Category Archives: James Erich

Writing advice, because that’s what we writers like to do

So my latest novel, Small Town Sonata, was contracted for publication by Dreamspinner Press, and I’m very happy. Hopefully, it signals the revving up of my writing career again.

So, in the spirit of that, and because someone asked about it in a Facebook group, I’ve decided to offer some Writing Advice (capitalized, to show how pompous… I mean “important” it is). Seriously, this is just some stuff I learned over the years. Take it or leave it, as you like. It’s less about writing than about some practical concerns.

I started writing in Middle School, reading articles in The Writer (which was a much better magazine then) and locking myself in my room after school to type. My mother bought me my first typewriter (personal computers were like $5,000 then), but with the door closed, the heat from the wood stove couldn’t reach me, so I had to bundle up in a blanket. Abe Lincoln would have been proud.

I still have all of that writing in a briefcase. Most of it is pretty bad. Writers often tend to start out thinking their prose needs to be Serious and Important (translation: flowery). That’s actually the worst thing for modern writers, unless you’re doing historical or literary fiction. (And even then, it’s probably not great.) So there are some story ideas I like in that pile, but I’d have to rewrite them all from scratch. But, hey, that period taught me a lot about how to write.

I wrote on and off over the years after that, but had difficulty finishing things. Eventually, I tried NaNoWriMo, and that allowed me to finish my first novel (Seidman), then another, and so on. Everything I wrote through NaNo was eventually published. (Finish what you write. An unfinished story is no good to anybody, and even one that isn’t 100% perfect has a better chance of being published than an brilliant, unfinished one.)

I write in Word and use Scrivener to keep my notes. (Tip: You can relocate the Scrivener directory to a folder in your Dropbox folder, so they’ll be backed up.) I tried writing in Scrivener a few times, but so far I’ve found it difficult. The problem I’ve had with Word is that it wants me to buy it on iPad, even though I own (=lease) it on my laptop. This has made it nearly impossible to use my iPad for writing, as I used to do.

In college, I composed electronic music, using a program called Personal Composer, which had a problem with frequent crashes (at that time). One night, after working on a piece for something like 5 or 6 hours (it was around 3am), I saved and it crashed. Because I’d only used ONE file the entire time, it got corrupted, and all my work was lost. I learned to create a NEW save, every time I work on something. My novels tend to have over a hundred save files, by the time I’m done.

For a while, I was working a corporate job, and using thumb drives to take my current working files back and forth between home and work (I didn’t have a laptop). I discovered two things about thumb drives:

 

  • They’re easy to lose. I had to completely rewrite an entire chapter once.

  • They’re unreliable. On several occasions, I saved files to a thumb drive, ejected, and discovered the files were not there. They weren’t anywhere – not on the drive, not on the computer, not even in temp files. This is when I started using Dropbox, and yes, they’ve had some problems with security, but they also keep backups of files, so when a file of mine was destroyed somehow (Virus? I don’t recall.), I was able to go to the Dropbox site and download it again.

Lastly, if you can’t get a publisher or agent to buy your novel, consider self-publishing it. I’ve read a bunch of articles which insist self-publishing is what Losers do, when their work isn’t good enough to be published by real publishers. They’re the equivalent of cavemen banging on rocks, angry that “cheaters” have discovered a box of matches.

Look, the fact is, self-publishing is relatively easy, and that’s led to the market being flooded with a lot of stuff I would have to call “poor-quality”… if I’m being kind. This, in turn, has led a lot of readers to assume our self-published work isn’t worth very much. Combined with Kindle Unlimited, authors are now forced to sell months of hard labor for pennies, if we want anyone at all to notice its existence. (Thank you, Amazon, for pulling the floor out from under aspiring authors.) This has led to more and more indie publishers throwing in the towel, so those that are left have been forced to close or severely restrict submissions.

Throw in the fact that, with so many people out of work, everyone seems to think writing might be a way to earn some income, and the end result is that traditional routes to being published, which were already difficult, are now extremely difficult. Good books, bad books, books written by the next Great American (or whatever country you’re from) Author… they’re all being rejected. It is not a sign of failure to self-publish.

