Real numbers: The truth about self-publishing

By Scott Bury

Last January, Digital Book World reported that nearly 80 percent of self-published authors and more than half of traditionally published authors earn less than $1,000 a year from their efforts.

That report has generated a lot of debate. Some very honest and brave independent authors have put their own statistics up against this argument:

Hugh Howey — arguably the most successful indie author these days — and another, anonymous indie author compiled statistical research and put the lie to the DBW claim. They point out that the DBW report is so broad as to be useless — it includes books of all types, and does not include ebooks sold by Amazon, the biggest book retailer in the world.

Howey and his unnamed partner dug deep and found that e-books account for 86 percent of all genre fiction, and that  independent authors outsell the Big 5 commercial publishers combined in genre fiction.  There’s a lot of analysis in the report, and I recommend you read it.

Toby Neal, bestselling author of the Lei Crime series and paranormal fantasy Island Fire, candidly revealed her own sales, revenues and cost figures on her books. While Toby treats the writing as an art, she approaches publishing as a business. She invested $12,000 in editing, design, production and marketing of her first book, Blood Orchids, and netted over $100,000. She still makes money on that book, and views all her nine books (with one more coming in March).
Independent author Jami Gold blogged about two more analytical reports that took apart the DBW claim about most independent authors making under $1,000. Jami’s original post was reblogged by book consultant Kristen Lamb. It turns out that professional independent authors, those who use professional editors and designers, market their books as a business and continue to publish several titles, make considerably more money.

 

About 50% of respondents make more than $10K when they have 4-7 self-published books available, and 20% make more than $50K. At 12-20 books available, over 50% of respondents are making 50K or more, and 30% are over $100K.

In short, independent writers who treat writing as a business or profession, rather than as just a hobby or game, can make a comfortable living at it.

What’s a professional writer?

Being professional means:

  • publishing regularly, developing a catalog of titles
  • using a professional editor – someone with background experience in the publishing industry
  • using a professional cover designer
  • marketing and promoting strategically and using professional services appropriately.

Getting into the category will cost money, but not as much as the 90% of book sales a commercial publisher takes, and certainly not as much as forking out thousands to a vanity publisher or something like one of those “become a published author” scams. And it won’t cost as much as you give up by not doing these things.

I have to admit, I’m remiss on one dimension: the regularity of my publishing my own books. It’s been a year since I published my last novel, Army of Worn Soles, and it’s going to be at least three more months before the next title is ready for publication.

It’s so refreshing, indeed inspiring, to get this honest number-crunching from some people who are making a profession from being independent authors, and showing us all there is a business model and a path that work.

Want to find more indie fantasy authors who are working the dream? In addition to those mentioned above, check out:

And many more that I just don’t have time or space to list here, and many I haven’t had the chance to read, yet. But keep coming back to the blog for reviews and interviews with independent authors.

Pic-ScottBuryScott Bury is a journalist, editor and writer living in Ottawa. His articles have been published in newspapers and magazines in Canada, the US, UK and Australia.

Visit his bio page on Guild of Dreams.

Snowed in and Snowed under

Snapshot_20140802_2by Chantal Boudreau

This year, the weather has brought me ample fodder for story concepts. Be it imagined scenarios of the aftermath of a bus crash during an April snowstorm or co-workers sharing ideas of snow monsters taking over the world when winter never goes away (not someone who writes stories herself,) the massive snowfalls we have endured here in late winter/early spring seemed to have inspired some unpleasant icy fantasies.

But that’s the thing about fiction – genre fiction in particular. The stories are found in the unusual, not in the norm. You’ll rarely see a “day in the life of…” kind of tale when exploring the speculative unless it’s presented in such a way to highlight the differences between our mundane existence and the strange alien planet, or the magical fantasy realm or the dystopian future society. Everyday life doesn’t tend to make for an exceptionally interesting story unless there is something exceptionally interesting about the protagonist(s)’s everyday life. Even in literary fiction, characters tend to have their eccentricities and are moving toward some point of self-discovery or self-destruction not just adhering to the status quo.

