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New Release for April


A tall ship on the water

Ambush Cargo

Ariah’s touch tells her stories.  About objects, about people, about death.

A tall ship arrives in port, carrying a story that no one wants to hear.  Legacy of war?  Or worse?

Ariah must confront dark secrets to investigate.  The answers may be deadly.

A twisted fantasy short story of growing evil that keeps you turning pages.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

Available on BundleRabbit.

 

Still available from RabbitBundle

A mermaid by a coral reef

Here Be Merfolk

The call of the deep rings ever in our ears, from myth and legend to crime and mystery. Sea-people, mer and monster, immortals and reluctant heroes feature in this sea-worthy bundle.

This a bundle featuring novels and short stories by such writers as Alan Dean Foster, Debbie Mumford, and of course me.  My story is Dark, From the Sea.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

Cover Refresh #3


Another refresh for your viewing pleasure.  I’m still working through the update for the short story itself, so that’ll be out next week with the updated cover.

The software tool I use to build the covers is Adobe PhotoShop Elements.  That’s a $120 program with some of the tools of PhotoShop.  Works pretty well for ebook covers.

Original Cover

Cover art for Curseo of the Cat

This cover was created in 2015 from a Dreamstime image.  At the time, it was difficult finding a image.  I had a lot of trouble figuring out keywords to find the images.  That simply has taken practice, and sometimes even that still doesn’t help!

Once I found this image, I ended up changing the story title so it would fit on the cover. 🙂  It was originally called Cursed Painting.

 

New Cover

Woman in 1800s dress burning a paper next to a window

Like some of the other covers, I found this image while looking for one for a different story.  I preferred a period one with a male main character, but women are in and there is a woman character who plays a major role in the story.

The image conveys a sense of the time of the story, which is the late 1800s, San Francisco.  The colors are also brighter than the original one.  I enjoyed what I was seeing from this artist and picked up an additional one for a new release.

The New Release

Woman walking through tunnel

 

I’ve actually been putting off the release of this story for a long time because I thought the cover was going to be really hard.  It’s a story set during the construction of the Washington Monument, which has quite a bit of interesting history.  This reminded me of the main character going inside the base of the monument.  This one of the few times I got a horizontal image, so I had to make sure this one was big enough for me to enlarge it to fit vertically.

Book Cover Refresh #2


My next book refresh was for book length fiction.  Because my day job is so chaotic, it was very hard for me to spend the mental energy to figure out how to set up a print cover.  If you don’t have a Mac, Vellum’s out of the picture, and the software on the PC side is very complicated.  Since I wanted to get my GALCOM Universe series into paper, I had it designed by Cover Mint.

Original Cover

Spaceship orbiting a planet, sun in the background

 

This book had a problem with it: The title.

I love the title.  It fits the book.

It’s the name of a popular travel series.  Means that no one’s going to find the book if they search on the title.  So with the cover change, I decided it was a good time to change the title.

The image came from Dreamstime.

 

New Cover

A spaceship wrecked on a planet

This is the cover designed by Dan Von Oss at Cover Mint.  Dan’s very good at science fiction and action (which will be of big use for book 4 in my series, Last Stand).  I told him I didn’t want dark covers.  How my name appears on the cover was the only other requirement, and everything else was the artist.

The text at the top is from my blurb.  I was very glad I took the blurb class over on Dean Wesley Smith’s site because it’s been very useful for even the cover designs.

There’s something really exciting about seeing a cover designed by someone else for one of your books.  One of the things I will be doing in the next few weeks for this is print version and a large type print version.

Available from your favorite booksellers.

Book Cover Refresh #1


I’ve been doing some book refreshes–updating the bio, the blurb, and the keywords.  I’ve learned a lot about blurbs and most of my old ones need the update.  But I noticed that some of the covers felt a little dated.  So I’ve been doing cover refreshes as well.

