Of Spies, Very Bad Things and Zombie Plot Bunnies

I have a special treat for you today. The guest blogger is one of my bestest friends (yes, I know that’s not a word, but novelists are allowed—once in a while), favorite people on the planet and all-time favorite authors (you’ll see why when you read his novel—and if you don’t buy it, you’ll be missing out big time!). I give you my partner in crime, William Kendall!

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Substitute damn every time you’re inclined to write very, your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.” ~ Mark Twain

I am returning this otherwise good typing paper to you because someone has printed gibberish all over it and put your name at the top.” ~ unknown English professor, Ohio University

The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” ~ Stephen King

Rogues are preferable to imbeciles because sometimes they take a rest.” ~ Alexandre Dumas

I’d like to thank Norma for letting me run wild in her blog today. I promise I’ll leave it in just the same condition I found it in. I may have to hire an army of zombie plot bunnies to help me clean up though.

After a long, long, long (did I mention it was long?) road, I have come to the point where my first novel is almost set to be out and about in the hands of readers. Heaven & Hell has been written, gone through revisions and drafts, handed over to readers for editing, and printed off by myself for final checks. Once I’m finished with that, it’ll be set for final formats, and then for publishing. And my creation will be unleashed. At that point, I can breathe a deep sigh of relief.

Heaven & Hell started up years ago. Its genesis took place during a trip back to see my family. I remember watching the news with my parents one night, with an article involving unrest in Israel. I thought about it, asked my mother a question: what would happen if a terrorist group went and did such and such a thing. Her answer was that it would be war. That resonated with me. Such and such a thing stayed with me, growing inside my imagination, ultimately becoming what I’ve called the Very Bad Thing, the central act of the novel. So for the record, Mom’s completely to blame for giving me the idea in the first place. Thanks, Mom!

I’ve been writing for myself for years, when I wasn’t reading other material. I’ve always liked the creative outlet that writing presents, and over time, that became my training ground, a way to hone my craft. My subject matter over time gravitated towards my favourite genre to read: the spy thriller. I’ve been reading from the works of the masters for years. So it seemed natural that my writing would take me in that direction. Over time, I was developing characters, thinking of plotlines, always thinking that at some point in the future I’d write the stories. I had in mind notions for an ongoing series of books bringing back these characters, and the idea of the Very Bad Thing was mixed up in all of that.

I had thought that the story involved in Heaven & Hell might be best served as the third or fourth book in that series. The reason was simple: the Very Bad Thing, and indeed the makeup of the terrorist group that drives the entire novel, the Covenant, felt like it would be a controversial premise. It’s a cataclysmic terrorist attack, in a part of the world where the slightest act seems to set off tempers. I felt it was something perhaps left until I was established. Sometimes life throws you an unexpected curveball. I first came into contact with Norma, and as we got to know each other and she saw signs of a fellow writer in me, I let her in on the ideas I had, particularly the Very Bad Thing. Yes, she knows what it is, and no, she won’t tell you. Not even for bribes of chocolate.

Norma encouraged me to get writing, to run with the idea that I had for Heaven & Hell first, rather than later. And she was right. Instead of leaving my serious writing for some vague point in the future, it was time to write, time to bring these characters who were living in my head to life on the page.

As I started out, I thought, “well, it’s not as if this will take that long, right?”Wrong. Writing in the spy thriller genre, particularly one that’s set mostly in Israel and the Middle East, a place with a lot of history, requires a lot of research. That meant tracking down information through various sources: online, history texts, maps, through emails back and forth with various people spread across the world, through conversations with embassy officials. It was a big undertaking, and really, one that I kept at through the writing, fact checking as I went along. Add to that the fact that this was my first novel, and that meant it would take longer than I would have expected. And finally, things going on in my personal life meant that there were times I just didn’t feel up to writing, and the pace slowed at those times. Thus what I expected would be a few months of writing…turned out to be more than two years of writing.

I remember the exhilarating rush as I was writing through the final two chapters. The second to last chapter is a long one, but features the climax of the novel, a faceoff between my protagonists and antagonists. Though it took awhile to write, it was also fun… and keeping track of who was where during this sequence in the book presented its own challenges. Likewise, the last chapter, wrapping things up, had its own rewards as I wrote. I knew that some of these characters would be back (nice thing about carrying on with these people in an ongoing series, you don’t have to say goodbye to your characters), and at that point, momentum had driven the story forward. Writing the final words, as good as it felt, carried a certain bittersweet quality to it. These characters have been with me a long time, and they came alive for me during the writing. I liked writing them, liked the way they turned out- even the villains, who I still occasionally apologize to for putting them through hell.

Sorry, everyone, but you’re the villains. These things happen. Don’t take it personally, okay?

