Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Want To Help The Authors You Love? Get Your Library To Stock Their Books!

As most folks know, my cat noir novel Marked Territory was released on the first of this month. Earlier this year I also put out my short story collection The Rejects, and the year before that I released my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife. While most of my regular readers might know about that, what you might not know is that I'm friends with a lot of librarians (mostly thanks to being a tabletop gamer and spending a lot of time at cons).
While some of them buy my books when they come out, sometimes the books I write aren't to everyone's reading taste. But what they can do for me is put in the paperwork to make sure their libraries, at least, have copies of my work on the shelves.
As I so often say, a sale's a sale, I don't care where it's coming from.
And that might sound like one of those backroom, sweetheart deals that you only get by making a lot of friends in places of authority who will do you a favor, but that's only partly true. Because if you have a library card, then you are actually in a position to influence your library's buying habits... and to help out the authors you want to support.

Make Your Voice Heard (And Help Out A Writer)

There are a hundred and one reasons not to buy a book. Maybe it's that the book isn't in a genre you're really interested in, or it's from a series you're not big on, or you just really don't have the spare cash to spend at the moment. But if you want to do something to help an author, and to get their book seen by more people, all it takes is a moment of your time to ask your library to purchase that book, and put it on the shelf.

Like this one, for instance!

It really doesn't take that much time and energy. If you're physically present in your library, ask at the front desk. Some libraries will have a document you can fill out, and others will have a spot on their website for you to make request. Every library will have their own system, but they generally listen to the people who actually use it tell them to get a particular book.

This is easier for traditionally published books, but libraries will often acquire self-published books as well if the demand for them is there.

If you just want to help an author out, you can consider your good deed done once you submit that request. For those who want to go above and beyond, though, actually check out the book once it has been cataloged and put out. Read it, leave a review, and tell your friends to do the same. Books that get checked out are kept in circulation, and letting someone read a book for free is an ideal way to recruit them into a particular author's fan following. And if a library receives multiple requests for more of an author's book list, then they're far more likely to follow through and actually get the books in question.

Lots of Small Gestures Add Up To Big Changes

Any time you stop to ask if something is really worth the effort, let me assure you that it is. Every book you buy, every link you share, and every review you leave makes a difference. Heck, even doing something simple like signing up for an author's email list (you can sign up for mine at this link or by scrolling down the page to get weekly updates) is one more drop in their buckets.

The thing is, it takes a lot of drops to fill that bucket to the top. So if you're looking for more things you can do to help the creators you love, take a moment to check out 10 Concrete Ways You Can Help The Authors You Like for more suggestions!

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Subverting Your Own Rules Isn't Clever, It's Just Bad Writing

When you write a story you are establishing the rules for how your world works. If vampires are destroyed by sunlight in your story, for example, then that is a rule in your world. If werewolves can only be harmed by gold instead of silver, it's your book, your rules. If spells need to be spoken aloud, and there need to be precise gestures with an implement such as a wand, a staff, or a beringed hand, then those are some of the foundation of your setting.
Because when you give your audience rules about the physics of your fantastical, they find it a lot easier to swallow.
They don't have to be complicated, just consistent.
A lot of authors run into a situation where they think the cleverest thing they can do to surprise their readers is to take those established rules and chuck them out the window when it's appropriately dramatic. However, that isn't a way to surprise your audience, or make you look clever... instead, all you're doing is pulling the mask off the villain at the end of the mystery and revealing it's a character no one could have guessed because the reader had never heard of them until that very moment.
Also, before we go any further, I wanted to remind readers that I have a newsletter now! So if you want to get all my updates you can sign up here, or at the form on the bottom of the page.

Readers Don't Like Cheats

Imagine for a moment you're playing chess with someone. It's a tight game, and things are getting pretty tense. Then, just when it looks like they're about to find themselves in checkmate, they declare that their last knight can, in these special circumstances, move all the way across the board to put the other player in checkmate.

