Hopeful Writers – LISTEN TO THIS @michaelstephenf ‎@IamWilliamOday

This is MUST LISTEN material for anyone interested in getting into the writing business. Valuable insight from my buddy [more of an on-line acquaintance who has been ridiculously cool and supportive of my efforts] Michael Stephen Fuchs:

http://williamoday.com/episode-6-michael-stephen-fuchs/

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Game of Thrones S7 – A Monument to Lazy Writing #GoT #GotS7

gotwtfWell, season 7 is in the bag and we’re all gnashing our teeth again with the realization that another two years stares us all in the face before we’ll have another round of episodes to watch.

Now to start, let me get this out of the way: I enjoyed the hell out of this season.  With the exception of the first couple of episodes, this damned show had me alert and engaged throughout the run of this season and there were tons of payoffs that I can honestly say I’ve finally been rewarded with after waiting for years.  Originally, I griped pretty hard when I learned that the season’s episode count would be truncated but now, having watched it all, it’s really easy to see where all of that money went.  Towards the end of this season, nearly every episode was an epic explosion of incredible effects, massive set piece battles, and ever increasing stakes.  That kind of thing takes money, so they cut the number of episodes down to ensure that each entry for the season got the absolute maximum bang for its buck.

I noticed something, though, while watching the second to last episode.  The continent of Westeros sure was seeming mighty small…

Yes, apparently, ravens and dragons can fly really freaking fast!  Now, I’m clearly not the only guy to have noticed this.  I had my argument all laid out and everything, ready to share the distances involved between the wall and Dragonstone, the average airspeed of a raven (not to be confused with a laden swallow), and so forth, but the guys at Nerdist have already done and incredible job of laying all of this out, so I’m just going to link their video here.

As stated in the video, director Alan Taylor addresses the issue by stating, “There’s a thing called plausible impossibilities, which is what you try to achieve, rather than impossible plausibilities.  So I think we were straining plausibility a little bit, but I hope the story’s momentum carries over some of that stuff.”

So, my problem with that statement is that he’s essentially stating that they hope the awesomeness of the action sequences help you to miss all of the plot holes.

The problem is, it didn’t.  I didn’t know what it was specifically when I was watching the episode; I only knew that the world I was being shown suddenly felt incredibly small.  I could see how fast that dragon was flying.  It appeared to be about the speed of a WWI era biplane.  So whatever flight she took had to happen in a time frame that those men stranded out in the middle of the frozen lake would be able to stand there, realistically, as they waited for her to arrive.  Right away, I’m asking questions.  Just how close is Dragonstone to The Wall, anyway???

This kind of thing drives me crazy in any kind of media.  I get it; there are dragons in the show.  As a story teller, you’re allowed to ask your audience to believe the impossible, absolutely.  Zombies exist, dragons fly, dead men can be resurrected, and so forth.  What you are not allowed to do is ask your audience to believe the improbable.  They cannot and will not buy it.

The distances involved in this show should have been a major component in how the story works itself out.  A major challenge in any conflict is the Fog of War, which is essentially defined by uncertainty due to a lack of information.  In the GOT universe, this is compounded by the fact that any new information sent by courier would already be days old by its very nature.  This alone could have constituted a major challenge within the framework of the season and been made into a major asset to the story telling in general.  Instead, the creators of the show chose to ignore it in favor of fast, easy storytelling.  Was it a good gamble?  I leave it up to the viewers to decide but, for me, it was not.  I’m made aware of all the possibilities that could have been had the writers just worked a little harder.

Here is a quick example that I can rattle right off the top of my head.  At the end of the episode in question, the walkers are hauling the dragon out of the frozen lake through the use of several massive chains.

GOT Chains

Now, before you nerd out on me, I’m well aware of the various theories stating that walkers can’t cross water, can’t swim, etc, etc.  They seemed to even come out and state this explicitly in the final episode of S7, where the Hound stated that, no, they won’t cross water.

