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Monthly Archives: July 2011

Why’s Alex So Quiet?

Writing is a pleasure and a fun hobby, but I want more than that. I want a career as an author. I have a long-term plan – not a one, two or even three year plan but a 20 year plan. I started it in 2007, meaning that by 2027 I will have fulfilled it.

Why so far away? Because I’m an impatient person. When I want something, I want it now and I get frustrated when it doesn’t happen. By giving myself a far away success date I’ve taken the pressure off and have let myself do things well, which will guarantee success far more rapidly than doing them quickly will.

Since 2007, each year has had a theme. In that first year the theme was beginnings – the year I began to be a writer. The following year, 2008 was the year I found roots. I didn’t focus on writing much that year as I needed to create the environment where I could write without worry. 2009 was the year I got serious about my writing and 2010 I got professional – my thinking processes jumped from hobby-writing to career planning. This year, 2011, is the year I got consistent. I write regularly and produce quality work on a schedule.

This year I also showed that I could publish. I first experimented with a short story and then a novel, putting them up electronically. The short story I edited on my own and designed my own cover. The novel I still edited on my own, but I got a professional proofreader to look it over and hired someone to give me a professional cover.

On top of that I’ve done a whole lot of research into what it means to be an indie-publisher in the current market. Some people have had huge success while others have floundered. The successful ones have taken the professional route and impressed people because of that.

For me, professional means edited, proofed manuscripts with professional covers and print as well as electronic versions readily available. Plus it means a focused marketing program aimed at creating high visibility. All that, however, takes money and time, and lots of careful planning. As the indie-publishing world grows, it’s going to get harder to be noticed. The noise-to-signal ratio will become increasingly off-balanced (leaning toward a lot more noise). I don’t want my hard work to disappear into the virtual pile of unread and unbought books.

If I want to be part of the signal side of the ratio and have that signal get through, I need to be prepared. I need a lot of product to release regularly and I need a clear plan to promote it all.

Right now I have neither.

Which leads me to the point of this article (yes, it does have one!). If 2011 is the year of consistency, 2012 will be the year of preparation and 2013 the year of publication. It seems like a long time away, but 18 months before seeing publication of a book is standard fare in the traditional publishing industry. Moreover, unlike many traditionally-published authors, instead of one book going out to the public, over the year I’ll have several.

During the next year and a half, therefore, I plan to write several more novels and learn as much as I can about this emerging writer’s market. I’ll still be around here in AlexWorld updating you on stuff, but it won’t be a regular thing, nor will I be always hanging around in the world of social media. (You’ve already seen how random I’ve been with my posts as I’ve been figuring all this out.)

In other words, I’ll be gone on an extended trip deep into AlexWorld and will be sending out the occasional postcard to let you know how the journey’s going.

Tally-ho!

 
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Posted by on July 14, 2011 in General Babblery, Indie Publishing

 

Teenage Angst: Excerpt from Decay’s Hope

My sinus infection has me on an emotional roller coaster this week, so I thought I’d send you all on another with an unedited draft excerpt from my current work-in-progress: Decay’s Hope, the second book in a series about a group of teens who, by trying to assert their independence, destroy a centuries’ old way of life.

*****

With a huge sigh, Hannah gave in and started climbing the stairs to Julian’s tower. What was she going to say to him when she saw him? What could she say? That she hated him for choosing William over her? For being a freak and liking boys? For not being her rescuer? She had piled many of her hopes onto Julian. It wasn’t his fault that he unknowingly failed her, but still she couldn’t help blame him. To distract herself as she climbed, she checked the results of Julian’s work with the walls and marveled at the workmanship. She hadn’t been by the tower since Julian had finished and she understood why he was working on the main gates. If he could do this to them and fool the Matriarchs into thinking he did it without magic, it would be the first step in making the whole Citadel livable again. Not that she wanted to be around for that, of course.

Far too soon, she reached the top of the stairs where she loitered, building up the courage. No, it wasn’t courage. She was trying to calm down a burning rage inside her chest. He had no right to ruin her life so. Feeling stronger, she raised her hand and rapped on it hard, making sure she use the side of her hand rather than her knuckles. Robin opened the door while she was still knocking and she almost punched him in the face accidentally. He didn’t so much as a twitch an eyebrow. Impressive.

“So, you’re doing it,” he said in a low voice.

“Whatever necessary.”

He smiled. “Whatever necessary,” he repeated at her breasts.

“Eyes up,” she snapped, not in the mood to flirt. “Is he here?”

Robin bowed and swung the door open. She didn’t see Julian, but the lump of blankets on the bed was large enough to be hiding a body.

“Would you like to be alone?”