Is it dramatic? Absolutely. But it's in direct violation of the rules of the game, and the other player would be well within their rights to tell the person trying such a stupid thing that if they're going to be a sore loser then they simply won't play with them anymore.

We agreed on the rules when the game started.

The same thing happens when you agree on the rules of your world. If you tell your readers that iron is a necessary component of spells, and that's why battle wizards wield cold iron staves and swords, then you can probably get away with using blood as a magical implement given that there's iron in it. That's unexpected, but it still falls within the rules you've described for your setting, and how things are supposed to work.

On the other hand, say that you made a big deal about how a legendary cursed item can only be destroyed by someone willingly sacrificing their own lives. If a character makes that sacrifice, the audience knows the consequences. You told them up-front that if someone does this of their own free will, they die. Period. End of story. So if you pull a last-minute trump card out of your behind so a character can make the sacrifice, but not actually die, all you've done is cheapen the story, and undermine the impact and stakes you set up in the first place.

You've done something worse, though... you've harmed your reader's trust.

Readers will accept all kinds of silly ideas and ludicrous explanations. They will put up with hackneyed premises, tired tropes, and shallow motivations. But the second you lie to them about how the world they're reading about works, you're actively hurting your credibility as their storyteller.

To be clear, we're not talking about gray areas where the reader isn't sure what's happening, or an unreliable narrator situation. If someone says that "most" wizards need to use a wand, or it's "common practice" not to transfuse an orc's blood into a human, you haven't told your readers that these things must be done in a certain way. You've admitted they might be uncommon or unusual, but you haven't said these things are impossible. You've given yourself some wiggle room for legitimate surprises.

It's when you directly contradict yourself that your audience is going to get pissed. When you tell your audience that something can't be done, or doesn't happen, and then you go back on that. Because once you lie to your audience about one thing, they can't really trust you when it comes to new proclamations. Are elves really the only ones who can perform these rites, or are you going to change that up when it's plot convenient? Are those black matter blades wielded by the dark army really impossible to counter, or will your hero find a heretofore unknown mystery element that can parry them? Can the Chains of Antioch truly bind gods and devils alike, or are they going to be broken just because it makes things easier for you?

You need your audience to trust you if they're going to come on this journey. So if you're going to lay down a rule, apply it consistently throughout the story. Don't just discard it when it gets inconvenient, or you'll find your readers may not wait around for you to explain yourself.

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my short story collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Key To a Book Deal? Luck, and Perseverance

I remember years ago when I was still a reporter for a small rag in town that I was asked to interview local author Kate Collins who had just released the 13th book in her ongoing mystery series (Nightshade on Elm Street I believe it was). I was thrilled with the assignment! It was partly because it's always nice to hear a fellow author hold forth about their work and process, but it was also because I wanted to talk to someone who was clearly more successful in the book racket than I was. I had the same burning question that I've heard asked in hundred different panels at a dozen different conventions now.

How did you do it?

Seriously, you got 13 of these, and it's not your only series!

The answer Ms. Collins gave was as honest as it was disappointing. All these years later, though, I can vouch for its veracity. None of us like hearing this, and none of us want to believe it, but the sooner you do, the sooner you'll be able to move forward with your career.

It's luck. That's all there is to it. All you have to do is make sure that you, or your manuscript, happen to be in the right place at the right time to close a deal, and you've got it made.

For her, it had simply been putting her manuscript in the right hands by pure chance. She'd submitted a romance novel to Viking more than ten years ago at the time of the interview, and it just so happened to catch the editor's eye while they were looking for the specific flavor she'd penned. It wasn't the font she used, the typeface she wrote in, or some trick of phrasing in her cover letter that made her stand out as more worthy of being read. It was just that she happened to get plucked off the pile that day.

Of all the authors I've spoken with over the years, this is the one commonality that all of us share. When someone asks how we got our books published it was never the culmination of a carefully enacted plan like something out of Ocean's 11. Without fail it's always been because of some random quirk of chance. Someone we talked to at a party, a friend of a friend who heard about what we did, or in my case impressing the right people at a panel.