Selecting the images is tricky.  I’m visual spatial, so images always appeal to me.  That also doesn’t mean they necessarily make good covers.  My criteria for selecting them:

  1. I like artwork rather than photos.  As a reader, I won’t pick a cover because of a photo image but I will because of artwork.  There’s just something more magical about artwork.
  2. The image shouldn’t be too dark, and I mean that in both senses of the word.  I don’t want gritty.  That doesn’t fit me or my writing.  But I also don’t want images that are overall all too dark.  It makes it harder to get color sampling that can be used on the title and my name.
  3. It should fit the genre and the sense of the story.  In the early days of indie, I ran across a writer who had written a thriller set in on a snow-covered mountain.  So she slapped on a photo of a peaceful snowy field.  No.   Seriously, no.

The Old Cover

Cover for Foggy Paws showing a girl and a dog
This is the original cover I did back in 2016.  It wasn’t quite one of the first covers I did, but it was in the first five.  The story has a dog in it, so I wanted a dog image.  At the time, it was a challenge because most of the dog images are photos.  At the time, I was willing to do a photo, but they didn’t feel like images for a book cover.  Then I found this one.  I liked the colors and I went with it

The image comes from Dreamstime.

 

The New Cover

Woman seated on a rock on the beach, looking out at the water

I started out looking for a cover for an entirely different book.  I was having a lot of trouble finding an image (darn it!), but then I saw this one.  Bang.  That’s Foggy Paws.  It conveys the feeling of the story far better than the original image.

For this one, I used my newer template for the covers, which has guides all around the outside edges.  You can tell where some of the guides are…under the y at the bottom and right along the woman’s back.  Since this book is a general fiction story, I thought the script font would be nice and it fits the image.

The image comes from IStockPhotos.

Blurb:

Dogs always know.

Deep in grief over her grandfather’s death, Jennifer Day finds a friend in a black Labrador named Candy Cane.

Candy Cane gives her courage when she needs it and it transforms her life.

A heartwarming story of grief and loss.

For the book itself, you can find it here.

Off to the next one!

 

Character Flaws and Other Things


This post is because of an interesting discussion in my writing group.  Most of the time when discussing characters, writers will say:

“What’s your character’s flaw?”

It’s a question that’s always mystified me.  The first thing I imagine is a checklist with flaw as a to-do item.

My answer, by the way, is “Not a clue.  I trust it’s in there.”

At least in my thinking, identifying a flaw is probably like hammering a nail on top of another nail (which is about as useless as it sounds).  Human beings do not have a problem with not having flaws.  Something is going to filter into that character.  It just might a subtle flaw.

Just searching for character flaws, I found sites that collected them–one had over 100!

The reasoning behind it is that a flaw ensures a well-rounded character.  But I think some of it originates with English classes.  We study one of Shakespeare’s characters to identify the flaws.  Critical analysis, and important critical analysis (probably missing from schools today) to understanding human nature.  Though I’m sure the writers of the books studied were just telling a story and not thinking “I have to make this character flawed.”

The danger of identifying a flaw as a major part of the characterization is that it makes it really hard for the character to grow and change.  The example we used was the TV series House.  The title character is a guy who doesn’t get along with anyone, yet is a brilliant physician.  Since that flaw was the mainstay of the show, it couldn’t change so it caused things around it to change instead.  It felt like the show lost its way after the first few years and self-destructed in its final seasons.

On the other hand, NCIS started out focusing on the positive traits of the characters.  They were identified early on and the show the stuck to them.  The positive traits allowed the characters to evolve and change over the course of the series, and yet, remain the characters that the viewers want to see.  One of the best episodes was when DiNozzo left, and it was such a perfect fit to the character that it felt very satisfying.

At the same time, not sticking to the core positive traits can feel like a betrayal to the reader.  There’s a writer I very much enjoyed at one time.  Character had a very strong moral sense of right and wrong.  Even though the Catholic Church had excommunicated the character, she still worked at being a good Catholic, questioning when her job pushed those boundaries.  Those were positive traits that really made the character come to life for me.

Until one book where the character was up against a wall for a ticking time bomb.  The only way she thought she could get information from another character was torture, and it was a particularly violent torture.  It really ruined the character for me.

If I had Gibbs Rule, Rule #1 would be: Don’t disappoint the reader by screwing up the characters!

My wanderings on my mystery novel have lead me to start a reverse outline to identify what day the scenes happen on.  I discovered I blew past the weekend like it wasn’t there. Since the story is set in 1947, the characters would have definitely stopped for the weekend…church, Sunday dinner.  It also identified some holes I’m working through.  Most of my other stories are pretty compressed–a lot of action occurs in a few days. This one is going to be at a more leisurely pace for me.  Meanwhile, creative brain was going, “I need action scenes,” and critical brain was going, “It’s too slow!”  Sometimes they both need a Gibbs head slap!

