Sunday, October 4, 2015

In praise (more or less) of trying new things.

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I've been working on a companion guide to the Pipe Woman Chronicles, so that folks who aren't up-to-speed with all the gods and goddesses in the series can have one place to look them all up. I'm happy to report that A Billion Gods and Goddesses is now in the capable hands of my editing team, and I'm aiming for release sometime at the end of this month.

No, really. I'm very happy to report that. Pulling this thing together was nothing like writing the novels themselves.

The writing styles are different, of course. With fiction, you just put your fingers to the keyboard and start typing, and with any luck, a story comes tumbling out. There are stops and starts, of course, and digressions, and blind alleys, and characters who creep up behind you and bash you over the head so they can run away with the story. But you don't have to stick to the facts if you don't want to. The characters' emotional reactions have to ring true, yes, but you can pretty much make up everything else.

I think most of you know that I was a journalist in my younger days. Journalism (ideally) deals in facts and only facts. Even when you're writing about someone's emotional reaction to an event, your best bet is to stick to a dispassionate reporting style. Plus the factual details are right there in front of you, or at least fresh in your mind.

Writing the god guide was like neither of these -- and like both of them, a little -- and also like writing a 20,000-word thesis. Except more entertaining than a thesis. At least, it had better be. I'm certainly not using academic prose, and mythology is fun.

The thing is that I did the research for the earliest books in the series three-plus years ago. And in the god guide, I'm reporting on mythology, if you will, rather than using the myths as a springboard for my own creative interpretation, as I did in the novels. So I didn't just have to review my sources -- I had to keep checking the details as I wrote, to make sure I wasn't going too far afield (as well as to make sure I wasn't unconsciously plagiarizing a source when retelling a myth).

In the end, though, it was a good exercise. Authors sometimes talk about the differences in writing short stories vs. novels vs. screenwriting vs. poetry. Each of these types of writing stretches different muscles. Journalism stretches yet another type of writing muscle. And a book like A Billion Gods and Goddesses is an exercise of yet another sort.

Many years ago, when I worked for WKEE Radio in Huntington, WV, one of my co-workers was Toria Tolley, who eventually went to work for CNN Headline News. She made the jump from radio into TV with an anchor job in Charleston, WV. A few weeks after she made the move, I asked her how it was going -- and she said, "Now I can go work in a bank."

That's kind of how I feel about the god guide. It was an interesting project to take on, and it was a good excuse to stretch those non-fiction-writing muscles. But now I can go back to writing novels.

These moments of muscle-stretching blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

A little autumn flash.

It's been entirely too long since I've had time to be a regular at JD Mader's blog for his #2minutesgo feature on Fridays. I hate that. The writing challenge is fun, yes, but it's also fun and awe-inspiring -- and a little daunting -- to read the great pieces everyone else in the group turns out.

I had to go this week, though, because Leland Dirks used a photo I'd shared on Facebook last week as a prompt for a poem that he posted on JD's blog on Friday. Not to be outdone, I wrote a little flash fiction piece of my own. Here's the photo (if anyone knows who the photographer is, please let me know -- thanks!) and my story. For Leland's poem (and everybody else's work), you'll have to click here and head over to the blog.

Happy autumn (the equinox -- the holiday known as Mabon in some circles -- was this past Wednesday), happy last weekend of September, and I hope you get a glimpse of the supermoon eclipse tonight. Stay warm...


At first, all I saw was a leaf on the warm, late summer sidewalk. But then the leaf spoke.

"Chilly enough for you?" it said in a rich contralto, parting along the spine to form lips.

To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. "I..." I could manage nothing more. But as I stared at the apparition, a sharp breeze blew across my knees, revealing black eyes slanted in merriment, a hint of a nose, curls the color of aspens in the fall.

Her mouth parted again. "Just wait," the leaf said. "It will get colder." And indeed, the crimson lips were now tinged with black. Frost rimed her golden curls.

"Who are you?" I managed at last.

But she didn't reply. Instead, she laughed and said, "Stay warm." And as I crossed my arms against a sudden chill, a gust blew the leaf away.

These moments of fairytale blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

How many books a year is too many?

Is the whole dust-up a load of sheep?
You decide.
Because I only blog here once a week, sometimes I miss the opportunity to talk about an issue when it's hot. By the time I get around to talking about it on Sunday night, everybody has already weighed in and moved on, and it feels like talking about it here will just rip off the scab.

Sometimes -- but not often -- it keeps me from talking about the issue at all. This week, as usual, it won't.

So here's the thing: Last Sunday, indie author Lorraine Devon Wilke wrote an article for the Huffington Post in which she basically told indie authors to slow down. Her post breaks with the advice-mongers who have been telling indies for the past few years that the way to success on the indie train is to write a lot of books and shove 'em out there. How many is a lot? She quotes one source who quotes some indies as saying they write and publish four books a year. Lorraine said in her post that four might well be too many for some folks -- that that sort of publishing schedule doesn't leave a lot of time for letting the prose ripen, working diligently with an editor to make the book the very best it can be, finding a cover artist, mapping out and executing an effective marketing strategy, and all the rest of the stuff that goes into making a book. 

