Category Archives: NaNoWriMo

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

Back to murder and mayhem

JesseSince I have a deadline in mid February for Murder on the Mountain, I’ve had to temporarily put aside the YA novel I was working on (Martian Born) to focus on this one again.  It was nearly finished at the end of November, but frankly I was so sick of it, I just needed a break.  Why was I sick of it?  Because trying to cram an entire novel into one month really didn’t work well for me.  Sure, I got most of it done, but I burnt out twice as fast.

Rushing things (for NaNoWriMo) also meant that I didn’t have time to straighten out problems with the plot as they came up.  So now I’m going back through the manuscript and doing a lot of tweaking, before I move on to wrap things up.

None of this means that I don’t like the novel.  I think it’s good, and definitely successful as a murder mystery.  But I’ve learned some things since I began writing it about proper police procedure when it comes to criminal investigations on the mountain, and of course my husband and I spent a weekend at the Mt. Washington resort hotel where the bulk of the story takes place.  So now I’m going back and restructuring to take all of this into account.

KyleI’ve also decided to slow the romance down a bit.  Not a lot—the entire novel takes place over less than a week—but just a bit more, to make it more obvious that the bisexual police detective, Kyle, is on uncertain ground.  He’s never dated a man before, so I wanted him to come across a bit more hesitant.  This is not a “gay for you” story—Kyle knows he’s interested in men—but until recently he’s been married to a woman (she passed away a few years before the story begins), and he never thought he’d act on his attraction to men.  Then along comes a confident, openly gay young man named Jesse….

In the meantime, I’ve also entered edits for two stories:  my contemporary romance, Screwups, and a steampunk novella called Watchworks, which is part of an anthology called Gothika.  The anthology includes stories by me, Eli Easton, Sue Brown, and Kim Fielding, and should be out this May!

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Filed under gay, Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Romance, Work in Progress, Writing

NaNoWriMo rocks!

cover2So after a pretty rough month, during which I made some progress on A Mote in the Eye (but not enough, considering how long it took), I’ve dived (dove? doven?) into NaNoWriMo with a murder mystery novel that takes place on top of Mt. Washington and in the Mt. Washington Hotel, in Bretton Woods, NH.  And now I’m cruising!

For a while, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to write this one.  Plotting a murder mystery turns out to be really hard, and so many of the initial ideas I had turned out to be impossible.  My first idea was to have the whole thing take place on top of the mountain, because I thought there was a hotel up there.  It turns out… no.  The observatory is there (and in fact, my father used to work there, when I was a small boy), and it’s been expanded, but the cafeteria and museum close at night, and there are no accommodations for  hikers/tourists.  I could have had the whole mystery take place in the observatory, which I vaguely remember from my childhood, but it’s a really small space with a very small staff (three full-time, two interns, and two volunteers).

So what I did was have the murder take place at the summit and involve some of the observatory staff (fictional — not real people who work there) in the search for the missing person, but the bulk of the interviews and such will be conducted at the beautiful Mt. Washington Hotel at the bottom of the mountain.  To that end, my husband and I have booked ourselves into the hotel for a couple days in December.  I’m really looking forward to it — the place is gorgeous!

I created the “cover” you see in this post to motivate me, using two photos I found online that match what my characters look like.  The cover isn’t really what the book will end up with for a cover, assuming it’s published.  This is just for inspiration.  And yes, I’m aware that the final “N” in “Mountain” is clipped off.  After all the work I put into making it in the first place, I haven’t been motivated to go back and fix that.

But NaNoWriMo has provided a nice kick in the pants to get me writing again.  I’m a bit behind, but I’m already over 9,000 words going into Day 7!  I’m hopeful that I’ll at least hit the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words by the end of November, though the full novel will be at least 60,000 words.  I think it should be completely finished by the end of December.

 

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Filed under Drama, gay, Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Writing

Finalists in the Rainbow Awards!

FinalistSMBoth Billy’s Bones and By That Sin Fell the Angels are finalists in the Rainbow Awards this year!  My YA fantasy novel, Dreams, also made the cut!

Unfortunately, we won’t find out who won until December, and the competition is steep.  Click on the image to see the other finalists!  I’m honored to be included among them.

In other news, I’ve signed a contract with Dreamspinner Press for my college romance Screw-Ups!

I’ve also submitted a steampunk novella called The Watchwork Man for an anthology, finished round two of edits on my Christmas story (The Healing Power of Eggnog) for the Dreamspinner 2013 Advent Calendar, and I have part three of the Dreams of Fire and Gods YA trilogy (Gods) coming out on October 17th!

It’s been a busy two weeks.

The Dogs of Cyberwar

The Dogs of Cyberwar

I now find myself without a deadline for the first time since the summer began.  So I’ll need to set some new ones.  I’ve been re-reading what I’ve written for A Mote in the Eye — part two of the B.A.L.O.R. Cycle, my cyberpunk trilogy which began with The Dogs of Cyberwar.  I’ve been promising to finish that forever, but other deadlines kept interfering.  I’m liking what I’m reading, so I’m setting myself a deadline of October 31st to have at least A Mote in the Eye finished and the third section started.  The story is, in my humble opinion, just too good to let it languish unread forever.

I’m also hoping to participate in NaNoWriMo this year.  I have a murder mystery in my head that takes place on Mount Washington.