It's Honestly How I Got My Book Contract

For those of you who haven't seen it yet, my new novel was released at the beginning of the month! It's a mean streets noir story about an alley cat from the Bronx who gets caught up in a pissing contest over turf rights on the south side. At first Leo's just there to help out a church mouse named Charity who's caught up in trouble, but the deeper he digs, the less sense it all makes. When all the twists and turns play out, though, he finds out why a ruined church has suddenly become... Marked Territory!

Come on... you know you wanna check it out!

I finished writing the manuscript for this novel toward the end of last summer, and I was letting it cool for a bit before I went over it and got it ready for submissions. And it was last November that I happened to be on a panel at Windy Con with Joy Ward and Walt Boyes, who in addition to being long-term authors in their own right also happen to work for Eric Flint's Ring of Fire Press. This wasn't our first acquaintance either; I'd met Joy a year before and we'd chatted after a panel I was on, which put us on smiling-and-nodding-in-the-halls terms.
Con folks will know exactly what I mean.

All three of us were on a panel talking about how to start your career as a writer. The three of us, along with Richard Knaak (whose books you should check out, by the by) were going back and forth, answering questions, giving advice, etc. We had a surprisingly large audience for a small con, and we did our best to just give them the facts. It was after another panel that I happened to be on with Walt and Joy that we found some time to talk about what we were working on. I casually mentioned that I'd just finished this novel that was, "A traditional noir detective story, with all the violence and intrigue, but the whole cast are street animals in New York City."

I was talking for about 30 seconds, just pleased to have some folks who understood what it was like to work on something that was simultaneously difficult, and sort of silly. I remember Walt just nodded, gave me a smile, and said, "So, when are you going to let me take a look at it?"

That was it. No submitting to a slush pile, no going through channels, no inquiries about an agent or asking to see my previous work. I just happened to mention a project that intrigued him, and both Walt and Joy had heard me talk about my experiences on the same panel they'd been on, and so he decided to take a risk on me. I speed-edited the manuscript in a week or so, and got it into Walt's hands as fast as I could.

The rest, as they say, is history.

But You Have To Keep Rolling The Dice

They'll come up boxcars eventually!

So it's all about luck? That's the secret?

Well, yes and no.

As I've said so often on this blog, it takes a lot of work to become an overnight success. It's possible that your very first reading on open mic night, your very first time sitting on a panel at a convention, or the first after party you go to, you're going to make that connection that sparks an opportunity. Like picking up the dice, and rolling double sixes straight out of the gate, it can totally happen.

That's not likely to happen, though. But the upside is that every event you go to, every panel you volunteer for, and every time you sit at a table in a dealer's hall or a signing event, that's one more chance for you to meet people. One more chance for your paths to cross with new nodes on your network, and for an opportunity to present itself.

The one piece of advice I can give, though, is this; don't try to stack the deck in your favor. Don't be nice to someone hoping they can introduce you to their agent, or chat them up just to get them to look at your book. That sort of thing happens all the time, and it's exhausting. There's also no surer way to completely shoot yourself in the foot, and practically guarantee that the person you're hoping will help you is going to slam the door in your face... potentially literally.

Just make connections with people. Be polite, be professional, be respectful, and just enjoy their company. When you take all that pressure off yourself (and more importantly off the people you're talking to), that's when you're much more likely to find an opportunity drops out of the sky, and falls right in your lap.

Want To Get All of My Updates?

At the insistence of several of my readers, I have finally decided to start a newsletter! The current plan is to put out one every Monday to offer a recap of all my articles, blogs, books, supplements, and other projects so that my readers never miss a trick.

You can sign up here, or scroll down to the bottom of the page (if you're on the web version, rather than the mobile version of my blog). Hope to see you there, and make sure to tell your friends! The first issue is coming out next week at time of writing, and I'm hoping to get at least 50 names on the list by the weekend.