Some books make the rounds between publishers for years — even decades. Do you have that kind of time? I’ve published over 30 novels and novellas between December 2010 and now — just over eight years. (Of course, I know authors with two or three times that output.) I may not be a brilliant author, but my work is being read. And that’s what needs to happen, if you want to earn anything writing.

What a lot of authors are doing, if they can, is publishing through publishers at the same time they self-publish. This is called hybrid publishing, and it has the advantage of getting your name out by association with the publisher, as well as convincing readers your stories, including the self-published stories, are professional quality. Going through a publisher can also help you make contacts with editors, cover artists, and others who can help you, when you self-publish.

And that’s a key thing: if you self-publish, you must hire a professional editor and a professional cover artist, and probably a formatter, as well. This shouldn’t break the bank, but it will likely cost a few hundred dollars. It will be worth it. Nothing screams “Crap!” like a homemade Photoshopped cover with free images everyone and his brother has used before. And if a reader skims the preview and sees typos and spelling errors on the first two pages, you’ve lost that reader forever.

But self-publishing has a much quicker turnaround than publishing houses. When I published my last Christmas novel, I finished it, had it edited, got a wonderful cover for it, and published it — all in the space of about a month and a half. I didn’t have a choice about going through a publisher, if I wanted it out by Christmas. Self-publishing also means a smaller chunk comes out of my royalties. This isn’t because publishers are swindlers, but simply because they have overhead costs.

Anyway, all this pontificating has worn me out. I’m gonna go take a nap.

I mean “write.” I’m gonna go write.

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Filed under James Erich, Jamie Fessenden, Life, NaNoWriMo, New Release, publishing, Romance, Writing, Young Adult

Get my entire Dreams trilogy in one cheap bundle!

Dreams of Fire and Gods BundleAs some of you know, I occasionally publish Young Adult titles under the pseudonym James Erich. The best of these, in my opinion, is a trilogy of high fantasy novels set in the kingdom of Dasak, which is on the brink of civil war. At the same time the emperor and his regent in the east prepare for battle, another war is brewing—a war between the gods that threatens to completely destroy the kingdom and leave no survivors.

When these novels were first published, there was a long gap between books two and three, leaving readers hanging. But now Harmony Ink has now released the entire trilogy as one low-cost bundle! Get the entire saga for just $9.99!

A thousand years ago, two factions of gods, the Stronni and the Taaweh, nearly destroyed the Kingdom of Dasak by warring for the land and the frightened humans who lived there. Then suddenly the Taaweh vanished and the Stronni declared victory.

In the present day, tensions escalate between the emperor and his regent to the point of war, which will be nothing compared to the war that comes with the Taaweh’s return. Join the regent’s son and apprentice mage Sael and his vagabond lover Koreh as they dodge assassins, rescue the Taaweh queen, and take journeys through the underworld in their quest to save their world from being destroyed in another confrontation between the gods.

Buy Links: 

Harmony Ink/Dreamspinnerhttp://www.dreamspinnerpress.com/store/product_info.php?products_id=7517

Amazonhttp://www.amazon.com/Dreams-Fire-Bundle-James-Erich-ebook/dp/B01BLKYT9A/

Excerpt:

“I SAID I was sorry,” Koreh repeated, exasperated.

“And I said I don’t care.”

Sael stood facing the fire with his undertunic held out to catch the heat. It wasn’t very modest, but he didn’t think Koreh could see anything from where he was standing. Geilin had grown tired of the argument and lay down to sleep after drinking his tea. The old man lay wrapped up in his cloak, facing away from the fire.

“I don’t really think you’re slow.”

“Now that Master Geilin’s told you I’m not.”

Koreh groaned in frustration. “Look. I don’t know how much training it takes to become a vönan—”

“A lot!”

“All right,” Koreh continued, “fine. But it just seemed to me that, after ten years of training, you’d be a little further along.”

Sael glared at him. Was this Koreh’s idea of an apology?

“As Master Geilin already told you,” he responded coolly, “I’m doing as well in my studies as any other tenth-year student. Better than most. I just can’t cast when I’m rushed. I have to concentrate.”

“So, you’re not rushed now. Let’s see you throw a fireball. Just a little one.”

