Thursday, December 15, 2016

Why I Don't Blog Anymore

TL;DR: Spoilers

My last post on this blog was several months ago, basically saying I hadn't updated recently because I was editing my second book. That book came out in August, and it's now December. I'm well into writing my third and still, no blog posts.

So, what gives?

I started blogging because I wanted to share the experience of writing a book with people who enjoyed my writing. The problem is that I want to write about what I'm writing NOW, not what I wrote a year or more ago. I wanted to share the experience first hand, rather than share thoughts on how I developed my earlier work. To be honest, the guy who wrote my first book really went about things differently than I would today. I figure by the time I finish the seventh Jessica Carter book, I'll have just about figured things out. But I can't share that real-time learning experience on a blog. Why? Spoilers.

If people are interested in my books, which is the audience I was trying to cultivate, then they'll want to go into my next novel with open minds unspoiled by revelations like who I plan to kill off or what the end-game is for the series' big mysteries. These things occupy a lot of my time and thinking about writing, but I can't share those things on a blog where people plan to then read those stories.

So the blog ends up being filled with superficial stuff, and that's boring. There's no return on investment for me as an author, and there's less for my readers.

If you have ideas for something you want me to post on the blog, let me know (on Facebook, where I actually see and get alerts for posted comments) and maybe I'll come back to this. Or maybe I'll convert this website to a character/location profiles kind of deal. Who knows. All I know is I'm having a lot of fun writing about the craziness of Kristina and Andrew's wedding, and that's what's most important for my readers.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Where Have I Been?


Sorry, but every time I sit down to write a blog post I stop and say to myself, "You should probably stop goofing around and get back to editing your book."

But it's not that simple. Actually, my time for editing has been cut short by a few things in my non-writing life that are way beyond my control. Family, illness, work... They've all been quite demanding and I think I've made the right choices with my time in that respect.

So, when will I start posting regular blog updates again? When my book is finished being edited and I send it around to my friends and family (and who knows, maybe some fans?) for a final proof read.

Don't expect me back here until at least July, though. That's when I hope to get my new book out, and then I can focus on a few things I've been cooking up. Specifically, I want to write a short story or two in my novel series' universe to flesh out some minor characters and just have fun writing something a little more self-contained. I don't plan to charge for these, so I think a relaxed attitude regarding spoilers for those individual works might make it easier to blog about the writing process.

Just an idea... I'm heading back to Scrivener now to look for continuity issues, thematic issues, confusing sentences and inadvertently-included grocery lists I forgot to remove.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Character Origins: Andrew Gold

I've been thinking a lot about villains in my work lately. I almost wrote a post today about why I hope Kyle Ren doesn't get a redemption arc in Star Wars 9 (put a pin in that, I might circle back to it). So, naturally I decided to discuss the origin of...


Actually, no... let's talk about spoilers for a second.

For the past few months I've been running this blog, I keep coming to things I want to talk about but can't because they're spoilers for my book. And all the time I'm thinking to myself, "Who even reads this blog? Anyone (legitimate question, I'm afraid)? Have they read my first book or are they "auditioning" me to decide whether it's worth the 5 bucks?" (There's a 1 in 5 chance it won't be, according to the kind folks who hand out stars at Goodreads). So, can I write spoilers in my posts? Would that ruin the ending most people agree is a highlight of my book?

And I guess my heart still says, "No, you can't spoil anything in your blog. Someone will be disappointed." And then my mind says, "Yeah, but if they read your second book they're going to be spoiled anyway," and so on.

No major spoilers here, but I'm going to talk about the character Andrew Gold for a moment assuming you've read my book or honestly don't care about spoiling the ending. OMG, does that mean he's the killer? Maybe, maybe not... just go read the book already, sheesh.

Andrew was originally two characters, and both developed near the end of the original character creation process. Corinne, Jessica, Ashley, Kristina, David, Shane, Baxter, Benjamin... they were all characters before Andrew and 'Steve.' Yes, there was, at one point, a character named 'Steve' in The Tide Washed Her Away. Steve was based loosely on a friend of mine from high school named... Steve. Inventive, I know. The name would have changed eventually, but I dropped him in favor of making David a larger part of the story and consolidated a few things about him into the Andrew character.

Basically, Steve was in love with Kristina but Andrew was dating her at the time. Kristina was the focus of a love-triangle between two men, which I found somewhat sexist when I really thought about it. So I...

