Man of Steel, DC, and Marvel's Movie Universe

I haven't seen Man of Steel yet. Hey, we've got a 16-week old baby at home, I've got a book to write, and going to the movies isn't a huge priority.  So I'm not here to address whether MoS is good or bad or whatever.  For my part, what I've read makes me believe it might be a good movie, just not a good Superman movie, if that distinction makes sense.

But, again, that's not what I wanted to write about.

What, then?

Man of Steel

Man of Steel

Well, MoS made a tidy bit of cash in its opening weekend -- $125 million if you count its Thursday shows -- so now Warner Bros. and, by extension, DC Comics, is carrying on about how they're going to use Superman's reboot to launch an entire cinematic universe.  A MoS sequel.  A Batman reboot.  A Justice League movie.  Wonder Woman, Green Lantern (minus Ryan Reynolds), the Flash . . . the works.

This is, in my humble opinion, a huge mistake.

DC seems set to ape what Marvel has already done.  The problems with this, if I might highlight what I see as two immediate issues, are: (1) Marvel already did it, and did it exceptionally well, and (2) audiences are aware that Marvel has already done this (and exceptionally well, at that).

In other words, if DC and Warner Bros. want to make a big, loud noise, they should make their own big, loud noise.  Copying Marvel's big, loud noise?

They're going to look like they're, well, copying.

And no one likes a copycat.

Now, I realize this is a very childlike way to look at things.  To that I will respond: neener neener.

No, seriously.

DC has been trailing Marvel for a while now.  Yes, they had Nolan's Dark Knight movies, but I'll argue those movies were less comic book movies and more crime movies which just happened to feature a few comic book characters.  Anyway, Bale and Nolan are done and DC was already talking about reboots before The Dark Knight Rises premiered.

Still, DC was kicking butt.  Batman Begins kicked off the Batman reboot for them, and The Dark Knight, though invalidated by Rises, was, at the time, an excellent Batman movie (side note: the whole point of TDK, I thought, was that Bruce Wayne finally understood what it would take to be Batman.  What he would need to sacrifice.  What he would have to become -- then Rises comes along and shows us that he didn't learn that at all.  I'm there there are other sequels that completely broke their forebearers -- Highlander springs to mind -- but there can't be many, can there?)

It would have been the most natural thing in the world for Marvel to simply ape DC's, Warner Bros.'s, and Nolan's Batman success.

Instead, Marvel went and made fun movies.  They gambled on what was, at the time, characters from their B-list.  It might be hard to believe now, but at the time, Iron Man was not Marvel's most popular character.  The Hulk?  Prior to The Avengers, I'd bet most folks think of the theme from the old Bill Bixby TV series from when I was a kid.  Captain America and Thor?  Please.  That these movies worked at all is a testament not to Marvel's dedication to building a cinematic universe, but to their dedication to letting each movie stand on its own.

Okay, Iron Man 2 was a bit S.H.I.E.L.D. heavy.  It happens.  We all stumble.

Also, there's something else Marvel gets that I don't think DC gets: most of Marvel's comic book movies aren't actually comic book movies.

Captain America is a World War II movie.

Thor is, well, Thor is basically a fish-out-of-water comedy.

Iron Man?  It's almost a Die Hard movie.  A sci-fi movie.

The Incredible Hulk?  A monster movie, told from the perspective of the monster.  Incidentally, this is what Joss Whedon got so right with the Hulk in The Avengers: when he's the bad guy, it's because he's under attack.  But the Hulk just wants to get along.  He's not looking for trouble.  And when Captain America includes him in the team, that's all Big Green could ever ask for.

We're just going to ignore the Ang Lee Hulk movie.  Moving on . . .

Iron Man 2, arguably the weakest of Marvel's movies, is a comic book movie.  Iron Man 3, conversely, is sort of an unofficial sequel to Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, only with Val Kilmer's part played by a 15-year old boy.  The armor is the most important thing in IM2, but it's the least important thing in IM3.

Now DC's got a hit on their hands -- financially if not critically -- and they want to build on that.  Which is a good thing.  Really, it is.  But if they're going to build something, they should build their own thing.  Don't look at what's made Marvel and Disney more than two billion dollars and try to copy that.  You'll fail.  You will.  Partially because (as history shows, see also: Green Lantern) the success and/or quality of MoS is quite possibly a fluke.  Partially because a big part of the fun of what Marvel's done and is doing is the sheer novelty of it.

Also, for whatever it's worth, DC's comic universe has never felt as connected as Marvel's.  I was just reading today how the Wonder Woman in Justice League is almost a completely different character from the Wonder Woman in her own comic.  Why?  Allegedly because the writer of Wonder Woman had certain characters and elements he wanted to use, so he forbade the use of them in Justice League.

Would you see that in a Marvel book?  No, you really wouldn't.

Basically, I think DC should focus on walking before they try to run.  Or fly.  They've got one hit which could lead to bigger things.  They should focus on that.  In fact, if there's anything they should copy from Marvel, it's not the shared universe aspect of what Marvel is doing, but what I'd argue is the most important thing Marvel's done:

Hire interesting, passionate creators and let them do their things.

I mean, hiring Kenneth Branagh to direct a Thor movie?  That's brilliant.  That's freaking inspired.  I remember the day I read about it just shaking my head in wonder.

James Gunn to write and direct Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that's going to star a talking tree and an alien who looks like an earth raccoon?  Holy crap.  My head is spinning.

DC's got Zack Snyder and David Goyer and Christopher Nolan.  Okie dokie.  Now spread the love around a little bit.  Find passionate, talented people with visions for your characters -- and yes, look at characters other than your main superstars.  I think it was David Goyer joking online today about making a Metamorpho movie, but you know what?  A Metamorpho movie, done by the right writer / director, could be AWESOME.  This is a character who can turn his body into any element on the periodic table of elements.  Basically, a walking, ugly-as-sin MacGyver.  Oh, and his alter ego, Rex Mason, is an archeologist.  So: a super-powered Indiana Jones movie.  You're welcome.

Writing about it now, I almost wish James Gunn wasn't doing Guardians so he could start plugging away tomorrow.

Listen: DC can follow Marvel and probably put out a couple good movies.  I mean, if MoS is the gold standard of the new DC movie universe, the spectacle might be there, but the quality doesn't seem to be.  Plus -- again, going from what I've read -- Snyder / Goyer / Nolan seem to be missing the gleaming core of the character they've just made a movie about (hint: it's not Kal El's alien nature which defines him; it's the essential humanity instilled in him by his adopted parents).

Or, DC can sharpen their pencils and, instead of trying to fit the DC universe into a Marvel-shaped box, do their own thing.  Work out what fits for DC.  It might be riskier, they might fail, but at least they'll be creating their own thing.

That's what it's all about, after all.  Creating your own thing.  Writing to find out what this story in your head will turn into on the page, on the screen, wherever.

On Wisconsin

I didn't do any writing this weekend. Wellll, that's not exactly true; I wrote this, "My kitchen is a damned mess."  That's the possible opening line to a short story (set in the Painted Ocean universe) called, The View Never Changes.  It's another case of my having an idea that didn't seem to work, then stumbling onto a really neat, interesting way to make it work.

But I digress.

I didn't do any writing this weekend.  I had my laptop, to be sure, but that was mostly a what if type of thing.  A just in case type of thing.

I didn't do any writing this weekend because Jessy, Layla, and I went away to Wisconsin for the weekend.  My friends Chris and Janice were getting married and there was no way we were going to miss it.

bucky

bucky

How was the wedding?  It was wonderful.  It was perfectly Chris and Janice.  They had a tent up in their backyard, they had a band and BBQ and friends and family.  There was a monstrous thunderstorm right in the middle which everyone seemed to enjoy.  People were dancing in their muddy feet.  Layla partied until she literally collapsed in my arms; I had to carry her back to the car and she didn't wake up until we got her back to our hotel room.

