Archive for April 2012

Rest Cures All


I have, several times in my life, worked myself right into a nervous breakdown. My vacations are usually the kind that last for months and are a result of burnout. Looking back, I realize that if I had just taken a week's vacation every few months, I would have been fine. 

No one ever told me to rest. All I ever heard growing up was “work harder!” Hard workers get ahead. No one ever explained to me that the hare stopped to nap, not because he was lazy, but because he had started off too fast and wore himself out.

I'm the same way with writing. I'll push myself to the very end and happily jump off the ledge. Then I suffer through a month or two (or more) of writer's block, unable, even then, to step away and rest.

Thankfully, last week, I listened to intuition for once. I took four and a half days off from writing. I didn't do anything. No writing, no networking, no editing, no thinking, plotting, or anything else.

On Monday I was back to normal after flirting dangerously with burnout. I was able to recharge my batteries and get going, with a little added perspective on things. It's nice to see the forest for the trees again.

Americans are workaholics. We're quite different from people in the rest of the world. Not that there aren't workaholics in Asia or Europe, but their cultures are different. In Europe workers often get six to seven weeks of paid vacation. Six weeks of vacation—you'd think it was a sin. I've heard Americans rant on Europe's very liberal vacation time. There are 365 days in a year. Italians get 42 days paid vacation. Americans get 16. (I got 5 at my last job.) Some say they're lazy. I say we're stupid.

Americans have bought into the idea that working our fingers to the bone is virtuous. We think productivity comes from long hours. Forget that Europeans are, generally, happier people than Americans are. We get more work done! After all, that's our purpose, right?

We've confused working long hours with working hard. They're far from the same. Virtue isn't working a 60 hour week, it's getting the same amount of work done in half the time. Virtue is working smarter, not harder.

In my own experience, rest is more important than work. It's impossible for me to work day after day, sometimes six days a week, sometimes skipping days off entirely. I do serious harm to my body, but I'm not the only one. A lot of people sacrifice productivity for time spent on the job. I've always been more productive working part time than full time. I've always been more productive on a Monday morning following a long weekend, than on a Friday after a fourteen day stretch. I've always hit the point where, after working too much, I just don't give a damn about anything anymore.

The time on the punch-card doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't say how much work was really done. For me, it's always been the case that the more hours being logged, the less work is being done. Always.

Will times ever change? Will Americans ever sit back and appreciate what they have, instead of trying to get more? When will we finally realize that less is more?

I ask these questions because sometimes I don't know when to stop.

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An Update and Nonfiction


On Friday the thirteenth I was lucky enough to be showcased on two different blogs. One for an interview, and the other for a guest post. I'm open to doing more guest posts, and more interviews.

I'm also open to doing more writing in general, and I have three stories I want to finish (not even counting the second installment of The Czar Chronicles: Sacrifice), and I have three nonfiction concepts I've been kicking around, one of which I've almost completed a rough draft of.

So I've decided to step away from social media for a little bit. Sales of “Rising” have been slow, and so I'm obviously not making good on what time I've been spending on Facebook and Google+. I'm not complaining, I'm stating a fact.

I can stay online and stress myself out, worrying about not selling my book quickly enough (and who can really judge that?), or I can go offline and write more stories and publish more books, which will likely help me more than anything else will.

This is the natural ebb and flow of things. After I published “Rising,” I had a letdown, and it's taken me a few weeks to really get back into writing. That I've accomplished anything in that time, and have had some decent ideas, is a miracle. I could have served myself better by taking the past three weeks off. Yet here I am, writing away, and finally beginning to have fun with it again.

~*~

And here's something to think about. Since I've been writing nonfiction, I wrote down four things that strike me as “odd.”

1) Writing nonfiction is like writing a really long blog post.

2) I'm sure much of what I'm saying has been said by others before, and I'm going to have to research this and back it up with quotes and studies.

3) I'm way too intuitive when I write. Study first, write second is completely alien to me.

4) It better be accurate, even if it's debatable, because "it takes place in another world" doesn't work with philosophy.

Nonfiction is obviously something I haven't had much practice with. Most of the 1.5 million plus words I've written in my life have been fiction. My method is messed up. Usually research is done before, not after, a book is written. I'm basically using my fiction writing strategy (intuition) to write nonfiction.

To make matters worse, I'm lacking the one thing that often automatically makes any nonfiction book legitimate: A degree—in anything.

I could really use a philosophy degree right now, since that is what I tend to write (unless they have a degree in inspiration). And yet part of me just doesn't care. I'm writing a lot about my own experiences, and filtering what I've seen through those experiences into the books I'm writing. I'm fine with that.

