Well, better late than never…

It’s been a pretty seriously hectic holiday season around here. Not even counting the normal publishing woes (at the absolute best of times this business is a fickle battlefield littered with random time-sucks and backslides) there have been personal leave issues and weather problems and I could keep going but lets just say January was more or less a wash.

So, back there before or around the 2015 holiday season I was going to post this really great thing I saw, that tied in with our Fandom project, The Fandom Universe: A Galaxy Far, Far Away and then all the aforementioned stuff happened and I didn’t.

But it was too cool not to post anyway. So here you go, in case you’ve ever wondered how you were supposed to differentiate between stormtroopers and clone troopers.


And here’s hoping eventually 2016 starts to shape up…

“I’m gonna make you a star!”

It’s the run up to NaNoWriMo (give me a minute to stamp the panic back down, I’m really not ready) and I’m trying to crash through the rest of my pre-November to-do list. I could write a few thousand words about how well it’s going (or I can give you two, it’s not) but you’re probably more interested in things that might mean something to you.

So. In the attempt to finish all the things, I’ve been watching a lot of non-fictional Netflix the last week or so. It doesn’t require me to actually pay attention, and when I’m in the midst of editing or file creation that’s sort of helpful. I fall down a hole with Netflix though, almost as badly as I do with Wikipedia. Case in point, the other night I started off with some creepy freaking show about a dude who kept his daughter locked in a dungeon in the basement and made her have his babies for like twenty years. Yeah. Ick.

From that I went to watching a bio-pick about John Denver. If that’d been intentional it would have worked, right? Because some sweetness and light (even with a sad ending) can help chill you out after watching something horrible. But no, I wasn’t intentionally making the night less weird. Apparently weird is my drug.

I told you all that, because I heard something really amazing in the middle of that John Denver show, and I’d like to share it with you.

“You can’t make someone a star. Nobody holds a gun to your head and says ‘listen to this record.’ All I can do is bring the people to the artist and let them shine, let them be who they are.”

–Jerry Weintraub

I hear a lot, in the online communities about how so and so got that major deal because they know somebody, or so and so knows the way to become a multi-platform best-selling author and all you have to do is be exactly like them.

I like Jerry’s advice better. The man has had a multi-decade spanning career in music and movies, organizing giant concerts and fostering talent in a lot of different ways. And up there, he’s basically telling you to be yourself. Shine. There’s nobody exactly like you, and that’s the best advantage you’ve got.

Keep an eye on our social media in the next few weeks. We’ve got a whole lot of fun stuff coming down the pipes!

The Importance of Fun

So it’s October, and I have a thing to pimp, and I was looking for a way to do that that wasn’t just “I HAVE THING, LOOK AT THING!” and somewhere in the midst of that I got to thinking about NaNoWriMo, and about how much that license to suck has helped my writing.

Sit back, we’re going to talk about something huge and important: Fun.

A few months ago, Kate, the Minion, and I came up with this grand idea. See, we’re trying to launch a new romance line, and driving traffic to a website that’s not really a website yet is a bit like building a baseball field in the middle of three acres of corn. Just because James Earl Jones said the people would come doesn’t mean anybody with sense believes that’s going to happen.

And lo, Romancing the Rainbow was born. One story for every color of the rainbow. The most ridiculous, off the wall, out in left-field (hehe, more fields) erotica/erotic romance/romance stories the first seven people we could lay our hooks into could come up with.

You have no clue how many times I had to tell people ‘no, it’s okay, I really do want ridiculous.’ We’re authors, and sometimes we get serious about our craft. Sometimes we get so serious about craft it becomes craft and it’s about on level with an actor talking about process and rational minded human beings begin to twitch with the urge to strangle you.

And this is what NaNoWriMo gives you. It’s not just about permission to suck alleviating the pressure of creating the next Great American Novel. It’s about fun. It’s about permission to run whooping through the halls of your creativity–to steal a phrase.

It’s a semi-naughty story about a butter churn, or pan-dimensional space cats, or–in this week’s release–woad-stink girl and a fairy princess.

