Nocturnal Lives

Musings from the mind of Amanda S. Green – Mother, writer, and possessed by cats

Tag: writing (Page 2 of 5)

Publication notes and a snippet

As I noted in earlier posts, I got waylaid by my muse last month and wound up having to write an unscheduled book. It happens sometimes. I don’t like it when it does but I have learned not to fight the muse when she gets into that mood. Anyway, Witchfire Burning is finished, has been edited and proofed and is ready for publication. It will go live on Amazon Friday, assuming everything goes right, and the print version will be available in a couple of weeks.

Because of the Halloween season, and because Witchfire Burning is coming out this week, I’ll be releasing the novella Skeletons in the Closet on the 25th of this month. Skeletons shares a setting and some characters with Witchfire Burning. Skeletons is the first of what will probably be three novellas centering on Lexie Smithson and her rather unusual family, even by Mossy Creek standards.

Dagger of Elanna will be released on November 22nd, fingers crossed. The book is finished but needs some more work on the editing front before I send it off to beta readers and then my editor. I also need to talk with my cover designer to see if we are on the same page regarding the cover image and typography or if we need to do some reworking of it.

After that will come Victory from Ashes. I’d like to have it out before the end of the year but I’m not making any promises. At the same time, I need to be working on the next Nocturnal Lives book. I’ve been putting it off because it will probably be the last book in the series. No, I’m not leaving Mac and company behind but that particular story arc is coming to an end. There will be some short stories and novellas here and there until I figure out how to handle the next “chapter” in their lives.

Series and series ends have been in my mind of late. I think we have all read series that kept going long after the author should have ended them. The characters either quit growing or they turn into something that bears little resemblance to the character we first knew and loved. The author writes in a way that you wonder if they no longer like the series. I am seeing this happen now with several series I have enjoyed reading. One I have quit buying altogether. One is no longer on my buy it as soon as it comes out — of course, part of that is my refusal to pay $13.99 or more for an e-book. The third has just dropped from my buy the hardcover to wait for the e-book to go on sale. So I want to be able to wind up this current story arc in a satisfactory way for the readers and the characters and then start a new arc that will keep my attention as well as my readers.

So, that’s my schedule for the next six months or so. Well, almost my schedule. There will also be at least one more short story in the Honor and Ashes universe, probably coming out shortly before Victory from Ashes. Over the next few weeks, I’ll figure out my schedule for next year and post it. Of course, I’m afraid of doing that because Myrtle the evil muse seems to take that as a challenge to see how many times she can pull me out-of-schedule and force me to write something I hadn’t planned on.

And now for the snippet. This is the opening chapter from Witchfire Burning. A version of the first part appeared on this blog about a month and a half ago. Those of you who read Mad Genius Club will recognize most, if not all, of the snippet. However, since I hadn’t posted it all here, I thought I would today. As with everything here, all rights reside with me. Copyright 2016 by Amanda S. Green

Chapter One

It’s never easy going home, especially when you left under less than ideal circumstances. But that’s the situation I found myself in. It might never have happened if it weren’t for my daughter, the light of my life. Four months ago, Ali turned five. A month after that I finally admitted she presented challenges I didn’t know how to deal with. Fortunately, at least in some ways, my mother did know how to handle my special little girl. Like it or not, that meant returning home to Mossy Creek, Texas, smack dab in the middle of the buckle of the Bible belt.

And that made life very interesting for the citizens of Mossy Creek where normal was not something you encountered every day.

So I called my mother, scheduled a leave of absence from work and made our plane reservations. There were a few stops and starts and the trip had been delayed twice. But now our bags were packed and Ali and I were about to walk out the front door. That’s when my pocket started vibrating. Well, to be honest, it was the cellphone in my pocket that started vibrating but you know what I mean. For a moment, I considered ignoring the call. I knew from the ringtone it wasn’t my mother or any of the rest of the family. As far as work and most of my friends knew, Ali and I had already left town. Even so, years of conditioning had my hand digging into my jeans pocket before I realized it.

“Momma, we have to go!” Ali tugged at my free hand, pulling me toward the door.

“Hang on, sweetheart.” I glanced at the display, recognizing the area code if not the number. “Go make sure you didn’t leave anything you want to take with you. This won’t take long. I promise.” I waited until she raced toward her bedroom before answering the call. “Hello?”

“Moira Quinn O’Donnell?” a woman asked.

“Yes.” A hint of concern fluttered in my stomach. She might have been calling to sell me siding or solar panels or the like but I doubted it. Something about her voice not only sounded serious but official. Besides, she had used my full name, something very few knew.

What can I say? When you grow up with the name Moira and your mother insists on the proper Irish pronunciation and you live in Texas, let’s just say it is easier to go by your middle name, especially if that name is easily pronounced.

“Ms. O’Donnell, my name’s Carli Sanderson. I work with Julianne Grissom.”

My brows knitted into a frown. “What can I do for you, Ms. Sanderson?”

“Ms. O’Donnell, I don’t want to worry you, but have you spoken with your mother recently.”

That flutter of concern spiked and I swallowed hard. Whenever someone started a statement with “I don’t want to worry you,” it usually meant there was something to be worried about. If that wasn’t enough, Julianna Grissom and I were friends going back to childhood. If trouble wasn’t brewing, the call would have been from Annie Caldwell. Julianna Grissom was her very professional, all attorney persona. I closed my eyes and counted to ten. Then I looked toward the hallway, making sure Ali was still safely in her room. Whatever was going on, I most definitely did not want to worry her.

“I spoke with her two days ago. Why?”

