Monday, April 30, 2012

Paths Less Traveled - Blurb

In anticipation of the May 11, 2012 release of Paths Less Traveled from Musa Publishing (, I'm posting the back cover blurb from the collection. I hope you enjoy it.
* * * * * *
Some women walk their own paths through the ages, even when mayhem follows. Follow two of these women as they each walk the Paths Less Traveled.

In “Lightning Strikes", Falcon, a disinherited princess, wants to be the king’s spy. The theft of a prize stallion is her chance. But when her best friend stands accused, far more than her dreams are at risk. Falcon races to catch a thief before fatal vengeance falls on an innocent man.

Worlds away, Psyonics Corporation controls all paranormals and psychics in “Flashes of Life.” Its highest-testing but still latent psychic, Vonna accepts an assignment with the D.C. police to avoid the company’s breeding program. The company works to ensure failure in her first case – a homicide. If she can’t unlock her talents, a murderer will go free and she’ll be consigned to slavery.

The Paths Less Traveled. Strange universes. Kick-butt heroines.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Work in Progress

It's the last Friday of the month and that means a work in progress update. I'm currently sitting at the BWI airport waiting for my flight to take me to Superstar Writing Seminar . The photo on this post is from the first Superstars seminar. What's unique about this seminar is it teaches you about the business aspects of writing. To my knowledge, it's the only seminar out there that does. Another really wonderful thing about this seminar is the main presenters (Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta, Eric Flint, Dave Farland/Wolverton and Brandon Sanderson) and a lot of the guest presenters are available between sessions to talk to. Heck, finding micro-brew pubs with Kevin is sort of becoming a Superstars tradition. I'm looking forward to seeing the "Repeat Offenders", people like me who have attended a previous Superstar seminar and meeting all the new people.

The time devoted to urban fantasy novel I was working on at the last update was hijacked by what was suppose to be a short erotic romance story. The erotic romance sits at 15,000 words now and looks like it's going to be a novella. My goal is to finish the novella this week so I can get back to the fantasy novel. Vonna, whose featured in the upcoming Paths Less Traveled short story collection and the novel's main character, has been very patient with Maysoon's usurpation of her story time, but I can tell Vonna's patience is running out.

I'm waiting on comments from my editor for the next short story collection, Shots at Redemption, which is due out from Musa Publishing on June 1. I have a bunch of upcoming guest posts in the next three weeks to promote Paths Less Traveled, and need to get back to some serious editing on another story. That's it for the moment. I'll try to post from Superstars so you can see what you're missing.

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Writing Life

I'm reading James Scott Bell's The Art of War for Writers. I highly recommend the book. In Part 1: Reconnaissance - Section 5, Mr. Bell addresses the reality of a career in writing with this point:

Career Fiction Writers Must Be Aware of What a Successful Writing Life is Like.

We've all heard of "overnight" successes in the writing world. Brandon Sanders, and J.K. Rowling are often cited as examples of "overnight" success. J.K. Rowling has spoken about the numerous rejections she received before she sold the first Harry Potter book. Brandon Sanderson's "first" novel was the fourth he'd written. Brandon's post-college job was as a night clerk in a hotel, specifically so he could write. Both of these writers worked for years before they became "overnight" successes.

The average advance for a first novel from a traditional publisher is about $8,000. E-publishers often don't pay advances but give you a greater percentage of sale revenues. I'm going to use $6,000 for the advance because it makes my math easy. You don't get that $6,000 in a lump sum. You'll get $2,000 when you sign, another $2,000 when you turn in the finished manuscript, and the final $2,000 "on publication." It's likely to take 2-3 years before you get the full $6,000. But wait, you forgot someone. You probably didn't get the book contract without an agent. Your agent's going to take a percentage of the advance. After all, that's how she gets paid.

"Okay," you say. "The advance isn't great. An extra $2,00 a year over three years isn't enough to let me quit my day job. So, I'll retire on the royalties."

There's a few hitches here too. If you know the writing market, you know it takes time for a book to "earn out," meaning generate enough revenues of offset the advance and allow for the payment of royalties. Even when you "earn out" the house will keep your payment for up to 6 months against any returns.