It was great.

We were away from Thursday night to Monday night.  The wedding was in Madison, which is not-coincidentally where Chris and I went to college together.  It's also not-coincidentally the city where Galen Winters (the main character and narrator of Beautiful Handcrafted Animals) went to school.  The story isn't biographical, and a lot of my references are somewhat dated -- the city is so different and so similar it's rather eerie -- but we had a good time pushing Layla around State Street, the main road which connects the college campus with the state capitol.

Madison is one of those cities where, when you visit, it's difficult to leave.  There's just so much to do, and see, it almost seems impossible it's all crammed into one place.  I write this as a (more or less) lifetime New Yorker, so I know a thing or two about densely-packed cities.  We spent four days and four nights there, visiting old haunts and exploring new ones, and we didn't even scratch the surface.

For me, Madison is magical.  Wisconsin is magical.  I've always felt my four years in college were really where I came into my own as a person.  I did a tonof writing when I was an undergraduate.  Most of it wasn't very good (though there are stories I'm still quite fond of, warts and all), but I firmly believe it's important to do a lot of bad writing before you can get to the good stuff.

We're home now, after some silly delays the airline tried to blame on weather which -- hey, I've got a supercomputer in my pocket; I can see it's not raining in New York, so don't try to lay your crap off on Mother Nature -- didn't, strictly speaking, exist.  Life marches on.  But it was nice, as I'm chugging along, finishing up The King's Glamour and leading up to what will hopefully be the final revision on Beautiful Handcrafted Animals, going back to my roots (so to speak).

I think everyone has a place that's like Madison for me.  The place where, though it might not be home, it's maybe better in some ways.  It's your place, the place where you don't have to recognize the new buildings or even remember exactly how to find your way around the old streets, but it's still the place you know.

I'll get some writing done tonight.  Maybe I'll polish off Chapter Eleven in the next few days.  Is that because we were in Madison this weekend?  Did I charge my batteries?  Nah.  But I'll be remembering sitting in my dorm room, hunched over the keyboard of my old, old Macintosh LC (a powerhouse of a computer if ever there was one -- it had an external tape drive!), working on stories I thought were so important and which, it turns out, truly were, only not in the way I thought.

Madison.  Always good to know you can go home again.

Clarion 2013 Write-a-Thon

Write write write write. Write write write.

Write write write write write write write write.

And so on, and so on.

Yes, I am still alive.  Yes, I have been writing up a storm (and deleting up a storm as well -- Chapter Elven is kicking my ass, but I maybe sorted it out yesterday).

And yes, I have been a terrible blogger of late.  There just hasn't been the time and working on The King's Glamour has taken precedence over popping up to tell you how it's been going working on The King's Glamour.

What an odd sentence.

But!  News!  Stuff!  Clarion!

Clarion?

Okay.  If you're a writer of science fiction or fantasy, you've probably heard of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers' Workshop.  If you read the stuff, you may have heard of it too.

What you may not be aware of is the Clarion folks do a Write-a-Thon to raise money for the workshop.

Well, now you're aware of it.  Bonus points for everyone.

As of this writing, Glamour stands around the 70,000 word mark.  Structurally speaking, we're rounding the bases and heading for home.  It's exciting and fun and I really think folks who enjoyed The Seven Marketsare going to enjoy going on another adventure with Ellie and Company.

I figure there are about 20,000 words to go for the book.  Maybe a bit more.  Almost certainly not much less.  So when I learned of  Clarion's Write-a-Thon, I thought I might be able to two-birds-one-stone things a little bit.  I'm going to be writing anyway, right?  So why not use that to try and raise a little money for Clarion?

So here we are.

Go For It!

Go For It!

Here's my profile page, where you can go to support me in writing something I was already going to write: Clarion Write-a-Thon.  I haven't set a fundraising goal -- why limit what folks can give? -- but I have set a writing goal: 20,000 words.  As noted above, that should push us over the finish line.

There are two options for fundraising.  The first is a flat donation: for the sake of your sanity, this is what I'd suggest.  The second is a per-word donation.  For clarity: I will meet or exceed my goal of 20,000 words by August 3rd.  If you choose this option, you are a wonderful, amazing person, but make sure your wallet's ready for it.

Thanks for whatever support you can give, even if that support isn't monetary.  Just spreading this via word-of-mouth would be a tremendous help.  Once upon a time I was supposed to attend Clarion and I still consider that one of the great missed opportunities of my life.  That's the "nice" version of the story, but I hope you'll help me help someone else to make that dream come true.

Write Every Day: Gem-Tactics

Write-Every-Day-Type-Logo-Left-Aligned-Blue

Write-Every-Day-Type-Logo-Left-Aligned-Blue

Let's see if I can possibly format this so it looks good:

We play at pasteTill qualified for pearl,Then drop the paste,And deem ourself a fool.

The shapes, though, were similar,And our new handsLearned gem-tacticsPracticing sands.

-Emily Dickinson, Poem 320

When I was in college, I wrote short stories.  I wrote a LOT of short stories.  I'd inflict them on my friends, printing my little monsters out at four in the morning and running down to Kinko's to bind a half-dozen copies to pass around the next day.

Almost all of the stories were routinely terrible.

I didn't care.

Perhaps I should have cared more.  I didn't do much editing in those days; I was much too interested in whatever story I was going to write next to think about the people cowering in the closet, hiding from unseen monsters (or aliens, or robots, or whatever).

That story was done.  I'd finished it.  The notion that it might take two or ten or fifty more passes to get it to a true presentable state was unthinkable to me.

Editing?  I had writing to do!

I've since learned to edit myself.  It was a lot of trial and error, but I think I may, finally, be getting the hang of how to go through my stuff without demolishing everything in my path, how to refine without taking away so much it all starts to taste like chicken.

The first step was acknowledging that I had to edit at all.

The second step was resolving myself to the plain fact that first drafts are not finished stories.  Or novels.  Or whatever your particular brand of vodka might be.

Still, there is great value in first drafts.  There's great value in stories which might never, ever see the light of day (gosh, I'm terribly sorry poor college friends -- please forgive me).

All those terrible stories I wrote in college -- some of them with lone, glimmering ideas shining through the muck and the grime -- are collected in a single binder in a drawer or on a shelf somewhere.  And on the cover, in my own barely legible handwriting, are the words "Gem Tactics".

Yes, I lost the hypen.  Even then . . .

It might have been Freshman year when I picked up a beat up, used book of poems at one of the bookstores on campus I visited seemingly on a daily basis.  I wrote poetry in those days.  Nothing special.  Mostly just dipping my toes in the water, same as any other young writer getting their sea legs.  One of the poems I came across was Emily Dickinson's poem up there at the top of this post.

It struck a chord.

Now.  I wasn't nearly as self-aware then as I pretend I am now, but some part of me recognized that the stories I was writing, often churning out five- or ten-thousand word  stories in a single night, they weren't quite up to snuff.  Bad?  Maybe.  Sometimes I'd go into a story planning it as an experiment.  Can I write an entire story showing an empty room, telling the story by the setting and not the actions of characters?

Stuff like that.

Some of them were genuine ideas.  Sometimes I just had a line I'd thought of -- Ernie floored the car and drove through the plate-glass windows, wiping the blood from his eyes with his free hand -- and I wanted to see where it would take me.

I was warming up.  Stretching my legs and back before getting onto the treadmill (in those days, I might only have needed to stretch my legs -- ah, time).

This is a valuable thing.