I'm also excited by the challenge that nonfiction presents. In order to do things “right” I'm going to have to put much more of myself into the work. I must be more careful and more accurate, and though each book will be far shorter than any novel I'll write, each will likely require far more rewriting so I can get out exactly what I want to say, exactly how I want to say it.

In that sense, nonfiction has a more exact purpose than stories do. It makes nonfiction both easier and more difficult, at the same time.

And until my passion for fiction returns (I really burned myself out with all the editing I did), I will make the best of the nonfiction I can produce. It's excellent to be able to switch from one to the other like I've done. Equally so that I've always dreamed of writing both.

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W. Axl Rose Decks the Hall

I have a confession to make. I'm a fan of William Bruce Rose Jr., otherwise known as W. Axl Rose. I don't think anyone uses the W. anymore.

Axl is in the news again, this time for snubbing the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame. Except it really wasn't that much of a snub. For some of the crazy things he's done in his life, and some of the things he's been accused of doing, this is not what one would expect from Axl. It's obvious why he's not going. He doesn't want to hang out with Slash. He mentions everyone from the band in his open letter to the Rock Hall but for Slash.

Slash aside, reading Axl's open letter, I was reminded of why I love him. He has a way with words that is rare, witty, and sometimes dangerous but always truthful, or, if you will, real.

You can read it in his songs, in his press releases, and hear it in his voice. His language skills are amazing, and as a writer, I think this is something that has endeared me to him. I overlook his bad behavior, his abusive tendencies, praise his remarks to Kurt Cobain and to really anyone else who got in his way.

I like and enjoy Axl for many of the reasons most people can't stand him. But before I get too far off the beaten track and turn this blog post into a "I heart you Axl" love fest, I want to address one thing.

Axl went through a lot of shit in his life. He was sexually abused growing up. He wasn't told his step father was his step father until he was seventeen years old. His real father was murdered around 1982. He spent his early days in Hollywood in roach infested hotel rooms, writing lyrics on used pizza boxes.

He was the first member of Guns N Roses to clean himself up. He was a drug user and an alcoholic throughout the 1980s, like the rest of the band. Steven Adler was kicked out of the band because he had a stroke from his drug use and could no longer perform as drummer. He still slurs his words today.

Axl quit drugs. He was by far the most lucid one in the band, at least up until 1992 when things started falling apart, when Izzy left, when Duff and Slash were forced to clean up their acts because of medical problems, and Axl started to tip off the face of the Earth because of his haunted past.

Axl couldn't handle himself. He couldn't handle the things that had happened to him in his life. He was 25 years old when Appetite for Destruction debuted. He was my age. 25 years later, I'm not sure if he's on the right track or not. He's still doing what he loves, and doing a good job at it as far as I'm concerned, but back in 1987 he was someone who needed psychotherapy, not a best-selling album.

Axl Rose is a survivor. The truth about survivors is that they (we?) never make it beautiful. It's never graceful. Few are as famous as he is, but he's not alone standing high above the rest of us on the mountain of success. There are too many musicians, authors, and actors who grew up in less than desired conditions.

People hate him for the way he acts, but I can only relate to him. To his public persona, to what little is known of his private life, and most importantly to the lyrics in his songs. I can still remember being 13 years old and listening to Use Your Illusions and lighting up at the song Don't Damn Me. It was the first song in my life that I ever remember relating to, understanding the feelings behind the lyrics. As I grew older I found that I could relate to many other Axl Rose Specials.

Haters will hate, as they say. Me, I'm just gonna have a good laugh and sit back and listen to the music. That's what I care about. Not the Hall of Fame. Not peoples' opinions of a great vocalist and lyricist. There's a lot of hate in this world. Too much for me. I have no interest in adding more.

Axl Rose is one of the people in my life who have encouraged me to leave the bull shit behind. For as much as I'm a fan, when I look at him, I see the one person I do not want to become. I don't want to let my illusions turn me into a pyroclastic asshole.

Even then I respect and appreciate Axl. I admire him for his talent. I hope to be even half the wordsmith that he is. I hope to avoid the pitfalls of life that he has fallen into.

~*~

You can read Axl's open letter here: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/music_blog/2012/04/axl-rose-pens-open-letter-to-rock-hall-will-not-attend-asks-to-not-be-inducted.html

I had posted it, but decided in my best interest not to risk the Times noticing.



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Psychology of Reading


To me storytelling goes deeper into the psychology of “character” than real life can, because real life develops too slowly for us to sit back and see it all unfold in one sitting. A well-written story is always going to be profound in some way because it captures a life and shows us what it contains.


