Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Wordcount Wednesday

Well, I've finished my first pass through Hive, my pregnant teenage cyborg book. When I finished the first draft, it clocked in at 85,504 words. Now, though, it's at 81,976 words. So I was able to trim it down a little, jettison some unnecessary stuff and reshuffle some scenes. I don't think it's quite done yet (obviously) but I'm ready to show it to a select few people. We'll see what happens.

In the meantime, I'll be starting the pre-writing for a new book. More details to come on that, I promise.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tip Tagged Tuesday

Rather than give you guys another tip, I'm taking a break (like I suggested last week). Instead, I've been tagged by Fred Warren in some sort of blog-hopping question thing. Here are the rules:

The Tag rules: 1. You must post the rules! 2. Answer the questions and then create eleven new questions to ask the people you’ve tagged. 3. Tag seven (because it’s a magical number) people and link to them. 4. Let them know you’ve tagged them.
So here we go. The eleven questions that Fred asked me:

1. Ginger, or Mary Ann? (For the ladies: Archie, or Jughead?)
Ginger, although when I told my wife my answer, she was surprised. I have no idea why. But if I have to choose, I'd pick Ginger.

2. Justify your existence in fifty words or less.
I am a baptized child of God. There. I did it in five words.

3. Name your favorite Doctor.
The holographic one. Wait, we're not talking about Star Trek, are we? I've never watched Doctor Who.
4. Share one item from your bucket list.

Take special trips with my sons. A few years ago, my wife and I were in Australia and we met a father and son duo who had been taking special vacations together for years. Their goal was to hit every continent. While I'm not that ambitious, I'd like to at least take one trip with each of my boys, just the two of us.
5. If your writing was a dessert, what sort of dessert would it be?

I have no idea. A good one?

6. State your position on extraterrestrial life, sasquatch, or Atlantis. Your choice.
My position on extraterrestrial life is this: there's nothing in Scripture that precludes alien life and the universe is a vast place. There could easily be alien life out there. As for Bigfoot and Atlantis, no way.

7. Name an author you simultaneously admire and detest. If you can provide a rationale, so much the better.
Dan Brown. I admire the fact that he somehow managed to sneak onto the bestseller list. I detest him because his craft is weak and his "research" is non-existent.

8. What most inspires you to write?
My wife. At least, that's what she tells me. In reality, it's because a story will take up residence in my brain and won't get out. Plus, I've always wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember.

9. Name the entree of your last restaurant meal.
Fast food or otherwise? If not fast food, then a dozen mild Buffalo wings and a regular order of "Buffalo Chips." Not that kind. Gross.

10. Offer a memorable quote from one of your novels, short stories, essays, or blog posts.
Boy, that's a tough question.  What's memorable for me won't necessarily be one for readers. And nothing is leaping immediately to mind. Sorry.

11. What’s the next book on your “to read” list?
Cinder by Marissa Meyer.

Okay, so now I'm supposed to pick . . . seven other bloggers? Really? No way. Instead, I'm going to do like Fred and only pick three: Jill Williamson, Christian Miles, and Jacob Parker.

And eleven more questions? My goodness. Let's see here:

1) What is your name?
2) What is your quest?
3) What is your favorite color?
4) What one writer would you want to "sit at the feet of," either living or dead?
5) What unusual writing habits have you developed over your career?
6) Star Wars or Star Trek?
7) If you could include on fictional character you didn't create in a story, who would it be and why?
8) What was the last book that you read simply for enjoyment?
9) Who is your favorite musician?
10)  What's the next movie you're looking forward to seeing/
11) Be honest: did you recognize the first three questions?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Failstate: Living Legends

This past weekend, I uploaded the first book trailer for "Failstate." Hope you enjoy it (and if you did, please consider sharing it with your friends to help get the word out!).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Take a Break!

So you've been writing consistently, you've been careful not to back-edit, and you've made it all the way through your first draft. Now what?

Now . . . take a break.

I know the temptation is to dive right into rewrites and edits. You want to keep going. Inertia, right?