5 Reasons Not to Use Movies for Research


I grew up reading about movies and TV.  The libraries were filled with books on the subject, and it was always fascinating reading.  I remember one TV producer saying “They’ll never notice!” 

Unfortunately because so much of this is part of our culture, a whole lot of writers think it’s a good idea to use movies for research instead of either hitting the books, asking an expert, or going out to experience a place.  Here are some the reasons why it’s such a bad idea.

Hollywood loves stereotypes and cliches

Every film and TV show has one problem going in: Time.  They have to make the movie fit within a certain amount of minutes.  So stereotypes become a quick shortcut.  A thug has a certain “look” so that when he walks on screen and the ominous music is cued, we know he’s a bad guy.

Cliches are another shortcut.  If a producer spots something cool and neat, every movie will repeat it as if it were TRUE for everyone.

Just about every TV show and film with a blind person has had the character touch the face of another character to “see” what he looks like.  I have no doubt that there was probably a newspaper article on a blind person who did this.  But Hollywood latched onto it and put it into nearly every film and show that followed.  A friend who is blind says that they don’t do all the touchy feely stuff.

Problems with accuracy

Films depicting actual events or historical events aren’t always accurate.  Many “biopics” have annoyed the original source because details were altered to tell the story.  Sometimes there isn’t a reason why they got changed.  Historical stories might be loosely told.  Heck, even the costuming may not be accurate. A friend checked the medals a military character wore.  It was obvious the prop guy grabbed a handful, since it was impossible for the character to be fifty years in the future and be in WWII (well, unless he was a time traveler).

The Hollywood Action Scene

Let’s be realistic here—Hollywood action scenes are designed to be eye candy.  Sometimes some scenes may even be designed to be put in a trailer to get audiences to see the movie.

Those scenes are done with wires and harnesses and stunt men.  To show Wonder Woman (the Lynda Carter version) jumping up into a window, the stunt woman had to jump out of the window backwards.  Then the film was reversed so it looked like she was jumping up to the window.

For those sword fighting scenes where the hero is attacked by multiple bad guys, it’s a one second delay before each man attacks. You wouldn’t think that second would make a lot of difference, but it does.  I saw a demo with the delay and then the real thing from re-enactors.  With the delay, the lone man could defend himself against all the attackers.  With no delay, he got overwhelmed alarmingly fast.

Shooting a criminal in the leg

You know the scene.  Bad guy runs away.  Good guy pulls out his gun, takes careful aim, and shoots bad guy in the leg.

Right.  Looks great.  Makes the audience think the detective is a good guy for not letting the bad guy live.  And very hard to do.

I was taught in the military to aim at center mass.  That’s biggest part of the body.  The basic reason? You’ll likely to hit it.

A leg’s a really small target.  Add moving in a running motion, and it’s even harder target.

Why do what Hollywood is doing?

Hollywood is very unoriginal.  Why be unoriginal?

Coming up with ideas: An exercise in trust


I was thinking of this post when I wrote the comment over on Harvey Stanbrough’s blog on cycling during the first draft.  Both techniques very much require a lot of trust.

Ideas are squirrely things.

Partially because we’re taught that being creative isn’t a good thing.  Kids come up with all kinds of wacky flights of fantasy.

There’s a point where it scares the heck out of the adults.  They try to be well meaning, but they have an adult filter on it.  So when a kid  comes up with a wild idea, it tends to get discouraged.

One time—I don’t remember how old I was—I was messing around with a story.  The character was pregnant.  I don’t recall what inspired me, but no doubt some of it was all marketing to women at that time.  It was all about getting married and having kids.

But I had written part of story with “pregnant” in it.  Lines of dialogue and narrative.  It was kind of obvious it was a story. But my mother saw it and freaked.  She didn’t ask if it was a story.  Instead it was a very stern, “Are you pregnant?” Yikes!

Suddenly ideas become scary things that we’re not supposed to do.  That we should restrain ourselves.