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Filed under Christmas, Cyberpunk, Drama, Fantasy, gay, Historical, Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Romance, SciFi, Victorian, Writing, Young Adult

“Murderous Requiem” has been contracted!

Murderous RequiemSounds a bit like a disease, doesn’t it?  But no.  I’ve signed a contract with Dreamspinner Press for my occult mystery novel, Murderous Requiem!

As anyone who’s been following my blog or facebook page knows, I’ve been fretting about the marketability of this book for a long, long time.  It has a lot of sex, some of it rather raunchy, and more importantly a lot of occult information concerning ceremonial magick that could make some readers uncomfortable.  There is a romance between the main character and his ex-boyfriend, but since they’re in a sort of “free-love” commune environment, they have sex with other people while they’re working things out with each other.  Some readers don’t like that.  There are also some parts that cross over into horror.

I wasn’t sure if Dreamspinner would like it, because it doesn’t fit the classic romance model.  But they publish a wide variety of stories, so it was worth submitting it to them to see.  And now I have a contract!  Yay!

No info on a release date at this stage, but I’ll let everyone know when I have something.  Incidentally, the “cover” design to the left isn’t official and definitely won’t be the cover.  I cobbled that together from pictures I found on the Internet and used it as my “cover” for NaNoWriMo a couple years ago.

In related news, I did not win NaNoWriMo this year.  I didn’t even come close.  But I did get a start on my YA novel, Dreams of Fire and Gods book three, and re-wrote the ending of Dreams of Fire and Gods book two.  Trust me, the new ending is infinitely better than it was when I submitted it.  I’m very lucky that my publisher was understanding enough to humor me, when I asked her if I could resubmit the epilogue after we’d already signed the contract.  I also finished most of the edits on Dreams of Fire and Gods book one — we’re at the galley proof stage now.  That one will be released through Harmony Ink Press on December 15th.

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Filed under Fantasy, gay, Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Writing, Young Adult

GayRomLit, Head Colds, and Murder

I haven’t posted much this month, largely because I’ve been under the weather, in various ways.  To begin with, my doctor changed the painkiller I take for migraines, which seemed like a good idea at the time.  But it turns out that Tramadol has some unpleasant side-effects.  I spent a month wallowing in the deepest depression I’d suffered since I lived in squalid conditions in an unheated cabin, during an incredibly bad Winter in 1994.  I couldn’t figure out what exactly I was depressed about.  Then I ran out of Tramadol and the depression cleared right up.  Turns out that depression can be one of the side-effects of that med.  Nice.  My doctor and I need to have a little chat soon.

For six days in the middle of October, I was at GayRomLit.  If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s a retreat for writers and fans of gay romance.  This year, it was hosted in Abuquerque, New Mexico, at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.  I had a terrific time, meeting and chatting with people I’ve talked to online for years, and even though I wasn’t one of the well-known authors there, I did have more than a few people recognize me and tell me how much they loved my books!  I even autographed a few copies!

On the downside, the jet lag, high altitude, and the dry desert air really kicked my butt.  I kept waking up at two-hour intervals during the night, feeling dehydrated.  The first night I staggered downstairs at 4am in search of coffee to kill the headache I had coming on.  Thankfully, the casino had a 24/7 diner next to it, where I was able to get some really bad (but caffeinated) coffee — and I looked so pathetic that the nice lady at the counter gave me the coffee for free.

I never did make it to the casino, even though I walked through it daily.  Probably for the best.

I came back desperately needing sleep and with a throat so scratchy that I could barely talk.  Then, just when I seemed to have recuperated, I got hit with a head cold this weekend.

Bah.

But I’ve decided to take a break from other writing for a few days, in order to finally finish polishing up Murderous Requiem (or whatever I end up calling it), my occult murder mystery, so I can submit it before November 1st, when I’ll be doing NaNoWriMo again.  This is another story I’ve fretted over for too long, even though several beta readers have told me they loved it.  So it’s time to stop worrying about whether or not it’s too “weird” to find an audience and just send it out.  I have no doubt there are people out there who will like it, even if it isn’t a typical romance.

 

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Filed under gay, GayRomLit, Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Writing

And Sometimes I Just Don’t Feel Like Writing

It’s not usually for very long, but whenever I finish something I’ve been working on, I spend a week or two floundering, not knowing what I want to write next.  I’d been planning on doing Camp NaNoWriMo this month and getting most of part two of a fantasy trilogy finished, but I spent the first week wrapping up my occult murder mystery (finally!) and I haven’t been able to get moving on the fantasy novel.  I’ve written a chapter, but that’s it.

I think I’m finally starting to get in the spirit of the fantasy novel.   We’ll see.  Edits are beginning on By That Sin Fell the Angels, and that’s a somewhat dark drama, so I may end up taking up the half-finished psychological drama I was working on a month and a half ago.

In the meantime, I haven’t been completely stagnant.  I’ve been doing author chats and Blogathons (on my YA blog) and book giveaways.  Saturn in Retrograde has been getting good ratings on Goodreads and received a terrific 5-star review on QMO Books!

Seidman has been doing well, too, though it has less momentum, since my James Erich pseudonym is less well-known.  But the ratings have been very good!  I just need to figure out how to get the word out.

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Filed under Fantasy, Mystery, NaNoWriMo, Occult/Paranormal, Romance, Writing