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As you are aware, by this point in the proceedings, the plan was to have reached 40,000 words, the putative 2/3 mark of this monument to one man’s ambition. However, as you are also aware, from having read the title of this post, things this week did not go entirely as planned.

Through a combination of events largely out of my control, I couldn’t keep up the pace this week. Apparently, 32,000 words per month is my limit. (Already the experiment is yielding valuable data.) Even before Life took precedence, I had decided that 2000 words per day, even working only four days a week, was just too much. It was eating up all of my “free time,” and this gig doesn’t pay well enough for that. (Doubtful that it ever could.) So I ratcheted my goal back to 1500 words per night, which will extend the time it takes to finish, but not as much as you might think, since I’m so far into it already. I’m thinking ten weeks instead of eight. This should still leave enough time to make my September 15 deadline. (And if it doesn’t, I-the-publisher can fight me-the-writer over it.)

For the record, I am at 37,418 words. Since I already gave myself permission to slack off, however, this means I am only about 1100 words behind schedule on the sequel to The Choking Rain, which will now with 90% certainty be called The Scent of Death. Our Heroes, having hied themselves to an Asian kingdom where they don’t know anyone, don’t speak the language, and which is threatened by both revolution from within and invasion from without, have been attacked by a mob in the market square, resulting in becoming separated from their guide, the princess they’re protecting, and one of their own gang. Add to this a mysterious method of assassination, a gallery of untrustworthy high officials, and a couple of “allies” with their own secret agendas, and it’s all pretty much business as usual.*

And that’s all I can tell you. Fortunately, as part of the outlining process, I know who’s who and who’s not. Unless you count this character, who just kind of showed up and introduced himself, and that guy who’s not what I thought he was, and the other fellow who’s now…

I’m telling you, this would all be a lot easier if the characters would just read the outline first.

*And that’s not including the fact that their fearless leader has taken on a new identity so secret he won’t even tell them.

#SFWApro

Why is it, when you go into a Starbucks (it’s not always Starbucks, but they seem to attract the species, like flytraps) in LA (I’m assuming it’s only in LA, but I could be wrong–enlighten me) that you see all these guys (and yes, it’s always guys!) writing screenplays on their laptops, an empty cup beside them like their ticket on the train? (“Look, Mr. Conductor/Barista! I paid to be here!”)

No, I’m not asking why everyone goes to Starbucks to write. I’ve written in coffee houses myself, and found it works a lot better than I expected. I guess if it was good enough for J.K. Rowling, etc., etc. It’s not the writing in coffee houses that I don’t understand, it’s writing screenplays.

Look, writing fiction is a crapshoot. Let’s take science fiction, because that’s the field I know. When I was a “kid,” there were those who (I’m sure from an overabundance of caring) made no secret of the fact that your chances of ever getting a story published were 1000-to-1. Even today, with dozens of markets available for short SF, the odds are about the same. It’s not pretty, but it’s true. (Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try!)

But screenplays? I have no numbers to go by (and I’m too lazy to look), but I have to figure that your chances of selling a screenplay are about 1/10th as good as selling a short story. Yes, the rewards are vastly higher, but so’s a winning lottery ticket. So why write screenplays when your chances of succeeding at straight fiction are ten times better? I made more on my last sale than most of those coffee-jockeys will make on whatever they’re writing, if they push it from now until they die. (And believe me, what I make isn’t a lot to brag about. The pro rate for magazines as defined by SFWA has about doubled since the 1960s.)

I guess it’s the same mentality that plays the lotto. And I play the lottery, too, occasionally, though I stay with the small tickets. I guess I’d rather win a little every so often rather than play for the big pay-off that may (probably will) never come.

If you’re the other kind, and you hit it big, good for you. Go back to Starbucks and buy a round for the house.

#SFWApro

As of the end of Week 4, I am at 32,189 words. (Target threshold: 32,000.) If you remember, at the end of last week I was about to embark on a Big Action Scene. Turns out 50 bandits was a little on the heavy side, and I settled for 30. How that all turned out, who faced up to the danger, who was shoved to the sidelines, and who got shot, you’ll have to read the book to find out.

The plot is beginning to coalesce, with the cast of characters growing, potential villains set up, potential allies acting mysteriously (could they also be villains?) and making various shocking disclosures. (All I will say is that there are more people sneaking around the palace after lights-out than there were during the day.)