“Ma’am, Ms. Grissom asked me to check with you. We don’t know any of the particulars, only that the Sheriff’s Department attempted to do a welfare check on your mother after she failed to meet friends yesterday. While there’s no evidence of foul play or, to be perfectly honest, of anything being wrong, they haven’t been able to make entry into the house to be sure.”

I closed my eyes and breathed deeply. I had a pretty good idea why the deputies hadn’t been able to enter the house. Unless I was badly mistaken, they hadn’t even been able to enter the yard. That was just one of the reasons why I’d moved to Montana more than ten years ago. In Mossy Creek, when someone said you lived on the wrong side of the tracks, they weren’t talking about your financial status or social standing. Far from it, in fact. Life in Mossy Creek had been different from the day the town was founded. Mundane mixed with supernatural and, well, my mother might not be Serena Duchamp but she had been known to cast more than a spell or two.

Then there was the house. I swear it is more alive than a lot of folks I could name. If it did not want to let someone in, nothing, not even a battering ram, would get the doors open. The only thing keeping me from panicking was the belief the house would not keep help out if my mother needed it. Me, it never hesitated to try to lock me out. But Mom belonged there and it would protect her.

At least I hoped it would.

“What can I do?”

“Ms. Grissom said you were coming to town today. Is that still your plan?” Sanderson asked.

“It is.” I glanced at my watch. Ali and I were going to have to hurry if we wanted to make our flight. “Assuming no problems with our connecting flight, my daughter and I should be in town by five.”

“With your permission, I will let the sheriff know. Ms. Grissom would like you to stop by the office when you get here. Hopefully, we will know more by then.”

“All right.” I thought for a moment. “Have you checked with either my sister or my brother to see if they’ve heard from our mother?”

“They are my next calls, ma’am.”

“All right. Tell Ms. Grissom I will give her a head’s up when I reach Dallas.” I didn’t wait for her to respond. Instead, I ended the call and stuffed the cellphone back into my pocket. I had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach but there was nothing I could do about it, at least not until I reached Mossy Creek. But it did necessitate a slight change in what I packed and in my plans not to check a suitcase.

“Ali, you about ready?” I called from my bedroom as I knelt just inside my closet. There, bolted to the floor, was a safe. Inside were my service weapon, several other handguns along with my badge, ID and a few other items. Blowing out a breath, I retrieved an HK .45, pancake holster, ammo and my badge and ID. “Ali?” I repeated as I secured everything in a small, hard-sided case which I locked and then dropped inside my bag that now would have to be checked.

“Momma, can I take Ruffles?” She stood in the doorway, a battered teddy bear almost as big as her in her arms.

“No, baby. Not this time. Why don’t you take Freckles instead?” I asked, referring to a smaller but equally beloved teddy bear.

“Okay.” She grinned and raced back to her room.

Five minutes later, we pulled out of the driveway and I did my best to put Sanderson’s call out of my mind. This was Ali’s first plane ride and I knew she was excited. The last thing I wanted was to worry her. After all, as far as she knew, this was a fun trip to see her grandma. She did not need to know that grandma had apparently gone missing and we might not be able to get into the house because it didn’t like me.

Heaven help me, how was I going to explain the house, not to mention everything else, to a five-year-old?

Read More

Of Dragons and Sales

Dragon_Award-221x300I’m sure by now that most of you have seen the results of the Dragon Awards. I want to start by congratulating the winners. Here’s the list:

Best Science Fiction Novel

Somewhither: A Tale of the Unwithering Realm by John C. Wright

Best Fantasy Novel

Son of the Black Sword (Saga of the Forgotten Warrior) by Larry Correia

Best Young Adult/Middle Grade Novel

The Shepherd’s Crown (Tiffany Aching) by Terry Pratchett

Best Military Science Fiction or Fantasy Novel

Hell’s Foundations Quiver (Safehold) by David Weber

Best Alternate History Novel

League of Dragons (Temeraire) by Naomi Novak

Best Apocalyptic Novel

Ctrl Alt Revolt! by Nick Cole

Best Horror Novel

Souldancer (Soul Cycle Book 2) by Brian Niemeier

Best Comic Book

Ms. Marvel

Best Graphic Novel

The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy TV Series

Game of Thrones – HBO

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Movie

The Martian

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy PC/Console Game

Fallout 4 – Xbox One by Bethesda Softworks

Best Science Fiction of Fantasy Mobile Game

Fallout Shelter by Bethesda Softworks

Best Science Fiction of Fantasy Board Game

Pandemic: Legacy by ZMan Games

Best Science Fiction or Fantasy Miniatures/Collectible Card/Role Playing Game

Call of Cthulhu Roleplaying Game (7th edition) by Chaosium Inc.

These titles were voted on by fans of the genre. There was no requirement to buy an attending or supporting membership to a con. That meant those fans who can’t afford to go to cons or who would rather spend their money buying books than buying the “right” to vote actually got to vote for works they thought were the best in their category. More than that, the awards were decided based on the number of votes cast. The title receiving the most votes, no Australian rules here, won.

Wow, imagine that. An award where fans were actually believed to be smart enough, well-read enough to vote on what they thought should win. (Yes, the sarcasm is high in this statement.)

Someone on social media made a comment after the awards were announced that I think speaks volumes about the difference between the Dragon Awards and other genre awards. This person was amazed because not only had they recognized almost everyone that made it to the ballot but that, after the winners were announced, they actually remembered the titles. She went on to say the last time she had read a winner of another award was, well, many years ago.

And yet the Dragons are being denigrated by a subset of fans. These Fans (note the capital “F”) hated it when the fans learned they could vote for the Hugos as long as they paid for the right. They hated it when these same fans then nominated works the Fans did not feel worthy. After all, message must take precedence over story and commercialism is icky. These same Fans called the newcomers names and did everything they could to make the fans feel unwelcome. We were told to go make our own awards.

