Friday, November 25, 2011

A Church Friend Has a Book Out!

The author's page for the book

The book's Amazon page

I've attended some Fusion gatherings associated with Buckhead Church over the years and at one of them, I made the acquaintance of Robert Bunch.  We talked a fair bit about writing and he told me about a book he was working on it.  If I remember right, it was a Christian allegory of some kind and it involved a journey into a forest.

Robert moved back to Iowa to look after a sick relative and I haven't seen him since.  However, he just posted on Facebook that not only has he finished his book (which has changed a bit since we discussed it), but he has published it and it's now available on Amazon.  I took a look at Renatus Publishing and though it seems to be Iowa-based, the web-site is rather bare.  It seems like a legit publisher, based on the price of the book.

(The price seems pretty standard for a hardcover--self-published/print-on-demand books tend to be more expensive because they're printed one at a time and not in bulk.)

That's a point in Robert's favor--he didn't self-publish it, but sold it to a real publishing house.

If you all are interested in supporting a new writer, give him a look.  If the hardback price is a deterrent, mark your calender for January--that's when the softcover and Kindle editions come out.

Black Friday Bargains on My Site

For some of these items, prices have been cut as low as will let me.  For some reason, they don't want me selling Tom Clancy's The Bear and the Dragon for $0.50.

Some of these books are half or less of what I paid for them in the stores, including Vampire Empire: The Greyfriar and Wolf Age.  The latter of which has a very creative concept--a wandering wizard visits a city of werewolves.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some Writing Advice and Techniques

Some of these I've Tweeted or posted on Facebook, so you might have seen them before, but I'll post them here as well...

One of the bigger quandaries of being a writer is providing adequate description without bogging the story down.  One of my favorite writers is Dean Koontz, who squares this circle by working descriptions into sentences with action verbs.  I realized this one afternoon when I flipped through my old paperback copy of Phantoms.

Here's an example of this technique that I posted on my Facebook fan page and Twitter account earlier this evening.

"Beowulf drew a silver-plated Desert Eagle from his leather belt. He squeezed the trigger. Thunder cracked in the confined space of Hrothgar's basement. His bullet struck Grendel between his large pectoral muscles. Dreadlocks flying, Grendel hurtled backward, smashing the mahagony doors to splinters. His green blood covered everything."

That spawned some rather hilarious discussion about whether I was writing an updated story of Beowulf in which they're all gangsters.  If that were a movie, I'd watch it.

But getting back to the topic, Koontz's technique is a good way to strike the necessary balance.  I'm going to have to go over Battle for the Wastelands and plug in some new description using that technique, which will probably necessitate making cuts elsewhere so I can keep it at or below 100,000 words.

Another writing truism is "show, don't tell."  That's something that can be tricky, as sometimes the reader doesn't get it unless they're told and that bothers some readers.

However, I had a flash of inspiration a few months ago and posted something resembling this on my Facebook fan page:

Telling: The chair disgusted him.

Showing: The chair seethed with maggots. Its very appearance made his skin crawl. The stench of the rotten wood was overpowering. He swallowed. He'd have to sit in that chair.
This gets the point that the character finds the chair disgusting without "telling" and works in some spiffy description besides.
I hope you would-be writers out there find this helpful.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Productivity Update

Current Projects

*Battle for the Wastelands

*"Coil Gun" screenplay



Still soldiering on with Battle for the Wastelands.  The Veterans' Day deadline thing didn't happen.  I'm hoping now to get the first draft done by the end of the year, but given the overstretch with other projects, that's looking less and less likely.

Currently rewriting the first half of Chapter 22 per the advice of my Lawrenceville writing group, whose members agreed the original draft contained too much information we'd already seen before about how the Merrill army has no food.  They instead pointed out that I had a chance to describe the military situation in more detail, so I'm rewriting it to describe the planning of the enormous brigade-strength supply raid that will take up most of the remainder of the book.  There'll be some dramatic irony--the reader will know what our hero Andrew Sutter and his friends are doing, but he won't.