“Yes, please.”

Robin nodded and slipped out without announcing her. She stopped into the room with extreme care. If it had been anyone else other than Julian, she would have suspected his absorption and looked for traps, but Julian would never kill her, so she ventured inside.

“Julian?”

“Mmrphhh,” came back at her from the direction of the bed. Why did boys have to sulk in their beds so much? William used to do that all the time.

“Julian? It’s Hannah.”

The bedclothes heaved and a rumple-headed Julian emerged, bare from the waist up. Hannah’s heart leapt into her throat. She couldn’t have this conversation if he was looking like this. Julian half-naked, half-asleep in a messy bed was enough to make her want to give up her vow to not have children. She turned her back on him.

“Please, could you make yourself more presentable?”

“Wha? Oh, right.”

She heard shuffling sounds behind her then at his signal she turned around. He had moved to the settee on the far wall and was wearing a flowing summery shirt of definite foreign fashion. Much better, although how he wasn’t cold in the loose shirt, she had no idea.

“Will you sit?” he asked, all formal and unsure of himself.

Hannah almost smiled. She was always at her best when others were unsure of themselves.

“No, thank you. I want to know what’s going on.”

“So do I,” he countered. “We were best friends and then suddenly you hear a few rumors and wham, you abandon me when I most need a friend.”

“It’s only a friend you need though, isn’t it? At least from me.” She gave him the opportunity to tell her his secrets.

“What are you talking about?” Of course, he didn’t. Why would he, especially after she’d attacked him so clearly?

Hannah crossed to the window and stared out at the city below. If she could do magic, would she be able to jump down there and run away without anyone knowing where she had gone?

“Why haven’t you started teaching me magic yet?”

“Is that what it’s about? You want to know magic? I don’t know what else to do! Plus we’re get into huge trouble if we were caught, like instant death worthy trouble.”

“Would you teach him magic if he asked you?”

“Who him?”

Hannah glared unwilling to say William’s name. Julian knew exactly who she meant but he was playing dumb. The way his face went red also told her that he was already teaching William magic. How dare they! No, she pulled back on the anger. She was here to apologize and clear the air. But how could she forgive him when he was lying to her? But then again she hadn’t told him the truth yet either.

“I saw what happened up on the wall, Julian,” she said. “Everything.”

“Saw what?”

The room fell silent until Julian relented.

“I didn’t kiss him, honestly. I attacked him.”

“Don’t lie, Julian. I was there.”

He crumbled on the settee.

“I hate this. At home, I wouldn’t have to hide it.”

“Julian, you know you’ve fallen in love with a monster, don’t you? Remember, I grew up with him. I know what he’s done.”

“But what if it’s only because he didn’t know any better? Everyone here in this crazy house is twisted. Yes, even you. The only time I’ve seen you express emotions for a death was with Victor. Every morning people accept the latest deaths without pausing in their conversations except to wonder how it happened and who did it.” He stood and crossed the floor to stand in front of her. His skin was flushed and he obviously believed what he was saying. “What if, in a different situation, he was a different person? What if I could take him away?”

That was the confirmation Hannah needed. Julian had never had any plans to take her with him, just William in some love-dazed hope that the assassin would stop killing for pleasure.

“What about me?” she asked in a small voice. She flinched inside because she recognized what she was doing. She was manipulating Julian to get what she wanted. It was what she did. Boys killed and girls manipulated. It was what she had to do to survive. Whatever necessary. “What would I be like out of this place?”

“A Queen someday. You would have princes fighting over you for your hand in marriage. Or whatever you want to be. My parents chose to be traders instead of staying at the Hirkanian courts. Outside of the Citadel, you could be whatever you want. Come with us, when we go.”

“A happy little family?”

“Well, no. As three friends, escaping their horrible lives.”

Julian was delusional on several fronts. First he thought that William wasn’t a monster, he also believed that he could convince William and her to get along, and last but not least, he assumed that they would be able to get out of here. But he wasn’t going anywhere and that was the worse part. He still thought he was going home.

“You won’t tell anyone, will you?”

“Why would I want to tell anyone that my ex-husband is in love with another boy?”

“Do you hate me?” Tears welled in his eyes.

He really was a sweet boy. So open with his emotions. She couldn’t hate him. Pity him, yes. Wish that he liked her instead, of course. But hate him? No. She shook her head and opened up her arms. He swept into them and buried his face in her neck.

“I need you as a friend, Hannah. You’re too much fun to have as an enemy.”

She had no answer for him so made do with the pats on his back as he cried, releasing all the tension he was feeling.

“Julian, if we’re being honest with each other, I have something to tell you. You’re not going to like it, but you have to know.”

