Sunday, August 25, 2013

How Not to Be a Writer

It’s been over a month since my novella’s debut on Amazon and I’ve spread out to other retailers. In case you haven’t poked around my site yet, I’m announcing now that The Cellar is also available on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, iTunes, Diesel, Sony and OmniLit.  Get it while it’s hot!

So now I figured it was time to whip out the trusty clipboard and take stock. For a completely obscure first-time author and the fact that summer is slow for ebook sales, I’m doing okay. The question is how far am I from living comfortably off my daydreams and whimsy? As of midnight last night, I’m still a pipe dream away from sipping mojitos at the Grand Wailea. But the good news is I can mosey on down to Jamba Juice and buy several Aloha Pineapple smoothies and leave a small tip.  A very small tip.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to want to make a good living off your passion. Us newbie writers do dream of hitting bestseller lists and/or getting a call from JJ Abrams or Spielberg shopping for film options.  Dreaming is for free, and it lightens the heart to indulge in it from time to time.  But sometimes we get so caught up in trying to hit it big we lose track of why we write in the first place.

During the first two weeks I was obsessively clicking the refresh page on my sales or seeing if anyone commented on my blog or if anyone posted a review on Amazon or other retailers.  FYI to all of you, good reviews are the nourishing nectar of new books. Without them your book will waste away like a pudgy kid waving a car wash fundraiser sign in the hot summer sun. I’m just saying.

Continuously clicking on your stats nonstop is the royal road to frustration and irritation. And there’s also envy as you compare yourself to your more successful peers. Envy builds up a lot of negative energy and bad juju that you don’t need when you’re trying to plan your next book. Nothing blocks you more than looking at someone on the bestseller list who has no business being there, who got there through lame dialogue and half-baked writing. Yep, you know who you are. Hang your head in shame as you cash your royalty checks. It’s all blood money.

So anyway, back to the whys and wherefores of writing.  I asked myself direct questions that demanded honest answers. Would I write even if I know I’d never be famous for it? Would I do it even if I’d never be able make a good living from it? I decided that even in the midst of scarcity and obscurity, I’d still do it anyway. I’d still do it for the sheer delight of creation. I’d do it for the giddy feeling I get when the dialogue is sparkling and the writing is flowing. And even if no one else read it I’d still go read it myself and write another book just for the hell of it. It’s a painful, soul-stretching task to craft a story but there’s a lot of joy in there as well.

I’m reminded about a quote I heard from a cop show.  A veteran officer was giving some advice to a rookie: “You're a cop because you don't know how not to be one. If you feel that way, you're a cop. If you don't, you're not.” That goes the same for being a writer. You’re a writer because you don’t know how not to be one.  

That’s why I’ll keep doing what I’m doing for as long as I can. And if at least a handful of people can live vicariously through my stories, then I know I’ve done my job. Fiction was always meant to make our real lives a little more bearable. It gives us a little mental vacation to watch someone else deal with far worse problems and come out on top.  Or not.  In which case you can just bask in a grateful feeling that your life isn’t quite as messed up.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Set Sail for Amazonia

It’s been a long time getting here but I can finally say that I am now an officially published author. Cue the confetti and welcome the “woots!”. My book is now part of the great big Amazon family.  My little brainchild is swimming in the gigantic tide pool of YA, trying to defy Darwin alongside glittering glampires and hungry female archers.

Needless to say, it wasn’t smooth sailing getting the ebook up for download. Something always tries to trip you on the home stretch. I believe that when you’re so close to achieving what you’ve always wanted, there are some dark, perverse forces out there that’ll do everything to thwart you at the final hour. For some bizarre reason, right at the time my wife and I were preparing my book for its launch, our two cats decided to shift into whack job mode.  They sprinted back and forth like their tails were on fire. One of them even tried to step on the keyboard right when we were trying to enter some vital information.

I’m convinced it’s got something to do with the fact that my first published book wasn’t the novel about them. Sometime last year I finished a novel entitled, Cats: This Ain’t No Musical.  It’s a fictionalized version of our cats, their friends and their adventures together. I was trying to write a children’s book but ended up creating a parade of gritty, unwholesome cat characters, a doggie mobster straight out of the Sopranos, and a lock-picking klepto Capuchin monkey.  Not exactly your Saturday morning cartoon. I ditched that train wreck of a draft and decided to focus on something else.