Chapter 23 has been complete for some time.  I'll bring it before the Lawrenceville group in early December, since the next meeting in the rotation has been pushed forward due to Thanksgiving.  There are 32 total chapters, so I'm in the home stretch.  The current word count is 85,000 words and I'm going to have to be careful to keep it under 100,000.

Work on a screenplay based on "Coil Gun," my first professional level ($0.05/word-plus) sale, has stalled due to so much else going on.  Writing the last half shouldn't be that hard, since I can just transcribe the short story image-for-image, but getting the first half done will take some time.

Went to my Kennesaw writing group yesterday to discuss "Ubermensch," which will be one of my two contributions to our group's charity superhero anthology.  The consensus from the two other people who attended (it was a slow week) was to trim Patel's interior monologue from the fight scene so it wouldn't drag and to avoid using real gang names lest there be...issues.  I spent a lot of yesterday afternoon working on "Ubermensch" and cut around 200 words.  I'll send the second Patel story, "Needs Must," to the group probably sometime in December.  That one was drastically rewritten based on comments from both groups.

One of my co-workers got me involved in a writing group that meets closer to home.  My contribution to the first meeting was the first 2/3 or so (they have a strict word count limit) of "Nicor," a monster story set in the Viking era.  I sold that one to the print magazine Flashing Swords in 2008 and was even paid ($44 if I remember right), but the magazine went under.  The group really liked that one, but they did have some minor suggestions I thought were good.  The organizer also suggested expanding on the characters, which is what I'm still working on.  Not sure where I'm going to send it, since I've sent various versions of it to so many markets since I first wrote the story when I was a student at UGA.  Between those that have rejected it and those that have gone under, there aren't very many left.

Trailer for Disney's New Film "Brave"

Here's the trailer for the upcoming Disney-Pixar film "Brave," which will premiere in summer of 2012.

I like the soundtrack and the whole Celtic thing.  Hopefully they can strike an ideological balance between criticism of society piling restrictions on women (her mother views her interest in archery as being unladylike) and women being passed around for political reasons and being too unsubtle and preachy.

I've taken a look at the links cited by the Wikipedia entry on the film and it seems heroine Merida is intent on avoiding an arranged marriage.  However, her wish for freedom risks bringing war to Scotland.  Given how marriages in those days were used to seal political alliances, her mother's comment about the price that would be paid for her freedom does make sense.

And although the trailer doesn't go into much detail about the consequences of Merida's wish (to undo the problems she might have caused with the arranged-marriage thing), one of the articles the Wiki page links to describes how her mother is turned into a bear.  Given the opening bit in the trailer about how her father fought a dangerous bear that had killed many people, if the macro-plot is that Merida has to find a way to break the spell before her father kills her mother, that's nice and full of pathos.

Some Books I'm Reading: The "Destroyermen" Series (Spoilers)

It's been awhile since I've posted on what I've been reading, let alone reviewed a book.  So I'll make up for it by posting some comments on three books--Into the Storm, Crusade, and Maelstrom.

I just started reading Taylor Anderson's "Destroyermen" series.  Basically, two obsolete American destroyers being hunted by the Japanese in the early days of World War II in the Pacific attempt to hide from them within a storm--only it turns out the storm is actually some kind of hole in space-time and they end up on a parallel world.  The dinosaurs apparently never became extinct--intelligent mammalian life only evolved in isolation on the island of Madagascar.  This species--a civilization of intelligent lemurs--is under siege from the Grik, who are essentially a velociraptor horde-from-hell and drove them from Madagascar into East Asia thousands of years before. 

Things get even more fun in the second book when we learn the Japanese battle-cruiser that had been hunting them in our world has crossed over as well and its insane captain has allied with the Grik...