The entertainment value of a fictional story comes from events that wouldn’t typically happen. They might be used by the author for some sort of social commentary or moral point, something not likely to happen as the result of a protagonist sitting there twiddling his or her thumbs. Whether a character’s involvement is proactive or reactive, the story results from challenges, accidents, ambitions or extremes – something beyond the average.

I’ve been subject to the extraordinary for years, accused of being a weirdness magnet and of knowing everybody everywhere on more than one occasion (because I always seem to bump into acquaintances in the strangest of places.) I think that’s why, unlike some writers, I don’t cringe when people ask “where do your ideas come from?” I’ll gladly tell them. My life has always run so far outside of the norm, even when I’m trying to be just your average old boring accountant/mom, that I can’t escape new story ideas. I see them in my family, my friends, my co-workers, my environment, my goals, my fears and my trials and tribulations. Sometimes they even show up in the floors, doors or walls. With all this plot material building up in my head, if I didn’t write the occasional story, it might just explode.

So despite my unhappy mutterings about the record-breaking snowfall we’ve had this year, it’s really not all that bad. It’s just another one of those unusual experiences I can file away to break out when I need fictional inspiration – as the urge strikes me.

Something to keep me busy the next time I end up snowed in or snowed under.

Spies everywhere

I hate it when someone steals my idea.

20150215-132230.jpg

I thought it happened again when I first saw a coming attraction trailer for the new movie Seventh Son, with Jeff Bridges, Ben Barnes and Julianne Moore. It looked very similar to my first book, The Bones of the Earth, which I published in 2011.

I should be used to this. Back in 1980, when I was young and probably just as foolish as I am today, I decided to try running as a sport. I would run in the evenings in my neighbourhood, and realized that it was really quite boring. I thought how nice it would be to be able to listen to music while I ran.

I considered my Sony hand-held tape recorder, the one that was supposed to be used to record university lectures. I never actually used it for that, but did play music cassette tapes. The sound quality was … tolerable, and it was better than having no music at all.

Now, this tape recorder-player was designed to be held in one hand, but it was still pretty bulky for running. Heavy, too. I looked it over and realized that the speaker accounted for much of its bulk. “If it just had an earphone instead, it would be a lot more portable,” I remember thinking. “No—headphones! Stereo headphones! That would be awesome.”

Six months later, Sony released the Walkman.

20150215-133913.jpg

My first fantasy novel, The Bones of the Earth, in many ways follows the classic high fantasy quest genre. It’s set at a time before guns and gunpowder, when horses were the main means of travel, when civilization was still a tenuous bet and when magical beasts roamed the earth. It has a number of element that fantasy readers will find familiar: a wise old man, a young boy with a unique destiny, a damsel in distress and lots of monsters, witches, vampires and dragons.

In writing it, I determined to break as many of the tropes and conventions of the fantasy genre as I could. For starters, it’s not set in a made-up world, but in a real time and place, and some of the events in the story actually took place in history. But that’s a subject for another post. Suffice it to say, it’s not a conventional quest story, and the characters are not like those you’ll find in other quest stories.
But the main character, Javor, is the seventh son of a seventh son. In fact, I had recently decided to title the third volume of the planned trilogy (I have the outline already) Seventh Son.

Then Universal Studios brought out Seventh Son.

20150215-154819.jpg

And it features a wise old man and a boy with a unique destiny, who has to fight monsters, dragons and witches.

Damn.

I haven’t seen the movie yet, and I don’t know whether I ever will, but a little research showed that the movie is based on Joseph Delaney’s 2004 novel, The Spook’s Apprentice. There are other similarities, such as the main villain being a centuries-old, powerful woman. But there are also a lot of differences, enough to allay my misgivings.

I guess that the author of The Spook’s Apprentice and I were both tapping into the same energy and some of the same ancient mythologies. And let’s face it, the trope of the ancient master passing on his knowledge to a talented apprentice crosses many genre boundaries.

The font of knowledge: a rarely examined trope

By Scott Bury

Last week, Autumn Birt discussed villains and raised some interesting points about whether villains are truly evil, or just have different goals from the heroes.

It would be fascinating to continue this examination of heroes and villains, good and evil, absolutism and relativism. But today, I want to discuss another common trope in all literature, including fantasy, that doesn’t get much attention from critics but plays an indispensible part of almost every story: the source of arcane knowledge.

