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A Tone Too Far

In light of recent posts, I started to really look at tone. As when it comes to writing. Of all the points of writing, I think tone has to be one of the hardest to master. How I may write something, may be misconstrued by the reader. That then lead me to a question. Can informal writing–like blog posts and forums–help strengthen your tone when writing prose?

What got me thinking about this was my conversations with my critic and then how I worded a–now deleted–section of my review.

For my critic, I tried to show him areas of his writing that came off as antagonistic or arrogant. His claim was that he wasn’t being either and just stating facts.  Which I can see that it may have been his intention. But the tone with which it was written didn’t read that way. I mentioned to him that it is something I struggle within my own writing, to be clear as possible and watch for those areas that may come off as attacking.

Then, in my review, I stepped all over that struggle and then beat it with a hammer. After being published, I re-read that section of my review and caught just how accusatory and derogatory it sounded. But when I initially wrote it, those feelings were far from my mind.

What causes this? That disconnect?

The first thing that pops into my head is word choice. I really think that is the bulk of it. We have to be diligent about knowing what connotations each word can have. What can be said in person can’t always be transcribed to the written word.

Here is a great example:

Wow, that is stupid.

There are so many different ways we can take that. Which is why I’m thankful for dialogue tags and verbs. They are a huge help in clarifying dialogue. But how can we get that same kind of clarity in a blog post or informal online discussion? Should we all start writing descriptive text around our “dialogue?” That could be kind of fun. Have an entire AIM chat with dialogue tags and descriptive sentences. It would be like role-playing. But with far fewer dice rolls.

Though, I think that is why I am often tempted to use emoticons when typing on the internet. I see them as determinatives in hieroglyphs. A little visual marker to indicate the tone in which the sentence should be read. Which for me, tends to be a lot of smiley faces. Because I am an even keeled person.

But the writer in me is loath to use them in places like a blog post. Even on places like Reddit I am hesitant to use them. Possibly because emoticons are a crutch. If I can’t get my tone across through my words, then I should really rethink how I structured my sentence. And I really hope it is paying off in my formal writing.

Still though, the idea of writing everything as if it’s a novel does sound fun, right? Write.

Jeffrey reread his post and nodded with approval. Yep, he thought, another post that will be viewed by my mother and twelve others.

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A Formal Apology to James R. Tuck

I’ve had a corgdial exchange with the author of Blood and Bullets James R. Tuck. He was very understanding that I may not have enjoyed the novel, but he took issue–and rightfully so–with my insinuation that he stole or plagiarized any work from another source for his novel. I won’t bother going into detail about what it was, as I’ve also taken the step to remove that section of my review.

But I do want to take this opportunity to extend a sincere apology to him and whatever damage my words may have caused. I did not meet my original intentions with the review and after rereading my words, I see that I did overstep my meaning.

And as a fellow writer pointed out, sometimes we come up with ideas that other writers and creators have also seen. In my own work, I’ve got very big similarities to Harry Potter that I’ve been having to strike down and rethink. And instead of giving James the full benefit of the doubt. I made a gross error and overstepped my words.

This is a small literary world. An even smaller one when dealing with Fantasy and SciFi themes. I can only hope that James R. Tuck will not hold this against me in the future. Whatever damage I may have caused him, I will gladly pull onto myself.

I would also like to request that anyone who may have tweeted and emailed my original review, to send this apology along with the corrected review.

Thank you,

— Jeffrey N. Baker

Book Review: Blood and Bullets by James R. Tuck

On Friday I finished the book Blood and Bullets by James R. TuckI’d like start this review by mentioning that James is a local author for me. One of my writing group members, Matthew Quinn, is personally familiar with him. Before picking up the book I had emailed James with some questions about his experience with being published traditionally. He was incredibly gracious with his information and quick to followup with my emails.

According to James, from the point of writing the book to the time of publication was 14 months. Which 2 of those months were for the writing process. As like most of us, he collected many rejection letters over those months until finally being picked up by Kensington Books. Which is an incredible turn around. I’ve mentioned Brandon Sanderson a lot around here. It took him 8 years before his first book, Elantris, was published by Tor.

So I’d like to say congratulations to James on his three book deal.

The Review

First, the hook.

