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It is an unfortunate fact that publishers have decided in recent years to switch from the mass market paperback which has been popular since World War II (and helped to kill the pulp magazine, grrr) to the trade paperback edition, which apparently, because of its different size, is more economical. That may be true, but it’s still a pain in the neck.

Trade paperback, how do I hate thee? Let me count the ways.

You cost more. The average mass market paperback costs $7.99, last time I checked. The average trade paperback goes for $14.99. I may spend $7.99 on an author I don’t know, but I won’t spend $14.99 on an author I do know. It doesn’t matter how much more sense they make to print; if you’re not selling a copy, you’re still losing money.

You are hard to shelve. I’m a reader, always have been. My library has to exceed 10,000 volumes, most of which are in boxes. I have to save space where I can. Not to put too fine a point on it, but size does matter.

You are hard to carry. Mass market paperbacks were designed to be carried by soldiers in the field. They could fit into backpacks without much trouble. This remains true today. Trade paperbacks don’t work like that; they don’t fit in your pocket or purse, and they don’t fit as well in your hand. It’s the same reason I opt for a smaller phone.

I much prefer reading paper books to ebooks, for a lot of reasons. But if this trend toward larger paperbacks continues, I may have no choice but to shift to electronic reading. This will make me sad, publishers. And it will be your fault.

#SFWApro

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Loscon 2017

I have been given my tentative panel assignments for Loscon, at the LAX Marriott November 24-26, and as I know that my appearances have long (well, since last year) been a highlight of the early holiday season, I wanted to list them here. They are, of course, subject to change, but if they do, I’ll let you know. (We don’t want a repeat of last year’s near-riot at the Star Trek panel when I didn’t show up!)*

I self-published my first book, and I didn’t die! (11/24, 5:30pm) I believe this panel was specifically named to exclude posthumous-American indie authors from attending. I will be taking this up with the committee on behalf of all of my writer colleagues who feel like zombies (which is pretty much all of them).

Blending mystery and speculative fiction. (11/25, 5:30pm) As far as I’m concerned, everything was speculative when I was trying to become a published author. It’s how I did that which remains a mystery.

Writing & Intuition: What happens next? (11/26, 2:30pm) As faithful readers of my blog know, it’s really the characters who write the story and the author simply takes the credit. So I’m going to allow one of my characters to sit on this panel for me–as soon as I can find one who lives in this century…

Given my schedule, I should be around for most of the con. Look me up and ask me to autograph your e-book. I’ll sign a piece of paper and you can tape it to your Kindle.

 

*Oh, wait, there was nearly a riot at the panel because I did show up. If I’d realized Star Trek was that popular, I wouldn’t have said those things…

#SFWApro

Quick! As in Write Now!

I am not afraid to admit it: I am a man, and I am a fan of Project Runway. It shouldn’t be a surprise, really, because what I like about the show, and what I admire about the contestants, is their ability to create something out of nothing in almost no time. Their  parameters are like the guidelines of a magazine. Every week they try to transcribe those parameters into a story that says something about themselves. The fact that they tell their stories in cloth and other (usually) wearable materials is irrelevant; they are creating something out of nothing. And they do it in two days. It’s like a mini-Nanowrimo every week.

I’m not one of those authors who can produce something quickly and on demand. When I was at Taos Toolbox, I was petrified we were going to be required to come up with something fresh in the space of a day, and I knew that was never going to happen. It didn’t make it any better that one of my roommates was doing that very thing–and he did it pretty much every day. It still amazes me, that quickness of mind and creativity. It’s like when Harlan Ellison wrote stories in the window of Change of Hobbit bookstore back in the 1970s. I wouldn’t know how to do that if you threatened to arrest me.

One of the things I like about novels is that you don’t have to come up with new ideas all the time. Well, you do, but they fit into a pattern you’ve already laid out. I’m just not the quickest creator on the block. It’s taxing me to write a novel in ten weeks. (Spoiler: It may not happen.)

The answer, of course, is that I don’t have to be the quickest. I have to be as quick as I can be, work as hard as I can work, and write the best story that’s in me. Because it’s not about who’s fastest, or even who’s best, for that matter. There are seven billion potential readers out there; there’s room for more than one “best” writer.

Don’t ever try to put me on a show called Project: Writeaway, though. (“If you want to win, you have to create a story ‘write’ away!”) I’m not going to run around the room asking, “Has anybody got any extra metaphors? I didn’t buy enough!” or crying, “I should have learned to type faster!” That is not going to happen.

Although, I suppose I could write a story about it…

#SFWApro

New Cover, Same Sale!

In honor of its new cover, I have decided to extend the Once a Knight, A Tale of the Daze of Chivalry, sale for the for the month of November. Time to start that Christmas shopping…

Take one legendary samurai warrior, exiled from his adopted homeland by a technicality. Add one good-for-nothing, cheating, womanizing drunkard who has been exiled from every nation that has a border patrol.

Now make them brothers. And put the fate of two kingdoms on their shoulders.

You take your heroes where you find them.

brianswarriorfinal.pdf

You can obtain your copy from Amazon or Smashwords.

Somebody sideswiped my car in a parking lot recently. Not a lot of damage, but a lot of stress. Now you get to share.

It’s funny how writing can be compared to so many other things in life, baseball, commuting, sexice cream … and now car accidents. I guess this is because fiction deals with all aspects of life. (More likely it’s because writing is an endeavor so fraught with problems that everyone can relate.)