No one runs the marathon on their first try.  It took me two National Novel Writing Months before I was confident I could see a novel through to its conclusion.  Not from the standpoint of "do I have a story to tell?" but from the standpoint of "can I physically and mentally sit, night after night, and tell a story?  Can I pull that thread every night until I unwind the whole sweater?"

Writing those terrible short stories was my first step toward that goal.  I didn't even know that's what I was doing -- imagine Ralph Macchio in The Karate Kid waxing Pat Morita's cars -- but it was.  At the time, I was just having fun.  Playing around.

And every night, like clockwork, there I was, hunched over in the dark typing away whatever odd little something had caught my crow's eye that night.

Am I telling you to write?  Duh.  That's what this whole Write Every Day thing is all about.

But with this, I'm giving you permission to be awful.  To let yourself be awful.  To relish the awful as a necessary element of your growth as a writer.

Everyone writes a stinker; but every stinker has value if we can learn from it.  Learn what worked and what didn't.  Try to figure out why that might be.  Most importantly of all, see if you can spot your own voice coming through in your work.  What sort of writer will are you?  What sort of writer will you be?

Waiting to write until you're good enough to write will mean . . . wait for it . . . you're never good enough to write.  Let's see what's on TV.

If this blog was about weight lifting or hockey, I'd be telling you to hit the gym or get out onto the ice.  Wayne Gretzky didn't wake up one morning, throw on some skates, and magically become totally awesome.  He worked at it, day after day, for years on end.

Too often, the notion of talent gets waved, like a flag, over the heads of writers.  "If you've got talent, that's enough" is a sentiment most writers would do well to disabuse themselves of damned early.

Is talent important?  Absolutely.  Will talent get you where you need to go without practice?  Only in the very rarest of cases.  We're not talking about 1% -- we're talking about 0.00001%.  And that's a very optimistic number.

So, play at paste.  Write awful stuff.  Torture your friends and family and let yourself believe them when they, doing their best not to avoid your eyes, tell you, "No, I liked it.  This one was . . . I liked the . . . yeah!"

The pearls will be there when you're ready for them.  When you're confident in your own storytelling prowess so that story you've been holding close to your heart for years and years (mine's called Painted Ocean, and I'm hoping to write it in 2014) suddenly seems not only possible, but like something you could really do justice to.

Write.  Be terrible, be wonderful.  Have fun.  Marvel at how unreadable what you wrote yesterday was.  Write more today.  Eventually, you'll leave paste behind and find yourself creating pearls.

The Moment You Find Out What You're Writing

I'll tend to speak in generalities when discussing writing, but the truth should be obvious: I'm only speaking of my own experiences.  Keep that in mind through the next paragraph, which is going to read like I think this is true for all writers.  It might be; for all I know it is.  But I'm only talking about myself. So: there's a moment in the writing of any story where you, the writer, "gets" the story.  For some stories, this happens before the writing begins.  For others, it happens during the writing or even -- sometimes -- after the first (or second, or third, or fifteenth) draft is underway.

It's a great moment.  A fun moment.  And from that point on, the writing will -- in general -- go more more easily.

Unless it doesn't, of course.

Why am I telling you this?  Well, because I've had that moment recently in something I've been writing.

Twice.

Beautiful Handcrafted Animals

I sent this off to my amazing editor right around New Years.  It went with a note which basically read: Hey, I know this is broken, but I don't know how to fix it.  Tell me what you think, if it's ready for Prime Time or how extensive you think the changes are going to be to fix this.

Recently, my editor and I had a loooong talk about Animals.  I think she was afraid to tell me what she had to say.  Me?  I was ecstatic.  All her points were excellent and she really gave me something to think about.

And then, a few days later, I cracked it.  Really cracked it.  Figured out (I hope) exactly what needs to be fixed in order to make Animals be the book it wants to be.  Needs to be.

It's going to be some work, though.  Of course.  I'd originally planned on releasing the book in the Spring of this year.  That's obviously not happening now, but my informal goal is to get it out in time for New Years.  If that doesn't happen, I'd at least like to have a copy of Animals in my hands by next Summer.

The King's Glamour

Let me tell you something: sequels and series are hard.  Like: hard hard.

The Seven Markets was never intended to be the first book in a series.  I believe I've written about this before, but it bears repeating: the book was originally going to be a short story.  And I spent the better part of a decade returning to that story, writing a few pages, then throwing them out.

Then, sometime early in 2012, I realized Markets was a novel.

And I understood in a moment exactly what the book was.  The rest, as they say, was secretarial work.  Typing it up, in other words.

Glamour, by comparison, didn't know what it wanted to be.  I had an idea -- of course -- but no details to go with that idea.  I realized, somewhere around the end of Markets, that I had more stories to tell in this world.  That Ellie's adventures were not done.  So: series.  Trilogy.

But I didn't "get" Glamour.  I know there was something there, and sincerely hoped whatever it was would reveal itself to me in time.

Groan.

So, when I figured out what sort of book Glamour was, when I figured out how it followed Markets and what it would mean to the world of the Market, it was like a switch throwing in my head.  Right now I'm technically working on the second draft, but this version is so distinctly its own thing I don't need to go back to the first draft.

I don't think I need to go back to the first draft.

A Brief, Odd Detour

This is the last thing I wrote last night, before stumbling off to bed. Please note: this was for The King's Glamour, the follow up to The Seven Markets.

We weren’t prepared that first year. We listened to the stories on the radio and kept driving without stopping, without using the restroom, and without

It just ends there.

The first bit, "We weren't prepared that first year", that's right in context for what's going on in Glamour.  The line which follows, about the stories on the radio and driving without stopping, there's pretty much no way that can fit into the world of  Glamour, which is a fantasy world (with some sci-fi trappings which Ellie brings herself).

I've been thinking a lot about the rewrites for Beautiful Handcrafted Animals. I suspect my mind wandered away from Ellie's story to Galen's for a moment there.

Write Every Day: The Twenty-Fifth Hour

I tend to think a lot about time. Not time-travel -- though I do like to both read and write about time-travel.

Time.

This might sound a little grim (at first), but time is the one completely inflexible commodity we've got in this world.  You're going to have exactly as many years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds as you're going to have.  And that's it.

Time.

What we choose to do with our time -- or what our time chooses to do with us -- says a lot about how we live our lives.

Write Every Day

Write Every Day

Now.  You're probably expecting some quasi-inspirational "make your time work for you" time-management post, where I try to help you organize yourself and squeeze a twenty-fifth hour out of the day so you can get all your writing done.

Nope.

That's not what this post is about.  Well, not really.  Maybe by inference.  Basically, you can apply what I'm going to write about, if you like, and it may help you find that mystical twenty-fifth hour we need to get all our stuff done -- but that's not what this post is about.

I like to think about my activities as falling into two categories: replaceable and irreplaceable time.

Replaceable time is anything you're doing that -- hey -- it doesn't matter one lick if you do it some other time.

Irreplaceable time is anything that, if you don't do it now, right now, it's gone forever.

So: spending an hour with your family or going to see your team in the World Series (if that's your flavor) would be irreplaceable time.

Parking on the couch and watching an old movie on television, that's replaceable time.

The problem is this: we, as a people, tend to spend a LOT of our time on the latter.  Often, I find, at the expense of the former.

Weird, huh?

I think of my writing time (oh boy, here it comes) as irreplaceable time.  I wrote for a couple hours last night and the words I got are words I would only have gotten by spending the hours I spent last night writing.  If I'd been feeling poorly, or if Jessy had needed me to tend the baby, could I have written that particular scene, say, tonight?  Sure.  But it'd be different.  And the scene that would have been would be lost forever.

