Welcome! Lock the door behind you.

 

What if magic is real and we just don’t know about it? This is the question we are given in many fantasy books set in modern-day Earth. Wizards and demons and other creatures of supernatural or paranormal origin do battle right in front of us, but somehow out of sight. I don’t really understand that. I mean, I get that in order for you the reader to believe you’re reading about modern day Earth, magic can’t be readily accessible or visible, but so far as I’ve seen the authors who work in this field show a startling lack of concern over why all this mystical activity needs to be constantly hushed-up.

Is it like Bilderberg? Are all the wizards and witches keeping an exclusive and secret club just simply because they can? Or maybe magic is like corruption? Does magic shrivel up and die under the harsh light of journalistic investigation for some reason?

Rowling’s Harry Potter series at least had a semi-plausible explanation for it. I confess I only read the first book (liked it, but felt as a reader that I had already traversed the ground Rowling was covering) but I got the impression that Hogwarts, in cooperation with other magical schools, worked to stay secret to avoid persecution from the Muggles. It wasn’t so much that they feared the Muggles (although they were greatly out-numbered, the wizards had indisputably the greater firepower) but it was the fact that they couldn’t afford to fight Muggles while also fighting the evil-that-dare-not-be-named. Okay. I get it, but it seems to me the amount of effort they put into remaining undetected could instead be better channeled into fostering a relationship of mutual understanding and defense with the Muggles against Volde-face. But I admit I’m being a little nitpicky.

 

You’re a UN Special Envoy, Harry.

 

The Harry Potter books were followed by a rash of entries into this whole “magic exists in the real world, BUT NO ONE CAN KNOW” fantasy sub-genre, but even the more notable entries have had less than satisfactory explanations as to why this sort of condition exists. Butcher’s Dresden Files, for instance, tells us that magic and magical creatures exist openly, it’s just that most people are too closed-minded to acknowledge it. Their primitive minds just can’t handle the truth! Okay… It’s a little thin, but at least it has a foundation in the philosophical school of thought that supposes perception is reality. Maybe “normal people” perceive reality the same as wizards, they just perceive less of it, like color-blind people with colors or Trump with decency and humanity.

But then there’s Lev Grossman’s Magicians. He doesn’t even bother to give an explanation. These kids get invited to this exclusive school and go through years of magical training without ever asking why they need to be so secretive or what exactly they’re learning all this magic for anyhow. What? Is Microsoft hiring wizards now? Is the Defense Department looking to use some fireball-hurling “contractors” in Afghanistan? Seriously, what’s the future for these kids if they’re learning skills that they can’t ever tell anyone about?

 

“My greatest strength? Ummm… Magic Missile? No, sorry. That’s stupid. Everyone must say that. Ummm… Tenser’s Floating Disk? I guess?”

 

These are the smartest kids in the world and over the course of years of education not one of them thinks to ask what’s it all for? Hell, when I was in college even I had at least some vague notion that I’d try to earn a living as a writer (still trying) but these brainiacs who can memorize a near infinite amount of thaumaturgical minutiae can’t be arsed to spare a single minute to ponder their own futures? I’d blame the author for being lazy, but honestly it seems the sub-genre itself is at fault. I’m not knocking on Grossman. My problems with the basic premise aside, the book is an entertaining read (in fact, the chapter where we’re shown the terrifying risks of spellcasting is one of the most chilling I’ve read in a fantasy story), but this whole “WE HAVE AN EXCLUSIVE CLUB THAT SERVES NO USEFUL PURPOSE TO SOCIETY AND NO ONE ELSE CAN COME IN” trope is getting out of hand. It’s blatant rich-kid escapist fantasy.

I was born to this. I only associate with other people who were also born to this. We are entitled to power.

Sound familiar? It’s called an aristocracy. Maybe it’s just my American blood boiling up, but we fought a war about this stuff, so pardon me if I don’t want to root for a protaganist-who-has-everything as he goes out and attempts to get even more of everything! That’s dumb and dull and irritating. But people go for this crap, apparently. People also like hearing about what the British royalty is wearing to high tea. I swear, if I see one more goddamn picture of Meghan Fucking Markle giggling like the prettiest girl in school, I’m flipping tables.

I don’t know. I don’t get it. Fuck your club.

 

 

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“Privilege is when you think that something’s not a problem because it’s not a problem for you personally.” – David Gaider

 

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Further Confessions of a Delivery Guy

Or, what to expect when you’re expecting someone to deliver your food.

I’ve been doing pizza delivery for almost three years now and I’ve come to the conclusion that many people have no idea why it should take 45 or more minutes for the food they ordered to show up at their house. I say “house” and not “apartment” because this does seem to be one of those fault-of-privilege type of phenomenon. Most apartment-dwellers don’t seem much fazed by having to wait an additional thirty or forty minutes for their food. But not to worry, my bourgeois friends! I am here to enlighten you, if you will permit, as to why the filthy and uneducated workers at these take-out joints are so seemingly lazy and disrespectful.

 

“Proceed, sirrah.”

 

Everybody eats at the same time.

This shouldn’t be a surprise, but for many it is. The majority of people in this country eat dinner between the hours of five and eight o’clock. If you order food during this three-hour block, chances are you’re not the only one. And, if you order between 5:30 and 6:30, you can just abandon all hope that your order will get to you in anything less than 60 minutes. Your food isn’t just competing for space in my car with other deliveries, it’s also competing for priority on the pizza bench against pick-up and take-out orders. And, not to dishearten you my prospective and hopefully loyal customers, but the manager always prioritizes pick-ups and take-outs. It’s an old adage in the service sector – in a pinch, always please the customer in your face, not the one on the phone. There just aren’t enough people working in the restaurant to do both. Which brings us to…

A take-out joint is a near-run thing.