I think in some ways it the realization that I'm still going to work at a day job for a long time while working on a writing career was easier for me since my base salary at the day job is significant. Even assuming an $6,000 advance from a traditional publisher, it would take a lot of new books under contracts to replace my day job's income. The numbers work a little better with an e-publisher since I'll get a percentage on each sale. But, keep in mind that on a $5.99 e-book, it takes a lot of sales to reach the $8,000 mark.

So, what's that mean?

Write more.

The best way to make a reasonable living off royalties, other than the break away novel, is to have a lot of books in print. Many successful writers have their names on over 100 books. Sometimes they wrote them, some were collaborations, and some were anthologies they edited. The only secret to "overnight success" is to work, and work hard, for years.

If you think this is bad news, sorry, but someone had to say it. For me, it gives me hope that I too can be an "overnight success."

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Penumbra Advertisment for Paths Less Traveled

Attached is a preview of my advertisement for Paths Less Traveled ,which will be in the May issue of Penumbra Magazine published by Musa Paths releases on May 11, 2012.

Some women walk their own paths through the ages, even when mayhem follows. Follow two of these women as they each walk the Paths Less Traveled.

In “Lightning Strikes”, Falcon, a disinherited princess, wants to be the king’s spy. The theft of a prize stallion is her chance. But when her best friend stands accused, far more than her dreams are at risk. Falcon races to catch a thief before fatal vengeance falls on an innocent man.

Worlds away, Psyonics Corporation controls all paranormals and psychics in “Flashes of Life.” Its highest-testing but still latent psychic, Vonna accepts an assignment with the D.C. police to avoid the company’s breeding program. The company works to ensure failure in her first case – a homicide. If she can’t unlock her talents, a murderer will go free and she’ll be consigned to slavery.

The Paths Less Traveled. Strange universes. Kick-butt heroines.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lessons Learned from Legal Writing

Sorry for the delay in posting, but I wanted to write about a seminar I attended on Monday, April 16, 2012. Bryan A. Garner, a U.S. lawyer, lexicographer, writer, chief editor for Black’s Law Dictionary, and founder and president of LawProse, Inc., offers writing seminars for lawyers. If you are going to learn good writing skills, Bryan is someone you want teaching you.

* * * *

Good legal writing is just good writing. But law school teaches bad writing. There. I said it. It’s on the internet. It will never go away. Law school teaches you how to be a bad writer.

Readers can tell the writing’s quality within the first few sentences. Judges may only have a limited time to consider your case. Just like other writers, lawyers have to “hook” their audience (the judges) to obtain more judicial attention and pursuade. Below are a few of the principles I took away from the seminar that apply to all writing.

(1) The Best Writing is Clear and Concise.

Lawyers are enjoined to write clearly and briefly. But we often miss the point. Some fiction writers never climb out of that messy slush pile for the same reason. The Elements of Style by William Strunk and E.B. White mandates: “omit needless words.” But brevity doesn’t mean “make the story short.” It means use the best descriptive words possible without sacrificing clarity. If anyone can read– and the best legal briefs tell stories about real people and real consequences -, understand, and be moved by the story, the writing has done its job. To let the story shine, you need to follow Stephen King's advice in On Writing and “kill your darlings.” Mr. King and Bryan both say the same thing; ruthlessly parse your words.

“Well, then, what’s a needless word?” you ask.

To me, an unnecessary word is one you can strike or streamline without changing your meaning. Why say “they brought an adequate number of sleeping bags” when you can say “They brought enough sleeping bags?” I’ve removed three words from the sentence without changing the meaning.

“But wait, what if my quirky character is overly verbose?” you challenge.

That character’s dialog and point of view only can use grandiose terminology. Everyone else should speak like a real person and not a thesaurus.

(2) Good Writing Builds on Resonance.

Lawyers are taught that they should make their argument three times. And it works. Well, sort of. Your writing has a theme. It should be reinforced throughout the narrative without being repetitive. David Farland, writer of the Runelords series and frequent lecturer on fiction writing technique, talks extensively on building resonance in fiction so I won't elaborate here.

