Archive for 2011

Resolutions

I have no set plans or goals for the next year, but a vision—not of a single year, but of my future in general.

I'm going to live perpetually in the moment. The past is gone, never to return. The future is an idea in my head. I want to be conscious of what is before me, appreciate the good, respect the bad, and take none of it for granted. I'm almost always happier in the moment, and I plan for a happy year. A happier rest of my life.

I will write. I've spent the last two months writing almost every day, four or more hours each day. I cleared over 160,000 words in two months, spread through blogging, journaling, fiction, nonfiction, and various notations. I want to keep that up. I hope my brain will be kind to me and not give up or give in to procrastination, perfectionism, and laziness.

I will publish. I've been writing for a long time. I wrote poetry years before I tried my hand at fiction. I remember my first story at sixteen. It sucked. I've slowly improved and years later I'm finally tired of “improving” myself. How much better am I going to get? It's time to take the jump, and stop putting off my life's purpose.

I'm a storyteller. This is my vocation, my career, my job, my dream, my passion, my direction, my gift, my fortune, my present. It's time to prove I'm made of more than ten years of talk.

I will read...more! I spent the first seven months of 2011 absorbed in stories. I read all of Harry Potter, all of Tolkien, and many other stories Then in July I stopped reading, and until recently it's been a struggle to sit down with a book. A matter of concentration? Of interest? I don't know, but I hope to be a mega-bookworm once again.

I'm going to make a ton of friends, and try not to argue with any of them. I want to talk to everyone at least on a weekly basis. I want to get to know people and share with them the experience called life. I want to see the different ways we react to and overcome challenges, and how differently we respond to life's joys.

I want to soak up the human experience.


As you can tell, there's nothing specific for me in 2012. There's nothing definite other than a direction to move in. I want to stay in the moment, get published, read some books, and make some friends. If I can manage that, I'll look back on the year as a success. I'm not going to make it anymore complicated than that. 

What will arise will arise, what will pass away will pass away, and what will stay will stay. In 2012 I will be the epitome of cool.

Have a happy New Year!

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A Tale of Three

This is a look at three different independent authors, a fairytale of sorts.

Barry Eisler
Amanda Hocking
J. A. Konrath

All three of these authors have shown that self publishing works.

Amanda Hocking can almost be put head-to-head with Barry Eisler, as their paths have crossed, traveling in opposite directions on the publishing road.

Eisler started out in big publishing. He was a successful author with Putnam and turned down a $500,000 contract with St. Martin's Press (coincidentally the same press that eventually signed Hocking). Eisler left the storied publishing industry to go it alone.

Amanda Hocking, on the other hand, began her career as a self published author. It had been her dream to break into the traditional presses, but she was turned down and forced to go it alone. Readers quickly bought her Kindle e-books and she became one of the first authors to hit the 1,000,000 sales mark on Amazon.com. Then St. Martin's Press came to her with a gigantic contract. She left self-publishing for the security of the traditional presses.

J. A. Konrath is quite another story altogether. He's been a mouth-piece for self publishing for a while now, and like Hocking, has sold a load of copies through Amazon. If Hocking is Cinderella, hoping for her ballroom invitation, and Eisler the prince who gave up his crown, Konrath is the wizened wizard prophesying the kingdom's inadequacy.

Each of them have approached self-publishing differently, and each of them have found much success as authors. The more authors hit highs such as these, the more legitimized self-publishing will become.

But one must ask a question, why are all three of these authors on such different paths? Why would two jump ship while the third clambers to get aboard?

To me these three authors show how relative publishing is to the individual. Both traditional publication and self publication have varying rewards that appease different personality types. Self publication can work for the right person, but it's not for everyone, even for people who have success with it. The same is true for traditional publishing: it's not for everyone.

If you have a story and are weighing the decision of going it alone or with a publisher, what is your thought process?

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My Novel "Rising"

Merry Christmas!

Today I'm introducing the first of what I hope is a number of posts discussing my upcoming novel. My current working title is “Rising”. There's much symbolism in that single word. 

Many of the characters have secrets, and many of these secrets are rising to the surface. Once buried deep, they can no longer remain hidden.

“Rising” is book one in a series called “The Czar Chronicles”. 

I originally wrote book 1 and book 2 together, and had planned to publish them as a single novel, but as I continued to rewrite and add to the work, it grew too large for me. I found enough of a story in the first half to separate the whole into two novels. Each one will be from 50-60,000 words, maybe longer—but not much longer.

There will be, as of now, five or six books in the series. I've finished second drafts of the first two and am about a quarter of the way through the rough draft of the third.

In “Rising” readers will discover right away that Czar, a former military general and current crime boss, is the key antagonist. You can guess what happens next.

Zen, Clara, and Amina are the three central protagonists. Zen and Clara are the same age. They're seventeen at the beginning of the story, and I plan to have them grow up as the series progresses. Amina is a little older in appearance, but because she's a vampire, she contains quite a bit more world experience.

Clara is the lead protagonist. The main plot revolves around her. Zen and Amina have their own important subplots that will eventually influence the main plot. What makes Clara so important is her magic abilities. She's a witch. Her power separates her from the other characters, but even as it makes her better, it can also get her into a lot of trouble.

There are several supporting characters, most of them a mixed bag of emotions, and good and evil. None are straight “good”, and only one is pure evil. They effect both the main plot and the subplots.

Hopefully that was enough to whet your imagination without giving too much away. Writing this has not been easy, but I have been consistent with it. At my current pace, expect the first novel to come out sometime in February, though I'm not sure if it'll be closer to the first of the month, or the first of March.

I'm excited about these characters, and how the story is developing. I hope to keep it up!

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A Kindle Christmas

Apparently the only gift I'm getting for Christmas is a Kindle. It's all I really need. It's all I really want. I was determined, that, if one was not given to me, I would buy one myself. My mother came through with flying colors and sent me hers.

I got it today and opened it, played with it, loved it.

I hate being glued to my computer to read. It's bad enough I have to sit here and write, network, and watch Youtube videos. I need to be able to move around sometimes! That is one thing that won't change for me. I can hold a pageless device, but I cannot be glued to what reminds me of a school desk.

I hated reading in school. It always had the feeling of “having to”.

The Kindle is fun
I wasn't at my desk.

E-reading is the future for most people. I honestly believe that, not as a writer, but as a reader.

Physical books cost too much these days, and prices keep going up. E-books, especially those self-published e-books which are just as good as any other book, and all of the classics no one owns the rights to anymore, are an inexpensive way to go.

Physical books take up a lot of space. I have a bookshelf with just shy of one-hundred books. If I moved tomorrow I would give all but a few favorites away. I'm a minimalist. I'm not packing these books and taking them with me. I would rather move and rebuy them.What if I owned one-thousand books?

An e-reader, not necessarily a Kindle, is all about economy. Price and space. Price and space.

Now, if only someone will invent cheap Hoi Poi Capsules!

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Guest Post, Joshua A. Spotts

The following essay is on rewriting, the pain and necessity of a task that isn't always fun to do. This is the first guest post to appear on my blog, and I think it sets the bar fairly high. Enjoy!