For my money, these places are (or should be) among the finest examples of capitalism working the way it’s supposed to that you can find. Everyone, from delivery driver up to manager, is involved with day-to-day operations and the pay gap is small (compared to white-collar company payrolls) and the effort-to-reward ratio is (or again, should be) evident and immediate. Some day I’ll get on my soap-box about how idiotic it is that some places prefer to use threats and intimidation to motivate employees rather than performance-based incentives, but I’ll leave it alone for today.

But where was I? Oh yes. The restaurants never seem to have as many people working to cook and clean as is wanted, and very often less than what is needed. Why? Well, the people who own the store can tell you about operational cost vs daily sales and I’m sure that all makes sense on some spreadsheet somewhere, but I’ll tell you why these stores always struggle to stay fully staffed. First, no one wants these jobs. The pay sucks and the work is thankless and messy. These jobs are a dime a dozen and if you slack your way to being fired from this one, you can walk next door and get hired same-day. Consequently, people call out “sick” on an almost daily basis, because they just don’t take the job seriously. And since no one wants to come in to cover a shift on their day off, this means on any given day the restaurant is short-staffed.

Second, the people who do take the job seriously never last. Either they work too hard, get burned out and decide to find a job that’s more rewarding or they get fast tracked to promotion (if we’re talking about a chain) and often get sent to become a manager of some store that’s in even worse shape than the one you’re ordering from. Now, that’s all fine and good for those people, but it isn’t helping you get your food any faster, is it? What would help you get your food faster? Well…

More people should work delivery.

Know how I said the pay sucks and the job is thankless and messy? Yeah, I wasn’t actually referring to the duties of a delivery driver. Sure, I help out in the store, but mostly I’m expected to be out on the road, dropping off food and collecting money and signatures. And tips. Sweet, sweet tips. On a good five or six hour night-delivery shift, I’ll often make more than the manager made all day. And when I work a full shift on a weekend day? Fuggetaboutit. And Patriots games? Baby, if you’re not working a delivery shift during a Patriots game, then you don’t like money.

And yet, stores struggle to keep enough delivery drivers on staff. It is the one “Help Wanted” sign I see most often placed in the window. Why? I honestly have no idea. Sure, it’s true that driving delivery is hell on a car, but even factoring in increased maintenance costs (and be sure not to scrimp on this!) you’re still coming out well ahead. And most delivery drivers are part-timers, which means the wear and tear for them is much less. If every take-out joint had an additional two or three part-time drivers each doing one or two four-hour shifts a week, everyone would get their food faster. And why is this? Because…

Teleportation is not a thing.

Many stores deliver food to not just the town they operate in, but to at least parts of the neighboring towns as well. This is okay if you have more than one driver working at a time, but it’s terrible if you only have one. Why? It’s not just a question of volume of deliveries, but more a question of the location of those deliveries. One person cannot be in several places at the same time. But two people very nearly can. For example, if a store receives four delivery orders in a ten-minute span (a common occurrence during lunch or dinner) the people taking the orders very often will quote the same delivery time to each order. There’s simply no way for them to adequately keep track of orders in real-time, so they don’t know other orders are/were taken. I’m hoping that one day there will be, but let’s continue.

So, each of these orders was given a quote of forty minutes. Even if all four orders are made within ten minutes, that leaves only a half-hour to drop off four deliveries. This is actually doable, but you have to be lucky. All four orders need to be on the same side of town – not necessarily close to each other, just in generally the same compass direction away from the store. As you can imagine, this hardly ever happens. If a driver has to criss-cross the town, then forget it. At least one of those orders will be late. And if we’re talking rush-hour? At least two will be late and one of those is likely to be very late.

But with two drivers, there is a world of difference. Two drivers can split the load and divide them based on geography. If you have two good drivers working you’ve got an excellent shot at getting your delivery in under an hour even during peak volume. But if the place you ordered from has just one driver working and that guy’s trying his best to concentrate on his driving and not letting his mind wander to whatever Grant Scotland might be up to… well, just try to cut him some slack.

 

Yeah, I know. One day I’ll be replaced by a drone that can fly over traffic, but I’d like to see how that drone gets you to your front door when you won’t answer your phone and your doorbell doesn’t work.

 

AND WHAT IS GRANT SCOTLAND UP TO?

Oh, boy…

The amount of revising I need to do in order to make AOGS5 a publishable book are truly staggering. I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me when I finished the first draft, but now that I’ve made one revision pass on it I realize just how monumentally screwed I am. Every chapter needs extensive revision and almost half the chapters need complete rewrites. As it stands right now, this book makes no sense whatsoever and is, quite frankly, an affront to God and Man. The Geneva Convention has banned the use of this book in times of peace or war. The CDC has warned that exposure to this book is likely to cause insomnia, vomiting and anal leakage. The CIA has announced that the use of this piece of literature as an instrument of “enhanced interrogation” is both unethical and illegal  That’s right, waterboarding someone is more humane than forcing them to look at this nonsensical accumulation of word-sores.

So, you see I have some work to do.

 

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“Under capitalism, man exploits man. Under communism, it’s just the opposite” – John Kenneth Galbraith

 

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Me and Tom Brady

I’ve been watching the Tom Vs Time Facebook Watch series. I hadn’t planned on doing it. I passed it off as Tom finally allowing himself to enjoy his celebrity status a bit and also to lay a groundwork for the marketing of his TB12 business, which I’m sure he wishes to make a nationwide phenomenon at some point. Maybe it already is, but with the number of Patriot haters out there, (oh, by the way – your team cheats, too) I’m sure he feels his branding could use some improvement. Simply winning more Super Bowls obviously isn’t going to do it.