So anyway, my book is out there for your pleasure and perusal.  Just click its cover on the side and it’ll take you straight over to Earth’s Biggest Bookstore.  If you ended up here because you bought the book then I’d like to thank you for obliging this newbie author.  Don’t forget to write a review when you get to my Amazon page. Right now all that’s there are crickets and tumbleweeds, so do leave a note about my book to make the place a little less lonely.

I've included an excerpt here from the first few pages of The Cellar:

Daren wiped the blood off his knife and looked down at the twelve bodies at his feet. They were scrawny, their ribs showed, and they would’ve died on their own if he hadn’t killed them. He grabbed their tails—four at a time—with one fist and stuffed the rodents into his backpack, making sure the flap was buttoned before slinging it over his shoulder. Two days of tracking and all he could show for it were twelve puny rats.
Lara’s absence only made him feel worse. Something must have happened to her. She had a sick mother and three siblings to feed, yet she hadn’t shown up to hunt in over a week. He considered looking for her village to check up on her, maybe even bring her a couple of rats. But bursting in unannounced with a gift would be taking their relationship a step too far. They had never been more than friendly competitors, and he certainly couldn’t afford to part with any of his kill—not with his village always on the brink of starvation. Yet as he recalled her red hair and green eyes and the deft, graceful way she held her club before the kill, he couldn’t help but wish they could be something more.
In the fading light, the perennially gray landscape turned a shade darker, and Daren pushed away all thoughts of Lara. He needed to focus on getting home. With game now scarce in the usual places, he had gone farther than he had previously dared. To make it home in time for supper, he’d have to take a shortcut. And that was exactly what he was afraid of.
He walked briskly under a blanket of ash clouds. Most of the vegetation had receded, and the topsoil had been carried off by dust storms. None of this disturbed him. In all his seventeen years, the skies have always reflected the starkness of the earth.
Taking a sharp right, he passed through a wasteland of dry hills and stunted shrubs and kept on until he stood at the edge of the Dead Fields. There wasn’t much to see: an expanse of wilted crops, a roofless shack, and a line of trees in the distance that marked the entrance to the forest. He’d recently heard about strange happenings in that vicinity. Traders who had gone there had warned the villagers about getting too close to the area. “The spirits have awakened from their slumber,” they had said in hushed tones.
Daren took a few tentative steps and checked around. The shack, with its rotted wood and boarded up windows, remained still and empty. A light breeze played over the cracked earth, ferrying dust around dried stalks of wheat. With a deep breath, he marched forward, the stalks crackling under his feet as he stomped on them. His village lay somewhere beyond the trees. He just had to keep one foot in front of the other, and he’d be at the gates in less than an hour.
He stopped when a ripple appeared in the air right above him. It looked like a thin film had momentarily swept over his field of vision. He rubbed his eyes, blinked, and saw nothing. Three more steps forward and another ripple appeared. In that instant, the fields and the shack seemed like a reflection distorted by a hurled pebble. He waited, his neck hairs tingling, afraid that he had disturbed something. Nothing else happened, but a sudden urge to get away overwhelmed him and he sprinted toward the forest.
When he got to the forest entrance, he paused and took a few breaths to calm himself. He hoped the mysterious force haunting the fields would allow him to pass unharmed. Daylight was dimming, and since he had run out of torches, he’d be groping his way through if he delayed any longer.
The strangeness he witnessed in the fields might extend into the woods—and he shuddered at the thought of having something dart out at him in the dark—but he steeled himself and entered it. Naked branches stretched forth like crooked fingers seeking to pierce the cloud cover, hoping to reach the sun, but failing in the attempt. Each trunk now stood in silent vigil to its own death.
As Daren made his way through the forest, fear pricked at the corners of his mind and tried to drive its way in. In his peripheral vision, he saw figures lurking, but when he whipped his head around to look, they disappeared. He sighed. A trick of the light. But a few more yards into the forest, he saw a green glow coming from the trees ahead. It didn’t flicker like a torch; it remained steady. He had never seen anything like it.
The eerie glow sent cold dread through his body. A ghostly figure seemed to move out from behind a tree, and he turned away and bolted as fast as his lungs could bear. Terror fueled his mad dash as he imagined the specter floating just above—about to swoop down and snatch him. The trees melted into fleeting blurs as he barreled his way through. Low lying branches whipped his face and arms as he kept on running. Roots threatened to trip him at every turn. He staggered and almost fell when he stubbed his toe on one of the larger ones. It was as if the entire forest had conspired to attack him.
Relief washed over him when he finally broke through the maze of trunks, though he kept on running until he was far enough away from the trees. He bent down and heaved in several mouthfuls of air. Behind him, the forest was a black outline against the evening sky. No green light was visible and nothing pursued him.
Now that he was out of the forest, he could think clearly, logically. As his heart rate slowed, he began to doubt that he’d seen the strange ripples or the cloaked figure lurking in the trees. Maybe it was just the fatigue brought on by the hunt. He’d pushed himself too hard and probably just needed a long rest.
He released a sigh when he saw firelight in the distance and columns of chimney smoke rising up from his village. As he got closer, he recognized the pile of rocks encircling the settlement—the bones of former dwellings blasted in a long forgotten disaster. The wall was about ten feet high, a bulwark against the terrors of the open wasteland. He always felt protected whenever he was inside it. It kept safe everything dear to him—kept everything from wasting away like the rest of the landscape. He loved his village because he never felt the need to guard his back. The comforting wall of rubble did that for him.
He approached a rusted iron gate covering the rock wall’s only entrance. Just a few more steps and he’d finally be home. He would find his cot, lie down, and sleep away the fear and the weariness. He placed his hand on the gate and was about to enter when a red-haired young man wearing a patched leather jacket swung it open. He seized Daren by the throat and flashed a knife. Daren struggled against the man’s grip, but when he felt the blade press under his chin, he froze in place.
“You’ve got some nerve trying to barge in here.” The man pushed his thumb against Daren’s windpipe. “Who sent you?”
Daren responded with a faint wheezing noise.