“We’re supposed to be hiding, remember?” Sael snapped. “It’s bad enough we had to light a fire to dry off. If I start throwing fireballs around, they’ll be seen for leagues in all directions.”

Koreh’s derisive snort was the last straw. Sael turned and stalked over to the edge of the clearing. After searching the underbrush for a moment, he found what he was looking for—a sturdy branch about the length of a walking staff.

Koreh was watching him with a smirk on his face when he returned to the fire.

Trying to ignore him, Sael lifted the branch up over his head so it lay horizontally. Then with both hands gripping it firmly, he said, “Grab hold.”

“Huh?”

“I’ll show you something not even your Taaweh could do. Now grab on!”

Koreh hesitated only a moment before accepting whatever challenge Sael was offering him. He approached the boy, looking him dead in the eye before reaching up with one hand to grab the staff.

“Both hands,” Sael insisted, “and hold on tight.”

“Yes, little lord.” Koreh’s voice was mocking.

Sael frowned. “Hold on tight, or you’ll die. I mean it.”

“Fine. I’m holding on.”

The apprentice vönan closed his eyes and began chanting under his breath. It wasn’t easy, because in order for Koreh to grasp the staff, he had to press his body against Sael’s. And he was still naked. That was incredibly distracting, even with the linen undertunic separating their bodies. But the thought of further humiliation if he failed forced Sael to focus.

In the dark, with Druma obscured by clouds, Sael knew his power would be very limited. He could feel the magical energy he’d stored up during the day like a fire burning in his chest and head, but not nearly as hot as he often felt it—the pervasive fog had prevented him from drawing much power, even at midday. Still, it should be enough.

Sael chanted under his breath, ancient words given to men by the gods that simultaneously unlocked channels in the body for the energy to flow through and protected the body from the energy it channeled. This was one of the reasons the training of a vönan was such a slow, painstaking process—it took years to learn how to channel the energy safely before a master would dare allow his pupil to experiment with powerful spells. Every apprentice at the academy had heard horror stories of overzealous pupils bursting into flames. The stories may not all have been true, but the masters never bothered to contradict them.

When the chant ended, Sael opened his eyes to find Koreh watching him with apprehension. Clearly the magic of the Stronni still made him very uncomfortable. He looked as though he were about to say something when the staff suddenly jerked upward, lifting both young men off the ground.

Sael had been prepared for it, but Koreh panicked for a second, scrambling for a tighter grip.

Sael couldn’t help laughing as the staff came to a stop about ten feet above where they’d been standing. “Don’t fall.”

“I’m fine.” Koreh’s startled expression turned to one of defiance. “Is this all you had to show me? We’re barely off the ground.”
Suddenly he gasped as the staff flew upward again, this time coming to a stop just a short distance above the treetops. Koreh hooted in delight.

“Quiet!” Sael said under his breath, though he was secretly pleased. “You’ll wake Master Geilin.”

Koreh ignored him, laughing and twisting his head this way and that to take in the unusual vantage point. “Take us higher!”

“Hang on, then—tight!”

Now that the spell had been cast, it took little effort for Sael to control it, like turning the wick up on a lantern. He felt the energy flowing from his core increase and the two of them began to soar upwards. Higher and higher they climbed, until the light from the campfire seemed far, far below. Despite the night being overcast, the Eye cast a soft blue-gray light over everything, diffused through the clouds, and the gently waving treetops stretching off into the distance all around them seemed ethereal and beautiful.

He feared for a moment he’d overdone it. If Koreh lost his grip, Sael wasn’t sure he’d be able to save him from falling. But Koreh was laughing now like a young child being spun around in his father’s arms.

He was loving this and had dropped all pretense of superiority. When his eyes met Sael’s, Sael saw admiration in them for the first time. And he knew that he would do anything for that look.

But then he glanced past Koreh, and what he saw made his blood run cold. A vast number of tiny spots of light dotted the ground in the distance, hazy in the mist but still visible. They weren’t the lights of Mat’zovya—he could see those on the far side of the lake. These were just beyond, in the fields between the old city and the new. They had to be campfires.

Hundreds of them.

“We’re being followed!” he exclaimed.

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Filed under Fantasy, gay, James Erich, Romance, Young Adult