Then DragonCon, one of the largest cons in the country, if not the world, did just that. Oh, the Fans claim Vox was behind it. Of course, as with so many things they claim, they offer no proof. Just as they offer no proof for their allegations that Puppies of all ilks stuffed the ballot. Wrong-think won the day at the Dragons, according to them, and the only explanation was Voxxxxx! and Cheating!

What the Dragons actually showed is that fans, when given the chance, will nominate and vote for what they enjoyed reading. Enjoyed being the operative term. Did I agree with everything that won? Nope but there were very few things on the ballot that I didn’t like when I read them. I’ll admit, I voted for Chuck Gannon instead of John C. Wright. Why? Because I liked Chuck’s book better but that doesn’t mean I didn’t like John’s. I did. But Chuck’s was more to my taste. I voted for Dave Freer, even over Sir Terry. But I don’t have any problem with Sir Terry winning. The difference between the books on the likability scale was so small as to be indistinguishable.

I applaud DragonCon and the Dragon Awards for a successful first year and I look forward to how the awards progress. As long as the powers that be remember that this is a fan award, I feel it can and will go far. Perhaps those behind other genre awards — Hugos, I’m looking at you — should decide what audience they are going after. If your rules say you are a fan award, then treat it as such. Otherwise, just admit you are literary award and you don’t want the unwashed masses taking part.

Here are two more Dragon Award posts for your enjoyment: Dave Freer over at Mad Genius Club and Nicki Kenyon at The Liberty Zone. Check them out.

Finally, don’t forget the Third Annual Indie Authors Labor Day Sale continues. Check it out here.

 

A quick note

Thanks to everyone for their support of Taking Flight (Honor and Duty) and Battle Bound (Honor and Duty). I promise to get Battle Wounds, the third short story in this particular story arc in the Honor and Duty universe out in the next month to six week. I am going to take a bit of time away from the short stories, however, in order to finish up Dagger of Elanna (Sword of the Gods, Book 2) and star the final edits on Victory from Ashes (Honor and Duty, Book 4).

When I started Vengeance from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 1), I never expected it to morph into a series. At least not like it has. Nor did I expect to write any short stories in the universe. But Ashlyn Shaw and company have become some of my favorites and it will be difficult to say goodbye to them when the times comes. When that will be, I’m not sure. The current plan is to finish the Honor and Duty story arc with the next book. However, I have a feeling that is most definitely not the end of Ash’s story. Plus there are other characters in the universe who want their own stories told. So, I have a feeling I won’t be leaving Fuercon or the Devil Dogs any time soon and I’m happy with that.

As I’ve noted before, I have the very rough outline done for Dagger of Elanna. One of the things that has been holding me up has been finding the voice for one of the new characters who is being introduced in this book, one who will wind up playing a major role in the series before everything is said and done. I finally found that voice yesterday. That’s one of the main reasons I want to get back into Dagger. I don’t want to lose the voice.

After Dagger, I’ll finish up Victory and start the next Mac Santos book. Somewhere in there as well will be another book along the lines of Slay Bells Ring. Whether it will follow someone from that book or not, I’m not sure — and, yes, Pat. I know you want more from those characters. But I have a plot already playing around in the back of my mind.

So I guess I’d best get back to work. In the meantime, if you haven’t seen this post from The Passive Voice, go check it out. Pay particular attention to what PG has to say about the Shatzkin article. I think PG is right on the money. Statzkin purpetuates the mindset of many in traditional publishing and, in doing so, ignores so many of the challenges the industry faces. It is time for those in their ivory towers of publishing to pull their heads out of the sand. They need to listen and pay attention to what readers and writers are saying. Until they do, and until they change their business plans, traditional publishing will continue to struggle.

Now, for the blatant self-promo. If you haven’t checked outHonor and Duty (3 Book Series), why not give it a try?

 

 

 

When characters start demanding a change of pace

As those of you who regularly follow the blog know, I’ve been working on a series of short stories set in the Honor and Duty (3 Book Series) universe. Part of this is to give fans of the series a reward for sticking with me after the fiasco that the release of Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3) turned into. Part of it is, to be honest, to give me a break from writing novels for a couple of months. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been working on both Victory from Ashes, the next novel in the Honor and Duty series, or Dagger of Elanna, the next book in the Sword of the Gods series. I have rough drafts for both novels completed. Taking Flight (Honor and Duty) is already available on Amazon. My plan had been to finish and post the second short story, Battle Bound, this week and Battle Wounds, the third short story next week. Except I ran into a speed bump yesterday that threatens to derail that schedule.

What happened? Very simply, I had a character, a very vocal character demand that I give her equal time. She stomped her foot and did everything but hold her breath. No, what she did was much more effective. She hit me over the head with a project that would not take more than a couple of days to do because the “story” has already been written. But, as she reminded me, it wasn’t written the way she had wanted. So now she is making her demands known once more, all while giving me that same look mothers give their kids to warn them not to push back.

Who is this character? That’s simple. She is the most headstrong and vocal of all the characters who live in my head. Mac Santos. As for not writing the last book, Nocturnal Challenge (Nocturnal Lives Book 4), the way she wanted, she’s right. That book gave me fits because Mac stood in my mind, feet firmly planted so to speak, and wanted the book written in first person. Part of me considered doing it that way. The problem is that the other books of the series are written in third person. I simply could not change that this far into the series.

But now I’m considering giving in and letting Mac have a short story or two in first person. It would be simple to redo parts of the books already out from her POV. While it would be a rehash, it would be different because it would give the reader a more up close and personal insight into Mac as she makes the transition from human to shapeshifter. Will I do it? Probably, but I’m not sure what the time frame will be.

