And I can’t say more than that, but there are more bad guys in that series that I just love. Have you ever had a buddy with that really psycho ex-girlfriend, you know, she’s hot, but crazy…  Vindictive, delusional, manipulative, and as you get to know her you realize that this chick must have had one seriously messed up childhood. Yeah… and if that is your ex-girlfriend, you have my condolences.  Now picture that girl… with nuclear weapons.  

My philosophy is that your villains have to be actual people first who became bad guys. Nobody goes out and does evil just to be evil. (well, there are a few, never mind).  Even serial killers have reasons. Most people think that they’re the hero in their own story. They will view the protagonists as the bad guy, the person standing in their way. Everyone has motivation, and the typical bad guy motivations are great, money, power, lust, revenge, etc.  but you’ve got to ask why first. Why does that bad guy want those things?  What made him that way?

Maybe that’s one reason I so absolutely hated the new Star Wars movies. Darth Vader was a chilling evil dude in the originals. Then we got to see where he comes from and we all discovered that Darth Vader was basically a sniveling punk who takes this wild jump from being a good guy to massacring children for reasons that weren’t even sort of plausible.  

Even the evil overlords have a reason for doing what they do. In Grimnoir, the evil overlord is Baron Okubo Tokugawa, Chairman of the Imperial Council. In this 1932, Japan has taken a bit of a different path after the Meiji restoration.  Sure, he’s out to dominate the world, but he’s doing it because he honestly believes that he is on a mission from God (or the rough equivalent thereof) to cleanse the world and make it a better place.  

He does terrible things. He has no mercy, no conscience, and will absolutely do anything to win. He feels a duty to mold mankind into something better, something purer. He paints (badly), and even composes very poor haiku.  He’s actually a very intelligent, even sympathetic man, who will exterminate millions to do what he thinks is right.  At one point he is having a conversation with one of the heroes, who is grieving because of a loss, and the Chairman actually gives him sincere condolences, even though the Chairman was responsible for the death. Both men know when they meet again they will try to kill each other, but the Chairman is polite about it. To me, nothing is scarier than a villain who thinks that they are doing the right thing, regardless of the evidence, and damn the costs. subliminal message – obama – end subliminal message.

In true TV Trope sense if you are going to have an Evil Overlord, you must have a Dragon. And in this case, I’ve got probably one of my favorite characters I’ve ever written, Mr. Madi. I can’t give too much away about this man, because his past is revealed as the book goes on.  Basically he is crude, mean, utterly ruthless, has this really bizarre sense of right and wrong and an absolute hatred for weakness.  As he sees it, he has been wronged by life in general, and so somebody has to pay for it. As I explained his past to Mike last night, at one point he said, “Man, if that happened to me, I’d be pissed too!”  I hope that as people read Madi, they’ll hate him, but they would probably feel the same way he does while they hate him.

If you look at really memorable bad guys there is a reason they stuck with you. Keyser Soze was pure evil, but you don’t even know the guy until the very end of the movie. All you get is little snippets like “He says the Devil was in the harbor killing many men!”  that give you the shivers. He was pure badassitude for the sheer mystery of his character.

Sometimes a bad guy can just be dumped on you, fully developed, and you don’t even need any explanation of why they are the way they are. Other parts of their character are so interesting that they create their own story. For example, in the Dark Knight, the Joker tells different stories about his origin to different people. We never know who he really was, but it didn’t matter. He arrived, fully developed, and stabbed you in the brain with a pencil.  

One mistake I see in books is that people make their villains too weak. If they’re going to threaten the protagonists, they must be plausible. It doesn’t have to be through size, strength, or firepower, it could be through their brains or their manipulations. No matter what, there has to be tension that the good guys might fail, and if your bad guy is a putz, there is no tension.