(3) You Must Use The Space "Above The Fold" Well.

Use the "above the fold" space to connect with your reader - whether a judge or a novel reader. Journalists strive for placement of their articles “above the fold” meaning, literally, the space on the front page under the paper’s name when the paper is face up i.e. above where the paper is folded. For the internet the space the reader can see without scrolling is “above the fold”. In a novel or legal brief, your first two hundred and fifty words are often all that shows on that all important first page. You must use that precious space to build credibility in your writing and storytelling abilities to convince the reader to turn the page.

An advocate needs to be the first to make an impression on the judge. Bryan’s “tell the reader why you win up front” sounds a lot like “hook your reader on page one.” Why? Because the “above the fold” maxim holds true for all forms of writing.

As a writer, you must hook your readers. Generous readers may give you a page to accomplish this, but more likely you only have the first few lines. A good opening paragraph introduces a character and gives some flavor of the work to come. In your first paragraph, you make a promise to your reader about what’s to come. Do this well and the reader will turn the page to read on.

(4) The Story Must Be Compelling.

A compelling story is interesting with a precise wording, vivid descriptions, a clear plot line, and active characters. Does that sound like another way of phrasing “show, don’t tell”? It should.

(5) Third Party Feedback Is Necessary To Determine If You Are Writing Effectively.

As a final point, most of us are too close to our words to edit effectively. While familiarity might not breed contempt, it does breed blindness. We sometimes forget to put necessary information in the prose because we’re so familiar with it. If you have to explain to someone reading the work for the first time, you’ve left something out. You can only figure out if you are "missing" something by letting someone else read what you've written.

No manuscript should be sent to the final decision maker (whether judge, agent, publisher or editor) without others reviewing it first. I've written on this blog before about editing, and the process is invaluable. If you can take ego out of the process (and it’s hard), you’ll find that the feedback helps you clarify and deepen your writing.

If you have the opportunity to hear Bryan Garner speak on writing, take advantage of it. Take your writing lessons where you find them because at the heart, all good writing follows the same dictates.

Write the cleanest, clearest and most compelling prose you can. If you follow these directives in all your writing, the maxims become second nature. Your writing will improve, and people will want to read your story.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I have a cover for Paths Less Traveled

Over the weekend, my cover for Paths Less Traveled, which releases on May 11, 2012, was finalized. Thank you Kelly Shorten and Musa Publishing - - for the amazing job.
So, how did we get here?
Musa writers are involved in all aspects of the publishing procees. We fill out a questionairre on cover design issues, including time period, setting, architectural details, mood of the story, elements I wanted for the cover, elements I didn't want, and any other suggestions I had for the cover art. I suspect the only way I could have had more input into the process would be to self-publish.
In my response I attached a photograph of the mountain I'd been using as the base template for the castle in the Lightning Strikes story. This photo --------------->.
The castle in the top right corner of my cover is the same shape as my mountain. Kelly then stylized it to fill in the details. The end result was a distinctive castle, and therefore, cover.
Because Paths is a short story collection my cover suggestion was "a pathway leading from field and castle setting into glass and metal city. The pathway changes over the route from dirt, to stone, to pavement to quicksilver sheets." My idea probably would have been too cluttered for a cover, but that's why I'm not the artist.
Anyway, Kelly then took my input and came up with a draft for the cover. I had the opportunity to comment on it and request changes. I loved the design and approved it as soon as I saw it.
So, I think the cover is pretty darned wonderful. What do you think? Please comment and let me know.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Science of Writing

On March 18, 2012, the New York Times published Your Brain on
Fiction by Annie Murphy Paul. In that article, Ms. Paul discussed recent research suggesting that reading about an event often stimulates the same areas of the brain as experiencing it. As an example, Ms. Paul cites a 2006 study where researchers studied participants’ brain waves while reading words with strong odor associations, such as “perfume”, and “coffee”, and words without odor associations like “chair” or “key.” The olfactory cortex (the part of our brains that processes scent) was activated by the “smelly” words like “perfume” but not the odor neutral ones like “chair.”

