Voice Actor. Author. Alien. Human


Hi everyone!

I've been a bit out of touch lately gearing up for the launch as well as a billion other things going on in my multiple careers that all seemed to happen at the same time.

Can you believe MECHANICAL FAILURE launches tomorrow? I've heard reports that copies have already made their way onto shelves at Barnes and Nobles and other booksellers, so I may go roving tonight and see if I can't sign some stock.

If you are in the Los Angeles area, you are cordially invited to attend my launch party, tomorrow, June 14th, at Barnes and Noble in Santa Monica. The address is 1201 3rd Street and the event starts at 7 PM. I expect it to last about an hour, perhaps a little longer. 

We will be having a tweeting/instagram contest, so bring your phones to take pictures! You could win a FREE COPY of the audiobook and some other stuff I've got planned.

The event hashtag is #MechanicalFailure. You can of course tweet straight at me on Twitter, too. 

If you still want to get your hands on a copy of the book but won't be at the launch party, you can order it here: http://amzn.to/1PpBOPd

I am SO EXCITED to get some humorous Sci-Fi out there in the world. I hope you can join me tomorrow! Please keep your eyeballs on the events list for a signing near you.

[EXPLETIVE!] (you'll get that joke tomorrow)

MECHANICAL FAILURE Contest: Voiceover Mad Libs!

UPDATE! Everyone is having so much fun that I'm extending the contest. You can see current submissions here.


Hi everyone! I'm still super excited about my role as Fox McCloud, but I'm switching gears here for a minute. We have less than 45 days until the debut of my novel, MECHANICAL FAILURE. To celebrate and promote the release, we're merging the two major career paths of my life - voiceover and writing - to create what I'm calling the "Voiceover Mad Libs" contest. Since I'm a military veteran, we'll go ahead and create the acronym VML for brevity's sake.

Here are the basics of the VML contest. YOU, my readers, get to fill in the blanks of one of two different voiceover scripts that I've created - a romantic comedy trailer or an infomercial. I will actually get in the booth and record and produce them to make them sound like ACTUAL voiceover spots, and then publish them to a page on SoundCloud for everyone to listen, download and laugh. You will get an actual produced copy of your spot if you enter. 

What will they sound like? AWESOME.

Here is a sample of the TRAILER spot. 

Here is a sample of the INFOMERCIAL spot. 

After two weeks, I'll close entries and me and my team of lab rats and minions (it'll pretty much be me and my agent Sam) will decide on the funniest entry, one for the TRAILER category and one for the INFOMERCIAL category. No purchase is required for a single entry.

Prizes will be awarded as follows:

1st Place: Signed hardback copy of MECHANICAL FAILURE and I will professionally narrate your voicemail message in any requested style or character in my repertoire. You write the script!

2nd Place: My literary agent, Sam Morgan, will read and critique a short excerpt of one of your novels. If you don't write, he will critique a picture of your face. If you don't have a face, I will professionally narrate your voicemail message in any requested style or character in my repertoire.

3rd Place: A free e-book of MECHANICAL FAILURE to read or give as a gift, and I will professionally narrate your failure to achieve first or second place.

BUT I AM HILARIOUS AND WANT TO SUBMIT ONE SCRIPT IN EACH CATEGORY you say? Well, you can do that if you pre-order a copy of MECHANICAL FAILURE and tweet a screenshot of your order to @JoeZieja with the #MechanicalFailure hashtag. Once we see that, I'll go ahead and read both of your submissions. A Twitter follow and a Facebook like wouldn't hurt, either. Also cookies (oatmeal raisin gets your entry deleted though so choose wisely).

What are you waiting for? Enter now via the typeforms below!

Click here to submit your TRAILER script.

Click here to submit your INFOMERCIAL script.

Click here for a FREE, EARLY copy of MECHANICAL FAILURE! 

*** A couple of notes before you go. First, if the spot doesn't conform to reasonable language standards or length of phrasing, I reserve the right to edit it. Feel free to include profanity, but it MAY get censored. Honestly, sometimes it's funnier when it gets beeped out. But when writing your entry, try to conform to standards of common decency.***

(Almost) Five Things I've Learned About Working From Home

For those of you that don't know this already, I've had a pretty radical career shift within just the last couple of years. I went from working for the US government after a long stint in the air force to a full fledged creative career, for which I never had to leave my house. I didn't even really need to speak to other people for 90% of my work. Hey, let's take it one step further - I literally started working in a 3' x 5' soundproof box. How's that for isolation?

Needless to say, there were some adjustments to be made. With my day so rigidly structured - and with 10 hours of it not even available for self-determination - suddenly having to plan my day from wake-up to sleep was a good mixture of thrilling and daunting. I won't pretend it wasn't awesome to not put on pants, but I also won't pretend that not wearing pants affected me psychologically over time. So here are five things I've learned about self-employment/working from home.

1. You need people. God, this was a hard one for me. Look, I know it's cool to say that you don't like people, but let's be honest. You just don't like most people. There's a non-trivial percentage of the population that you need to talk to every once in a while because they're funny, or they help you expand your mind (now I sound like I'm talking about an LCD dealer) or because having them in your life enriches it. You ain't gonna find that in a 3x5 box. Socializing with and helping others is an important part of life, and it's easy to forget when your job doesn't force you to talk to people.

2. You need structure. Put. On. Pants. Seriously, put them on. Staying in your pajamas all day puts yourself in a state of mind that says you're about to go to bed, or you just woke up, or you just watched The Notebook again and really need some ice cream. Decide when you want to work and stick to it. Eliminate distractions. And when you're done working? Turn the goddamn computer off. Don't click random icons like you did when you were in the corporate world. DO WORK. BE DONE. GO AWAY.

3. You need to remember what number 3 was supposed to be.

4. You need self-care. The 9-5 lifestyle tells you when to sleep, eat, bathe, work out, etc. Without that structure, you might find yourself skipping meals, eating constantly, ignoring physical activity. There's a fantastic self-care chart that I refer to that shows you what to do every time you feel like the deck is stacked against you. Sometime's it's as simple as being hydrated.

5. You need gratitude. At the end of the day, you need to look at yourself and consider how lucky you are to be doing what you do without a boss and without having to put on a suit. Not everyone gets the chance to pursue their own business or creative endeavors. So when you're dealing with a crappy client or you can't get your F@#$*KING USB SLOTS TO WORK PROPERLY...ahem...take a step back, take a deep breath, and remember how good life really is. This is not an excuse to accept the status quo - striving for improvement is important - but it is a reason to keep a positive attitude.

That's it! Those are literally the only 5 things you need to know about being self employed and working from home. Seriously. When you go to a bank and try to get a business loan for your Bonk-o-Matic Bread Throwing Device and they try to find out if you're qualified to get their money, mention this article. They'll practically pour money on you.

The (My) Path To Publishing

Since I've made the announcement about selling MECHANICAL FAILURE, I've had a bunch of people ask me how to get their novel on the shelf at the local Barnes and Noble.

Let's be honest; there are thousands upon thousands of articles out there on the interwebs on how to get your novel published. At the risk of being redundant, I'm going to try to break down my own personal journey into five phases (I hate the word "steps" because it implies a non-iterative, linear process) that got me here. Just remember that this was my journey. I know many authors that came about this in different ways. Take this for what it is: a personal story, and not a prescription.

And because I've been in the military, I'll give all my phases operational code names. I haven't gotten to do that in a while and it's kind of fun.

1. Operation WRITE, DAMN YOU

A lot of people don't give this step enough attention for a couple of reasons. First, it's hard. Second, it's hard. Third, it's also difficult. Writing takes a long time, a lot of trial and error, and, actually, a lot of reading as well. If you're not consuming literature, or at least reading books on writing, you run the risk of writing things that are not very good. But the main point is that you might have to produce an awful lot of words before any of them are worth reading. David Farland, a renowned writing teacher and author, asserts that you must write a million words before you write anything good.  That will take you time. START NOW.

To further bust the myth that publishing just happens, here's what I did. For me, between 2010 and 2015, I wrote 6 novels and about 40 short stories (about 15 of which were sold to semi-pro/pro markets). I sometimes used NaNoWriMo as a jumping-off point, but for the most part I just wrote as much as I physically could, to the tune of - wait for it - 1,005,972 words before I wrote the first word of MECHANICAL FAILURE. Weird, right? According to the aforementioned urban legend, I'm 5,972 words crappier than average. Awesome.


I am of the firm belief that art is pointless if done in a vacuum. I mean, all those tubes and all of that suction really make it hard to see whatever you're doing, never mind concentrate with all of the noise going on.

Do you see why I sold a humor book?

Anyway, I meant what I said. Art is a form of deep communication; in order for it to "work" you need to communicate with someone. This comes in many forms, but at first you need to have people read your work. They need to be people whose tastes you trust and whose opinions you value. Your mom does not count unless she is a literary agent or editor and is also mean. You can join a writing group or pawn off your work to a book club and discuss. Be prepared to reciprocate; nobody wanted to read my crappy 150,000 word novel unless I read their crappy 150,000 word novel in the attempt to make them both less crappy.

How did this go for me? I was in an online writing group for a while, met a couple of people whose opinions I trusted, and broke off from that group, keeping those relationships I had fostered. I found fans of SF/F in the air force unit I was in and asked if they'd mind reading it. It worked; I got lots of great feedback.

Also, get engaged with the community at large. I went to WORLDCON - the world's premier SciFi/Fantasy convention - and started talking to thought leaders, agents, and editors in the industry. Schmoozing, if you will. I weaseled my way onto a couple of panels because I was ostensibly an expert in military affairs, having been in the military, even though I hadn't published a book yet.


One of the greatest pieces of encouragement I ever got from another author when I was starting was from Myke Cole, the first professional I ever became friends with. I asked him to take a look at my novel, and he agreed. Afterwards, he encouraged me to send it to his agent, saying that "this manuscript absolutely demonstrates to anyone who reads it that Joe Zieja isn't  f$#king around."

You need to show the right person that you are not f$#king around.

Once you've got a manuscript that is probably going to win you a Hugo Award, it's time to send it out so that people can tell you it will never win a Hugo Award. The best place to start is with an agent - someone who the industry respects as a taste-leader in fiction, who will be taken seriously by editors when she/he sends them your book.

Back to my story.  The novel Myke was talking about? That was novel #4. Not MECHANICAL FAILURE. Don't get ahead of yourself yet. Publishing is about building your talent, but it's also about building your relationships. Joshua at JABberwocky Literary Agency did read the book, did see that I was serious about this, and then absolutely did not accept it for representation. Why? Because it wasn't ready.

The next book was.

But woah there. It was not so simple. You see, things always happen in ways you never expect. Did Joshua read the next book? No. Why? Because his assistant, Sam, took one look at the title and stole it from him. It was a much better fit, and you'll find that there is a lot based on "fit" in this business. Some people love stories about evil teddy bears. Some people don't. You can't please everyone.


All artistic endeavors are about learning to accept rejection gracefully and not be discouraged from continuing what you are passionate about. Even when you get the 100th rejection letter (you will get 100 rejection letters) you have to keep writing. Because when you get that agent, when they finally accept your book and say "this should be on the shelves," you know what you get to do?

Get rejected. Except this time it's by editors.

The book that JABberwocky originally snagged from me was not MECHANICAL FAILURE. It was a zany, ridiculous fantasy novel called DEATH BEAR AND THE SNUGGLE OF DOOM that I really hope you'll get to read one day. I don't think the world was ready for it. It got rejected by everyone my agent sent it to. Someone even found my house, put the manuscript on my doorstep, lit it on fire, and then rang the doorbell and dashed away.

Okay that's a lie. But that's what it felt like. It was so much worse for me personally than getting rejected by agents - now I felt like I was on the cusp of being published and continually let down (I'm purposefully not using an analogy that involves cerulean spherical objects because I am a decent, good man and I know my mother reads this blog).

While that was happening, though, I was still writing books. And editors were learning my name (see #3). And one editor, who liked my style, asked me if I had anything that, given my background, was military sci-fi with a humorous bent.

"Sure!" I said, typing furiously. "I have like, a thousand of those, but my email is down, and uh, you're breaking up *static noise*"

That was MECHANICAL FAILURE. I wrote it very quickly. He bought it.


Hahaha I'm just kidding. If you want to see some real statistics of real authors publishing real books, check out Jim Hines' blog post about his writing income and Bradley Beaulieu's post about the same.

While I'm waiting for the gold bullion to come pouring in, I'm busy marketing the hell out of my book. Selling a novel isn't the last step in the process - there's edits, copy edits, marketing, events, getting established on social media like Twitter and Facebook , and generating hype about the book. There's still a lot to be done before I can even start thinking about the next book in the series.

That brings us to today. That's my path! I hope you learned something. Feel free to reblog or ask questions in the comments section below.

Interested in seeing the fruit of my labor? Pre-order MECHANICAL FAILURE today and you get to read this blog article again at no additional cost by refreshing the page!

Don't Worry - You Can Still Get Paid To Write: How To Depress People With Bad Statistics

Short little article here for you that's somewhat of a duplicate from my Facebook page, but I thought it could go as a blog article too.  I apologize if you're afraid of re-used content.

My author friends are passing this link around today, and I immediately raised an eyebrow when I saw it. Something didn't feel right, and I generally dislike doomsday articles. So I read the whole thing, and one line really slapped me in the face:

"Around one in six writers did not earn any money from their writing in 2013, it said - despite 98% saying their work had been published or used in other ways."



One in six "professional" writers aren't earning any money from their writing?   To me, this said that the net they cast must have been really wide. I mean...do you ask people who aren't making any money as a plumber (but who occasionally fix their sinks) to report on the status of the profession of plumbing?  Seemed pretty wonky to me.

So I opened the actual PDF of the report.  I didn't need to read very far to get my answer.