SPOILER ALERT. Seriously this time.

So I inverted the love triangle paradigm to make the guy the center, which oddly enough was still sexist. And I got to thinking: what is it about love triangles that makes women look so bad? Because the women are often defined only by their desire for the man, and differentiated only by the degree to which they are a good fit with the man. It was clear that, in order to avoid being sexist, I needed to approach the situation with a gentle touch, avoiding shallow motivations and stereotypical characters. Oh, but by no means does that mean a character can't be shallow, just as long as the shallowness is a well-established element of their character (ahem, Kristina, ahem) and makes sense within the context of the book's greater universe. But most importantly, I needed to avoid using Andrew to define either of the women. I feel like I accomplished that by developing the women before Andrew was even a character, but what if I defined the man by the women in his life?

Andrew isn't a particularly likeable person. He's a cheater, for one. But worse off, he's lying to himself about who he is in order to impress a girl. His entire character is defined by the women in his life. If he were a female character, I would be roasted alive for being absurdly sexist. But as I wrote this pathetic creature into existence, I started to sympathize. I too chased after a girl who wasn't interested in me, and nearly wasted a good chunk of my high school life doing so. I latched onto the idea of a character who has sacrificed so much of himself to impress a woman who sees him as a status symbol and nothing more, and built the rest from there.

But I never really came around to sympathizing with Andrew until I wrote the scene where he says goodbye to Corinne. I saw all the sacrifice he had given to Kristina, and how somewhere along the way the baggage of that sacrifice meant he couldn't let go of her and love the woman who actually loved him back for who he was. It was heartbreakingly dumb, but understandable at the same time. It's like a gambler being unable to stop himself from betting over and over because he's already lost so much already. From the outside, it's clearly the wrong choice, but mentally he's had to justify those sacrifices for years. Eventually, the weight of the sacrifices he made to stay with Kristina was what kept him tied to her, rather than any sort of love. So because of that weight he made the wrong choice, and everyone suffered for it.

I won't say much more, but Andrew's developed a lot inside my head since his creation. Like Jessica and all the other living characters from The Tide Washed Her Away, he returns in my next book. As of the end of The Tide Washed Her Away, he and Kristina are still a couple. But, I hate the idea of characters who don't grow as a series progresses, so expect both Andrew and Kristina to have changed somewhat by the beginning of They Hid In The Snowstorm (working title). You can't be engaged to one person and fall in love with another without consequences to your relationship with your fiancee, unless of course she really never loved you in the first place. But if your fiancee never loved you, is that a relationship worth continuing for Andrew or Kristina? And how has Andrew changed now that he's had time to process Corinne's death without also being treated as a suspect? Hmm.... These are things I think about as I drive to work in the morning, and hope I remember when I sit down to write 14 hours later after my daughter and wife have gone to bed.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Character Origins: Jessica Carter

So, I've talked about how my characters are composites based on multiple people I know, but what exactly is my process for creating these people? The answer is, there is no process. Each character is different. Over the next few posts, I'm going to talk about characters from my first book and how they came to be.

Spoilers, maybe.

The very first incarnation of the "Jessica Carter" character is far removed from the mystery genre where she is now the neutral (re: intentionally milquetoast) center of my murder mystery series. Actually, she was the main character in a science fiction novel I never managed to write more than a single chapter of before scrapping and moving on.

In the first chapter, I introduced a female starship captain who had been dishonorably discharged from military service under dubious circumstances (which were never really fleshed out). She has been unemployed for some time and in the first chapter is riding a space elevator up to the main spaceport of Earth for a job interview with an interstellar shipping company.

I wrote that chapter sometime in 2010, then came back to it in early 2011 briefly where I tried to resurrect the project (oh, how many unfinished novels I have sitting on my hard drive, too broken to ever be made into something more than a shard of a story). Because I had met an amazingly confident, capable woman during an international work trip, I decided it would be fun to give the character her name: Jessica. After all, I wanted to write about strong female characters, and that name fit in my mental space at the time.

Years later, when I set out to write a murder mystery with the intent to actually finish and publish, I developed the characters Corinne, Andrew and Kristina long before I had a central character in mind. While browsing my old works for unused names, I came across the starship captain Jessica and realized she would be a perfect fit for my central character (and the fact that she shares a name with my wife's favorite murder-solving character didn't hurt). The idea of her being a disgraced starship captain would work well for a personal conflict with the character, and was reworked so that she ended up being an out-of-work Millennial. Later, I sought to invert the popular image of Millennials to have her be a former success who was only late in her 20's returning home to live with her parent rather than never having lived on her own.