It's worth noting here that I don't want you to drive yourself crazy always thinking "bloody hell, if I don't write RIGHT NOW I'm going to lose this genius scene forever and ever and ever!"  Don't do that to yourself; if I'd gone to bed early last night, the scene I'd write today might have been just as good, if not better, but then I wouldn't be writing the scene I'll be writing tonight . . . and so on.  Basically, it's a wheel and the more it turns, the better it turns.

So, do we do this as an exercise?  Grab a notepad and pen and divy things up into two columns?  Hell no.  Most of this is common sense, after all.  And hey, I am not trying to discount the absolute necessity for down time.  For clarity: there are absolutely times when sitting and staring at the television (or browsing the internet) is necessary for one's continued sanity and presence of mind.

We all need down time.

The problem, however, comes when we're letting the things we'd fit into our irreplaceable time be submerged by the replaceable things.  When we comfort ourselves and say okay, I'm just going to visit one more site and then I'll start writing.  Well, that's fine -- but make sure you do kill the browser and get to work after that site.

I am guilty of failing to do this.  Hey, it happens.  Some days you just want to veg.  And -- as I've written before -- sometimes it's okay to veg.  Sometimes that's just what the creative part of your brain needs in order to be creative.

But the trick, the constant trick, the always trick, is to try and create the good habit of making sure the things you slot into the irreplaceable category (oh, admit it, you got a pad and pen) win out more often than not over the things in the replaceable side of the page.

I'm tempted to give you an example of some of the things I'd consider replaceable versus irreplaceable.  That's a trap, though; once upon a time I'd boot up my Super Nintendo and play a half-hour of some Super Mario game before writing.  Did it like clockwork.  And it was the perfect mental sorbet to get the taste of the day out of my brain.

Helped me find the twenty-fifth hour.

What's one thing for me might be another thing for you.

And, honestly, it can change from day to day.  If I'm knee-deep in a book I'm reading and I need to push through and finish it, no amount of willpower is going to let me sneak past that so I can write.  But here's the thing: more often than not, when I give in and curl up to read, resigned that I won't be writing tonight, not ten minutes later the act of reading fuels a burst of inspiration which sends me hurtling to my laptop to get writing.

Basically, I think the important thing is to own your decisions.  If you feel you need to watch that movie you've seen a hundred times before you can get anything done, go for it.  Actually, here's a tip: if you're watching the movie (or show, or whatever) digitally, skip around and just watch your favorite bits.  Or -- I do this a lot with episodes of Doctor Who -- just watch the last eight or nine minutes.  That's enough to get the cool conclusion, enough to settle into your chair before working, but not enough to eat up the whole work session.

My intention is not to have you listing off the things in your life you can live without and then simply eliminate them.  Writers aren't monks.  We don't need to sequester ourselves away in a six-by-six cell for a year in order to churn out fiction.  I'd argue that's bad for creating fiction.  Writers need outside stimuli.  We need to see what's going on out there.  Spend too much time staring at your screen and you're just going around in circles.

But when you have a choice, when you're sorting out your day, prioritize the things that, if you missed them, they'd be gone forever.  Play with your kids.  Cuddle your significant other.  And fit your writing time in there.  Make sure writing is a thing necessary to your life and not a thing you'll get to later, if you have a chance, if you can fit it in.

Make sure your writing time is irreplaceable.  Not at the cost of other irreplaceable things, but right there alongside them.

After-note: I used to work with this guy who once put in for twenty-five hours of billing in a single day.  Basically, he worked on Friday until midnight, then got stuck on the job when someone else called in sick until midnight Saturday, at which point we were able to get a replacement on-site so he could go home and collapse.

When he put in his hours, he showed twenty-four hours of work for Saturday-- and one hour of travel time.

He discovered the twenty-five hour day.  I've always been jealous.

Another Little Milestone

I'm finding that part of the whole self-publishing thing is discovering little milestones.  Which is to say, stuff I hadn't thought of previously which, when they occur, I stand back and say, "Wow, that was pretty cool." As an example, at 12:02 am today, I received the following message, via Facebook, from one of my old World of Warcraft pals:

I dunno if you saw this. But the webcomic unshelved posted a review of your book.

Unshelved Review: The Seven Markets

By odd coincidence, I'd seen the review myself a few hours earlier; I'd even pulled a quick quote from it that I particularly liked, comparing Ellie's adventure with, of all things, Joe Halderman's The Forever War.  Let me tell you, if you wanted to make my head swell about ten sizes bigger, you could do a lot worse than comparing my story to The Forever War.

The cool thing about all this -- apart from the review, which eschews stars or thumbs or a 0 to 10 scale and just discusses some story basics and the reviewer's thoughts -- is that this is the first time one of my friends has spotted something book-related of mine out there in the wild.  Without my pointing it out to them, that is.

Turns out, if you're, well, me, that's a very cool feeling.  So, thank you, Wesley, for letting me know about the review.  And thank you for showing me another little milestone I didn't know existed.

Writing Tools: Freedom

For a writer, there's no greater tool -- or obstacle -- for writing like the internet. All the accumulated information on the planet nothing more than a keystoke away?  Want to know what they called those little windows in castles for shooting arrows at invaders?  Want to know the correct name for those long, angular sleeves you always see ladies wearing costume dramas?  Want to know, well, anything at all?

Hello, internet.

But, along with the everything you also get the everything else.

Click through for pictures of castles but why not check out that silly Monty Python video?  You know, the one with the guy doing the bad French accent?  Then Youtube wants to show you the killer bunny, or a clip from A Fish Called Wanda.  Or maybe -- God help you -- you start looking at captioned cat pictures.

Wait . . . weren't we writing?  Crap, when did it get so late?  Well . . . guess I'll get some work done tomorrow . . .

Hold on, folks.  As always, I'm here to help.

Let me introduce you to the best ten dollars I've spent in my entire life: Freedom.

What is Freedom?

It's an app you install on your computer.  It costs ten dollars.  It got its start on Mac, but it's also available for Windows.

What Does it Do?

It turns off your internet.  Boom.  That's it.  Open it on your computer before you start writing, type in how many minutes you intend to work, and you're off to the races.

Here's what the main window looks like:

Freedom Main Window

Freedom Main Window

That's pretty much it.  Hit OK and you'll get to choose whether you want to kill everything or allow for local traffic (like, if you're streaming media from another computer in the house).

What's So Great About It?

Freedom's strength is in its simplicity.  It literally does one thing: turn off your internet.  And it does it very well.  Short of rebooting your computer -- which is just enough of a pain in the butt to feel like giving up -- you can't make it go away.

Now, the technically-inclined writers out there -- my brothers and sisters! -- will say: "Pssh!  I don't need a ten dollar app to do this!  I can do it myself!"

Sure you can.

But you don't want to.  Firstly because it's annoying digging into your Preferences to turn off -- really turn off -- your internet.  And secondly because if you do things that way there's nothing stopping you from turning it all back on.

Freedom is amazing because it just does what it's supposed to do.  Want to take two hours to write?  Punch in 120 minutes, hit OK, and that's it.  When your two hours are up, Freedom will pop up a window asking if you want to tweet your stats (something I've always been amused by, but I don't think I've ever taken it up on).  You can also give yourself more time, if that's what you feel like doing.

It works.  It's simple.  It's the single best productivity tool for writing I've ever seen, heard of, or tried.

But Wait!  I Need to Look Something Up . . .

Okay.  Don't.  Just . . . don't.

You may want to dash into the next room and go online.  You may need to find out what those little arrow windows (protip: arrowslits) are called.

Don't.

Write around it.  Leave a blank for it and get back to it when your time with Freedom is up.  A neat trick someone (I forget who) taught me was to insert (TK) somewhere you need to go back to.  The reasoning is this: there are so few words in the English language that have a T immediately followed by a K, you can just search for TK after you're done writing, then go back and fill in your blanks (If you're writing a novel about the Atkins Killer Diet, however, I suggest using something else).