The Methodology section stated that the only way it selected participants was to send a SurveyMonkey link to about 35,000 members of two British writers' associations called ALCS and the Society of Authors - this is how they qualified "professional" writer.

From the Methodology Section

Hum.  Okay, well, maybe they're like unions in the US, where you have to earn a minimum of $x.xx to be a part.   Let's find out:  How do you get into these associations that qualify you as pro enough to be used in a BBC-reported statistical study?

The answer from the websites themselves:  You pay about $50. That's it. They have even less requirements than America's SFWA (which mandates certain publication credits in reputable markets). In these associations, you don't even have to have published any work at all.  You don't even need to have written a paragraph longer than your credit card number.

To me, that makes the data, and the article, pretty worthless.

I'm not one to be elitist and say that only traditionally published authors coming from respectable publishers can be considered professional, but I think the data would be far more useful if that is who it was confined to.  Or at least, you know, people that got paid.  In ten clicks or less, anyone can be a published author via Amazon and then sell absolutely nothing.  Does that make them a professional?  I would argue no.  So some hard criteria would have to be applied.  I would love to see this survey taken using just SFWA membership as a criteria.

Right now, this is a really long winded way of saying "Breaking into an art-driven business like writing or acting is hard."  What a revelation!

The result, I think, is an article that is not statistically sound being used (probably inadvertently) to discourage writers everywhere. Don't get me wrong - this business is hard. I've barely scratched the surface, and I've been trying for four years. But I doubt the real numbers would paint this dour a picture.

So cheer up and get back to the keyboard.  You have a story to tell, and you're not going to let anyone tell you it's not worth telling.  Especially not tabulated SurveyMonkey results.

Saying Goodbye to Government Service

For those of you who are unfamiliar with my life path, I'll summarize the last decade or so below using clever ASCII art.

USAF Academy -> Active Duty USAF -> Reservist USAF -> Government Contractor

That's the gist of it.  And now, I'm saying goodbye.  I'm leaving behind the world of suits and uniforms and war and, in a complete reversal that I honestly never saw coming, entering the world of art.  I call it my Starving Artist Trifecta:  voice actor, author, musician, and I've written about it here several times before.  The biggest pillar of that right now is my voiceover career, but without a day job to weigh me down, I hope to strengthen those other two pillars significantly.

This is probably one of the strangest moments of my life. Looking back, when I was a young teenager and I decided to throw myself as hard as I could into the world of military service and worked every day with that goal in mind, I was convinced I would be doing it for the rest of my life.  I'd be a 30 year airman, an officer until they kicked me out, defending the values of American society from "all enemies, foreign and domestic."  I was also going to fly fighter jets and probably pilot the military's first Mechwarrior - two things that never happened.  I had seriously drank the kool-aid.  Hell, I was brewing the stuff in my basement.  I was all about glory and honor and watching Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, duty, honor, country, and those three hallowed words reverently dictated what I could be, what I ought to have been, what I would be.

Go back and tell that guy that some day he would blink his dry eyes, shake his head, and say "I don't want to do this anymore."  He'd laugh in your face.

Sometimes even now I laugh in my own face.  I look in the mirror, wonder what I am doing and tell myself to get a real job, something respectable.  Something that contributes to society.  Something that's bigger than me.  "You're selfish," a voice whispers in the back of my head.  "You don't want to do the hard work.  You don't want to sacrifice.  You're a coward."

It's harder to face than you might think.  To me, it's not just quitting my day job.  It's committing myself to a new life, almost an entirely new worldview and philosophy.  It's saying goodbye to the old life - the life that I spent all the years previous to this one building.  I worked hard to get here.  Really hard.  And then, all of a sudden  I realized that it wasn't the life I was meant to lead.  It was just a prelude, I think, to the one ahead of me.  But that doesn't keep that voice from whispering.

I've done some interesting things.  Some things I've felt great about; others maybe not so much.  I've met a lot of fantastic people.  I've met a lot of shitty people, too.  And, above all, I've learned a tremendous amount about myself and the world.  But, it's time to move on.  I leave it to the next generation of plucky young high-schoolers with stars and stripes in their eyes to figure out what to do about this country and those that threaten it - whether that be by putting on a uniform or by getting their hands dirty helping the poor in places all across the world.

I feel like I'll never really get out all the things in my head about this transition, but this is turning into a ramble as well as a very symbolic representation of what the last year of my life has been like.  It's time for me to stop straddling the line.

So: Deep breath, folks.  Here we go.

WORLDCON 2014 in Review

Last week I traveled to London to experience the 72nd World Science Fiction Convention, also known as WORLDCON or LONCON3 (it being the third WORLDCON held in London.)  It was my second WORLDCON and third convention overall (I attended Life, the Universe and Everything back in the beginning of 2012) but I hadn't been to one in over two years thanks to moving around the country and simply not having the time or funds to do so.

The conference was held at the illustrious ExCel (I'm not really sure what's up with the random capital letters) in the equally illustrious London Docklands (read: a place that used to be suitable only for salty sailors).  So, I have to say the location wasn't nearly as good as the previous WORLDCON I'd been to in Chicago, which was much closer to the city center and surrounded by businesses, restaurants, and bars.  ExCel was...not.

[caption id="attachment_745" align="aligncenter" width="490"]wpid-imag0066.jpg Plenty of water though...yep...all that water, just...waiting for you.[/caption]


But there was the programming, right?  Well, LonCon3 was happy to have panels called "What is Azad" (I still don't know) and "Saturday Morning Cartoons," but the programming staff wasn't interested in having a military in fiction panel run by 3 very prestigious authors (and some idiot named Joe Zieja).  So I didn't have any programming to attend either.  I attempted to go to panels three times, but the otherwise mammoth ExCel center kept turning me away from panel rooms that were too full (I know, I guess I could have waited in line, but still.)

So, alright.  Strange location in London.  Told to shove off when I proposed a panel.  Unable to get into any panels that seemed interesting.  Chased by mad giraffes after I stole their spots.  What does one do?

Well...I kinda blew it off.

I mean, I was in London for Christ's sake, completely by myself, so what was I supposed to do?  I spent most of every day in the middle of London, seeing some sights, relaxing, and EATING MY WAY THROUGH EVERYTHING.  People complain about British food being bland, but there are definitely some things they get right.  And I also found my happy place.



I happened upon this tea house while I was coming back from parkour at Vauxhall (I'll get there in a second) and it was so amazing I actually ended up going there three times over the next four days.  It's been there since 1862 or some crazy year like that, and practically everything they have - the cakes, the scones, the jam - is made from scratch on site.  Their food, which I didn't get to experience because I WAS TOO BUSY EATING CAKE, was also locally grown/sourced and, from what I saw on other people's plates, looked amazing.  So I would come here, relax, have a pot of tea, and either think about life or work on my latest novel.  Whatever craziness happened during the day (one of my days included a 3-hour stuck-in-pubic-transportation mess while I tried to get to the Churchill War Rooms) I found a little bit of peace here in the tea house, with the large fields of grassy parks next to it.

[caption id="attachment_735" align="aligncenter" width="490"]I also found scones. Lots of scones. I also found scones. Lots of scones.[/caption]

So.  Food.  Tea.  Cask ales.  Meat pies.  And there was also parkour.

I'm not really sure I've written about parkour on here yet, which is strange, but for those of you unfamiliar with it, it's basically being a crazy spaz in urban jungles and jumping off/on/through/around/over objects, swinging from scaffolding, and altogether convincing everyone around you that you have lost your goddamn mind.  Just look it up on YouTube and you'll have plenty of stuff to look at.

I do parkour (that makes me a traceur - keep up with the French, now) and it just so happens that London is home to some of the most iconic parkour spots in the world, like Vauxhall here, where I met a couple of random French traceurs that were really nice.

[caption id="attachment_742" align="aligncenter" width="490"]I have no idea what the actual function of this place is. I have no idea what the actual function of this place is.[/caption]

And, it just so happened that this very same weekend was a massive parkour gathering put on by Parkour Generations, one of the best parkour schools in London, called the 2014 Rendezvous (French, remember?).  I got to hang out with some really amazing traceurs who, in the short time I was able to be with them, welcomed me into their fold and helped me refine my technique.  I only wish I could have spent more time with them during the two-day event, but I actually DID have some LonCon stuff that I needed to do.  So after I got done OH SHIT A BRIDGE HOLD UP A SEC


[caption id="attachment_739" align="aligncenter" width="490"]ACTION MAN. Pit stains not included. ACTION MAN. Pit stains not included.[/caption]

Right, so after I got done running away from the London police (I did not actually run away from the police), there were actually some con things I had in the evenings that were pretty cool.  The daytime was for London, the nighttime was for AUTHOR-ATING.  I had the chance to hang out at the SFWA reception and meet some folks that I had missed at the last Worldcon, and was eventually whisked away by someone from JABberwocky Literary Agency to go hang out at one of the (few) local bars, where I met some great folks from Gollancz, Tachyon, Harper/Voyager, etc.  As I'm relatively new to the industry, and relatively segregated thanks to moving around a lot, it was a little bit of a whirlwind getting to meet everyone.  It's a little embarrassing when someone tells you that they work for one of the top publishing houses in the UK, and you ask "who is that?"  But Joshua (from JABberwocky) took care of me, so I managed not to put my foot all the way in  my mouth.

Relaxing in the evenings with other authors was fantastic as well, some of whom are quickly becoming some of my favorite people.  And my wonderful friend Amy Sundberg  managed to land me a ticket to World Fantasy Convention in DC this November, which I had stupidly not registered for before it filled up.

So, while I can't say I really went to the con very much, I had a great time in London, met some absolutely wonderful people, ate a lot of scones, jumped over some shit, sprained my left ankle, bruised my right heel, and altogether had oodles of fun.  For right now, I'm happy to be home and not having to pack/unpack my voiceover studio again, and very glad that the next convention (World Fantasy) is very close to home.

Here's one last picture of me having a fistfight with gravity, because I know my mom reads this blog and these photos make her nervous.

[caption id="attachment_748" align="aligncenter" width="490"]Wheeee! Reckless disregard for self-preservation! Wheeee! Reckless disregard for self-preservation![/caption]

Love you, mom.

A Short Discussion of Self Worth and Fried Eggs

A few days ago I woke up feeling like a failure and a fool.  From the moment I opened my eyes, it just sank into my brain like a thick, black poison that whispered negativity into my ear - I wasn't even a good person.  Why in the world had I traveled halfway across the world to go to a convention where nobody knew me, nobody wanted to know me, and if introduced, nobody would want to talk to me any further than that.  I was a sham.  A fraud.  An impostor.  Hopelessly awkward, arrogant, and worthless.  I was an expert at riding the cusp of failure, always floating just above the surface with such a lack of grace that it would have been better just to stop flailing and go under. I was an also-ran.  An almost-achiever.  I'd never sell a book, which was good, because everything I'd ever written was derivative trash, easily outshone by Buzzfeed articles with a GIF for every rejection letter I'd ever received.  I'd never land a network commercial voiceover project.  No one wanted to listen to my music - why would they?  It was all crap.  Everything I had ever done was crap.  I was crap.

And then I ate breakfast.

Guys.  Don't skip breakfast.

[caption id="" align="aligncenter" width="320" class=" "] This changes everything.[/caption]

Slow Your Roll - Slate Article Had A Point, Despite Moronic Title

I saw a virtual explosion of anger yesterday at this article published on Slate, which admittedly doesn't have a great reputation for journalism.  The title was absolutely atrocious:  "Yes, Adults Should Be Embarrassed To Read Young Adult Books."  Accusatory, shaming, and outrageously stupid to target such a huge demographic with such inflammatory language.  In and of itself, that statement, I think, inspired huge streams of commentary.  And rightly so.  Nobody has the right to shame people for their literary choices, and, later in the article, the author even says so, even though there's a bit of clear tongue-in-cheek when talking about the "ethos of our era."

"I know, I know: Live and let read. Far be it from me to disrupt the “everyone should just read/watch/listen to whatever they like” ethos of our era. There’s room for pleasure, escapism, juicy plots, and satisfying endings on the shelves of the serious reader. "

Now I could go on a bit of a tangent on the trend of titling articles in recent internet journalism - it seems just about everything is shameless clickbait - but I think that's for another time.  Suffice it to say that, in this case, the title of the article severely damaged the author's reputation and, more importantly, the content, which was actually sort of worthwhile.

My point?  Chill for a second.  At the risk of simply restating the article's content, there are actually a lot of good points.    The weirdest part  is that it contains information that, I suspect, most literary-minded folks already knew.  If you don't diversify your reading portfolio, you might be missing something important, if what you are doing is trying to use literature to enrich your understanding of life.  If you read literature as an escapist, or as a sort of relaxing leisure activity where the point is to distract you from a life that is nasty, brutish, and short, then I'm not sure that the article was really even intended for you.   And there's nothing wrong with that at all.  I think, perhaps, the author came off as even more snobbish by not drawing those lines in the sand (though she does probably stick a couple burrs by implying that "serious readers" don't read YA - I didn't say the article was perfect).

YA literature is written for young adults.  Middle Grade literature is written for kids.  There's always a target audience, and with that targeting come certain things that address the specific concerns of that audience.  Adults probably aren't dealing with bullying at school, nor are they dealing with the same sorts of identity crises that teenagers are.  I think the point of the article is that adult literature deals with adult concerns and can enrich the experience of adults in a way that YA literature cannot.