Very early in Jessica Carter's development, I was browsing the internet and decided to check out the wonderful blog Hyperbole and a Half (of "clean all the things" fame). Its creator, a woman named Allie Brosh, had written/drawn a touching narrative of her own depression which caused her to stop working on her blog despite its viral popularity. I realized how badly I wanted to see Allie make a comeback, and decided to base the character of Jessica around that central conflict.

Later, I would add details like her judgmentalism and alienation from her friends as the plot and theme of my novel started to take shape. For a while, I thought about basing Jessica Carter more around a YouTube personality like Grace Helbig, but decided that contrasted too much with the character's inward bookishness.

So, that's how Jessica Carter came into existence within my head.

Friday, February 26, 2016

Performance Anxiety and Music

Performance Anxiety

A few weeks ago, I set a soft deadline of June 3, 2016 for the release of my second book. I need a deadline to schedule my writing sessions, but there's a high likelihood I won't make that deadline. Why? Because there's something different about this next book: there are... expectations.

I mentioned how one particular negative review kind of got under my skin. But good reviews (like a hit of some miraculous drug) have a noticeable side effect too. They're addicting in a way I probably should have anticipated, but didn't. Every time I write something on my Author's Facebook Page or in this blog... or any time I go near the keyboard with my next book open, I worry about losing those people who liked my work.

I know, I'm a basket case. But it's having an effect on my second novel. I want it to be perfect, or at least a little closer to perfect than my last story, even though nothing ever is. But a deadline helps me get over that impulse, and sharing it with the bots who skim my posts here makes it more significant.

So, how's the second story going? First of all, the working title I've been using is "They Hid In The Snowstorm," which seems to have stuck from my earliest draft. I changed who the killer (attempted killer?) is last week, which got me pretty excited for reasons I can't explain without major spoilers. But the draft I have is messy, and there are major continuity issues I'm having to write around because I've ripped the story apart and put it together one too many times. All things I'll smooth over in editing, but things I have to address nonetheless.


Most people think writing "happens" when you're at a computer banging away at the keyboard. Nope. Sure, that's part of it, but that's not where I come up with the story or develop my characters. I do that everywhere, and all the time. Standing in line at the grocery store, driving to work, when my wife's watching one of her cooking competition shows... that's when the magic happens.

But one special time for creating stories happens when I'm listening to music. I can't listen to music as I'm writing, but sometimes a song comes along which captures a moment or emotion which is tied to a character in my story and it drives me back into that part of my mind. Some songs become so permanently etched into the story that I have to put them down into a playlist, which I then listen to when I need to get into the mood of the story. It's an ever-evolving list, but I thought I'd share the eight songs I have in it right now.
  • "I Don't Believe You" by Pink
  • "Mad World" by Michael Andrews
  • "A Call for Help" by Jason Graves
  • "Haunted" by Evanescence
  • "Royals" by Lorde
  • "Here's to the Night" by Eve6
  • "Stars" by tATu
  • "Set Fire to the Rain" by Adele 
I'm not saying who or what these represent in my head, but each one colors my story in a significant way.


Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Words of Curse!

Hey, I'm back? Every week my work affords me one day to myself, and that day is supposed to be used for writing. It hasn't worked out that way as much as I would like, but today looks promising.

Naturally I'm procrastinating by blogging instead.

Last month was an amazing month for selling my first book, full of highs and lows. Since I was starting my new job, I could afford much more Amazon advertising and that gave my book a ton of visibility. Of course, with that came a few reviews. Some liked my book, some didn't, and though I know authors are supposed to have a thick skin I naturally let the bad ones get to me, if only for a moment.

But one review caught my attention because it touched on something I had gone back and forth on before I published my book. The reviewer took issue with how frequently my female characters swore.

Characters in my first novel use dialogue which was, as I explained in an early post, based around the way my friends speak. Some use bad language; I don't. I find it hard to imagine anyone with a diverse group of social contacts not knowing someone who does. What strikes me most about how frequently people I know use foul language is that some are much more prolific than others.

Before I published my novel, I considered editing out every swear word and replacing it with something more innocuous. According to people who "know the genre," readers of cozy mystery books (the genre mine comes closest to), don't like their books to be too confrontational. If there has to be a murder, it should be described in a way that de-emphasizes the violence of it, and of course no characters should use foul language. I considered editing it, but it felt like it lost too much in terms of character.