He lives to kill monsters. He keeps his city safe. And his silver hollow-points and back-from-the-dead abilities help him take out any kind of supernatural threat. But now an immortal evil has this bad-ass bounty hunter dead in its sights. . .

Ever since a monster murdered his family, Deacon Chalk hunts any creature that preys on the innocent. So when a pretty vampire girl “hires” him to eliminate a fellow slayer, Deacon goes to warn him–and barely escapes a vampire ambush. Now he’s got a way-inexperienced newbie hunter to protect and everything from bloodsuckers to cursed immortals on his trail. There’s also a malevolent force controlling the living and the undead, hellbent on turning Deacon’s greatest loss into the one weapon that could destroy him. . .

Told in first person POV, Deacon Chalk is suffering from what I’m calling, “The Punisher Syndrome.” He lost his family due to a monster attack and now has vowed to exterminate them all. He has guns and lots of them. And a fully decked out safe-house ready to stave off even the most dangerous foe.

What I enjoyed:

The Nosferatu. Granted, they weren’t actually in this book. But the characters have a conversation about one nesting in the Atlanta Zoo. He describes them as big, hairy, bat-like creatures that just live to feed. A lot of vampire lore shows Nosferatu as being the most monstrous of the vampire types, but I enjoyed just how far he took it. It is my understanding that he wrote a short story about this encounter called, That Thing At the Zoo.

I was also drawn to the side character, Larson. A kid who is trying to hunt down vampires but has no clue what kind of world he’s getting into. He has the book smarts, but not the practical experience. He is like the main character from Kick-Ass. He has an idea of what he’s trying to do, but just needs that right momentum and a bit of time to come into his own.

Unfortunatley we don’t get much time with the character as the book is told from Deacon Chalk’s point of view.

What I didn’t enjoy:

Two major points here.

First, is that I feel as if the book had a lot of padding to get the word count up. Throughout the book were several passages that reiterated the same concepts within just a paragraph of each other. Deacon spends a page and half telling us about his car. What seemed like the end of that thought he writes, “I drive it because I love it.” Then we get another paragraph more on the car and it ends with, “And I love it.”

Yes, we gathered that from the first time you said it. Maybe this is a minor quibble. But those things really stick out to me.

Second is the fact that the character Deacon Chalk is a Mary Sue (follow the link there if you’re not sure what that is.) I was constantly taken out of the story because of how much of a wish-fulfillment it was. Matthew mentioned to me that James does not shy away from the fact that Deacon is based on himself. And it shows.

Deacon has no real flaw. He is a bad-ass at everything he does. Everything he has is the best and he knows the best for everyone. I don’t mind an author basing a character on himself. But give me the dirty with the good. I want a fully rounded character.

It came down to the point that I could begin to predict the outcome of situations. The first ocurrance, and for my example, happens on page 69. Deacon and Larson are going to a drive-thru sushi place. They pull up to the speaker and then–

Leaning on the door, I spoke into the round speaker. “Hello, Katsumi, how are you and your honorable father tonight?”

In that moment I knew Deacon wouldn’t have to pay for his meal. I was tipped off from the fact that he knew the person by name and their father well. Two pages later and we get this–

I had helped [her father] get her back, and ever since then they never let me pay for sushi.

Yep.

Heaped on top of that was the fact that Larson had never had sushi before and said he didn’t want any because he didn’t like raw fish. Deacon pressured him to try it. Again, I knew that Larson would discover that he actually did like it. And it happened just like that. Why? Because the main character gave him the food. And the main character knows the best for everyone.

Final Thoughts.

I think James missed a great character and opportunity in Larson. For reasons stated above. He had a real struggle and the potential for growth in the story. In fact, he did have growth. But we really didn’t have a chance to examine it and get into his head to see it. And that was a disappointment to me. 

Blood and Bullets is something I’ll liken to an 80’s action movie. Lots of violence, guns, sex appeal, and all around bad-assery. With very little substance. And hey, many readers are looking for just that. Which is exactly what they’ll get from this book. I’ve got a friend that would probably really enjoy it.

As for me, I need more from the characters in the story. Something deeper to hold onto.

In the end, I have to remember that this is Jame’s first book. His freshman effort. He’s got two more books coming out and will have many more after that, I’m sure. He’s going to grow a lot and I’m always excited to hear when someone is able to get a book deal. We should never forget that finishing a novel is one of the hardest things a person can do. And James did it.