Of course, the other thing I have to look at is if there would even be a market for such a story. What say you? Would you be interested in stories from Mac’s first person point of view? I will try to post a short snippet later this morning or early afternoon.

Until then!

 

Hello, Friday

Yesterday was one of those days in a writer’s life that was both Christmas-like and the most tedious day combined. Christmas because the new laptop arrived. Better yet, it showed up by 0900 hrs. and I was thrilled. Surely that meant I would be able to get it set up and running quickly enough I could actually get some work done. Tedious because, well, that wasn’t going to happen. Not that it really surprised me. Still, it would have been nice to have managed to get something done.

Don’t get me wrong. The problem wasn’t all in the setup. No, my internet provider had a big hand in it as well. I thought things were working slowly all afternoon but didn’t stop long enough to do a speed test — okay, half a dozen — until dinnertime. That’s when I realized I’d been right. The internet was running at half speed. So, call was placed and I remembered within a few minutes why I hate, absolutely hate, dealing with tech support after hours.

First, we had to go through the script even though I had already done all of it before the call. Then I had to wait while the CSR kept stepping away from her station to ask someone what she should do next. How do I know? Because she kept her mic open and I could hear her. Then she couldn’t find a way to get her system to talk to my modem and she had to walk me through doing what she should have been able to do. Finally, 45 minutes later, I had speed back up to where it should be.

Only to have it drop back down to slow speeds less than 10 minutes later. At that point, I threw my hands up in the air and gave up. Fortunately, so far this morning, everything is where it is supposed to be.

Anyway. . . .

The new laptop, an ASUS ROG GL552VW-DH74, is awesome. I miss my 17 inch screen but it isn’t taking long to get used to the 15 inch on this model. Frankly, the better build quality in the 552 is worth giving up the larger screen. The only thing that will take some real getting used to is the keyboard. It has a good feel to it but it’s different. I know that doesn’t make any sense, but after three years using the other laptop, I got used to how that keyboard felt and sounded. But, all the keys work on this one and there is no drag and lag with this one like I was getting with the other. Add in this one is much more portable than the other and, well, I’m a very happy camper.

The worst thing about moving from one machine to another is having to get rid of the bloatware every machine seems to come with these days. I think I got rid of all of it and I’m figuring out the ins and outs of this system. The necessary programs have been installed and it is time to get back to work. Yay!

That means I’ll be busy this weekend trying to catch up. I hope to finish Battle Bound today. If I do, I will put it up on the blog Monday. In the meantime, don’t forget that Taking Flight (Honor and Duty) is available on Amazon. I have to thank everyone for helping take it into the Top 10 in short reads in paid SF/F and Top 30 in short reads paid literature and fiction. That is the best I have ever done with a short story.

So I guess I’ll do a bit more push for the story.  😉

Taking Flight (Honor and Duty)  is available for download from Amazon. For those who missed it earlier, this is a prequel short story to the Honor and Duty novels.

Duty, honor, sacrifice. That motto meant everything to newly commissioned Second Lieutenant Ashlyn Shaw. She thought she understood the meaning of those simple words. Little did she know.

Challenged by those who believed she made it through the Academy on her family’s coattails, a roommate who just wants to see “some action” and a gunnery sergeant determined to make a real Marine out of her, Ash soon realizes what it means to be a Marine. As the signs point to war on the horizon, she is determined to do everything she can to serve Fuercon and do the Corps proud.

Beginnings

The opening sequence of a novel has always been the hardest part for me. Oh, I know what I want to say — or at least I think I do — but somehow when I sit down at the keyboard, it just doesn’t come. There will be fits and starts before I finally get it. That may take days or, in some cases, even weeks before I have an opening I’m satisfied with and, once that happens, the rest of the novel usually flows easily.

I’m not sure why that opening scene or chapter is so difficult. Sarah Hoyt told me early into our friendship that the problem a lot of new writers have is starting a novel either a chapter too soon or too late. Then she went on to tell me to simply write the first chapter as it comes and not obsess about it. After all, material can be added or deleted during edits. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple for me.

And that has been part of the problem with Victory from Ashes. I have the very rough — and I do mean very rough — draft completed. But I knew I had an issue with the opening. When putting that first draft together, I really didn’t even bother writing a first chapter. It was a series of notes and that’s about it. While that helped with the first pass, it did nothing to help with the current draft version.

So I have struggled for the past couple of weeks, trying to get that first chapter written. It simply wasn’t coming. Instead of beating my head against the wall, I drafted out three short stories and did other work. All the while, the opening of Victory continued to percolate in the back of my mind. Yesterday, I’d finally had enough. I needed to sit down and write, whether the chapter came or not.

With that in mind, I did what I suggest to my critique group: I moved to a different work area and I wrote in a different manner. In this case, I used pencil and paper. With my notes in hand, I sat at the kitchen table and gave my muse free rein. Thankfully for my muse’s continued existence, she decided to cooperate and the words started flowing and, with them, the realization of what had been blocking me.

I’d made a wrong turn at the end of Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). No, nothing serious and nothing that impacts that book. It was just a decision made by a character about something that was supposed to happen in Victory from Ashes. Fixable, in fact, easily fixable, but I had to recognize the problem first. Then I had to figure out how to deal with the decision and change that character’s mind. Until my subconscious did all that, I was at a standstill.

Fortunately, my subconscious did just that and, over the next hour or two, 2,700 words flowed. No, not all by hand. What happened was I wrote a page or two longhand and that jogged the brain and I was then able to return to the keyboard. With coffee at hand, I pounded out a chapter that feels right and that got the problematic decision corrected. Even better, it allowed me to show a new facet of growth for Ashlyn. Best of all, it means the rest of the work of wrestling the very rough draft into a workable draft will flow easily.

