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The 1st Page Critique Offer

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Let me read your writing!
The first page of your writing project is the most important. It’s where you hook the readers. This is the same truth whether it’s a short story, novel, or non-fiction piece. So I’m offering to do a critique of the first page of your piece of writing for anyone who’s a subscriber to my newsletter. The actual offer will be in my next newsletter (to come out on June 16th) and will be available until June 30th, 2015.

Hmmm. The word critique bothers me. It implies criticism. Instead I should call it here-are-my-humble-suggestions-take-them-or-leave them. I’ve been doing this sort of work for over twenty years. In fact I just finished spending nine months as a writer in residence. The most important part of my job was to go over the writing of other writers, mark the work up line by line, then have a one on one discussion (we talked out heads off).  I read everything from memoirs, to poetry, to fantastical fiction. Oh, and one engineering paper.

So this is my way of offering a similar virtual experience to you. You can even submit the 1st page on behalf of someone else (a student, your offspring, an elf…even literary pets). Just sign up by visiting the link here: My Newsletter Signup Page

The newsletter itself is monthly-ish and has lots of goodies for fans, readers, teachers and other humans. And there’s often a prize and competitions. I have so much fun putting the newsletters together–it’s the perfect way to procrastinate.

So, please hop on board. And if there’s anyone else you think might enjoy this offer (and the newsletter) just click and share on the links below.

Keep on rocking!

Art

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A Createspace Experiment–Print on Demand

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I’ve been curious about Createspace’s print on demand book publishing options for some time now (It’s just one of the many arms of the Amazon). Since my novel Megiddo’s Shadow was out of print in the US, I decided to use it to try out Createspace. It is a relatively easy way to self publish a book. All you need is a word file. They provide a template that I just copied and pasted my novel into (there were a few hours of fussing a fidgeting to get things right, but I expected this).  The actual book cover design system is also very easy to use. They have a variety of covers and styles that you can use. Since the novel is inspired by my grandfather’s experiences in WW1, I decided to use his picture. Again this took me at least an hour of fussing–if I had better design skills it probably would have gone faster. And finally I submitted all the files and ordered my proof. It arrived a month later (there was some odd delay and when I informed them that it had been a month Createspace immediately sent new copies of the books to me).

Here’s what it looked like when I got the books:

Overall I was quite happy with how the book turned out. The font is perhaps a little small for my ancient eyes, but the whole process cost me less than $30.00 and now people in the US & UK can order physical copies of the books for $8.99. Which means I still make $2.41 for each copy sold. I don’t expect to sell many copies, this was just an experiment to see how it worked. I also hope that it will actually help sell more ebook copies of the book because the ePrice looks better by comparison.

Am curious to hear anyone else’s experiences with Createspace or other print on demand systems.

Art

Whoa! Two Years of Selling Ebooks!

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What? Where did those two years go? Back in February 5th of 2011 I launched my novel DUST as an ebook (for sale in the US and UK, because those are the countries where I owned the rights myself).

Those were heady days! But I’ve blogged about them on previous occasions, so I won’t retread that ground. Just start reading from the  beginning or skip ahead to the amazing 1 1/2 year report.

Well not much has changed in the last six months. Overall I’ve sold 8406 copies of my ebooks. Last year that grossed me  around $6000. That’s like sixty iPods! I could wear them as an iPod suit. Anyway, I expect my ebook income to drop this year. Why? Because as I’ve noted before there has been a downward trend in my sales since my last report. Here’s an amazing graphic to show that…

Hey, that number in the bottom keeps going down each month. 249 copies seven months ago. 53 copies sold last month. I do think there is much more competition out there now and that there was a big blitz on sales while everyone and their pet got an eReader then filled it up. And the drop in sales is also because of the algorithmic changes Amazon made to how they weight the price of books on the sales chart (if you sell a 9.99 book, it’ll jump higher up the sales chart than a .99 cent book). It became harder for my books to climb the charts and get noticed by buyers.