As an adult, I started a mystery novel.  At the time, it was the only idea I had that I thought could fit a novel.  I got other ones, but these either turned into genre-less short stories (which is why I think a lot of people land in literary.  It’s a catchall when the writer allows the idea to control the direction of the story).

And I got these “flash in the pan” ideas.

I kept notebooks to record those ideas, like everyone said to do.  They were pocket notebooks I could carry around.  The ideas flashed bright, and I had to write them down right now so I wouldn’t forget.  Some demanded to be written. RIGHT NOW.

Those always ran about a page or two and then died.  Which is why I call them flash in the pan.  They sounded exciting until I tried to execute them and then they weren’t so exciting.

So I got stuck on the first novel, revising it so much it no longer resembled anything that I’d started with.  I revised because I kept getting stuck and I didn’t have any other book length ideas.

Enter co-writer.

He provided the idea.  We wrote the book.  I felt confident enough to come up with some ideas for the next book.  We were having problems by then (co-writer had fear of finishing, bad).  So he shot down my ideas.

It started out with, “That idea will never be a best seller.  We can’t do it.”

So I wound up back on my own and it was still a struggle to come up with ideas.  Then I took Dean Wesley Smith’s Ideas workshop.  It was really eye opening.  I’d been approaching ideas wrong.  Looking back, I think all those flash in the pan ideas were because my creative brain did not trust me to treat the ideas right.

I was passing on things as not good enough and expecting that an idea was supposed to be the full blown story.

What I use now has evolved from that workshop.  I just did a short story called Magic Tidyings.  It was inspired by a prompt about spring cleaning:

You’re a professional cleaner and the beginning of spring is always your busiest time.

I kept circling back to it and came up with:

Spring Cleaning + Tidying (Marie Kondo) + Magic

Then: Pirates + Ghosts.

I don’t get much flash in the pan ideas any more.  Creative brain trusts that I’m going to write the stories.  Maybe not today, but when it’s time.  And creative brain is really good about letting me know when it’s time.

By the time way, I plan to do a future GALCOM book with one of the ideas co-writer shot down:  Most Dangerous Game with a woman character.  No one’s really done it before, though Criminal Minds came close.  Why not?

And it is fun thinking about what I’m going to do.

Why I Write the Way I Write


This is topic is inspired by a bunch of posts over on the Professional Writer’s Blog.  The blog, if you’re interested, is very different than the more standard blogs.  So far, it’s not for beginners…anyone seeking quick tips or a list to check off would probably be disappointed.  But it does get into discussions for more advanced writing.

I’m what’s called a pantser.  Or a gardener. Or a discovery writer. Or a NOP (No Outline Person).  Or I write into the dark.

I don’t outline or plan out my stories before I write them.

Frankly, I don’t particularly like any of those terms.  Everyone seems to want to put us into these different categories like they’re trying to check a box.

And it’s always versus, like we’re at war against each other.  Plotter versus pantsers is particularly silly.  The implication is that because someone doesn’t outline, they don’t do plot.  Plot is a series of events—“and this happened, and this happened, and this happened”—in the story.  You’d have to work awfully hard not to have any plot in a story, even a bad one.

I started writing when I was eight years old.  A friend was writing plays for class, and I thought it was cool.  I started writing stories.  All the time.  Sometimes in class.  Mostly mysteries because I was reading Nancy Drew and wanted girl detective fiction.

Pretty much, I came up with an idea and started writing.

So I wrote like I read a story.  I wrote the next word, sentence, and paragraph in and the story was unveiled to me.

Somewhere along the way, that became not good enough.

It’s a problem for children as they get older, and adults.  We start seeing the flaws in the ideas, and in our creativity.  We start trying to perfect.

Some of this is encouraged by teachers and other well-meaning people.  The creativity can lead us to some really wild places.  Places that make adults frown and try to steer the creative kid in a different direction.  In high school, I write a serial killer short story. One of the teachers steered me to “more appropriate” topics.

Outlining is another way of steering the young writer to contain the outlandishness of creativity.  Instead of wandering all over like Billy in Family Circus and discovering interesting things, you go in a straight line with planned stops.

Other writers have told me that outlining enhances creativity and does not stifle it.  Not true!  Not true!