The books are pretty quick reading, which is why I'm commenting on all three of the early ones, not just each individual book.  Although there are some writing bits I don't like--Anderson often introduces a character and then describes their personalities in the narrative rather than illustrating their character by their actions--overall it's extremely fun and entertaining.  There's a lot of interesting technical detail, the battles arecool, and there are some well-done scenes like when some of the Americans the lemur-folk have had contact with humans in the past or the meeting in the third book with "Lawrence," a member of a Grik splinter-culture that refuses to prey on intelligent species and has become the friend/pet of a British girl descended from the earlier arrivals from our world.

I'm seriously considering getting my dusty colored pencils out and creating a piece of fan-art to put on my DeviantArt page.  It'd probably be a generic battle scene--a bunch of the lemur-people and Grik facing each other with melee weapons with some American sailors with guns as fire support for the former.  It'd be loosely based on the boarding action depicted in the climax of the first novel, Into the Storm.

I just found out the local library has the fourth book in the series, Distant Thunders.  Definitely going to request that once I'm done with this post.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Two Interesting Alternate-History Scenarios...

Here are a couple of interesting scenarios from my alternate-history message-board you all might find interesting.

An Age of Miracles: The Revival of Rhomanion

This is a Byzantine-revival scenario that takes place fairly late--it's actually after the Fourth Crusade in which the Crusaders took Constantinople and the Empire shattered into several warring statelets.  Considering how at least some Byzantine experts think the Empire's fall was inevitable after the crusade, the fact one of the Byzantine statelets manages to reunite the Empire and actually expand territorially in Asia Minor, which had since become largely Turkish and Muslim, is impressive.

(I'm not the biggest Byzantine expert there is, but there's nothing here that seems to be unrealistic.)

A Crack at Draka: ME's Attempt at a Better TL

Here's an attempt to create a more realistic version of the Draka timeline, beginning with a longer-lived Sir Francis Drake establishing a colony on the Cape of Good Hope.  Pretty realistic so far, although the author had to revise a particularly-glaring issue involving the leaders of the East India Company being strong-armed.  It also has an explanation for the weird Latin lingo the Draka used in the canon timeline making an appearance in this one.

This timeline's Draka aren't as scary as the canon timeline's Draka--there are history-book entries dating much later in the timeline that feature them trying to remain part of the British Commonwealth as late as the 1950s and 1960s and being rejected for their racist behavior, so they aren't apparently interested in world domination and being the Master Race.

UPDATE 9/17/2014: "Age of Miracles" is still going strong, but "A Crack at the Draka" has been rebooted. See here for the new thread. It starts out with a narrative set in the late 1980s involving what looks like a member of the Assad family as a Citizen, which is cool. And the Draka in the late 1980s still practice slavery (instead of becoming mega-Rhodesia that the original timeline implied), which isn't.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A Couple of Interesting Movie Trailers...

The other night, I came across the trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman, which can basically be summed up as "Snow White done in the style of Lord of the Rings."

I'd heard about how they intended to remake Snow White with a more overtly-feminist SW who even goes into battle in full armor and I thought that was goofy and heavy-handed.  I have no objection to feminism--see my repeated denunciations of complementarianism--but given how most women aren't as physically strong as most men, medieval-style combat in heavy armor is not something they're especially suited for unless we're talking someone like Brienne of Tarth from the A Song of Ice and Fire novels who is unusually big and strong.

However, having watched the trailer, this actually looks kind of cool.  Epic battle sequences, the evil queen providing a very strong incentive for the Huntsman to kill Snow White, the much spookier Magic Mirror, a reason for the evil queen to want Snow White's heart specifically, monsters, etc.

My friend Korsgaard warned about Kristen Stewart's acting prowess.  I've never seen any of the Twilight films, so I cannot comment intelligently on whether or not she can act.  Let's hope she can pull this off.

And now we're onto the Hunger Games trailer...

I haven't been interested in the Hunger Games novels because I figured they were intended for younger people, but then, so is Harry Potter and that didn't stop me from writing two novel-length HP fan-fics.