Only here's the thing: once you're done writing your story, you're going to be on something of a high (I know, I've been there). Or a low (I know, I've been there). Or both (I know, I . . . oh, never mind). To put it bluntly, you're going to be convinced that you created the greatest literary feat ever. Or the worst. Or both at the same time. Going into your story in that state of mind is counterproductive. You'll make mistakes. You'll miss things.

It's helpful to gain some emotional distance from your story. That way, when you start working on it again, you'll have fresh eyes. You won't be sucked in by your own genius or lack thereof.

This is definitely something that I both preach and practice. After I'm done with a new book, I put it on the shelf for at least a month, sometimes longer. That way, when I come back to it, I can more easily recognize the good stuff and axe the bad stuff.

So when you're done, take a break from that project. Work on editing an old one. Do research for a new one. But take a break. Your writing will benefit from it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Battle of the Action Figures

If only it were a fair fight . . .

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

Jacob's grandfather always told him some pretty fantastical tales, stories about a home he stayed in during World War II. All of the children had peculiar talents, like the super-strong boy, the boy with bees inside of him, and so on. And when Jacob was young, he believed his grandfather, especially since there was photographic evidence. But as Jacob grew older, he realized that the stories his grandfather was telling were made up. Fairy tales, if you will. There was no big house of peculiar children. There weren't any monsters prowling in the shadows for them. By the time he was sixteen, Jacob had left those silly tales behind him.

Until the night his grandfather died. Everyone said it had to be an animal attack, except Jacob knows he saw a monster attack his grandfather, one out of the stories he used to tell. And his grandfather's last words are strange enough to make Jacob wonder if those stories might not be true after all.

And so Jacob finds himself on a quest to find out the truth about Miss Peregrine and her collection of peculiar children, an adventure that takes him halfway around the world, through time, and will ultimately reveal who he really is.

I had heard some really positive buzz about this book when it was first published. Every time I went to the bookstore, I saw it on the shelves. Using some leftover giftcards from Christmas, I decided to pick up a copy and see what the hype was all about. Part of me is still wondering.

Don't get me wrong, the concept is kind of cool (although a bit reminiscent of the X-Men, truth be told). And the photographs, which author Ransom Riggs claims are original and (mostly) not retouched are pretty cool. They made me wonder what the true story behind some of them were. Jake, the main character, is likeable enough and I was definitely rooting for him.

But as for the rest of it . . . I don't know. I can't quite put my finger on it. The story is deftly told. The craft seems fairly strong. I just got a feeling that this story was supposed to be more . . . significant, I guess. It was an okay read, certainly interesting in its own right.

Riggs left himself open for a possible sequel, but I'm thinking this is where I get off. Not a bad book, but not a new favorite either.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tip Tuesday: Make a Mess!

If you were paying attention last week, you'll remember that I said you should never back edit. If you make big changes to your story halfway through, just keep going. Don't go back and fix things. Instead, keep notes of your changes and fix them on your first edit.

Now some of you might object to that idea, thinking, "Wouldn't that result in a big mess?"

Of course it will. That's the point of a first draft. It's supposed to be a mess. It's supposed to be rough around the edges. It's supposed to be garbage.

The reason why is because of something that I think is a hard-and-fast rule when it comes to writing: Your first draft is between you and God! Never show your first draft to anyone, ever. Not your friends, not your family, not your critique partners, definitely not an agent or editor (unless they've specifically asked to see it). Once your first draft is done, you've got a long way to go before its ready for public consumption. So if your first draft is a mess, who cares? You're the only one who will see it.

It's not just major changes that I'm talking about here. Your first draft is the space where you can be forgetful. For example, in my current work-in-progress, Hive, I forgot a character's name halfway through the book. It wasn't a big deal; she's a background character who has maybe half a dozen lines at most. So whenever I needed her name, I just threw in a line of Xs as a placeholder. I did the same thing with a location name. The Xs were my signal to myself to find the right word for that space.

Perhaps another example will help, this one from my soon-to-be-published book, Failstate. When I first started writing, there were three pivotal scenes I knew I had to include. To avoid giving spoilers, I'll refer to them thusly: Bringing It Home, The Big Reveal, and The Last Hurrah.