Yet, I’m happy with the sales.  It’s still passive income for me that will go on as long as there are eReaders in the world. I really don’t do much extra work to earn that income. And I’m very much a less work for more money kind of guy!
 Art
As a public service I’ll attach these clickable links to my books, including the two “grown up” books I’ve published under the name Stephen Shea. If a book isn’t available in your area as an ebook, it’s because I’m still negotiating the erights for that book. So sorry for any confusion.

1000 Words a Day or Else!

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Why do I have a picture of me digging a hole in my backyard (it’s for the fish pond, you DEXTER fans, it’s for the fish pond)? Well, sometimes when I’m writing I feel like I’m stuck in a rut that’s inside a deep hole. Or that I’m treading water without waterwings. I’ve found that all the other “demands” of being a writer (clever Facebook updates, amazingly insightful tweets, googling my own name) do tend to distract from my main goal of writing. So I wanted to change that. Or…to redirect my distraction.

Recently, I was re-reading Stephen King’s On Writing and he mentioned that he works every day except for Christmas and his birthday. What a lazy bum! Just think about how much more he’d get done if he worked those extra days. His goal is to write 2000 words a day (thankfully, he didn’t say whether or not they had to be clever, perfect words). 2000 words! I can do that easily. Just as soon as I get around to it. I have to put the finishing touches on a tweet. Oh, and check my Amazon rankings and…oh, wait…there I go again.

It suddenly occurred to me that I could do half the work of Stephen King in the same amount of time. So I set up a little goal for myself and made up my own rules. I must write 1000 words of new work every day.  Yes, new is the important part. No matter what rewriting is needed, no matter whether I have a reading at a school, a deadline or a dentist appointment, the very first thing I must do is write 1000 new words. No tweets. No checking the hockey score on my virtual hockey team (Authored Destruction). Those words must be written. All of my rewriting, redrafting, pretending to plot, are all on hold until the new words are done. The reason I want to write new words is that I do believe those brand new, sparkly words and sentences that come flowing out of your mind in that first draft are as close to the subconscious as we get as writers. And I think it’s important to be in touch with your subconscious first thing in the morning (right after waking). There is a caveat to the rule. I can stockpile words. So if I’m going on a holiday, I will actually take a holiday, as long as I’ve written my quota for the time that I’m away. But I’m gonna work on my birthday and Christmas (take that Mr. King).

Heck, I made a splendid chart to keep track of it all. And to motivate myself. As you can see I’m ten days into my schedule and I’ve written 11,000 new words. I’m 1000 words ahead! And I even took last Sunday off.

I have found that the buzz I get from creating that new storyline carries on to my rewriting that I do 2nd thing in the morning. It’s like jumpstarting my mind. It crackles. It sparks. Then the creative engine roars into verbtacular life.

So if you see me tweeting early in the morning you have full writes…err…rights to say, “What’s up, Dude? Didja get your 1000 new words done yet?” And, I encourage you to do 1000 new a day words, too. Just think about how much brighter the world will be…

At the end of the year I hope to have 365, 000 new words to play with, to bat around, juggle and rewrite and turn into something other people might want to read. Until then I’ll keep on plugging (or treadmilldesking) away…


Art

Odd Questions that Authors Get (hilarious answers free): III

AH, more questions that authors get…with perfectly rational answers.

Q: Is it okay if I come to your house and watch you write?
A: Is it okay if I give the FBI your address? By the way I’ve moved to Antarctica. Turn left when you see the marching penguins and you’ll be there. Don’t worry about dressing warm.

Q: Are you sensitive to bad reviews?
A: No. No. No. No. No. NO! NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

A: Oh, you’re a writer? What do you do as a job?
Q: Writing is easy and doesn’t take much time and is really more of a hobby, so I spend the rest of my hours as a serial killer. What’s your address again?

Q: What is the most fun about being a writer?
A: I get to wear pajamas all day.
A: My only boss is my muse.
A: Playing jokes on people by naming characters after them. Like my friend Cheryl who complained that I never named any characters after her. So I invented Cheryl the Sasquatch for one of my books (true story).