And if people are reading Eleanor & Park instead of watching Nashville or reading detective novels, so be it, I suppose. But if they are substituting maudlin teen dramas for the complexity of great adult literature, then they are missing something. [emphasis mine]

Again, this line totally doesn't fall in with the title of the article, supporting my statement that whoever titled it is a buffoon.  There's no real shaming going on here, but  more of a qualification of the hypothesis.  But I think this is the real point of the article, and it's one worth paying attention to.  It's not about whether or not adults enjoy reading YA novels; it's about whether or not they are substituting growing as an adult with experiencing a second teenage existence vicariously through novels.  If it's not substitution, it doesn't really fall into what the author of this article is saying, despite her casting a stupidly wide net with that idiotic title.  Some of the other language of the article is snobbish, yes, but I'm not sure they're the fighting words that everyone seems to think they are.

Look; I love cartoons.  I will love them until the day that I die.  I love video games, too.  I'm replaying the Quest for Glory series at the moment, games that were made in the early 1990s, and lately I've been watching an awful lot of Sesame Street, thanks to my daughter.  But at some point, after my twelfth episode of Daniel Tiger or even Dexter's Laboratory, I need to go off and do something adult-like to keep myself mentally and spiritually healthy.  I love milk, too, and I will damn well continue drinking milk until the day I die because it goes great with cookies.  But milk is for babies (or calves).  It has some of the stuff that's going to keep me healthy, but I can't subsist on it if I want to remain a healthy adult.

A couple of obtuse analogies later, it boils down to this:  I've outgrown cartoons, and I've outgrown milk.  I still like both.  I will still consume both - and there's absolutely no shame or embarrassment in that.  But there's more to life than cookies and cartoons, and I'm healthy enough to realize it.

Now, if someone going to title an article "Men Who Watch Cartoons Should Be Fed To Wild Dogs," well...



Please Learn How To Talk To People Again

I've been monitoring the recent insanity with SFWA and the multiple parties involved in the artillery shelling that is masquerading as a professional dialogue, though I can't say I've been doing it with too much enthusiasm.  I've hinted at this in a previous post about the political/moral arguments that seem to be hanging like a dark cloud over the SF/F genre, and I don't really think I'll rehash those details here.  I'm not going to pick a side or give what I think about the issue or its tangents - at least not at the present time.  But there is something that has been bothering me quite a bit as I find myself being Facebook ambushed by links to blogs and websites, etc.

People have completely forgotten how to talk to each other.

I could go out on a limb here to blame it on the internet, but I think that's overly simplistic.  Still, one cannot deny the phenomenal impact that internet communication has had on the way we interact with each other.  You're allowed sufficient time to come up with witty responses; you're allowed sufficient anonymity if you choose it; you're (perceiveably) allowed immunity from the responsibility to adhere to social norms, in some cases.  You also can't engineer your tone.  You can't accurately guage your inferences.  You can't baseline your interlocutor to find out how he or she might perceive what you are saying.  Worse, you don't care.  You don't care because you're not there to see the fallout.

We need to reinstitute a standard of behavior in the way we communicate over the internet and start treating it like we would any other communication.  If you wouldn't spew the kind of hateful, sarcastic vitriol in person that you are spewing across the internet, then you should probably reconsidering what you are saying.  No, you should probably reconsider HOW you are saying it.  There's nothing wrong with having an opinion, and there's nothing wrong with expressing it.  I think there's something wrong with expressing it like a child who was never taught the meaning of respecting other people.

Worse, the internet and the types of communications I've been seeing involve another dimension that up until now was only present in select circumstances - all your communication is public.  Yes, this means that you should watch what you say, since it becomes etched in stone immediately upon you saying it, but there's more to it than that.  In one-on-one communication, or even communication in small groups, the dimension of pride and ego is much less than in a public forum.  You may have an ego to protect, you may have honor to defend, but the way you're going to handle yourself in a coffee shop - even if you're sipping lattes with people with whom you disagree - is much different from the way you are going to conduct yourself if you were on a soap box in the middle of a crowded forum.  Essentially, that's what the internet has become.  Everyone now has access to a soap box, and almost nobody has any idea how to use it properly.

Communication on the internet is not just public.  In fact, it's not really communication - it's entertainment, and it's become a zero-sum game.  There is no compromise, because compromise is giving up status and ego and pride and concession that maybe you weren't 100% right after all.  Maybe every situation isn't black and white.  There is no discussion, since there really is no listening going on - there are only people stating their opinions loudly.

This is not communication.  It's not healthy from a personal perspective, and it's certainly not healthy from a professional perspective.   SFWA and the SF/F genre have been grievously wounded in a way that is both saddening and embarrassing, but it's not just restricted to that community.  Without a willingness to listen, without a willingness to compromise, without a willingness to accept responsibility for the things that are coming out of your keyboard, there will be no progress in any community.  There will only be lines in the sand, and through the gap it creates will blow a stagnant, callous wind that smells an awful lot like decay.

Does the Conflict Come With the Genre, or Do I Have To Pay Extra?

I never thought I would find myself on the cusp of entering the science fiction and fantasy literature world as a professional, yet here I am.  I’m starting to get integrated into circles of other writers, publishers, editors, businessmen and entrepreneurs in the writing art form.  It’s not a place I’m familiar with at all, and the few cons I’ve gone to have put me in some new, interesting, and sometimes awkward social situations that have taken a lot of social ninja-ing to get through without stepping on anyone’s toes or creating enemies.

So it came as a bit of a shock to me that, when I started reading professional blogs and reading Facebook posts from other authors, I found so much vitriol, conflict, and otherwise highly volatile arguments going on.  Gun control.  Women’s rights.  Racism.  Politics.  Politics.  Also, politics.  It seemed the more I dug into the writing world, the less it became about writing.  Some people hardly post about storytelling at all, instead lending their blogs to topics that inevitably stir controversy.

I generally avoid them like the plague for a number of reasons that are tangential to my point here, but I’ll mention them quickly: first, I am anti-absolutist.  If you think the world is black and white and you have no open mind to other opinions or thoughts, I don’t want to talk to you.  In any argument worth having, BOTH parties must be willing to change their opinion and accept information.  If not, it’s not an argument; it’s two people just saying things, and it’s one of the reasons why American politics is broken.

The second is it’s f@#ing scary.  People are exceptionally rude and disrespectful, sarcastic, and downright mean.  That’s no way to carry on a conversation about highly charged topics that are actually important.  Worse, it’s not the way most people would carry on a conversation in person.  The shelter of the internet has done bad things for mutual respect.  If you would really lurk in a room and say something that has no other purpose but to attempt to embarrass someone, that’s not cool, dude.  That’s not cool.

Tangent complete.

Yet, when I think about it now, it should have come as no surprise at all.  Artists in general have been some of the most socially and politically aggressive people in the history of mankind.  After all, it’s all about communicating, right?   Those who can communicate are those that rule (except in monarchies, then it’s just about making babies), in one way or another. And artists are on the forefront of social change.  Even if it’s just through the stories they tell or the pictures they paint, artists always have something to say.

But – is this new form the same, and do I really have to do that?  Do I really need to participate in this in order to be a well-known author in these circles?  Or will I relegate myself to obscurity by simply wanting to tell stories?  I don’t know.  But right now, with SFWA doing tumbles over issues about sexism, and so many posts on my Facebook wall that feel like they’re baiting me, it feels like there’s a subculture inside SF/F (and I only say this because I’m not that familiar with other genre’s circles) that I don’t want to join.  At least not yet.  I'm not ready to make enemies in a world in which I have few enough friends already, and it seems that people are much more ready to become enemies than friends.

Do I think these issues are important?  Yes.  Do I think we need to talk about them? Yes.  Do I think that spending hours a day on Facebook troll-slaying is going to do anything except raise my blood pressure and create the potential for me to make enemies in a world where I have few enough friends?  No, I really don’t.  I think it takes away from valuable writing time, of which I don’t have enough to begin with, and puts me in a state of mind that is not conducive to storytelling.  Facebook absolutely can spur social change – Hello, Arab Spring, how are you? – but there’s a part of me that just doesn’t feel comfortable jumping into the rampant sexism/racism/political snake pit.  Maybe I’ll come to terms with it someday, but right now it feels a bit like a barrier.

What are your thoughts?  Is the SF/F genre a good forum for social change and those topics?  How do YOU deal with building a career and trying to keep your nose clean at the same time?  Or do you think it's selfish to think only of your career, and spurring social change is much more important for you?


***  If I've had an argument with you on Facebook recently, don't think too much about this post.  The kinds of arguments I'm talking about here are the ones I haven't entered because they are too volatile to be worth anything.

SHATTERED SHIELDS: An Anthology That Will Totally Have Me In It

I’ve had to sit on this piece of news for a while now as the machinations of the publishing world worked their magic and connected dots and all sorts of other jargon.  But I am pleased to announce that my short story, “A Cup of Wisdom,” will be featured in SHATTERED SHIELDS, an anthology published by Baen Books in fall 2014 and edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt and Jennifer Brozek. From the Goodreads description:

High fantasy and mighty conflicts go hand-in-hand. In great wars, armies rise to fight evil hordes and heroes struggle to push beyond their imperfections and save the day. These stories include more than just epic landscapes and characters…but also epic battles.

My story is about a mouse wizard who uses magic to clean a house with a mop and bucket, but then everything goes horribly wrong. No, I’m just kidding.  My story is about epic battles.  Other members of the table of contents include:

Introduction by Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt

Ashes and Starlight (Runelords) by David Farland

The Fixed Stars (October Daye) by Seanan McGuire

The Keeper of Names by Larry Corriea

The Smaller We Are by John Helfers

Invictus by Annie Bellett

Rising Above by Sarah A. Hoyt

A Cup of Wisdom by Joseph Zieja  ß  LOOK!  That’s ME!  That’s ME!

Words of Power by Wendy N. Wagner

Lightweaver in Shadow by Gray Rinehart

Hoofsore and Weary by Cat Rambo

Vengeance (Frost) by Robin Wayne Bailey

Deadfall by Nancy Fulda

Yael of the Strings by John R. Fultz

The Gleaners by Dave Gross Bonded Men by James L.

Sutter Bone Candy (Black Company) by Glen Cook

First Blood (Paksenarrion) by Elizabeth Moon

You’ll be able to find SHATTERED SHIELDS at bookstores everywhere starting November 4th, 2014.  If you have trouble finding it, look for me doing something like this:

Many thanks to Brian and Jennifer for the generous invite to participate.

The Short Fiction Question

People often ask me…ha, I can’t even write that with a straight face.  Nobody ever asks me.  But the beauty of a blog is that I can answer questions that nobody asks me.

Nobody often asks me whether or not they need to write short stories to begin building their writing career.  Lately I’ve heard this topic get a lot of negative press; a lot of authors are saying that short stories aren’t necessarily important to a writer.  While there’s always the caveat that it might be a good idea, very few writers will then explain why.  The result is that short fiction has a negative stigma around it that might be giving the wrong message to new writers.  The wrong message being “don’t bother with it.”

When I say I’ve only been writing “seriously” for the last 3 years, what I mean is that I’ve only started seriously trying to get better instead of just sort of throwing words out.  I’ve been studying the art of writing, I’ve been writing novels and trying out different things, I’ve been submitting my pieces to magazines and editors and agents.  And here are some stats for you:

-          I have written over 1.1 million words

-          I have written 5 novels of varying lengths

-          I have written 48 short stories

So why the hell did I write almost 50 short stories if it’s not worth it?  There are a couple of reasons.

They Help You Establish a Reputation: This is the contentious point.  “Nobody cares about your short stories” is something I hear a lot, and I think it’s hogwash.  It does a couple of different things for your reputation.  First, it helps you test the waters.  Are those stories getting published?  By whom?  Are you reading that particular market correctly and sending them stories that will suit that magazine?  It’s helping you learn the market and learn the business without a huge time commitment.  Second, if you are getting published, walking up to an editor and saying “I’ve written 2 novels, would you like you read one?” is significantly different from “I’ve been published in Asimov’s – and I’ve written 2 novels, would you like to read one?”  You’re showing that you’re serious about your craft, and that counts, damn it.  Third, and this is purely personal, it’s quicker than a novel and I enjoy the back-and-forth and the suspense of waiting for another rejection letter or the thrill of seeing my story get picked up and published.  Purely validation, but I’m not ashamed of it.

They Are Your Playground:  How many concepts can you play with and experiment with in a novel?  Probably one, and you have to spend months doing it.  That’s kind of like saying “You know what?  I’m going to build this house, but I’m going to built it out of those twisty straws and just see what happens.”  In the end, you’re going to have wasted an awful lot of time constructing something that doesn’t work, and there are going to be a lot of people who are pissed off at you because they can’t find any twisty straws.  Try building a lego-sized house out of short straws first. In a short story, you can see what happens when you tell a story in second-person flashback in a story-within-a-story format with an unreliable narrator.  And when it crashes and burns, you self publish it on Amazon (NO DON’T DO THAT IT’S AN AWFUL IDEA AND I AM KIDDING).

Personally, My Short Game Needed Work:  I was writing awfully verbose and expository prose when I started out, and I needed a mechanism to help me fix that.  When you have a maximum word limit of 5,000 for Magazine X, you learn to be economical pretty damn quick.  No, Joe, you don’t need 3 paragraphs of description before you introduce a character.  No, Joe, you don’t need to follow a character’s train of thought from the girl in front of him to why parmesan cheese is so salty.  Writing short stories helped me tighten up my language, so that now, when I go to edit a novel, I’m cutting 5-10% of the length for verbosity, not 30%.  I learned to deliver ideas quicker and more efficiently without sacrificing the poetic nature of prose (don’t listen to people when they tell you that modern readers don’t have time for beautiful prose.  It just has to be beautiful, effective prose.)

The point that writers and editors are making, I think, is that you don’t absolutely, positively need to write short stories in order to make it.  But I’ll argue until I’m blue in the face that it can’t hurt.  In fact, it’s probably going to help.  I challenge you to find successful authors who say “I’ve only ever written stories greater than 20,000 words.”  If you do find one, though, don’t tell me, because I prefer continuing to think that I’m right.



