Reader Input Desired (bonus: progress report)

Hello there, readership. Audience. Tribe. Whatever you want to call yourselves. How has it been? Good. I’m glad to hear it.

As many of you are probably aware—I expect you’re awaiting the moment with clenched teeth and white knuckles—my deadline for getting my first novel out is fast approaching. Halfway through NaNoWriMo (and, incidentally, about halfway through writing the draft of my next novel), December is coming up fast. So let me fill you in on a few things I’m trying to work through currently. I need some input on this from you guys—the ones who will actually be reading this stuff.

First off, a progress update: the sci-fi novel has been shipped out to some readers for suggestions and input. Come December 1st, I’ll put aside my NaNoWriMo project and address these issues, make necessary corrections, etc. I’m aiming to have the sci-fi novel published and ready to be downloaded by December 15, though I’m giving myself an extra five-day window in case I have to make some serious adjustments. In the meantime, while my team of “alphareaders” is going through the sci-fi book with fine-toothed combs, I’m working on what will eventually be my second book—the first book in a fantasy series about a dwarf. If you follow me on Twitter (link is on the right-hand side of this blog) you will be familiar with my clever hashtag for this project: #dwarfstory. The goal with this project is to have 60,000 words written by the end of November. This will put me at 2/3 through the novel, if my estimates are correct. I currently have about 35,000 words written, and I’m going to have a bunch of time to write over Thanksgiving weekend. Things are looking up.

Alright, now that the progress report is out of the way, I need your help with something. Since my publication deadline is approaching, I’ve been stewing over how exactly I want to publish my novel. From the beginning, the plan has been to release the book through Kindle Direct Publishing. I’ve heard that the program is easy to use and has a lot of marketing tools. Plus you can get up to 70% of the royalties, which is unheard of in traditional publishing. I’ve been happy about this arrangement because it should serve as a good way for me to wet my feet in the publishing world while relying on a professional, global corporation as a bit of a safety net. However, some things have changed recently. I’ve been bitten by the “pay-what-you-want / give-stuff-away” bug. I think it’d be really cool to release the book for free and then just have an option to donate money if you so desire. Or, alternatively, set it up in such a way that you can just pay what you want—including the option of paying nothing. Basically the same idea, either way. This is more in line with my personal philosophy about art and about relating to people in general. However, let me just be vulnerable and say that I’m reluctant to do it.

Here’s why. First off, there is the obvious vulnerability of spending over a year working on a project and then just trusting people to compensate you. What if no one pays me anything? My wife, who works full time so that I can stay at home with the kids and pursue a writing career, has graciously told me that it’s okay if I never make any significant money off of my work, but let’s just be honest. Perhaps it’s a product of the Industrial Revolution and subsequent masculine/feminine dichotomies, or perhaps it’s selfish pride, or perhaps it’s even a good desire, but the fact remains that I do want to be financially successful enough to provide, on my own, for my family. I’d love it if my wife didn’t have to work. Not that she wouldn’t work. She enjoys her job. But just so that she didn’t need to work in order to pay the bills. That’d be cool. Of course, the go-it-alone mentality sort of rubs against the grain of the whole “marriage” thing—where we’re supposed to “become one flesh” and work through life together—but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t want to make wagonloads of money and be able to call myself a self-made man (a misnomer if ever there was one).

Secondly, I’m scared to release the book for free because I don’t know anything about computers. This is really the major problem, I think. I mean, I haven’t expected to really make any money off this first book. It is, after all, a first book. And I don’t have the vast marketing resources of a major publisher behind me, nor even a marketing team. It’s all just me and you, reader. And word of mouth. And, hopefully, some coffee-shop open mics or something. So my first fear in the preceding paragraph, though very visceral and real, is not that big of a deal. It’s a fear that will still be there even if I do release the book through KDP as originally intended. But this second fear is much more serious. I wouldn’t have the first clue how to set up this website so that you can donate. I know it’s probably very easy to do, but I don’t know how. And I’m not sure that I have time to learn with my deadline coming up in a month. Plus, I don’t have money to pay someone else to do it. So there’s that. Also, I want the eBook to look really good. Or at least to be formatted well. It’s my understanding that KDP is workable as far as formatting goes, and it helps you through the process pretty well. I don’t know that for sure, but Amazon seems to know what it’s doing. I’m worried about how the book will look if I just try to format it myself. I’ve been told that I can upload it as a PDF file, which is apparently readable on a Kindle, but I don’t know that it will look as good as if I used KDP. Again, I’m showing my ignorance of computers and technomajiggers.
Anyway, readers, I would greatly value your input on this. What do you think? Should I do a donation-only or pay-as-you-go model? Or should I stick with my original plan of using KDP to get my feet wet and then, later on down the road when I’ve become more acquainted with the process, start releasing books by myself? Let me know what you think.

And thank you. For your input and for your support. It’s all very much appreciated.