Keeping any story moving sometimes requires the protagonist to acquire knowledge of remote events, characters or items.

Statue of Perseus by  Benvenuto Cellini

Benvenuto Cellini’s Perseus with Medusa’s head

Perseus, for example, had to search for the Grey Sisters or Witches, three sisters who shared a single eye and tooth. Only they could tell him where he would find the Hesperides, who would give him what he needed to slay Medusa the Gorgon.

How the Grey Sisters knew that information is never revealed, and in fact is not important to the story of Perseus. It’s just important that Perseus learns this so he can behead the Gorgon and from there kill King Polydectes and protect his mother.

Gandalf is the source of arcane knowledge in The Hobbit. He gives Thorin Oakenshield the map that shows the location of the secret entrance to the Lonely Mountain, and also explains the fate of Thorin’s father, Thrain. Gandalf is also the source for uncounted old tales and background facts.

In Bruce Blake’s Icarus Fell series, the archangel Gabriel mysteriously appears just to give the protagonist, Icarus, little scrolls with the names of the souls he has to transport to heaven, as well as the location to bring them for the journey. How she gets this information, and how souls are chosen for salvation, is never really explained—and anyway, who are we to question archangels?

This structure shows up not only in fantasy, but in other genres as well. In the TV series Criminal Minds, for example, Penelope Garcia is

Penelope Garcia

Penelope Garcia of Criminal Minds, played by Kirsten Vangsness

a continual source of critical background information that she unearths from any database in the world. The show hints that she has unmatched computer hacking abilities as well as software and skills that allow her to cross-reference all sorts of things in seconds.

In The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, the mysterious hacker Wasp provides clues and facts for the protagonists. And at various points, Lisbet becomes both the protagonist and the font of knowledge.

I don’t know how many Hollywood movies feature a character popping up at a crucial point to impart a little factoid that the hero needs. How they get the information is never explained, and when you think about it, you realize how improbable it is that someone would find this information so easily.

But working that out would take a lot of time, and slow down the story. Good storytellers know when to skim over details that would only distract the audience from the important part, anyway.

The point is, the font of knowledge is an important role in any story—as important as a hero and a villain, because without him or her, the story just cannot happen.

Creating worlds

By Scott Bury

One of my favourite parts of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and Lord of the Ring was the maps. I’d spend hours poring over the depiction of Middle-Earth and the details of the Shire, Mordor, the land around the Lonely Mountain. I especially loved Pauline Baynes’ illustrated map of Middle-Earth. The complex and believable map was one of the main reasons that I preferred Tolkien to CS Lewis.

Pauline Baynes' map of Middle-Earth

Pauline Baynes’ map of Middle-Earth, courtesy Geo-Hackers http://geohackers.in/2014/03/monthly-maps-jan-feb-2014/

 

I developed a habit of drawing my own fantasy maps, with little triangular mountains, shaded forests, long, twisting rivers, mysterious seas and sheltered harbours. And I found that the more complex I made the map, the more convoluted the coastlines and twisting the rivers, the more realistic the map looked.

Fantasy writers by definition create new worlds. To reach an audience, the challenge is to find the right balance between fantastic — the reason an audience reads fantasy — and realistic, so readers can identify with the characters.

I think that one way that some fantasy writers succeed in this is by making their worlds big and complex.

Look at a real map and note how complex it is

map of Newfoundland

Newfoundland — a complex coastline Wikimedia Commons

Exploring a new world, through maps or text, is a major part of the attraction of reading fantasy.
And creating a new world is much of the fun of writing fantasy.

Some fantasy writers, like Bruce Blake in his Icarus Fell series, create a world very similar to the objective world that authors and audiences share, populated with a angels and demons, or perhaps impossibly beautiful vampires or werewolves. At the other end of the spectrum is the completely invested world with its own geography and societies, like in Autumn Birt’s Rise of the Fifth Order series.

As a writer, I think I prefer to lean closer to setting the story within the objective world we share with our audiences, and populating it with fantastical elements. My own has dragons, wizards, magical weapons, vampires, short people who live underground and more.