Q: What is the worst thing about being a writer?
A: I wear pajamas all day. Even to readings.
A: My only boss is my muse but she’s seven feet tall and smokes cigars and demands 20,000 words a week and bacon. How much bacon is there in the world?
A: A real Sasquatch showed up one day. Her name was Cheryl. She was not happy that I turned her into a comical character. She was very good at MMSA (Mixed Martial Sasquatch Arts). I was not.

Comically yours,
Art

Dust wins the Governor General’s Award (Ten years ago, that is)

Recently, I was going through a few old VHS tapes and I—what why are you interrupting me? Oh, what's VHS you ask? It's the video recording format that conquered Beta—what's Beta you ask…ah, just Google it. Anyway, I discovered a dusty tape of the award ceremony for the Governor General's awards in 2001. My novel Dust won the award for Children's Literature that year and that meant a trip to Rideau Hall in Ottawa to see the Governor General and attend an extremely fancy ceremony (Oh, and pick up a cheque for $15,000.00). Money, free food and a mini-holiday! It's every author's dream. Here's the video:

Oh, wait! I wish I was at that ceremony! Actually, the Governor General's ceremony is the closest I'll ever come to getting a medal from Princess Leia. Here is the actual video. The two hour ceremony has been edited down to 5 minutes (in other words I cut everyone else's presentation out).

This is still the highlight of my career. Ten years later I'm surprised that all of this happened and that Dust received so much attention. When I finished writing the book I remember wondering who would want to read a slow-building, dark fantasy? 

Ten years! I'm a little grayer and waiting for that wisdom that is supposed to come with age.