However, a member of my writing group and my friend Jamie have both gotten really interested in THG, so writing it off as kids' stuff would be rather foolish.  Furthermore, in discussions of just what genre Battle for the Wastelands would fit into, someone pointed out that young adult fiction is predicated on the protagonist's age, not the content.  THG features teenagers taken as tribute by an evil government and forced to fight to the death, plus YA fiction from my own childhood (Gruel and Unusual Punishment and Weasel) could get pretty disturbing.

Oh well.  We'll see what happens when it's done and polished and sent to publishers.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Jeffrey Stepakoff Dispenses His Wisdom

Last Saturday, I attended a seminar at a local library featuring Jeffrey Stepakoff, a novelist, screenwriter, and a professor at Kennesaw State University.  I figured someone with his extensive experience writing in several fields would provide much wisdom for a small fish like me, and I was correct.

Stepkanoff told the participants that they should stop thinking of themselves as being at the mercy of producers and publishers.  If producers and publishers did not have content, they had nothing.

"We are at the center, the epicenter," he said.

He said there are people right now looking to find the next big book or the next script for a big television show or film.  However, he said this doesn't mean that one shouldn't write well and produce good content in the first place.  He advised people to wait until their content was outstanding before putting it out there.  If it really is good, getting it published/produced is just a matter of time.

A professional writer shouldn't just start writing without planning.  One should know one's story and ensure the story works before one starts writing.  Writing a script that doesn't come from a good story is a miserable process that requires a lot more work--one has to come up with stuff as one goes along.  This is important when one pitches one's story to an editor--one should have a good story, not just a vague world.

Then he dropped a substantial bomb.  He said if one's novel or script isn't getting traction, even after years, chances are it's not that good.  Write well.  "Have your killer story," he said.

He advised those writing scripts to pay attention to what the market wanted.  If someone writes for cop shows, but the market is for comedies, one should ask if they've ever written something funny during one of their cop shows.  If they have, they can write comedy.  However, he said that doesn't mean one should take the novel one has been working on for 20 years and add vampires just because they're trendy.

Stepkanoff said if one thinks one's book is in the same vein as, say, Jodi Piccoult, one should study her work and who reads it.  If the book is unpublished, find out who Piccoult's agent is.  Examine the book jacket.

He warned even if one has a contract for a book, if it's not a good point, the publisher will only print a small number of copies and won't put a lot of effort into promoting it.  However, if it is good, one's editor will push for the publisher to promote it.  Most publishing houses put out around 1,000 books. How many books get first print runs of 20,000 to 50,000 copies?  Maybe 20, and of those, 15 will have been written by established authors.

Stepkanoff described the process of "selling in."  If the sales people hear from on high the publisher is psyched about the book, they'll push that one more so than the other 300 or so books they're responsible for selling.

He advised the writers they should have the book jacket in mind when they write the book.  One should think about where the book should go in the bookstore.  One's pitch begins with the author and will ultimately travel all the way to the book buyers.  Stepkanoff designed his pitch before he even started writing the book.  This doesn't mean one shouldn't have the writing space to develop good characters, but that one should have a good idea from the beginning.

He then advised writers to build a public persona.  Publishers don't want just an image, but a built-in fan base.  Editors are thinking about how to pitch a person.

(Hmm...I think my built-in fan base are Harry Potter and Transformers fans from my fan-fic, BattleTech people from "Skirmish at the Vale's Edge," Digital Science Fiction readers from "Coil Gun, people I know from Marietta because I grew up there, Griffin and North Fulton because I work there, and alternate-history enthusiasts due to my long posting history at

Audience members asked him if he wants them to write something that can be easily forwarded.  Stepkanoff said this was the case.  An agent once asked a colleague of his to tell her what to tell publishers.  The colleague was upset, until Stepakoff told him the agent had connections and does her things so he can live in Georgia nad have a good place with his family.  He recommended audience members to craft a killer letter.