The real world is so much richer, more complex and varied than any imaginary planet or middle-earth-like setting. The world we live in is the product of millions of minds, of sets of experiences, sharing and intersecting and changing at a mind-blowing rate. Its possibilities for stories are endless.

The first advantage for the writer is that you don’t have to invent languages or names. So many imaginary worlds have character and place names that just sound fake. Tolkien’s only have any consistency and believability because he spent years inventing languages that the names come from.

For his Song of Ice and Fire series (adapted for TV as Game of Thrones), George RR Martin made a world that’s a close analog of our own. Place names and character names are the same as, or very close to, names from the shared, objective world:

  • Eddard, RIckard, Joffrey, Tyrion, Martell, Reed
  • Westeros, Essos, Harrenhal, Casterly Rock

Others are obviously invented or based on other fantasies

  • Argon, Drogo, Cersei, Viserys
  • Dorne, Qohor, Qarth, Valyria.

If you don’t have faith, you have to make it

Another advantage to setting your fantasy in the objective world is that you don’t have to invent religions. A little research can reveal beliefs, rituals and practices that are more bizarre, shocking, horrifying, unbelievable yet undeniably real than any you could imagine.

  • Cathars who willingly threw their children and themselves into fire lit by their enemies, so firm was their conviction they were going to heaven
  • blood and human sacrifice rituals of the Mesoamericans
  • sexual rites of the mesopotamians
  • cannibalism
  • worship of every animal from bulls to snakes to fish.

History is complex, constantly changing and debatable

If you’ve ever tried to invent a back story or a history for a character, let alone a world, you’ll probably find there is no convenient starting point. There’s no zero. Every action decision and relationship is the result of something that happened before. Even the Big Bang had something before it.

The history of a nation is the result of relationships, intersections and minglings of millions of individual story lines. People have goals and ambitions formed by so many different forces, and we can see by history their drive toward those goals can be helped by emotions, psychological and physical strengths and weaknesses, friends and enemies. Those relationships can change suddenly. A powerful king can die of a simple infection. The Roman Emperor Justinian was killed by a flea bite that gave him the bubonic plague.

I remember reading a poem in grade school about Richard III, King of England, losing the battle of Bosworth Field:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost,
for want of a horse the knight was lost,
for want of a knight the battle was lost,
for want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
So a kingdom was lost—all for want of a nail.

Sometimes, the greatest events with the most convoluted back stories revolve on the simplest things.

A lesson for all us writers to learn.

Scott Pic-ScottBuryBury is a journalist, editor and novelist based in Ottawa, Canada. He has written for magazines in Canada, the US, the UK and Australia.

He is author of  The Bones of the Earth, a fantasy set in the real time and place of eastern Europe of the sixth century; One Shade of Red, a humourous erotic romance; a children’s short story, Sam, the Strawb Part (proceeds of which are donated to an autism charity), and other stories.

He is now working onthe true story of a Canadian drafted into the Red Army during the Second World War, his escape from a German POW camp and his journey home. It’s tentatively titled Out of the USSR.

Scott Bury lives in Ottawa with his lovely, supportive and long-suffering wife, two mighty sons and two pesky cats.

He can be found online at www.writtenword.ca, on his blog, Written Words, on Twitter @ScottTheWriter, and on Facebook.

Building a Story

by Bruce Blake

—–

A pleasant thing happened to me the other day…one of those things that all writers have experienced, but want to have happen more frequently.

A story began to form in my head.

'Prospector' by ToOliver2 courtesy of Creative Commons

‘Prospector’ by ToOliver2 courtesy of Creative Commons

It came out of no where, opening before me like a rolled carpet careening down a hill. It was only a few lines to begin with, but the more I turned them over in my head, inspecting them  with the keen eye of a prospector determining the value of a nugget, the more it stuck, grew, developed.

This is how it started in my head:

It was Friday, April 13th the day they locked the door; none of us knew when it would open again. If it ever would.

I liked it. Two quick sentences to set up some questions in the reader’s head–who was being locked in? Where and why? The fact it’s Friday the 13th hints it will be horror and the lines have a certain mystery to them, but it was the next paragraph taking shape in my brain that really drew me in:

Sixty-four souls were shut in when the lock clicked, and none of us fought it. No one ranted and raved, no one kicked and argued. No one knew why we were there, either, until a week later when the Chinese girl’s skin started to peel.