Not that I won’t take time out this week to finish the first short story in the Honor and Duty universe. My plan is to have it up by Friday. If everything goes according to plan, there will be one short story every two weeks. Of course, life being what it is, I know there may be bumps along the way. That is one reason I’ve already done the rough drafts for all three stories.

What this also means is, if the muse continues to cooperate, I will begin snippeting Victory later this week. Most likely, Wednesday. In the meantime, here are some books I recommend as well as a shout out to a game being released later today.

Through Fire (Darkship Book 4)

Sarah A. Hoyt

A new chapter in Hoyt’s celebrated Darkship series dawns with revolution on Earth as the Good Men fall.

DOWN WITH THE TYRANNY OF THE GOOD MEN!

A spaceship mechanic has no place in a fairytale. But now Zen Sienna finds herself in a beautiful palace being courted by the ruler of vast lands. Yet soon Zen is caught up in a revolution that comes a bit too close to imitating the original French revolution—complete with beheadings. Swept up in a turmoil of fire and blood, she must find her footing. Torn by divided loyalties, unexpectedly in charge of protecting the innocent while trying to stop the guilty, Zen discovers both her inner strength and discovers who will remain true friends and comrades, and who will be revealed as enemies in disguise waiting to strike!

Through the fire of revolution and war, Zen must earn her citizenship on Earth and find her place in a world that’s totally changed.

TOM

Dave Freer

Tom is a cat in trouble. The worst possible kind of trouble: he’s been turned into a human. Transformed by an irascible old magician in need of a famulus — a servant and an assistant, Tom is as good at being a servant as a cat ever is. The assistant part is more to Tom’s taste: he rather fancies impressing the girl cats and terrorizing the other toms by transforming himself into a tiger. But the world of magic, a vanished and cursed princess, and a haunted skull, and a demon in the chamber-pot, to say nothing of conspiring wizards and the wickedest witch in the west, all seem to be out to kill Tom. He is a cat coming to terms with being a boy, dealing with all this. He has a raven and a cheese as… sort of allies.

And of course there is the princess.

If you were looking for ‘War and Peace’ this is the wrong book for you. It’s a light-hearted and gently satirical fantasy, full of terrible puns and… cats.

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge

Larry Correia and John Ringo

TWO MULTIPLE NEW YORK TIMES BEST-SELLING AUTHORS TEAM UP TO EXPAND LARRY CORREIA’S MONSTER HUNTER UNIVERSE!

When Marine Private Oliver Chadwick Gardenier is killed in the Marine barrack bombing in Beirut, somebody who might be Saint Peter gives him a choice: Go to Heaven, which while nice might be a little boring, or return to Earth. The Boss has a mission for him and he’s to look for a sign. He’s a Marine: He’ll choose the mission.

Unfortunately, the sign he’s to look for is “57.” Which, given the food services contract in Bethesda Hospital, creates some difficulty. Eventually, it appears that God’s will is for Chad to join a group called “Monster Hunters International” and protect people from things that go bump in the night. From there, things trend downhill.

Monster Hunter Memoirs is the (mostly) true story of the life and times of one of MHI’s most effective—and flamboyant—hunters. Pro-tips for up and coming hunters range from how to dress appropriately for jogging (low-profile body armor and multiple weapons) to how to develop contacts among the Japanese yakuza, to why it’s not a good idea to make billy goat jokes to trolls.

Grunge harkens back to the Golden Days of Monster Hunting when Reagan was in office, Ray and Susan Shackleford were top hunters and Seattle sushi was authentic.

Mirror’s Edge Catalyst

Available for PS4, XBox One and PC

  • First-Person Action – Get up close with your enemies. Use your freedom of movement and martial arts combat in conjunction with the environment to experience fluid first-person action unlike any other.
  • Explore the City of Glass – Roam the beautiful, high-tech city at your own pace, and unlock its many different districts. Run free and explore every corner from the highest, glass made skyscrapers to the hidden underground tunnels.
  • Witness the Rise of Faith – Brought up on her own on the margin of the totalitarian society, Faith found refuge amongst an outsider group called the Runners. Learn about her origin story, and take part in her journey as she stands up against oppression and becomes the catalyst that can change the City of Glass forever.

Update

I will get back to the series on formatting, probably next week. This week has been interesting, to say the least. My son was home for several days and, I’ll be honest, when he’s here, everything else takes a backseat. Then there have been a series of meetings that have taken time to get ready for. Best of all, my friend who has been on the transplant list got the call the other day and Wednesday received his new heart. All of that has combined to keep me off the blog.

But it has given me time to think and plot and plan. The result is I figured out what was bothering me about the opening to Victory from Ashes. The opening worked but it didn’t feel right, if that makes any sense. It finally dawned on me what was bothering me about it and I’ve gone back and fixed it. Now that I have, the edits on the very rough draft are going quickly. Fingers crossed that stays the case.

I also have written the opening to a short story set in the Ashes universe. It is a prequel story, picking up right after Ashlyn is commissioned. I also have an idea for another short story or novella. The first will be written and released, first on this blog and then on Amazon, before Victory comes out.

Someone asked about Dagger of Elanna, the sequel to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1), the other day. That, too, is in the works. It is completely plotted and the first very rough draft has been written. When I say very rough draft, I mean just that. I don’t usually talk about them because, in some ways, these “very rough drafts” don’t count. They are usually handwritten, either on paper or on OneNote. That means they have to be annotated with editorial notes and then typed in. My brain doesn’t really count them as “real” drafts until they are saved out as a DOC file.