I feel it's very important to understand psychology, to understand what makes people tick and why they do the things they do and feel as they do. Story has shined a light on aspects of human nature not readily available elsewhere.

Because, as I read, I've always been shining that light on myself.

Story lets me see how a human being reacts to life, and how those reactions eventually change who they are and what is happening to them. Real people have little perspective on their own lives, and it's often easier to understand what is happening to others than to understand what is happening to ourselves.

Real life is like standing inches from a stone wall, and not being able to tell that it's part of a mountain five miles high. What story offers us is a chance to get out from under the shadow of the mountain, to travel ten miles away, and see how the mountain looks in its entirety.

Reading a story is like seeing someone's life unfold in a single week (the time it takes to read a book). Whether it's fiction or biography, we have an opportunity to understand another life.

No matter how exotic a story may be, the emotions each character has is being fed by the real emotions and experiences of the author. The best books contain characters readers can relate to, because they can share the rich joy, sadness, anger or fear of the character as she reacts to plot.

This is why writing is so important. This is why reading is so important.

Writers and readers take on the same thing at different ends, but they meet in the middle, where they are able to dance with psychology and understand a little better why the world is the way it is. It's this that attracts me to writing, more than anything else. I want to help people express their real need to understand life.

Their real need to find joy, and to experience their “negative” emotions in a way that can't hurt them. Stories let us feel afraid and feel hurt and angry, but in a way that is safer than experiencing these feelings in real life. Because it's happening to someone else, someone not real, someone who can't be hurt by what happens, we're allowed to freely express what we feel without being subjected to guilt.

We're taught from an early age not to be afraid, not to cry, not to laugh too loudly, not to take risks. It's therapy to read books that scare us, make us cry, snort with laughter, or take risks right along with the characters we're scared, sad, or happy for.

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“Rising” Excerpt


Rising is cheaper than:

A cup of coffee
A gallon of milk
A gallon of gas
A movie
A Stephen King novel
Dinner
A speeding ticket
A doctor's appointment
Children
Flying me to your house for a visit

Is this an appropriate marketing strategy? I don't know. How about letting “Rising” market itself?

This is one of the shortest chapters in the novel, a flashback scene to one of Zen's first memories, though of course it's not written as a memory. Scenes like this are difficult to do well, so it's a risky proposition using this one. I hope I did it well.

Excerpt of “Rising”:

Chapter 3
Ten Years Ago

The room was dim, lighted only by candles so that the air was a misty glow of hazy smoke.

Thomas Mar sat at the table in the middle of the cellar and watched the glassy-eyed child in the corner. The boy sat with his legs crossed, his back against the wall. Shelving, a hammer, and box of nails lay against the wall next to the boy. Across the table from Tom lay a jar of ink and a quill.

The child didn’t notice as Tom flipped through the pages of the book in his hands. A thin book, but powerful.

The cover contained a single word.

Sornac.

Tom lay the Sornac on the table and opened the ordinary spell book to his right. It was far thicker and more decayed than the Sornac, but the spell book was not nearly as old—though many lifetimes older than Tom.

He thumbed through the pages, searching for a familiar spell. He found it in the middle of the giant tome but hesitated. There was no way to undo the spell once he activated it. And there was another risk. An even greater one. Using this spell could very well destroy the Sornac, if it could be destroyed. The spell was not meant for books, but for other objects, less fragile than paper.

Was it worth desecrating this masterpiece of magic?

(of evil)

If he could not at least hide it, Tom knew he must destroy it. It could never fall into the wrong hands.

Don’t go anywhere, Zen.” The boy didn’t respond. “I must give this my full attention.”

I’ve crossed the line this time, he thought. There’s no going back, but if I’m lucky I can go forward.

Tom dipped the quill in the jar of ink and copied the symbol from the spell book onto the Sornac’s cover. He took his time, under candlelight, not daring to make a mistake.

When he was finished he stared down at the image of a pentagram. Surrounding each of the five points was a single small circle meant to signify locks, or barriers. In the middle of the pentagram was another shape, this of a pentagon, and inside it was an unrecognizable symbol, unknown to the world. It was the remnant of a long-abandoned tongue.

Tom read the rest of the spell aloud, his left hand lightly pressed upon the Sornac’s wet cover. His hand would smear the symbol, but this would not interrupt the spell.

Razing
Erecting
Weakening
Strengthening
Deadening
Echoing
Only time will reveal
What was once plain to see

Other words Tom spoke in a strange, eerie language, using familiar letters organized in odd patterns. He spoke slowly, working carefully to pronounce the words with precision, though he did not know what they meant.