That’s about all I had, but it gave me some of the things I need to continue: mystery, atmosphere, genre. The one thing I didn’t have was a plan.

The idea came to me as I was driving, so I chanted it over and over lest it slip away from (oh, the tragedy when that occurs!), then rushed into the house upon arriving home, grabbed a notebook and a pen, and scribbled down what I had. As I wrote, it changed a little:

Sixty-four souls were trapped behind cement walls and a steel door when the lock clicked shut, and none of us fought. No one ranted and raved, no one kicked or argued. We let ourselves be locked away without complaint or question. And none of us knew why, either; at least, none of us admitted we did until a week later when the Chinese girl’s skin started to peel.

A little more description, and stronger because of it, I thought. As my pen scratched across the paper–a unique and heady feeling one never achieves when tapping the lettered squares on a keyboard–more came to me, and a couple more paragraphs were born that added characterization to the narrator, and an inkling of plot:

She might have been Korean. I wasn’t sure but, either way, she did her best not to cry. You could see it in the taut lines of her face, the way her mouth turned down at the corners. She fought it but, in the end, the pain proved too much and she wept tears of blood. Sobs turned to cries, cries became screams, and screams finally faded to pleas to end her suffering.

We didn’t, though I imagine all of us would have asked for the same level of humanity if we were the ones melting into a pool of blood, tears, and excrement.

None of us dared get close enough to do it, though, not once we saw what was happening. Watching the way her flesh came off, how her hair came out in clumps, told us everything we needed to know. It revealed the reason for our quarantine.

We’d all been exposed. Intimately.

Tense enough? Make you wonder what’s going on? It made me want to know more, so I thought I better introduce another character so we didn’t spend the entire time trapped inside the narrator’s head.

The day after the girl died, knees hugged to her chest as she writhed in a puddle of her own bodily fluids, a man who called himself Juniper approached me. He’d introduced himself the day before the Chinese or Korean girl began scaring the bejesus out of us. That day, his voice held a vague accent and a lilt of underlying joviality that, given our circumstances, I guessed always resided there. The next time we spoke, the accent remained, but the joyous humour was gone.

I stood against the wall, as far from the mess as possible, but everyone else was trying to do the same. People mumbled under their breath, a low, murmuring rumble spreading through the room, each hushed voice carrying the same question.

Would anyone come to clean up her…remains?

I watched Juniper approach, perspiration shining on dark skin that confirmed the heritage his accent suggested–Jamaican, or maybe from somewhere in Africa. He made his way through the crowd, people moving aside like chunks of frozen ocean before the prow of an icebreaker. We nodded to each other as he docked beside me smelling salty like a week’s worth of sweat, not like the sea.

“Hell of a thing,” he said, voice quiet as he peered over the heads of the others in the direction of the melted girl. Most gazes in the room were turned the same way. “Ever seen anything like that before?”

I grunted the most non-committal of grunts. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him face me, waiting for me to elaborate. I didn’t. A minute later, he spoke again.

“I’ve seen it before. Happened to my son.”

There’s a bit more, but for the purpose of this post, we’ll stop there. Even copying the lines into this format, I’m invigorated by the process of creation, the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling of bringing an idea to life. There’s nothing quite like the feeling of having a story–or a piece of a story–present itself to you, and the ensuing pleasure of capturing it.

And so, dear Guild of Dreams readers, I’d like to pose three questions to anyone who cares to answer in the comments section:

1. Where would you take this story?

2. Is it a nugget of gold, or a tired, old chunk of pyrite?

3. Does this happen to you? (The muse whispering insistently in your head part, not the melting thing)

—–

Bruce Blake is the author of 8 novels and apparently lets his mind wander while driving. Follow him on his blog to keep up or sign up for his newsletter to receive infrequent news of his daydreams.

It Doesn’t Take a Miracle to Find a Story

I was speaking to my wife the other day about the differences in our middle school lives, and for some reason decided to look up the house I lived in during that time. The house is still there, the middle school appears to have a newer parking lot, but it really didn’t spark all that much in the way of nostalgia.