Most of my work isn’t done that way. These two books have been written in places where keyboarding, even on a tablet, hasn’t always been feasible. Hence the handwriting. That is one of the reasons I love my Microsoft Surface Pro 3 . I can whip it out, use the stylus and write. If I want to be a bit slower about it than my mind works, I can write directly into Word and have it convert to text. That’s fine for notes but not for drafting a novel, at least not for me. There is a point where you have to stop and check the converted text and then enter it into your document. That slows, often to stopping, the process — at least for me.

Using OneNote, however, I can just write. I don’t worry about converting my handwriting. With a touch of the screen, I can change ink colors if I want to emphasize something. Each chapter or scene has its own file and I can then drop my tablet into the dock, display the handwritten notes on a secondary screen and start the transcription.

So, I have a lot of stuff in the process of being written. I have other books in the process of going into print that are already in digital editions. Those should be ready next week. And, as I said, I will get the formatting series back on track Monday as well. In the meantime, it is back to writing when I can and dealing with life. But for now, it is time to find another cup of coffee.

Here a format, there a format (Pt. 2)

Yesterday, I began a series of posts on formatting. That post dealt with most of the nuts and bolts of formatting the interior of an e-book.  The basic rule boils down to being consistent, not using a lot of fancy fonts, and remembering that there are numerous different e-reader apps and e-readers. What that means is to bear in mind that keeping it simple is your best bet.

Before we move on to the conversion process, let’s discuss what should be included in your e-book besides the book.

This, too, is where you want to keep it simple and keep it familiar. There is still a bias among a lot of reader that indie e-books are, by nature, going to be sub-par. One way to get around that is to make sure you have a DBA and are publishing under it. It is simple enough and it means when a reader checks the e-book details on the product page, they see a publisher name and not “published by: Amazon Services” or Smashwords, etc. It is a little bit of smoke and mirrors, but it will serve you well.

So what goes in your e-book?

I tend to try to keep my e-book looking as much like a print book as possible when it comes to front matter. Here is the order of front matter as I use it.

  • Title page
  • Other titles written
  • Copyright page
  • Dedication
  • Section heading page or first chapter

This is what is in my manuscript. You can add an acknowledgment page if you wish. What happens on conversion (and more on this later), is the cover is inserted as well. You can also, if you want, insert a second title page after the dedication page.

I tend to keep with the above list, especially for science fiction and fantasy, because that is how print books in those genres (from trad publishers) open their books. Again, it is part of the smoke and mirrors act to convince those readers who still feel indie books aren’t of the same caliber as traditionally published books that they can trust my work.

If you wish to do the same, I suggest you copy a publisher you like. I chose Baen, especially for the science fiction and fantasy. It’s not a direct copy but I use their books as a template of sorts when it comes to front matter.

The copyright page is pretty straightforward and very important. This is your legal page, where you limit rights (not that pirates will care). If you have an ISBN, this is where you put it. It is also where you give credit to your artist and cover designer. In an e-book, you can link to the appropriate site if that is called for in your license for the art. You can also thank the reader and send them to your own website or blog for more information.

The copyright page is also where you can trip up if you are trying to put on a “professional” face. It won’t happen if you upload your manuscript directly to the sites you are selling through (Amazon, B&N, etc.). However, if you use Smashwords, there is a requirement that you insert verbage on your copyright page that shouts to the world that you went through them for distribution. It doesn’t matter if you have a DBA. It doesn’t matter that it is listed on the product page. Right there, on one of the first screens your reader will see is this:

Copyright 2013 Firstname Lastname
Published by Firstname Lastname at Smashwords
Smashwords Edition License Notes

There is nothing wrong with Smashwords, if that is the route you want to go. Smashwords does make it easy to get into certain markets you might not otherwise get into. However, it is probably the most well-known of the self-publishing third-party sites and not every reader looks at it with approval. To them, it has a taint similar to vanity presses. So keep that in mind if you decide to go that route. I will discuss using third-party sites in another post.

Back to the post. . . .

Your back matter is actually, in my opinion, more important than your front matter. This is where you can have a snippet from an upcoming work. It is also where you can expand on your “Other works by” page, giving product descriptions and live links back to the product page for each title. The downside of this is you can’t use the same links for Amazon that you do for B&N that you do for Apple, etc. To the best of my knowledge, every e-bookstore has a requirement in their Terms of Service, that you not link to product pages that are not in their store. So keep that in mind when you are putting your back matter together.

You can also have — and probably should — and “About the Author” page. I have also started adding an “Author’s Note” at the end on new entries in both the Honor and Duty series as well as the Nocturnal Lives series. It’s not necessary, but I’ve had favorable responses from them.

(Note, you don’t usually see the “Other Titles by” page with product descriptions in trade paperbacks and hard covers. However, in e-books, it is a marketing tool you need to take advantage of.)

The order of my back matter is, and this is not set in stone:

  • Author Note
  • About the Author
  • Other titles

Each of those it titled and Heading 1 is used so they show up in the active table of contents, just as a chapter heading will.

So, the basic layout is:

  • Cover (included during conversion)
  • Title Page
  • Also by Page
  • Copyright Page
  • Dedication
  • Section Title Page or Chapter One (a new title page can be put in front of this, but is not necessary.)
  • Your work here
  • Author Note
  • About the Author
  • Expanded Also by Page

One quick note — or maybe two — before signing off today.

I forgot to mention in yesterday’s post that your section breaks should be centered if you use a character of some sort to indicate the break. If you do, you will need to remove the first line indent for that particular line or lines. Otherwise, it will appear off-center when your manuscript is converted. You can do this either by simply highlighting your break and remove the first line indent in your paragraph format dialog box or you can set a new style for it that includes no first line indent.