- J. R.


~~~


Painting and Pain

Written by Joshua A. Spotts




The colors are gently brushed in curving lines unto the canvas. The artist places that brush down and picks up another, applying a new color with a finer brush over the drying old stroke, creating a marvelous effect. The artist picks up another brush and another color. These are gently applied in light strokes and then firmly drawn across the canvas. The artist places his paint-speckled fingers to his sweaty forehead. He holds a brush between two fingers as he examines the paint beneath his fingernails. His hands are weary. The brush twirls in his fingers and one more delicate line is added to the painting. 

The artist steps back to observe his masterpiece. Stumbling, groaning, and then kneeling the artist clutched his shirt over his heart. His masterpiece is blemished in one spot. It takes him several hours to gather the courage to approach his enemy, the blemish. The hairs of the artist’s brush swim in the paint for a moment before being jerked out and lovingly moved across the canvas. It did not work to cover the blemish, instead it made it worse. The artist tried again with a different brush and lighter paint. Still no success, the blemish stared at him. It seemed to be gloating. 

Finally the artist decided what he must do. He took down the canvas and burned it. He spread out a new canvas and once again set to his laborious task. He would create a masterpiece, no matter how many times he had to burn a canvas and restart. 

In some ways, rewriting is like this artist. We work and work to erase or correct a blemish, but sometimes we have to go larger than the blemish. Sometimes we have to change the context of the blemish. In fact, sometimes we, as writers, need to rewrite an entire book. We are artists and we should always seek for a better work. If something doesn’t please you about your own work, than the chances are that the reader will not be pleased with it. 

Luckily, with modern day writing we have the computer. What a wonderful device! We can move whole paragraphs around in our documents. We can delete entire sections with ease. We can rework inside the story without having to be rid of whole pages at a time. Or, as in the case of the artist, whole canvases. This easiness to edit leads to the fact that rewriting is easier. Nevertheless, fellow writers, it is still difficult. It may not be so technically, but in our hearts we feel pain when we destroy our work and labor to make it better. It is similar to an old workout quip, “no pain, no gain.” If we do not suffer over our work with the purpose of making it better, than we don’t gain anything in our writing quality. 

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What is an E-Book Worth?

What a difficult thing to answer, as it depends on so many variables. I lean toward a lower price, and here's why.

~~~

An extended shelf life = More Sales.

Self-published e-books, unlike traditionally published hardcovers and paperbacks, have an indefinite shelf life. My book won't be pulled from the internet after six or twelve months. I don't have to squeeze as much “value” out of my book as I possibly can before my publisher back-lists it. 

Instead, I can play the numbers. Without time constraints, I can aim to sell more copies and make a profit through bulk rather than through margin. You know, like Wal-Mart does.

~~~

Lower production costs = More Savings.

Self-published e-books have very few middlemen involved in the publishing and sales process. I don't have employees. I don't have shipping costs. I have no building to pay a mortgage, lease, or taxes on. I'm not printing a physical book which requires the purchase of ink, paper, a printer, etc.

So why should the reader pay for what I don't have to pay for? That is to my advantage. I'm saving money, and I intend to pass the savings off to my reader.

~~~

A better royalty ratio = More Earnings.

I make more per book at $2.99, than I would with a traditionally published book at $15. How? Royalties. By self-publishing I get an 80% royalty. That's about $2.40 a book through Smashwords and $2.10 through Amazon. An 8% royalty on a $15 book would net me about $1.20 after everyone else took a piece of the pie. 

Even selling my books for 5 times less than I could through a traditional publisher, I'm still getting twice the value, and I'll likely sell more copies to boot!

~~~

Readers more willing to take a risk = More Sales and Earnings.

Inexpensive books are in the reader's best interest. Over a year's time, how many books might an avid reader buy? How much money would an avid reader save by buying e-books or going to the library? A lot of money. Even those readers who only read occasionally will save a lot of money.

It's easier to convince someone to pay for a book that costs five times less money. There's nothing emotional about three dollars. No one is going to stare at a $3 book and think “I could use this money on something better.”

~~~

A different perspective.

I don't feel like I'm cheating myself, which seems to be the main argument for higher prices. True value in a book isn't in its price, but in how many readers I reach. Value isn't selling the book once for $100,000, it's selling it 50,000 times for $2.99. I have a far better chance of reaching the second than conning someone into the first.

~~~

The readers come first.

I wish to sell my book for less mainly because I cannot justify selling it for more. Why should anyone buy something I write if it costs more than a meal? I would honestly feel guilty if I sold my book for more than a few dollars. My readers have families to feed. They have bills to pay. They struggle day to day. 

I want them to buy my book and enjoy it, but I don't think I'm more important than their livelihood. I'm putting readers first. They're just as much a part of the process as anyone or anything else is.

~~~

What if I'm wrong?

What happens if I publish my first novel for $2.99 and it doesn't sell? I'm going to do an experiment. I'm going to charge $4.99 and see what happens. 

There's only one thing I've heard or read in favor of higher-priced books which makes sense to me. Inexpensive books, to many readers, look “cheap”. The readers themselves may believe they're getting more value from something in a higher price range.

As odd as this sounds (it's the same book, so why should it look better at a higher price?), there is evidence for the psychology behind it. 

If my work sells, it won't matter. If my work doesn't sell, what do I have to lose?

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My First Smashwords Experience

Yesterday I published my first short story on Smashwords. It was a very positive experience, and now the e-book “The Last Christmas” is on sale for $0.99. You can view it for free, either by adding me as a friend on Facebook, or using this coupon code on Smashwords: WR35H. The code is good through the 18th of December.

I spent most of yesterday, and part of the day before, formatting my story to publish to Smashwords. I had a good friend, Rodney C. Johnson, to help me troubleshoot the process. He's gone through it before, publishing his first novel,“On the Forge of War”, in November.

I sardonically joked that Smashwords was 1,000 times easier than chasing an agent. When I first started writing, none of this was possible. I would have had two options for “The Last Christmas”. Sell it to a magazine, a total crap shoot, or design my own website and post it there and hope more than five people showed up to read it. Times have changed, and the e-book market is totally open. Smashwords, Amazon, and Lulu have made sure of that.