Putting that aside, the Hound only knows what he observed, and that was that the walkers wouldn’t walk across that lake when the ice was broken.  Being honest, however, the rules are rather fast and loose on this show.  Personally, I suspect they just sink to the bottom and can’t swim back up again.  Having walkers be destroyed by the application of water would be idiotic (I’m looking at you, M. Night Shyamalan).

So the question here becomes: where did they get that chain?  The forged the thing or just had it laying around or…?

The thing is, you can come up with all sorts of reasons why the walkers would have such a thing, but not a single one was actually given in the episode.  They needed a big ass chain because the imagery would look cool for the scene; therefore a chain appears.  Lazy writing.

And the issue with that is, again, the audience is now taken out of the episode wondering where the hell that chain came from rather than what a big deal it is that the Night King now has a dragon.

The frustrating thing is that a little rewriting and extra thought could have made this scene work just fine.  The walkers are undead.  They don’t need to breathe.  I’ll assume this extends to the Night King.  Can you imagine how cool it would have been if that scene opened up with the Night King silently slipping beneath the surface of that lake while the entirety of his army stood around the hole, motionless?  Just quietly waiting for a drawn out, pregnant period; call it 20 or 30 seconds of real screen time.  Following that period, the resurrected dragon bursts from the surface of the lake, clawing its way into the air, this time with the Night King perched upon its back.

Something like the above conveys the exact same information as what the show actually went with.  It is arguably just as dramatic, if not more so, and has the added benefit of not inspiring the viewers to ask a bunch of uncomfortable questions.  It keeps them in the moment, rather than taking them out of it and reminding them that they’re just watching a TV show.

And that should always be a concern on the forefront of any writer’s mind.

 

That time I became a successful writer #writeeveryday #author #amwriting

RockyBalboaIf I had to come up with a specific trigger that decided me on writing a book, I guess I’d come up empty.  Put an experience a year behind you and things start to go out of focus, I suppose.  There had been plenty of false starts before I wrote Commune One, so I can’t really tell you why this one stuck and the others didn’t.  Maybe I wasn’t the right kind of person to write a book back then, whereas now I’m the kind of person I need to be.  Maybe it really was just all about learning discipline.

What I can say for sure is that, at some point, I sat down and started writing a story and, after hitting around the 90 or 100 page mark (I used to measure things in terms of pages at first), I realized that I was probably going to finish.  Moreover, I realized the story I had was probably going to take a few books to complete, and that seemed okay to me.  At no point did it occur to me that I might not get these done.  So, I suppose you can legitimately call me a writer now.  Or a hack.  That works too.

As I put the finishing touches on that first book, it occurred to me that I’d have to start worrying about publishing the damned thing, so I dove into that process as well (and learned a whole bunch of new and important lessons through its execution).  I learned how critical patience is, for example.  You don’t want to rush this stuff, definitely.

As the first couple of sales started to trickle in, I started looking towards what would be next.  For one thing, I knew I had two more books to write.  For another, I got curious about audio books.  If you’ve read some of my other stuff on here, you’ll know that I’m a passionate believer in audio books, given that they turn my daily commute into something I can look forward to rather than dread.  And it just seemed to me that, in a market completely saturated with new entrants at various levels of quality (I’ve seen self published works of outstanding caliber right alongside those of stunning mediocrity), it behooved a fella to do something to stand out from the herd.  This is just one of those important life lessons you pick up when you compete at anything for any given amount of time…and this market absolutely is a competition, make no mistake.  Writers are competing for time and attention, so step one is not getting lost in the crowd.

An audio book with your name on it is just such a way to stand out from that herd.  See, anyone can publish a book now; that’s not an amazing achievement anymore.  Signing with a publisher: big deal.  Putting your ebook up on the internet: not so much.  But an audio book…well.  That’s a thing that has to get produced.  Someone (other than you, your friends, or your family) needs to believe enough in the story you’ve created that they’re willing to invest time and effort into it.  In essence, you need other people to believe that your work is good enough that you can all make some money on it.  Readers (and listeners) know this instinctively: if they see that your novel has been released as an audio book, they figure maybe there’s more to what you created than just some random person button-mashing away on a keyboard.