The greatest thing about creativity is being unconstrained.  Being willing to take the left fork on the path to see what’s there.

Being unafraid to take a step forward and trust the creative side will work like it’s supposed to.  Like Indiana Jones when he steps off into the abyss and the path appears.

Faith.

In ourselves.

And everything we get taught as we get older is that we cannot trust ourselves to do any of this right.  We second guess the ideas.  Is it good enough? Irrelevant)  Is it going to sell? (Unknown) Has it been done before? (Always)

But writing without an outline is the ultimate way of trusting yourself.  You don’t know where the story is going to go until you get there.

It’s exhilarating and exciting!

At times, it’s also terrifying.  For all of the same reasons.

As I write the story, I play with all the possibilities I can do.  Sometimes I wander down a rabbit hole and it doesn’t work.  Or turns out not to be right.

The people who outline will tell me that planning the story out will fix that kind of problem.  That it’ll help me not waste time.

And they have no understanding that the joy of the creating of the story is going down those rabbit holes to see what’s there.  It’s fun!

Especially when one of the rabbit holes triggers something else that takes the story in a different direction that I’d never thought of.  A direction I wouldn’t have gotten if I’d done the outline. Everything counts when it comes to creativity.

Everything.

I’d never write any other way.  It’s just too much fun discovering the story.

World Building (Part IV)


Back on tap for the final part of Kevin J. Anderson’s World Building workshop.  For anyone interested in attending Superstars next February, you can use my coupon code LADAMS for $100 off.  Very important to book early though because the price does go up.  But the payment plan is very flexible, especially when you register early.

Next up on the list…

Religion

This is something that stretches across all cultures and connects with the categories below.  During the Desert Storm briefings, we were told the religion controlled the Saudi Arabian government.  We found that a very strange concept, but it’s obviously shown up throughout history.

Think about what kinds of gods the world has.  Are they real beings who show up or a concept?

What kind of impact do they have on the world?

Intellectual/Science

This one starts to get into the deep end of the world building, or least my feel of that.  If you look at our history, it’s also closely tied with religion.  Galileo was a scientist who said the earth was round, not flat, and moved around the sun.  That was too much for the churches of the time and they made him recant.

Most of the fantasy books I’ve seen have had universities for mages to attend to become learned in their skills.  Harry Potter was the only one where I’ve seen actual classes for a bunch of students (not a one on one), and in a variety of subjects.  This is an easy one for all of us, because we’ve been in school.  Can you imagine a class where handwriting is taught because it’s very important to be able to read a spell properly? And a potions class would be like a chemistry class.  Lots of ways to make something like this work in a story.

Some questions to think about:

What’s the general education level of everyone?  Can they all read? (And I confess, when I’ve written fantasy, I’ve never never thought of this).

Is education control by a cabal?

Do they have free libraries, or is it controlled?

Arts

I thought this was one of the more interesting parts of the session because it made me think about something I wouldn’t have otherwise.

Wealthy societies have arts.  Poor ones don’t.

So if they have art, does it show in the building architecture?  There are fabulous examples of this just on TV stations like Smithsonian.

History

Every world has a history.  It doesn’t exist in a vacuum. History is why things happen today.  In past times, it was often conveyed in folktales and legends, an interesting fact I didn’t know.  Because I don’t outline, a lot of the history comes into the story organically (usually when I need it for a story).  But it prompts all kinds of questions.  Not just like the things Kevin mentioned—who wrote it (which influences what gets recorded) and the stories aren’t always accurate.  Sometimes they get forgotten because of time.  When I was growing up, every year on December 7, we had newspaper HEADLINES about remembering Pearl Harbor.  Now people don’t even know what that is.

And what about history that people want to keep a secret?  That’s fodder for many thrillers.

One of the things that’s struck me at the more advanced levels of writing is that you get the information in a different way.  It’s craft-based, rather than process-based.  As someone who doesn’t outline, I’ve seen process-based taught as if it were craft.  Because the instructor doesn’t know that there’s a difference.

“Get a three ring binder and tabs and then answer questions” is a specific writer’s process.  A list of categories and questions to think about is something that can filter in as the story is being written.

Next week Part IV of World Building


I’m sorry for the delay, but the final part of the world building workshop will be next Tuesday.