I have no doubt that anyone with talent and an ability to write a decent story, patience and a willingness to work hard to market and make friends, can be successful in this business. It may take five or ten years, but it's more than possible to get to a point where you're at least supplementing your income by writing regularly, or even writing full time.

~~~~~

I've gotten several questions about Smashwords, all dealing with the same thing. What is it? Well, for all practical purposes it's the same thing as Amazon.com. It's an e-book seller, an independent publisher.

Authors format their stories to prepare them for a process Smashwords founder Mark Coker calls the meatgrinder, in which a well-formatted word document will be turned into PDF, RTF, Kindle, Epub, HTML, and Java documents.

As the author, I set my own price. I can give it away, let readers pay what they think the story is worth, or set an exact value. I chose $0.99 for “The Last Christmas” merely to test the process.

E-books published through Smashwords can be bought and read on every major reading device. E-books of any length can be published on Smashwords. My short story, “The Last Christmas” is approximately 2,500 words. Fiction, non-fiction, and poetry are all acceptable. A well-formatted e-book will qualify for Smashwords premium catalog, which is distributed to other major e-book sellers, giving authors more visibility.

A poorly-formatted e-book will be rejected. It's not a process any author can take lightly, and any author who tries to skirt the details should find another job. I'm very serious about this. Publishing to Smashwords is not difficult, but does require attention to detail, and if one cannot give that attention to this, how can one give it to an entire novel?

But authors don't have to be technically gifted to get their work published.

I found the Smashwords style guide easy to follow. It demystified the process for me. It only took me about an hour to get through the entire thing, and outside of a few topics that concerned me, it covered everything I needed to know.

The only major problem I had was with my e-book cover. For PDF and RTF files it was necessary to include the cover inside the document, but Smashwords uses the cover I uploaded for thumbnails as the cover for all their other files. So when I uploaded the cover art inside the document for Epub, Kindle, HTML, and Java, the cover was duplicated, and this caused a few problems.

There was occasional distortion on some files, discoloration on Kindle, and the HTML and Java files were unreadable. I read nothing about these details in the style guide, and had to work them out myself, but it was a simple fix. I simply uploaded the document, sans cover art, to all the major formats except PDF and RTF.

Overall it took me about 10 hours, over two days, to get everything ready and finally published. I'm not sure how this will translate into total hours for a story of 80,000 or 100,000 words, but I would not recommend your first experience with Smashwords be anything longer than a short story. There's an initial learning curve, and I expect my next attempt to require far less time.

Though the time requirement is a bit high (at least for me), the actual labor is not difficult at all. Anyone with experience in HTML, or Microsoft Word, should take to this like a fish to water. For the rest of you, a little patient studying should be enough to figure things out.

If you're using Open Office instead of Microsoft Word, there are a few minor differences to be aware of, one being that the regular expressions are different in OO, so using “find & replace” to remove something like tabs will require a different code. With MS the expression for “tab” is ^t, and in OO it's \t. I used OO and found no difficulties in the process, even though the style guide recommends (insists, really) to use MS. Before I loaded the document to Smashwords, Rodney told me to save the document as .DOC, not .ODT.

Some, or all, of what I've written so far may not make sense to anyone without reading the style guide or actually going through the process, but for anyone who may yet go through the process, I hope they'll return to this for guidance.

More information on about Smashwords itself can be found at http://www.smashwords.com/about and http://www.getpublishedtv.com/what-is-smashwords-episode-054/.

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Tebow Magic

Tim Tebow never fails to amaze me. I remember him standing at a podium, apologizing to fans after the Gators' only loss in 2008. He swore his team would not lose another game. He swore no one would work harder than him. The Gators never lost, and I have no doubt Tim Tebow worked harder than anyone else, and continues to do so. I've been a big fan of his ever since. He continues to defy logic, odds, and detractors.

Despite being an atheist, I'm not afraid of his faith. I'm proud of it. I want to be like him. I want to believe in something so much that I wear it on my sleeve. He's living proof that this works.

If I believe in something, what do I have to lose? How can I possibly fail? What Tebow brings to the football field are intangibles, and it is by such intangibles that life is truly measured. Life is not measured by trophies, awards, titles, and games won or lost.

We can all have something to believe in, to put our faith in. It can be love for family, a political, religious, or spiritual ideal, a dream, humanity itself. Something to push us forward, something for which we strive for. Something to motivate us to do better, to be better, to reach for the next step on the stairway.

Very few people exhibit this as well as Tebow, so it's no surprise to me that Tebow usually finds a way to get things done. His opponents rarely have a chance. Tebow has a purpose when he's out on the football field, and it's a greater purpose than simply winning the game. And that's why he wins. He's driven by more than end results. People with more physical talent than he has don't stand a chance against him if they lack the balance he has for life.

If I can live for more than myself, and for more than what I hope to accomplish, what can possibly stop me from feeling fulfilled and happy, and accomplishing what I set out to do?

What can stop me from feeling fulfilled and happy even if I fail?

Faith is a win/win situation with few exceptions. I've witnessed this time and again. People can suffer the worst things if they have faith in something. Without faith, people can have everything and hate and waste it all. With faith comes appreciation and perspective.

This hasn't always been my point of view, but as I become more of an individualist I have come to see that it doesn't matter so much what we do and believe, but that we have something to do and believe in.

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Friends, Not Sales Statistics

I enjoy marketing, but not in a vacuum. I can't stand posting links around the web; I feel self-conscious. I have a marketing plan. It's probably a bit harder than a “link parade”, and it makes no room for a budget of any kind, but I think in the long run it will work for me.

If fiction was practical, this post wouldn't matter. The reason for you to buy my writing would be plain as day. It could help you do something, like clean your gutters or trim your toes. If a book could make you dinner it would be worth spending money on, and all I'd have to do is tell you it exists. But because books don't “do” anything, writers have to be a bit more creative and work a lot harder than people with products that “do” something.

The last thing I want to come across as is someone who only sees people as statistics and sales figures. I do not want to be “that guy”. I do not want to hound anyone. Having been hounded before, I know how annoying that is. I don't want to have to go that route, nor will I. If my words can't sell themselves, what good is my writing?

The goal is to get people to take a chance on my words, and then sit back and let the story do all the work. To do that I personally must be interesting. I must give people a reason to want to buy something from me. There must be purpose.

What better purpose is there than friendship?

Building relationship and trust will take time, hard work, and patience. I will have to spend a lot of time each day making sure people see me (being visible), leaving comments, asking questions, and being genuine about others' works and interests. But I will also have to take the time to listen to what people have to say. It won't be just about me, but about them. About you.

Friendship goes beyond sales. It's a win/win even if I sell zero books, because friendship offers much more than what money can buy. Friendship offers another person. I'm very much people-driven. If I fail to care about other people—genuinely care—I cannot maintain the drive it takes to finish my stories, because I cannot write for the stories themselves. I must write for the reader. I must write for you.

I can learn from my friends, share camaraderie, and belong to something bigger than myself. I feel like I've got a lot to offer outside of writing, and I know other people have a lot to offer outside of reading.

What I want more than just writing books is to share the human experience. There's no reason to be overly professional. I'm not going to win any awards for doing everything by the book. In a people-driven world, it doesn't matter if I do things 100% right, just that I do them with 100% passion.

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Third Drafts

I've begun reading through the third draft of my novel. The story is 65,000 words long, 25,000 words longer than the rough draft, so the second draft was very productive as far as filling out the story and giving myself more ideas to work with. I've gotten to this point before, with other stories, and it's always been a double-edged sword for me.

On one hand there's a lot of potential here. Reading through the draft, I'm getting a ton of ideas to make the story even better than it is. I'm finding ways to simplify the writing, focus the plot, flush out the characters, enhance my theme, etc., etc.