I've Been Agented: JABberwocky Literary Agency Acquires DEATH BEAR AND THE SNUGGLE OF DOOM

A few weeks ago I mentioned that I wouldn’t be participating in NaNoWriMo this year due to some super secret news that I’d be sharing eventually.  Well, I’m finally able to tell you all.

My screwball fantasy (I’m coining this term) novel, DEATH BEAR AND THE SNUGGLE OF DOOM, has been picked up by JABberwocky literary agency and is currently on its way out to publishing houses for submission.

What does this mean?  For those of you not familiar with the publication process, it means I have agency representation as an author.  They act as intermediaries on my behalf to sell my novel to publishing houses (like Penguin Random House, Tor, Harper Collins, etc).  Most publishing houses will not consider manuscripts unless represented by an agent.

Who is JABberwocky?  If you’ve heard of Brandon Sanderson (MISTBORN, WHEEL OF TIME), Myke Cole (SHADOW OPS), Peter V. Brett (THE WARDED MAN), or Charlaine Harris (TRUE BLOOD/SOUTHERN VAMPIRE MYSTERIES), you’ve heard of JABberwocky literary agency.  They are a small group of the finest and most respected agents in the science fiction and fantasy genre, representing many New York Times Bestsellers – and now, me!

What the f@#^ is a DEATH BEAR?  DEATH BEAR AND THE SNUGGLE OF DOOM is a story about an Evil Lord (certified under the Evil Lord’s Union) who is bested by the Six Wizards of Wobbleton in an epic battle over the city.  The result?  His soul gets stuffed into a teddy bear, and a six year old girl who believes him to be the reincarnation of her dead grandfather absolutely loooovvvessss him.  To get his body (and his powers) back, he’ll have to contend with clowns, wizards, pancake chefs and tea parties.   And believe me; that's not easy.

To be honest with you, I’m still feeling a little bit dazed over this whole thing. Joshua Bilmes, the president, and I met at WORLDCON 2012, and since then we’ve been in contact.  I’d only passed one manuscript to him previously, but the unique story behind this acquisition is that Joshua isn’t the one who read DEATH BEAR.  He emailed the book to another agent, Sam Morgan, with instructions to convert it so that Joshua could read it on the kindle.  Sam looked at the pitch and said “to hell with that, I’M reading it.”   And now we’re here.

As to where we’re headed...I have no idea.  But I sure as hell am excited about it.  Many thanks to all my cheerleaders and beta readers!  Next time I post about this book, hopefully it’ll be about when it’ll be on the shelves.


NaNoWriMo was a great thing for me, because it showed me that I could finish a novel in 30 days.  The timing has worked out for three of my novels that I was ready to begin writing on November 1st, but this year I'm afraid it's a different story.  I won't be able to complete NaNoWriMo this year.

I have my reasons, but for now I'm keeping them a secret.

Regardless, if YOU are going to Go NaNo this year, best of luck!  Don't stop writing, and remember that it's only 1,667 words a day to get to your goal!  That's just a couple of emails, if you're long winded, or one long raving tirade to an ex-lover.  And if you reach 1,667 words in one day and have some more time, keep going!  Don't let a number stop you from getting ahead.  My goal two years in a row was to reach 100,000 words (I failed, miserably, and engaged in self-loathing for months afterward) but it made 50,000 seem like a (very over-described and expository-prose-heavy) walk in the park.

The End of FFVII - The Web Series

I suppose it’s a few weeks past due that I post something about this, but the Final Fantasy VII Web Series has been cancelled.

In short, it boiled down to a legal dispute we’re having with Square Enix – one that we always knew we were going to have but had hoped that Square would be professional enough to overcome.  Despite attempting to work with them for months through several forms of communication (email, snail mail, phone calls, everything but flying to Japan) they chose to ignore us.  We were open and honest about what we were doing with absolutely everyone involved, especially Square – they knew exactly what we were doing and when we were going to do it for almost six months.  We got media coverage from ridiculously popular gaming online mags like Kotaku and TheWired and Crunchyroll.

But…they still ignored us.

That is, until we tried to use Kickstarter to fund the project.  Then they brusquely came down on us with a takedown notice, said nothing, and continued to refuse to respond to our many professional missives.

We knew we were going out on a limb with this one, but we had (albeit perhaps naive) hopes.  Square isn’t known for being lenient with fan projects, and have shut down several before.  But they also have made deals before with fan organizations like OverClocked Remix.  We hoped that, with all the amazing stuff we had out there already , Square might see this as an opportunity to reclaim some of the fan support they’ve lost through the past few iterations of Final Fantasy.  Instead, they took it as an opportunity to maintain their already scarred reputation and uphold the perception that they’re not very interested in what fans want.

So maybe I’m a little bitter. I think everyone on my team was – and we had a right to be.  Haters gonna hate, of course.  We’ve seen plenty of that, and combined with the outright rudeness that comes with the implied anonymity of internet communication, it was a pretty discouraging time.  Regardless, though, our team of fifty some odd fans got together and tried to do something amazing with the Final Fantasy VII world, and no amount of tactless trolling is going to diminish that.  We know what we were capable of bringing to the fan community, and we know what Square Enix lost by choosing corporate elitism over professional relationships.

The team has moved on to other individual projects, but we’ll all be keeping in touch and pulling on the massive talent pool we’ve accumulated.  For me, it’s time that I start focusing on my writing again; DEATH BEAR AND THE SNUGGLE OF DOOM is in its last edit and Book 1 of THE DEICIDE SAGA is shortly behind it.  And NaNoWriMo 2013 is coming up!  While one dream might be dead, a hundred others are rising up to take its place.  That and I’ve launched my music and voice website, which you can find over at www.renmanstudio.com.  I have several projects that I’m working on that I hope to be able to announce in the coming weeks.

Much love,



Surviving Your First Conference Panel

I have this habit where when I go see something, I want to do it.  Every time I go see a concert, I end up working on that particular skill for the next week (I see Trace Bundy and I start working on my guitar tapping, for example).  When I see movies about ninjas, I spend the next week fighting people on the streets and doing backflips over objects.  It’s just a natural thing for me.

So it should have come as no surprise that after the Life, the Universe, and Everything conference in early 2012, I found myself leading a panel in front of hundreds at the largest science fiction and fantasy convention in America four months later.  Because why the f**k not?

Thank god it wasn’t a panel about writing, because lord knows I’m not equipped to talk to anyone about that.  I actually ended up on four separate panels about writing realistic militaries into fiction environments, not because I’m incredible at doing it but because I have a solid amount of actual, no-kidding military experience.

As we approach WORLDCON 2013, I wanted to take the time and give a few pieces of advice to any n00bs that might be in the same position as I was last year.  I’m not an expert, but I learned a lot in those four panels.  Most of life’s problems can be reduced to bullet statements, so here it goes.   I’ll make another post about what I learned about leading a panel another time – this is really just for survival.

Be an expert.  This, not your personality or your dashing good looks, is the reason you’re on the panel.  Offer good, concise, understandable expertise and advice to the audience.  You might be a big name that they’re just coming to see so they can tell all their friends they saw you, but probably not.  You’ve somehow managed to convince the con planners that you have something to contribute to this program to make it better – utilize that knowledge and give people bits of information that can only come from someone in your position.  I never gave the advice “Here’s a f***ing gem for you:  people die in war.”  I gave advice like “Here’s how the culture of the real military deals with the division between enlisted and officers.”  When someone asked me a question I didn’t know, I didn’t BS – I told them I didn’t know.

One note on the above:  make sure you read the description of the panel you are volunteering for.  I made the mistake of misinterpreting the descriptions of one of the panels and ended up on one talking about the space shuttle because I thought they wanted to talk about military aircraft capability.  (It turns out the alphanumeric codes of the aircraft were mislabeled in the description – there is a huge difference between the C-130 and KC-135 and the NASA C-130 and KC-135). 

Be professional.  Don’t interrupt people and don’t belittle people for not knowing things.  You’re probably on a panel of 3-5 guests, all who have unique experience and knowledge sets.  If you have additional information, offer it.  In fact, if you’re really suave you’ll do some research on the other panelists beforehand – nothing makes you look cooler than saying “Hey, Bill, I read somewhere that you killed JFK.  How does that experience help you answer this question from the audience?”

Be witty and funny and charming, yes, of course.  But don’t make that the focus of your presence on the panel.  If you’re only there for comic relief or don’t know when to throttle back your jokes – and believe me, people in the audience can tell when you’re just trying to bring the attention back to you with a joke because you have nothing else to contribute – then you might be on your last panel.

And, holy shit, don’t plug plug plug plug plug your book, especially if it’s not related to the topic.  If you can’t think of any other example in literature other than your own work where someone does something related to your panel’s topic, you’re not reading enough.

Be yourself.  Because this wouldn’t be an advice post if I didn’t write something incredibly trite and cliché, like “be yourself.”  Really, though, this is important.  The combination of personality and expertise is what got you here in the first place.  This isn’t a proving ground where people will judge you based on your performance; people have already come here believing, for better or worse, that the con planners have hand-picked the speakers.  It’s a great audience to be in front of - rarely hostile and most often a little starry-eyed, since psychologically you are in the position of power/knowledge and they are in the position of student.  You can relax.  Seriously, take a breath and don’t be afraid to offer information .

I’ve been to a couple of panels where there’s that one guy that says absolutely nothing and looks as if he knows something that everyone else doesn’t – like he knows where all the bodies are.  It’s just creepy.  Don’t be that guy…and if being yourself means you’re that guy, then you probably shouldn’t be on a panel.  Unless the panels is about where the bodies are.  In which case I don’t want to be at that conference.

Those are just three basic tips.  I know it doesn’t seem like much, but give me a break, I’ve only been to one conference.  It’s stressful, nerve-wracking, but it’s a whole lot of fun once you get into it.

I won’t be at WORLDCON this year, but good luck and have fun to everyone that’s going.  If you’re up for a Hugo award, best of luck…wait – if you’re up for a Hugo, why the hell are you reading my blog?


A Smooth and Natural Transition

So, a few weeks ago in mid March I finally finshed the first draft of the longest book I've ever written.  I still don't have a good title for it yet, but the series that it kicks off is called the Deicide Saga.  The easiest way to explain the plot is a mash up of Greek and Hindu mythological principles in which you have a deal-with-the-devil type of story, lots of magic, a gigantic world, and protagonists that you might not always root for.  I wrote "The End" at just over 250,000 words, and now it is definitely in hibernation. 

It was, by far, the hardest book I've ever written.  I so enjoyed writing In the Shadow of Legends that I expected this book to be as free-flowing and easy - In the Shadow of Legends took me a full month less to write, and it was just about the same amount of words.  And when I go back and read it, I like it.  This book was like pulling teeth all the way through, and I haven't quite figured out why, yet.  I really, really hope I do figure it out, and I hope it's not because the book is awful.  The thought of spending November 2012-March 2013 writing a 250k word book and then throwing it out is painful.

And, honestly, that might be why it was so hard to write, since that's exactly what I did last year.  In the Shadow of Legends was rejected by the agent that I really want to land (Brandon Sanderson's agent).  That normally wouldn't be the end of a book for me, but the rejection was caveated with a "but I want to see more from you," and thereafter he seemed genuinely interested in representing me.  That means  I have to trade the chances of In the Shadow of Legends ever seeing a bookshelf for a chance to have a king-maker as my agent.   Seems like an easy choice, but it wasn't.  My grandfather died shortly after I completed the book that was, in a very strange way, inspired by him.  It's tough to let something like that go for the sake of something that you're not even sure really exists.

Wow, that got a little deeper than I wanted it to.  Reset.  Chin up.  Make a pun about socks.  Anyway, I was excited to finish the first book in the Deicide Saga so I could move on to something new.  Because it was such an epic fantasy book - serious, gritty a little depressing - I really felt like I wanted to freewheel something and write something very light and easy.  So, the title of my next book?

"Death Bear and the Snuggle of Doom."

I started writing it immediately after the other book after brainstorming with a friend for a few days, who helped give me the idea, and I'm somehow already 25,000 words into it.  I won't give you any hints except that it's going to be ridiculous and about half the length of my other books.  It'll be part of a very loosely structured wizard world that I've come up with over the last few years (like a Discworld, in a way) and it's full of I-Don't-Give-A-Shit.  For those of you not familiar with the technical term, it's when you're not quite freewriting (writing without an outline) but you're not really paranoid about the actual content. You're just writing.  So far, my two professional sales to Daily Science Fiction have been full of that - each one was written in about 20 minutes and not edited.  I'm hoping I can achieve that level of greatness (?) with this book by doing something similar.  If it works, then maybe I'll adopt this posture for future novels. 

So, a smooth and natural transition from heavy, deep, slightly depressing epic fantasy to Terry Pratchett.  I don't think there's anything wrong with me at all... 



Awkward Party Jokes

Every once in a while I notice there’s a giant hole in my blogging regularity. Most of the time it has to do with major life changes, since I seem to be keen on packing them into small bundles of time. Now I realize that I haven’t written anything here since the day we were all supposed to die, and I thought that perhaps an update in order, because that’s what you do when you have nothing else to say at the moment. It’s like the awkward jokes told at parties when everyone runs out of things to talk about. Here’s the awkward joke of my life:

Writing: I’m still chugging away at the first book in THE DEICIDE SAGA, and it’s proving to be a much bigger project than I anticipated. The world I’m creating is huge, and requires me to keep large amounts of research data readily available for reference while I’m writing. Sometimes I just can’t remember the name of that city, or what color hair that one lady has. I’ve found myself more than once typing (CITY NAME) into the document rather than looking it up, because it’s hard to port all of that stuff to the multiple places in which I write. The novel is at 150,000 words at the moment, and my plan is to keep it below 250,000. I expect to have the first draft done by the end of February.

