Thursday, October 31, 2013


Nanowrimo's right around the corner, and already distractions are setting in. And not the good kind.

Today, for instance, I should be refining my plot lines, zeroing in on my characters' voices, and thinking about the long game that'll get me to the end of November in style, but instead all my thoughts are with my pup, Candy. We're going to see an Internal Medicine specialist in Louisiana about some issues she's been having lately that the local vet cannot diagnose fully. That said, there's a pretty good chance the little girl has cancer.

It's a tough situation to deal with. My wife and I are suckers for the hard luck cases at the animal shelter, and Candy was just such a case. When we found her we were only going to visit to show one of the previous caretakers of another of our rescues, Mace, how far he'd come. And that's when Candy and my wife made eye contact.

Candy had been at the Humane Society for almost six months. That's a long time by their standards, as most dogs are not given the chance to adopt out over that period of time before space requirements mean they must be euthanized. Candy's a small dog, though, so perhaps the limited space requirements to store her helped...that and the fact that small dogs tend to adopt out better than larger breeds. But she had several strikes against her, beginning with her age. She was 10.5 years old, and hardly anyone wants to start off a new life with an animal nearing the end of theirs, especially when there were already several medical issues apparent. She was missing spots of fur, she has a collapsing trachea, and her entire lower vertebrae are essentially arthritically fused with a few of her discs already collapsed.

After managing to pull ourselves away from her that day, we went home and discussed the possibility of adding a third pup to our cadre. We'd recently lost our 16 year old dog, Ewok, a couple months prior and were set on not putting another into the fold for some time. Candy went home with us the following week.

Over the next few months we nursed her back to health and dealt with some of her personality quirks, the worst being her food aggressiveness. But when you invite someone in from the shelter as old as Candy was then, you have to understand that her first decade of life is an unknown to you. Was she abused? Were there other, bigger dogs who used to compete with her for her food? We didn't know, so patience and consistency became our guiding principles.

And they worked. Two years later, and Candy is not the dog she once was. She's more confident, and with a healthy diet and a course of Glucosamine and MSM she was moving almost like a puppy again. She was a happy dog.

But over the last couple months her appetite has waned. I've tried all variations of dog food, then began cooking food for her, and still she lost almost 30% of her body weight. I'm syringe feeding her now, and she's taking it well. Turns out she's severely anemic, and after an ultrasound and some blood panels, we've seen some disquieting things going on with her spleen and especially her liver.

So, today Candy and I are driving an hour and a half away to go see a specialist and (I hope) to see if her condition is treatable or at the very least manageable. Maybe it's not cancer, but we don't know. Nothing in her medical story so far is following the textbooks, my vet says, and usually that points to cancer since that particular disease tends to rock the boat when it comes to picking its own path.

And that's where my thoughts lay at the moment. Not with writing, or plotting or even Nanowrimo, which begins this Friday. But with a little black dog who has endeared herself to our family with a distinctive personality all her own.

Wish us luck.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

I've committed myself, but not to the looney bin.

Okay, I've taken the initial plunge into NaNoWriMo and committed myself to a book I intend to knock out over the course of November. By 'committed', I mean that I've officially listed the title and a synopsis of what it is about on my Nano profile. But to save you folks some time I'll go ahead and post it here.

The book is called Hollowtown, and it is the first in a series I plan to write called The Lost Fleet. The series title will make more sense once the books are laid down, but I think it's going to be a fun one to do. It's science fiction, so the genre is not something I've published in before, but I am a big fan of it.

Good old Jolly Jack will have to wait a bit longer, I'm afraid, before his reappearance. I just can't do that kind of book for Nano. Too much historical research slows the writing process down.

So here's the synopsis:

A multi-generational fleet of ships launched almost three centuries ago nears its destination, a star system nearly sixty light years from Earth. But the ships and crew complements that presently make up the fleet hardly resemble those that set out on the journey generations ago. This was especially so after communications with Earth ceased some two hundred years prior. Since then the population has grown beyond what the fleet can support and rebellions have risen time and again, all within the confines of a nest of ships linked together out of a shared necessity to survive as they traverse the vast lonely voids of interstellar space. 

A history and culture all its own has taken shape in the Fleet, slowly developing into a rigid caste system made up of essential crew members at the top and all others at the bottom. They, those deemed non-essential, are the outliers living among the fringe ships of the fleet. And among them two brothers, orphans who against all odds have somehow managed to eke out an existence in a place called Hollowtown are about to embark on their own journeys of sorts. Ones that will eventually lead them on a collision course that may put the entire Fleet at risk.

I'll definitely need to work on a good tagline, but as a blurb this one gets the job done well enough for now. Believe it or not, book blurbs are almost as hard to come up with as the book itself is to write. (Yes, I'm exaggerating, but you get the point.) A good blurb -- usually that thing you read on the back cover of a book you're considering buying -- has a lot of responsibility riding on its shoulders.

Think about it. You may have the best damned story in the world written in between the front and back covers of your book, but if the cover art and blurb combination fail to grab a potential reader's attention enough to open it up the world will never know the truth.

So, yeah, I'll be revisiting the blurb again before publication.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

To Amazon Select, or Not To Amazon Select?

That is the question.

A little background first. I am all about the reader. I want to make it as easy as possible for readers to get hold of what I write, but at times I find myself perplexed by the options available to the indie author when it comes to putting my book in readers' hands (or more likely these days, on their tablets). There are a lot of platforms out there, from Amazon's Kindle, to Barnes and Noble's Nook, to iBooks on Apple and Kobo readers from Sony. But there's a big negative for me as an author to putting my title out to so many different platforms. That negative is the inability to list my title on Amazon's Select program, because when you sign on to distribute with Select you must agree to sell exclusively with Amazon.