A good intro for your villain can really pay off too. I was once on a Con panel on this topic. I was put on the spot when somebody asked what was the greatest intro of a bad guy I could remember. I answered that one in a flash because it has stuck with me my entire life. Gozer and Zuul on Ghostbusters. No, I’m being serious. Remember that scene when Sigourney Weaver opens her fridge into an alien world and there is a the big green demon dog and it goes ZOOOOOOOOL.  I don’t care if the movie won any Oscars, that was friggin’ awesome. If I’m ever an evil interdimensional force, I’d want my minions to appear in people’s refrigerators and bellow COOOORRREIA, but knowing the kind of minions I’m likely to have they’d probably just raid all the snacky foods and vanilla Coke and wander off to play Xbox.

Preliminary book signing tour schedule

Monster Hunter International starts shipping on July 28th. 

I have a book signing at the the Jordan Landing Utah Barnes & Nobel on August 29th, at 2:00.

EDIT: I just scheduled a signing at the Utah State University bookstore in Logan Utah on August 26th at 2:00. This is where I worked while I went to USU.

The following dates are still preliminary.

I will be doing a signing at the Layton Barnes & Nobel, some time in August. I should know the date and time next week.

I believe that there will be a signing at the Sugerhouse Barnes & Nobel on October 24th. I may possibly be in Provo on Friday the 23rd.  

My company is sending me on business to San Antonio in October. I would like to try and do a signing while I’m out there. This will probably be on October 17th. No idea where yet.

After that I will be doing some traveling. Dave Farland (Runelords) and John D. Brown (Servant of a Dark God) are two excellent Utah fantasy authors. They’ve asked me to come along and do some signings with them.  Right now I’m trying to figure out how much time I can get away from work and how much I can afford to travel.  Dave’s planned dates and locations are:

San Francisco – around Halloween. (and World Fantasy Convention)

San Diego- November 12th

LA – November 13th-14th

Phoenix – November 19th-21st ?

Denver – December 3-5th

I’m not sure what I’ll be able to do yet. I also have a request from a shop in Delta Utah (because that’s where I graduated high school).

Wannabe Writers

Today I went to a writer’s conference, put on by Bookwise, in Salt Lake City.  They’re holding a writing contest, and my novel, Monster Hunter International, is in it.  The winner will be announced Saturday.

It was the first actual writer’s conference I’ve ever been to.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I came away extremely impressed by what Bookwise put on.  I had been expecting maybe a few hundred wannabe writers, instead it was more like thousands.  Richard Paul Evans is a remarkably good public speaker.  The speakers were excellent, the workshops were informative and entertaining, and I came away a happy wannabe. 

Trying my hand at writing has been a fun, but frustrating experience.  I’ve always felt the need to write stuff.  When I was still in elementary school, I was cranking out really bad fiction at a pretty high rate.  Looking at it now, I really was a dorky kid.  (and ironically enough, even at twelve, it was obvious from my writings that I had an irrational fear of crustaceans, but I digress) 

I barely passed English in school.  I can’t spell.  My grammar is pathetic.  But I’ve always been a story teller.  I can’t help myself.  I have to write.  Even if it doesn’t turn out very good, it keeps me entertained.

My first serious attempt at a novel died a pathetic death back in 2001.  It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t really good either.  (I’ve since cannibalized all the good characters and scenes for the 3rd book of the Nightcrawler Trilogy) Then I quit for a few years.  Sure, I had a bunch of ideas bouncing around in my head, but instead I devoted myself to making it as an accountant in the corporate world.  Too bad I totally sucked at that.  Me and the corporate world aren’t really a good match. 

My next novel was MHI.  It was spawned by a mixture of my two great loves, guns and B-Movies, and inspired by the quote: 

 “You know what the difference between me and you really is?  You look out there and see a horde of evil, brain eating zombies.  I look out there and see a target rich environment.”            -Dillis D. Freeman Jr. 11/2/2001 

The idea for Monster Hunter International, i.e. my kind of people killing monsters for fun and profit, gelled in my head for a couple of years.  Finally one day I read a single line from Sluggy Freelance (the world’s best web comic) and everything clicked into place.  That line was: “The dead flirt ugly.”  Within a few hours the entire thing was plotted, and it was epic. 