On the other hand I'm not looking forward to the intense work necessary to implement all, or even a few, of these ideas.

There are two schools of thought here. On one hand it's the “Don't fix what isn't broken” mentality. Some writers, and I include myself among them, edit way too much. And yet there are many writers out there who insist that rewriting is a necessary part of the process.

It's difficult to know which direction to go in. Should I just clean up what I have, or seek to improve the story beyond the writing, getting into the nitty-gritty details of the plot? Either way, the reader won't know the difference, because the reader won't ever read the rough draft. The reader won't know where I started, only where I finished. But what if I do something to ruin what would have been a good scene? What if I screw the story up by changing it?

As Han Solo once said, “Well, that's the real trick, isn't it?”

I think I can improve the story by changing it. How much I'll change it I don't yet know. I hope not that much because I'm a lazy editor, but I'm also a perfectionist and won't stand for sloppy work.

And to think, I had originally hoped to publish this by January first. I can pretty well throw that deadline out the window. I can hope for February first, or even March first, but in the end the date won't matter. I know I won't publish this story until it's perfect—as good as I can make it. If I have to torture myself to get it done, well, that's just what I'll have to do!

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Man Hunter

Man Hunter

By J. R. Nova



A Cessna landed on a barren strip of desert in the heart of Africa, a semi-natural runway that had been modified several times in the last fifty years. It was just smooth enough to take the Cessna. In the distance, for as far as the pilot and passenger could see, were grasslands. They were windswept, and deceivingly luscious. There was no water out there, unless one had a shovel and the patience to dig deep. The rains had come a week before, and the soil had already dried and cracked.

At the end of the runway was a jeep, a single man standing beside it.

The pilot turned the engine off and both he and the passenger got out. The pilot took his canteen and sat under the wing’s shade, and the passenger went to the end of the runway, to meet the man waiting for him.

“Hello. I’m Burk Guilders,” the passenger said. They shook hands.

“Hello, Mr. Guilders. I wasn’t expecting someone so—”

“Tall. Yes. It was a tight fit in that little plane but I made it.”

Burk looked his partner over. Out here he might as well be his doctor and his priest as well as his guide. “Pike Kennedy, is it? I’m surprised you drove here. Where did you come from?”

“A village about forty miles southeast. I’ve got plenty of gas and the jeep is well maintained.” He pointed to three full cans in the back of the jeep. They were gray and semi-transparent. Burk could tell two were full and the third was nearly empty.

“You made it hard on me to hire you.” Burk drew a pack of narrow cigars from his front pocket and offered one to Pike. The poacher refused.

“Times are changing, Mr. Guilders. It’s as dangerous for poachers these days as it is for the animals they hunt. Men are dying out here, and no one knows why. It drives the prices up.”

“I don’t intend to die today,” Burk said. “I do intend to kill something.”

“Then you’re in luck,” Pike said, taking on cheerful tone. “Today the game isn’t too far. Herds moves through here during and just after the rainy season—if there is a rainy season. We don’t have far to go. If we don’t find elephants we’ll at least find lions chasing the wildebeest. There’s a herd, you can see their dust trail in the distance there.” He pointed a fat finger across the grassland, then waived Burk to the jeep. “Will your pilot be fine? I don’t recognize him. I hope he’s familiar with the land.”

Burk answered quickly, perhaps too quickly. “He’s a good friend of mine, a man I trust a great deal, but he doesn’t hunt. He won’t come out into the sun with us.”

Pike seemed to nod but in the bright light it was hard to see the subtle movement. They drove quickly away and soon the airport was out of sight. Burk squinted.

“It’s going to be a quick ride out, right?” he asked.

“Of course, Mr. Guilders.”

“A man of my prestige, well, if I were caught out here—arrested, let’s say—it wouldn’t look good.”

“A politician, Mr. Guilders?”

“No, nothing so lofty. A businessman. But bad press would hurt business.” He had to raise his voice to be heard and he suddenly felt self-conscious. Did he sound like he was telling the truth?

Pike looked at him. There was no road, and Pike’s navigation was guesswork. He relied on intuition. He narrowly missed gashes in the Earth that could easily catch a wheel and flip the jeep, or throw them from the vehicle. They wore no seat belts, and held on to the role cage with one hand.

Pike shifted into the next gear and floored the accelerator. They drove for fifteen minutes, then Pike slowed to a stop and stood on his seat, measuring the distant landscape with his binoculars. “There they are,” he said, handing the binoculars to Burk. Burk took them and, standing up, gazed across the hot grass. He saw two herds, one of wildebeest, and one of elephants, and guessed they were still a five-minute drive away. The elephants’ gray skins shined in the sun, where their bodies were not covered in thick layers of dried mud.

“Is there a water hole near here?” Burk asked. “I don’t see any lions.”

“There’s a river perhaps a hundred miles from here. The herd animals will get water from the grass and that will sustain them until they reach the river. The lions are hiding. They wait for their opportunity. Incredibly patient animals.”

Pike sat down and took the binoculars from Burk. He put the jeep in drive and drove slowly, carefully over jutting rocks and small, rain-washed gullies.


~

Burk would never tell Pike Kennedy what his business was. That he was part of an organization that, like Pike, hunted for a living. That many men had come before him, each looking for a poacher to guide them to the largest kill of their lives. Not to hunt for lions and elephants, but for men.

The organization Burk belonged to hunted throughout the world. In Indochina, in the Himalayas, in India, in South American rainforests. And Africa. No bodies were left behind, so there were few traces of their crimes. The organization created mystery, and chaos.

Yet the organization had taken special precautions to keep news of the murders from reaching newspapers and broadcast channels. There could be no chance that public opinion could swing against them. People hated the extinction of Earth’s creatures, but would not condone the slaying of humans. They didn’t understand that violence was the only way to stop violent men. Without public outcry against them, the organization could work out of sight of local and international law enforcement.

For Burk, it had taken luck to get this far. It was more than just organizing, finding a pilot and squirming through customs. Everything had to go right. The poacher Burk found couldn’t ask too many questions or expect too many specific answers, nor could he investigate too deeply into the answers readily given. An inquisitive mind could spoil the illusion.

Much had changed since the organization began its spree. Most of the disappearances appeared to be competition killings, at first. Animals had grown scarce and there were too many poachers in the world. Poachers turned on each other, and the industry fell apart, rifting like the continent of Africa itself. Some poachers had quit and others grew paranoid and clumsy and were caught by the dragnet of law enforcement. Most of those who stayed were too suspicious to trust anyone. Their work suffered.

Slowly the species Burk hoped to save rebounded. But it was harder for the organization now than it ever was before. Victims were growing scarce.

So it was difficult for Burk to make this contact with Pike Kennedy. It took Burk six weeks of careful negotiations. It cost Burk a million and a half dollars—deposited in Pike’s Swiss account—to finally convince the poacher that Burk was nothing more than a rich, spoiled billionaire. It had taken even more effort to convince Pike to come alone. Burk had used a fear of being caught and exposed, damaging his business back in the States, for that.

There was still a great risk for Pike Kennedy, but with a million dollars in the bank and another two million promised to him after the hunt, just so a rich jet setter could stroke his ego, Pike finally relented to all of Burk’s terms.

But even now Pike was not comfortable. He was not looking at the ground he drove across, but around—searching for someone or something trailing behind him or driving to meet him, even out in the middle of nowhere, a place few could ever get to. Never did he suspect that his greatest fear was the man sitting at his side.



~
 
Pike swerved to miss a rock in his path and slowed the jeep to a stop. The elephants stood just over a short hill, and Burk spotted the lions. An enormous male rested on top of the rise, watching them. If Burk shot it he and Pike would skin it, taking only the precious fur and leaving the carcass to rot.

“We walk from here.”

“Are you sure?” Burk asked. He took his gun and his pack from the back of the jeep, as if his question had been simple chitchat. His pack smelled faintly of gasoline. He wondered if the elephants could smell the scent of man rising on the hot air, or if they could only smell the heat.

“We’ll spook them if we get any closer with the jeep. They may have already heard us. We’re only eighty yards away.”

“More like one hundred yards,” Burk said. He walked slowly, testing Pike, trying to walk his flank and slowing down to see if Pike would go before him. Pike didn’t fall for it. He trusted no one now, not even his customer. Pike slowed to Burk’s pace. Ahead, the lions vanished into the tall grass, leaving just the elephants for the two hunters.

