Drum Roll Please (Judge a Book by its Cover)

I’m proud to unveil the cover for my first novel, Blood for Blood.  After much angst and drama, I’ve finally reached the point that I’m ready to release it into the wild (by “the wild,” I mean the Kindle Store, Barnes & Noble’s Nook store, and Smashwords, which will get it pretty much everywhere else).

Of course, I can’t release the novel naked; it needs a cover.  Viola!

book cover for Blood for Blood

I designed it myself, in part because I like the control, in part because I’m a computer geek, and in part because I want to bootstrap this writing enterprise, doing as much of the work as I can to begin with, keeping my expenses to a dead minimum, at least until I have come money coming in.

That’s something I love about the indie publishing game: you can have total control and no financial risk.  It’s a Dave Ramsey-listening, overconfident, jack-of-all-trades author’s dream.


A New Era

In my last post, I mentioned that Blood for Blood was the first book of my “New Era.”  I imagine that either sailed right by you or left you asking ‘what new era is this dude talking about?’  Well, here goes:

Prior to 2009, I had pretty much lost my love of writing.  I didn’t have a firm grasp on how to do plots, I spent more time rewriting than writing, and I “polished” things until they were homogenous lumps, because that’s what I thought I was “supposed” to do.

In other words, I had no story, and I had no voice.

It’s no wonder I lost my love of writing.  Fortunately, and I have no idea how it happened other than divine intervention, I stumbled across Dean Wesley Smith’s blog.  Being liberated from what writing meant, I was able to start writing again.  I did, and I found that I really enjoyed it.  I was writing, mostly longhand on paper, with very little editing (pen and paper allows for very little editing: sometimes I think word processing applications are as much hurdle as boon to writers today).  I actually created the character of Benedict during this time (Spring 2009, as I remember).

It started with a quote from Stephen Jay Gould, which I heard in a statistics class.  “Central tendency is an abstraction, variability the reality.”  I understood its meaning in relationship to the stats we were studying, but the lyricism of the quote set off the writer in me.  I imagined a figure in a “long black coat” (to quote Bob Dylan – or, if you prefer, Joan Osborne) staring down through a skylight at a scene below, ready to intervene, saying or thinking of that quote, almost philosophically, thinking how everyone he’s ever met has been, at heart, some kind of freak, “searching and yearning for acceptance, hurting others, from time to time, to ease our own pain,” remembering people (vampires and humans) he’s lost, killed, or pushed away.  Then, he jumped down into the midst of six vampires to rescue one human.

I ended up not using that scene in any of the novels, though it’s featured in a “supplemental material” novella I’m working on.  But it was my first image of Benedict, my first sure sign of who he was – part Bob Dylan’s Man in the Long Black Coat, part Nick Cave’s man with the Red Right Hand, part Clint Eastwood’s Man with No Name, part Stephen King’s Gunslinger, part Andrew Vachss’s Burke, part Humphrey Bogart’s Sam Spade, and part Christopher Lambert’s Russell Nash – weathered, but with the strength of youth, largely alone, deadly, unattractive but somehow magnetic, a man of his word to a dangerous degree, torn between protecting the weak and upholding his oath of vengeance.  If mortals have nightmares about vampires, then vampires have nightmares about Benedict.

I knew that writing Benedict’s story would require me to go places I had been hesitant to go before, to write, as Nietzsche said, in blood, and not worry too much about who might get offended.  I also knew I needed to get more serious about writing regularly.

Eventually, the other important characters joined the story.  Augustine Sanguinis, the vampirelord, and his half-human daughter Anastasia, arrived from a story I’d written many years earlier, called “Dawn.”  The Sanguinises were nice enough to bring a lot of worldbuilding with them (don’t worry; that’s the last ‘nice’ thing they’ve done).

It then became clear that Augustine and Benedict were brothers, and so the theme of a thousand-year war between brothers was brought in (I had tried to write a story about that several years earlier, but didn’t have strong enough characters to make it happen.  Well, now I do).

So not only did I finally have the right leading man, but I had all these elements and supporting characters I’d been wanting to write about in the past, but didn’t know how.  Everything was ready for me to get started.

The only problem was, I still didn’t know how to do plots.  Fortunately, someone on Dean Wesley Smith’s site told me about Algis Budrys, and his wonderful book Writing to the Point (which I talk about  in more detail here).  It was absolutely the perfect remedial text for a wannabe writer who can’t do plots.  I mean, BAM!  I read that short little book, and it was like Popeye eating his spinach; I immediately figured out how to plot the Benedict stories.

Of course, that didn’t mean I’d mastered the art and craft of writing.  Once Blood for Blood was done, I realized I’d inadvertently put a frankly horrible message in there, so I trunked it for several months.  Then I realized how to fix it, simply by adding a few scenes, changing a couple of scenes, and placing it as the first book in a trilogy.  The dark outcome, the nihilistic message, vanished when it became ‘the first third of the story’ instead of ‘the whole story.’

I still had, and have, a lot to learn.  The point is, I’m finally learning, creating, building, and writing … and loving it.

This is a new age, and nothing I wrote before will be brought forward, except as raw material.  The Blood Oath Trilogy (Blood for Blood, the work-in-progress Blood Guilt, and the not yet begun Blood Oath) couldn’t exist if I hadn’t carved Dawn and the unnamed two brothers stories up, and there simply is no comparison between the quality; Blood Oath was worth the sacrifice.