Coincidentally, at the same time I was pondering this industry, R. C. Bray (my hands-down favorite narrator in the audio book business) decided to host a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) in which his fans could, you guessed it, ask him whatever they wanted.

Before I continue with this, I need to confess that, as I spent my wee hours of the morning contemplating the process of getting an audio book produced, I fantasized about having Bray one day narrate one of my books.  I vividly recall thinking that if such a thing ever happened, I’d consider myself a success as a writer.  For me, it wasn’t down to book sales or some big, fat publishing deal.  My meter stick was just being able to hear something I’d written alongside the likes of The Martian or The Mountain Man series or even the Arisen series.  I thought about that, silently, unwilling to mention such a conceit even to my wife, and advised myself to dream on.

During the AMA, I asked what I thought was a simple question: “Given the cost to produce the average audio book (I had read it could run anywhere from $10K-$20K, depending), could he offer any advice on breaking into the market for a newbie?”

His response was kind but clear: That’s a pretty deep question, honestly, and there isn’t enough time to answer that here.

He didn’t blow me off, though.  He sent me his e-mail address and said, “E-mail me this question so I know its you and, when I have the time tomorrow morning, I’ll give you the answer it deserves.”

So I did that and we got to talking offline.

There was a bit of back and forth and I explained what my situation was to him, insofar as stating that I was interested in getting my book produced in audio format but that I didn’t have $10K to put up to get that done.  Turns out that there are a few different ways to get the job done, some of which include profit splitting…in which case I only had to find a narrator who believed that my book was good enough to bet his/her time and effort on.

Now, as this conversation was going on, it happened that Bray went over to Amazon and bought the ebook of my novel without telling me.  You can imagine my surprise when, after getting a few chapters in, he told me he wanted to narrate the series.  I won’t belabor the point but I will say that I immediately called my wife and lost my damned mind into the phone.  I don’t recall exactly what was said anymore but she did have to remind me to breathe several times.

Commune - Audio Cover

My second book is now finished and in the editing process, soon to be sent out to my narrator (mostly so I can get it into his queue; he’s ridiculously busy).  I haven’t really gotten rich doing this and I honestly don’t care if I do or I don’t.  I decided a while ago what success as a writer meant to me: write something that people would enjoy and maybe one day hear it performed by my favorite audio book narrator.  Money is kind of besides the point.

I can’t really offer any advice to aspiring writers to replicate such a thing.  I can’t write an article that tells you how to craft a good story (hell, I’m not even sure that I’m 100% on the process) or even how to write competently.  A lot of what happened to me over the last year had more to do with luck and random timing than anything else.  How do I advise someone to be in the right place at the right time?

The best I can really do for you is to say that if I hadn’t tried, it wouldn’t have happened.  At no point during this entire process did I believe I was good enough for any of this to take place.  Even so, I said “screw it” and put my chips forward.

And that’s what it takes.  Have a little faith in yourself, despite any evidence to the contrary that you can dream up.

Why Writers Need to Celebrate Cormac McCarthy #writing

I’m going to post a quote, here, from No Country for Old Men.  Maybe you’ve read the book and maybe you haven’t, but I don’t care.  Study this:

“He ran cold water over his wrists until they stopped bleeding and he tore strips from a handtowel with his teeth and wrapped his wrists and went back into the office. He sat on the desk and fastened the toweling with tape from a dispenser, studying the dead man gaping up from the floor. When he was done he got the deputy’s wallet out of his pocket and took the money and put it in the pocket of his shirt and dropped the wallet to the floor. Then he picked up his airtank and the stungun and walked out the door and got into the deputy’s car and started the engine and backed around and pulled out and headed up the road.”

Okay?  Now; read it again, but pay attention to the bold words.

“He ran cold water over his wrists until they stopped bleeding and he tore strips from a handtowel with his teeth and wrapped his wrists and went back into the office. He sat on the desk and fastened the toweling with tape from a dispenser, studying the dead man gaping up from the floor. When he was done he got the deputy’s wallet out of his pocket and took the money and put it in the pocket of his shirt and dropped the wallet to the floor. Then he picked up his airtank and the stungun and walked out the door and got into the deputy’s car and started the engine and backed around and pulled out and headed up the road.”