So get out there and belt up for Nano, come up with the craziest, most ridiculous story you can think of. Give yourself permission to be that kid in elementary school art who never followed the directions.

And if you’re looking for something to read, you should totally go check out Romancing the Rainbow. We’re down to Violet, and the only hint you’re getting is that it releases just before Halloween…

The Longest Character Workshop Ever Part 2: Meet Marty!

I have an eerie feeling we’re going to get up into the triple digits with this thing. Like every time I sit down to write a blog post and I don’t have any kind of topic it’s going to be another number in our everlasting workshop.

Anyway, today we’re going to talk about Author Insertion! You’re excited, right?

Marty Meets Mary: Examples of what not to do.

My favorite example of author insertion is Clive Cussler. If you’ve ever tried to read a Dirk Pitt novel you’ve come across this. And I’ll be nice to Mr. Cussler here because utter freaking train wreck that I find his novels occasionally, I have actually finished a fair number of them.

So you’re cruising along, following Dirk and Al across the desert or the jungle or whatever super rugged, stereotypical expanse they’re crossing this time. And you’ve gotten used to some of the things a Dirk Pitt novel treats you to—strange plot asides, crazy coincidences, quasi-misogynistic behavior. You’re good. It’s an adventure, and sometimes you just remind yourself he started writing these in the sixties, and it was okay to hit your girlfriend when she was hysterical then.

(Yeah, as an aside here, I’ll tell you Matthew McConaughey made me like Dirk Pitt before I got around to reading him. It’s a complicated relationship, like all his relationships with women…)

You’re cruising along, and suddenly this dust-blown drifter comes onto the stage. He’s older, and rugged. He’s in possession of serious plot material he has utterly no reason to have. He’s strangely debonair (and crazy as a loon) and you’re confused. You’ve already aligned yourself to the idea Dirk Pitt is Clive Cussler as he imagines himself in the darkest nights. The man he wishes he was. The man he believes he could be (or is, I’ll give Cussler this, he does actually do all the NUMA stuff).

So who’s this guy? Another version of Cussler? How does that even work? And seriously, dude doesn’t have a name? And he winks all the time?

The list of authors who have been accused of serious author insertion over the years is pretty serious. Dumas, Christie, Hemmingway, Sayers. There are all sorts of theories about Shakespeare. And if there’s all this wonderful company, then why is this a thing to be worried about. The greats do it, right?


Look, a certain level of author insertion is unavoidable. There will be bits of yourself with wind up in things you write. Sometimes (often) without your express permission. Sometimes without your even realizing it. And that’s a situation that can make something wonderful out of your little story about a band of renegades on the edge of the galaxy, or the knight in dented armor who decides to be the good guy.

It’s when it goes off the rails that you get into trouble. The sad, depressing fact of life is that nobody cares as much about you as you do. Some things are universal, sure. A lot of things aren’t. You have to watch for the things that aren’t. It’s fine to give up a piece of yourself for a character, but watch how big a piece it is.

Nothing good comes from trying to write your own happy ending. It’s better to go off and live that one.

Write all the others.

As a complete side note, our fall is looking so insanely busy there’ll probably only be about one post a week on here, for the foreseeable future. If that doesn’t feel like enough for you, you can of course either send us a post (hint hint) or comment and beg us for more. We’re amenable to bribery of all sorts of forms…

The Year that Time Forgot

A couple of years ago I had this crazy idea–I know, I say that a lot.

We’ve been contemplating trying some serials, the sort of story that releases bit by bit over a period of time, and then if you want to when it’s all over you can by the whole thing as one copy. Those used to be a thing. If you want to see what it looks like, when it’s gone slightly wrong, check out The Count of Monte Cristo. Slightly less wrong, I’m pretty sure the original Edgar Rice Burrows Children of Mars series was released as a serial as well.

And before we got around to that I’d already had this really great idea for a series of mysteries centered around this one amateur detective. The kind where we follow our detective and his life for an entire calendar year. At the time I thought it I figured there was no way I was ever going to get a publisher to sign up for that (there’s always something positive about having a certain measure of creative control, amirite?).