Also, this could just be me, but I find I prefer to spend writing time writing and research time researching.  Even popping online for a second means I'm going to feel the pull of my email, want to check that thread on boardgamegeek I'm following, need to see if a new Order of the Stick has been uploaded . . .

Oh hell, where'd my writing time go?

It went toward writing.  Because I let Freedom push the whole, wide world away for two or three hours so I could focus on writing and only writing.

In Summary

Above all things, Freedom protects you from yourself.  It draws a line in the sand and says, that's how long you're writing and NOTHING'S going to get in your way.  It helps ensure your writing time is spent on writing -- or on taking notes, or on daydreaming about your characters, or on whatever you do to get your head into the story -- and not on looking at silly cat pictures or reading about the latest controversial knitting patterns.

Freedom helps you write.

It costs ten dollars.

Oh -- and just like so many other, awesome, game-changing things online -- you can try it for free.  But once you try it, you'll be scrambling to give them your ten dollars.

And you'll be thrilled at what a great bargain it is.

Beware Fast-Growing Toenails (an update where the word "really" appears entirely too many times)

Soooo . . . how've you been? It's a pinch over two weeks since my last blog post.  I also haven't gotten a whole lot of writing done in that time.  But I have a really, really good excuse.  Would you like to meet my really, really good excuse?

Layla Frances

Layla Frances

Yup, we've got a daughter now.  This was not, strictly speaking, a surprise -- my wife spent the latter half of 2012 and all of 2013 (until recently) being terribly pregnant, something which, in my opinion, she was very good at.

Speaking of things my wife is very good at: childbirth.  Sixteen hours of labor and she didn't cry out once.  No drugs, mind you; she was doing a thing called Hypnobirthing, which might sound silly and New Agey, but in reality it's sort of like (simplified explanation incoming) using Yoga breathing to manage labor discomfort and letting your body do the job it's built to do.

It worked really well.  My wife is basically the Terminator.  If the Terminator had given birth to a little baby Terminator at some point in the movie.

And now we have a baby.  An amazing baby.  The first week was kind of crazy as the hospital decided to be REALLY overcautious and hold onto our daughter in the NICU for five days "to be on the safe side".  I'm not medical professional, nor do I play one on television, but to me it seemed their "caution" caused more issues than it cured.  Toward the end, we were joking we needed to get Layla out of there before the doctors noticed her toenails had grown in the night, lest they decide to keep her another day or two "to be sure they were growing at the appropriate rate".

You have to laugh sometimes to keep from howling in frustration.

But, both my girls are home now and they're doing great.  I've even been writing again, so I thought it was time to pop up a blog post and sort of kick things back into gear again.

What's Going On Now?

Well, first and foremost is that the writing of The King's Glamour has really taken on a life of its own.  This was happening before Jessy went into labor -- one consequence of her end-of-pregnancy exhaustion was me spending a lot of time in the next room writing -- and has not abated now that I'm able to maintain consciousness long enough to string words together once again.  I'm knee-deep in Chapter Five and plotting my way to Chapter Six with full steam ahead.  I probably won't finish the second draft on time, but I think I should be in editing sometime around the beginning of May, if not sooner.

And then there's Beautiful Handcrafted Animals.  I'm purposely not poking my editor over the ms, but I've got a hunch I'm going to hear back from her sometime in the very near future.  I know she's going to have issues with the ms -- I have issues with the ms -- but I've got a lot of ideas for dealing with the issues I know are there.  Will Animals make a Spring, 2013 release date?  I hope so, but if it misses it, it's going to be by inches.  Meantime, our designer is slaving away over a hot Mac on awesome cover designs (which I desperately need to get back to him on -- whoops)

And Write Every Day?  That's still going strong.  Okay, "going strong" is a bit of an exaggeration, but now that things are pretending to normalize a little bit, I'm hoping to get posts up about once every two weeks, if not with more frequency.  It's important to me that each post be distinct unto itself; something that presents a small challenge with the core concept of the whole thing being right there in the title.  Also on my To Do list is some WED merchandise, because I really want a coffee mug with the Write Every Day logo on it . . .

Past all that?  I've doing good plotting for The Prince's Revenge and Verrazano Narrows, and the books which will follow after that.  Narrows will probably be a 2014 book, and I'm already organizing my time for 2014 in terms of what I want to write and release next year.

Oh, and a little thing called "helping to raise my daughter".  Which has thus far been a fun, engaging, wonderful ride.  Honestly, I know a lot of people will complain about the complete insanity of raising a baby, but so far I've been enjoying it immensely.  Maybe it's that I've always been sleep-deprived, but once we were past the week of driving back and forth to the hospital several times a day, it's all sort of been gravy.

If you've skipped to the end, let me sum it up for you: everything is amazing, books are being written, edited, and designed, and there's a baby wriggling around behind the scenes, too.

Write Every Day: Take The Night Off

It's okay to take the night off. Wait, what?

Let me back the truck up.  Okay.  Let's start this from the top:

It's okay to take the night off.

Yup.

Write Every Day

Write Every Day

The purpose of Write Every Day, the reason we work to create the good habit of writing, is not to chain you to your desk.  It's not to punish you for missing a night; it's to create a sense of ownership in your work -- not the story you're writing, the book you're hammering away on, the article you're pouring over -- so that when you take a night off -- yes, when -- it's a conscious decision.

I've read it takes two weeks for a new habit to become ingrained.  Maybe that's true.  For me, the decision to sit down and write every night was the moment the habit began.  I wouldn't care to guess how long it took to take hold, but I'd wager serious money it was a lot longer than two weeks.

This is the long haul you're signing up for.  Writing a novel can be quick or it can be slow, but if you're serious about writing as a thing you do, you're not signing up for one book.  One short story.  One . . . whatever.

You're saying, "I'm a writer, and a writer writes."

That's the trick.  That's the secret.  You can have the most creative mind on the entire planet.  You can spin yarns that make the rest of us rock back on our heels in awe.  You can call down the thunder and make the angels weep, but if you don't tell that amazing story . . . well, you're not a writer, are you?

I don't write to be read.  I don't.  I write because this is the medium which functions best for me for storytelling.  But once the story is "told" it wants an audience.  And let me tell you, once you've put something out there and seen that people are enjoying it, you're going to want to do it more.

Because it feels good.

Not the good reviews (though those are nice) and not the sense that you've created something new which connected with people (though that's about a thousand times nicer), but the sense of having conceived your story and seen it through to its logical (or illogical, depending on the types of stories you're telling) completion.

And, for clarity: sitting down to write every day is absolutely valid even if your story is terrible.  It's almost more valid; because the only way you're going to get any good at this is by doing it.

A lot.

Over and over and over again.

And over again.

In a word: write.  Write write write write write.

Write.

Do it.  Own it.  Make it as much a part of you as breathing or eating or (one hopes) bathing.

That's why I say it's cool to take the night off.  If you own that night off -- a night with your husband or wife on the couch, a night watching your kid in the school play, even a night curled up with a good book or doing absolutely nothing at all -- then it's all good.  It's part of the habit of writing.

And something else: taking a night off does not make you  a failure.  Breaking the chain of writing nights (sorry, I keep writing "night" because that's when I do most of my writing.  If you're an early riser, go for it: the "day" part of "Write Every Day" could be translated more loosely into, "write at least once in every twenty-four hour period") does not put you back at square one.

It's a night off.  A day off.  It's cool.  Everyone needs to recharge their batteries, after all.  Everyone has busy days and sick days and days where it all seems to be going the wrong way no matter how hard you try to get it going right.

Take the night off.

Relax.

Write tomorrow.