I'm convinced she meant well. I believe she believed she was letting writers off the hook -- that people were feeling pressured to keep to some grueling, arbitrary publishing schedule and were freaking out and releasing their books before their time. She wanted those authors to know it's okay to write and publish more slowly.

But y'know, it's teh intarwebz. If people can get offended, they will. Some folks felt the tone of the article was condescending -- that perhaps Lorraine didn't believe anyone could turn out quality prose so quickly, and that maybe even she believed that the only sort of books worth writing were those slow, meandering, literary novels with exquisite words strung together in exquisite ways but with no actual plot to speak of.

I am pretty sure she didn't intend to say any of that, but that's what a number of folks got out of it. Chuck Wendig, who has had a fair amount of success with his own books lately, weighed in on Tuesday, suggesting the best course of action was this: You do you. In other words, write as many books as you're comfortable with, and take however long or short a time makes you comfortable doing it. My fellow minion at Indies Unlimited, Shawn Inmon, said much the same thing in a post on Thursday. I'm sure other bloggers piled on, as well, but those are the ones I saw.

By the time Shawn's post ran, Lorraine had gotten the message and then some. She posted a follow-up on her own blog Tuesday, saying that even when she tried to clarify her post at HuffPo, people got mad all over again. Like I said, it's teh intarwebz.

So what's my take? As I said above, I think Lorraine meant well. And all of the posts I read -- even Lorraine's -- came to same conclusion: Your publishing schedule is nobody's business but yours. You should publish as many books per year as you feel capable of producing without the product suffering in some major way. That doesn't mean your work has to be worthy of winning a National Book Award. But if you write slowly, own it. If you write fast, own it. If you write genre, own it. You do you, as Chuck says, and don't let the people with well-meaning advice tell you any differently. Indie Author Land is a big, big place, and there's room enough here for all of us.

I'm still on track for my usual and customary three books per year, by the way. I have a little more work to do on the first draft of a companion guide to the Pipe Woman Chronicles books. It will feature some extra info about each of the gods and goddesses in the ten books of the series. I expect to make it a stand-alone book, and I'll probably also include it in the Pipe Woman Legacy set, which will be out sometime in November.

I had meant to make the companion guide a leisurely summer project, and write a new novel this fall. But when I blinked, it was mid-September. Ah, well. I won't have a big novel launch for the holidays, so maybe I'll do NaNoWriMo in November and have something fresh to start off the new year. I'll keep you posted.

These moments of sheepish blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

How much would you pay for a verified page?

An odd thing happened to me this week. All of a sudden, out of the blue, I started getting a ton of likes on my Facebook page.

I'm not the sort of writer (yet!) whose fans are racing to sign up for my Facebook page. Oh, I get a few new fans every now and then -- and I love each and every one of you! Have I mentioned that recently?

Anyway, the point is that my page typically doesn't attract likes in droves. The only time I get a lot of action is when I participate in a like-fest, either at Indies Unlimited (where we run them pretty regularly) or some other group where participants agree to like each other's pages. When that happens, I can tell where the likes are coming from, because I recognize the names.

But this week, I got a whole bunch of new likes -- all from India and Pakistan, as near as I could tell, and none of them were names I recognized. I wondered what was going on. I know I haven't sold enough books there to account for that much attention.

Then I started getting messages from people I'd never heard of: "Hey i am ur fan...plz help me...I Want To Be A Editor on yr Page...I will xchange for thousands of likes!!!" Stuff like that.

At that point, it all came clear. These people weren't fans at all. They'd likely never heard of me. What they wanted was my verified page.

See, Facebook doesn't give that little blue checkmark out to everybody -- only to people with pages whose identities they have verified. And even then, you have to be an American. And even then, not everybody gets one. (Frankly, I have no idea why they gave me one. I suspect they looked at my LinkedIn profile and saw I'd worked at CNN and Mutual/NBC Radio News once upon a time.)

So my guess is that some folks on the other side of the world have hit on a brilliant (to them) idea: Contact the admins of verified pages and pester them for access to the back end. Everybody wants likes, right? So offer hundreds of fake likes in exchange for that access. No, thousands! A million!

One guy claimed he was trying to set up a verified page for Kristen Stewart -- who, as an American and an honest-to-goodness celebrity, wouldn't need to hire some guy in Pakistan to do it for her. Another guy asked me to apply for a verified page for him. I tried to explain why that wouldn't work -- Facebook would need to verify his identity, not mine, and I'm not going to submit a fake ID with a US address on his behalf. I think that's when he offered me the million likes.

As entertaining as all of this is -- and it is -- it's also kind of...hmm. Worse than surprising, but not quite all the way to horrifying. Let's call it "causes concern." Because if someone asks you to break the rules to get into the back end of your page, it's pretty much guaranteed that they're not going to play nice with it once they have access. Here's what an editor can do on a Facebook page:
Can edit the Page, send messages and publish as the Page, create ads, see which admin created a post or comment, and view insights.
In other words, if I'd let that guy in, he could have changed stuff on my page, spammed it with his crap, created spammy ads and had Facebook charge me for them, and on and on. And who would Facebook come after? Not Editor Boy, that's for sure.

So far, "Go away or I'll report you to Facebook" has been working pretty well as a deterrent. I hope I don't have to get to the point of blocking whole countries from liking my page. Some day I might have actual fans there.

These moments of bloggy concern have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.