I am now considering a tentative release date of September 15. This presumes, of course that (a) I finish on time; (b) I can commission a proper cover, not only for this book, but a coordinating one for The Choking Rain as well; and (c) editing does not take more time than I anticipate. Plus, of course, I need a title. The Scent of Death is hanging around like, um, a mysterious and sinister perfume, and unless something really cool comes up, that will likely be the winner.

Meanwhile, of course, the Smashwords July sale is still on, and you can get all of my titles at reduced prices (one is actually free). So don’t be shy; I write these things to amuse myself, but you might find you like them too…

#SFWApro

There’s a new post over at the SFWA blog entitled, “Don’t Tweet Your Rejections.”* My first reaction was: “Somebody did that?” I don’t mean to make anyone feel bad, but that really seems to me to be the apex of our self-driven society, along with people who have to post everything they do to Facebook, or tag themselves at every stop, or take so many pictures of their food that it’s cold before they can eat it. As explained in the SFWA blog post, tweeting your rejections is bad for your brand. Don’t do it.

As you can probably tell from the previous paragraph, I am not a Millennial. Actually, as I have mentioned before, I grew up when submissions were sent to magazines and agents on paper. There were, ironically, far fewer markets, yet sending out submissions was a lot harder and more expensive. And, of course, you couldn’t tweet your rejections, so that danger did not exist. Still, there were many ways in which you could damage your brand, particularly with magazine editors.

The three or four magazines that existed back then (depending on exactly when we’re talking about), each received about 1,000 submissions per month. When you figure that there were maybe six to eight openings per month per market, and you were competing with every professional writer who had written a short story that month, it’s easy to see that the competition was insane. So why, when your odds of success were about a thousand-to-one, would you go out of your way to antagonize an editor?

Yes, even though editors receive reams of submissions every month, they come to recognize some names. I had a market I subbed all of my earliest stories to (because it was the only one for those kinds of stories), and although I never came close to cracking the market, after a few tries the editor remembered my name. The first time I received a personal note referring to this story not being up to the standard of “your other pieces” I pretty much flipped. The editor knew my name! And for a good reason!

Bad reasons? There were plenty. Aside from simply being obviously and completely devoid of talent, I mean. Editors’ greatest bane is writers who can’t follow instructions. Writing your story in crayon, not the way to go. Sending the editor “presents” with your book (regardless of whether they are relevant), not the road to success.** Nor was folding down a page in the middle of your manuscript to make sure the editor actually read it going to win you points. Perfumed paper? Don’t get me started.

And then there are the cover letters and query letters. Entire convention panels have been devoted to the worst of these. Suffice it to say that short and to-the-point is always the wisest course. And for heaven’s sake, don’t argue with an editor after a rejection, unless of course you want to take the quick road to never having that editor reject you again.

These mistakes are easily avoided. Nowadays there are hundreds of resources that will help you avoid them. Because editors have memories. It’s your job to make them good ones.

*You don’t have to be a SFWA member to read the SFWA blog. If you’re a writer, you should.

**I have it on good authority that sending nude selfies will end your career spectacularly quickly. Your writing career, anyway.

#SFWpro

Yep, I’m still at it. Tonight marks the start of Week 4 of the “Write a Novel in Eight Weeks” experiment. At this point, I am at 23,737 words, a sliver short of the 24,000 target. It turns out that there is a little more to outlining than I anticipated; you need to have the basic facts underlying your plot straight, or you may find yourself in trouble. I discovered that I was really wrong on one basic fact and nearly had to scrap the last third of the story, which would have ruined any chance of bringing it in in less than two months, but the beauty of fiction is that the author in totally in charge, and instead of changing the manuscript, I changed the facts. The story works just as well, and I stay on schedule (more or less).

As tonight’s session starts with a big action scene, I have a good chance of making up the lost ground. Action scenes tend to write themselves.

Speaking of action scenes (he said, congratulating himself on his subtle segue), my entire oeuvre is currently on sale at Smashwords, and The Invisible City is available for free. This is a classic adventure story, with noble heroes, dastardly villains, damsels in distress, damsels getting themselves out of distress, loyalty, treachery, betrayal, friendship, and lots of cliffhangers and hairsbreadth-escapes. (The only thing it’s missing is a dog. The hero should have had a dog. I apologize.) It’s a lot of fun, and if there is a kid in your life you’re looking to turn on to reading, you could do worse.

Now, back to planning that big action scene. Do you think fifty bandits is too many?