But tell yourself that by consciously choosing not to write that night -- whatever your reason -- you're continuing the good habit of writing expressly by taking note when you don't write.

It must sound counter-intuitive.  But believe me when I tell you that moment where you look at your laptop and decide you've earned a night off, that's a satisfying moment.

Yes.

Because in that moment you'll realize the habit of writing has become ingrained.  Your default wasn't "watch television" or "see what's new on X-Box Live".  It was writing.  And you had to make a conscious, thoughtful decision to not write because that's what happens when we break from a habit.

Your decision to take a night off means it's working.

It also means you won't come to resent writing as a thing keeping you from doing, you know, other things.  Seeing your family.  Exercising.  Eating right.  Even playing that new video-game release.

Think of the person who falls into the habit of picking up "a snack" on the way home from work.  Maybe they go to the same place every day.  Maybe they have a routine -- McDonald's on Monday, Dunkin Donuts on Tuesday, Starbucks on Wednesday.  For that person, the habit of having a post-work, pre-dinner snack becomes ingrained.  If they skip it, their body tells them they've skipped something.  Where's that donut?  Where's that frappuccino?

Writing should be like that for you.  If you're serious about it, a night off will feel . . . weird.  The next day you'll be walking around trying to remember what you wrote the night before; you'll have to remind yourself you took the night off.  And that'll energize you for writing that night.  Because you'll be hungry to get back to your story, your characters, the little world you're making.

So take the night off from time to time.

If it's hard to do, that's how you know it's working.

Today's Cool Thing: Translated into German

Cool things keep on happening around here.  Our re-listing on Net Galley has brought in a bunch of reviews (the majority of them positive, which is quite nice).  And I'm really rolling on The King's Glamour, something which took entirely too long (more on that in a bit).

Also, this completely awesome thing:

Achtung, Autoren!

Which Google Translate says is "Attention, Authors!"  And if you click through (and Google Translate doesn't work it's somewhat unreliable magic before you get a good look), you'll see that's a German writer's blog.

And, if you scroll down the page a bit, you'll see this writer, Rich Schwab, has translated my blog post on Scrivener into German for his readers.

Rich emailed me a couple days ago asking if he could do this.  Of course I told him it was cool -- readers, can you imagine someone actually asking permission to pass something along in this day and age? -- so long as he let me know so I could see it for myself.  And share it with you.

And -- here's the absolutely coolest bit (and then I need to get to work) -- the reason Rich wanted to share my post was because he's hoping to drum up support for a localized version of Scrivener.  Because right now, today, Scrivener, the one indispensable program on my computer, is only available in English.  It wouldn't have occurred to me -- Americans in general and New Yorkers in particular tend to see the entire rest of the world as some odd, disproportionately-sized suburb just a few minutes' drive away -- but of course writers in other countries, whose native tongue is not English, would love to be able to use Scrivener.

I don't know what goes into such a thing; I imagine it's rather a lot of work, but I think it'd be great if my little post was able to play a role -- however large or small -- in helping other writers out there in the greater, non-New York world, have access to this great writing tool.  That's a big part of what this blog is for: helping and encouraging other writers.

Also, it's really cool when someone asks if they can translate something you wrote to share with people in another country.  I could get used to this . . .

Sale Update, NetGalley Listing, and Con or Bust Auction is Live

Just a couple updates to share: (1) Last week, to celebrate my birthday, I ran a free promotion on The Seven Markets.  Typically when an author does this, it's to push something new they're publishing.  I didn't have something new; I just wanted to share the book and get it into people's hands.

The promotion was a pretty big success.  People shared it on Facebook and tweeted about it and, combined with my Christmas promotion and actual for-cash book sales, there are more than a thousand copies of Markets out there in the world.

Which is pretty damned cool.

(2) Markets is back up on NetGalley.  This is a site book reviewers, bloggers, librarians, and bookstore buyers use to check out books before writing about or ordering books.  Since our listing went up last week, we've already had some good feedback and I'm crossing my fingers we'll see some action and/or reviews from here.

(3) The Con or Bust auction I pledged a signed, personalized copy of Markets to has gone live.  It's running through to the end of the day on February 24th.

Con or Bust is a charitable organization dedicated to helping "people of color/non-white people attend Science Fiction and Fantasy conventions".  It started in 2009, helping nine SFF fans to attend WisCon, and has been growing every since.

I linked the main site up there, but here's the listing for Markets:

The Seven Markets -- Con or Bust Auction

Before I listed Markets, I looked at some other books that were listed.  A lot of authors were offering signed copies, so I went with that.  A lot of authors were offering signed, personalized copies; I didn't get the difference, but I tossed it in there as well.

And a few people were offering the winning bidders, if the bidding went above a certain level, the ability to name a character in an upcoming book.  I figured, why not? and noted that, if the bidding went over $50.00, I'd let the winner do just that.  Above $50.00, the winning bidder can be or name a character in The King's Glamour, the follow-up to Markets.

I honestly didn't think anyone would go for it.  Not to put too fine a point on it, but who am I?  Seriously.  Maybe some friend or family member who wanted to support the charity would be inspired to toss ten bucks at it.  Anything more than that?  Well, I figured it was a long shot.

The auction went live on February 9th.  Almost immediately it had a $10.00 bid -- which made me incalculably happy.  I've seen authors I love doing stuff like this for years and always thought it'd be great if I could kick in too (beyond, you know, bidding on stuff, which I've done as well).

A little while later I got an email that someone'd upped the bid.

To $75.00.

Which is crazy and generous and wonderful and I'm so excited.  Even if it's just some awesome stranger who figured, "I love this charity so even though I don't know anything about this guy and his book, screw it, I'm going in for seventy five bucks," it's absolutely tremendous.

So I figured I'd post and share, both that the auction is running and that, if you were interested in snagging a signed (personalized) copy AND getting into Glamour . . . you've got some competition.

Writing Tools: Scrivener

My handwriting is illegible. And I'm slow -- so slow -- when I write by hand.  Agonizingly slow.  My head will be four paragraphs away while my poor, well-meaning hand is chugging away on something I'm not even thinking about anymore.

So when I write, I do it on a computer.

And I use Scrivener.

Let's get this out of the way now: if I had to delete everything from my computer -- programs, desktop backgrounds, browsers, music, etc. -- Scrivener is the one thing I'd fight to keep.

Yes.  It is the one absolutely invaluable tool I've got for writing.

Yes.  It really is that good.

What Is Scrivener?

Simply put, it's a program for writing.  It's available for Mac and Windows, so this isn't some arthouse Mac-user thing you Windows folks need to scorn.  Mac seems to be the main platform, but the Windows version works great, too.

If you're a writer -- any kind of writer -- you owe it to yourself to give Scrivener a try.  Luckily enough, you can do just that: there's a free trial download which will let you get a feel for the program.  And when you're ready to buy it, Scrivener doesn't cost hundreds of dollars.  It's $45.00. You can buy it from the publisher or from the Mac App Store (I'm not sure if it's available from the Windows 8 App Store, but I *think* it is).

Yes.  The one program I'd fight off a mob of insane carny folk to keep only costs $45.00.

What's So Great About Scrivener?

If you're like me, you came up writing in Microsoft Word or some similar word-processing program.  And you figured that was all there was to it. A thousand features you didn't want, sometimes it went crazy in ways no sane person could understand, but you had a blank screen, a blinking cursor, and at the end of the day you were writing.

Scrivener throws all that out the window.

Firstly, here's what the maximized writing window looks like.  This is from the second chapter of The King's Glamour, so it's a taste but not (much of) a spoiler:

A sample of the Scrivener writing window.

A sample of the Scrivener writing window.