Stepakoff then explained the differences between literary and film agents.  A Hollywood agent, especially one who works in television, invests a lot in a single writer.  A literary agent will work with a larger number of writers and, consequently, will not be as present in one's life.  New York agents are more accessible--although their Web sites often say not to e-mail them, it does work.

An audience member suggested the Web site Everyone Who Is Anyone, which contains contact information for many publishers and agents.  Stepakoff told people who approach agents and publishers via this method to wait until their product is darn good, as a favor to other writers who might use this site later.

Stepakoff suggested people join the Writer's Market Web site or purchase the large Writer's Market books to find agents in one's field.  One should also find books in one's genre and check out the acknowledgements section.  One should find the agency that represented the writer and then go to the agency's Web site to find an agent.

However, he advised them not to fire off crazy e-mails and to think long and hard about one's opening line.  Agents don't just get you jobs--they're your business partners.  You have to give them something.

He then discussed marketing.  Most writers aren't pushed hard by their publishers and if the publisher won't put the effort into promoting one's book, one should.  However, there needs to be a balance between time spent writing and time spent on things like Facebook, blogging, Twittering, or doing signings in bookstores.

He then had some advice about bookstores.  If one goes to a bookstore and tries to arrange a book signing, the staff will be much more interested in you if you can point out where the book is in the store.

"Make noise on the Internet," Stepakoff advised.  "Get people to review the book."

(That advice I've already implemented.  I've promoted "Coil Gun" and the collection it's in, the third Digital Science Fiction anthology, via contacts I've made on

Stepakoff is on the fence about spending one's own money on Internet advertising.  He recommended if one is in a niche market, one should focus on social networking, as well as focused events relevant to your topic.  He then said every writer should have a Twitter feed.

"Nobody knows what's going to happen to publishing," he said.

His informed opinion is that consumption of stories is not going to fall and that digital media is going to be remarkably beneficial to it.

(I can agree with this wholeheartedly.  My publications, including the well-paying BattleTech and Digital Science Fiction ones, were in primarily online markets.  I did make a couple of sales to a smaller print magazine, but the magazine went under before they could be printed.)

Stepakoff discussed electronic readers like the Nook.  Amazon is selling more e-books than print books these days and many people bring their e-readers into stores, see what interesting books are on the shelves, and download them electronically.

He suggested that independent bookstores conduct a public-service campaign.  People who go to bookstores just to see what books they can download don't know they're not supporting the bookstores.  He said people complained about the death of Borders, but had to be asked if they even bought books in the first place.  He said Barnes and Noble is trying to integrate more with the local communities and compared them to Whole Foods.  Barnes and Noble also promotes books by region.  The company promoted his book Fireworks Over Toccoa heavily in the South, where it has been selling well.

Stepakoff also discussed giving out content for free as a means of enticing readers.  He has a free e-book entitled "Love A La Carte," which he described as being the "deleted scenes" from his novel The Orchard.  It's the number-two free item on at the moment.  He suggested writers put their own content online or for free at a low price, but not to just spew low-quality stuff.

An audience member brought up James Patterson, who gives out the first few chapters of his books online for free--people will buy the complete product to finish it.

Stepakoff said Patterson's books are so well-designed, they hook readers.  He reminded the writers it's their job to get people to read the second page.

He also weighed in n book trailers.  He recommend they not mess with those and instead focus on social media, which is free.  Creating a quality book trailer is expensive and it involves putting faces on characters Hollywood would like to cast.  If one absolutely must do a book trailer, one should focus it on selling the writer, not just the story.

"Let the publisher pay for it," he said. "Let them do the professional version of it."

He suggested a better way to get one's name out there is to guest-write for blogs.  There is a correlation between this and a high Amazon author rating.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

On Twitter Now...

Just joined Twitter. Here's my page:!/MatthewWQuinn

James R. Tuck said I should be on Twitter and it would not be a great time-consumer and Jeffrey Stepakoff, at a panel of his I attended over the weekend, suggested writers should have Twitter feeds.

Hopefully I can figure all this out...