I completed the book in record time, 200,000 words in only a few months, was rather pleased with how it turned out, and started to pass it around to various friends and acquaintances for feed back.  And I picked people who wouldn’t be afraid to tell me the truth.  The single worst thing that can happen to a writer is having somebody lie to them and pat them on the back when in reality they should be told that they just wasted several months of their life turning out dreck.  I wanted to know the truth.  I’m not one of those damn sensitive artist types.

The reception was very positive.  Most of my readers were reluctant at first, because they didn’t want to hurt my feelings, but once I had harassed them into reading, most of them ended up reading the 450+ pages in one or two days.  John Shirley blew a test because he had stayed up all night to finish MHI. 

So the initial reviews were positive.  So I sent it out to more people, including some professionals who I was (sort of ) acquainted with.  Shockingly enough, they liked it too, and their advice helped me to polish the book.  I was encouraged to publish.  Luckily for me, a few extremely talented individuals volunteered to edit my pathetic grammar and mistakes.  Pax and Curly are both brilliant proofers, and they kept me from embarrassing myself.

Still hesitant, I passed it around to even more people.  The reviews were still excellent, and now I had professional newspaper reviewers telling me to give them the word and they would write a positive review, and bookstore owners telling me that they would be down for cases of MHI as soon as it was available.  A game designer wanted to know about the possibility of setting something in my world.  Another respected writer wanted to know if he could have one of my character’s ancestors make a cameo in something he was working on.

Then something even more unexpected happened.  I had thought that MHI would only appeal to people like me, gun nuts and monster movie geeks, but then my readers started passing it on to friends, relatives, co-workers, and spouses, and the next thing I knew, total strangers were contacting me, wondering when they could buy a copy.  It was especially weird to have people I didn’t even know come up to me and start talking about how they loved a character, or how they had cried when somebody else had died.  It is kind of hard to wrap your brain around the concept of total strangers sharing something from your imagination.

I’ll be damned.  People really liked it. 

So, riding high, and figuring that MHI would be an easy sell, I started sending out query letters to agents and publishers, and that is when the fun really began.  Rejections piled up, lots and lots of rejections.  Some were the regular old form letters, others indicated that they had actually read the query, a few asked for manuscripts.  I spent months doing that dance.  Most publishers never even responded, as my manuscript sank into their giant slush piles.  Several agents actually read the first part of my book before shooting me down.  The response was usually something along the lines of Hey, you’re a good writer BUT it doesn’t fit into one genre, or it is too long for a first timer, or monster books aren’t selling right now, or something else like that.

This was frustrating.  Why did I now have hundreds of fans, but a bunch of professionals kept telling me that I wasn’t good enough? 

Finally, one respected agent replied to me.  (a note on “respected”, wannabe writers, please do your research.  Anybody can call themselves and agent, don’t mean that they really are, and if they want money up front, they’re scam artists, not agents, RUN AWAY!)  This agency really liked the manuscript, and were interested in representing me.  I did a little more research on them, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that they represented some of my favorite Sci-Fi and Fantasy authors.  There was one hitch, they wanted me to make a few changes, as in, it was too long for a first timer, see, fat books take up more space on retail shelves, so only sellers get fat books, so I need to cut it down to make it sellable. 

Okay, fine, I can do that.  You’re the professionals, how much do I need to trim?

About a third.  70,000 words should do.

Ouch.  That’s a kick to the crotch.

So I did it.  I took something that I loved, and I hacked a third of it off.  The rewriting took far longer than the writing.  But I did it, and when I got done… it sucked.  It had gone from being something I loved, into something that I hated.  Sure, it was still good, and now it was “sellable”.  The agency liked it.  I hated it.  I called it off.  There was half a year of my life wasted. 