When I was writing my first draft of Failstate, I included Bringing It Home rather early on. I thought it was a good way to escalate the conflict between two of the characters. But shortly after writing it, I realized that it made better dramatic sense for that particular scene to appear later in the book. Faced with this realization, I decided to move the scene. Rather than back-edit it out and fix the problem, I simply wrote a note to myself that said "Move Bringing It Home to later in the book."

Later on, I wrote in The Big Reveal. I won't go into too many details here, but in said scene, Failstate, our titular hero, figures out something big. I figured it would be great for him to have that information as he went forward. I moved on to start writing The Last Hurrah.

Funny thing, though. As I finished up The Last Hurrah, one of the supporting characters started acting funny. He was all snippy toward Failstate. I couldn't figure out what was happening. Why was he so upset?

That's when I realized what was happening. My imagination or subconscious or whatever governs my writing process was trying to tell me something: It would be more interesting if Failstate didn't have the information he learned in The Big Reveal. The story might actually turn out better if the Reveal happened after the Hurrah instead of before. I thought it over and it made sense. But rather than back edit it all together the way I was thinking, I simply stuck a note into the manuscript that said, "The Big Reveal goes here."

That left me with an odd problem. As I finished up with The Last Hurrah, I realized that I had already written the scene that came next. I didn't want to back edit, but I wasn't sure how I would transition from The Big Reveal into the rest of the story. What to do, what to do? In the end, I simply picked a spot that would definitely take place after The Big Reveal and started writing, figuring that I would smooth out any transitions in the first rewrite.

And so I kept going. When I reached Bringing It Home's new spot in the story, I simply added a note to the manuscript that said, in essence, "Put It Here!" and kept writing.

When I was done, I had a mess on my hands. Not only were three scenes in the wrong spots, the first fifty pages were written in third person POV while the rest was first person. And to top it off, the only what the chronology of the book could work was if a week has eight days in it. It was a mess, no doubt about it. It was too long, there were problems galore, and I had pretty much exhausted myself writing it.

And yet it's going to be published.

In short (I know, too late!), I guess I want to encourage those of you who stumbled across this entry to be messy in your first draft. You've always got the time to fix it later.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Odd Little Miracles

In the last year or so, I've found myself gravitating more and more toward short story anthologies. I don't know why. I can't explain it. But my continued fascination with the anthologies has been cemented a little thanks to Odd Little Miracles by Fred Warren, who, it should be noted, is a fellow contributor to Speculative Faith.

Simply put, this was fantastic. There was a wide variety of stories contained in this anthology covering a number of different genres, but the one thing they had in common was a sense of wonder. Oh, and some really funny parts too. Fred is great with the humor.

So which is my favorite? There were a lot of great ones, especially Pilgrimage, Get You Back to Mandalay, and A Taste of Honey. But the best of the best is definitely Rubes.

Let me put it this way, folks: Fred Warren is the best author to grace Splashdown Books. You can't do much better than this collection.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Failstate" Book Trailer Contest Deadline

. . . is fast approaching! You only have a week left if you want to enter this contest to win a free copy of my debut novel when it releases and possibly have a character you created appear in a future Failstate book.

Want to know what I'm talking about? Check out this video here:

An Open Letter to the Laptop-Shooting Dad

If you don't know what this is referring to, watch this video:

Dear sir;

Before I say anything else, let me start by saying that I understand your frustration and yes, even your anger. If my kid was grounded for three months for posting a similar rant on her Facebook profile and s/he did it again, I'd be upset too. You are well within your rights to discipline your child. Parents should do that so their children grow up to be responsible adults.

That said, I question your methods, sir.

As I was watching your video, it didn't sit right with me. Something was bothering me. Like I said, I understand your frustration. I can sympathize with it. But as I watched this, I couldn't help but feel a bit uneasy about the whole situation.

And it's not about the gun. No, really, it's not, although I do wonder whether or not using a weapon of any kind to discipline your child is the best idea.

Instead, it's about the overarching methodology you've chosen.

Let me break down the situation as I'm seeing it:

A daughter is unjustifiably upset by what her parents have done, and so she posts what amounts to a temper tantrum that's visible only to her friends (or at least, it was supposed to be).

Then a father is justifiably upset by what his daughter has done, and so he posts what amounts to a temper tantrum that's visible to the entire world.