(Spoiler Warning: Minor spoilers for The Tide Washed Her Away follow)

My character Ashley swears frequently. I won't discuss the various people she's based on, but let's talk about her.

Ashley is a schoolteacher. She claims that the children she teaches swear often, which is probably true but is something she notices more because she's aware of her own language. She readily acknowledges that she has a problem with foul language, admitting it on several occasions. Only once is she confronted directly about it, and even though she's on the offensive in that scene, it sends her into a defensive posture for a moment. It's an issue for her, and she knows it.

What else do we know about Ashley? She has a temper. That's the very first thing we learn about her. She has a chip on her shoulder because she thinks Jessica had a more fortunate upbringing, both because her parents were wealthy and because their marriage didn't fail like her parents' did. She has to actively suppress her language and behavior as a schoolteacher. And she participated heavily in Corinne's rebellious activities despite feeling ashamed, something which contrasts with Corinne's seeming lack of social consciousness when confronted with the same situations.

The theme of The Tide Washed Her Away is judgment. Ashley is constantly judging herself. Swearing is, in a way, something she does because she knows it's wrong and does it anyway because she looks down on herself. Her swearing comes out more when she's emotional, but not in controlled ways. It's almost random in its appearance, like a nervous twitch, a subconscious reminder that she's beneath those she's around.

Swearing is also part of Kristina as a character. She swears less frequently, but often enough that it becomes noticeable. On the surface, Kristina seems to represent judgment of others. She is status and image obsessed; superficial. And while that comes across as judging others, when you really think about it you realize it's actually another form of self-judgment. She wants to seem perfect in the eyes of others, so she judges her imperfections and tries to correct them. Unlike Ashley, who swears in the company of strangers (but not authority figures), Kristina only swears at those who know her imperfections. And she doesn't just swear around them, but at them. Her foul language only comes out when she's angry, and it's a weapon she uses to point out others' behavior. "Look how bad you are that you caused me to swear."

None of the swearing in my novel is randomly placed. Kristina doesn't swear around strangers, but even Ashley has situations where her language stays clean. She doesn't swear around Jessica's father, Benjamin, which might have to do with the fact that she has a lingering schoolgirl crush on him, or simply because she has always seen him as a parental figure. She doesn't swear around the police, who are authority figures, though she does later swear at David when he becomes a non-authority figure, more of a contemporary.

None of my characters swear at authority figures, even when they're angry and most likely to want to. This reflects the people I know and how they speak. Ironically, those same people who never accidentally swear around authority figures seem to be unable to avoid the occasional slip of the tongue around babies, though they apologize profusely. This stops when they are aware that the child is listening and comprehending.

People wonder why I'm quiet in social situations... It takes a tremendous amount of thinking power to be listening and evaluating what people say, how they say it, and how their language (not just curse words) is affected by the social/situational context. I pride myself on reading peoples' words carefully. I've also been able to point out changes in peoples' language which come across as odd. In three cases, those people were in the very early stages of dementia before they even knew it, and another was moments away from having a seizure from a bad medicine interaction. Nobody else noticed the subtle language changes, even when I pointed them out.

The reviewer who complained about my characters' language said this: "Young women simply do not speak or behave as this author has them do, most likely because being a middle age man he cannot possibly relate. I do not know any professional women who regularly drop the F-bomb in casual conversation!"

Point of clarification: young adult = 20-40; middle age = 40-60. I get this straight from Wikipedia so it must be true, right? I wrote The Tide Washed Her Away between the ages of 28 and 30.

All the women I know would be considered "professional" young adults. My first instinct was to think the reviewer only interacts with young, professional women as an authority figure. I wanted to dispute the reviewer by saying, "Look, this is all based on people I know and care about. How can you be so sheltered to think young women don't ever swear? Who swears then? Children, middle aged adults... men only?" I did say those things out loud, but nobody heard me. I still didn't use curse words.

I'm glad someone posted that review, though. Why? Because there are potential readers who won't like my novel purely because of the language I chose to have my characters use. If they see that review, then hopefully they won't purchase my novel and waste their money on something they don't like. People who aren't bothered by it will, hopefully, enjoy and relate to the characters I created.

But call me "middle aged" one more time... (curse words)!

