Tag Archives: writing

ATTN: STRAIN fans. I need a volunteer for a project. #amwriting

Dear STRAIN readers:

Some of you are aware that I have two more books in the STRAIN saga coming out. A prequel titled JUGGERNAUT and a sequel titled BANE.

JUGGERNAUT is written and I’ll be turning it over to my editor within days. BANE is being written and will be turned in within another month or two.

As I’m revising JUGGERNAUT and going into writing BANE, its become increasingly obvious that the world has expanded to the point where I need a series bible. However, my writing and revising schedule is tight enough that I really can’t find the time to give this project the full attention it needs.

WHAT I’M LOOKING for is a reader who is intimately familiar with STRAIN already (and preferably one who knows enough about writing to know what a series bible requires) to help me.

What will you get in compensation? How about a sneak peek at the early drafts of JUGGERNAUT and BANE?

I will provide you with access to the document I’ve already started, which has the outline of the bible and a sample entry or two in each section to demonstrate what I’m looking for. You will be familiar with (or able to figure out with minimal coaching) how to do things like create bookmarks and link to them within the document so that the table-of-contents is hyperlinked to the appropriate entries, and key words, characters, and concepts within each entry are hyperlinked to other entries as needed.

You won’t be working alone; I will also be adding to the bible as I continue writing and revising. I want to have the bible somewhat complete and available for my editors to refer to as the manuscripts move into the editing phase of things.

If interested, please contact me on Tumblr, Goodreads, or using the form on the About page of my website. Please give me a short explanation of how familiar with STRAIN and/or similar projects you are. Be honest about your ability to help, please? Don’t just respond because you want the sneak peek at the upcoming books. I need someone who is seriously capable, both skill-wise and time-wise, of helping out here.

Thank you!

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A carrot vs stick imbalance

So I’ve spent the last week, since my huge whinge-fest in my last post, trying to find the momentum to begin moving my various projects forward again. I think at least part of why I’ve been having such a hard time is a preponderance of stick and a dearth of carrot. Since early this year, I’ve been working on some really big projects. A 103K novel (Strain). A 93K novel (Saugatuck Summer). I think Risk Aware came out somewhere about 75K. 40K and still going on the mystery. Two other novels begun and past the 10K mark already.

The problem is that none of these projects have been yielding tangible results, especially the ones I’ve already completed (Strain, Saugatuck Summer, and Risk Aware.) I dunno, maybe my inner 6-year-old believes she deserves a lollipop for every day of effort or something, but the fact that I had over 250K worth of writing just hanging in limbo, completed and yet not out in the world, felt very unrewarding. I know I’ve had smaller projects produced in the interim, but for some reason (probably due to my own neuroses) those don’t feel like they count.

The good news is, some of that is being resolved. I’ve had a couple people (namely my editor, Sarah Frantz, and the marvelous Leta Blake) help me with brainstorming which wasn’t so much about the results of the brainstorming so much as it was about the “oh, somebody cares!” boost, so I wasn’t feeling quite so much like I’m slogging along all alone. I’ve seen the cover art for Strain (ALMOST complete,) worked on a blurb and excerpt of Strain that is going in some swag we’re having made, and edits will begin in the next week. So, bottom line is, I’m getting a bit more carrot this past week, which helps. I feel more enthused about my WIPs than I have in a long time.

But I’m still not writing. I wonder if the problem might not be inertia. My biggest fear when I started slowing down on writing was that I was going to lose momentum, because boy does that “objects at rest tend to stay at rest” rule apply to me. So now I’m at rest, and somehow I have to begin all over again with motivating myself to write. I’m having ideas, I’m having more enthusiasm, I just still haven’t managed to make it across that line from inactivity back into activity.

Of course, part of the problem could be that my sleep has been all messed up the past couple weeks due to some trouble I have with my hip, so I’m pretty much exhausted and in an effort to combat the other sleep issues, I’ve cut out caffeine and now I’m in withdrawal as well. *sigh*

At any rate, things are looking up, somewhat. Amazing what just seeing some results, or some movement toward results, can accomplish.

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The futility and frustration of waiting

(Disclaimer: I’m going to be talking about specific frustrating situations in this post. I won’t be naming names, but the people involved or in the know will know what I’m talking about. This is not any attempt to passive-aggressively call anyone out; there are extenuating circumstances often involved and I’m aware of this, and I love the people involved and I try to be understanding. I’m just trying to lay everything out chronologically to get a picture of what has led me to the place where I now find myself, to encompass the entire pattern of events. This is for me, not to find fault with anyone, so please bear that in mind before feeling like I’m picking on you.)