He finished and lifted his hand. The drawn symbol was gone, as was the title. He opened the book and skimmed through it. The pages were there, but the ink was now invisible. Nothing could unlock the book’s secrets except for time itself.

Thirteen years would pass before the pages would be visible again. He had thirteen years to find a better spell, or to find a way to destroy the book, but part of him knew this was impossible. Even if there was a way, he would not use it. He could hide the book again, but he also knew this method was not sure enough.

Much could happen in thirteen long years. He could lose the book, or die. It was a dangerous thing to toy with fate, the future, time. But at least the book would be safe. At least for a little while longer.

I’m not doing this for me, Tom thought. I’m doing this for the entire world. I hope they can appreciate the risk I’m taking for them.

He took the Sornac to the only finished shelf, placing it where no one would expect to find it. He put it between its opposites. A book of healing and a book of life. They were both thin books, gray, matching the black Sornac. Tom envisioned this room full of magical tomes. He craved more secrets, and would some day have a library to rival a witch’s.

For now he had more pressing matters. Even more pressing than the Sornac, or protecting his own life. He turned around. Zen had not moved against the wall.

Tom only had a few minutes before the moon would rise and Zen would wake from his state of lifelessness.

Is there anything you want from me, Zen?”

The boy looked at Tom for the first time in days. Tom took him in his arms and carried him to the corner of the cellar where a door stood. Tom had built it to separate what had once been a small storeroom from the rest of the cellar. Now it lead into a secret chamber. In time the door would be covered by shelving, and books, and no one would know it was there except for the two of them. It would serve its purpose as a barrier for tonight.

Tom carried the child down the few steps, into the dark room below. It was a small, square room two body-lengths long and wide. The walls were thick, but old, having been built when the city was young. The room would have to remain dark. Tom didn’t trust leaving a candle here. In the darkness he undressed the child so his clothes would not be ruined.

Don’t be afraid. I will never let anyone hurt you.” Tom kissed him on the head, feeling the boy’s long brown hair against his lips. Zen’s green eyes reflected like iron coals, absorbing what little light entered through the opening. Tom exited the room, clothes in hand, and closed the heavy door, locking it with a key of his own design.

Goodnight, son.”

Tom went upstairs, leaving the cellar. It would be a long night for them both. Neither of them would sleep.

~*~

The moon peaked above desert sands, reflecting silver onto the gold ground. A monster was born in the darkness. It howled, though no one could hear it. It beat against the stones, though no one could feel it.

No one except the creature living in the city’s sewer, a sewer far older than the city itself. Outback had been burned by fire and rebuilt by a new generation, destroyed by war and rebuilt again atop its ancient foundations. Few had entered the startling black passageways, and fewer still new of their design.

In the room, safely tucked away from the world, a young boy cringed in pain as he transformed from human to beast.

From the first sound the newly transformed beast made, the creature listened. She lifted her head and stared into the darkness, but for her the darkness was like day.

The agonizing screams did not dissipate. She stood up, and though she was not sure of the location, was well aware of the direction. She walked along narrow passages cut off by streams of waste. The beast howled, and the creature drew closer until she came to the wall separating them.

On the other side Zen finally grew calm, aware of her scent. She put her ear against the wall. Zen placed a paw against the wall and dragged his claws downward, displacing the ancient mortar and sun-baked brick.

Given enough time he would eventually break through, but tonight his errand was cut short as the moon vanished into the west and his power faded. In the morning Tom Mar came to the room to find the naked child fast asleep. He had brought new clothes and he woke Zen to dress him.

In the candlelight Zen spoke.

Where am I?”

You’re home.”

But...”

Don’t you remember anything?” Tom asked, his voice filled with sympathy.

Zen shook his head. He pulled his pants up, buttoning them, and swept his hair from his eyes with the fingers of both hands. He looked at Tom as if for the first time. “Are you my father?”

Tom nodded. “I think there’s much to learn, Zen.”

What about?”

Earth.”

Zen followed Tom from the room, eyes searching the unfinished walls. There was much to be done here. He walked ahead of Tom up the stairs and could hear Tom’s heavy footsteps behind him.

The shop looked as empty as the cellar, but it was not the same. It was much larger, and it was bright. On the shop ceiling were several rows of electric lights. There were a few stacks of books on a table near the front of a large-paned window, and a front door stood on the corner adjacent a staircase.