Also on the subject of section breaks, I don’t recommend using images for them in e-books. The reason is a financial one. If you choose the 70% royalty option on Amazon, you are assessed a transmission fee for your e-books. It is minimal. I’ve never had it be more than a two or three cents a download. However, it is based on file size and the more images you have in your file, the larger your file.  So use *     *    * or something similar to denote a section change.

You can, of course, use line returns to build in white space to indicate a section break. A caveat here. Unless Smashwords has changed its rules — and I don’t think they have. A quick look at their style guide shows it hasn’t been updated for more than a year — if you have too many line returns in a row, they will automatically insert a page break.

Once you have your manuscript built and ready to convert, check it again. Yes, I know you’ve edited it. You’ve had your beta readers give you feedback. But you have added pages and active links to it and you need to make sure everything is as you want it. You can check those links by simply putting your cursor on a link and holding down shift and left clicking. (In Word at least.) Make sure the links go to the right product page and the right store page. It will save you time and frustration in the long term.

Tomorrow I will talk about conversion and uploading your files.

Here a format, there a format

It’s my morning at Mad Genius Club, so I’m cross-posting my blog on formatting for e-books here. I will continue the series here tomorrow with discussion of what needs to be in your e-book besides your novel and what steps to take then.

A week or so ago, I mentioned that I was busy formatting and, in some cases, reformatting, my books for print release. If there is anything I’m slow to do as an author, it is to sit my butt down in the chair and prep my books for print. There’s no excuse for it. I have generic templates built that I can use. It is just a mater then of dropping my book into the template, tweaking it as needed and then shoving it out the door. But I’m getting ahead of myself. In this day and age, before we worry about the print version, we need to worry about formatting our e-books. That’s where I’m going to start. I’ll do the print version next week.

So, how do you format your book for digital release?

The first thing I’m going to suggest may raise some eyebrows, but bear with me. Instead of writing your draft in standard manuscript format (1-inch margins, double spaced, Times New Roman or Courier font), write your draft in the same basic format that you are going to upload later. It isn’t much different and it will take a step out of your conversion process on down the road.

The down and dirty version is simple. Leave your margins at 1-inch. You can have your headers and footers for page numbers, title, etc. They will disappear when your book is converted into an e-book. Leave your paper size at the standard 8 1/2 X 11. From there, the decisions begin.

Font:

Keep it simple. In my experience, both as a reader and as a writer, the best fonts to use are Times New Roman, Georgia, Garamond and similar fonts. I like the way Georgia looks, so that’s the one I use.

Line spacing:

I generally use 1.5 for e-books. Double-spaced can look odd (too much white space) in an e-book and single space can be too little. I would recommend no less than 1.15 for your line spacing. Play with it, not in your working file but in a converted file, to see what you like best and go with it.

Paragraph indents:

This is where a lot of authors really muck it up.

  • The first rule of paragraph indents is do NOT use the tab. It won’t translate over to your converted e-book.
  • Instead of hitting “Tab” at the beginning of each paragraph, use the “first line indent” function in your paragraph formatting dialog box.
  • Set your first line indent to 0.3 to 0.33. (This is my preference. The old standard of half an inch is simply too much of an indent for an e-book. Again, this is one of those personal preference things that you have to play with. And, as with your line spacing, I recommend looking at it in a converted format to see if the indents are deep enough or too deep for your liking.)
  • Do not have a 0 first line indent. That gets distracting and can wind up with one great big wall of text for the entire page, scene or chapter.

Other paragraph formatting tips for the body of your text:

  • Alignment should be set to left. Do not justify your text.
  • Spacing before and after a paragraph should be set to 0
  • Widow and orphan control should be unclicked.

When you look at print books, you will see fancy drop caps for the first letter of the first line of a next chapter. That line, or a portion of it, may be all small caps and possibly intalicized or bolded or both. It looks great in print but that doesn’t mean it will in digital format. The problem is that not all e-book reader apps are created equal and neither are all tablets or e-readers. So this is where the KISS rule comes into play. Don’t do fancy drop caps or the like for that first letter. For one, it probably won’t survive conversion. Even if it does, it might not appear the way you want it to and then you run the risk of your readers getting a sub-par reading experience.

So what about other ways to fancy up that first line? Small caps don’t translate well during the conversion process. They tend to turn into standard capital letters. So, if you want to set that first line or first phrase off — and I recommend only a few words or short phrase — bold or italicize it. If your chapter heading is in bold, offset that with italics on your first line. One word of warning here. Because e-books give readers the ability to change font size, etc., I would not recommend doing the entire first line in special formatting. Choose a set number of words – 3 or 4 –for special treatment.

Chapter Headings

These are easily done and can be used to build your active table of contents. Type your chapter title, whether is it Chapter One or “And so it starts”, highlight it and click on Heading 1 (or 2 if you are nesting your headers. More on that in a minute.). The default in Word, at least, when you do that is Calibre Light, blue font color in font size 16. It is also left justified. So, if you want to change that — again, I am working in Word, so the process to modify may be slightly different in other programs — is to right click on the Heading 1 button and then click on modify. That will open a dialog box that will allow you to change the font, color, size and alignment. If you want to tweak it a bit more, look at the bottom left hand corner of the dialog box and you will see a format button. Click that and various options will open.

For me, I use the same font as my body text but increase the size to 16, center the text, change the color to automatic and both bold and italicize it all. (Yes, this does vary from genre to genre.) Again, it is a matter of preference and also a matter of what is common in the genre you are writing in. So look at e-books from not only indies but traditional publishers and see what you like and then do your best to replicate it. Just be consistent throughout your work or do modify your Heading settings and use them.