I don’t think it will come as any great surprise to people who know me to find out that I’m not a terribly patient person. Actually, that’s not true. I don’t mind waiting for something if I know when I can expect it to happen, and when I trust the people or situation I am waiting for. That last is a bit difficult because I’m a bit of a control freak and find trust difficult to maintain. Once it’s gone, that is when I get impatient.

For anyone who has been reading my emails and tweets the past six months regularly, it’s probably apparent that I have been slipping gradually into depression, and that it has gotten to the point where I can’t write. I’m working with my doctor to try to find meds to stabilize the slide, but so far it’s not going all that well.

The thing is, a lot of the depression is, I think, about writing. Specifically, it’s about a “why do I bother?” mindset that has crept in about my writing, and a large part of that goes back to issues to waiting and patience.

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Belated #TeaserTuesday from Saugatuck Summer (#mmromance coming May 2014 from @RiptideBooks) inspired by a FB convo

So over on Facebook, Lisa from The Novel Approach posed this question about barebacking in m/m romance:

Okay, peeps, opinion:

Brand new M/M author, chapter one, first few pages, guys are already gettin’ busy. It’s their first time together, neither are virgins. They bareback, no mention at all of condoms or status.

This is a real-world contemporary, not paranormal, not fantasy.

Thoughts – irresponsible on the author’s part? Not a big deal? What?

This question keeps popping up occasion. Leta Blake has had a couple great posts about her research into why gay men bareback over on her blog, and it came up not long ago at Jessewave as well.

Yesterday, people on Twitter were doing a #UnpopularOpinion thing. Well, here’s mine:

The prevalence of protected sex in m/m romance is out of proportion with reality to the point of being a rather trite.

(/me dons flame-retardant suit. Any flames on this post will be unanswered and/or deleted)

I know WHY this is. M/M romance is written primarily by straight women, and we love the gay men we write about and we want to portray them in as positive and responsible a light as possible and never show them doing things which are, in popular opinion, Bad Things.

But we as storytellers have no moral or ethical obligation to show our characters doing the perfectly correct thing all the time. We do, however, have a moral or ethical responsibility to portray minority characters as fully rounded, complete, un-stereotyped beings. And that means letting them do things that maybe aren’t politically correct.

The Perfectly Correct use of condoms is another branch of the same school of thought that says 1-finger-2-fingers-3-fingers-fuck is the only way to gear up to anal sex, and that spit isn’t lube. Except some men–and women–have anal sex without any manual prep whatsoever, and some of them are perfectly okay using spit as lube. What we assume as gospel because our genre has been preaching it as gospel Ain’t Necessarily So.  When you scream “SPIT ISN’T LUBE” you are basically telling real people who use it as their lube of choice with no difficulties URDOINITRONG.

I think the insistence on the Protected Sex All The Time Unless They Have The Talk trope in m/m romance is its own form of well-intentioned homophobia. First off, because most people don’t raise nearly as much fuss–if any at all–if characters in an m/f romance have unprotected sex. This reinforces the idea that HIV/AIDS is a Gay-Only issue, and yes, it is an issue in the gay community, except maybe there are members of that community who don’t perceive it that way. Who, for whatever reason, to not consider condom usage to be an Absolute Necessity in any and all circumstances. Maybe they’ve just decided it’s their risk to take, for whatever reason they want to risk it.

Secondly, it trivializes the other issues surrounding the choice whether or  not to use condoms, many of which are emotional and personal and subjective to each individual. We like to over-simplify and make it a black-or-white issue, but it ain’t.

If we as writers are going to portray characters within the gay community, we need to give visibility to all its various schools of thought and behavior.

Someday I’m going to write up a blog post about Strain and why I chose the fuck-or-die trope for it. Let’s just say a lot of it has to do with subverting the idea that fluid exchange = death. But this #TeaserTuesday segment is about Saugatuck Summer and one of the many reasons why a character might willfully, knowingly, choose not to use condoms.

And this time I’m going to put it behind a cut because this is actually from Chapter 12 and features a rather significant conflict spoiler.

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I’m at Chicks & Dicks today discussing non-linear storytelling

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June 26, 2013 · 10:51 am

Writing a novel in three parts: Let’s get some things straight

As I’ve said in the past, though I often refer to Impulse as a trilogy for the sake of simplicity, it’s actually more accurate to call it a novel in three parts, much like The Lord of the Rings. Which is why on the cover of each novel, it very clearly says “Impulse, Book One” or Book Two or whatever.

I remember back in…2001 the The Fellowship of the Ring movie came out, the very first day it opened, on a message board I hung out on frequently at the time, someone went rant about it. This person was  offended that she didn’t get the entire LOTR story in a single film. Even though it had been all over the media for a good four years or so that there would be three films, even though the original LOTR novel was divided into three parts. Even though she must have had some passing familiarity with LOTR prior to that since she was, by her own adamant admission “a HUGE Arwen/Aragorn shipper.”