His second book, Blood and Silver, is slated for August 2012. It looks like Lycanthropes are on the order for this one. So, again, if you’re looking for more bullets and bad-assery, pick it up!

The Final Days

“Slip Drive” is on its final free days. I only had two days left on KDP Select so I decided to go ahead and use them up. I don’t have plans to renew my enrollment. I have other plans for “Slip Drive” and “Hiroko’s Tale.” I’ll make that announcement about mid April.

What is interesting so far is that “Slip Drive” hasn’t had the crazy upswing like it did originally. I wonder if I’ve hit a threshold and have had as movement on it as it will have. Which I’m not worried about. It’s all a test and I’ve been learning a lot.

Which brings me to something I want to clear up. I’m not expecting either “Slip Drive” or “Hiroko’s Tale” to start making a load of money. I never expected that. I released both of these stories as test runs for self-publishing and how to use KDP Select. Before I get into releasing any novels–which I’m still not convinced self-publishing is the de facto route to take–I wanted to start small.

And that was the right thing to do. Getting the word out there, just for a short story, was practically a second job. If this were a novel, I’d be working non-stop to get it into people’s faces.

This has been a great learning experience. I’m learning on what works, what doesn’t work, and how to leverage different social media outlets. At this point, I’ve even got myself a very outspoken critic. So I guess that means I’m doing something right. Though in their mind I’m doing horrible, terrible things and deserve to have my computer taken away.

Novel Update

I know that I haven’t given much detail as to what my novel is about. I’ve only mentioned that it is a YA Horror novel. It is my attempt to bring back the glory days of R. L. Stine’s Fear Street with a healthy dose of H. P. Lovecraft. The reason I haven’t dolled out the details is because I’m still early in the book and nailing down a lot of the details.

For instance, the main character’s name started out as Kevin Baxter. Moved to Louis Baxter and now has landed on Wilburt Nelson McEnroe. I think you can see why I haven’t brought it up much. I don’t want to confuse anyone more than I have to.

On that fact, I haven’t even nailed down an official title for the series or first book.

But I will say that it is coming along well. Chapter 7 is currently in the works. It has given me some trouble so I’ve had to start breaking down my timeline. Just so I can see how the stuff not happening on the page is working. Questions like, “What is the bad-guy doing right now?”, need to be answered. I have a lot of balls I’m juggling and getting them in the correct balance is troublesome at times.

Thanks for reading and keeping up with my goings on. Have a good weekend, and I’ll see you all on Monday. Right? Write.

Book Review: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians

Since I’m writing a YA novel, I felt it was a good idea to read some YA. I picked up Brandon Sanderson’s Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians for a couple of reasons. First, as I am writing YA I wanted to get my hands on books in the same genre. Second, my main character is a little engineer. He has a special helmet he designed with a scope and pen-light attached. On the front cover of “Alcatraz” is a boy with a helmet and lenses.

I was a bit freaked at first. Thinking that it was an idea I’d have to scrap if it were too similar. Thankfully these two ideas are very far apart.

The Book Review

Description:

The evil Librarians are coming!

A hero with an incredible talent…for breaking things. A life-or-death mission…to rescue a bag of sand. A fearsome threat from a powerful secret network…the evil Librarians.
Alcatraz Smedry doesn’t seem destined for anything but disaster. On his 13th birthday he receives a bag of sand, which is quickly stolen by the cult of evil Librarians plotting to take over the world. The sand will give the Librarians the edge they need to achieve world domination. Alcatraz must stop them!…by infiltrating the local library, armed with nothing but eyeglasses and a talent for klutziness.

I really enjoyed Sanderson’s overall premise. We are all living in the “Hushlands,” which is controlled by the evil Librarians. So everything you know to be true, is a lie. I won’t go into much more detail than that, but it comes out in some fantastic ways. It sets up the conflict really well and allows Sanderson to play against common knowledge.

This comes in primarily from how the book is presented. It is written in first person from Alcatraz Smedry’s perspective. Sanderson even goes so far as to have Alcatraz claim that the name “Brandon Sanderson” is a pseudonym and that everything in the book is true. And if the Librarians knew you had it, they’d freak.