That’s a whole lot of and’ing, ain’t it?

When I first read this book, I was a little taken aback by McCarthy’s writing style.  At first, I figured it was a thing he was doing to evoke the sense of an old cowboy relating a story on a front porch somewhere, but as I dug deeper into some of his other works, I soon realized that this is just how the man writes.  He seems to run away from commas and semi-colons while screaming frantically, instead choosing to stuff another “and” in there whenever he can.

It takes getting used to but, at the same time, one must admit that it suits him.  At the same time, he’s not exactly hurting for lack of sales, is he?

And this is my point in bringing this up.  My wife, who is my best and most trusted critic, flays me alive if I rely on the words “and” as well as “or” in my writing too much, and her first pass through a draft always includes highlights of their usage when she sees them jumping out more than she’d like.  These kinds of things tend to bug the hell out of her, as they do with other readers, so she advises me to keep an eye out.  Most of the time, I’ll listen to her.

You’re going to run into all sorts of people in your life who will tell you how you’re supposed to write.  Editors, friends, family, and the like; they’ll all tell you what you’re doing wrong.  In an alternate universe, there are an army of people who, having never heard of Cormac or his work, would be the first in line to point at the above paragraph and explain why he was an outright hack.

But in this universe, our friend Cormac is a Pulitzer Prize winner and those same people praise him as a literary genius.  The secret is that Cormac McCarthy doesn’t give a shit what they call him.  He’s just focused on telling the story the way it needs to be told.

Of course, we’re not all geniuses like McCarthy.  Some of us actually are shit writers, despite our fondest wishes to believe otherwise.  But, because shit writing is subjective, you owe it to yourself to keep plugging away regardless of that danger.  Have the humility to hear criticism and incorporate those things that make sense to you, but also have the wisdom and self belief to know what must stay.

There’s a story in there that you’ve got to get out; just get the son of a bitch told.

Reviews of any kind are wonderful. 5-star reviews make my day #amwriting #thanks #grateful

Loved this book can’t wait for the second installment ! Great characters. Well told keeps you wanting more ! Definitely value for money !

Hearing that someone enjoyed something I wrote this much will never stop making my day.  I’m always so grateful to hear that something I wrote has resonated with someone out there.

Josh

Thank you and welcome, new readers! #grateful @amwriting

Fantastically, it seems there are still folks out there taking a gamble on my first book.  I say “fantastically” because that means that by this point, anyone still hitting the button to download it is a complete and total stranger.  The family and friends crowd was exhausted a long time ago.

This also means that I’m doubly grateful to those of you jumping on the bus.  It’s no secret that this is a series I’m working on; a series that is incomplete, by the way.  I get that there are plenty of people out there who may be interested in beginning a series of books but hold back from doing so until said series has been completed.  Seems George R. R. Martin has burned one too many fans in the world…

So not only are you guys taking a chance on a relatively unknown author in a veritable ocean of new talent, you’re also banking on the fact that I’ll have this series of books done in a timely manner.  I’m absolutely humbled that you’re diving in with me.

I’m well aware of the phenomenon of authors freezing up towards the end of their series, freaking out that they won’t be able to bring things to a satisfactory conclusion.  What I can promise you, my readers, is that I knew what the end of the Commune Series looked like from Day One when I wrote the opening line.  There’s a plan here, and I don’t mean some nebulous Lost plan wherein the smoke monster turns out to be the manifestations of some super mutant human and all the characters are actually just dead time travelers (good God).  Nope, I’m talking about a real ending that gets properly setup and paid off.  I can’t promise that you’ll love what happens to every single character but I can guarantee that the ending will be earned.

Book Two is just around the corner.  There are only a few chapters left to write (perhaps five or less) and then on to editing!

Take care.

Burnouts and Other Random Hooey #amwriting

Been quiet a couple of days.  Things have been hectic.

One of the things I’m gradually learning during this whole writing thing is that you have to spend as much (if not more) time running your mouth about the books you’re writing as you are just writing the damned books.