Zen knew this was supposed to be both a store and home, but it was empty of everything that made either. He didn’t care. Something stirred a memory of rain. He would never have to sleep in the rain again.

In a week I’m going to open my new shop, Zen, and I need a helpful young man to employ. Are you he?”

Zen smiled, his face lighting up and he choked on his first response.

Slow down, now. Speak slowly when you get excited.”

This will be fun!”

Tom wondered if the boy remembered anything of his past life, or if his feelings were rising from some deep subconscious mind-chamber. In the child’s poverty, he certainly wouldn’t have been rewarded like this, and his energized body language showed his deeper emotion. This would be a game to him, to serve customers, run errands, sell books. Zen’s excitement was intense, and Tom wondered if the boy would always be like this, if the excitement would never fade.

He hoped it would not, that Zen would be different than the others.

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Ebook Pricing, "Rising"


I must tell the truth and admit I stressed out a little over the pricing of “Rising”. I finally decided to go with $2.99, but not before reading dozens of opinions and formulating my own decision on the matter, based on what I felt were my only other options.

$2.99 versus 99 cents or $3.99.

Pricing is far from a science. As far as I know there is no “data.” It is, much like writing, an art. It may not even matter, for a well-written book and the right amount of luck and viral marketing may make any reasonable price irrelevant.

Enter my own logic on the matter. When I chose my price, I wanted something in the middle. Something that would be valuable to me and to still reach readers.

On one side is “value.” On the other is “market penetration.”

It's difficult to have both. It's a balancing act between how much an author makes from sales (the value of the book), and the ability to sell to as many readers as possible. If the book is too expensive, each sale will get a nice fat royalty, but fewer readers will purchase it. If the book is cheap enough, more readers will read, but the author will make less money.

Selling 1,000 copies at $2.99, an author would make $2,100 after royalties (an estimate)
1,000 @ 3.99 = $2,800.
1,000 @ 99 cents = $350.

Enter reality. If an author sold 1,000 copies at $2.99, she would likely sell many more at 99 cents and far fewer at $3.99. Reality would look something like this:

1,000 @ $2.99 = $2,100.
500 @ $3.99 = $1,400.
4,000 @ 99 cents = $1,400

You can adjust the sales however you want, but to match $2.99, 99 cents would have to sell 6,000 copies, and $3.99 would have to sell 750 copies.

Many people take value to mean only what we can get from one book. In this case it would make more sense to sell one copy for $100,000, but that is not reality. Value is really what an author can get for all of his sales, not just from one, for books are not singularities. A book is a copy of its original. I am not selling my rights to “Rising”, just a copy. Because of this, we must take into consideration what the reader is getting as well. It's not much. Just the opportunity to read a story.

If the price is too high, value becomes a mirage. An author may make $70,000 on an ebook priced at $100,000, but who will buy it? He'd have made more money by selling many copies at 99 cents, and more readers would have enjoyed his product.

Yet the problem with 99 cent books is that to make more money overall, the author must sell in bulk. Not 1,000 copies. Not 10,000 copies, but tens of thousands of copies. This is the purpose of 99 cent ebooks, to discount to sell more—much more. If I thought I could reach 50,000 readers in the next year, I would price my book accordingly.

There is no guarantee that people will buy my book just because it's 99 cents. 99 cents may be a great price for a week or two, or the price of the first novel in a series after the other books have been published, but it's not valuable for one book. My blog and social networks may be a better marketing tool, and may sell more copies of “Rising” than a 99 cent price point would.

$3.99 is a bit of the opposite. Personally, I would hesitate to buy an ebook at $3.99. I would have to know the author well and trust him/her, have read some really amazing reviews on it, need it for some reason (nonfiction), or want to read it because everyone else is (if they're making a movie about it).

Yet I have the same concern for $3.99 as I had for 99 cents, though for a different reason. It's no longer a matter of reaching many people, but getting a few people to pay more. I like my chances getting many people to buy something for next to nothing better than getting them to purchase the same thing for more.

And in the end it seems like a ripoff for the reader to have to pay more. I don't want to charge more for my stories. It's one of the reasons I want to be an independent author. I need something in the middle, something that is both fair to me and to readers.

$2.99 is a win/win. It's the lowest I can go and still collect the 70% royalty from Amazon, and it's low enough that readers won't find it expensive. I'll still have a difficult time selling it, but not because of the price—simply because it's difficult for fledgling authors to get a toehold in the market.

$2.99 is the porridge not too hot and not too cold. It's high enough to give me value, and low enough to still be valuable to readers.

~*~

You can purchase your own copy of “Rising” from Amazon or Smashwords.

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