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

For Morality To Have Meaning, It Has To Show Up On The Page

When we design our characters, we tend to give them at least some basic morals. The more page time a character gets, and the more high-pressure the situations they're put into, the more their morality comes into play. However, a character's morality is kind of like their superpowers... if you don't actually see them at work, then it's kind of tough to take them on faith.

Which is why you need at least one establishing shot before the stakes get raised.

Come on, how many powers is this guy gonna pull out of his ass, huh?

For The Audience, Seeing is Believing

If you're a comic book fan, you could probably name a dozen characters off the top of your head who have some kind of code that dictates their actions. Characters like Batman and Daredevil, for example, make a big deal out of the fact that they don't kill people (in their traditional comics, anyway). But for the audience to really accept that as part of their characters, we've had to see it in action to establish this as part of the characters' canons... and to understand what it means when they look like they might break that rule.

And now, some context for why this is a serious moment.

For those who haven't read the comic, or watched any of the film/TV versions of the character, Matt Murdock was blinded by a strange chemical that enhanced all his other senses to superhuman degrees. Training himself to fight while putting himself through law school, Matt becomes an interesting dichotomy. On the one hand, he is a lawyer who fights for the rights of people in court, while on the other hand he's a vigilante who solves problems with his fists. He's a devout Catholic, but he dresses like the devil. He truly believes people can change, and that they can be better, but there comes a time when a hard line must be drawn in the sand.

The fact that Matt doesn't kill people, even people who have done more than enough to deserve it, is a big deal. It's played up time and time again through his stories, and it's one of his big rules... second only to the fact that he doesn't use guns, even though his enhanced senses would make him an unparalleled marksman with some training.

This is why, when we find Daredevil alone in a hospital room with one of his major villains Bullseye (who is completely helpless), and he's holding a gun, it immediately lets the reader know something has gone deeply wrong.

In the issue in question, Daredevil relates a story about a little boy who admired him for who he was, and what he did. How this boy tried to stand up for himself, and to protect others, but he did it by grabbing his dad's revolver, and killing someone. A death that Daredevil now feels is on his hands. And the gun he's holding is the very one that was used in the shooting earlier. Then, just to drive the point home about how dark the place he's gone is, he keeps randomly putting the barrel against Bullseye's head, and pulling the trigger. Time and again we get nothing but a click.

It's not until the end of the story that we realize the gun was empty that whole time. But watching a man dressed like the devil play Russian roulette with his arch-nemesis isn't what gives that story its impact... it's knowing how utterly outside the bounds of the character's morality this situation seems to be at first glance. And even once the truth is revealed, understanding that Daredevil has tiptoed right up to the line, and may have gone past the limit where he could look in the mirror and honestly say he's doing heroic things when he puts that mask on, leaves the reader a little shaken.
But without that context, it would just look like grim for the sake of grim, and it would have zero impact whatsoever.

Give Us An Establishing Shot

In order for a character's moral code to play into the story, you need to let the audience see it in action. Maybe it's the vigilante who stops a murderer from falling to his death because everyone needs to get their day in court. It might be a character who tries to talk someone down who's hurt them, or who is clearly dangerous. Even something small, like being understanding when something goes wrong while the lead is under pressure, gives the audience a glimpse into who this character is when the chips are down.

That way, later on, it informs our feelings about whether or not something is properly dramatic. Is our tough private eye who doesn't carry a gun willing to take the shot when it seems he has no other option to save an innocent bystander? Will our hero forgive someone who's wronged him so deeply, or will he cling to the grudge he's nurtured for so long? How far will the protagonist go, and what lines will they cross, to get what they want?

If we don't have any frame of reference for these questions before we hit that point in the story, then nothing they do is going to be shocking or impactful. It's like telling the punchline of a joke without the setup... confusing, and unlikely to get the reaction you were hoping for.

If You're Looking For An Example...

This is a conversation I had, at least in part, while I was writing Marked Territory. Because out protagonist, the Maine coon heavy Leo, seems like a pretty decent feline. He tries to help where he can, and he isn't afraid to throw down when it's over something that matters. But when he gets pushed, they realize too late that there comes a point where an alley cat is going to do what comes naturally... and that isn't pretty for anyone involved.