The novel has been a long time in development, and now, standing at a point where it’s almost ready to go, I feel good about getting to this point. It was exactly the right thing to do, to start really writing the concepts that had been growing in my mind for years on end, to breathe life into these characters. I know there have been a number of people anxious to see it out there, and the time is close at hand. Barring any unforeseen catastrophes, mind you.

It’s an anxious but good time for me, about to launch a novel. I’m in anticipation of the reaction the book is going to get. It’s long overdue, and these characters are demanding to be unleashed. It’d be nice if I got a “thanks for writing us” out of them, but I’m not expecting it.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’d better get started on the next book.

Oh, and for the record, I didn’t knock that lamp onto the floor of the blog.

It was the cat.

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Thank you, William, for joining us today.

Watch for Heaven & Hell at Amazon soon. (If it’s not there soon, I’m going to beat him silly with a Nerf bat.) And do check out his entertaining blog, Speak of the Devil…I’ll be guesting there later today. And check out his other guest appearance today at Sacred Ground Travel Magazine!

The Rebirth of a Book…and a Challenge to My Sanity

Self-Publishing has been creatively liberating…and endlessly frustrating. (Yes, that’s two “ly” words in one sentence. So shoot me.)

Formatting e-books is no fun. Formatting previously published novels without original Word documents is as difficult as getting through airport security the day before Thanksgiving. My conventionally-published books were either written on my old electric typewriter or saved on disks that are no longer compatible with any computer or program.

They were written in the late ’80s-early ’90s. I think the last of them were saved onto small diskettes….but I have no idea where they are now.

So…to convert them to ebooks left me with two options: retype each book (I’m not exactly speedy on the keyboard, so that would have taken a long time) or scan the pages, use OCR software to lift the text from the scanned pages, convert it to a Word file, then to HTML…and pray the final product looked professional. Hmmm…maybe retyping wouldn’t have been such a bad idea after all….

The process is even more complicated than it sounds. And getting it right on the first try…not likely. The first time out was initially a disaster. I scanned the pages, Collin took care of the OCR process, I converted it to a Word document, Martin edited it, Collin converted it to HTML and uploaded it…and the sample I got when I clicked “Look Inside” was…the JPEG images of the scanned pages!

How’d that happen?

I still don’t know. But Collin managed to fix it…for the most part. We fixed everything we found, because some readers will write a nasty review if a misspelled word destroys their reading experience. (And I thought I had a short attention span.)

Funny how they never notice the errors in conventionally-published books….

We thought we’d learned from that experience, that it would never happen again…but it did. Over the weekend, we published the third of my backlist books via Amazon KDP. After it went live and was in the middle of a two-day free ebook promotion, we discovered a handful of errors. After a couple of days of intense editing, we have it set up at Amazon once again.

Maybe next time, I’ll type it….

 

My First Published Novel, Back As An E-Book!

Alexander’s Empire just went live on Amazon–and it’s FREE Sunday and Monday. This is the first novel I sold to Berkley, back in 1985. Like The Unicorn’s Daughter, it was published under a different title (Dance of the Gods) but is now back to its original title!


Go figure…I can’t add info to the product page until it officially appears on my Author Central page there…but I was allowed to set up the free e-book promotion. Oh, well.

And it already has a new review–check it out at William Kendall’s blog, Speak of the Devil! I think he actually liked it better than I did….

A Taste of the Dark Ages

Okay, I may be overstating the problem there.

Collin and I lost our internet service–briefly–a few nights ago.  I first became aware of it when I turned on my Kindle Fire and discovered the little X next to the wi-fi icon at the top of the screen. What did that mean? I’d never seen it before. I looked it up in the owner’s guide.  

 

It meant my Kindle was connected to our wi-fi, but our wi-fi router was connected to…nothing. Huh?

About that time, Collin switched from working in Photoshop to the internet and turned our TV from cable to Roku. He had no internet connection and was unable to stream video.

WTF???

“Contact the provider,” I told him.

“I can’t. The internet’s down,” he reminded me. For Collin, “contact” means live chat, email or text message.

“Use the old-fashioned method,” I suggested. “Call then on the phone.”

That was clearly an if-all-else-fails option. He checked and re-checked every connection we had–even the ones that had nothing to do with our wi-fi setup. I guessed it had something to do with the storm that had passed through a few hours earlier. Kind of a delayed reaction.

I was near panic. Don’t get me wrong–I’m no internet junkie. I could be happy with one or two hours online a day–but to have no time at all was another story. To not be able to use the Roku  or my Kindle was unthinkable.

What would become of us, I wonder, if we were to lose these luxuries–necessities–completely? Any internet junkies out there have any thoughts on that worst-case scenario?