What I found most interesting was how each Smedry has a unique talent. But these talents don’t appear useful at first. But when they come close to danger they manifest in fantastic ways. Alcatraz has the talent to break things. His grandfather, the ability to arrive late. And two cousins, where one trips and the other can only speak gibberish when in danger.

How Sanderson uses these talents for the character’s benefit is great. Primarily the grandfather. He’s able to arrive late to being shot. When he is eventually stabbed, the blood arrives late to the wound. It is these kinds of things that really separate a story like this from tales like Harry Potter.

But there are some hiccups, however.

Sanderson opted for the cliche of a boy destined for greatness. Which I think is the bulk of all YA. Maybe that is something that defines the genre. But I think it is time it was bucked. A kid can have an important impact to a story without having fate or destiny thrown onto his shoulders. Why can’t they decide that for themselves?

It feels like they don’t have much choice in the matter. That the main story happens to them. Rather than the main character seeking it out.

Another bothersome point was how every chapter,  aside from one (and he really hung a lantern on it), started with an aside from Alcatraz. The previous chapter would be in the middle of some action. Then, he’d break into some random thinking and world building before jumping back into the story at hand.

This broke the flow. I would have preferred to see him sprinkle these asides throughout the chapter and keep the pace up.  I’m not quite sure why he did it that way. But it didn’t work for me.

What I think hurts the most is that I wasn’t drawn to Alcatraz as a character. I believe it comes from the fact that he has the “chosen one” syndrome. I wanted him to be more active in the story rather than being drug along. He was an orphan that discovered he has a grandfather and then meets a bunch of his cousins. And has an “oh cool” attitude about it. Then trots along behind them on an adventure.

This is some weighty stuff for a kid to deal with. And the nonchalant attitude Alcatraz has to it doesn’t fit with me. Yes, there is a bit of naval gazing about it all and dealing with the fact he has a family. But it just felt too easy.

Overall though I enjoyed it. At 308 pages it was a fast read. And knowing Sanderson’s ability to write quickly, I’m sure this one was a breeze to him.

I don’t see myself picking up the rest of series, however. Probably because of how I feel about Alcatraz himself. Perhaps if he was more dynamic, then I’d go into the next book ready to root him on. Perhaps I’ll give them a try once I’ve gone through my backlog of books.

That won’t take long, right? Write.

The Forgotten Child

Oh how we often forget our first children. See, for those that are fairly new, SLIP DRIVE is my second story I’ve put up on Amazon. This entire endeavor started with me uploading HIROKO’S TALE. It is a sweet love story written in the style of an old Fairy Tale or Fable. It first appeared in the anthology FABLES FOR JAPAN back in August.

Well, after the release of SLIP DRIVE, I kind of let it fall to the wayside. I’ve been putting a lot of my energy behind getting SLIP DRIVE’s name out there. Possibly because SLIP DRIVE is longer and I felt had a wider appeal.

So how is HIROKO’S TALE doing on the Amazon market? It has moved 416 units with 9 of those being purchased sales (I’m just looking at US markets for now). The second question then becomes, how does that compare to SLIP DRIVE? Moved 350 units; 12 purchases and 1 borrow.

A very stark difference there. SLIP DRIVE has a few more reviews which I think supports my idea on how important they are. But in all fairness, I haven’t pushed HIROKO like I’ve pushed SLIP DRIVE. Mostly because it is not really indicative of my overall style and genre. And it was my first attempt at this crazy experiment.

However, I do have future plans for my little darling love story. Once it is done with the KDP Select program I intend to offer it for free on my website. Then, I’ll attach it to two more Japanese themed Fairy Tales that I’ve written for FABLES FOR JAPAN Volume 3. Both of those will need to be converted from sequential art scripts into prose. Which will be nice, because one of them — FIFTY TO ONE — will have room to be fleshed out. In its original form I had to cut it down from 24 comic pages to 4. I was sad to see a lot of the story cut. But what was left will make for a very powerful 4 page comic.

All of this will be coming once FABLES FOR JAPAN Volume 3 has been out for a while. So I don’t expect this three story anthology to be out until sometime this winter. But I’m excited for it because of how different it is from most of the things I write.