So I said screw it.  I’ll self-publish.  Oftentimes self-publishing means that a book is garbage, and no self-respecting publisher will touch it with a ten foot pole, but I was sick and tired of getting rejected, and as far as I could tell, I had exhausted every other option.  I told everyone that MHI would be out in a couple of months, and I was ready to drop the packet in the mail.  That was a year ago this month.

That morning I received an e-mail from the boss at a major publishing house.  And when I say boss, I mean the actual person that runs the place, and when I say major publishing house, I mean, they’re one of the BIG DOGS, as in look over at the book shelf next to your computer, and I would be stunned if you didn’t have some of their books sitting on it.  Apparently one of the bookstore owners that really liked MHI wasn’t just a regular bookstore owner, he was the owner of one of the largest independent bookstores in the country, and he had been shocked that nobody had picked up my book.  He had contacted this publisher and told them that they were idiots for rejecting me, and apparently he buys a lot of books because right away the publisher wanted to see my work.

So I pulled the self-publication packet out of the mail, and sent a manuscript to the publishing house where I had disappeared into their slush pile a year before without even a rejection letter.  The first readers loved it.  The second readers loved it, and passed it up the chain with “glowing recommendations”.  Then the publisher herself finally read it.  She said she liked it, BUT… then came the list of things I needed to change.  At least these changes weren’t as drastic as my go around last time, and the changes actually had some literary merit.

I made the changes, and then sent it back.  I was told that they would make a decision and get back to me in a month.  Then I waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Every month or so I would send an e-mail, only to be told that they hadn’t decided yet, and they would get back to me.   I really appreciated such an important person in the writing world to take the time to give me advice, but I can only wait so long. 

So now, I’m done.  I’m done waiting, and I’m done being rejected by professionals for two years, while I’ve got a bunch of people on a waiting list to buy books.  I’m waiting for the results of this writing contest, and win or lose this weekend, Monster Hunter International is getting sent off for self-publication next week.  Which means that I’ll actually finally hold a copy of the book in my hands around the end of the year.   Once I’ve got an actual ETA, I’ll post excerpts and do a preorder on here. 

About friggin’ time…  Yes, I know.  I’m working on it. 

Well, anyway, the conference was great today, and I’ll be there for some more seminars tomorrow.  I’ve already done a ton of research about self-publication and promoting yourself, so the ideas weren’t necessarily new, but at least it was validating to be able to say, check, check, yep, did that too.  (For example, I started this blog, so please buy my book!)

I do have one comment about the conference, and it isn’t about the conference itself, because Bookwise did a kick ass job, rather, it is about some of the other attendees.  If you’re in a hall with about a thousand other wannabe writers, and you’re standing at a microphone to ask questions to a panel of actual successful authors, editors, publishers, agents, and publicists, do you really honestly think the other attendees want to hear the details of your pathetic life?  NO!   Ask your question, and sit the hell down!  BRIEF QUESTIONS!  BRIEF!!!! 

Let’s see, I could either listen to somebody that’s sold like 140 million books (literally) or I could listen to you prattle on for seven minutes while you try to string a series of words into a coherent sentence that conveys some sort of question, and then you cap it off with a plug for your book and telling the rest of us what your web address is.  Dude, we don’t care.  We don’t care that your Myspace page isn’t getting enough hits.  Let the professionals talk.  That’s why we’re here.  You, shut up.  Professionals, talk about stuff.  Got it?  And if you can’t explain in under a minute what the hell your book is about, then it probably sucks, deal with it.  Either way, deal with it after you shut up and sit down, far away from the microphone. 

Whew… I feel better now. 

My only other comment about the conference is that Harry Turtledove is a surprisingly tall man.  I stood next to him at the urinals today.  I’m 6’5” and he had to be at least my height.  I’m sure this is absolutely fascinating to you guys, but I was surprised.  I always pictured him as being short for some reason.