To those not in the know, if you are an Amazon Prime member you are able to 'check' books out virtually on a loaner status without actually buying them. This is a fantastic option for readers, and not so bad for authors either. The more your book is 'checked out' the more of a stipend you get at the end of the month. The other benefit for authors is that it raises the visibility of their book(s) considerably. After all, free is a pretty enticing selling point, right?

And that's the major benefit for the reader. Free. Most Amazon Prime members sign-up for the free 2-day shipping that it offers, but learn about the Amazon Select loaner program soon thereafter and when they do they start devouring titles like a meth-head goes through a found stash of acid.

Here is my dilemma. About 99% of my sales come to me via Amazon e-book sales. The remaining 1% are split between physical book sales and the various other platforms out there. And those are paltry sales figures on a good day. From the perspective of putting more books in more readers' hands I think it is hard to deny then that signing up to Amazon Select is the best way forward. But what about that the few who actually do purchase through Apple or B&N? Am I screwing them over?

I won't deny that my meager business acumen says Amazon's the way to go. They've got the distribution model set, and it's awesome. Their book recommendations feature comes to mind as an example. "You like this book? Then we'd recommend you take a look at this one and that one over there too!"

Those other platforms don't even have something as simple as this. At least, not in an interface as attractive or user friendly as Amazon's.

I don't know. *shakes head*

I'm going to sit on it this week, but there's a pretty good chance I'm going to try it out for a few months just to see how it goes. If I do, I apologize in advance to all of you Nook/Kobo guys. If you've got an Apple product, fear not. You can still download a Kindle App to read titles from the Amazon library.

Updates to come.

Friday, October 4, 2013


Sounds cool, right? Like some kind of sci-fi lingo. But it’s not. And it is.

It’s my list of to-do’s in preparation for November’s Nanowrimo event. Since my intended attempt for this year’s event will be in the science fiction genre, nano-prep sort of is a sci-fi term…at least to my mind. And since my parents and I are probably the only people who visit this blog on a recurrent basis (Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad!), I can call it what I want and get away with it. So, there you go.

Alright. Today is October 4th. That means Nanowrimo kicks off in T-minus 27 days. The clock is ticking, folks. So what’s a Nanowrimo newbie to do so that he’s not overcome with the magnificent magnitude of this undertaking from day 1?

He prepares ahead of time, that’s what. Here’s my plan:

  1. Prepare for the routine. I’ve been working on this for the past couple weeks now, trying to write at a specified time every day so that I’m in the habit of it when November hits.
  2. Output. Output. Output. Nanowrimo is about knocking out copious amounts of text in a relatively short space of time. Consider that November is a 30 day month. Doing the math, that works out to 1,667 words per day to reach my goal of 50K words. Not too bad, right? But wait a minute. We’ve got a holiday mixed in there, good old turkey day. Given the time I’ll have to put into that one (we’ve done a block thing the last couple years), I might as well mark Thanksgiving off as a loss. And probably the day before it too (usually a heavy prep day). Next up I have a film festival that happens the week before Thanksgiving. There’s another four days gone. Now we’re up to nearly 2000 words a day. Still not bad, you say? Well, get the f--k off my porch then. We’re done talking.
  3. Outline. The good folks at Nanowrimo have rules for the contest. One is that you cannot begin the actual telling of the story, that is the writing of it, until the first hour of the first day of the event. But they highly encourage preparatory outlining of your story. That’s because it’s damned hard to punch out content when you don’t know where you’re going when it has to be done so quickly. So outlining I have begun, and outlining I continue to do.
  4. Health. This is really a lifestyle thing and not something I’m doing for Nanowrimo exclusively.  But sometimes doing what’s good for your health – eating right, and exercising properly and routinely – require extraordinary forms of motivation when your mind just wants to sleep in an extra hour or chomp down that greasy Philly cheesesteak for lunch. Keeping fit gives me energy. The soreness in my muscles keeps me awake (if not a little grumpy). And eating right by reducing my carb intake and training my body to work off of its ample (hopefully not for long) fat reserves means I don’t bonk from sugar lows. Writing this, by the way, makes me want to devote an entire series of posts to nutrition and fitness, topics I’m keenly interested in...but I'm going off topic.
  5. Clear the Clutter! This is probably the most impactful thing for me to do right now. One of the greatest hurdles I face as a self-diagnosed Adult ADD person (I took a psych course in college…get off my back) is dealing with distractions while I take a seat to write. Much of the creative process occurs inside your head, but your body and brain are constantly processing all the external stimuli around you while you work. What this translates into for me is a lot of tangents that take me away from the stuff I should be doing.

Of course, I should note that one of those tangents recently led me to this discovery about clearing the clutter. I’ve recognized for a while that I’m easily distracted from my work. I've determined that much of those distractions come from the clutter in my life. I'm surrounded by the collection of material possessions that I at one point in time decided were worth acquiring and, later, holding on to despite not having used many of said items in years. Every time I sit down to write I’m surrounded by my own cluttered mess of a life.

So what did I do out of my frustration? I started Googling. And that turned me on to the world of minimalism. Now, I don’t profess to become a true minimalist, but I do admire some of its tenants and I intend to institute them as well. In fact, I’ve already begun.

I think the good folks down at the donations receiving area at Goodwill cringe whenever they see my car pulling up with more loads of stuff. My local library has started turning me away with my book donations (so to Goodwill they go – I can’t stand the idea of trashing a book). The rest, the stuff I think I can make a buck off of, I’ll eventually sell. I think I’ll have to post more on this movement in my life as it progresses, because I think it’s something I’m learning a lot from and the lessons are worth passing on.

So there you have it. My 5 Step plan to “winning” Nanowrimo. Wish me luck!