Art

Dark Endeavours: Interview with Kenneth Oppel

Ladies, non-ladies, gents and non-gents, 
Herewith is my interview with Kenneth Oppel. It previously appeared on the brilliant Cynsations blog.
Kenneth Oppel's first novel Colin's Fantastic Video Adventure was published when he was seventeen and he hasn't slowed down one iota since. He is the author of the Silverwing series (which has sold over a million copies), the Airborn series (winner of the Governor General's Award for Children's Literature and the Michael L. Printz Honor Book award), and the highly acclaimed Half Brother. He lives in Toronto, Canada.
A: Congrats on the release of This Dark Endeavor: The Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. The idea of doing a prequel to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is very inspired and I'm certain there are many authors shouting, "why didn't I think of that?" Has anyone accused you of stealing their idea?
K: Amazingly, no, especially since there have been plenty of other classics rebooted with young heroes lately. You yourself may be familiar with the fabulous Hunchback series; there’s also young Sherlock Homes, young James Bond, among others. But Frankenstein was still unclaimed! I was making a presentation to a group of booksellers in the US a few months ago, and someone in the audience asked me if I was planning on ripping off any other literary classics. She didn’t actually say “ripping off” but you get the idea. I said I didn’t have any immediate plans, but asked if she had any suggestions. “Moby Dick,” she said, “focusing on Captain Ahab.” It’s not a bad idea. But I don’t think I’ll take the bait.
A: Hmm. Steampunked Moby Dick! Just let me write that down…anyway, back to the interview. Can you pinpoint when you first had that aha moment?
K: I love Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’d just re-read it a couple of years ago, and the mentions of his childhood were brief but evocative. There were mentions of seeking out the Elixir of Life, raising ghosts and demons – you know, pretty typical teenaged stuff, right up there with rep soccer and hot yoga. But I saw these things as the seeds of possible gothic adventure stories. I spent a lot of time wondering about what might happen on such adventures, and what would motivate them in a powerful way. I sat on the idea for quite a while, almost a full year, before I shared it with my agent and approached publishers, because I wanted to make sure the idea was well formed; I really didn’t want it to be seen as a gratuitous attempt to cash in on the Frankenstein myth.
A: Did you channel Mary Shelley while you were writing? By that I mean did you want to imitate the style of the original book? Shelley's Frankenstein is a rather slow and dreamy novel at times, yet you manage to keep that dreaminess but also the plot moves along at a good clip. 
K: I’m a pretty good mimic, so yes, I did try to capture the linguistic flavour of the original, but without making it inaccessible to contemporary readers. I quite enjoy the richness of period fiction, so the language in Dark Endeavor might be a little more formal, but I made sure it’s effortless to read. I read all my books aloud during the writing/editing process, and if the prose sounds too constipated, or unnatural, or the pace is slack, I know about it, and change it. The book combines gothic adventure and horror and romance, and I wanted it to belt along. I’m not sure I could write a book that didn’t have a fairly powerful plot as its internal combustion engine.
A: How much leeway did you give yourself to play around with the backstory from the original novel?
K: Well, once I invented a twin brother for Victor, I was making a pretty clean break from the world of the original. I like to think of it as an alternative backstory to the Frankenstein myth. A search for the elixir of life is a great idea for an adventure, but I thought it would be even more powerful, and personal, if Victor needed the elixir to heal someone he loved. It could’ve been any family member, but I decided a brother – a twin! – would have the richest emotional possibilities. As for the cast of characters, I made the love interest, Elizabeth Lavenza a distant relation (as opposed to first cousin). Their best friend Henry Clerval was transformed into a slightly comic Woody Allen-like character who’s riddled with phobias and fears, making him the least likely person to enjoy a Frankenstein-style banquet of horror. Victor’s parents I actually based on Mary Shelley’s real parents, the radical writers William Godwin and Mary Wollestonecraft, so my Frankenstein household is very liberal for its time. Mrs. Frankenstein writes pamphlets on the rights and education of women; Mr Frankenstein is a fair magistrate who insists on his own family making the servants their Sunday dinner as a gesture of egalitarianism (a concept that was sweeping through Europe in the late 1700’s). And my Victor himself certainly shares traits of both Percy Shelley and Lord Byron (as did Mary Shelley’s Victor)..So I tried to work in lots of insider Frankenstein information.
A: Giving Victor Frankenstein a twin certainly upped the "interest" factor of the novel. The fact is, I liked "steady" Konrad more than the "impetuous" Victor, the narrator of the story. And yet, I was somehow cheering for Victor, too. Was that your intention?
K: Anti-heroes can be incredibly charismatic and exciting. I’m not sure I’d go so far as to call Victor an anti-hero. He has some dislikeable traits, but he’s never truly wicked (not in this first book anyway). You cheer for Victor, I think, because he has so much life and drive and passion in him; and you never forget he loves his brother, even though he’s ragingly jealous of him, and wants to steal his girlfriend. So yes, I wanted Victor to be complicated – but that makes him a much more interesting character I think.
A: It must have been rather exciting to have the book optioned before it was published. What was the process for that?
K: It was very exciting. My literary agent Steven Malk thought the book had strong movie potential, and showed the manuscript to an amazing pair of agents in Hollywood, Nick Harris and Josie Freedman at ICM, who specialise in book-to-film rights. They really liked it, and sent it out to a dozen top producers and within a couple days we had three offers from major studios. This doesn’t happen often. I know. I used to write screenplays, and I’ve had many books and scripts optioned over the years and usually you’re lucky if you get one offer amidst the tsunami of “passes”. Our decision was pretty easy: we sold the rights to producer Karen Rosenfelt and Summit Entertainment, the producer and studio who made Twilight movies.
A: The book ties up the ending nicely, yet there is still room for a sequel. What's next for Victor? 
K: At the end of Book One, Victor promises himself he’ll unlock every secret law of the earth to achieve his goals – let’s just say he honours his promise.
A: You've gone from the rich "bat" fantasy world of the Silverwing series, to the post-Victorian atmosphere of the Airborn series, to the modern reality of Half Brother. And now Frankenstein. Where will you be taking us next?
K: Straight to hell, in the second instalment of the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein. It’s called Such Wicked Intent, and should be published August 2012. After that, who knows. I’ve got a couple of ideas I’m very excited about and now that I’ve just finished revisions on Such Wicked Intent, I have the wonderful luxury of daydreaming them into existence.
Thanks for the interview, Ken.
I hereby request readers to visit his website at http://www.kennethoppel.ca/
Art