That sounds cool, right? If you’re one of those in the know people you’re also thinking “Jules, that sounds like a ridiculous, inordinate amount of work,” and you wouldn’t be wrong. I’m basically putting out a 300,000 word book with ten different sub plots, in tiny bits, over the course of the next year.

But forget about the editorial schedule for a minute. Think like a reader. Wouldn’t it be cool to spend an entire year with a character? Spend Christmas reading about their Christmas, and then Valentines, and early spring, and their summer holidays. Sit down to read a book that talks about the state fair when it’s still state fair season, and share the characters hankering for good, old-fashioned cotton candy.

I’m signing up for this insane, giant thing, but mostly it’s under the guise of trying to provide what I’d like to read. Most of the books I write are about what I’d like to read that there doesn’t seem to be enough of out there in the world. I don’t know what kind of business sense that makes, but I figure it’s as good a place to start as any.

And hey, on the up shot, starting this December you can keep an eye out for The Ohio Mysteries, Book 1: Death of a Salesman.

Also, the next part in our free online collection, Romancing the Rainbow should be out now, so you should totally go check that out.

Alternative Viewpoints: Is Writing Advice for the Birds?

This week’s first post is lifted in its entirety (with permission, obviously) from a lovely authoress I hope will eventually become one of our flock (eheh, sheep jokes just write themselves) of writers for By Passion Shorn, Rhozwyn Darius.

NOTE: This blog will sometimes have adult language. Readers can count on my being blunt. The writing here is casual in the sense that I will write much the way I speak. It may or may not be perfectly grammatical. I make no apologies. Also, I use the ban-hammer. I might warn you before I drop the hammer; I might not.
Don’t say anything you wouldn’t say to my face in my living room. Don’t be shitty. Be kind instead. It uses less energy and is better for everyone.

Writing is obviously a pretty solitary pursuit. As an introvert, by and large, this makes me happy. But it means that I have spent a ton of time in the past looking for advice on writing. I’m not alone. Most writers I know spend at least a little time searching out there in the wide Universe, looking for the one true path to productive creativity.

For sure, there’s plenty of writing advice on the ‘net. The National Novel Writing Month people have built and continues to build a wonderful and supportive online community. Chuck Wendig is a no-nonsense, no bullshit source for common sense writing advice. I like Kris Rusch and her husband Dean Smith for a different and contextual take both on fiction writing and on the business of writing fiction. People throw up memes on Pinterest and Facebook all the time with advice for writers from other writers both contemporary and historical. It’s actually hard to escape other people’s writing advice now that I’ve gone looking for it.

My experience, however, is that about half (or more) of it is non-applicable to me.

Whenever I take the advice of some other more experienced writer too much to heart, I almost always fail–sometimes epically. Writer’s write. If I don’t write then I’m not a writer. The bottom line is that I write more when I ‘meta’ my own process.

Writing is an internal process. Spinning something viable out of your guts pretty naturally means your insides and your baggage will be all over your art whatever it is, in subtle and not so subtle ways. There is no external advice that is going to be universally applicable to such a messy business. When I pay attention to what works for me and drop the “how I should write according to X” off the proverbial cliff, the whole thing goes better and I’m more productive. Figuring that out made my life much easier.

Note that I’m not applying this to the business of writing fiction. That’s a whole other topic. However, for me, these individual internal rules apply to literally everything that involves the methodology of the craft and art of writing–plot, character development, sentence and paragraph and scene and chapter construction, even writing software. Pick your poison! Some advice is helpful but much is not. Sorting it all out takes some time and attention.

This includes getting my butt into the chair to write at all.

In fact, that’s my best example. Most advice I find on the net involves the regular application of the butt to the chair and the fingers to the keyboard. I’m not arguing against that truth. Writers gotta’ write. But such advice usually includes a heavily weighted rider something along the lines of “And Write Every Day Forever And Ever, Amen”.