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A Reader's Duty

Well, here's some advice for amateur bloggers: don't promise to start writing regular posts a week before you start a new job. I just started working at a hospital, and though I'd love to tell you guys about what I'm doing I feel like it might cross a professional line. Maybe someday I'll come back and explain more, but for now all I'm saying is I haven't had time to blog. I've barely had time to write, and I like that way better than blogging...

But weeks ago, I said I would discuss my feelings about Goodreads ratings. I'm going to expand that topic a bit to include Amazon reviews as well. But first, let's talk about orange juice.

Wait, what? Orange juice?

Take a moment and think about the orange juice you get in the store. Does it say "not from concentrate?" Good, that's the one I'm talking about. They want you to think it's the same as the stuff you get when you juice a real, fresh orange. Have you ever made orange juice from squeezing oranges? It's sweeter, clear, and surprisingly less "orange" flavored, isn't it? What's going on?

You see, oranges don't grow evenly year-round. But people want orange juice to be in stores all the time. So orange juice producers got an idea: they take the oxygen out of the orange juice then store it for later, sometimes many months later. And that's... fine. It's got the same nutrients, more or less, but it doesn't taste like anything, let alone orange juice. So the producers create "flavor packs," which are these carefully formulated combinations of things like orange peel oil and citric acid. They add these things, all natural things, back into the orange juice which turns it into that bright-yellow, sour, very orange-flavored stuff you buy in the store. Some people like it better than fresh-squeezed, some prefer fresh, and most don't even realize there's a difference.

Why did I just waste all your time with that? Because the modern publishing industry is very much like the de-oxygenated, re-flavored orange juice you find in the supermarket. At best, publishers have editors work and re-work an author's novel until it's "marketable," which means it's carefully tailored to what focus groups and marketing people think the mass market wants. At worst, a publisher will come up with a plot outline and ask a writer to fill in the blanks of a story they know people want to read. And that works for the mass market, but some people prefer their reading to include some "fresh squeezed" writing. That's the inherent beauty of the newly emerging strength of the independent author.

My novels aren't edited by someone who wants to make it "marketable." That means it comes out rough around the edges, with potentially unlikable characters and a plot which sometimes veers in the wrong direction. It's not mass-market, it won't suit everyone's tastes, but some people want a "fresh squeezed" story instead of one which reads exactly like every other bestseller they've ever read.

The problem with the independent author market is that there's a lot of junk out there. I'm not saying my books are more appealing to all, but there is a significant quality difference between many books available on the market. Since independent authors have much smaller reader bases, they tend not to get reviewed as often by major publications. People don't know which independent books are good, and which ones are junk, but more importantly people don't know which ones fit their tastes and which ones they won't like.

That's where reviews come in. On Goodreads, people can rate a book from 1 to 5 stars, with 1 and 2 indicating distaste and 3-5 indicating enjoyment. That hints at whether a book is quality, but it does nothing to let someone know if the book will match their tastes. And then there are people who rate 1-star because their ideologically disagree with a book (and there is a particular ideological group who are inclined to be offended by my book because of who the killer is, which I can attribute at least three 1-stars ratings to judging by their book lists). Goodreads allows people to write text reviews, but those seem incredibly rare. Amazon only displays written reviews, but all too often those are misused or too generic to create a recommendation.

Which is why I'm pleading with you, the readers, who probably don't even stop by this page, to start writing reviews. I don't care if you liked my book or not, I still want you to write a review for mine, and for other books you read. Only about one in a hundred purchases on Amazon lead to a review, and those tend to come from people who prefer mass market books. So, if you like "fresh squeezed" stories, you need to review them. And just saying "I liked it" isn't enough. What did you like, what rubbed you the wrong way, and who do you think would appreciate this book?

People who don't think women in their mid-twenties "drop the f-bomb in casual conversation" won't like my book. That's a GREAT REVIEW!!! I mean, yeah, it's a negative review, but it tells a certain group of people to stay away from my book. I need more like that, though I'd prefer a healthy mix of positive and negative reviews if at all possible.

And considering (as of this post) 20% of my Amazon reviews are from people who "Didn't receive the book so I can't give a rsting (sic)," you might want to just ignore star ratings completely and read the reviews before you buy.


No promises when I'll be back next time, so I'm going to make a little challenge: I will post a new blog post within 24 hours of someone asking for one. How do you ask? Just send an email to with the title "New Blog Post Please." I don't expect anyone will take me up on it, which would just prove that nobody reads these...