She had come up here with a plan to reconcile without caring, to go through the motions in order to get one step closer to her goals, but she hadn’t counted on the fact that under her anger, she actually liked Julian. He was fun, rebellious and, along with Winnifred and Andrea, made living with the rest of the Family bearable.

“I think you should sit down.” She led him back to the sofa. “Know how you’ve never gotten any letters from home?”
“Because they get blocked here. The Matriarchs have cut me off from my family.” He sniffled, self-pity threatening to bring more tears.

“You’ve been cut off, but not from this end exactly.”

He snapped up straight and his face went hard. She could almost see the tears on his cheeks retreat back into his eyes.

“Did your mother ever say how she got away from the Citadel?”

“My mother never told me anything about the Citadel or the Family until the day before I got sent here.”

“How did she get away from here if no one normally does?” She couldn’t come right out and say that his mother had sold him in exchange for her own freedom. She had to let him figure it out for himself. It might hurt less that way. Or at least, that’s what Hannah assumed. For her part, she could almost count the few memories she had of talking to her own mother.

“They let her go for some reason. Maybe she wasn’t important.”

“Her father and brother were both kings at some point. Her mother is a powerful Matriarch. Her children, you, were much too valuable for them to let her go.”

“What are you getting at, Hannah?”

Why was it so difficult to say? A day ago, she would have enjoyed stabbing him with this betrayal and twisting the knife into his belly. But his willingness to cry in front of her, to ask her for forgiveness softened her.

“She was offered a deal and she took it.”

“Get out.” Julian’s voice turned as cold as the Citadel’s stones in the depth of winter.

“Julian, I-”

“This is you punishing me, isn’t it? I stole your husband from you. I turned down your advances. And now you try to tell me that my mother sold me back to her murderous Family so that she could be free.” He stood. “People have warned me that you make a terrible enemy, but I didn’t think you would ever do this to me. I never purposefully hurt you. I can’t choose where my heart decides to lead me. I’m sorry.”

He climbed back into bed and pulled the blankets over his head. Hannah side and moved to by his side. She ran a hand over the lump that looked like a shoulder.

“No, Julian. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have been angry with you.” Whoever said the truth made everything better was an idiot. Whe’d made them ten times worse. “It’s like you said. This family twists people.”

“Get out,” he repeated, the words muffled by the layers of blanket.

Cursing herself, Julian, William and even Robin for suggesting she make up with Julian, she left, but the blame couldn’t be placed on any of them. There was only one real villain. The Family. And if she had anything to say about it, before she left she’d see it destroyed. And she would use Agnes’ offer as a means to do just that.

 
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Posted by on July 5, 2011 in Novel Excerpts, Online Fiction

 

Book Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

I’ve been meaning to write this review for months and yet every time I start to think about what to say I get blocked and nothing comes out. And I have no idea why.

I loved Alan Bradley’s Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It’s a fun romp of a mystery with sufficiently eccentric English gentry in that seemingly innocent period between the First and Second World Wars. The plot twists and turns towards the big reveal, which itself is wonderfully eccentric and twisted. I’d even rate it a 4 out of 5.

So why the problem reviewing it?

Personally I think it’s the main character’s fault. She’s a contrary little thing and is therefore most certainly doing her best not to be pinned down by my review. “She” in this case is Flavia de Luce, one of those offbeat adults in a child’s body that only seem to appear in fiction. And given that the book’s a mystery, Flavia discovers a dead body and while still taking time to torment her older sisters, she does what no adult can do – solve the crime.

But I’ve figured out how to talk about her. You see, she’s a science freak, specifically chemistry. Although this review has nothing to do with chemistry, if I apply a scientific framework to my review, she just might let me talk about her.

So this is my experiment.

Hypothesis:
It is my hypothesis that while The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent book worth a 5-star rating, I’m not sure I’ll read more in the series.

Methodology:
While there is no straightforward scientific measurement of literary merit, I’ve decided to adopt the parameters of a good book as proposed by Gav from GavReads. The parameters are broken into three categories: Basics, Ideally, and Bonus. It is my belief that the failure of this book occurs in the Basics section, thus limiting the posibility of the rest of the series getting downloaded onto my Kindle.

Data – Basics:
Caring about the characters: While I most certainly would hate Flavia, her sisters, the servants and her father in real life, I adore them as fictional characters. They’re pretentious, precocious, obnoxious and as many other ious-es that you may wish to add. While this doesn’t make for good like-able people, it does create wonderfully rich and complex characters.

Getting to the end: As soon as Flavia introduced herself on the first page, she had me hooked. The strength of her personality dragged me through to the end of the book. Interruptions in my reading time irritated me and when I saw the murder wrapping itself up, I wanted to put on the brakes and slow it down. I didn’t want to leave Flavia’s world.