I know I don’t need to say this but I will. The way you set your heading is to type the text you want as the heading, highlight it and then click Heading 1, etc.

Nesting Headings:

If you have a book that is split into sections and each section has chapters, then I recommend you nest your headings. The way you do that is you use Heading 1 for your section title, which will be on a separate page from the next chapter. When I do that, I follow the same process I laid out above but change the font to 18. I bold the text and use all caps for the section title.

I then use Heading 2 for chapter headings and modify the default for Heading 2 in the same manner as I did above.

What this does is it will show the section headings in your table of contents with the chapter headings under them.

Right now, there is a lot of talk about tables of contents and where to put them, etc. Until Amazon gives more information on it, don’t sweat creating a table of contents and placing it as a separate page in your e-book. If you use the section headings as I’ve described, you will create what is called an active table of contents. It will save you some time and headaches by not having to put in the hyperlinks and bookmarks to create the ToC. Doing so prevents two potential problems. The first is that the ToC, if placed in the front of your book, becomes part of the preview and could mean the reader would get little, if any, of your actual prose to preview. That can cost potential sales. The second is that it avoids the problem of putting it in the back of your book and possibly having the wrath of Amazon come down on you by circumventing the “pages read” algorithm of the Kindle Unlimited program. Use of headings creates those nifty ToCs that appear from the menu of your e-reader or app. Besides, how many print novels have a table of contents anymore?

Page breaks:

This is the one headache that can come back to bite you in the butt when you are converting to print. But we will deal with that in the next post.

When you reach the end of a chapter, you are going to want to put a page break in. You can do this by holding CTRL and hitting ENTER or by clicking on the layout tab. There will be an “breaks” command that will open up to show different sorts of breaks you can insert. Choose page.

Nitty gritty here. You can insert your page break immediately after that last period of the chapter or you can hit enter, drop down one line and then insert your page break. I don’t recommend dropping down more than one line. If you do, you risk having a blank screen showing up for your reader. Then there is the reality that not all e-book distributors follow the same formatting rules. The last time I worked with Smashwords, they had a rule against more than 5 (?) returns. If you had that many returns, they read it as a break in your manuscript. So type that last line, hit return and then insert your page break.

That’s the basic nitty gritty of formatting for e-books. I’ll continue this tomorrow on my blog with what you need in your e-book besides just the novel and then how to convert it. If there is anything else you want me to talk about then, put your suggestions in the comments here. If you have any questions about what I did today, let me know.

In the meantime, you can check out my books here.

Monday Morning — Ouch!

I am doing my best to be good when it comes to the blog this morning. Good in that I am blogging. Good in that I am trying to keep it short because I have a ton of work to get through today. Good in that my friends Sarah A. Hoyt and Dave Freer have done much better jobs than I can in discussing the attacks on Kate Paulk and the fans who have decided they wanted a voice in the Hugo Awards. Good in that I already know what my Mad Genius Club post will be tomorrow.

So what am I going to blog about? That’s a good question because, at the moment, my brain is filled with edits for Honor from Ashes (Honor and Duty Book 3). Then there is Dagger of Elanna, the follow-up to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1). The plot is solidifying in my mind — which is a good thing. Not so good is it wants to be written NOW! It doesn’t care that I need to finish Honor nor does it care that I still need to write a somewhat coherent blog post.

So I am going to pull inspiration from my critique group.

One of our members is a great guy. He is new to the craft and is trying hard. In the time he has been with us, I’ve seen him improve by leaps and bounds. But, as with every writer who takes their craft seriously, he knows he still needs to improve in some areas. He doesn’t let it get him down, at least not for long, and he asks questions, takes notes and thinks about what we tell him.

The thing is, I worry that he doesn’t get that he has real potential. He has a story. There has never been any doubt about that. He isn’t one of those who come into a group with what is nothing more than fan fic without any of the serial numbers filed off. He gets, on an intuitive level, story structure. He simply has to learn the “rules” of writing and understand that a lot of his so-called issues can be handled by a good copy editor and proof reader.

Yesterday, we had a small group and only one item to critique. That gave us a lot of time to be able to just talk and brainstorm. More importantly, it gave me a chance to crawl into this gentleman’s brain and try to figure out why he is writing what he is. I’ve felt from the beginning that he is trying to write in a genre he isn’t all that familiar with. I’m convinced of it after our conversation yesterday. His reasons are valid and I even understand them. But they all come down to one basic thing: he isn’t confident enough in his abilities as a storyteller to write in the genre he really enjoys reading.

He isn’t confident enough that he can come up with a plot that fits the action suspense mode he likes.

And I so identify with what he is feeling. I sat on both the Honor and Duty (2 Book Series) as well as Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1) because I was afraid I didn’t have the ability as a writer to carry them off. Hell, let’s be honest, I didn’t let anyone see my writing for a very long time because I didn’t have any confidence in my ability as a storyteller. So I fully understand where my critique partner is coming from.

If it weren’t for Sarah Hoyt (and later Kate Paulk whom she brought in as backup), I would probably still be writing and shoving my work under the bed. Now I need to remember how it felt when they started pulling me into the light of day, so to speak. I hope I can be as good a friend and mentor for this gentleman in my group as Kate and Sarah have been to me. I hope I can find the right words and examples to give him to keep him interested and motivated. He has the foundation already, something a lot of folks who want to write don’t start with. The rest is stuff he can learn or hire someone to deal with after the story is written.

I guess this is all a roundabout way of saying that, as writers, we need to believe in ourselves. We need to trust our guts and give ourselves permission to write crap because that crap will act as fertilizer for better work.

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