Nothing but white space for writing and black space for not distracting.  In short, the perfect writing environment.  Maybe it's possible to do this with other word-processors, but Scrivener's implementation is just spot-on.  Perfect.  You can control how dark the side-bars are (in case you want to see what's behind the writing window), how wide the white space is, and how large or small your font will display, regardless of its actual size.

All this is great, but it's not what makes Scrivener amazing.  Ready for that?

An example of Scrivener's main display.

An example of Scrivener's main display.

See that there on the left?  That's the current book I'm working on.  Now, this is how I'm choosing to organize this particular book: I've got a main Manuscript folder holding the, well, manuscript.  Beneath that are folders for every chapter (I should be finishing Chapter Three today), and a level below that you've got the individual scenes.  This is great for writing a long work of fiction (like, say, a novel) for a whole host of reasons: organization, swapping things around, keeping from having to scroll through 80,000 words of text when you need to find a particular scene.

You can also tag and label individual scenes.  You can associate characters or settings or whatever you like with a scene, making it a snap to go back and find all instances of XXXXX in what you're working on.

A Side Note: Scrivener is not just for writing long works of fiction.  I know there are short story writers, screenwriters, non-fiction writers, students, journalists, and just about every other kind of writer you can think of using Scrivener.  I believe there are even some bloggers who use it as a way of preparing posts ahead of time.

You'll notice, as well, that I've got folders for characters and places.  This is great for holding onto a short (or long ) character sketch, or if I want to note, for example, which areas of the Market are home to which stores or services.

Front Matter is your cover art, if you've got it.  Copyright page, dedication, that sort of thing.

Notes is for notes.  Story outlines, plot notes, whatever you write to get through the What Should I Do Next portion of your day.

And then, my custom folder, Discards.  This is where I put stuff I wrote I'm not keeping.  I'm probably not keeping.  I might return to.  Stuff I want to hold onto because it's good, just not right.  By the time I finish writing this book, that Discards folder will likely be as long, if not longer than, the book itself.

So it goes.

All of these details are great and useful, but there's one feature I want to focus on.  Importing.  This is something I love that Scrivener does and a real life-saver to boot.

Okay.  My editor likes to work in Microsoft Word.  She uses the Revision Tracking system to make suggestions or outright corrections and I'll implement those changes through Word.  Scrivener will do this, but she's the editor so what she says goes.

Once I'm all done, then, I'll Compile a book into Word to send to her.

Another Side Note: Scrivener's Compile function is freaking amazing.  Check this out:

Compile: This is where the magic happens.

Compile: This is where the magic happens.

This is where you go when you're done with the writing and need to turn all those scenes and chapters into an actual manuscript.  You can customize just about anything here, and export into any file format you'd want to, including PDF, .epub or .mobi, the file format Amazon uses to generate a Kindle book.  It might not be as good as coding your own html, but as the chances of me hand-coding a 94,000 word book are somewhere between Never and Happening, it's pure gold.

At any rate, I send my amazing editor a Word document.  And we go back and forth for a month or longer working in that Word document.  One magical day, however, all the little screwy things are fixed, all the rewriting's done, all the "did I really think that was how grammar works" bits are set to rights, and we're finally done with our Word document.

I want to generate a .mobi file so I can put the book up on Amazon.

So I want to bring the book back into Scrivener.

The first time I did this, with The Seven Markets, I dreaded it.  I figured, ho boy, I was going to have to cut and paste each and every scene by hand.  I was going to have to pour through and make sure nothing was lost in the formatting -- I'm talking about italics, bolding, any special formatting I'd done.  I poured myself a beer, figuring I'd need it, and I started the Import, using the Import and Split command.

It was easy as pie.

Scrivener let me identify the text characters I'd used to differentiate one scene or chapter from the next.  And it put the book together flawlessly.

If Scrivener did nothing else well, Import and Split would be worth your price of admission.  As Scrivener does everything well, it's less a question of why should you use this program and more why have you read this far without pausing to download a trial version to see for yourself?

Oh, and that trial version (link here), it shows up at your door with an amazing tutorial project to run through.  I'm not a manual guy, I don't like tutorials, but trust me when I tell you: this one is worth your time.

Let Me Bring It All Together For You

Scrivener is an excellent product.  It's an invaluable tool for a writer -- for any kind of writer, but especially for you novelists out there.  I've barely skimmed the surface of the myriad ways this program can help you wrangle control of your books, eliminating so much of the clutter and where did I put that? which so often goes hand-in-hand with working through a long piece of writing.  Partially this is because I simply don't use all these features.  And partially this is because this post is so long already.

The only real complaint I can level against Scrivener is that they've been talking about releasing an iOS version of the program seemingly forever.  As I've now taken to writing on my iPad when I'm out and about, this would, basically, make me the happiest man on earth.

Wellll . . . maybe I'm exaggerating a tiny little bit there.  But an iOS version would be amazing.

Scrivener is a great program and one you, as a writer, should be looking at.  You owe it to yourself to download the trial, run through the tutorial, and give it a try.

Brunch With My Folks

We saw my folks over the weekend.  Jessy and I took them to our favorite brunch place, which was a very Jonathan Carroll experience for me -- I always feel like a character in one of his books when sharing a beloved place with friends and family. It was a very nice, low-key day.  We ate pancakes and eggs, bacon and fruit.  They came back to the house with some very nice birthday presents (I may have mentioned Wednesday is my birthday) and visited for a while.  Jessy showed off the nursery and some of the work we've done on the house.  It was the kind of crisp winter day Robert Frost used to write about.

I don't do much in the way of personal stuff here on the blog.  This is because, by and large, I don't figure it's of any real interest to folks not living, you know, my life.  But I thought this was worth sharing because it really was a very nice day.  My folks are allergic to our pets, Jack the Dog and Missy (the cat, who prefers to be addressed solely as "Missy"), so they don't get up to visit often; and when they do, it's not for very long visits.  Something which will probably change in the very near future, as (ah, foreshadowing) you may have guessed after I casually dropped the word "nursery" in the second paragraph.

Yup, we're having a baby.  A baby girl, come to that.

There's no greater point to all this, no hidden Write Every Day lesson about picking your family moments, or making time for important non-writing things.  We had a nice day and had brunch.

Sometimes stuff like that is worth mentioning.

The Seven Markets -- Birthday Sale

My birthday, not the book's. First off, here's a link to The Seven Markets on Amazon:

The Seven Markets

The Seven Markets

And if you click through on that, The Seven Marketswill be FREE for Amazon Kindle from February 6th through February 8th, next Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday.  The sixth is my birthday, so this is my little gift to you.

I haven't decided if we're going to stay Amazon exclusive past the book's initial 90-days in the KDP Select program.  I'm leaning toward doing that -- Beautiful Handcrafted Animalsshould be releasing within that period, and it'd be nice to have both books free for Prime subscribers when that happens, as well as being able to make one or both free for all -- but I haven't decided yet.

So: tell your friends.  Have them tell their friends.  Share this post or send them to my Facebook Page.  The whole point of doing this is to get more people reading the book.  Last time we gave away almost 300 copies.  I'd love to see if we could top that.

Also, if you've read The Seven Markets, and you'd like to help get the word out, I'd love to see if we could get some more reviews on Amazonand GoodReads.  Honest reviews, of course -- if there's something I did that pissed you off, PLEASE share it, as that's very helpful for me -- but the more reviews we've got, the easier it is for others to decide if they want to take a shot at the book.

Write Every Day: How World of Warcraft Made Me a Better Writer

I used to play World of Warcraft. A lot.

World of Warcraft (or WoW), for the uninitiated, is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.  Or, MMO for short.  Basically you get on your computer and fight dragons and monsters with other nerds all over the world.

And it's awesome.