I don’t know what made me finally click the play button and start watching. Maybe it was just the need to watch some Patriots Porn and revel in the shared glory of my favorite team. Maybe it was the Alex Reimer controversy. I don’t know. For what it’s worth, I’m sad Reimer said what he said. I actually quite liked him as an up-and-coming sports talk radio host. He was fresh and funny and his sports takes were insightful and never seemed to dally too long on “hot takes.” But then he made a stupid comment about Tom’s daughter that I’m sure he thought was glibly funny. But as with so many things that emerge from all of our mouths, I bet he wishes he could take it back. Or maybe not. I don’t know the guy. Maybe he lacks empathy and remorse. If they ever let him back on the air I guess we’ll see.

But I was curious about this Tom vs.Time thing for one main reason above all else. I want to know what makes Tom Brady as driven as he is. I remember the first game I saw him play. It was, of course, that now famous game where Drew Bledsoe was injured and Tom, the undervalued and unknown backup, donned helmet and took the field. I loved Drew. I collected nearly all of his rookie cards and will forever be thankful for the work he and Bill Parcells did to lift the Patriots out of the depths of “cute little team that sometimes resembles an NFL franchise” and into the refreshing air of “respected competitors.”

But Drew was getting older and it was increasingly obvious he was not the championship quarterback the team needed. He was close, but he had developed happy feet in the pocket and held onto the ball too long, probably as a result of being the single biggest weapon on our offense (if not the whole team) and therefore being expected to take brutal hits and still deliver devastating downfield strikes. This he could do to the very end of his career, but as all Patriots fans have found out in the Brady-Belichick era, it takes something more than that to win Super Bowls.

When Tom came into that game, I saw right away that he had… something more. Or at least something different. I’m not going to say I saw the future. No, not at all. Truth be told, I was a bigger Bruschi fan than a Brady fan for the first three Super Bowls. But I did see something. When he went under center for the first time, I didn’t see a wide-eyed kid hoping he wasn’t going to screw up. I saw a man look dispassionately out over the opposing defense and calculate their every strength and weakness. Seriously, go back and look at that first game if you can find it. Yeah, I know they lost, but look at what his eyes are doing and look at the way he looks at the defense. Actually, never mind that game, he still has that look even today. If that’s not the look of a man who’s about to dissect and destroy the obstacle in front of him, I don’t know what is.

I called it “the eyes of the assassin” because I was young and loved to engage in cliche and hyperbole. But I doubt my description was too far astray from the truth. He saw obstacles to eliminate the same way I imagine an assassin sees human targets as simply objects. This look wasn’t in his eyes on the sideline or in interviews, mind you. This was his game face and it looked to me as terrifying as Ray Lewis’s game face – and that dude was fucking frightening. I didn’t know how many games he was going to win or how many touchdowns he was going to throw or any of it. But I knew I was going to see something different from him than I’d seen from any other quarterback. What that thing was? That’s what I want to find out. That’s what made me want to watch his series.

I’ve watched the first four episodes and I still don’t know, but what I’ve seen so far has reinforced what I’ve long suspected about the reasons for the Patriot’s incredible success over the past 18 years. It’s simply this: Hard work and dedication to one goal are essential to achieving it. Don’t roll your eyes just yet. I’m not a Tony Robbins disciple. They’re not the only things. There’s only so much the awakened giant within you can accomplish on its own. There are so many crucial factors that go into it (and here let’s not forget about Robert Kraft’s prodigious capabilities as owner and visionary for the team). But without a willingness to work hard and dedicate most if not all of yourself to your goal, Tom (and every other Patriot) may as well just be playing a game. And as I’m fond of saying – Tom Brady doesn’t play games, Tom Brady wins games.

So the episodes I watched proved to me that this man was someone so dedicated to his purpose that he basically subsumed his identity to that of the purpose itself. That’s a scary thing to contemplate when evaluating the worth and breadth of a human’s existence. Must we be so single-minded to grasp our dreams? I suppose it depends on the dream. Tom’s seems to be unfathomable to me. He is already widely if not universally regarded as the greatest quarterback of all time. What more does he want?

That’s for him to say and although I am curious about it, the thing that most interests me is not a thing of the present, but of the past. I want to know what made Brady decide after the first Super Bowl that he wanted more. Certainly he was young and ambitious and wanted to match or exceed his personal hero Joe Montana. But there was a year between the first Super Bowl and the the next two – a year where he seemed to not diminish, but stagnate. A sophomore slump, if you will. What made him break out of that? What made him dedicate himself not just to being an effective QB, but to being a team leader, a devourer of everything related to his trade, a pursuer of infinite success?

Because that’s where I am. Or at least I feel like that. No, I’m not Tom Brady. I’ll pause here for a bit to let that shocking revelation pass over you. Don’t worry. Most people aren’t Tom Brady. Like, a lot of people. It’s actually way more likely you aren’t Tom Brady than you are. And if you are Tom Brady then … ummmm… Hi. Big fan. Good luck on Sunday.

 

“Luck is for rabbits.”

 

No, I haven’t won a Super Bowl, but in one regard I feel a slight kinship to him. A few years ago I decided to stop pretending to be anything other than myself and began to write. I wrote books and I published them and I’ve put myself out there for the world to see. I imagine Tom did a similar mental transformation at some point. Probably some of it was when he was a kid but I bet most of it came at some point after that first Super Bowl. I wish I had done the same sort of thing in 2002 as well. I probably would be much more successful in my endeavor at this point.

But I am not a success. I haven’t reached my goal and I struggle to see how I will. Brady must have struggled with the same. He must have recognized “well, here I am a starting QB – good enough?” And then said no. There’s more and it has to be achieved. At some point (and again, I’m betting it was somewhere in 02 or 03) he decided the dedication he had to his craft that was good enough to get him to where he was, was not good enough for him, because after that he just kept getting better. There have certainly been years where he and the team were not as good as they could be, but it always seemed to me he was painfully aware of that. He never made excuses. He just tried harder.