Probably because I was picked on and I’m “repressing” my memories.

A few hours later, I thought I’d look up the house I lived in when I was much younger, from age 5 to age 9. Not only did I find the house quickly (and I even remembered the address), an amazing thing happened: I found out just how many trivial things I can remember.

Take a look at this screenshot from Google Maps. I grew up in the house I’ve circled.

JStreet

See the pool in the lower left? I learned to swim there and received my “FISH” badge by picking up a penny dropped in the shallow end. The exact spot is marked with an “X”.

I was 5.

Now look in the upper right, where another “X” is. It was there that I found a condom under a tree still in a wrapper and decided it would make a neat balloon. The building just to the north of that spot is a motel of sorts where I remember seeing a maid look out at three boys blowing up a prophylactic. She was, of course, laughing in that jiggly sort of way some people do.

Just to the left of that “X” is where two older boys beat me up when I fell off my bicycle, cut my knee and cried. I was beat up because–and I quote–“Eight-year-olds don’t cry! Don’t ever do that again or we’ll beat you harder.”

I haven’t cried in front of people since.

I’m almost 42 now.

Across the street from the house I lived in, there was a stand of bamboo. The neighbor kids and I would run through “tunnels” we carved and there was a pile of old Playboy magazines that had been smuggled in by some sneaky kid. That pile was located just the south of where the “r” in “Juniper” is.

From just this small picture, which is probably no more that a few hundred feet wide, I feel almost like Ray Bradbury must have as he looked back on Green Town, or how any of us might feel when we’re walking down the train tracks looking for trouble on a hot summer day. It’s amazing what memories we possess and what possesses us to remember them.

We don’t need to invent a fantasy world to dive into the fantasy of our past. In fact, I have every intention of writing about “Juniper Street” and all the dragons and demons we fought there. (I didn’t mention the massive fort we built out of cardboard moving boxes. I think it was at least the size of an aircraft carrier. Of course, at 7, things appear larger than they really are.)

In a weird way, I think I found myself a novel waiting to be told.

And it’s been waiting for over three decades.

(By the way, I stuck my hand in a fire ant hill on the southeast corner of my yard when I was 6. I was playing with Weeble Wobbles and needed dirt for the airport. Painful, to say the least. Those were a few hundred demons I fought but didn’t beat.)

The Modern Writer: Research

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m writing a series of posts highlighting different aspects of the modern writer. Today, I’m going to talk about research and how it has evolved in the internet era.

For me, in my recent endeavors, it’s become important to research how flintlock and percussion cap firearms work, how far an army could march in a day, or how much food would be needed for an extended campaign. Each writer is going to research something different, dependent on the needs of their story and the world in which it lives.

When I started writing I didn’t really do much of any research. All of my works were either highly derivative, or created completely without basis or factual evidence.

As I’ve developed as a writer, however, it’s become more and more obvious to me that in order to write a solid story, some level of research is essential.

“Back in the day” research involved reading other books in the genre of your choosing, or going to the library and finding source material on the subject you wished to research.

Taking classes on a subject at a local college might be one way to study a particular field, including the copious amount of notes that would go along with that.

But those things took time and money. And for some situations, you might not even have a chance to read extensively on your

The Internet has changed the way that writers study. A quick scan of the Amazon categories, a Wikipedia article, or even just a quick Google search will typically render enough reading material to fulfill most research needs. topic. Gunpowder Fantasy wasn’t even a thing when I started reading. If I had tried to read other books in the genre, I would have been out of luck.

Not only does this allow a writer a much wider variety of content to peruse and research (some of my reading for Gunpowder Fantasy comes from authors in the UK and Australia) but it saves tons of times. No longer does a writer need to take a chunk out of their day to drive to the library to look up books and read through them.

library

There is, as always, a downside to using the internet as a research tool: the random dredges of society and the sometimes scattershot

approach that Google takes when combing through its massive databases for information.

n-helpful or downright harmful to the honest study of a topic. And if you search for two words, any website with those words anywhere near each other will come back on the results, sometimes creating false positives.Because anyone can have a blog, the search engines will often come up with results from people who are either less-tha

How has the internet changed how you research your work? How has it changed how you find new things to read
?