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Audience Feedback #2

THE QUESTIONS

Q1.      Do you prefer stories where the “bad guy” is clearly defined, or do you like ambiguity concerning who is really good and who is bad? And if you clearly outline who is the antagonist, do you ever tell the readers how the said “evil” character became that way, or trust that they will accept that the character is inherently bad?

Q2.      Do you find it easier to write stories that you can use actual historical events as a backdrop, or do you prefer to create an entire fictional universe to use as you want?

Q3.      Which perspective is it easiest to write from? Do you find it easier to write a story where you don’t have to provide a character’s mental justifications for their actions, or do you want your readers to know the “why”?

THE ANSWERS

A1.         Okay, I’m going to go ahead and admit something about my writing that needs lots of improvement: the absence of a real villain. Most of my stories don’t really have a set villain. They tend to be introspective and villain-less for two reasons.

First, I use my writing to deal with facets of myself, and so there is lots of ambiguity there since real life doesn’t delineate the heroes and the villains so clearly. I mean, in an election year like this one we get to see just how ambiguous things are: each side is trying to slant everything so that its own candidate is the hero and the opposition are the villains. However, both sides contain good philosophies and both sides misuse and abuse power. So life doesn’t delineate things like stories do. And since I try to use my stories to talk about real life, the war tends to go on inside the characters rather than being fought between them. That said, there has to be some sort of good vs. evil going on in order to maintain interest in the reader and in order to set the stakes high. So I’m working on making that clearer in my writing (especially in my forthcoming novella, lovingly referred to as The Dwarf Story in lieu of a title, which is a fantasy story and thus needs to better adhere to that genre’s expectations).

Secondly, my thinking is largely defined by my philosophical and religious views, and therefore so too is my writing. Specifically (as I have stated on this blog a few times), I am a Calvinistic-type Christian. Which means, among lots of other things, that I believe man is unable to truly choose goodness over evil apart from the grace of God. This doctrine is referred to as Total Depravity, and basically it means that I do not think anyone is ultimately good apart from God. Therefore, characters in my work are constantly doing bad things, or even good things for bad reasons. For example, I wrote a short story (and am still editing it and getting it ready to eventually send out to publications) called Desperately Sick in which the protagonist is a sex addict who ends up (*spoiler alert*) impregnating an underage girl who lives in the same rehabilitation compound as he. The story does not have a happy ending, and it features a pastor who tries to help the man out of his sex addiction by preaching false theology. Anyway, the man is supposed to be viewed as a villain, but not one who is monstrous. The reader is supposed to realize that he is just a man like any other, who happens to have fallen into sinful sex addiction and adulterous habits, and is unable to escape his own sin through his own power. This is part of the belief system to which I subscribe, and it is a doctrine that I philosophically struggle with, and so much of my more “serious” stories deal with it.

So there you have it. I prefer ambiguity, but ambiguity not in the sense of “what is right and wrong,” but more in the sense of “everyone is constantly doing both good and bad things.”

 

A2.         I’ll be honest. I like to create entire fictional universes. This is for a multitude of reasons, but most importantly these two:  1. It’s fun and cool. 2. Research sucks. Being brutally honest with myself, it’s probably mainly the latter. I struggle with anxiety and depression, and so for me it is difficult to tell myself that doing the hard work of research-based novel-writing is going to pay off for me. I would not be opposed to setting stories in historical backdrops in the future, when life is a little less hectic than it is now (starting a family, trying to start an online magazine, working a regular job, trying to write, etc.). But yeah, basically I’m lazy and don’t want to spend all that time researching. However, I have spent a good amount of time creating the world of the Dwarf Story and of another untitled novel I have on the shelf, so the time saved is probably mostly in my head.

 

A3.         First off, I do want my readers to know the “why.” For me, writing is all about communication. So ideally everything I write encapsulates some point  or idea that I want to get across to the reader. I haven’t spent a lot of time reading philosophical essays on literary analysis, but I think the idea that it’s all up to the reader is ridiculous. The point is always communication, and communication only works when the author has some message that he or she gets across to the reader. If the message is missing, or if the reader fails to receive it, communication hasn’t taken place. Now, the best art allows for multiple interpretations and inspires discussion, so I’m not saying the reader should not have his or her own views on a particular story. But I do try to get some kind of statement across to the reader, and therefore knowing the “why” is often important (unless, of course, the message I’m trying to communicate is something like “reasons don’t matter,” or “the universe is meaningless,” etc. – although even in those cases the lack of an explicit or implicit “why” is itself getting the point across to the reader).

To answer the first part of your question, I think it’s really difficult to truly deal with justifications using any perspective. Even using first-person is tricky (it might be the trickiest to pull off, actually) because it can easily slip into hokey declarations of why the character did what she did. It becomes easier, at least for me, to tell things instead of showing them when using first-person. I tend to gravitate toward what a teacher of mine (and renowned author) David Madden calls “Third-Person Central Intelligence.” It’s third-person, but the author is not omniscient. Rather, it’s like a camera right behind the shoulder of the protagonist, showing everything from his or her perspective, but outside of his or her mind. I like that style because it allows me a safety net against telling instead of showing. I am forced, since I’m not inside the characters’ heads, to use description of the surroundings and actions, etc. to help the reader understand what’s going on and why. This is kind of a convoluted answer, but basically there is no easy perspective. I do prefer, though, to write from a 3rd person Central Intelligence.