She complained that she’d been ripped off, how this was just a cheap ploy by a Hollywood studio to bilk the consumer out of more money, how she wanted the ending RIGHT NOW, etc, etc, etc.

What she didn’t take into account was all the reasoning behind the decision to make the story into three films.

Why did Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema choose to make three movies? Well, for a number of reasons, most of which boiled down to the fact that there was no way to tell the whole tale and do it justice in accordance with Tolkien’s vision and the expectations of the devout fans in the length of a single film. Of course, they could have done it, had the film been ten hours long, but I think most reasonable people agree that 3-3.5 hours is pretty much the ceiling for the length of a film before the audience just becomes fatigued. A decision was made that it was better for the story, and better for the audience, to divide the story into parts and release them in sequence.

Now, I haven’t the ego to claim to be in league with the storytelling genius of Tolkien or the movie-making genius of Peter Jackson. Nonetheless, some of the same reasoning went into my decision to make Impulse into three parts.

First question: Why did I decide to split the story into three parts?

The first reason is narrative flow. I intended from the very start to deal with the stages of a new relationship in three very distinct chunks, in keeping with the three-act structure of any story: beginning, middle, end.

The first chunk is the “coming together” phase: flirting, ascertaining the other party’s interest, overcoming doubts to find the courage to reach other, and initiating sex.

The second chunk would be the “honeymoon” phase of the first 2-3 months of a new relationship, when the sexual chemistry is off the scale and the world pretty much just revolves around your need to bond and cement this new partnership.

The third chunk would be the settling in phase, where the immediacy of lust and the need for the other person cools down enough to enable the partners to stop living in the now and start looking both toward the future and toward the outside, at the issues facing them beyond the perimeter of the bubble they’ve been living in.

The second answer is optimal book length. When I discovered how many words were involved in such a story (I anticipated about 50,000 works for each act and came in pretty close at 46K, 48K and 58K respectively) I had to figure out if that was a feasible ebook length, or if it was too unwieldy.

In my research, I discovered a lot of people opining that the optimal ebook length was 50-80K. Now, this meant I could have made two books out of it and still fallen within that window, but it would have broken up the narrative flow in the wrong places. How would LOTR have worked out if it had been two books, one of which ended in the middle of what is the arc of The Two Towers? How would the original Star Wars trilogy have worked out if it had been two movies, the first of which wrapped up midway through the action of The Empire Strikes Back? There is a pattern to these things, which is why the three-act story arc is an absolute necessity. Beginning, middle, end. A duology doesn’t work nearly as well because it defies that mandatory storytelling structure. So, I had three very clear-cut ~50K novels.

Second question: Admit it, you broke it into three parts to scam the readers of more money, right?

No. From a business perspective, breaking the novel into three parts was a very good choice for me because otherwise I could not have afforded a professional editor. My editor charges $100-125 per 10,000 words depending on if she’s doing developmental editing or line editing with developmental features. This means it would have cost me $1500-$1850 to have the entire work edited as a single edition. If that had been the case, these books would never have happened, because I just could not have afforded to go that deep in the hole. By breaking the story into three chunks, I could get them edited in ~$500-600 increments.

I went into the hole for the first one, and all my sales from that first book I collected to pay for the production of the second book (and even then I still had to supplement with my birthday money to get the job done.) The third book is the first time this has become an entirely self-sustaining enterprise, and I haven’t even gotten out of the hole yet.

Between editing, cover art, formatting and design, I have spent $2200 to produce this three-part novel and I’ve only made about $1600 of that back so far. In fact, I still owe my family’s household budget $500 for the editing of the first book.

If money came into play in the decision to make this story three parts, it was not to bilk readers out of more money, it was to keep production expenses in reasonable chunks so that I could afford to produce at all.

Another reason to break it into three parts is pricing and salability. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Dean Wesley Smith, he’s pretty much the guru where indie publishing is concerned. Let’s take a look what he recommends for ebook pricing:

— Novels

Front list, meaning brand new. Over 50,000 words. $7.99

Shorter front list novels, meaning 30,000 to 50,000 words. $6.99

Backlist novels, meaning already published by a traditional publisher. $6.99

According to this guru in the industry, Inertia and Acceleration are underpriced by a dollar each, and Velocity is underpriced by two dollars.

Had I published the entire novel in a single unit, I would have had to charge $7.99. As an author no one has ever heard of before. With no opportunity to get a “backlist bump” with each subsequent release because there would be no backlist.