“Have you ever been charged by one of these magnificent beasts?” Burk whispered.

“Once.”

“How did you survive it?”

“It went after and killed a good friend of mine instead. A man from the village. But that was a long time ago and I was still a kid for all I knew about this business.”

“Out here, can anyone be ignorant?”

“Of course, and they die.”

Burk caught Pike’s eye and the two men stood staring at each other as the elephants shifted away from them, and Burk wondered if he had done something to put tip Pike off, or if the man was naturally guarded.

“Do you see that one there on the left?”

“Yes,” Burk said. He knelt down. He knew Pike was telling him that was the one to take. It was a great big beast, but old. Its ivory was not as pristine as it should have been—to really get a lot on the market—but still it was an incredible animal. Burk checked the chamber. It was empty, of course, and he loaded the gun and took the safety off.

“You can shoot it from here or do you need to get closer?”

“I’m not an amateur, Mr. Kennedy. Where I come from the bucks don’t let you get this close.”

“We’re not in America, Mr. Guilders. It will probably charge at us if you hit it. Get any closer than this and we may both die.”

“Not today.”

Burk pivoted to his left and aimed his fifty caliber rifle at Pike. Pike shifted, backing up quickly and realizing his mistake. Burk realized it as well. If Pike had charged forward he could have wrested the gun from Burk’s hands, but now that moment was over. Pike had, in his surprise, backed into his own end.

“So this is how it happens?” Pike asked. His voice was calm, but his face exposed his fear. “I never thought it would be this way.”

“It doesn’t have to be,” Burk said. Just say you’ll quit forever. Don’t try to stop me. Don’t give me a reason to shoot you.

Pike raised his eyebrows. He held his hands away from his body, his gun still strapped to his shoulder. He looked, knees slightly bent, as if he were guarding another player on a basketball court. He was aware of the heat, and aware of his heart racing in his chest.

Burk’s heart raced as well. He was finally here. He had his opportunity to step into the shoes of the men who had gone before him. They had each done this. They had each stood before their enemy. They had each pulled the trigger. Each man in the organization that Burk had come to call friend. He had listened to their stories of adventure and triumph. Until now cash had been his only contribution. He had only rolled money into their work, supporting their murders.

But now that Burk had a real man in his sights, he wasn’t sure he could pull the trigger. Pike was not someone’s story. He had spoken. He sweat from the heat. He showed emotion and intelligence. He was real!

“You’ll let me go?” Pike asked.

Burk hesitated. Pike straightened, standing tall. He had gotten hold of himself.

Pull the trigger, damn it!

Pike stood five feet from Burk, and Burk had a big, heavy rifle pointed at Pike’s head. Pike thought it was a mistake. He thought Burk could never lower the gun quickly enough to shoot him if he stooped down and charged forward. Pike could take him, he knew he could.

If Burk had been a shorter man, it may have been to Pike’s advantage, but Burk was already looking down at Pike. The gun’s size and weight wasn’t a disadvantage to a man of his size.

In the heat and dust the elephants seemed to watch. They had not moved from where they fed on grass, clipping the savanna as if it were a lawn. Shadow fell over them as a cloud moved across the sun.

Both men reacted at once. Neither was aware of the others’ intentions, but acted on his own instinct. Pike knelt and Burk pulled the trigger. The bullet skimmed off the top of the poacher’s skull. Blood exploded from shattered fragments of bone—but Pike didn’t slow down. He pushed forward. He forced his way through the pain.

Pike took his rifle from his shoulder. He had loaded it before leaving the village and had never put the safety on. It was ready to shoot. Ready to kill. It was smaller and lighter than Burk’s gun, every bit as deadly.

Pike took aim but Burk squeezed his trigger first. There was another explosive report. The bullet tore through Pike’s stomach. The poacher slumped to the ground.

I put myself in this situation, Burk thought. But I never made him go for me. I was giving him every chance to talk me out of killing him.

Burk wiped sweat from his brow. He checked Pike’s body to make sure he was dead and to rummage through his pockets. He walked back to the jeep with his pack on his shoulder and his gun at his side. He threw the gun into the back of the jeep, not worrying about unloading it or putting the safety on. The gun clattered against the metal bucket. He started the jeep and drove it to Pike’s limp body. He hauled him into the passenger seat and turned the vehicle toward the airstrip, stopping suddenly to look behind him.

The wildebeest herd had moved well into the distance but the elephants grazed upon the grass, having moved fearlessly near to Pike’s body. The old elephant with the worthless tusks was the closest. Burk twisted around to see if he could catch sight of one or two of the lions, but they were well hidden in the brush and tall grass.

A little spooked, hoping the lions weren’t stalking him, Burk put the jeep into drive and headed cautiously back toward the plane. It took him two hours to navigate his way over the unfamiliar terrain. The pilot had started the plane the moment he saw the jeep in the horizon, its metal body and glass windshield sparkling in the sunlight.

Burk drove up to the plane and called to the pilot over the sound of the idling engine. All they had to do was load the body—proof of Burk’s success—and fly away.

“We’ll flip the jeep and make it look like an accident,” the pilot said, his voice raised. “If anyone finds it they’ll assume he was was injured and got lost on his way back to the village.”

“I should have popped him off before we ever went out there,” Burk said. “I wasted too much time.”

“Did you see them?”

“The elephants?”

“The lions,” the pilot said.

“One. He was magnificent.” Burk felt like he was screaming, and still the sound of the engine seemed to drown his voice.

“Then it was worth it,” the pilot said.

They dumped the jeep by the brush at the end of the runway and within ten minutes Burk was looking down from the window, searching the savannas from the sky. Below he could make out the silhouettes of another heard of wildebeests traveling west between the rivers. He could see no lions, but that didn’t mean they weren’t there.

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Gaming My Life Away

I grew up playing video games. I played Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and then the Playstation. The gaming experience improved my story-telling abilities. Especially RPGs—role playing games.

I played Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy Mystic Quest, Zelda—A Link to the Past, Final Fantasy VII, VIII, IX and X, and then by the time I gave up gaming I was absorbed in Phantasy Star Online. Games like Spyro the Dragon, Resident Evil, Tomb Raider, and Grand Theft Auto finished the deal. They're as good as books as far as story, but also contain an interactive level that books and television don't have.

In all the thousands of hours I played I was learning a valuable lesson. For me, books and movies are inferior because they're passive. A game offers interaction, so the story is stronger. I understand the mechanics better because I was part of the process. Books taught me how to write stories down, but games taught me how to tell them in the first place.

Games couldn't be boring, and what made a game boring was a bad story. For a story to be good, I had to feel like I was part of it. The story had to be good enough to connect me, and keep getting better to hold my interest. The climax had to be big enough, important enough, to make me want to play again.

Games taught me characterization. I understand now why I loved certain characters in my favorite games. Most were stereotypes, but they had enough of their own nature to help me relate to them. I know now, because of gaming, that characters have to have a past, a reason to be right now, and something to look forward to in the future.

The best games were the ones with something on the line. It could be the fate of the world, or a character's own survival, but it had to be something. There had to be conflict, twists and turns in the plot, and mystery—and clues for me to figure out. Games taught me that the best stories aren't passive, but active. As a writer, I can't just tell the story. I must involve the reader.

~

As important as games were to me, my favorite ones are old. They're not sold in stores anymore, and some have become collector items. I wish I could play them again just for the nostalgia. The internet has provided me with the chance to retrace my old steps. Many games are being uploaded to play for free online. Vizzed.com, which I just discovered on Saturday, offers many of my favorite RPGs. I'm sure there are other sites out there. I'll continue to search for my holy grail: Final Fantasy VII!

I want to relive the stories. I want to be part of the emotions again. I want to be the hero just one more time!

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Brevity in Prose

If I write too much I'm liable to say something I shouldn't. With brevity I simplify my story and create clarity. Overwriting destroys clarity. I cannot emphasize this enough. When writers leave too many words and ideas on the page, it creates an unmanageable mess for the reader.

I'm from the Hemingway/Strunk school of thought. Clarity is necessary for the reader to understand the writing. Clarity doesn't come from prose riddled with nouns and adjectives—fancy writing. Clarity is a product of brevity. Less writing is often better story.

How can a writer screw up a non-poetic descriptive passage?

First Version: “Frank walked into the room. On the far side was a fireplace constructed of rounded river stones. The stones grew from the base of the floor to the high ceiling. Frank knew the secret plans were hidden within the chimney.”