Similarly, a study from February, 2012, demonstrated that clichés like “had a rough day” or descriptive phrase like “he had strong hands” were processed like any other words. However, the phrase “he had leathery hands” engaged the sensory cortex. Another study found that words of motion activated the motor cortex (which coordinates movement). Other studies have found that the regions of the brain used to understand a story substantially overlap with those we use for social interaction, and more avid readers seem better able to understand other people.

What does this mean for us as writers?

The right words matter.

A lot of writers instinctively knew there was a mind/reading connection. The imminent Mark Twain said: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” Writers are told to use strong verbs and avoid clichés. Why? Because as science has borne out, the phrase “leathery hands” is more evocative than “strong hands.” Science bears this out. Evocative stories are memorable.

Each word in a story is a dot of paint. When combined in the best manner possible, the reader sees the whole image and not just a dot. Good fiction transports the reader. When her senses
are fully engaged, her brain makes no distinction between reading the story and participating in it. That's worth mentioning again: Our brains appear to make no distinction between reading an well written story and participating in it.

Ancient scribes slaved over detailed illustrations for religious texts. Early novels had artwork. Eventually the publishing houses stopped printing illustrated adult novels largely because of the cost. Picture books became the province of young children. This trend is changing. Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings has artwork at the beginning of each new chapter and some amazing maps. Scott Wegterfield’s middle grade series, Leviathan, is beautifully illustrated. Again, the map is remarkable. Both of these writers have shown that adult or near adult fiction can be profitable with illustrations. Their success makes it easier for the rest of us to press our case for illustrations. Kevin J. Anderson has novels with soundtracks, a trend that is growing. See, his interview on writing and music at:

New media like e-books expand our ability to make reading a multi-media experience. Smart writers are using this to their advantage. The old maxim “show not tell” still holds true. Science demonstrates that reading can fully engage our brain. As a writer, it is up to you to use this fact to
enrich your writing. Mark Twain was right (of course). The right word at the right time makes an indelible impression. By actively engaging the readers’ senses, you can transport them to another time and place, which is, after all, the reason they read.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Guest Post - Celina Summers - Different Publishing Routes

As few as five years ago there was only one route to fiction novel publication- traditional publishing. Now writers are presented a host of publishing options. I've been lucky enough to have stories under contract with Musa Publishing I asked Celina Summers, one of Musa's founders and chief editor (i.e. all around Musa Goddess) what she thought the differences, and pros and cons between traditional publishing, e-publishing and self-publishing Here's what she said:

It's a great thing to be able to tell your family and friends that you're published. After all, you've achieved a lifetime goal. Millions of people have written stories or novels without any of them seeing the light of day. But in the last couple of decades, the publishing industry has changed significantly. With the onset of digital publishing, self-publishing—once an outlet only the financially well-endowed could consider—took off. According to The Bookseller ( Nielsen 2010 book output figures show that 151,969 new titles were published in 2010, a leap of 14% on the output number given this time last year. The figure is derived from the number of ISBNs Nielsen issues over the year. However, the 2009 figure, of 133,000, has since been increased to 157,039 because of the late addition of digital titles in that year, a factor that may also further increase the 2010 figure. It means that year-on-year book production fell 3.2%, though the trend shows that output has soared: since 2008 it is up 13%, and since 2001, the market has risen by close to 40%.

Once upon a time, there was one way to get published. You wrote your novel, typed it up, sent it to an agent, the agent loved it and submitted it to a traditional print publisher, who bought it and then published it. But now, things are a lot more complicated. E-publishing has taken off, with thousands of young publishing houses releasing digital-only content. At the same time, self-publishing has exploded, with authors publishing their own books directly to the reader. And of course, lurking around the sewers of the industry, vanity presses are always eager to prey upon the uninformed author.