Tackling Too Many Ideas

by Autumn Birt

I never thought I’d be one of those people. I didn’t think I had it in me.

You see, I’m working on three novels at the same time. I’m really surprised with myself.

It turns out it is difficult to turn off ideas. For me, they don’t sit idly by and wait their turn. I’m starting to think of my story ideas like gremlins that live under the bed and don’t let me sleep or that lurk in shadows on quiet woodland paths when I’m are off on other plans.

This is my life as a writer - illustrated by Pyon Dattebayo

This is my life as a writer – illustrated by Pyon Dattebayo

This spring, I already had ideas for two stories running around in my head (the final book in my epic fantasy series and a set of before stories to a re-write of an existing unpublished novel), all the while I’d been blogging and marketing (and selling, yeah!). I was even finding solutions to some tough spots at work (Side benefit of filling in plot holes, I guess. Juggling deadlines is nothing compared to creating a world, ending a war, and then…).

All that great motivation must have got the attention of a few more creativity demons. One morning a daydream revealed a hook. It was one of those ideas that made my knees fold unexpectedly so that I found myself sitting on the floor with my chin somewhere around my waist. Man, that was a story idea too good to pass up! It didn’t matter that I had the third book in my epic fantasy series in progress and had been toying around with short stories for the next book. I gave in and went to write the new story, bypassing my normal habit of scribbling the notes down in a journal. I opened up a black document and realized I didn’t have a clue about the world. Oops.

Not to be swayed, I started world building. This is while writing book 3 of my epic fantasy series, Spirit of Life, and pecking away at the second short story to Friends of my Enemies. Did I mention I was occasionally producing some fantasy artwork based on my current fantasy series. It’s just been one of those springs. When the world building was done…yup, started writing the story. The working title is Black Throne, Black Blood. That makes project three.

The funny thing is that I’m task oriented. I generally want to finish a project before jumping to the next. Right now, I can’t even say that I’m finishing chapters between jumping from one story to another. I’ve worked on all three in the same night and am currently at Chapter 8 in Spirit of Life, the middle of short story 2 for Friends of my Enemy, and the middle of chapter 1 for Black Throne, Black Blood.

Beite, a Kith girl in my epic fantasy series.

Beite, a Kith girl in my epic fantasy series.

Finishing the epic fantasy series with Spirit of Life definitely has top priority in terms of time and writing. I have a calendar marked with deadlines for it to keep myself on track. Apparently my writing creativity has rubbed off on problem solving at work and deadlines from work have rubbed off on my writing! But I’m worried that with two many writing projects, not staying focused on which is the most important will leave me wandering between novels and not finishing anything.

I’d once wondered how a writer could keep multiple story lines straight or the characters fresh and unique with numerous WIP. But since I’m very familiar with two of the novels (one being the third in a trilogy and the other a re-write), it hasn’t been a problem. If anything, I find similarities I might have overlooked if not for writing them concurrently.

One of the things that really appeals to me is the diverse tone of the the three books. It has made me a fan of multiple projects. Spirit of Life has a youthful and hopeful tone. Friends of my Enemy is more harsh, adult, and literary. Black Throne, Black Blood is more off-the-cuff with a heroine that likes to cross the line of appropriate behavior. Somehow the three work together for me.

And having multiple projects alleviates that sadness of ending a series. I was already having twinges of not wanting to finish Spirit of Life. I don’t want to be done with the characters or novel! Now, with two other projects vying for attention, letting go isn’t as hard.

But there are drawbacks to having too much going on. I could probably finish Spirit of Life faster if it were my only project. And I had opportunities to guest post at two blogs that I’ve left hanging. I know I’m at maximum and finding time to write some awesome posts and ship them off to someone…I know I should, but I haven’t found the focus for it. And the amount of reading I’ve been doing has plummeted. So far, the drawbacks haven’t overridden the fun of working on these three novels though.

I won’t say that the ideas developed overnight. To read more about how I got myself into this mess – err, spate of creativity, stop by my blog at www.AutumnWriting.com for that part of the story.

What about you? Have you ever worked on more than one story at a time? How did it go? What are the pitfalls and the benefits?