I make excuses for myself. I tell myself that I’ve done well when I write a thousand or so words, outline some plots, make notes for revisions, etc. And then I put the writing down and rest and read and play games or whatever. But I know I could do more. I feel it when I’m writing. I sense that I’m at the door of true success, but something in me always makes me hesitate and delay and dither. It’s easy to call it “fear of success” but it’s not so easy to overcome.

Tom Brady overcame it. Perhaps it’s a thing he overcomes every day. But there must have been a point when he recognized it as the thing that blocked the threshold of the doorway and then found a way past it.

For myself, my only current solution to the blockade is “just keep writing” and I know this is perhaps the most important part. But there has to be more to it and i doubt that it’s complicated, but I still don’t know what it is. Like Brady, I feel age creeping up on me. Not nearly as important for writers as for quarterbacks, but as the days and weeks and months and years pass and I am no closer to my goals than when I started, I wonder and lament at time wasted. I’ll keep writing for the rest of my life, but I am somewhat tortured by the thought that there is something I could be doing RIGHT NOW that could make my goals achievable.

I think he knows what it is, but I doubt he could tell me. It’s probably specific to every individual. And besides that, I’d hate it if he told me to drink 26 glasses of water a day and stay away from mushrooms. Probably good advice for quarterbacks, but it’s of dubious merit to writers.

Anyway, good luck to Tom and the Patriots on Sunday. And good luck to all of you, my dear readers, who struggle every day with success and failure. And if you haven’t watched the Tom vs. Time series, I recommend it. It’s motivational and moving, even if you’re not a fan of football or Tom or the Patriots. If Tom Brady is pursuing some Platonic idea of QB perfection, then he can be considered the modern day equivalent of the demi-god heroes of ancient Greece. Figuratively speaking, of course. I mean that I believe we can safely regard him as someone who is extraordinary and can (and should) examine him in that light. If you’re curious about what a man who rises to his level is like, the episodes come across as very honest and compelling glimpses of his character and dedication.

And if you figure out what makes his motivation click into overdrive, let me know.

 

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“I think that at the start of a game, you’re always playing to win, and then maybe if you’re ahead late in the game, you start playing not to lose. The true competitors, though, are the ones who always play to win.” – Tom Brady

 

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The New Year and All That

Just a quick update to let you know I’ve finally (finally!) finished the first draft of AoGS 5. Zoinks but that took way too long. I’m not at all pleased by the diminished productivity in my writing, but I’m sort of happy to note that while I’m disappointed with myself that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to write or submit stories to magazines. I’m clearly at a point in my life where I need to figure out how to throw my writing career into a higher gear, but there is never a single thought about just shelving the whole thing.

In 2017, I wrote three short stories and one draft of a novel. Not too good, but not terrible either. In 2018, I’d like to revise and self-publish Book 5, write at least the first draft of Book 6 and one more short story. That should be doable, especially if I can get myself committed to writing during what I call my “spare change” hours and not just on my off days. Like right now, I’m writing this blog post in the couple of hours I have before going in to work a six or seven hour shift doing delivery. That’s more the exception than the rule for me. It’s hard to get my thoughts to line up and march onto the page when I keep glancing at the clock and measuring how much time I have before I need to start getting ready. Or should I eat something before work? Or maybe get in a quick jog?

 

“Is that clock atomic or digital? Is it calibrated correctly? Do clocks get calibrated? Where did the word calibrate come from…”

 

You know, it’s like that. It’s much easier for me to sit down and pump out one to two thousand words on a day where I have no obligations. I know every other writer deals with this stuff (most of us have “day jobs” after all) but I think I deal with it worse than most. That’s part of the reason why I switched from having a career to working a delivery job. It’s much less demanding on my time and higher faculties. I figured I needed more of the former since I’ve never had a lot of the latter.

Smiley-winky-facey-thingy.

Actually, my biggest problem has always been discipline. I’ve got just enough of it to get by in life but not enough of it to be as successful as I’d wish. I’ve got some further thoughts on that I’ll share with you in a later post, but for now I’ll just say that although I see a lot of work ahead of me, I’m still enjoying every minute of it.

And congratulations to you all on surviving the first year of Trump’s presidency without completely losing your minds or your faith in our democratic institutions. Keep doing what you’re doing. You look great!

I’ll speak at you again soon!

 

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” ‘Feeling successful’ – well, that’s something you have to work out for yourself, what it means to you, how important it is. You’re quite right that very good and highly celebrated writers may not feel ‘successful.’ Maybe they have unhappy natures, and the Nobel Prize would just depress them. Or maybe they aren’t fully satisfied with what they’ve done so far, don’t feel they’ve yet written the best book they could write. But they have the commitment that keeps them trying to do it.

Hang in there. And don’t push it. No hurry! Writing is a lifetime job.” – Ursula K. Le Guin

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What to do when your outline melts into goo

So, you’ve got an idea for a book and instead of jumping right in you dutifully make an outline. You’ve got all your plot points laid out like ducks in a row. You’re proud of it. Everything makes sense and you can easily visualize how almost every point can become a chapter. Fantastic! All that remains is to write the book! And that won’t be easy. You don’t kid yourself. After all, this isn’t your first rodeo even if it might be your first book. You’ve taken on tough projects before and writing a book is a project like most any other. A very tough, lonely and challenging project, but at its heart merely a task like any other.

So, you start writing. And you keep at it. You’re hammering out chapters and ticking off plot points like a champ. Good job! This writing thing isn’t so tough after all!

And then something happens. It begins as a nagging feeling along about the 30% mark. You’ve set up the tension and your protagonist is starting to get deeper into the thick of the plot twists. Some things don’t make sense and you’ve marked down some questions for yourself to address in revision. After all – don’t revise while writing the first draft. Just keep writing!