The year I tried to write every day was the least productive year I’ve had since I got serious about this joy ride. Instead, I learned that I hyper-focus. If I want to write a book in a timely fashion I need to set it up first (and the way I do that is very much my way!). Then I need to write the original draft all at once over the course of four to six weeks. If I don’t, I stumble and start to over-think everything on the page. Those projects take me years to finish. I believe that I lose my train of thought and it takes me much longer to get it back than it would have just to finish the damned draft in one fell swoop. Because I’m stubborn, I do manage to finish those projects. It’s just much more difficult to get even that one draft done.
If you write, don’t write my way. If you write, figure out the way that works for you–even if it’s “write every day”. 🙂
“Know Thyself” is an old but still relevant aphorism. But the only way it works for me is to also “Pay Attention”. External advice has value. I just find that my value for it is limited.

Cool, eh?
Check back later in the week so you can watch me natter on about writing a giant serial and whatever else I manage to come up with…

The Longest Character Workshop Ever: Part 1

(Hint: It’s the longest one ever because I don’t have any direction for it planned, I’m just going to give you workshop assignments every other Friday until I run out of ideas.)

Part 1: The Fast Method

Did you ever play MASH as a kid? If you did, you can skip most of this and go to the instructions at the bottom.

So, you had the sort of useful, diligent childhood that meant you never wasted an afternoon and an entire notebook of paper in middle school planning your eventual life with hash-marks? Wow. I’m sorry.

Well, that’s alright, we’ll grab a notebook and I’ll walk you through the actual game before we start twisting it to our purposes. Take a piece of paper (normal sized, lined or unlined, whatever color) and write M A S H across the top of it. This stands for Mansion, Apartment, Shack, and House. Below that leave a space that’s about a third the surface of the paper.

Now it gets sketchy. See, when you were twelve you’d have written four names of people you wanted to potentially wind up with (or your friends wrote the names of the one you wanted to wind up with and three people you really didn’t). But you’re probably not twelve now, and that’s probably not a criterion you’re leaving up to a game on a piece of scratch paper anymore. Just write um…four people you’d like to meet. That’s close enough. Now write another column that’s your four preferred dream jobs. Then your four preferred cities to do them in. Got all that?

Good. Now go back to the blank space you left and draw a giant spiral at a random speed for a random designation of time or until the person you’re playing with tells you to stop. Count the spirals, and go through your sheet and count through with your spiral number. Mark off the last one you land on ever time. Do this until there’s only one option left in each category.

That’s your future. You’re welcome.

But You Said Something About Instructions: The Instructions

How does this work for writing? I’m so glad you asked. It’s almost exactly like the game you played in junior high. Only instead of potential husbands/wives/houses/whatevers you plot out your characters lives. So. I need a hero. I write down M A S H because he needs somewhere to live, obviously. And I draw a giant spiral but I don’t count it yet (I’m weird about doing things linearly) and then I exit to crazy town on the categories. Four first names, four last names, four hair colors, four eye colors, four weird habits, four relationship histories, four tattoos, four pets, four worst experiences of his life. All The Things.

Now, what you’ll discover as you do this is that what it’s the most useful for is that moment you knock something off the list and realize it was the thing you really wanted. Sort of like how nothing makes up your mind faster than flipping a coin. number of characters who are important but not fully formed in your head yet this is the method for you.

The Assignment: Because It’s Homework Time!

This is a workshop, and yes, now that you’ve read all that I’m going to tell you it’s the kind of workshop that gives you homework. You’re welcome.

So. Homework. You’re going to make a MASH and share it with the group!

Step 1: Make your Mash. Make it colorful and crazy or cramped on a piece of scrap paper. Whatever floats your boat.

Step 2: Take a picture of your mash and share it with us! Probably easier to do that by sharing it in your space and linking it here.

Step 3: Tell the class what you think of this method. Do you love it? Do you despise it with every fiber of your being? There’s no wrong answer (no really. I know that’s usually a think college professors say before you say the wrong answer, but I’m not a college professor. Go to town).

I’ll start you off with an example. Here’s my MASH.