That may be a boring passage, but it works! Problems start when flowery language is introduced to the description. Not only is this language unnecessary, but it's counterproductive to the writer's sole purpose: to help the reader understand, envision, and be part of the scene.

Second Version: “Frank walked slowly into the room, carrying his blue raincoat over his shoulder, his soggy shoes leaving moisture across the floor. His prints were puddles and he cringed at the thought of his Aunt Margaret finding him here. What would she say? What would she do to him? He looked at the fireplace, its eloquent finish and the many large, rounded stones forming its base and the stem of the chimney. It was a marvelous structure of nineteenth century architecture that only one of his great ancestors could think to build in the refined Victorian home. Somewhere inside the frame of the chimney was what Frank had come for, what he had risked the wrath of his Aunt to find. There were the plans.”

Easier, huh? In the first version I knew the plans were important. But in the second version I was still thinking about Aunt Margaret and Victorian homes by the time I got to the plans. The paragraph wasn't about the plans at all!

Here's an example of nonfiction, where it's even more important to write briefly:

~

What a mess that second version is. It's a winding path of nouns—of ideas, concepts forcing me to THINK about what I'm reading, instead of flowing with the passage. Long passages like this kill the flow and pace of a story, grinding it all to a near-halt as the reader struggles through.

What a mess that this second version is. It's a winding path of nouns—of ideas, concepts forcing me to THINK about what I'm reading, instead of flowing with the passage. Long passages like this kill the flow and pace of a story a story's pace, grinding it all to a near-halt as the reader struggles through.

What a mess this second version is. It's a winding path of nouns—of concepts forcing me to THINK about what I'm reading. Long passages like this kill a story's pace.

~

It's not always necessary or appropriate to give the reader the bare necessities. Sometimes overwriting serves a purpose.

Use poetic prose for contrast and emphasis. Foreshadow an object, idea, or character you'll use later in your story by spending a little more time on them in the beginning. Think of your writing as a film camera focusing in on a shot. The only way to make this effective is to write sparsely everywhere else. If every shot is a close up, who will know what is important and what isn't?

Good writing always places the reader first. Good writing is effectively to the point. Bad stories require overwriting to hide the plot, so the reader focuses on the pretty words and not the story itself. Overwriting serves as a distraction. A well-told story never requires flowery prose.

I say this not to convince you never to write poetically, but to warn you to do it sparingly. Put all that extra work into brainstorming a better story, and your readers will thank you.




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No Rest For Wicked, Weary Writers

I've done a terrible thing! (Other than using alliteration in my blog title.)

I've once again bucked rest and relaxation to push myself a little harder than necessary. As a result, I've spent much of today banging my head against a wall. I haven't been as productive as I had been throughout the week—a frightening concept in and of itself, as my mind twists this against me and screams: “You're getting blocked!”

Why, on one hand, do I demand that I work seven days a week (this is the sixth day in a row that I've written), and yet on the other hand I know that I cannot keep this pace?

Hit the panic button, right? Bad idea!

I have to step back and take a deep breath. Everything is going to be fine.

Consistency counts, but consistency doesn't necessarily mean writing daily. For the last few weeks I've taken weekends off. On the following Monday I'm refreshed and ready to get back to work. On Mondays I'm super productive, if a little rusty. On Tuesdays I'm super productive and the rust is gone. After Wednesday I begin my weekly creative decline.

This week I was a little more enthusiastic so I decided to work through the weekend. Well, here I am, it's 1:30 on Saturday afternoon and I'm very negative about everything. I cannot see the forest for the trees. Kudos to me for realizing it. Acceptance is the first step.

I believe I can get more done writing every other day than five or six days a week. But do I listen to myself? No, of course not. I get excited and write until my head feels like it'll blow up. Maybe it wouldn't matter if my plans hadn't been dashed, if the writing was still easy for me.

Last Sunday I thought I'd have my second draft finished by Friday. Friday came and went, and despite spending 20+ hours on the draft this week, I still have another week to go before it'll be complete. 

(The second half of the novel is sloppier than the first half, requiring more rewriting, which subsequently slowed my pace. Problem identified, nothing to worry about, calm down!)

This is why I do not like to plan, for life will laugh and throw me under a bus. It's times like these that I fully understand the logic behind the Zen and Taoist mentality of living intuitively. Just flow with it. Right now the flow of life is carrying me away from writing. Perhaps I'll take tomorrow off. Perhaps I'll wake tomorrow and begin writing.

Who knows what I'll do until I've done it?

All I do know is that, sitting here writing this, I'm a bit scared. I've made writing into a big competition. Write as much as I can, for as long as I can, each day, and for as many days in a row as I can handle it. I've created a situation in which now I'm the loser. I'm competing against the past, against days I wrote 10,000 words or edited 10 single-spaced pages.

I'm creating my own stress, my own pressure, my own downfall.

So why don't I knock it off?


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Food For Thought

Let me throw another non-writing topic at you today.

Did you know that being relaxed is a better indicator of longevity and health than what we eat or how much we exercise? They've done studies!

Social drinkers live longer than binge drinkers and alcoholics, but even more interesting, they live longer than non-drinkers. It's not the alcohol which increases life expectancy, it's the lifestyle social drinkers lead. They're less stressed because they have a way to unload after a busy week.

If you want to die, just tense your body day after day. You'll destroy your organs and your muscles. Stress and tension in the form of anxiety is devastating to many millions of people. It trumps bad diet as a form of suicide.

I enjoy eating healthy foods because I know I'm doing the right thing when I eat well, but also because of the way food affects my brain chemistry. Too many processed carbs and I get depressed. Too much meat and I get nervous. It's the way I am—not everyone is the same as me.

I'm aware of the movement towards healthy diet. I'm aware of the disease statistics in our culture. I'm aware of the foods that cause cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.

But I'm not sure the facts matter, not entirely. I think what is even more important than eating healthy, is being happy. And food, good or bad, plays a role in happiness.

One of the coolest things growing up was eating McDonald's when we traveled, and eating pizza at lunch at school on Fridays. Food has major satisfaction value. Food has always been a trigger for happiness for me, and I'm not the only one.

As an adult I enjoy cooked lentils with rice and beans more than I enjoy a Big Mac, but even though the type of food has changed, the fact that I get enjoyment from eating hasn't. After a short fast, I still to this very day get a rush of emotions when I think of food. These emotions made being at school just before lunchtime one of the best times of the day.

The health nut in me wants to encourage everyone to eat healthier. The Taoist in me encourages me to step back and look at the bigger picture. Changing what we eat isn't going to fix society. Having compassion would accomplish more than getting people to eat their vegetables. And we can eat all our vegetables and still be stressed out.

Food, for many, is the one thing they can indulge in that takes the edge off of life. I'd rather them have food than nothing at all.

And it's not like people don't know what is healthy. Americans simply eat what tastes better. And because unhealthy foods taste better, even if it's for a moment, it also makes them feel better.

There's a fine line to walk with health. It's the line between eating to live forever and eating to enjoy yourself right now. We can't live forever. We can't always be happy. But that line, it's pretty fat. There's a lot of middle ground. Consider it the waistline of common sense. Have a hamburger, but balance that with a salad.

Despite studies, despite personal experience, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to eat—unless you try to digest your food through your skin. So dare to have variety. Why eat healthy if you'll still give yourself a heart attack in the process?

Relax about it.

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The Week Ahead, and Beyond

This week I will push myself to finish the second draft of my novel. I must also come up with a title, and experiment with cover art. I have a really awesome artist, and it's just a matter of convincing her to draw something this week.

My novel should be around 60,000 words. The second draft is basically me filling in the scenes I skipped when writing the rough draft. It's also reorganizing what is already there, and fixing inconsistencies.

In the third draft I'll make everything shine. But right now, in order to finish this second draft, I must limit distractions and simplify my lifestyle for the next five days. I'm going to spend a lot less time networking, and much more time meditating.