  1. You never know when something’s going to hit you. It might be a phrase, an idea, or an SUV. You never know.
  2. Once it happens, the results are unimaginable. Which is strange, because writing is imagination. But will it become a story? Will it sell? Will your insurance go up?
  3. Your fate is in the hands of others. You send the story to an editor. You send your car to the shop. When will they return? Who knows?
  4. You have no idea who’s going to pay whom. Will the editor pay you? Will your insurance pay you? Or was all of this some expensive mistake?
  5. Where it all ends up is a mystery. Maybe the editor will publish you. Maybe the editor will reject you. Maybe you’ll get your car back. Maybe it will be totaled. See item nos. 2 and 3.
  6. You will wonder if it’s all worth it. Should you give it up? Should you take the bus?
  7. It will give you an idea. Maybe you should write about a man who has an accident. Maybe you should write about a man who decides to take the bus. Maybe you should write about a man who becomes a bus driver!
  8. You realize that this random event has given you an idea that  you weren’t expecting. You re-read item no. 1.
  9. You realize there is no escape. Accidents will happen. Editors will reject you.
  10. You resolve to do better next time. You will watch the cross-traffic. You will observe the traffic lights. You will avoid the omniscient viewpoint and the present tense.

Bonus: Having an accident and writing a story have this in common: You will never forget what it felt like.

#SFWApro

Six Characters in Search of an Author” is a famous play by Pirandello in which, among other things, several characters, asserting that they are literally “characters” from another script, demand that their play be staged to their own specific requirements. There’s a lot more to it, but for my purposes, that’s the gist. The point is, it isn’t just in this play where that happens. In truth, when there is credit given for the success of a book, it’s given to the author, when in fact much of it should be given to the characters.

When I last left off drafting “The Killing Scar,” not one, not two, but three of my characters had simultaneously run off in their own direction contrary to what I (being merely the author) had planned. One of them was a character who hadn’t even been introduced yet! Yet without so much as a by-your-leave, there she was, tapping me on the shoulder to tell me that this was where she would enter the story, not several chapters later, as I had planned. (The bad part was, she was absolutely right; she needed to come in then, not later. The book is 25% done, and I don’t think you should introduce any major characters after the half-way mark.)

And the other two? They were complicit, starting on a literal road trip well before I had thought they would, deliberately subverting the order of the plot–and admitting that they were doing so! Their little jaunt led directly to the introduction of the third character in no way that I had predicted.

What do you do with characters who won’t behave? They’re like those “darn kids” in the cartoons who do all the things adults warn them against, only to be proven right in the end when they unmask the villain. How can you discipline them when they are acting out for the ultimate good of the story?

Easy. When the compliments and the good reviews come, you take all the credit. You never say, “Well, actually, the characters wrote this. I just copied it down.” Take the glory, and if they complain, say: “Hey, if you don’t want to be in the next book, that’s okay by me.”

And don’t share your royalties, either. That’ll show ’em.

#SFWApro

 

Numbers, Not Words

I am fond of saying that one of the reasons I’m a writer is because I have absolutely no talent for higher math. I’m pretty good at straight arithmetic, I managed to hold my own in algebra (with a great deal of struggle), and geometry was relatively easy–but when I try to advance beyond that, forget it. Many of my friends can read complicated equations like I read the newspaper (yes, some of us still do read the newspaper, and not on our phones), but to me they don’t even form a language, let alone a readable narrative.

Words, on the other hand, have always been my bread and butter. I was always the best speller in my elementary classes (among the boys, anyway), and I was a top English student in high school. Now I’m a writer. My friends with physics degrees can build models of quarks, but I can build models of worlds.

It is ironic, then, that so much of what I do is defined by numbers. There are sales numbers, obviously, and numbers of reviews (never enough), and ranking numbers at Amazon (although I realize as well as anyone how arbitrary they are, it doesn’t stop me from looking). And there are other numbers, as well–first among them is word count.

When you’re writing a short story, word count defines what kind of story you’re writing: flash, short, novella, etc., and where you can sell it, because magazines have parameters, based on their page counts and budgets. Some are firm, some have a little elasticity, but they all have the limits. You have to know this if you’re going to have any success at all, because your 17,000-word novelette may be brilliant, but its potential markets are few.

Word count also defines something quite different: It defines how difficult this job is. Think about it. A commercial short novel these days runs no less than 65,000 words, and you’ll find damn few of those. Most are at least 80,000 words. My longest novel so far ran 122,000 words. The novels I’m writing now are designed to come in at 60,000. And these words are not random; every one of them is specially selected. How hard is that?

Let me give you some context: The average person speaks about 16,000 words per day. That means that my typical novel is the equivalent of everything you say for four days. And it all has to be entertaining, suitably paced, and come to a point. You think you could talk that way for four days straight?

I do. Granted, I plan some of it out ahead of time, and it may take me ten weeks, but in the end it’s the same thing. The next time you’re reading a book, take a look at its page count, and multiply by 300. That will give you a rough idea how many words it is (depending on the book, of course, but bear with me). Then ask yourself, “Could I write that many words in a fashion so entertaining that people would pay money to read it?”

If the answer is “yes,” then close this window and get to writing. But if the answer is “no,” then the next time you finish a book, take a few moments to rate or review it on Amazon or Goodreads.

After all, in writing, it’s the numbers that count.

#SFWApro