And you never, ever win.  There's always something more to do in WoW and other MMOs.  You can run a dungeon with your friends.  You can run around doing quests until your fingers are numb.  Hell, you can spend all night dancing on a table at the inn if that's what you're into.

If you're like me, the GAME aspect of WoW is nothing but an excuse for the FRIENDS aspect of the game.  In other words, you log in at night because that's what your friends are doing.  Even when you're playing alone -- soloing quests or collecting materials for crafting new, better gear and stuff -- it's all in the service of playing with your friends.

And as you do things with your friends, you and your friends want to do more, harder, bigger things together.  In WoW, the dungeons and quests get progressively more difficult.  One way to mitigate that is to level up -- to play enough that your character increases in power.  Another way is to get better gear and equipment -- armor, weapons, potions, etc.

All of this takes time.

I'd always played video games.  All my life.  Seriously: there's still a Pong system in a drawer somewhere at my folks' house.  I used to drive my brother nuts playing a single game of Asteroids on our Atari 2600 for two hours straight (the trick is to never, ever use your thrusters).

But a game like WoW is different.  Play Asteroids for a hundred hours and you're still playing the same game.  Your little ship doesn't get more powerful.  When you run out of lives and start a new game, you're right back where you were the very first time you played.

That's not how a MMO works.

In an MMO you're constantly improving your character.  Which constantly improves the things your character can do.  Which constantly demands you spend more time improving your character.  So you can constantly strive to do new, more, harder things . . . with your character.

This endless pursuit of incremental improvements in an MMO is affectionately referred to by players as "grinding".

You log in and grind reputation quests to earn a new cloak or sword.  You collect herbs or ore from the ground to level up a profession.  You run the same dungeon over and over and over, either for experience points (which enable you to level your character up), for reputation, or simply in the hope you'll find some awesome new gear after dispatching the dungeon's residents.

The grind is the million and one things you can do in-game which, individually don't do a whole lot, but as a whole enable you to make large improvements to your gameplay experience.

I spent a lot of time playing World of Warcraft.  I made good friends I still speak to on a daily basis even today.  That right there would be enough for me to count the time as "worthwhile".

But my time in Azeroth, the fictional world players visit in WoW, also made me a better writer.

When I really got into WoW, it became my default.  If Jessy ran to the store and I had an hour to myself, I'd log in and get something done.  It didn't occur to me to do something else.  The habit of playing the game became ingrained.  So not playing became the exception and not the rule.

This works for writing.  Oh yes, this works for writing.

In fact, this is the core ideal behind Write Every Day.  The idea that we, as writers, examine how we spend our time and try to change how we think of it.  I'm not even talking about prioritizing here; this isn't "boy, I really should go to the gym" or "man, I need to make sure I take time to eat something good for lunch."

The idea is to make writing your default.

The rule and not the exception.

And to grind, grind, grind away at your story.

This is the magic of writing a long work.  You simply cannot expect to finish a 100,000 word novel in a single sitting.  You cannot.  Well, cannot.  And as daunting as that empty page might be, that short stack of pages is, to me, ever more daunting.

I want to fill a blank page.  It's what they're for, after all, isn't it?  To be filled.  But when I look at the middling stack of paper which represents the very beginnings of a new book, what I see is all the pages I have to pile on top of it.  How far I still have to go.  If I think of a book or story in those terms, it's absolutely crushing.

So I just think of today.  Tonight.  This scene.  This paragraph.  This single word.

By attacking a story one very small piece at a time -- by approaching each day's work as part of a greater whole -- we can remove its looming presence over our shoulder as we're trying to string words together.  We can tell ourselves we don't have to get it all down -- all perfectly down -- right this moment.

We can grind away at the story.

And it's amazing when you get to the end and look back and see you've just spent months of effort to create something.  I speak to a lot of people who say they've got a great idea for a novel or memoir, if only they had the time to write.

Folks: you do have the time to write.

It's all a question of creating the good habit of writing.  Making it your default.  The thing you go to when you've got an hour to yourself.

Don't sweat finishing; don't worry about how far the end always seems to be.  If you write, and make writing the rule and not the exception, you'll get there.  It might take months or even years -- it's always more important to be right than to be quick -- but you'll get there.

When I started playing World of Warcraft, I had no idea what I was getting into.  So far as I knew, it was just another video game.  Kill some dragons, get some gold, maybe pick up a cool sword along the way.

When I stopped playing World of Warcraft, it was because I needed to change my habits.  Make WoW time into writing time.  I'd taken month-long breaks to participate in National Novel Writing Month two years in a row.  I'd gotten 50,000+ words written for two stories which then went on to languish on my hard drive when November ended and I went back to killing pretend dragons with my pretend sword (with my real friends, it should be noted).

So I quit.  But I tried to approach the book I worked on, Beautiful Handcrafted Animals, with the same dedication -- as odd as it might seem -- as I approached my online gaming.  Instead of logging in each night I locked myself away for two or three or four hours and wrote.

And man, it worked.

Animals took the better part of a year to finish.  It was, in large part, an experiment for me.  "Can I do this?"

Yes, I could.  And now when I take a night off from writing -- no matter what the reason -- it feels like I'm taking the night off from something.  Not like I'm shirking exactly, but like I'm missing out.  It bugs me.  I look for ways to tuck away in a corner with my laptop for even a half an hour.  Just that, I tell myself, would be enough.

Because for me -- the same way logging in to play a video game with my friends was the default -- writing is the default.  It's now the thing I do when I've got time to do something.  I make room in my life for it and I make sure there is room in my life for it.

Googling

I've read you shouldn't Google yourself. But it's an odd moment when you wonder if other people are Googling you.

Recently, I've found myself in contact with a few people who, as a novelist, I'd really love to be, you know, talking books.  My books.  Other books.  Books.

That wasn't why we were speaking, however, and it would have been poor form for me to sort of slip in that I had a book out there in the world and, hey, can't we talk about this for a bit?

Yes, I know I should be self-promoting at every turn.  Every turn.  And when that door opens, I leap right the hell through.  Oh yes.  I'll mention The Seven Markets and we'll talk briefly about some aspect of the book or other (I find people in the publishing business are endlessly fascinated by someone like me, out here digging the foundation for my own house on my hands and knees), and it's fine.

But what then?  And by "what then?" I mean, "what do they do next?"

Is it all right to assume someone you've spoken to about your book has spent the 0.5 seconds it takes to learn everything there is about everyone in the world?  When I have a business meeting with someone, I Google them.  I look them up on LinkedIn.

That's what you do, right?

You look them up.

Partially to see if you're wasting your time.  Partially out of curiosity.

And partially -- yes -- to see if the person you just met, that author who you could tell just wanted to go on and on and on about their book, but was clearly restraining themselves with every ounce of strength they had, to see if they really did put a book out.

How's it doing?  Any reviews?  Is it possible it's any good?

It's an odd thing, I'll tell you.  Googling yourself is no big deal (there are ten pages of David Hoffmans before my first mention).  It's when other people do it that things get weird.

The Seven Markets . . . On Sale?

I have no idea why -- it's nothing I did -- but The Seven Markets seems to be "on sale" at Amazon right now for $8.29. I suspect it's because they're matching a low price someone out there (Barnes & Noble, for instance) is selling the book for.  Or maybe they had too much whiskey with lunch.  I don't know.  I've heard about this sort of thing happening with ebooks, where Amazon will suddenly discount you to match another vendor's pricing.  But the ebook isn't for sale anywhere else.

At any rate, it's on sale.  Discounted.  Something.  It's very strange and I have no idea how this will affect my royalties, but as I didn't do it I don't think there's anything I can do to change it.  So, if you were holding out for a paperback copy of the book and want to save a few bucks, go for it.

Very, very strange.