Do you see the difference between those two statements? There are two: whether or not the person was justified in their anger and the size of their audience.

Again, I'm not condoning your daughter's behavior. It was reprehensible. Referring to a friend of the family as "the cleaning lady" is not cool. Whining about a short list of chores in a profanity-laced post is not, in any way, okay. And you're right, she does seem to have a gratitude problem.

But here's the ironic thing: you're upset about your daughter airing the family laundry in a semi-public forum and so, to discipline her, you air even more of the family's dirty laundry in an even more public forum.

Sir, you are supposed to be setting the example in your family. Right now, the example you're presenting is that it really is okay to post a public rant. And I'm pretty sure that's not the lesson you're trying to teach.

If you're a God-fearing man, you're probably thinking of what we Lutherans call the Fourth Commandment right now, Honor your father and your mother. And that's certainly true. But after watching your video, I couldn't help but think of a different part of Scripture, namely Ephesians 6:4. "Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord"

Might I suggest an alternate approach? Instead of filming a one-sided video rant and posting it for all the world to see, maybe actually sit down and talk with your daughter and explain why you're so upset. Discipline her by all means. Take away her laptop to remove the temptation. But do so in a loving, private manner.

Oh, and if I may be so bold, I'm still not sold on using the gun. Maybe, instead of destroying the laptop, you could have deleted her personal data and given it to the woman who has been helping out around your house. I understand she's down on her luck and might be able to use it. Just a thought.

A concerned fellow parent

Lord of the Rings Medley

Ummmmm . . .  Wow. I'm finding I really like Lindsey Stirlings videos.

Thursday, February 09, 2012


Earlier today, I finished reading Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson. Imagine if a computer program gained sentience and then unleashed never-before-seen destruction on humanity and . . . wait, that's the plot for Terminator, isn't it?

Okay, so it's a bad joke and this book is actually pretty good. It tells the story of said computer program, Archos, that retaliates against humanity by turning smart cars and helper robots against their masters. The whole story of the "New War," as it's called, is told in a series of flashbacks, detailing how humanity managed to survive the initial blitz and then went on to defeat Archos.

In many ways, this book reminded me of World War Z. It's the same basic premise: a retrospective look at an apocalypse that nearly wipes out humanity. Except I think the zombies were better.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed this book, but Wilson's tale fell a little short. Z felt a lot more epic. When I read it, I got the feeling that the entire world was fighting the marauding zombies. With the robots, not so much.

Part of the problem, I think, was that Wilson focused his tale on just a few survivors, using them to tell the whole story. As a result, the story felt a lot smaller. Worse, the individual tales felt somewhat disconnected. I mean, I know they were all part of the larger plot. They each had a role to play. But none of them seemed as "epic" as they should have been.

And that, right there, is probably the most problematic part of the book. Wilson spent about two thirds of the book setting stuff up and then resolved it all in a rush. What should have been an epic struggle for the future of humanity never really gelled for me.

Like I said, I enjoyed the book for the most part. I just wish there could have been a bit more.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Wordcount Wednesday

So I'm resurrecting this one again. I've taken a little break, but now, it's time to get started again. Specifically, it's time to start re-writing Hive, my pregnant teenage cyborg book. Six chapters in, and I'm feeling pretty good about it. I'll need to keep working on it, though.

So no true wordcount tonight, but that's my project for the coming weeks.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Tip Tuesday: No Back Editing!

So you've done your pre-writing, you've found your rhythm, that perfect time when your imagination is supplying you with dynamite scenes and characters and setting, and things are going great. But then, as you write, you suddenly have this spectacular idea for chapter six, something that will make your story sing and zing. Problem is, you're on chapter ten. What do you do?

It's time to establish what I think is a pretty good rule when it comes to writing, and it's this: no back editing.

What's back editing, you ask? It's going back in your story, while you're still writing it, to fix some detail or another. This, folks, is a bad idea for a number of different reasons.

Remember last week, when we spoke of inertia? Nothing kills forward momentum in writing a story better than stopping it to go back and fix something you've already written. By the time you're finished, you have to pick up where you left off and get started all over again. Now granted, if it's just a few minor tweaks here and there, it may not seem like a big deal, but it adds up.