I’ve been invited to submit something to an anthology on military fiction for a friend of mine, which I plan on doing. The deadline isn’t until sometime later this year, so I have plenty of time (and plenty of projects to worry about) until then. I am, for example, still submitting to Writers of the Future, though I am one sale away from being too experienced a writer to qualify. The contest is a game-changer for writers, but is only open to those who have stayed below a certain sale threshold for short fiction, one that I am rapidly approaching. In the meantime, I’m still on my quest to get a story into Analog, Asimov’s, and Fantasy and Science Fiction. I’ve been getting some very pleasant rejection letters from Sheila over at Asimov’s, so I might be close to working my way into some of these killer markets.

Oh, and Mythic Scribes, a website for Fantasy writers, is going to be publishing a guest post of mine on top mistakes writers make when dealing with militaries. That’s coming out on January 26th, but you can visit Mythic Scribes in the meantime at – you guessed it – www.mythicscribes.com .

Music: I’ve completely lost my mind. Since my first two tracks came out at OverClocked Remix, I’ve been working on 5 different projects for 5 different directors in addition to collaborating on at least 3 other tracks with other artists. This has put me in my studio for hours at a time getting these mixes ready. They include a carnival piece, gypsy jazz, flamenco, cool jazz, heavy metal, and Rachmaninov-style concerto, topped off with a reggae collaboration and some more requests for my strange talent for whistling.

It’s been exhausting, in a way, and it’s been a Time Vampire, but it’s been some of the most fun I’ve ever had with music. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve added a player to the right side of the page where you’re welcome to listen to some of the music that has been released. I’ll be updating that over time to make it easier to listen to, and of course over the next year that list of songs is probably going to triple.

Speaking of the website, I’m starting to think it needs a bit of an overhaul. I’m not sure quite how I am going to do it yet, but damnit it needs doing. If there are any web designers out there…nah, I’m just kidding. I can’t afford you, and I’m not famous enough to care that much. Ask me in five years when…well, when I’m still not famous, so I can tell you no for a second time.

That’s about it from my end. Of course life is happening in the background right now. I’m still getting ready to be a father, and that has its own level of stress. Maybe someday I’ll sit down on this blog and actually tell you all something interesting about my life instead of just writing a report on my writing and music adventures.

Thanks for reading,


The Deicide Saga, Book 1: Reflections at 100,000 Words

I have to admit I was a little disappointed at the end of NaNoWriMo when my novel failed to break 100,000 words, but I've already gone over that.  Needless to say, I kept writing, and tonight I crested the 100,000 word mark of the first book in what I am currently calling The Deicide Saga.  Since it also happens to coincide with the end of the outline I had written to guide me through the first half of the book, I thought this would be a good time to take a break and reflect on what I've done so far and what I plan on doing in the future.

I don't have a whole lot to compare the experience of this novel to.  Since 2010, I've written 3 other novels, and each of them have been so different that they just don't line up.  I imagine - and soon I won't have to imagine much any more - that this is much like raising children.

I will say that, so far, this one seems to be a bit more like work and a bit less like inspiration.  My last novel, In the Shadow of Legends (a post coming soon on the fate of that work, by the way) was loosely inspired by my own wanderings through Europe, during which I passed through the village where my grandfather was born and grew up until he was ten or so.  I'll save that story for a beer, sometime, but there was a kernel of something deeply meaningful in that book for me.  I was connected to it by real-life events and inspiration, and even though the book ended up having nothing whatsoever to do with that experience, I wouldn't have written it without it.

This book, which I can best describe as taking Hindu and Greek mythology/philosophy and mashing it together to create an epic fantasy, was purely formed by brainstorming and wasn't necessarily inspired by anything at all.  Sure, I am a great fan of mythology and read it as often as I can get my hands on it, but there was no personal experience that suddenly sprung an idea in my head.  I'm just not feeling the connection to this one that I felt to my previous one, and it has me doubting my motivations and the quality of the work.

I've heard from many authors that writing isn't all about magic and fairy dust, so I'm not necessarily discouraged.  In truth, this book is flowing out of me at a faster rate than my previous novel, which must mean something, right?  I'm also working very hard to apply some principles and lessons I've learned over the last two years from conferences and editing my own work and others.  I'm trying to take my writing from telling a story to relating an experience, something that I think is much more "art" and much less "work."  You tend to think of creative endeavors as these ethereal things that are drawn from an invisible force that dwells inside of you, but I - and many other authors - will readily admit that that is not frequently the case.  There's a technical aspect to creating that I think many authors ignore.

The result, I think, is chaos.  It might be therapeutic, it might be cerebral and ingenious, but I think the audience is dramatically narrowed.  Those pieces are written for oneself, and aren't meant to be shared.  As James Owen said during his keynote address at LTUE 2012, the one thing that nobody will ever understand about you is your point of view.  Those pieces are your point of view.   They are a form of meditation.  The brilliance in writing is taking that meditative, free-form chaos and applying it to a format that other people can understand.  It's taking that swirling miasma of creative ether and distilling it using a filter known as "technique."

That's what I'm trying to do with this and all my future works.  That might be what has me feeling so uncomfortable about it all, because I'm forcefully sterilizing some of the craziness that is inside my own head.  Now that I'm 100k into the book, I can see that it takes a form that I'm not used to.  I used to think that fantasy novels had to have battle scene after battle scene, but if you look at some of the greats, there's hardly any battles at all.  They are set pieces to which you are building throughout sequences of scenes, and very frequently they are short and sweet.  They are memorable because of the non-action-oriented scenes that came before it, and without that buildup they don't mean anything at all.  The problem with writing it is that you start to get worried that something hasn't blown up in a while, and you're wondering if the reader is thinking that very same thing.  The last thing I want a reader to do is skip chapters so he can get to the "good stuff."  I want it to all be good stuff.

Anyway, those are some of my thoughts as I am about halfway through the first book in this series.  I'm sorry for this disjointed and confusing post, but I have to get my chaos out somewhere if it's not going directly into my novels.  Now YOU get to read it.  Lucky you.


NaNoWriMo 2012 in Review

Well, it's over.  NaNoWriMo 2012 has come to a close, and I am reluctant to say that I failed at reaching my DOUBLEWRIMO goal of 100,000 words (twice the requirement to 'win' NaNoWriMo).  A snapshot of my stats is below.


NaNoWriMo 2012


I discovered upon finishing that, while 80,000 words is a respectable number, I wrote a full 10,000 words LESS than I did the previous year.  I'll make my excuses quickly, because I'm pretty sure I've complained about them more than once.  In November 2012, I literally:  bought a house, moved twice, flew across the country and back for Thanksgiving, drove up the coast and back for a promotion ceremony, and sank so low in the hole in my vacation time at work that I've been working between 9-12 hours a day for the entire month.  I can't say this is an environment conducive to writing.

Then there was black Friday online shopping of course.  I didn't make DOUBLEWRIMO, but I have a trumpet.

That aside, I still did manage to clear 80,000 words, and there is a significant portion of my book that is written.  I'll save this for another post, but I'm not nearly as excited about this one as I was the last one.  I wonder if it's just a flawed perception, and had you asked me this time last year what I thought of the book I was currently writing, I would have said, "It's CRAP!  Crap, crap, CRAP!"  and thrown a sheaf of papers up in the air all dramatically, so they cascaded down like snowflakes of my inner artistic snowstorm of pain.  I can't remember.  Perhaps, when I'm in the middle of my next book and I am thinking the same thing, I will now have this post to look at and say "Oh, yeah, they all suck at first, no worries."

In any case, life has started to settle down just as NaNoWriMo comes to a close.  Theoretically that should make more room for writing, but I'm not convinced it will.  Aside from the fact that NaNoWriMo serves as a motivator for me, now I have a house to decorate and live in, a baby to prepare for, and I'm sitting in front of 10 different instruments - I just turned around and counted - that are all calling my name.  Art in all its form is a jealous bitch.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to make that jealous bitch some coffee.

Halfway Through NaNoWriMo 2012

Just a brief update.  My goal was to write 3,334 words a day, totaling over 100,000 words in the month of November.  That's DOUBLEWRIMO - two times the requirement to "finish" NaNoWriMo.  I thought I'd post a screenshot of my stats, just to give a little bit of an update on how things are going so far.  I've been really busy outside of writing, so I'll have to leave it there.  Hopefully over the next couple of weeks things are going to slow down as we settle into our new place with the knowledge that nobody is going to tell me to move if I don't want to.  That's a great feeling.

Without further ado, adieu!

[caption id="attachment_466" align="aligncenter" width="490"] 15 Day Total: 54,354 - On Track![/caption]

A Writer's Manifesto

Listen.  I woke up at 3:00 AM this morning for some inexplicable reason, and I'm 44,000 words into my NaNoWriMo novel - still on track for DOUBLEWRIMO, mind you. But I found out late last week that Daily Science Fiction is going to be releasing "The Most Important Man in the Universe" tomorrow, and that invariably brings people over to my site.  I wanted to have something up that wasn't a.) a month old or b.) another post about NaNoWriMo.  Then I remembered the writer's manifesto I wrote when I first decided that I wanted to do something with this writing gig, and I realized that I had never actually posted it.  Sure, I had it up there in a teeny tiny button, but I wanted to make sure it got out there to do its job.  So, as a replacement for what could have been an interesting blog post inspired by being awake for 40 of the last 48 hours, I give you, in its original, unedited glory, A Writer's Manifesto.




Ever since I was a little boy I was destined to be a nerd.  I embraced it.  I never denied it for an instant.  I sat transfixed in front of the television as Transformers and Voltron fought glorious battles against evil across the screen.  I played my thumbs raw on the earliest manifestations of the Final Fantasy series when I was in second grade – I graciously beat it for my friend – and was sucked in by the story.  I lapped greedily at the great pools from which dragons drank and sweat with blacksmiths as they forged the Unbreakable Sword.  I roared on the playground, an imaginary battleaxe clenched in my fist as I vanquished monsters and won the heart of the beautiful maiden (though that came a bit later).  I was a Power Ranger.  A paladin.  A dark knight.  A warlock.  I summoned creatures in Magic: The Gathering and conquered text-based demons in online Multi-User Dungeons (MUDs).

I even LARPed.  Once.

It goes without saying, then, that speculative fiction as a genre drew me in from the earliest days of reading as I gobbled hungrily through Anne McCaffrey, Robert Jordan, Robin McKinley, and so on.  I even grabbed The Gift of the Magi once because I thought it was about wizards.  I will read just about anything if it is good, but fantasy and science fiction have always had my heart.  I doubt they’ll ever let it go.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember.  Every once in a while my parents will attempt to embarrass me by showing me one of my earliest stories from first or second grade.  Invariably they will mention the Questionable Rabbit (not the actual title of the story), an illustrated piece by me in which the drawings were so terrible that I actually had to explain to them where the rabbit was and what it was doing.  To this day I still can’t recognize the gray blob on the page that was supposed to be my pet bunny, Cuddles.  I wrote down fantastic adventures of me and my friends through uncharted lands, utilizing a magic system largely ripped off from Quest for Glory, my favorite game series at the time.   It was great fun, if not great fiction.

I started my first book when I was thirteen.  It was a verbose first-person about an assassin going around and, you guessed it, killing people for money.  It clocked in over the next couple of years at 150,000 words.  You will never read this book.  The point is that writing was sneakily consistent throughout all of my life, and it took me just under 26 years to realize it.  Pay attention, because this will come into play later on.

These stories – the ones I read, the ones I wrote, the movies I watched, the role-playing games I played – largely shaped my view of the world around me.   They made me want something out of life, something a bit more glorious, adventurous.  So, when I was fourteen, I walked downstairs and told my mom I was going to go to the United States Air Force Academy for college.  Neither of us have any idea why I did such a thing.  I didn’t have much of a family military history, and none of it was in the Air Force.  It was just something I came down one morning and said I was going to do.  Didn’t even know where the place was.

I’ll skip the boring parts in between then and now – a good chunk of years, mind you – and tell you that it wasn’t quite all I thought it was going to be.  I’ve served a higher cause, I think, but it was never like the stories.  And there’s the rub.  I grew up wanting to live in one of those stories, wanting to be the hero, to slay the dragon.  But It’s. Never. Like. The. Stories.  Reality is a tricky, terrible-smelling demon that follows you around and taints everything you do, the bastard.  And so where I went looking for adventure I found the necessity of routine.  Where I went looking for glory I found Powerpoint presentations.  And it got me to thinking:  Maybe it’s okay that it’s not like the stories.  Life is a beautiful, wonderful thing, in which can be found a great many things to be happy about.  It took me a long time to come around to that realization, to understand that life isn’t a Final Fantasy game, but I’ve since recovered from the shock.  I understand, now, that I can’t live one of those stories.

But maybe I can write it.

- Joseph Zieja

On the Eve of NaNoWriMo

Well, we're at that time of year again where I obsess over word counts and plots and wonder if my characters are full enough or if everything I've done is just one giant derivative cliche with vampires and werewolves and an old guy who sacrifices himself to save the hero and Orks and Magik that are totally my own ideas because I SPELL THEM WITH A K.

It's NaNoWriMo, and I've got a book to write.

I've been letting it ferment in my head for a while now, and, much like my last novel, I've decided that NaNo is a perfect time to start it.  Well, perfect except for a couple of minor life changes that make November particularly difficult.   Little things like expecting a baby, moving across the country, completely changing jobs and lifestyles, traveling back across the country for Thanksgiving.  Oh, and there's a small possibility that I could be notified to travel across the world for 2-3 weeks with less than 72 hours notice. You know, just pesky things.  And now there's 90 MPH winds outside my windows threatening to cave in the roof, blow a small dog into the neighbor's yard, and  bring the nearby Potomac river over for evening tea.  Sandy is a bitch.