Oooooh, cliffhanger!

Ciao now.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

I am Writer. Hear Me Roar.

Here's to announce my latest foray into cyberspace. Look out everybody!

That was my roar in case you weren't entirely sure. So, if you roar in the woods and nobody hears it does that mean you actually roared? Well, I heard my own roar and I was mildly impressed by it. Almost made me raise an eyebrow.

Writing a first blog post is pretty much like doing a monologue in your closet.  I could go all Edward Snowden here and spill all the dirty clandestine government doings and I still won't need to crash at consulates of non-extradition countries. That's the bright side of obscurity.

From the title it's obvious that I'm an author. And the biggest struggle of any writer is always finding out what's beyond the blinking cursor. What hidden worlds are lurking just beyond that vertical line that appears and reappears like a haunting specter? Beyond the cursor the Muse is sitting on her giant mushroom and blowing smoke in the shape of broken hearts into my face. Hearts of bards, playwrights, and tale tellers that she's crushed by her mad caprices––daring me to mess with her. 

So anyway, I'm very close to launching my first book in a few weeks if the stars align like they should. It's entitled The Cellar: A Post-Apocalyptic Novella.  I decided to insert "post-apocalyptic novella" into the title because the last thing I need is a disgruntled reader who is looking for how-to manuals on tornado shelters.

Here's a brief synopsis of the book for your perusal:

A hundred years after The Event, the earth has become a vast, barren wasteland.  In this dying world, seventeen-year-old Daren has become the sole hunter for his village.  But food is scarce, and it’s only a matter of time before they all die of hunger or worse . . . until he discovers a can of beans, new and pristine, as if fresh from a factory.  But where did it come from?  And will he discover its source in time to save his people?

I hope that whets your appetite for more than just beans. And in case you were wondering it was Bush's Baked Beans with favorite. Of course, Daren couldn't read that due to the end of civilization and no school and Twitter and all that.  It's essentially YA since it's told from the viewpoint of a teenager. I expect to write a lot more YA books with apocalyptic and dystopian themes in the near future.  I intend to dine as a giddy author/fan in the same cafeteria as the greats who have gone before me. If I'm half as lucky as I deserve to be I'd like to sit a lunch table away from the likes of JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins and Cassandra Clare. And also Veronica Roth. Although, I'm not entirely sure how weird it is to admire and emulate someone who's actually younger than me. 

Thank you for visiting my maiden blog post. I hope you'll stop by again for more musings and ravings courtesy of me.  And I hope you've come closer to considering having my little book as your cozy little beach read.  Because nothing says cozy like survival in a dying world.