To get more genre-specific, Riptide Publishing uses the following pricing structure:

Under 5,000 words: $.99
5,000 to 9,999 words: $1.99
10,000 to 17,999 words: $2.99
18,000 to 29,999 words: $3.99
30,000 to 39,999 words: $4.99
40,000 to 49,999 words: $5.99
50,000 to 69,999 words: $6.99
70,000 to 89,999 words: $7.99
90,000+ words: $8.99

How many books do you think I would have sold had I priced the volume at $7.99-8.99? As a completely brand new, unheard-of author? Enough to ever make my investment back? No, of course not. No one would pay that amount for a book by someone they’ve never heard of before.

So again, we come back to the point that this novel-in-three-parts would never have existed if I had tried to publish it as a single volume. It would have been too expensive to produce, and I would never have earned back my investment to produce it.

Now, in case anyone thinks my books are overpriced, allow me to point out that my pricing is right in line or a little below what Riptide uses, as shown above. Need more?

  • Dreamspinner Press prices most of their novels around the length of mine at $6.99.
  • Samhain charges $5.50-$6.50 for novel-length new releases. 
  • Stormmoon Press charges $6.99 for a 75K word novel and $9.99 for a 107K novel.
  • MLR charges $8.99 for a 123K novel, $7.99 for 77K, and $5.99 for 39K
  • Torquere charges $6.99 for novels around the length of Inertia.

The price I have set for my novels is at or below industry standard for the m/m romance genre.

Third question: but you are still making bank, right?

You couldn’t be more wrong. I am, quite literally, working for free.

What I’ve listed above, the $2200 to produce these three novels and the $1600 I’ve recouped so far? That’s just with concern to paying for the external services to produce the novel, editing, cover art, layout, etc. It doesn’t even take into consideration paying a wage to myself. Let’s refer back to Dean Wesley Smith on the labor cost involved in writing a novel.

I find Smith’s estimate there of “paying” yourself $50/hour to be a little on the high end. After all, $50/hour for a 40-hour a week job would be over $100,000/year. Let’s say I wanted to make a more reasonable “supplement my family and keep us afloat” wage of $30,000/year, which is what I was making when I got laid off from my last job. I would need to pay myself ~$14.50/hour.

So. According to Smith math, 1000 words = 1 hour. Therefore 150K words (not including time spent editing, revising, marketing, etc; I actually work 14-16 hours a day right now) would be 150 hours. At $14.50/hour, I would need to pay myself $2175. That doubles the production cost of this 150K word novel to almost $4400.

Again, I’ve made $1600 so far. Eight months since I first published. $1600. Out of a $2200 monetary investment and a $2200 time investment. Not only am I still in the hole for the services I paid for to produce these books, I’m working for free. I have not made a single dime for myself.

That’s important to understand. What you have paid for my books goes to pay the booksellers (Amazon, ARe, etc) and my editor and my cover artist and my layout/design/formatting guy. Not a single cent of it has yet gone to pay me for the time I’ve spent writing the book. Not a single cent.

I’m working for free. And I will be for quite some time yet. I’d earn more flipping burgers for minimum wage at McDonalds.

I wrote those 150,000 words out of love for storytelling, not to get rich. I wrote them out of love for this particular story and these particular characters. I wrote them because I had a beautiful story I felt I needed to share with the world. I separated them into three parts so that I could feasibly bring them to the public, because otherwise it would not have been feasible for me to have done so.

That’s it. I write because I love to write, not because it makes me rich. Hell, it doesn’t even put food on my table.

Never at any point in time was my decision to divide the novel into three parts an effort to scam anyone out of more money. It was to make the novel salable and get it into the hands of the public and begin building up name recognition for myself while still making at least a token effort at recouping my monetary investment, if not my time investment.

Now, did I handle the denouement of Book One badly? Yes. I freely admit that. I was utterly at a loss as to how to end that because at the point where it ended, that WAS the close of the first act, the same way Frodo and Sam striking out on their own toward Mordor was the end of The Fellowship of the Ring. There WAS NO MORE STORY LEFT TO TELL in the first act. There simply wasn’t.

Was it clumsy? Yes, but it was the end of the first act.

The second act would begin the very next time the two characters saw each other, which would then be the beginning of the “Honeymoon” phase (launching, not without a hefty amount of symbolism, with their first act of intercourse.)

It wasn’t an optimal way to end Book One and I’ve taken my lumps for it left, right, and center. Perhaps if I’d been able to afford another round of developmental edits, my editor and I could have brainstormed a better denouement, but it was what it was.

It was never an attempt to write a cliffhanger. It was not sequel bait. And it certainly wasn’t an effort to con anyone out of more money. It was the organic ending of the first act of a three-part story. Full stop.

So. Perhaps now people will understand a little better why the novel is structured in three parts the way it is.

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Thousand-Word Thursday ficlet

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July 24, 2012 · 1:59 pm