So what am I going to do about it, now that I have almost no chance of success?

This year, instead of going for the customary 50,000 words in 30 days, I'm going to try for 100,000 words.  Last year I clocked in at just over 90,000, so I think this is well within the realm of the possible.   At least, possible if I can put on my Powerizers and jump over all the life obstacles in the way.

[caption id="attachment_459" align="aligncenter" width="243"] Yes, this is me. Yes, I used to own those. Yes, they are called Powerizers.[/caption]

This year's novel is different because, well, it's big.  Really big.  Not Patrick Rothfuss big, but Wheel of Time big.  You see, it was supposed to be a trilogy.  Three books, that's it.  I like threes.  Prime number.  It's the charm, provided you've already done something twice.  Anyway, then I tried to explain the trilogy to my wife in the car.  It took about a half hour just to get through the basic idea of it, and when I was done and said it would be a trilogy, she laughed at me.  She said "This sounds like a series."

One of the best and worst qualities about my wife is that she has a propensity for correctness (notice that I never said she was "right."  I have my pride.)  As I took a step back and examined the scope of my book - hell, just the world I was trying to create and the mechanisms that made it move - I realized that I really do have something larger on my hands.  I'm thinking I can fit it comfortably into a five book series, but any shorter than that and I risk making it a glossed-over plot synopsis.  I have something like eighteen gods that encompass many dimensions of reality, and just as many mortals that are moving the plot forward.  It's complicated.  It's EPIC.  It is not, unfortunately, a trilogy.  But it must be written!

You might notice that I'm rambling a little.  First, back off.  This is my blog, not yours, and I can do whatever the hell I want.  Second, you're right, but you can't blame me.  I have well over 10,000 words of outline information on this novel, 7,000 of which is a detailed chapter by chapter outline of the first 21 chapters.  Frankly, I'm sick of outlining and I want to get to the book.  But I can't, because NaNo doesn't start for another THREE WHOLE DAYS.  And do you know what happens if you start NaNoWriMo too soon?  THE NANORHINO GET'S YOU.


I don't know about you, but I'm not overly excited to have this guy putting his snout in places it doesn't belong.  So I'm exploring the extent of my self-constraint by resisting the urge to start early.  When Mary Robinette Kowal asked me to salvage a draft of her novel after she almost lost it in a computer crash, I also resisted the urge to add the word "poop" to random places in the manuscript.  I think I can handle three days.

Scrivener doesn't know what's about to hit it.  I'll see you in three days.

Actually, no I won't.  I'll be busy writing.  What will I be writing?  Here's the flaming logo again, in case you've forgotten.



On Final Fantasy, A Play-Through

To this day I blame Final Fantasy IV (Final Fantasy II in America, though I'll use the Japanese numbering from here on out) for my beginning interest in nearly everything awesome.  I had some help from Voltron, of course, and Optimus Prime.  The reason I blame Final Fantasy IV is because it was my first video game with any plot.  I was at my friend Andy's house and he said to me:  "Joe, I can't beat this.  Will you borrow my game and beat it for me?"  I agreed, and from that moment on was in love.  With Final Fantasy, not Andy.

For those of you unfamiliar with the video game series, I'll give a very brief explanation.  Final Fantasy is a role playing game (RPG) in which you follow the story of a set of characters (your party).  It is not a hack-and-slash game or a shoot-em-up game or a sports game.  The mechanics of the game play are generally considered very boring, even by old standards.  Final Fantasy was about the story.

That bit of education complete, let's move on.  From time to time I like to work my way through the series.  It's a strange equivalent of looking through a photo album or reminiscing with an old friend.

Wait.  Only after writing that sentence do I realize how utterly pathetic that sounds.  Let me rephrase.

Because I consider the Final Fantasy series symbolic of my entry into the great and wonderful realm of storytelling, I occasionally like to start from the first one and play each game until I finish the latest entry.  It serves as both a nostalgic trigger that just makes me feel good, but it also functions as an inspiration, something that reminds me of the feelings I got as a child experiencing what, to me, was a good story filled with adventure, romance, and killing things.

It was also a point of entry into music.  Before I was playing any instruments, I was playing Final Fantasy.  When I sat down at the piano for the first few times, before I ever had lessons, I put on the music from Final Fantasy VI and started learning how to play the melodies by ear.  I have entries in my journals from fourth and fifth grade talking about how awesome the music was, in all of my little kid starry-eyed innocence.  Little did I know that twenty years later (Oh. My. God.) I would win a competition for best Final Fantasy VI remix and be invited to participate in professional level composition projects with people that are much, much better than me.

Back to the play-through.  I sometimes skip some of the entries that weren't big influences on me.  This time I started at Final Fantasy IV, and have finished the fifth and sixth games as well.  I thought, at this sort of halfway point in the FF series, I would write down some of my thoughts about the game and their stories.

They're terrible.

I mean, really.  One of the characters in Final Fantasy V was named "Butz."  The translations were probably done by Google Translator (in truth, the Final Fantasy VI original translation was done in a week by one man, I believe, which is pretty impressive if you ask me).  It created bizarre, iconic phrases like "You spoony bard!" and "Call me a treasure hunter, or I'll rip your lungs out!"

The dialog of IV, V, and VI (hereafter known as the SNES trilogy, as they were the only games on Super Nintendo) comes right out of a bad Anime, right down to the consistent usage of people's names followed by awkward ellipses ("Bob..."  "Joe...").  There's all sorts of deus ex machina moments, including the sudden appearance of a talking Octopus that has no actual bearing on the plot.  The main baddie of Final Fantasy V is called "Ex-Death," which makes me embarrassed to type, and in the last ten minutes of Final Fantasy IV you realize that the baddie you were supposed to fight wasn't the baddie at all.  It was some other guy you've never heard of using mind control.   What?!

There are good things, though.  Characterization is typically pretty good; you can believe that everyone has their own motivations, that everyone is the hero in their own story.  But, in my opinion, that's where Final Fantasy has always made its money.  Its characters are always fantastic, and the sense of companionship that develops among your party drags you in with them, so you feel like you're a part of it all.  Ugh, now we're back to me using video games as surrogate friends.  I promise I'm not this much of a loser.

But, really, in today's environment you would never get away with half the crap that goes on in an old Final Fantasy game.  It's a similar feeling to growing up liking a certain movie, and then going back twenty years later  (Oh. My. God.) and realizing how poorly the special effects were, or how cliche the dialog, or how atrocious the acting.  Yet, for some reason, you still like the damn thing.  You buy it in DVD, Blu-Ray, hologram, direct-brain implant, and you go to RECALL to dream it with Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Because you love it.  Because, in some ways, it helped you grow up.  For me, it helped me learn what a story was, how to tell one.  It also really helped me learn how to read quickly, since video game voice acting hadn't been invented yet (and should never have been).

So, there are some of my thoughts in the middle of a Final Fantasy play-through.  Are they kind of bad?  Yes.  Do I still love them?  Yes.  In five years, will I put Final Fantasy IV back into the console and fire it up again for another round?  Absolutely.  

Write, Write, Write

I keep a little tracker that I call my "Out List."  It's just a simple Excel spreadsheet, and it was originally designed to keep track of which manuscript I have where, when it was sent, who had rejected it in the past, and any notes about the manuscript or magazine I sent it to.  Sometime last year I started keeping track of the word count of each of these stories, just for grins.  According to my Out List, since October 2010 (when I first though - "hey, I can write!") I have written just under 800,000 words, and there are almost fifty entries in the list of manuscripts I have, three of which are full-length novels.  Sometimes, when I get the idea in my head that I'm not really a writer and I'm just pretending, I like to look at that number.  There's an industry myth that says you have to write one million words before you write your first word that matters.  I don't want to start my next novel, because if that's true, only the second half of it is going to be any good.

I kid, I kid.  Every once in a while I like to take a look at where I've gone with my writing and where I go from here, and it always seems to be at the point where I feel like I'm at some sort of crossroads.  Here's what's going on right now:

- Daily Science Fiction, the magazine to which I made my first professional-rate sale and the first anthology I ever signed, bought another one of my stories.  It's called "The Most Important Man in the Universe", and is not to be confused with the Dos Equis commercial guy.

- Joshua Bilmes, the agent who currently drives the chariot for Peter Brett and Brandon Sanderson among other successful authors, asked me for the first 50 pages of IN THE SHADOW OF LEGENDS.  This mostly induced a panic, during which I nitpicked at the manuscript and probably took most of the soul out of it.  But it's exciting nonetheless, and I'm waiting with bated breath.

- I became an associate member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, a professional organization for geeks who write geek fiction.

- I have seven short stories out at seven different pro markets.  My goal is to have a publication in each of them, and I think I'm getting pretty close.  The last personal rejection letter I got from Sheila Williams over at Asimov's said that my story was "shocking and well done", so I really can't complain about that.  If you're reading this and you're from Fantasy and Science Fiction, Asimov's, Analog, or Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, I'm gunning for you!

That's  pretty much where I am as far as writing.  I'm sort of stuck, now.  Having finished In the Shadow of Legends, I'm starting to get the urge to write another novel.  NaNoWriMo is coming up, so I could spend all of October drafting the outline for it.  That's basically what I did last year, and it worked out really well.  But I have a lot of ideas in my head and I'm not sure which one of them wants to come out first.  Book one of The Deicide Trilogy, I'm realizing, is really Book One of the Deicide Septology or something ridiculous like that.  The plot is too big to be squashed into three books, and I'm not sure if I'm ready for it.  In the Shadow of Legends has a sequel in it, but I kind of wanted to do something new.  There's more I could do with my humorous wizard world (the same world that got me an Honorable Mention in the Writers of the Future competition this year), and there are one or two books of young adult or urban fantasy that could be writing, too.

Choices, choices.

See you on the blank page,


The Amorphous Blog

It's certainly been a while since I've written anything here.  Life has been beyond crazy.  Lately, I've decided to change jobs, move 1,000 miles across the country with my wife and cat, and have a baby.  I also bought suits.  Do you have any idea how stressful that is?

Since WORLDCON, I've been on sort of a constrained writing high.  I was so outrageously inspired and excited after the conference, but there was so much OTHER stuff to do that it seemed like I had no way to vent any of that creative steam.  Every time I'd sit down at the computer, I'd find myself house hunting or researching healthcare options or numbly scrolling through Facebook trying to find a way to make a snarky comment or share a goofy photo.  It's been a high stress environment for probably something like a full year, since I'd only just moved from Germany in late 2011.  Leading up to THAT move was stressful enough, and the OPSTEMPO (military term for how f@*king crazy life is) was so high that I never really seemed to come down.  I thought I could sort of crush through it, but something had to give eventually.  I cranked out a 230,000 word novel between November and March of last year, wrote probably a dozen or so short stories, and got unexpectedly involved in OverClocked Remix as a composer and co-contributor of some really big projects.  There's been some bad stress, but it's mostly been good.  Still, stress is stress, and I'm pretty worn out.

Between one job and the next I decided to take about a month off.  I'm learning very rapidly that it's not enough.  I've had just enough time to really decompress before I have to spin back up again and continue the mayhem of moving where I left off.  Now, with the real tough part of the move looming over my shoulder in the next 6 days, it seems like I never relaxed at all, and I'm not sure if I'm ready for life to start again.  I remember being in school and being elated when a big break came up, but near the end of it I'd know that I was ready to go back to real life.  I should feel that way right now.  I don't.

I've tried four or five times now to sit down and write a blog entry, but I had no idea what to write.  I thought to myself, "why write a blog entry when you could be writing something else?"  I went by and read some of my new writing friends' blogs and found them filled with exciting news about book tours, signings, where to go to get a copy of their book, etc.  I have none of that stuff.  So I didn't know what to write about.  I still, halfway through this post, don't know what to write about.  Hence the title of The Amorphous Blog.

I'm going to start expanding the purpose of this site, I think, from merely giving updates to a writing career that doesn't exist yet to whatever I feel like writing about.  My Military in Fiction articles have done well (thank you all for your comments, reddits, tweets, and likes) and I do plan on writing them, but I don't want to be a one-trick pony.  I want to be known for my ability to write, not my military background, though I'm glad I can help people.

Tomorrow I'll give a quick update on what's going on with my writing.  There are a few exciting things going on, and I'd be happy to tell you all about it.  Until then, I'm going to relax with my wife, keep plowing through book 2 of A Song of Ice and Fire, and try very hard to de-stress.

Be good,


WORLDCON 2012 in Review

This year was my first WORLDCON - my second convention of any kind, ever - and I can really sum it up in one word.


When I graduated from the Air Force Academy, I remember thinking to myself that it would be a long time before I really understood how that place had changed me.  I'm not at all trying to compare six days in Chicago to four years in a life-changing institution, but I walked away from WORLDCON sort of feeling the same way.  This time I could understand a bit more of what had transpired and how it was going to affect my life, but I feel like the real benefits of WORLDCON are compounding, an aggregate of experiences from then until some future date, probably my death.

I'm fully aware of how dramatic I'm being.  I think it's because writing is a relatively new world to me, even though I've been doing it for so long.  You stand on the outside of this glass house with foggy windows, and the windows transform what's going on inside into this strange intangible dreamlike thing that only enhances your imagination.  You think to yourself, "I can't get inside there.  I belong out here, just watching."

Then, all of a sudden, you're sitting at a table with George R. R. Martin talking about pizza, how you were born and lived in practically the same city, and about how your wives are both interested in raising chickens.

Then, all of a sudden, you're at the top of an escalator, going down to leave the conference for the night, when a New York agent asks you to tell him about your book.  And you literally do the "elevator pitch" - you have thirty seconds or less to pitch your book.

And he asks you to send it to him.

Then, all of a sudden, Brandon Sanderson's agent is asking you to do the same thing.

