How many words make a story?

 

I remember the first time I checked out a really big book from the library. Not just a novel, this thing was gargantuan. Noble House by James Clavell. I think half of my motivation was just to prove that I could read such a huge tomb. In retrospect, I wish somebody had caught me and recommended War and Peace instead. Still, I finished it, and that was important to me at the time.

Since then, I’ve read and written stories of all different sizes. Some of the most powerful, ideas that have endured in my memory to this day, were crafted with very few words. For a while, most of the industry seemed ready to declare short stories extinct. Only a few magazines held out against the falling market, and writers largely considered those venues resume builders. Then Amazon revolutionized publishing and opened a way for people to get anthologies (or even stand alone novellas) out with very low overhead. Luckily, the dying art was given new life.

It was especially fortunate for me, since I managed to get into some of those anthologies and build enough cred to sway a publisher to take a chance on my longer works. I believe if nobody made any more short stories, we’d lose something very important and valuable. While I like books for the journey they offer, I feel in many cases the books are inflated beyond the needs of the story. This might be to raise the price of the book, or to extend the escapism time it provides. However, I think we’ve all read a long book or series and thought, “That could have been done in half as many words (or books).” Fans may argue that they want 20 books set in their favorite world, but I feel those massive collections are only one facet of the many possibilities for transmitting stories via fiction. In fact, the most powerful ideas can only be shared in much smaller works.

I guess that’s why I knew the Actuator series had to be done with stories of many sizes. It isn’t only a study in the meaning of various genres, it’s a study on the impact of differing story lengths. Thus, it is over 20 authors, working in different story sizes with characters intertwined through the larger arc. I didn’t realize it when we organized the series and pitched it to Curiosity Quills Press, but the whole thing is not just a multi-genre thriller. It’s also an exploration of every facet of written story telling. It will be nearly half a million words by the end.

Book 3, Chaos Chronicles, is just a few months from release. It contains some of the most imaginative, unique stories in the series yet. It started out as another anthology in the same setting, but once I read the amazing work in it, I knew we had to bring those characters back in for the finale (book 4). I can’t wait for you to read it!

Want to have written…

i know kung fu

In the Matrix movie, there is an ionic moment when Neo wakes up after a neural uplink and says, “I know kung fu.” If they ever figure out how to upload knowledge and skill sets like that, I am pretty sure I will never get out of that machine. I want to know how to do everything.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the many people I’ve encountered who tell me, “I want to write a book some day,” or, “I wrote half a book a long time ago, but I’ve been too busy to get back to it.” What makes the difference between them and the people who actually write a book, or many books?

I remember as a kid, I took karate lessons for one month. I tried a lot of things for a little while until I lost interest and moved on to something else, but karate I remember specifically. I wanted to be tough and fast and a mean fighting machine if anybody messed with me. However, I didn’t really enjoy the lessons or do the practices and exercises. So I stopped and did other things. At the time, I didn’t think of it. Now, I understand it better.

I didn’t want to LEARN karate. I wanted to HAVE LEARNED karate. I wanted the results, but not the actual day to day actions leading to them. The same thing happened with piano lessons. I wanted to know how to play the piano, but I did not want to practice.

So I think it is with many people who want to HAVE WRITTEN a book. They want to be an author, but they don’t really want to write. That’s the difference. Unlike karate and piano, I love writing. I love to be in the middle of a scene hammering on the keyboard as fast as the words will arrange themselves in my mind. I enjoy going through the experience with the characters and imagining new worlds and exploring big ideas. I wrote over a dozen books before I had my first one published. And even if I never had any books published, I’d still write them.

At a book signing I attended, Terry Brooks said writers write because they have to. He went on to explain that writing takes a lot of time for no money and a very small return. If you have a choice, do something else. We only write if we have to.

I have to.

I’m hoping this insight will help people interested in writing to understand. If you want to be writing, then write. You will inevitably write many books. If you only want to have written a book, but don’t really prefer the act of writing to other activities in your life, then maybe the other things you do are what you really care about.

There are many authors who write just one book and stop. That’s great, but they clearly aren’t someone who wants to write. Rather, they are among those who succeeded, but only wanted to have written a book. Once they reached their goal, they had no motivation to write more.

This has significance for me, and anybody who really enjoys writing, too. I think of book ideas by the dozen. Some I write, others I don’t, for many reasons. Now I have a new way of deciding which ideas to invest in and which to leave alone. I write the books I want to be writing. I don’t write the books I only want, “to have written.”