Other Future Projects

I’ve got a lot of irons in the fire right now. I’m doing some rewrites my next short story, THE AFTERLIFE HYPOTHESIS. It will appear in my forth coming SciFi anthology ALTERVERSE. Along with that I’m plugging away at my YA novel. My local critique group just read over chapters 5 and 6 and so far I’ve been getting very good reactions. It is exciting to see how pumped a few of them are when they get those next pages. Knowing that I’m on the right track puts a fire in my step.

And there is nothing wrong with a fire in your step, right? Write.

We Just Like to See the Number Go Up

I have a growing frustration with KDP Select. As some who have read my blog regularly can tell. I never expected SLIP DRIVE and HIROKO’S TALE to be super sellers that made me filthy rich. That would be an unrealistic goal for two short stories. But, based on testimonies I have read from others, I was expecting maybe five to ten downloads per week plus some Prime member borrows.

Yeah, hasn’t really happened. And having borrows is a joke.

Now, I’m not here to say I’m mad that I haven’t sold much of anything. That’s just how it is. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to know why. So I’ve set out to ask other users of the program their experiences and collect data. From myself, I’ve seen that I can get several hundred downloads over my free promotional days. But that only equates to something like 2.5 purchases later down the road. Not such an amazing return in my opinion.

So I asked others and watched on different blogs. And I’ve discovered something very interesting. Not many people have had borrows or many sales. But man, they love to talk about how many downloads they have. Keeping quiet that these are the free promotional ones.

On one particular blog, ePublishabook.com, they brought up Amazon vs Barnes & Nobles. In the comments people started touting their success with KDP Select. One user chimed in:

I doubt my sales on all the other outlets combined would have equaled the 650 I got from 2 days of Amazon promos. — Eileen Robertson Hammer

I congratulated her and then asked for her to clarify. Did she mean that the 650 were after the promo days? Or during the promo days? I’ve yet to receive a response. I suspect, based on her verbiage, that these downloads were of the free variety. And that being the case, I hate to break it to Eileen, but she didn’t actually see an uptick in sales. She didn’t sell anything. She gave away a lot however. So if you really look at it, her other outlets did in fact sell more. Because they actually sold.

Another user on that blog made a similar claim:

I have recent experience of the free promo on KDP Select. Over a three-day period, I had 1328 downloads. How this will convert eventually into sales is very hard to tell, but at least I’ve increased my readership! — Stuart Haddon 

At least Stuart has the good sense to realize that the free downloads may not lead to sales. And I even congratulated him. Compared to my experience, 1328 is a massive release. But what bugs me is him saying, “…at least I’ve increased my readership!”

I’m just as excited as the next creative person when someone enjoys our work. I truly derive enjoyment from it. But, at the same time, I’m in the business of supporting myself with my art. Just increasing my readership cannot be enough. And it shouldn’t be enough for any of us. We cannot be satisfied with that alone. Perhaps it is because of my Commercial Art background, I believe that being paid for your art is not a bad thing.

Art for art’s sake isn’t enough for me. And it shouldn’t be enough for you.

The Numbers, They Keep Going Up!

What I believe it all comes down to is that we like to see the number go up. Regardless of the reason. And perhaps it is why Amazon doesn’t have two columns in their reports. One for Free Downloads and another for Purchases. It would destroy the illusion. And I’m guilty of falling for this illusion, too. When I first started getting into self-publishing, I got super stoked to see my number of downloads rising. It’s exciting! People are reading (maybe) my work. My name is getting out there!

But that euphoria quickly subsided. I needed to know how to make sales. Not just give away free copies. I can give away free copies on my website.

I have one last part of this experiment. Short stories, so I’ve been seeing and reading, don’t get much attention. It is either books or anthologies. So that’s my next step. I’ll put together an anthology and see how it does. I haven’t given up on self-publishing. But so far, I’m not convinced it is this great revolution everyone is talking about. I think self-publishing is just like the old-guard. Only a small percentage will find success with it. It is just now there is a lot more white noise to sift through. Because everyone is so busy watching their free copies fly out the window and calling it “good.”

We shouldn’t settle for that, right? Write.

EDIT

I forgot to mention one of the posters that I did run into. The first person I’ve seen that has had success with the program. Her novel NEPHILIM GENESIS of EVIL has been borrowed about 50+ times in January and continues to be borrowed into this month (so she claims). So there it is. One person I can point to that says they’re seeing results.

How do the rest of us find those results?

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