Seriously, if you don't have your copy yet, you should get one today!

Like, Follow, and Come Back Again!

That's all for this week's Craft of Writing! For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, or my short story collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

A Book For Cat Lovers With a Taste For Noir, "Marked Territory" is Finally Out!

I've been sitting on this news for a while, but now that my new book has officially dropped it is time for me to tell you all about it. And if this is the first you're hearing about my novel Marked Territory from Eric Flint's Ring of Fire Press, then settle in for a bit... you're going to want to listen to this pitch!

Got your ears open?

At it's core, Marked Territory is a noir mystery thriller about a back alley heavy getting roped into someone else's problems. And the deeper he digs, the less things start adding up. So far so Bogart, right? The difference is that in this book our protagonist is a Maine coon named Leo. And before you start thinking that this is one of those books about animals solving human crimes, the rest of the cast are New York City street beasts, too. From Charity the church mouse, to Ringo Longtail the current mover and shaker among the south side's raccoons, every member of the cast is an animal of one variety or other.

The humans are still there, it is NYC after all, but they're just background characters. Sort of like how dogs and cats are treated in most other novels; there, but rarely noteworthy to the meat of the narrative.

And for those looking for the specifics, he's the back cover material:

"Leo does his best to keep his whiskers out of other people’s business. He’s perfectly content to spend his days stretched out in the sun, or wandering through his little patch of the Bronx. So when a south side mouse comes to him with a sob story about a pack of hound dogs trying to run her and her friends out of the abandoned church they call home, his first instinct is to walk away.

But why would a mouse be desperate enough to call on an alley cat for help? The raccoons on the south side have their paws in the mix, he discovers, and any deal the raccoons are tied up in is guaranteed to get messy. Add in the fact that the dog pack seems to have come out of nowhere, and Leo’s got more questions than answers.

Curiosity killed the cat, as the saying goes, but Leo isn’t going to stop digging until he figures out exactly why St. Bart’s has become… Marked Territory!

Wait a Minute... This Sounds Really Familiar...

If you'd a longtime reader of mine, this might sound like a familiar premise to you. You're not imagining things, either. You see, Leo first came onto the scene a few years back in my short story "Stray Cat Strut" in the collection From a Cat's View. In that story an old shelter mate of Leo's named Tigger calls in a favor to get the big bruiser to help an uptown cat find her missing sister. It's not a job he particularly wants to do, but a favor is a favor, so he starts digging... and uncovers something particularly sinister going on in a bad part of town.

For those who've read it, don't you fret... the Persian will be back again in future stories. And if you're not sure what I'm talking about, I'd recommend getting a copy of this anthology as well so you can get the complete history of Leo and his adventures to-date.

You have not heard the last of me...

So... Is This The Start of a Series?

Ideally, I'd like it to be! People who know me as a writer know that I'm not really big on writing series, but I've got plenty of future cases for Leo to take up if a tomcat enforcer with a bottle brush tail and a chip on his shoulder is something the readers out there would like to see.

But, as with anything else, what's really going to decide if that happens is the audience! So if this is the sort of thing you'd like to see me develop and expand on, make sure you get your copy of Marked Territory as soon as you can! Then after you give it a read, drop a rating and a review on it, and don't forget to tell your friends and family to give it a read as well.

Because if the demand is high enough then I'll have no other choice than to give you what you want, will I?

Also, for those who are still on the fence Amanda Lyons has a lovely review up at PetLife!

Like, Follow, and Stay Tuned!

That's all for this week's Business of Writing! If you'd like to see more of my work, take a look at my Vocal archive, or at My Amazon Author Page where you can find books like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife as well as my recent collection The Rejects!

If you'd like to help support my work, then consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page! Lastly, to keep up with my latest, follow me on FacebookTumblrTwitter, and now on Pinterest as well!