But then you get to about the halfway point and you suddenly realize something has gone terribly wrong. That nagging feeling has grown into a near certainty that what has happened so far in the story as well as what will happen are things that are… well… utterly uninteresting. Somehow, your hero has become disengaged from the plot. He seems to float through the events transpiring around him, doing little more than taking notes and making observations on events that, now that you think abut it, just aren’t that exciting. That’s certainly fixable, but then you realize that in order to have your main character more involved and your plot punched up you need to rewrite the whole damn outline.

 

Pictured: Interior of frustrated author’s mind. Do not look directly at the flames.

 

That’s it. Your outline is blown. You might as well start over, right? This needs to be a completely new book. What a waste of time! Shove it in a folder marked THINGS I HATE on your desktop and forget it. Get started on that new outline at once!

BUT WAIT! Stop, I tell you! What you have written so far may be a dull and nonsensical pile of word garbage, but it will only stink up your entire computer like weeks old cole slaw on a bed of wilted lettuce if you toss it away. Maybe the entire plot needs to be revisited, but surely there were some scenes you wrote that were good. Throwing them away because you can’t face maturing your plot threads is a waste.

But what to do? You know the old adage of “just write through it – it’s only the first draft” but how does it apply to a book you know in your heart of hearts is unreadable? Well, here’s what you do. Just write through it – it’s only the first draft.

 

“That don’t make no kind of sense.”

 

This is your book and it can be anything you want it to be. So, if it ISN’T what you want it to be, then just start making it that way. No, don’t go back and rewrite. You’ll be doing plenty of that in revision. No, what I’m talking about is taking your characters and making them do something interesting. Even if it doesn’t apply at all to your plot, just start writing about what you want them to be doing.

For instance, let’s take Grant Scotland. It may be that I’m experiencing this very problem with book five of The Adventures of Grant Scotland and it might just be that Grant has been surprisingly lethargic and passive. So, maybe I write a scene where he gets drunk, picks a fight with a barkeep over the price of his whiskey, gets beaten and thrown out and then arrested for public indecency and thrown in jail, where he is later interrogated about the murder of said barkeep and then finds he needs to escape before his trial to investigate this obvious frame-job (at least, he thinks it is – his recollection is a little fuzzy).

Now, I’m not giving anything away here – no such scene exists (yet) – but it was the kind of thing I started doing when I found my initial (and adjusted) outline was a series of arrows pointing nowhere near some place that was fun or interesting. So, I broke out of the outline and wrote Grant in and out of some fun situations. And what happened when I did that was I found I could resurrect many story lines and tangle them in so they made more sense and were more interesting as they were read on the page. After about three chapters of writing scenes that weren’t quite connected but which were definitely fun, I found that I had almost completely re-imagined the book. Most of the main plot lines survived, but they were hammered into a story that was much more about the push and pull between Grant and his world.

My story was finally BREATHING. Actions were taken and reactions were made, with Grant at the heart of it all. Book five is still a hot mess, of course, but I’m excited to finish it now and then get busy revising it into the book that I now know it should be.

So, my advice to all you writers out there is, never abandon a work in progress. If you get stuck and think it’s garbage, just starting writing what you think would be fun to read, regardless of whether it makes sense or not. None other than the great Raymond Chandler once said (I’m perhaps paraphrasing here) “When in doubt, have someone show up with a gun.”

You’ll figure out why the woman with the gun is there and it is MUCH simpler to figure it out when you already have some sort of plot going, rather than starting over.

 

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As for when book five will be released, I still can’t offer guarantees. I am committed to getting the first draft done by the end of the year, but obviously it won’t be published until several months after that.

“Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on.” – Louis L’Amour
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Progress Report

Nothing exciting going on right now, but I haven’t updated the blog in a while so I thought I’d at least say some things about what I’ve been up to lately. Besides, it’s good to have at least one blog post a month, otherwise it looks like no one lives here. And then I’ll get squatters, who I’ll have to remove using finger sandwiches of dubious potability.

So, where am I at with Book Five of the Grant Scotland series? Well, I’m about half finished with the rough draft, which is not quite as far along as I would have liked for the end of August. In fact, I was hoping I’d be done with the first draft by this point, but alas, no. I make steady progress every week, but my weekly word count just isn’t what it used to be. Not sure why, but the fact that I’ve written (and revised) three short stories this year probably explains some of it. So, will Grant Scotland emerge by year’s end? Unlikely, but I’ll try to make a sprint for it. I’ll keep you posted.

 

Not the Grant I was thinking of, but that’s the right feeling anyway.

 

And as far as the short stories go, I did manage to finish a third one after shopping the first two around for a while. I was worried there for a little bit that I was second guessing myself too much, but when I grabbed an idea and forced myself to write it out, I found I created something with which I was at least mostly satisfied. So, after revising it about ten times and getting it to 2,000 words (the first two were about 7,000 words so I wanted a smaller story in my stable) I started shopping it around. No luck yet, but it’s still early. The other two are still pending responses from Analog and Asimov’s, but that’ll take a awhile. Those two magazines have a loooong list of submissions to work through and I hadn’t planned on submitting to them at all, but the magazines (at least the ones that pay) with quicker response rates have mostly already rejected both stories.

As for how I’m managing my submissions, I’m using The Grinder. The Submission Grinder, that is. Not to be confused with *just* Grinder.

Ever. I mean, I’m not saying it’s bad. I’m just saying Grinder takes submissions of a very different sort. They also misspell the name, I think, but I’m not in the mood to look it up. Google wisely.

Anyway, Submission Grinder is a very useful tool for tracking my own submissions and also giving some interesting data on the various publications. Like, ALL the various publications. There are a lot more than I thought!

So, that’s it. Back to the word mill, where I grind coarse word grains into fine prose flour.

 

Like this guy. Except the effort for me is more with the mind and less with the legs and arms and such.

 

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Hopefully, I’ll check in sooner next time. If not, enjoy September. Most beautiful month of the year.