It’s July, and the world is your oyster. Thanks to the Smashwords Summer Sale, my entire stock of e-books is discounted! Choose from this colorful selection, starting with a free copy of the first volume of The Stolen Future trilogy:

The Invisible CityFREE: Journey nearly 1,000,000 years into the future to face re-created dinosaurs, subterranean mutants, genetically-engineered human-animal hybrids, and Earth’s alien overlords, as you trek across the planet in search of love, adventure, and a way home.

The Secret City. Following the events of The Invisible City, Keryl Clee returns to the future to find his love–but has he returned to the same place? The same time? Condemned for a crime he did not commit, Clee must fight enemies both human and inhuman as he sets out to find the Lady Maire–and discovers he must defend a world that wants him dead against a long-lost enemy that wants to conquer and to kill!

The Cosmic City. His enemies beaten back, but not beaten, Clee receives a message from the ancient past that sets him on his strangest voyage yet, struggling to stop a menace that can destroy time and space while betrayed by his allies, and his closest friends embark on a dangerous quest to find the astonishing secret that could save the world–or end it.

And if science fiction isn’t your thing…

The Choking Rain. In the days of the Great Depression, a mysterious and terrifying invisible murder weapon is killing men on the streets of Los Angeles in broad daylight, Can an ex-fighter pilot, a copy, and a colorful band of amateur adventurers save the city–and perhaps the nation–from The Choking Rain? (Book two in the series will be published in the fall.)

Once a Knight, A Tale of the Daze of Chivalry. Invisible killers too grim for you? Up for a little fun? How about a trip to the Dark (or perhaps dim) Ages? When Bruce Legume, heir-apparent to the mantle of the legendary White Samurai, is exiled from Japan to Europe on a technicality, he finds himself in the company of his long-lost brother Stephen, a loving soul who promises to help Bruce adjust to his new home (for a small fee). When that “adjustment” turns out to include assassins, pirates, a love-crazy princess, and an army of fashion-obsessed Amazons known as “Valleykyries,” will Stephen run? Will Bruce conquer? Will there be a sequel?

How to Know if Your Stockbroker is Ripping You Off (and What You Can Do about It). If fiction’s not your bag, this is a must for the informed investor–particularly if you are a retiree. Every year, it is estimated that up to 10% of all investors are mistreated by their stockbrokers (mostly seniors), and only one in 10 even realizes he’s being taken. Are you? Would you know if you were? This booklet, written in non-legalese plain English and based on over thirty years of dealing with dirty brokers, could save you tens of thousands of dollars today.

All of these fine books are offered at 25% off of list price (except for The Invisible City) for the month of July. What are you waiting for? Your summer reading list awaits!

Apparently it’s hard to let a good meme go–especially when you’re desperate to come up with a good meme. And so it is with casting yesterday’s stars as today’s heroes. This time, though, I’m giving it a twist: In the spirit of the Adam West/Burt Ward Batman, we’re going to have some fun with the genre…

The Fantastic Four will be portrayed in their latest film epic, “Dr. Doom Soup,” by none other than The Marx Brothers. See Groucho as Mr. Fantastic, stretching logic to amazing lengths. See Chico as the irascible Thing, and Harpo as the fiery Human Torch, using his flame to do the talking. And as Sue Storm, we feature (no, not Margaret Dumont!), platinum bombshell Thelma Todd.

The West/Burt Batman was, as we’ve always known, not the first theatrical Batman. That honor belongs to Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy. “This is another fine mess you’ve gotten us into, Robin!” (Look for the episode featuring Charlie Chaplin as the Penguin.)

Before there was Daredevil on TV (what, there was a movie? Please, I’m trying to forget.), there was another “daredevil,” a real man without fear who did his own stunts, Harold Lloyd. (The guy hanging off the clock tower in downtown LA? That was him.) This version does tend to play to Lloyd’s comedic gifts a bit heavily, as Daredevil often as not comes across as blind and without powers, but it was an important early effort to bring superheroes into the mainstream.

And of course (a tip of the hat to frasersherman), William Powell and Myrna Loy are at the top of their game playing the super-powered version of The Thin Man, the Elongated Man, and his always-in-the-midst-of-it wife, Sue. You’d think these actors were born for these roles, and if you flipped that reasoning, you’d be absolutely right.

It’s not surprising that these characters took so long to return to the screen (if they have) after being played by such iconic actors. And there are those (including myself) who secretly believe that the older versions, black & white, even silent, were better…