Quirky Engine Games

Quirky Engine

I love games. I’ve played many and even made some. [Go see my free games.] So I wanted to feature a few here. These are all by a new company: Quirky Engine Games. So far they have three games out.

Panic Fire is also called “Shoot Your Friends.” Who doesn’t want to shoot their friends once in a while? See the YouTube video. Check out the reviews on Board Game Geek.

Admit it, if you had a junk yard, you’d get in a Trash War.  See the YouTube video. Check out the reviews on Board Game Geek.

And Hoagies are like my third favorite lunch. See the YouTube video. Check out the reviews on Board Game Geek.

Now you know you want them… or at least one of them. So head over to:

Quirky Engine Games!

Skill vs. Marketing

Tome

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time ruminating on books. What makes some books sell and others go nowhere? How important is it for a book to have “meaning?” What makes a book become a “classic?” What significance do I want books to have in my life?

A lot came together to cause such an internal inquiry. First, I realized I reached my initial writing goal. Once I had several books published and I found my place in the local writing community and with a good publisher, I fulfilled my plans. So I naturally wanted to re-evaluate what my next goal should be. Second, I observed that book sales at conventions and signings didn’t change whether I had one book to sell or half a dozen. I felt good about having more books written, but it didn’t seem to affect my overall numbers to have more books on the table in front of me. So I began to ask myself, “Why write the other books?” (Don’t worry, I write because I love it, and that won’t stop.) Finally, what do I want readers to take away from my books?

Obviously, any writer wants to sell more books. But as I’ve tried to examine what makes a book sell better than others, the variables get very convoluted. Sometimes a mediocre books is marketed so well, or referred by somebody so popular, that it becomes a best seller. Other times books that I love and seem masterfully written, will flop and find no readers at all. So there is some measure of luck involved. What seems to be the only discernable pattern is when an author writes one book that “breaks out” and is hugely popular. It gains momentum all its own, in excess of the marketing. It takes on a mythos greater than the content or skill by which it’s written. That’s really the “dream” of any author, to write something that becomes wildly popular. But how much control does anybody really have over such a system? Or is trying for such a thing like chasing a white whale?

Michaelbrent Collings said something profound. “Selling your own books won’t go anywhere. You need to write books so good that other people will sell them for you.”

I stepped back from writing for a while to internalize these things and come up with my next plan. I’m going to finish the Actuator series, of course. (Book 3 coming soon!) After that?

What I’ve come to realize is that much of this is out of my control. I can develop skills and invest in the stories I write. I plan to focus on better and less instead of faster and more. And deep down, I have to believe that a really good story will resonate with people and have a better chance of “going somewhere” than an average story. I love all the books I’ve written, and the people I’ve worked with. Now, I just need to take my art to the next level. It isn’t a quest to write a best seller. It’s just refocusing to make the best story I can. Thanks for sticking with me on the journey. I’m looking for brighter and more exotic destinations!

Interior Art

Cyber-Cowboy

Draconic King

I love short stories. Even though people sometimes say it’s a dying art, I really like reading and writing them. Sometimes a very short work can be extremely poignant. Here’s an example by one of my favorite authors: Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. I have a few free here, too.

I also love art. So covers are very important to me. (See my covers.) I often say how happy I’ve been with my publisher, Curiosity Quills Press, because they consistently do amazing covers.

So, I especially appreciate anybody who goes to the extra expense to do illustrations for each story in an anthology. The two at the top are the illustrations for my stories in the CQ anthologies. The artist, Ricky Gunawan, does amazing work. So, when I began editing the Borderlands Anthology for the Actuator series, I knew I wanted art for each story, but I wanted something unique to better match the feel of the story. We brainstormed several ideas. What we came up with was something I’ve really liked. In fact, we are using the same process for the upcoming anthology (which is what made me think of writing this post).

Ritual

We started by having each author select a stock photo they felt represented their story. This picture was chosen for  a ghost story set in Japan.

 

Then I took the color out of it (because they are printed in black & white) and applied a rendering process. I think it gives it a kind of computerized-painted look which goes well with the multi-genre nature of the Actuator series.

Ritual Titled

Finally, I put the title and authors name onto the picture. It gave them a kind of “old movie poster” feel that seemed to represent the various genre clichés the stories are set in.