~~~

I'm the type of person who gets so deep into so many different things at once that I never really finish anything. “Jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind to describe myself. Well, I'm getting this story finished. No excuses. I've got about five novel-length works on various USB drives, and who knows what else laying around in my electronic cache—none of which has been completed, some of which definitely should have been.

Time for me to grow up and learn to work hard.

There have been a few authors in the last couple centuries who have been very successful with a single book (or an idea contained within several books). But this is not typical of what you'll find when looking into the methods of the most famous/talented authors. The best writers are prolific. Authors such as Orson Scott Card, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, Stephen King, and Anne Rice would not have been famous if they had spent ten years perfecting a single story. They played the odds.

The more books an author publishers, the more readers an author reaches. Some books won't be as good as others, but an author who writes that much is probably going to have a hard time writing bad prose consistently. An author may have a bad book here and there, but after writing millions of words, most authors will have improved enough, and hit on enough good story ideas, to be accepted by readers.

Less, in this case, is not more. More is more. That's the type of author I envision myself as. In forty years I want to have written sixty novels. If I do I know two things will likely happen (though they are not certain). 1) I'll have spent my life doing what I love and 2) I'll likely have made a living at it.

Authors like Stephen King and Anne Rice aren't going to write forever. Ray Bradbury is probably going to be dead within the next five years. Harlan Ellison will continue to sue people for stealing his ideas. The next generation of story tellers must be there to fill the void. In my generation there are going to be some great writers—there already are

I'm not saying I'll be one of them, but I'm not afraid to aim high and risk banging my knees if I fall short.

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The Guitar and The Dude Who Plays It

Today I'm going to talk about my guitar.

I started playing guitar eight years ago. In one of those expressions of the moment teenagers are prone to, I bought a Peavey Raptor, and an amp. I've always been attracted to music, and love listening to Hard Rock, but I had no idea what I was doing with my guitar. I was so ignorant that when I changed the strings for the first time (remember, this was before Youtube), I ended up removing the screws from the bridge. Embarrassing, but it taught me a great deal about patience and doing things right the first time.

I got the guitar fixed, and excitedly took a lackadaisical path to success. I didn't put much time into playing, and certainly didn't learn very fast. I couldn't figure out how to work my amp and it was always too loud or too quiet to get the sound I wanted. I started with Sweet Child o' Mine instead of Smoke on the Water

When I bought an acoustic Ibanez, it wasn't much different. A change in guitar was not a change in the musician. I hit the same walls, struggled to understand the same music, was wholly unsatisfied with myself and both guitars spent more time in my closet than in my hands.

Last year I sold my guitars to a friend, and went several months without playing until, last spring, I got that itch again. I needed a new guitar. I wanted to play.

My friend (same friend) and I returned to the exact guitar store where eight years earlier I had bought my Raptor. It was like returning to the scene of a crime. Yet this time I was in store for much more than I expected. I found the best acoustic guitar in the world. The perfect musical instrument.

Now, when I say “the perfect guitar”, what I mean is that this guitar sounds the best to my ears. Guitars are completely, 100%, subjective. They all sound different to me, and they all sound different to everyone else. You will not likely find two guitars made from the same company, from the same tree, that sound exactly alike, nor will two people listen to the same guitar and hear the exact same sound. And then you can change strings, the action, nuts, bridges, and pins and get a totally new sound out of one guitar.

This guitar happens to be a “Great Divide”. It only cost me 240 dollars.