Then, all of a sudden, you're shooting the shit with editors from Tor, sitting on panels discussing writing with bestselling authors, making the audience roll in the aisles with jokes and running out of business cards because people that want to know more about you and your work.  They're asking your opinion on how to write, how to build worlds.  You know you're just a newbie, but you actually have some answers, too.

Then, someone actually walks up to you and says "Hey, I've been reading your stories, and I'm really enjoying them", and you have no idea who they are and it's a fantastic feeling.

Then Mary Robinette Kowal buys you a drink and introduces you to the guy who writes Dr. Who.  Writers all of a sudden become people, people who went through the same crap you're going through, people who have rejection letters tacked to their wall.  Patrick Rothfuss confesses to you that no, he's not a musician, and you hate him more for it because you remember reading his book and saying "This guys knows.  This guy knows what it's like to play music."  Ugh, what a bastard.  You're playing Munckin with a bunch of people in the Science Fiction Writers Association suite, and you win, because you teamed up with Nancy Fulda in the Alliance of the Elves.

Parallel structure and name-dropping aside, it was an otherworldly experience, punctuated by moments of clarity and hopefulness.  It felt much like it did after LTUE 2012, when I thought to myself hey, I can do this.

I don't really know where all of this is going to lead.  Life is going to get chaotic again for a little while, but when the dust settles I'm going to go back to doing what I've always done: writing fiction and sending it to people.  Because ultimately, conferences or no conferences, that's what I have to do to get where I want to go.

Thanks to everyone that helped me get here.  That's not exclusive to any one person at the conference; I mean everyone.  My wife's support, my friends, the people I met and who graciously introduced me to others - Myke Cole especially.  As much as writing is a lonely and singular effort, it still takes a village.  And I think I like this town.

See you on the blank page,


Respecting Your Roots: Niteblade's Blog Train

I haven't been doing this for very long.  Only in the last quarter of 2010 did I figure out that writing was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  Now, almost two years later, I'm still pretty convinced that writing, along with music, is one of my core passions.

At first I flailed around like any newbie.  I wrote some ridiculous things and tried to get my wife to read them.  Even she couldn't get through them, and she (ostensibly) loves me for richer or for poorer, for their, there, or they're.  Deep down I think I understood that I had to put in some time, but the A-type personality in me started sending out stories anyway.  I got flooded with rejection slips - because that's what every writer does - and even made a separate folder in my mailbox for them (I currently have well over 50).

Then, out of nowhere, I had a couple of breakthroughs.  Two magazines bought a couple of my stories and all of a sudden I was jumping around in my office at work.  I was a published author!  I wasn't a penny richer, but hell, I did it!

We all have our starting points.  One of mine was Niteblade.  And you gotta respect your roots.

In celebration of five years in the business, Nightblade is starting a blog train.  Authors that have been published in their magazine are doing an Olympic-torch style run; each of us is posting a blog article about the magazine in turn.  Yesterday was Beth Cato and tomorrow is Ash Krafton.  Today is me!  Each author seems to be ruminating on his or her journey through the mess that is the writing profession.

So if you're riding the blog train, I hope you enjoy your stop at Ziejaville.  It's a crazy place; we have pizza and pierogis and Biblical parodies.  Take a break, check out some of the stories I have on Amazon, and make sure to visit my Military in Fiction series for the perspective of a serviceman that likes to take a break from blowing things up and write about dragons.

MOST OF ALL:  Go and support Niteblade!  There are some great stories to read, the issues are cheaper than cheap, and you'll be paying into the next generation of writers.  Think of it as an investment, so that in a few years you can walk into Barnes and Noble and pick up the best book you've ever read.

Tomorrow:  Make sure you hop back on the train and head over to Ash Krafton's site.  Honestly, I'm seeing all these stops on the train and getting pretty jealous!  There is lots of great talent out there.

Thanks for stopping by,



The Beginning of an Adventure

I've hit a bit of a crossroads in my writing career (I use the word career loosely).  I'm at a point now, with three novels and over thirty short stories under my belt, where I have to start thinking a bit more about where I want this to go.

I won't go into the grim details of the traditional publishing world, because there are many blogs out there that say the same thing (check out Dean Wesley Smith's, for example).  The bottom line is this:  breaking into the traditional publishing market (a book published by Tor, DAW, Penguin, etc) is very, very difficult.  Many people thought (and still do think) that this is the only way to get a book out there, the only way to have your book nationally validated by professionals who give you a stamp of approval when you sell a book to them.  "This is good," it says.  "This is a book that has been ordained by God as something that other people should read."

I think that's probably wrong.  And there's a host of evidence to prove it.

The fact is that seal of approval is only furnished by one man in one company.  One editor, sitting at a desk in New York, liked a book.  He's probably the only person in the entire company that has read the thing from cover to cover even after it's hit the shelves.  But what if, instead, a hundred readers find it on Amazon or Smashwords or Wherever.Com and forty percent of them like it.  Well damn - that's forty times the amount of validation I ever wanted.  If it bombs, so what?  Not every story is for every reader.  Some stories aren't for any reader.  I really don't have anything to lose except the time spent doing something that I love: writing.

To date, I've cataloged over 750,000 words written in just the last year and change.  The general rule in this business is that most writers have to squeeze out 500,000 to a million words before they hit their stride.  But I realized today that I haven't been counting anything I'd written before this period.  If I did, I can't imagine where that number would be.

Now, I'm not saying I've hit my stride.  And I certainly am not saying that I don't have anything left to learn.  On the day I die, face-down on my keyboard, I will still have not learned or mastered everything I want to.  But there's no reason I should wait until I hit the last key at the ripe old age of 88 to believe that my work is worthy of the publishing world.

(By the way, when I die on my 88th birthday, people will read this post and be chilled to the bone.)

So I'd like to announce my intention to start now.  In the next few months, expect a stream of short stories to start appearing on Amazon and all the other places that I'll call the Writer Proving Grounds.  They'll be cheap.  They'll be short.  Hell, they might even be bad.  But they'll be there.  And soon after that you're going to start seeing novels with my name on them, too.

I've been saying that I want people to come with me on this crazy journey of writing, and it's high time that I make it happen.  But not by writing blog posts - by you reading my stuff.

Watch for it.

- Joe

The Curse of the Honorable Mention (And Other Updates)

I received a very exciting piece of news last week:  My story "The Wild Wizard's Win" was chosen as an Honorable Mention in L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future Contest

For those of you unfamiliar with the contest, Writers of the Future is the premier contest for budding authors of speculative fiction (science fiction and fantasy).  Winners of this contest include Patrick Rothfuss, Eric James Stone, Eric Flint, David Levine, among other extremely successful authors.  So it was a pretty exciting thing to know that judges like Orson Scott Card, Kevin J Anderson and David Farland thought my story was worthy of recognition.

Regardless of the bit of pride and esteem that brings me, it was a bit of a bitter sweet moment.  I'd been waiting almost 4 months, watching the WOTF forums pile up with people reporting their rejection notifications and wondering if my story would be among them.  With each passing day, I started to look at my phone more and more, waiting for a call that might tell me I was in the final ten.  Alas, my only reward is a certificate and some minute bragging rights.  But I'm still pretty happy about it.

The funny thing about this particular contest was that I submitted the story almost as a joke.  A novelette of over 15,000 words (making it basically unpublishable in any periodical because it's too long), The Wild Wizard's Win is a flippant, whimsical tale of a totally inept wizard who enters into a sorcery competition.  His friend, the real protagonist of the story with no magical ability whatsoever, attempts to fix the competition in the wizard's favor so that he can take some of the prize money.  The story is utterly ridiculous, though it did receive a personal rejection from Fantasy and Science Fiction Magazine -  the holy grail of fantasy periodicals.  I had absolutely, positively no expectations for the story, yet here I sit, an honorable mention to my name.  I'm sure there's a lesson to be learned here, but I don't quite understand it yet.

Now that I've make my mark on the competition in a small way, I actually hope to never win it.  Why?  WOTF is a competition for amateur authors; once you attain a certain quality of publication credits, you become ineligible as a contestant.  I hope that I can break into the market before I win.  The contest runs every quarter, though, so I'll be submitting even as I work toward my overarching goal.  We'll see how it goes.

A trip to Hawaii and some other life events have taken me away from writing and this blog for a while, but life is slowly returning to some semblance of normal.  In the interim, I also got another piece of exciting news.  I've been invited to WORLDCON - one of the largest amateur/professional writing conferences in the world - as a panelist.  Unfortunately it has absolutely nothing to do with my accomplishments as an author; they want me to give some presentations and participate in panels as a member of the military, giving authors the opportunity to pick my brain as they attempt to integrate realistic military scenarios into their fiction.  99% of writers have never served (99% of America, really), yet a lot of people want to write about it.  Even the internet doesn't give you the opportunity to research what it's like to be in the military, to live that life.  Hopefully my experience and limited expertise can be useful - and hopefully I can do some serious schmoozing while I'm there.

Once I get more details and the clearance from Public Affairs to talk about my work in a public setting, I'll post them here.  If you're going to WORLDCON in Chicago this year, feel free to come to a panel!

Aside from that, it's time to focus on getting back on the horse and galloping my way to a few odd contests, another novel, editing In the Shadow of Legends and trying to land an agent to represent The Last Scion.  It's a daunting list of tasks, but if there's one thing I've learned about trying to break into this business it's that I can't be scared by the amount of work ahead of me.  I just have to keep typing, keep learning, and keep submitting my work to people that might buy it.

I invite you to follow my blog  (or invite others, if you're already following) if you're at all interested in my journey.  Writing can be a lonely and discouraging business, and it's always nice to know that I have some folks cheering for me.

Until next time,


Cooler by Association

I'm getting published in something I'm not getting paid for!  And I'm excited about it!

Writing for Charity is an annual event that started in 2008 in Salt Lake City with the express goal of raising money for - you guessed it - charity by inviting aspiring authors to attend a conference in which professional authors will help them polish their manuscripts.  It's a wonderful cause - authors typically aren't on the short list of primary charity contributors, and the fact that professionals are willing to donate their time and efforts for this is nothing short of inspiring.  This year it was hosted by the Rock Canyon Writers of Utah and the Children's Literature Association of Utah on St. Patrick's day at the Provo Library in Provo, Utah.

In conjunction with this conference, they put forth an open call for submissions for an anthology which will be sold in e-book format.  The premise sounded so fun that I couldn't help but write something.  Basically, you had to take the old Three Billy Goats Gruff story and twist it - retell the story, have a spinoff, write a sequel, whatever you could come up with.  So, as with most of my stories, it started with the "what if" question:

What if the goats, after they deposed the guardian under the bridge, established a tyrannical Goat Empire and subjugated the trolls?

You'll have to donate to charity and buy the book if you want to read the rest of the story, but the editors liked it enough to select it for publication.

I'm excited about this for two reasons.  One, I get to use my skills as a budding author to contribute to something bigger than myself.  That's a great opportunity, and I'm elated to be part of it.

Two, aside from open submissions, they put out a call to famous authors to contribute as well.  That means my work is going to appear next to Hugo Award-winning author Mary Robinette Kowal and Dan Wells.  I never thought that would happen.  Not that I think I'm in the big leagues, or anything, but it's nice to be able to say that I'm a bit cooler by association.

I had the opportunity to meet and chat with Mary at Life, the Universe, and Everything.  She's a wonderful gal, and both she and Dan are part of the team that does Writing Excuses, a great resource that I recommend every author check out (especially those who write speculative fiction).  It's an honor and a privilege to share a table of contents with them.

Keep an eye out for the anthology!  I'll post it when it comes out, and you can find out how the Wicker Warrior deals with the evil Nannie Longbeard.

Ciao for now!

My Thoughts After LTUE 2012

I can't say I ever saw myself going to a convention that didn't involve trying to figure out ways to blow things up more effectively.  Some could say that, given Larry Correia's seminar on writing action, that's exactly what I went to LTUE for, but I prefer to think of it as an enriching experience for me as an author.

For those of you unfamiliar with the conference, Life, the Universe, and Everything is a writers' conference for speculative fiction authors (sci fi and fantasy).  It's held every year at BYU/UVU in Orem, Utah, and brings together experienced and budding authors to give panels and lectures about the craft, journey, and business of writing.  I've read books on writing, I've listened to podcasts on writing, I've even meditated for long hours in the woods about writing, but I've never been to a conference where I could MEET people who WROTE.

In short, it was pretty fantastic.  Thanks to my good friend Jen Lerud, I was able to be a horrible mooch for a few days and not have to pay for lodging while getting to hang out with her wonderful family.  I'll probably be posting lessons learned from the conference as I begin to digest them, but right now I'm just still on a high from being around so much writing in such a short, concentrated period of time.

I was able to shake hands and talk briefly with all the members of the Writing Excuses podcast, a fantastic resource for anyone looking to start writing.  I exchanged business cards with people that I never even thought I'd have a chance to talk to (NYT Bestselling authors), had lunch with two pioneers of fiction, pitched books to editors for practice, and learned a LOT about the business of writing.

Above all that I took away from this conference, the one thing that really is whispering somewhere in my mind is this ridiculous, absurd thought:

I can do this.

The idea of "making it" as a writer is no longer a pipe dream.  I have had nine stories published in the same place as people who were leading those panels and giving those lectures in only one year of writing.  In that same year, I have finished the first draft of three novels, and I have at least six more itching at the tips of my fingers.

So, maybe it's crazy, maybe it's even a bit vain, but I think I can do this.  I want to write stories that change and inspire people, to weave tales that will help someone get through a tough time because they can relate with my characters, because the story I wrote planted a seed inside them that gave them the tiny push they needed.

I think I can do this.  I want to do this.  And I want you to come with me.  Pass my blog along, join me on Facebook, leave comments.  Tell me what you think of what I do.

Come on and be part of this with me.  This is gonna be fun.