The final product feels both artistically consistent with the series and true to the feel of each story in the collections. I liked it so well, I used the same method on all the art in the Actuator RPG. (The full version is coming soon from FINAL REDOUBT PRESS!)

What do you think?

The Cure for a Star Wars Hangover

SW7

(This blog was originally posted on the Curiosity Quills Press website and reposted here.)

I love Star Wars! After years of building anticipation, months staring at my tickets, and hours of trying to distract myself before the show began, I finally saw The Force Awakens. It’s hard to describe how I feel after a Star Wars movie.

The Return of the Jedi came out when I was young and impressionable. My awesome parents sacrificed to take me on the second day. I remember coming out of the theater after a matinee at dusk. The sunset, the street lights, the first stars– what had been common before was fantastic now. I saw the world through new eyes.

When the Phantom Menace came out, I made sure to go the first day. When I left the theater, I couldn’t really talk. We went to lunch and the dam broke and we analyzed it for hours. Again, an experience I’ll never forget, because it changed me.

Everybody experiences things differently, but this franchise has been the biggest impact of any fiction in my life. I already loved the new Star Treks directed by J. J. Abrams. I already bought into the Avengers series and Pirates of the Caribbean by Disney. So I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. Will it change me as much as the others? Time will tell. What isn’t different is the intense hangover Star Wars always puts me in.

I have this malaise where my mind just spins and spins around the images and ideas. It’s great! Yet, sooner or later, I know I have to come down off this high. The hours of “real” life wear down the affection and the mundane tasks chip away at the emotions. Eventually, it will leave me slightly depressed and wanting to go back to see the movie again.

The best way to cope with such a hangover is a good book.

Watching another movie after Star Wars is just wrong. Books are a different media. They get deeper into the characters’ minds, and are a slow burn compared to the explosion of a movie. They take longer in a quiet place so it’s a good way to sooth hyper emotions without dropping to the low.

What book could serve as a good net for something like Star Wars, though? Star Wars books aren’t right. That’s like entering the uncanny valley. It needs to be something epic. Star Wars is not just sci-fi. It has fantasy, action-adventure, drama, and a touch of romance. Characters fight impossible enemies against incredible odds; destiny, mystery, and a touch of mysticism.

It’s a rare book that has both the right atmosphere and pace to catch a falling Star Wars fan. I can recommend one, though. You should try The Actuator: Fractured Earth. It has a compelling world, not too like Star Wars, yet deep and complex. There is plenty of action and plenty mind-bending. Here’s a quick overview:

A machine is built to physically transform the world into a utopia, but a saboteur instead uses it to break the world into patches of every kind of genre fiction. People on one side of the road see aliens invading. So they run across the street to escape only to find a full fantasy dragon rampaging. People all over the world are confused and dying in real-life horrors featuring pirates, vampires, orcs, and just about every other creature imaginable. Only a handful of people even know about the Actuator. This group, called Machine Monks, have to put the world back before it falls into complete chaos.

Written by one forever altered by Star Wars, it may have the salve to cool the burn. So give it a shot. What do you have to lose besides that nagging ennui that follows everybody around after an amazing movie like a personal storm cloud?

The Actuator 1- Fractured Earth

Fractured Earth FREE!

Actuator-Facebook-Cover

Happy Black Friday! Today, through Cyber-Monday (Nov. 30) my two time bestselling novel, The Actuator: Fractured Earth, is available for FREE! It’s never been free before. If you read it already, tell your friends. If not, this is the perfect time to get into this fantastic series.

20130530-222635.jpg

perf6.000x9.000.indd

Just in case that’s not enough to keep you happy, I also have my three stand alone novels: Salvation, Exacting Essence, and Theocracide on sale for just 99 cents! Theocracide is being featured on Scifi365.net for the weekend. Get 20 free books when you sign up and join the mailing list to keep the sci-fi books flowing.:)

Is that all the amazing reading a blog can give? NO! Check out these freebies for the four day promotion. The Lure of Fools by Jason King and Five out the Dark by Holli Anderson are also yours for the taking. The fiery conclusion to the Five series comes out on Monday! I’ve already read it, of course, and it’s brilliant. If that doesn’t do the trick, you can get Jason King’s Valcoria for only 99 cents. You might want to pick this one up now, because I have a story in the upcoming anthology set in this world that’s amazing.

Soul-less Grave

Five

“Not enough free books,” you say? Well, check out our publisher’s website… maybe they can find you another dozen or so. Happy Holidays!!!