I played 1,000 dollar guitars that day, and I listened to my friend play a 3,500 dollar Martin (was a little scared to touch that one...). None of them sounded as good as my guitar. None of them looked as good. It has a very dark, tobacco-tar color. And its cedar top makes it a very dark, melodic instrument. I imagine it's meant to play Pink Floyd tunes, in a room whose only light is a small fire. Edgar Allen Poe would have dug this guitar.

It wasn't until I returned home and began playing that I noticed something different. The guitar was different, to be sure, but for the first time the musician was different too.

Perhaps it was the time away from playing, or that I was practicing for an hour or two a day, every day, or just that I was older and wiser, but I was having a real epiphany about music. I was playing with a completely new perspective. Tablature made sense to me like never before. I could feel the music as well as see it, and it all just made perfect sense. It clicked together, finally, like two well-fitting gears. Or two perfectly well struck notes.

It was actually quite similar to how writing finally came together for me. It was all of a sudden. I could see a story in its entirety and understood how each character should fit into it

Life changing. Now it's fun. Now I no longer struggle with the basics, stumbling from the gate like some stupid horse with its legs caught together.

I can just play and enjoy myself. It was well worth all the mistakes.

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Writing and Not Writing

I want to make it very clear to anyone who may question it that I do not consider myself a writer. I mean, though writing is what I do and I hope to some day make a living doing what I love (and I do not think I really have a choice in the matter as it is a passion and a very deep one at that), and that I may accept the label of author for professional orientation, I do not identify with writing. I do not want to identify with it. I've even gone so far as to create a fictitious name to further separate me from who I am.

For better or worse.

Writing is something I do. It's something I'm driven to do. I love language and I love reading and I love writing. I really love meeting people who love these things. And yet there's a whole world out there at my finger tips. Many things interest me. I play guitar, I study philosophy, and I run, but I do not consider myself a guitarist, a philosopher, or an athlete. I am just me.

I don't use art to hold up life. Life breeds art, not the other way around. I will put my pen down and live just as quickly as I would turn the TV off and live. Life is out there, it's not in our hobbies. Our hobbies are really good at protecting us from some of the awful things life can dish out, but I never, ever, in a million years, want to hide in something I do as a way to escape something I don't want to do.

So I distance myself. I don't identify, and I don't allow myself to identify. Maybe I trust too deeply in my own psycho-babble, and none of this matters, but I think it does and I think it's important to say it. I think to identify with writing as “who I am” is to risk putting off the rest of the world. “Why should I do this or that? I'm a writer!”

I am the uncut block the Taoist sages spoke of. I have not yet taken shape, so I contain all the potential in the world. If I began to identify myself with specific things, I would stop growing. I would cut myself down to whatever size the idea I identified myself with required me to be.

I have yet to set the controls for the heart of the sun, so I may remain to see the stars.

~~~

Writing can be, and often is, one of the most enjoyable things I've ever experienced in my life. The “ah-ha” moments when a scene comes together, when I close a plot-hole, when I connect one part of my story to another, when a character suddenly says, through my fingers typing on my keyboard, something that makes the entire story make sense and come alive. It's like being born—I imagine.

A writer must have some level of egotism to want to share his/her words with others. This is hardly a bad thing. There are millions of readers who want writers to share their work with them. I'm one such reader. What if Stephen King had said to himself “No, I don't think I'll share this. I don't want to come across so egotistical as to think someone else would want to read it.”

If there was one law of story telling (or writing in general), it would be this: If you write it, you must share it. There's only one exception. Your personal journal. And if you do not want that to be shared, you should burn it, because we all know when you die your grandchildren will dig it out of the cardboard box in the attic and publish it.

This, of course, has nothing to do with me not wanting to identify with being a writer. Which makes this a very poorly written blog post.



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Why I Dig E-Publishing

I'm just bumming around today and decided to fix this post up and share it with you. I can't possibly get all my feelings on publishing down here, and I don't think I need to. And though the topic is almost a cliché, it'll still be interesting to see if, in a few years, I feel the same.

I'm not bitter toward the big publishers. I was never rejected by them, I've never even tried to get through their doors. I just don't think we'd have a good relationship, if you know what I mean.

My personality doesn't take well to pressure. Deadlines, editors, sales; they don't fit me. I'd burn out. E-publishing allows me to write at my own pace, and because I am not accountable to anyone but myself and the reader, I can take a more casual approach and just relax. I'll get the work done. I certainly don't feel like I have to help support a billion dollar industry.

If I tried to publish the traditional route, it would take me years, and still offer no guarantee of success. It doesn't matter how good I think I am. I'm fairly confident in my writing ability, but I don't think I'm lucky enough to get my foot in the door. Luck plays a huge role in traditional publishing, even if it's just having the luck to know the right people, or to come up with a just-clever-enough query letter.

There is luck in e-publishing as well, but it's a different kind of luck. It's a luck I feel I have more control over. I think it's easier to get word of mouth going on the internet than it is to convince a random editor or agent to buy my story. And then, even having gone through the process of traditional publishing, I still have to do all the work I'd have to do in e-publishing. I'll have to edit my manuscript before I send it to an agent or publisher, and I'll have to market the book mostly by myself after it's published.

I'll be under a deadline, not to edit, but to sell. In six months or a year, if my book hasn't sold enough copies to justify its shelf space, my publisher will yank it from the market. My timescale isn't six months. It's twenty+ years. I can wait for readers, but I'm not going to wait for a publisher.

A publisher can get me into bookstores, but at a cost. Books today aren't cheap. I usually don't buy new books because of their high cost. It's more convenient for me to purchase used books, or simply go to the library, so I quickly warmed up to the idea of selling an e-book for 2.99. It's a huge benefit to readers, especially as e-reading grows in popularity. It's something I want to be a part of.

With traditional publishing, much can happen in my life, in the world, and in publishing in the two or three, or more, years it would take my book to hit the market. I could miss reading trends, and much more. I want to be there when change happens, and not sit sidelined as I wait for my book to come out. I like the idea of adjusting midstream when a new technology becomes available. I can't do that if my book is in limbo with a publisher.

E-publishing allows me the freedom I desire. It offers flexibility to do something different, when and how I want. I can listen to readers, and write for them, and for myself—instead of writing for an editor. I want to give readers the best stories I can write, and I'm excited to have the opportunity to gain experience, meet new people, and push myself beyond my comfort zones.

I kind of like the “outsider” label that e-publishing has right now. I enjoy defending it against people who think it's a fad or that self published writers are amateurs. I'm not too impressed by traditional publishing. I'll take 80% royalties over 8% royalties. I like the idea of not having to sign a contract, not having to have an agent and a lawyer, not having to sell my creative soul just so people can see what I write. If a big publisher came to me right now with a million dollar book deal, I don't think I'd take it. I'd be tempted, who wouldn't be? But the contract would just be too much for someone who likes to go his own way in almost everything he does. I like to work outside of systems, and e-publishing is just that.

I'm not afraid to make mistakes, and get my hands dirty in the process. In fact, I'm looking forward to doing just that. I realize that to get my hands dirty means I'll make mistakes, but if I'm not making mistakes then I'm not growing—and I'm certainly not publishing. Mistakes I can fix. I can't fix a missed opportunity.


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