– Autumn is the author of the epic fantasy novel Born of Water, its Novel Companion, and, most recently, Rule of Fire, book 2 in her series of elemental magic. Along with her husband, she is the author of a compilation of adventure travel stories Danger Peligros! All are available at Amazon, Smashwords, and other retailers of e-novels. Her next novel, Spirit of Life – book 3 in the series, will be available late 2013. You can also find her online on Twitter at @weifarer or on her Facebook page and on Goodreads.

Thirty Minutes on the Plot Machine

“Where do you get your ideas?”

Over the years, I have read many interviews in which authors claim this is the most asked question they get, so much so that many of them make up witty and humorous answers. So far in my writing career I’ve done a number of interviews and no one has asked me this question. Rather than feel left out anymore, I decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns and deal with it here and now. But to do so, I need to digress for a moment, so bear with me.

My birthday is coming up soon (Jan. 20 for those of you who want to mark it on your calendars) and, since I was born in the same year as the Big Mac, Penthouse magazine and, less notably, the very year man first landed on the moon, that means I will be turning forty-four. The age doesn’t bother me in the slightest because, as you will often hear me say, life begins at forty (okay, you caught me. I probably wasn’t the first person to say that). However, there are things that have begun to change with age, one of which is the speed of my metabolism. While I have been good at cutting out those also-turning-forty-four Big Macs, I am the possessor of a great love of both chocolate and ice cream. In fact, if you told me I had to either give up those two items or my two children, I would have a moral dilemma on my hands (having said that, my son is 18 and has skills as a landscaper, so he’d be worth a fair penny on the black market. Hmm.).

So, in order to keep my kids around, I head off to the gym.

I find weights take a certain amount of concentration, or provide a certain amount of distraction, depending on your point of view. But on my cardio days, when I work on the elliptical trainer, things are different. Cardio

A plethora of stories waiting to happen

A plethora of stories waiting to happen

is boring. I don’t take an ipod with me, the TVs are always tuned to something uninteresting (and the volume is turned off, even if it is anything good) and it’s too hard to text or talk on the phone while bouncing up and down like that. It leaves me nothing to do but think. And what does a writer think about given time on his hands? Well, if you’re a dedicated, serious writer, you think about your writing.

From this moment heretoforth, elliptical trainers all over the world shall be known as plot machines.

My NaNoWriMo project, the third Icarus Fell novel titled Secrets of the Hanged Man (expect it this spring), was plotted and planned, outlined and imagined almost completely during a string of thirty minute sessions on the plot machine.

It began as I thought about three different stories I’d started years ago; none of them had grown further than a page or two, and all were very much focused on the character, and that was the one thing they had in common: they were about a male in his late teens. One was growing a tail, one was suicidal but couldn’t die, and the last was such a bad luck charm that everyone he cared about ended up dead. As arms and legs pistoned back and forth one day with a sweaty man in his 50s to one side of me, a woman more interested in texting than getting in shape on the other, and Days of Our Lives playing silently on the TV, I started imagining one character that brought all three of these stalled ones together.

“Hmm,” I thought, somewhat breathless as my thirty minutes of exercise drew to a close. “This could be interesting.”

Unfortunately, my version comes with a bald man.

Unfortunately, my version comes with a bald man.

That was the first time I became conscious of the effects of the plot machine. From that moment onward, every time my somewhat stinky workout runners hit the machine, my mind starts working. I have come to think it operates on the same principle Dr. Xavier and Magneto used when they built Cerebro, the super computer that enhances the good doctor’s psychic ability so he can detect other potential X-Men from afar. My plot machine doesn’t work at long distance (yet), nor does it help me find hot blue chicks who can shape shift, but it sure seems to enhance whatever the hell is going on inside that weird little device in my head that creates stories.

So there you have it, my answer to the age-old question. I didn’t make it up and I can’t completely explain it but, as I keep my belly in check, my imagination works overtime.

Now excuse me, but I have some fat to burn and a story to write.

Bruce Blake is the best-selling author of the Icarus Fell dark urban fantasy novels and the Khirro’s Journey epic fantasy triology. His latest book, Spirit of the King (Khirro’s Journey Book 2) is now available on Kindle, Kobo and Smashwords.