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” – Friedrich Nietzsche

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Too cliche or not too cliche?

That is the question. But sometimes I wonder if it isn’t “To cliche or not to cliche?” Should an author avoid cliches at all costs or just use them sparingly? Or should caution be thrown to the (cliched) wind and as many of the colorful little devils be used as possible? It seems to me that some of the most popular authors I’ve read use them without any regard for whether they are apropos or not. In fact, it can sometimes seem like they actively set up scenes and dialog to use a good (or bad) cliche.

And by cliches I actually mean cliched expressions, not circumstances. I don’t judge authors harshly for using cliched plots, characters or settings. Some of those are almost unavoidable. An author generally has to use one or two here and there just to make a cohesive and attractive plot. Full disclosure, I’m a sucker for a good villain-revealing-his-master-plan scene. I cringe every time I read one of these, but my attention is also absolutely rapt. If the author did her job and kept me guessing about what the bad guys are up to, then I don’t care how stupid it is that the hero is on the receiving end of a monologue instead of a shotgun. Well, okay – maybe I care a little bit. But still, I’m willing to forgive a lot in situations of cliched circumstance.

 

“No, Mr. Bond. Instead of torturing you for information, I’ll serve you mint juleps and give you information.”

 

But cliched expressions? I can’t stand them. If I find even one in a whole book, I’m tempted to swipe it off my kindle while exclaiming “TRASH! FILTH! THE DIARY OF A FOURTEEN YEAR OLD BOY!” And yet it seems many people either don’t mind these or perhaps even like them.

I wonder if it’s the comfort level they provide. That’s about the only thing I can acknowledge is a positive aspect of using a cliche. It provides the reader with a solid frame of reference for what’s going in the book. If I tell you that a character is “in the pink of health” and “full of piss and vinegar” you instantly know exactly what I mean – assuming you’re fluent in colloquial English.

But, if I tell you that Han Solo told Luke “You look strong enough to pull the ears off a gundark” you’d have no idea what the hell I was talking about. Which is a shame. That’s an expression that never really took off. Okay, that’s a bad example. Han and Luke and the Star Wars universe are fairly well known, so you likely know that means the same as the “pink of health/piss and vinegar” thing.

But, here’s the thing. Didn’t you know what Han was saying the first time you watched Empire Strikes Back? Did you need anyone to explain it to you? Didn’t it even immerse you further into the Star Wars universe because it was an expression that had it’s own flavor while at the same time sounding familiar?

That’s basically where I’m at with cliches. If you’re writing a story and you feel like you need to use one, then I feel like the best thing to do is take a familiar one and add your own spin to it. Unless, of course, you’re narrator is a lazy and unimaginative speaker and is supposed to rely heavily on cliches to express himself. Or, if not the narrator, then the speaking character is one who has a nervous habit of using cliches. That’s fine. I get that. Although I would recommend not using a narrator who is likely to bore the hell out of your audience. You can only get away with that if your name is William Faulkner.

 

That quote right there tells you all you need to know about how irritating his narrators could be.

 

But in the course of normal narrative, I feel cliches are just too distracting. I’m instantly taken out of the story if I feel they don’t quite fit and if they are used without regard to character or narrative voice, then they definitely don’t fit.

But I don’t know. I’d like to be a popular author someday. I’d like to make a lot of money writing. So if using more cliches is the answer, maybe I should do it. Obviously, only in stories set in modern/near future. Fantasy stories that use modern cliches are never successful. I try to avoid them in the Grant Scotland novels, but I concede to little ones that might include curses or expletives like “damn” and “hell” because fantasy novels that replace those words always seem to me like they’re trying a little too hard.

But how about you? As a reader, do cliches bother you? Do the expressions bother you more than the situations? Is it the amount or the appropriateness?

 

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Hope everyone is having a good summer! Hot enough to boil eggs, amiright?

“Under certain circumstances, profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer.” – Mark Twain

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Writer’s Block and Tackle

I don’t get writer’s block. In fact, I don’t even believe it’s a thing. That is, it doesn’t really exist in the form people commonly think of it. There is no period where a writer can’t write. This simply doesn’t happen. Even if a writer isn’t able to start or continue a book or a story, he can always sit down and start writing a grocery list or a nursery rhyme and somewhere along the way he will start to make up silly fictitious items of dubious usefulness or lyrics full of filthy innuendo. Sure, none of this might directly contribute to any works in progress, but it’s still writing. It’s still an act of creation. It exercises the muscles critical to a writer’s occupation.

It’s the writer’s block and tackle. The exercise of writing is way more important than the measuring of progress toward completing a work. A work will be completed. A work must be completed. But along the way, the writer will no doubt encounter tough periods where no idea seems good enough to set to paper and everything she wants to communicate seems trivial and banal.

Be not discouraged! Discouragement leads to hopelessness. Hopelessness leads to fear. Fear is the little death.

 

And then you end up with several nervous tics and working for a psychopathic floating fat man.

 

I have two short stories I have been shopping to various publications and neither of them have yet found a home. On the surface, this is something I expected. In fact, since they are my first stories to ever send out for publication (not counting some small work done many ages ago when I was but an adolescent Tone of Voice) I am not optimistic that they’ll find a home in any major market. I’m sure I could get them published somewhere, but it might be a no-pay deal, in which case I might just publish them here. I’m fine with that… on the surface.

But I’ve noticed something as the rejections pile up. Even though I have several dozens of ideas for new stories, I am not happy at all with any of them. None of them seem interesting enough to warrant even starting. I’ve outlined a couple of them and I can see how each can be made into a complete story, but I can’t find any excitement about writing them in earnest. And if I’m not interested in writing them, it’s hard for me to imagine anyone would be interested in reading them.