There's also the practical concern of adding a lot of unnecessary extra work to your writing. Let me give you an (admittedly exaggerated) example.

Let's say you're writing a sci-fi adventure. Your dashing hero, Zap Ramrod, has a coy and coquettish female sidekick named Naomi. You're hard at work on the first draft of Zap's epic adventure when, about a third of the way through, you have a brilliant brainstorm: Naomi should be an alien. It's sci-fi, right? You gotta have aliens!

So you go back through the first half, replacing Naomi with the newly created alien, whom we'll call Riff. You even add a few extra scenes detailing how Zap and Riff met each other. You get to the point in the story where you had your brainstorm and keep going.

But then, about two-thirds of the way through, you realize that Riff is coming off as a stereotypical alien. He's not a good fit after all. Besides, "Zap and Riff" sound a bit too close to "Zapp and Kif," and you don't want folks to think of the guys from Futurama. Riff isn't working out. But that's okay, you've got a new idea: a smart-alecky robot named RK-717.

So back you go, through the first two thirds. Out goes the scenes with Riff. In go the scenes with RK-717. And you even add two new scenes for the 'bot, one where Zap buys RK-717 at the used robot emporium and another, a haunting soliloquy from RK-717 about how his kind are treated as second-class citizens. Great stuff! And when you catch up with where you were, off you go!

Only . . . three quarters of the way through, you're sick of typing RK-717. It's not that great of a name. And besides, the 'bot isn't really working for you anymore. Brainstorm! Why not replace the 'bot with another human, a bald Pakistani boy, one who grew up on a colony populated with the descendants of folks who were abducted by aliens in the 20th century.

So once again, you go back through your story, replacing all of the robot references with the boy. And so you finish out your story, fully satisfied . . .

. . . until you actually read what you've written and realize that Zap needs a woman's influence in his life, a romantic foil, if you will. And so, when you do the first rewrite, you wind up replacing the bald Pakistani boy with . . . Naomi.

Now think about this. By back-editing, you had to recover the same territory several times, only to wind up going back to what you started with. Like I said, this is an exaggerated example, but it illustrates my point. Back editing is counter-productive. It's better to keep moving forward, even if new ideas occur to you as you write.

That's what I do while working on a new story. I keep a small notebook next to my computer. If I have an idea of how to fix a scene that I've already finished, I jot down the idea and keep on moving, incorporating it into my writing as I go.

So in my above example, if I were writing this sci-fi adventure, if one would read the hypothetical first draft, they'd find Naomi in the first half, Riff in the next part, RK-717 in the next, and the unnamed Pakistani boy in the last bit. It'd be a mess, but that's okay. That's what first drafts are for. And I'd only have to fix half of the book instead of rewriting the whole thing half a dozen times.

I could keep going, but you get the idea. Don't back edit. Keep the momentum going, and worry about editing after you're done with the first draft.

Thursday, February 02, 2012


And there we go, folks. Ronie Kendig's excellent Discarded Heroes series ends with Firethorn.

The men of Nightshade are in deep. Someone has decided that they have to go. First to go is Griffin Riddel, framed for supposedly murdering a senator. Then the rest of the team is taken out in a daring daylight raid. But who would want to destroy Nightshade?

That's what Kazi Faron has to find out. She's been hired to bust Griffin out of the Supermax prison that holds him and reassemble the team. But that's not an easy order, not with the individual men scattered across the globe and held in enemy hands. Will Griffin and Kazi succeed?

I really enjoyed this book. Only there was one small problem, a minor fly in the ointment: I should have re-read the other three books before tackling this one. There are a lot of threads from the other Discarded Heroes that come together for the tapestry that is Firethorn (yeah, I was over-reaching there and I know it). As a result, I often found myself scratching my head as I read, only to realize a few pages later, "Oh, wait, that's so-and-so who did such-and-such in this-or-that." By and large I did okay, but it was a disorienting feeling. So word to the wise: read the previous three books first before this one.

There's action, romance, and redemption to be had. This is a treat that can't be beat. I can't wait to see what Ronie Kendig does next.