 

There are the answers to some more reader questions. Thanks to Hannah Lundy for asking tough questions and making me think hard about some important stuffs. I plan on restarting the weekly blog post thing, so look for a new post every week. I can’t designate a specific day because my current job is not on a consistent schedule, but I can say I’ll try to have one up every week. Thanks for reading!

Audience Feedback Time!

Welcome to the first-ever Audience Feedback post on this here blog! Okay, that’s basically just a way of saying that for the past week I haven’t had a clue what to write for this week’s post, so I have used my vast network of Twitter followers and Facebook friends (read: my “audience”) to suggest some topics. After receiving a whopping two (read it: 2!) suggestions, I have decided to just go ahead and answer both of them. Actually, the first can probably be broken down into two separate questions, so I guess there’re three questions to answer. Prepare yourselves for some deep thoughts.

Question 1: Why do you write?

The easy, somewhat pretentious way of answering this question would be to say that I write because I have to. And that’s true in a lot of ways. I think there really is an internal drive in most writers to jot down their stories. Even when I’m not writing a story, I’m jotting down ideas for stories; or I’m jotting down poems; or I’m jotting down titles of stuff, character names, etc. etc. I like to write. I can’t not do it. But that’s not the only answer, and it probably isn’t the most satisfying one for anyone out there who actually cares about my reasons.

A better reason might be that I have always been an avid reader. Stories allow me to transport myself from this singular life I’m living into an endless amount of other lives and worlds. I get to experience things like space travel, growing up gay, living in Asia. The list is almost infinite, and each story makes it possible for me to get a completely different perspective on life. And so one of my goals is to give back to that community, to “join the conversation” about life and – yes, I’m about to say it – the human condition. I cringe when I write that, but it’s a true thing. I want to put my own thoughts out there in order to allow people to experience things they would otherwise not experience. Hence the fantasy and science fiction stories I currently have in the works. Writing also allows me to deal with life issues in a way that is liberating and helpful. I can organize my thoughts on a certain subject (for instance, environmentalism in the novel I also have in the works) and really explore how that subject might have differing effects on characters. So there is an intellectual aspect to why I write as well.

There is also a significant theological aspect to writing, for me. As a Christian, I believe that creativity stems from God, and that it is part of the “image of God” that humanity possesses. So writing is not only a celebration of the human imagination, but it is also a celebration of the divine. By creating stories I am mirroring the Creator, whose great story is history itself. That might sound like drivel to some of my audience, but it is a part of why I write and it is something I take rather seriously.

2. Why do you blog?

This one’s much easier. My blog allows me to be constantly writing stuff that is going to be read by people (not that many people, but the idea is there). Which means that I have a real incentive to write reasonably well, and thus I get a lot of valuable exercise of my “writing muscles.” That’s a lame metaphor, so let’s move on.

Practically, the main reason for having a blog is to generate an audience. That’s right – you all are the reason I blog! The idea is that the blog will provide a place for people to see samples of my writing and to receive updates on books of mine whenever I get them published. The blog is also a place for prospective employers to see my writing and judge whether or not they would like to hire me for any type of writing-related job. So there it is: the blog is basically a marketing exercise.

Question 3: Tell us about your recent move to the coast.

Yes, I live near the beach now. It’s been a decent enough move. There are still mounds of boxes scattered around our new duplex. And I am no longer used to the humidity and heat here. A few years living in the mountains will do that to you. And here’s another thing: they have so many ANTS here. I mowed the lawn the other day and my left ankle is now decked out with some vicious fire-ant bites. The ants must have gotten into my shoes while I mowed. Also, I’m kind of languishing in unemployment right now. I had two jobs lined up and they both have sort of flaked out on me. But I’m looking into some other opportunities, so I’m not yet freaking out.

Okay, enough about all the bad stuff. After all, the move was a good one. The duplex is bigger than our previous one, and there is a ton of cabinet space in the kitchen (this is something that Megan insisted upon). We also now have a dishwasher, a fenced-in backyard, weekly trash pickup, and we live in a kid-friendly neighborhood. It’s great. Not to mention the fact that we’re five minutes away from my parents and Megan’s dad. And only about forty-five minutes from Megan’s mom’s place. So the family gets to visit Asher more often (let’s be honest, he’s the main reason they visit, the little stinker) and Megan and I can get some much needed assistance with childcare. On top of that, even the unemployment thing has some benefits. I’ve been able to write on a more consistent basis, make a lot of headway into the Dwarf Story, and even watch a few Olympic soccer matches (Thursday is the Women’s Gold Medal Final between the USA and Japan!). So far moving to the coast has been a good experience.

So there you have it, folks. I have answered your questions. Thanks for helping me come up with something to put on here (thanks especially to Jeff Holder and Mary Fonvielle, who supplied the questions). See you next week!