Wanting to read the next book in the series: Given what I’d written above, the logical response to this category would be “Yes! Give me more!” and it wasn’t. Again, I blame Flavia herself. The force of her personality is so overwhelming, I’m not sure how long it could be sustained in a series. In one book it was delightful, but at some point I might tire of it and find her annoying, which is something I never want to do. Hence my desire to keep her as I found her in the first book.

Data – Ideally:
Remembering what you’ve read weeks or months after you’ve read it: You bet! Flavia’s chemical revenge on her vain older sister is a delight and I wish I had thought of something like that to avenge myself on my brother years ago.

To choose to read the book over doing other things: Most definitely. As I said, Flavia took over my life for a while and I hated to be parted from her.

Data – Bonus:
What you’ve read changes your world view in some dramatic or subtle way: The book even provided me with this bonus, but not in an expected way. Flavia, with her too-strong personality, has warned me that some characters can be too larger-than-life. They can cause too strong of an impression that anything following after runs the risk of being a disappointment. An excellent lesson as I create my own fictional characters.

Conclusion:
By applying the above parameters to my reading experience, I believe that I have clearly demonstrated that while The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent book worth a 5-star rating, I’m not sure I’ll read more in the series.

 
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Posted by on July 4, 2011 in Book Reviews

 

Friday Flash: The Emperor’s Nightstand

Once upon a time, in a land where books where short enough to be read in under fifteen minutes and conversations never lasted more than three, the ruling Emperor and Empress had a son who never did as he was told. No matter what they tried, the stubborn boy refused to pass from idea to idea like everyone else did. He extended conversations to as long as half an hour and he pestered all his tutors to stay with a single subject well past the socially acceptable limit.

No matter what they did, he would smile and belabor his point until whoever was trying to argue with him would get bored with the topic and move on.

They hoped he would grow out of it and settle into a proper quick step rhythm, but as he moved through puberty his attention span grew until as a young man, he could stare at a single flower all afternoon without moving. His parents were certain that he was cursed, but never got around to confirming it, the business of the moment always taking precedence.

Then one day when the Emperor was making his way up to the top of the castle’s North Tower, the stairs, which had been needing repair for years but promised to take far too long to fix, finally gave out, taking the Emperor down with them in their collapse.

As with every ceremony, the funeral was short and the mourning period even shorter. Within hours of his father’s death, the new Emperor was crowned and his mother had retired to the countryside where she could indulge in her passion for sketching the ever-changing clouds, preparing five-minute tapas recipes and whatever else took her fancy.

Although saddened at his father’s passing, the new Emperor wasted no time putting into action a scheme that he’d come up with during his flower-staring sessions.

First he ordered the production of small tables which he then commanded be put in every bedroom in the empire. As it was something novel to catch the interest of his change-loving subjects, they took to the idea easily but soon forgot the new piece of furniture, which in most cases happened after a day or two.

Next, the Emperor had a lamp cast for every table and gave his guards something to do by having them distribute the lamps to every household. Some guards complained that they got bored by the repetitive work, but after the Emperor set the first few complainers the task of counting how much money he was spending in this project, they rest shut up and got on with their work.

Finally, the Emperor instituted a bedtime across the entire empire. As of nine o’clock each evening, every person who was not working had to be in bed and were only allowed to leave for calls of nature.

This last edict nearly caused a rebellion, but as no one could stay focused long enough to organize anything serious, the Emperor got his way.

“What are we to do with the time?” the populace asked.

“Read,” was the Emperor’s response.

“But when we finish one story we can’t get out bed to get the next.”

Expecting this reponse, the Emperor’s official communiqué explained that for this reason, every person had a nightstand where books might be stored temporarily.

The populace accepted this solution, but soon complained that with the amount of time they were expected to be in bed, they needed more books than could fit on the small table.

“Give us a larger table!” they cried.

But the Emperor was as prepared for this complaint as he’d been prepared for all the rest.

“No,” he proclaimed. “Read longer books.”

Six months later the Emperor removed the bedtime curfew, but as everyone had their nose stuck in a book, no one noticed.

****

Today’s Friday Fiction was inspired by the topic What Books Are on Your Nightstand? the opening question in the inaugural cycle of the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour, an ongoing tour where you, the reader, travel around the world from author’s blog to author’s blog. We have all sorts of writers at all stages in their writing career, so there’s something for everyone to enjoy.

If you want to get to know nearly twenty other writers and find out what books are on their nightstand, check out the Merry-Go-Round Blog Tour.

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2011 in Friday flash