But lately I’ve been wondering if this is a result of facing the rejections. I don’t feel the pain of rejection on the surface, but maybe I’m feeling it somewhere just below. Maybe I’m second guessing myself too much. It’s the closest I’ve ever come to experiencing that mythical curse called writer’s block, aside from the long period of my life when I didn’t write at all, but that was only because I wasn’t a writer, so it doesn’t count.

But the counter to writer’s block is the exercise of writing itself. Can’t write what you want to write? Write something else. For now, I can’t find good story ideas to crank out the two more short stories I want to get done this year, but I can continue to write Grant Scotland novels. I’m not saying I don’t want to write about Grant, it’s just that I want to get other projects going. But if I may be in a minor crisis of confidence on the short story front, I can revisit Grant’s world and make progress on book five. And in the writing process, I find I can still put words together, make myself laugh and even excite myself about new possibilities and the resolution to old mysteries.

Grant Scotland is my block and tackle. When the work of writing gets too tough, he’s there to help me do the heavy lifting of putting words on e-paper. I know I can sit down and write about him and his world when I can’t do anything else. So, if you’re ever in a corner where you can’t find something to write about, then simply write about something. Jot down your grocery list that would only make sense to someone from a parallel dimension. Scribe new lyrics to “Duck, Duck, Goose” that would make a sailor blush. Invent a recipe for chicken cacciatore that might, under the right alignment of planets, summon a host of faceless demons hungry for new faces.

Point is, find your block and tackle. Write whatever you need to write in order to keep writing. Hell, you could even write a blog post about it.

 

PICTURED: Not a good block and tackle.

 

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Don’t go looking for your muse! Go down to Ye Olde Word Smithy and pound out some prose.

“Writing about a writer’s block is better than not writing at all” – Charles Bukowski

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Notes From the Self-Pubbed (Issue #8)

THE BLOG TOUR ISSUE!

My Virtual Blog Tour ended earlier this month and I’m ready to share the goods and the bads and the ups and the downs. The Tour was arranged by Goddessfish Promotions and began in late December and continued until the middle of April. What would happen was Goddessfish would coordinate with a book review blogger to schedule a day where that blogger would post an advertisement for my book or interview with me or an excerpt from one of the books or some other piece of content relating to Grant Scotland. Then all of that blogger’s followers would see the post and comment on it in order to be eligible for an Amazon Gift Card. Goddessfish scheduled on average about two bloggers a week, generally Tuesdays and Thursdays, but sometimes Mondays and Wednesdays, and each one was pretty good about posting something different so followers were encouraged to “follow” the tour from one site to another.

Sounds great, right? I had been skeptical about the true advertising power of this sort of thing, since I found it difficult to imagine there were that many book-blog sites, not to mention active members who visited them frequently. I mean, do you visit blogs that talk about books on any sort of regular basis? I mean JUST books. This site doesn’t count, since it’s my personal blog where I also talk about being an author – I rarely talk about what I’m reading/have read. I’m talking about “fan sites” for fantasy, romance, sci-fi, etc. Do you ever go to these sites and hang out and talk about books?

 

“Hey, everyone! I just found out about this great book called The Necronomicon! I can’t wait to get my hands on it!”

 

Yeah, neither do I. Nevertheless, a blog tour was something I had to try, since I couldn’t very well claim I was taking this self-publishing enterprise seriously if I didn’t try it at least once.

It turns out once is enough. Probably more than enough. That is to say, I’m never doing anything like it ever again. Not on my dime, anyway.

First off I want to say that Marianne and Judy at Goddessfish were very nice and professional. I have nothing but good things to say about them. However, I can’t recommend their services, because my own results were so disappointing. In fact, so bad was my experience that I feel I have to warn other self-published authors to save their money and keep away from blog tours in general.

So, what was so bad? Well, mainly the biggest problem became apparent fairly early on. After the first few stops on the tour, it became obvious that each time a blogger hosted a blog post about Grant Scotland, the same 6 or 8 people would comment – on every site. That is, there didn’t seem to be separate followers on separate sites. It was always the same names, no matter if it was a site that claimed it mostly liked romance books or mostly liked fantasy books. Oh, and almost all of them mostly liked romance books, judging by their style and sidebar content and advertising.

 

“Where is the ripped bodice? No ripped bodice = no sale.”

 

So, the audience was frustratingly small, but that’s okay, nobody was buying anything anyway. I ran kindle countdown deals on all four books and Goddessfish made sure the deals were advertised on every site where Grant Scotland was featured, but not a single sale was recorded (not entirely true, but let’s just say I noted no “spike” in sales). Well, unless some sales happened during the Bookbub promotion period, but the tour had already been going on for almost two months by that time so I find it unlikely.

But I had heard blog tours were a great way of generating reviews and I had sent out free e-copies of all the books, so I was looking forward to getting a few Amazon reviews at least. Nope. Not one. I did, however, get four very enthusiastic reviews on Harlie’s Books by someone who clearly actually read all four books. So, that was nice, but it would have been nicer if those reviews had made it on to Amazon.

But did I make any new friends, at least? Hard to say. I know I have new followers to the blog and Facebook pages, but whether those people are here for the content or the promise of giveaways, it’s impossible to tell.

Well, I guess it’s not impossible. I could always just cancel the giveaways and see if anyone sticks around. In fact, I think I’ll do that. I’ve been mulling it over and doing extra reading about mailing lists and giveaways and authors and I’ve come to the conclusion that mailing lists and giveaways are GREAT ways to get a ton of followers, but they don’t do squat in terms of building an audience. An audience is composed of readers and they’re not the ones making the rounds from site to site trying to get free stuff. Those are internet gypsies. Additionally, every person I’ve seen advocating for mailing lists and giveaways ultimately turns out to be someone trying to sell me something. Sure, they may also be an author (although I’m highly dubious of this in each and every case) but they always put way more effort into talking up some pay-to-play service instead of what’s cool or interesting about their books, writing, etc.