But these four terms are not synonymous. There's a lot of difference between traditional publishing, electronic publishing, and self-publishing. (And vanity publishing is, at its heart, a scam) Where this becomes a problem is when the writer announces "I'm published!" but doesn't distinguish between the different types of publishing. Because unless your self-published book sells millions of copies, chances are that an agent or book industry exec isn't going to be interested in that publishing credit—or a bookstore. Regardless of what folks might think, there is a big difference between landing a multiple book deal with Random House and self-publishing a book through Lulu. So in order to avoid trouble down the line, it's important for an author to self-represent correctly—and, more importantly, to use the different avenues in publishing wisely, to build a foundation for a writing career.

So, let's take a look at each term separately.

Traditional Publishing—Print. To most writers, this means New York. These are books that are represented by agents (most likely) and subsequently published by a major house—known as the Big Six—and any of their imprints. These books are released in paperback. Some come out in hardback. These books (usually) are where the legitimate bestseller lists originate. The author receives an advance for her book(s), and her titles are found in brick and mortar bookstores. In the past couple of years, the Big Six have jumped on board and begun to digitally publish their titles—at much higher prices and a much smaller royalty rate.

Let me interject that there are hundreds of legitimate, reputable, outstanding small presses out there—independent publishers that have nothing to do with New York or the Big Six. Indie presses are a fantastic place for a young writer to start out, especially genre writers. I'm going to put indie publishers under the traditional publisher title because they, too, publish primarily in print.

E-publishing—These publishing houses are digital first. They publish e-books primarily, although some are moving into POD(print on demand) availability for their books. An e-publisher is a genuine small house, following the same submissions, acquisitions, and editing processes as traditional publishing. Five years ago, e-publishing wasn't considered a legitimate publishing credit by agents and New York publishers. That mindset is changing as the popularity of digital books increases.

Self-publishing—This is when a writer circumvents the publishing industry and releases his work himself. That also means the writer is completely responsible for making sure the book goes through all the proper processes—editing, typesetting, cover art, formatting, uploading, publicity and marketing. Unfortunately many self-published authors don't do this. They release the book and then wait for the millions of dollars to roll in, which, unfortunately, rarely happens. For every self-published author like Amanda Hocking, there are tens of thousands of authors who never sell more than ten copies of their book.

Vanity publishing—Where an author pays to be published. Any time a publisher (or agent) asks for money up front, run away. Run fast. Yog's law: money flows TO the author.

In the past six months, I can't tell you how many people have told me their book was e-published, attempting to hoodwink me into thinking that another publisher had signed their book, put it through the processes, and released the book—only to find out later that in fact, the writer had self-published. (And no, making up a publishing company that only publishes one author's work really doesn't fool a publisher. If you're self-published, just admit it.) Some come to me only when their book didn't make money and they want to try again. Usually, those writers don't know why. I do know why.

You see—there's a reason for the 'gatekeepers' in publishing. The agents, the slushpile readers, the acquisitions assistants all have the same goal in mind: they are looking for publishable books. Books that are strong technically, that are engaging and entertaining. In other words, books that people want to read. When I am reading through submissions, I might ask to see one manuscript out of fifty. That's not because the stories are bad, but because the story is not publishable in its current condition. Occasionally, however, I will be tempted to put more work into a manuscript because of the writer's publishing history—her resume. And this is where the correct publishing types really makes a difference.

In publishing, as in any profession, people need to be accurate and honest about how they present themselves to others. If a writer's book was self-published, it does no good for that writer to claim they were e-published. Sure, the author electronically published his book, but the book never went through any kind of evaluation, most probably wasn't edited (because many self-published authors wish to retain all creative control over their book) and more than likely didn't sell more than a hundred copies. If that book was e-published, to me that means that the author is familiar with the publication process—namely editing. And that right there predisposes me to look upon that submission more favorably, because I know that I won't be having to drag an unwilling writer through the process that will make that particular book better.

And of course, once you start talking traditional publishing, unless your books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, it doesn't matter very much if you're e-published or self-published or published-by-your-Uncle-Vinnie-in-Des Moines published. To a traditional publisher, it might as well be your first book. However, among the gatekeepers to traditional publishing, e-publishing is no longer considered the red-headed stepchild of publishing. I
asked an agents' panel three years ago if they considered e-publishing a legitimate publishing credit. About 70% said yes.

Since we opened Musa Publishing, agents are now submitting to us.