I’m an introvert.  I wrote my first book with the understanding that:

  1. I need to create something or I’m going to tear out what’s left of my hair.
  2. Writing a book is about the most solitary activity in which I could engage.

Joke’s on me!  I didn’t have the first clue what’s actually involved in marketing a book and getting people to pay attention to it when I wrote my first book.  I knew there was some sort of thing you’re supposed to do to tell people about it but that was really some nebulous, undetermined activity to be reserved for later after all of the publishing activity was completed.

Holy Jesus.  I feel like Jay Sherman…

buymybook

If you’re a true introvert, you know where I’m coming from.  You see, they have these people called extroverts, who get a deep psychological charge from interacting with other people.  They go to social events and gatherings, hang out and mingle with everyone all night long, and feel invigorated and energized the next day; ready to just go out and beat the shit out of the week.

Guys like me need a weekend of recovery after going out to dinner and a movie.  We literally feel like we need our batteries recharged.

For me, this is typically focused towards face-to-face social interaction.  I should and do have a higher tolerance for internet activity.  This, too, has a limit, it seems.

This is all a long, roundabout way to say that blogging a lot is freaking draining, man.  I’d rather be busy writing my next book; not writing about writing my next book.

Oh well.  Writing the second entry in the Commune series is actually tearing along, so I guess I’d rather have this problem than the alternative: the dreaded Writer’s Block.

 

US Military Men & Women – Share Your Stories! #marines #army #navy #airforce #coastgaurd

military

I’m a civilian.  The only knowledge I have about military life is what I’ve learned from my dad, who was a Soldier, and my other friends who have served, in addition to what I’ve researched for myself.

This presents a hell of a challenge, then, when a major character in my second book (currently in progress right now) is a 12 year veteran of the Marine Corps.  The reader spends a lot of time with this guy, so I’ve had to create not just a character, but a character with a realistic military career in the United States Marine Corps.

That shit is hard.

Lucky for me, I have some good Marine friends, both veterans as well as active service members, who can protect me from doing idiotic things.  One of them is listed in the acknowledgements of Commune Book One (Hi, Scott); another of them (currently stationed out in Okinawa right now) is looking like he’ll be a big part of me keeping Book Two on point.

I’ve spoken to a few vets on the matter and, so far, they all seem to appreciate the fact that the main thing I’m trying to do is show the most realistic portrayal I can of the military mindset and lifestyle, warts and all.  I’m getting the impression that these guys are excited about having their stories told, even if it’s only in a work of apocalypse fiction.

I’m trying to do a lot of things in this series of books, one of which is to honor the service and actions of the men and women of the United States Military in the truest way that I can, showing them as the real, complex people that they are.  Call it a fanboy love letter, if you like.

Whether I’m qualified or not, I’m taking on the role of a collector and keeper of stories, here.  If you have served or are currently serving and you have stories you want to share from your experiences (pretty or ugly), whether you were in country, on base, or in basic, please feel encouraged to send them my way.  If they work out for the story I’m trying to tell, an adapted version may end up in my books (with your permission).  Even if they don’t, I’ll be posting them up here at this site (again with your permission, of course – you or I can change names to protect the not-so-innocent).

I don’t know how much range this post is going to have or if there will be a lot of takers but I’d sure as hell like to get as many eyes on as I can.  If you’re reading this right now and you know anyone who might be interested, please share this along and direct them to my contact info on this site so they can drop me a line.  No story is too small; I’m not necessarily looking for a bunch of top tier operator stories, though if you went out and did that, it’s cool and you’re welcome here too.  But the background folks, whether you ran logistics in an office of slung food in the mess, I want you here too.  The lowliest grunt who never did anything more than fill a gas tank is still more of a badass than me; you guys are all my heroes, men and women alike.  You all have a place here.

I’m looking for human stories.  Whether it has to do with your first or last firefight; or that night you got bored, lit your pubes on fire, and ended up in the infirmary; or that wild time in Thailand that you can only vaguely remember.  I’m interested in all of it.  I’m damned sure not the only one.

Josh