 

“You want to know about my book? Well, it’s very successful. But wouldn’t you rather know how I made it so successful?”

 

So, no more mailing list. You’re just going to have to bookmark me or sign up to follow the blog by email (although I’ve found in my personal experience that wordpress emails often get filtered to the junk folder) and just keep an eye on the blog. I’m sure at some point in time in the future I’ll give away free stuff in some off-the-cuff contest, but doing the whole Mailchimp/Rafflcopter/Twitter Ads route just isn’t for me.

As for Blog Tours, Goddessfish offers some very reasonably priced options if you’re a self-pubber and you’re thinking that maybe you can change some internet gypsies into book buyers and fans. I chose the biggest/most expensive option because I figured in-for-a-penny-in-for-a-pound and obviously can’t at all recommend it. Maybe stringing together a few cheaper tours might yield better results for you.

I just re-read what I wrote and it sounds like I’m down on self-publishing and I’m not. Absolutely not. Although the industry is swarmed by pirates and snake oil salesmen, it’s still very rewarding to have almost complete control over your own work. I am, however, almost certain at this point that a hybrid approach is the best way to go. If I can get some stories or novels traditionally published it will make it much easier to get my self-published stuff in front of a much wider audience. I guess to look at myself as objectively as possible, I’m moving away from being a true self-publisher and towards being an author who self-publishes. True, this really only works for authors who have already attained some measure of success in traditional publishing, but I’m glad I went the self-pub route first. This entire experience has been very interesting and has given me a lot of confidence in my writing that I realize now I desperately needed in order to take myself seriously. Also, I think if I hadn’t tried it first, I’m not sure I ever would have.

I’m still deeply suspicious of traditional publishing, though. I’ve heard many horror stories from many authors about being badly mishandled and then having to live with not having rights to their own work when their publisher drops them. That makes me cringe and it’s something I’ll never let happen to the Adventures of Grant Scotland. I’m way too invested in that series to ever hand it over. Well, never say never, I guess. At any rate, I realize I should start writing a stand-alone novel (not related to the series, but probably a sci-fi or fantasy book) and see if I can attract an agent, but I’m committed to getting AoGS to six books first. Right now the plan is to keep writing Grant Scotland (outline and first chapter of book 5 done so far) but also crank out at least two more short stories by year’s end and put those on the magazine merry-go-round with the other two I’ve finished.

But I might start putting together something for an agent sooner rather than later. Probably should. I’ll keep you posted.

 

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Happy spring, everyone! A great time to make new plans and start new projects!

Experience is a hard teacher because she gives the test first, the lesson afterward.” – Vernon Law

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Notes from the Self-Pubbed #7 (addendum)

Addendum! Fancy, right? I’m all about the class and the sophistication stuff. But why the addendum? Well, I just got the sales report from Apple and Kobo from my February 6th BookBub promotion of the Grant Scotland omnibus and I’m happy to report they held mother’s milk. I sold enough to recoup expenses and even make a small profit! Read on for numbers! Numbers for the Number God!

 

 

APPLE: (as reported through Smashwords)

Apple sales are reported in a monthly dump, so no per-day sale info available.

44 Units sold during February at $1.99 each (so we can surmise all sales were during promo period).

60% royalty to author yields $1.20 each less Value Added Tax (VAT) on applicable sales. I think this is about 15% before royalty is figured, but it only applies to select overseas sales. So, to err on the safe side, we’ll call it a buck a book.

44 Units @ $1.00 = $44

KOBO: (as reported through Smashwords)

Kobo sales are reported on a monthly basis with day-by-day break down, but all the days were within the promo period.

67 Units sold during February at $1.99.

60% royalty to author yields $1.20 each. No VAT with Kobo, so we get the full $1.20.

67 Units @ $1.20 = $80

REVISED BOOKBUB PROMO NUMBERS:

Expense of Promo: $261

Total royalties from Promo: $283

Profit: $22

 

 

How do you like that?

 

“You might not be as useless as you were before. But you’re still a long way from an invite to Mar-a-Lago”

 

Now, I know these numbers combined with the Amazon numbers result in a quantity and profit margin that is extremely small in comparison with the sales of most other authors, but that’s how it starts.

 

“But that’s how it always begins. Very small.”

 

Additionally, I’m not including sales beyond the promo period which have been not insubstantial and at full price. So, if you throw those in, the profit margin is quite a bit wider. But now this leaves me in a quandary. Sales of Greedy Villain (the only book NOT in the omnibus) have been slow but steady on Amazon since the promotion, but the book is only available on Amazon right now because I wanted to keep it in Kindle Unlimited library to get the sweet, sweet borrowed page reads. However, those haven’t been that impressive and I’d hate to lose the opportunity to get some Kobo/Apple sales on it. I guess I just decided, didn’t I? Greedy Villain is up for renewal in KU in early April. I’ll decline renewal and see if I can get some follow up sales on Kobo and Apple. I can always put it back on KU later.

As for BookBub, my faith has been restored. I can now confidently tell you that if you’re looking to promote a book it is the best advertising option out there. And their follow-up survey is great! I shared my data with them and I’m hoping since my ROI was pretty low it will encourage them to lower their entrance fee a bit. Regardless, I’m looking forward to trying to get the omnibus on a domestic (U.S. only) BookBub promotion in the near future.

I’m in a good mood!

 

Have a drink? ‘Cause I’m having a drink.

 

Oh, and I’ve started receiving my rejection letters from the short stories I’ve sent out! They’re great! Can you tell I’m in a good mood? No, seriously! I feel even more like an “official” author now. My self-published books are making money and my short stories are being turned down by magazines. This is a very exciting time!

Cheers!

 

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Holy crap! This whole thing might actually pan out! Can you believe that? No, don’t answer that. It’s the suspense that’s delicious, isn’t it?

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

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