More than that, the new happiness I have in my writing (both the process and the product) is worth any past works, writing theories, or practices I’ve left behind, a thousand times over.

Blood for Blood Finished! Woot!

Those of you who’ve been following my blog know all about the personal drama surrounding Blood for Blood, the first novel of my Blood Oath series, and the first novel of my “new era” (more on that later).

You know that I trunked Blood for Blood due to ethical concerns over its message, and that I subsequently figured out how to make it work with my personal beliefs (by making it the first part of a trilogy, in which its events can be viewed as a part of a larger perspective, reframes its message nicely. It only “doesn’t work” if it’s the final word on the subject).

Well, doing that reframe required some revisions, mostly in the form of new scenes, and I”m proud to announce that it’s finished!  All that’s left is for my first reader to catch any typos or inconsistencies.  I’m currently working on the book trailer, the cover, and the second book in the trilogy (I’ve actually been working on that one on the side, and so you might see a ‘Blood Guilt Finished!  Woot!’ post much sooner than you’d expect).

I’ll put it up on Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, and other ebook outlets (most likely through Smashwords, which should cover iBooks, Kobo, etc.) as soon as it’s proofed and covered.

Needless to say, I’m very excited, and I’ll keep you posted!

Lagniappe: That Little Word-Count Meter

(I know I normally post on Monday, and I plan to post again next Monday.  In the Gulf South, we call this Lagniappe, or a little something extra.)

No, I’m not three months late for NaNoWriMo (or nine month’s early for this year’s), but I do have a daily writing goal, and I’m using this meter to make it public.  Thanks to Svenja for programming the meter.  You can click on the actual meter or follow this link to set up your own.

My daily word count goal (fiction only; blogs and such don’t count) is a gargantuan, world-shaking … 250 words.  One double spaced page.  I know, I know: it’s a herculean effort, but I think I’m up to it.

Seriously, though, I chose 250 words because of something Zoe Winters wrote, this post, actually, and this followup, back in August.

To make a long story short, a 1,000 word per day goal was discouraging, even intimidating, but Winters found that she could motivate herself to write every day, consistently, if her goal was short and easily reached.  She said she could do 250 words in 15 minutes.   It usually takes me 30, but who doesn’t have half an hour?

When I made my New Year’s resolutions, I knew one of them would be to write every day.  Thinking back to those posts, I set 250 words per day as my goal.  It’s absolutely attainable, even with my work schedule (even if at my busiest, I can take the time to write 250 words).

The thing is, just like Zoe Winters predicted, when I get started writing, I don’t want to stop at 250.  I’ve averaged over 800 words per day this year.  Will that rate continue?  I don’t know; I’m quite certain my work load will be increasing in the next couple of months.  Still, I’m very happy with how it’s going.

So if you want to write every day, I’d suggest setting a small goal, one that you know you’ll reach.  Success, and especially excessive success, feels a lot better than failure.  Writing 900 words feels like a failure if you have a 1,000 word per day goal, but that same 900 words feels like a triumph if you have a 250 word goal.  Success is encouraging, and reinforces good behavior.  Failure is discouraging, and pushes you to give up and abandon your goals, making it harder to press on.

And check out Zoe Winters’s blog, and her books as well (I’ll be discussing her one nonfiction work, Smart Self-Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author soon enough, as one of my “Honorable Mention” books on writing).

The Best Books I’ve Ever Read on Writing, Part Three

For the last couple of weeks I’ve been writing about The Three Best Books on Writing I’ve Ever Read, starting with my post on Dean Wesley Smith’s electronically publishedKilling the Sacred Cows of Publishing, and then blogging about Algis Budrys’s classic Writing to the Point.

The third and final member of this triad is a bit different, in that it is only partially a book about writing, by a relatively young writer who had great success with some books and not-so-great success with others.  While the first two books were (rightly) by experienced professionals, long-time writers and publishers (both Dean Wesley Smith and Algis Budrys have been involved in “both sides” of the writing experience), the third is a powerful, personal book about the nature of narrative, and finding the storyline within your life.

It’s called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, and it’s written by Don Miller, author of Blue Like Jazz and Through Painted Deserts.  Miller is an openly Christian writer (the first printing title of Through Painted Deserts was Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance), and while I find that a plus, some of you may not.  I ask you to bear with me, and bear with him.  The exploration of the nature of story and narrative in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is worth reading even if you have an abiding disregard for Christianity.

Through A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Miller walks through the shadowlands of minor celebrity, writer’s block, and the fear that nothing he writes will ever be as good as or as successful as Blue Like Jazz – taking us on a first-person journey through the realities of what Dean Wesley Smith called the myth of ‘If I can ____, then I’ve made it.

Don Miller taught me to expect more of my characters, to make them deeper, and to make their narratives have meaning to them and to me.  I’m also trying to learn a few things about living my own life (my New Year’s Resolutions have survived into February, though they’re a bit ragged, so that’s something, at least).

Miller has also helped correct one weakness I sort of “took away” from Algis Budrys’s work (not Budrys’s fault, I’m sure): the tendency to make the main character somewhat passive, or at least reactive, coming into action only when a problem happens to him (or her). Miller’s description of story, “a character who wants something and overcomes obstacles to get it,” is at once the most succinct and powerful description I have ever read.

Again, I strongly recommend you check out A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  It’s very different from the other two books I’ve recommended, but no less valuable.