It makes sense, after all. With e-publishing's higher royalties, lower overhead and international availability thanks to e-tailers like Amazon, authors and agents are intrigued by the possible financial rewards of a popular e-published success. Publishers like Musa Publishing are able to create a high quality product that readers enjoy, at a price readers appreciate. A lot of writers are making the same decision I made too—to begin my writing career in e-publishing. I could make better, immediate money while learning my craft and improving my work.

And the readers are reaping the benefits, as anyone with a fully stocked Nook or Kindle will tell you.

So there are sizable differences in the different types of publishing currently available, and it behooves the author to self-identify correctly. As a writer, it's important to understand the differences—and to use those differences wisely as you plot out your career.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Editing Paths Less Traveled

I promised to update you on the editing process for Paths Less Traveled, which is my short story collection coming from Musa Publishing on May 11, 2012. So, this is your first update. The collection currently has a story I wrote over 10 years ago (Lightning Strikes) and one I wrote last year (Flashes of Life). We might be adding a third story too. It’s probably not surprising that Lightning Strikes needed more work than Flashes of Life. It was interesting to see how these two stories showed my development as a writer. Flashes of Life was, generally, clearer and definitely provoked fewer comments from Jen, my editor at Musa. The contrast also put the million word paradigm into affect because I wrote at least 1 million words between those two stories.

The editing process is alien. Writing is a deeply personal and individual process. Editing is collaborative. Some of us have trouble making the transition. Fortunately, over my fifteen years as a lawyer, I've had thousands of documents edited - by partners, by clients, and other lawyers. I don’t react hostility (most of the time, I am still only human) to suggested changes. When I do, I use a 24 hour rule. In other words, time permitting, I wait 24 hours, read the comments again and then consider whether they changes help or harm what I’m trying to do. If they help, I use them. For Paths, no cooling off was required. I agreed with Jen’s comments, and only had a few questions.

First, props for my editor. Her suggestions were clear and I could see how the stories benefitted from her proposed changes. While she caught typos and other grammatical errors I’d missed, she also flagged story issues. Description and internal contemplations are weaknesses in my writing. As a reader I’d rather broad strokes for setting, and characters that don't take twenty pages to make a fire because they wonder what kind of wood would be best. The reason I call this reading preference a writing weakness is that they make it harder to engage a reader. Jen pointed out a number of places where I could add a line or two to enhance the story. As an example, Vonna, the main character in Flashes, sees emotion as a color swirling around a person’s aura. Jen pointed out that if this was part of Vonna’s makeup, she’d notice their colors as naturally as we breathe. She’s right. The first round of edits had me adding in this detail more often, which makes the world Vonna lives in richer.

I love writing dialog. I’m a big fan of the idea that the words should convey the emotion and, for the most part, the only dialog tag you need is “said.” Apparently, I've reached the point of obsession. The word “said” isn’t invisible when you use it 62 times in 37 pages. The fact that Jen actually counted was bad. The “invisible” word was a distraction. Again, that “error” is something we worked on fixing in the first round of edits.

The best thing about professional editing, in general, and Jen, in particular, is that she sees where I’ve left out necessary information because I know my story too well. This aspect of the editing process was invaluable. It is also why having the right type of editor is important. A technical editor will be looking for different issues than a genre editor in your genre. A technical editor may, in fact, harm your storytelling. He’s looking for conciseness and might change “voice” and the story as a result. The genre editor will help you stand out in the genre.

Here’s the bottom line for me: Jen’s comments and feedback help me make my stories more compelling. In the process, I’m becoming a better writer. She’s helping me refine my voice, not changing it. I can’t begin to tell you how grateful I am to her, and Musa. Editing may be a pain, but I enjoy going through the process with Jen. We're almost done (I think). To date, Jen has sent me two revision drafts and I just sent the second revision back to her. Once we’re (note the plural there) done with the editing process, I'll post a section from Lightning Strikes as originally written more than 10 years ago, as cleaned up about four years ago, and through the editing process so you can see Jen's helped me bring out the story without changing it. After all, that's the goal. Right?