Taking a Break

There's value in hard work, elbow grease, and pushing yourself forward.  A lot of people think that there's no such thing as writers' block, that all "writers' block" means is that you aren't putting your butt in the chair and typing enough.  I'm actually inclined to agree with that viewpoint.  If you can't continue writing one story, write another.  If you can't get into that one, do something else that has to do with writing.  If you're brainstorming, drafting, outlining, worldbuilding, or drawing a map in crayon on your wall while hoping your wife doesn't catch you, you're still writing.

There is a time, however, when you have to look at yourself in the mirror and ask yourself "Does my prose look as tired as I do?"  Lately I've been answering "yes" to that question an awful lot.

I've been working on In the Shadow of Legends since November 1st.  Since then I've pounded out 140,000 words (just about 75k a month) and gone places with this novel that told my outline to go pound sand.  It's been a wild ride, but I'm getting tired.  Maybe it comes with the speed of typing very quickly, or writing so many words so fast, but lately I've been re-reading sections of the book and feeling like I needed to get a glass of water because it was so dry.  It could be that my eyes are jaundiced from looking at the same thing for so long, from dealing with the same characters and setting, but in any case there's probably some handwriting on the wall that I need to take a break.

And I think that's a good lesson for myself.  I pumped out the Last Scion relatively quickly as well - more words in less time than I've done with In the Shadow of Legends - and at the end of it I added something like 40,000 words to compensate for the dry, point-to-point storytelling method I'd adopted in favor of speed.  Now, in the middle of In the Shadow of Legends, I'm finding myself bored and it's starting to show up in my writing.  Not good.

I'll come back to it after a short while, I think.  I'm too in love with this story to stay away for very long, but there are a couple of short stories (and maybe some worldbuilding for other novels) bouncing around in my head that are trying to get out.  In the Shadow of Legends has so far given it the Heisman, and the Type A personality in side of me is screaming "No!  Finish this one, and then you can start the next one!"  But that's making my writing suffer, and I need to tell Type A to go in to corporate management instead of writing.  I'll never miss a deadline - a personal promise to myself - but I'm not operating under any right now.  It's time to start treating my writing that way.

Anyway, even just writing this post has been a little refreshing.  I've written something that had nothing to do with my novel, and I have at least 3 short stories and one or two novels ready for something to come out.  It's about time I get to it.

Ciao, and Happy New Year to everyone!

A Confidence Booster

Everyone needs one sometimes, and that's okay.  We all get caught in spirals that move upward, downward, leftward, rightward, inward, outward, whereverward.

I've been in a bit of a slump lately.  I've been pounding out words on my new novel In the Shadow of Legends (rapidly approaching 150,000 words at barely halfway through the plot) but they don't feel very good.  A lot of it feels sort of empty and shallow, like I'm really just sort of journaling about the days of someone who has just a slightly more interesting life than me.

At the same time, I've been looking at older pieces of writing and wondering what the heck  I was thinking.  There's something yet missing from my writing, something that I haven't quite grasped how to do yet.  I think it's LIFE, but I'm not entirely sure.  It will require many more wasted (alright, not necessarily wasted) words before I figure out what it is, I think.

In the meantime, I needed something that would boost my confidence.  Something that says "Hey:  You're not just decent at something.  You're awesome."

So what is that? TypingTest.com, that's what's that.



That's right. I type 120 words per minute.  They might suck.  They might be drivel, nonsensical, or even offensive, but they're fast.  I have a water-cooled keyboard that also helps power New York City's streetlights.  I've been asked by the scientists working on the Hadron Collider to slow down, because my fingers are throwing electrons into counter-spins and messing with their results.  Superman won't use a computer because he's embarrassed.  Chuck Norris takes typing lessons from me.  

So there.

NaNoWriMo 2011 in Review

Well it's over.  NaNoWriMo came and went, and thus the beginning (well, nearly half) of my novel In The Shadow of Legends was born.  It's been a good run, and I don't plan on stopping here.  Let's take a look at the month as NaNo saw it.

[caption id="attachment_159" align="aligncenter" width="490" caption="Figure 1: NaNoWriMo 2011 Statistics (Click to Enlarge)"][/caption]

Ah yes.  That's a good looking bar graph, if I do say so myself.  I topped out at just over 90,000 words, and I'm pretty happy with that.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wanted to break 100,000.  I've done it before, but this year it just wasn't meant to be.  Despite the idea behind NaNoWriMo, it's taught me to slow down a bit when I'm writing.  The prose that comes out when I'm concentrating is a lot better than the stuff that comes out when I'm racing,  like in my first draft of The Last Scion.  That monster was a 150,000 word book written in 34 days, and I definitely saw the results of that after I went back to edit it for the first time.  My goal for In the Shadow of Legends is to take a bit more time, write a bit slower, and make a better first draft that won't make me wail in despair (and run out of red ink) when I go back to edit it.

November held a lot of interesting things in it other than NaNoWrimo.  In looking at the way my writing statistics shaped out, I noticed a couple of anomalies in the slope of the curve.  If I kept a consistent writing pace and followed the minimum word requirement to finish on time, I should have seen an equation that looked something like x = 1667y, where x is the total word count and y is the number of days.  Instead, at the beginning we had a more x=700y curve, but shortly thereafter followed by an exponential increase, something to the effect of x=500y2.  After performing a detailed analysis, I came up with the following (click the picture if you can't read the notes).

[caption id="attachment_160" align="aligncenter" width="490" caption="Figure 2: Causality Analysis (Click to Enlarge)"][/caption]

See?  There is nothing that can be solved by simple scientific observation.  I think everyone can benefit from this sort of analysis.

Anyway, the novel isn't done, and therefore neither am I.  This, right now, is shaping up to be about a 200,000 word novel (around the size of a Twilight book, or one of the latter Harry Potters).  I'll post a bit more about my experiences writing this book, and compare them with the experience of writing my last few, another time.  For now, I think it's time for  a well-earned rest.  Oh, and work.  Have to go and do that, too.

I Should Be Working On My Novel

But I'm not.  I'm sitting here at my new writing desk writing this post.

This Desk Will Make My Books Better

That's right.  That's where all the magic happens.  It took me nearly 4.5 hours to put together (Office Depot stuff is no joke, folks), but I have to say I'm very happy with it.  After completely disassembling my life over the last two months, it's very nearly coming back together again.  The trip from Germany to Missouri hasn't been easy, short, or simple, but at last it's finally (mostly) over.

That's how I spent the first week of NaNoWriMo - in a giant mount of cardboard boxes and moving paper, trying to figure out how in the hell the movers lost a key from my laptop keyboard.  Seriously, how do you do that when I hand the laptop to you with a closed lid?


[caption id="attachment_112" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Seriously?"][/caption]

I've been attempting to use NaNoWriMo to write the first 50,000 words of my novel In the Shadow of Legends, but so far all I've gotten is about 5,500.  That puts me significantly behind the power curve; last year I was at nearly 3x that amount before the first week wrapped up.  So I am going to have to work doubly hard in the next few weeks to make it up - and damn it, I will make it up.

If I'm going to do that, I suppose I'll have to stop here.  Just wanted to let you all know that I am, in fact, still alive.







In the Shadow of Legends

Well, that's it.  I've sent out The Last Scion to a slew of beta readers who are ready to devour my book and spit it out on the floor.  Hopefully within the next couple of months I will get enough feedback to start a somewhat final draft of the novel and begin sending it out to publishing companies.  Scary, right?

The Last Scion was originally composed in 34 days, clocking in at 143,000 words.  I wanted to make the deadline for Suvudu's writing contest.  Obviously I didn't win, but afterwards I was freed from the 150,000 word limit - and the time limit - and over the next 6 months took The Last Scion to a comfortable 180,000 words.  That was an adventure.  Maturing as a writer across the span of a novel makes for some very lopsided writing.   During the first draft, the first part of the novel was better than the second part of the novel, because I admittedly was rushing.  During the second draft,  Part III became much better, and I thought I was all ready to send it out to beta readers until I went back and read my edited Part I.  So then I had to edit that again.  Now, hopefully, the writing quality is consistent through the three parts.

With the help of my wife, I've managed to choose the next project I am going to begin working on immediately.  In the Shadow of Legends is a story of a young man in search of the story of his notorious grandfather - and that's all I'll say for now.  I sat down this morning to really start the worldbuilding phase.  I had some notes, but nothing too comprehensive, no plotting, very slim character sketches, etc.  I was supposed to sit down and start plotting a bit, try to figure out where I wanted the character to go.

That didn't work out.

Remember a while ago when I said I bought a giant white board, and hoped to go Mad Scientist on it?  Well, the Mad Scientist took over.  I sat with four different color dry erase markers and drew this:

[caption id="attachment_88" align="alignnone" width="490" caption="The Land of...Something"]The Land of...Something[/caption]


While I had some elements of mapped out geography for The Last Scion, I've never done something quite like this.  And the best part was that I didn't even really have to think about it.  I was too wrapped up in it all to really concentrate on what I was doing, and that caused me to vomit out this strange map on my wall in my basement.  At least now I know the geography.

Boy, that was fun.






"Three Kisses" Takes Third Place In Contest!

I've just been notified by Absent Willow Review that my short story, "Three Kisses" has been awarded third place in their short story contest, landing me $25 and my ninth publication.  It's scheduled to appear sometime in August.

In other publication news, "Spoons" is scheduled to appear on Daily Science Fiction on August 15th - I'll post the link when it hits the website.  Also, "Welcome to Deadtown", a contribution to one of Pill Hill Press's anthologies entitled A Dark and Stormy Night, is available on their website, http://www.pillhillpress.com/shoppe-anthologies.html.  It will be available shortly on Amazon.com as well as other online booksellers, and I will post those links as soon as they make it to the markets.

Back to writing!  I'm roughly 70% through a substantial rewrite of my latest novel, The Last Scion.  I've never actually added something to work - I'm always cutting - but with the speed at which I composed the rough draft (34 days for 150,000 words), it ended up being a very skeletal structure.  I've so far added 20,000 words, and there's probably more to come.  I hope I'll end up with an engaging novel and not an outline.

Been A While

Well, I can't be blamed.  I've spent most of my summer traveling around Europe, and I'm not done yet.  Something had to give.  Everything gave, for a bit.

I'm back for at least 5 days this time, and I'm feeling creatively refreshed and ready to go.  I have several daunting projects ahead of me.

First, I am going to be going through the next revision of The Last Scion, which I will then begin querying to agents. In the meantime, because working on only one thing bores me, I'm working on the worldbuilding and concept stages of two other novels.  The first is the first book in a trilogy that's tentatively named "The Deicide Trilogy".  I'm excited about that one because I'll be mashing together a couple of different concepts in a world that's decidedly huge.  The second is what I believe will be a one-book fantasy called "In the Shadow of Legends", based off an idea I got while doing some ancestry hunting in Italy.  Thanks, Grandpa.

I have several pieces out right now, including a couple of submissions to the Machine of Death anthology.  If you haven't checked out that quirky collection, I highly recommend it.  Submitting to it was a bit out of my genre, but once I read the premise I couldn't resist.  I did manage to sneak some fantastical elements in there.  We'll see if they bite.

One of my favorite pieces called Welcome to Deadtown is going to print in an anthology by Pill Hill Press here in a couple of weeks.  I'll post when it's available.

In the meantime, I've purchased a giant dry-erase board to hang in my office.  I hope to act like a mad scientist and madly scribble on it at 4 AM when the ideas are refusing to let me go to sleep, but my wife will probably just come down and draw a cartoon on it to fill the blank space.  I'm hoping for the mad scientist thing.

What A Rut...

Well I suppose it had to happen sometime, right?

After spending 8 months writing something upwards of 20 short stories and 2 and a half novels - and getting published 8 times - I would say that it's probably time for me to hit a wall.

I think part of the problem is that I'm spending nearly 100% of my time editing older stuff, trying to force myself to take it slow and do things right.  What a pain!  I'm used to doing everything as quickly as I can so I can move on, but now I have 3 short stories and a novel undergoing revision at the same time with no new material being produced.  So most of the time I am staring at a screen and not noticing a lot of movement.  The progression is what keeps me motivated, and without progression I feel like I'm not getting anywhere.

Another part of being discouraged comes with this doom-and-gloom rumor I'm hearing about the traditional publishing scene (writer + agent + editor + publisher = career) going to hell.  People are saying that it's all about the e-book, it's all about self publishing.  I don't want that.  I think there's a reason that we're artists - we're not meant to be good at all four points of the writing process.  While I'm not certain that having so many middle men is good, I'm also pretty sure that I don't want to have to devote 26 hours a day to doing all of that stuff.  I want to write.  I want other people to take a reasonable cut of my pay in order to do their job of editing, negotiating, and publishing.  When I hear about all these trends heading toward that going away, it gives me that what's-the-point feeling when it comes to trying to make a career about this.

I suppose there's only one thing I can do about it for the moment:  write.  That's what I've been doing the whole time, anyway.  I'm learning about myself the whole time.  I always thought I needed multiple projects to keep me going - now I realize that I think I need multiple projects in multiple different stages to do it.  Brandon Sanderson posted earlier this week that his goal was to do 10,000 words a week for the next Wheel of Time book.  When I was writing the Last Scion, I was doing 10,000 words a day, sometimes more, while working 9-10 hours a day.  Not to compare my drivel with that of an experienced writer, but I think it's obvious that I needed that pressure of an insane deadline in combination with the thrill of writing something new to keep me going.

Well, I suppose I've wasted enough time here complaining about not writing.  Time to type elsewhere.

The (Red) Pen Is Mighter

So, after nearly two months of hibernation, The Last Scion is now under severe revision.  I have decided that although my speed at writing can be advantageous, it also has its severe drawbacks.  Apparently when I write a 600 page novel in a month, I have a tendency to leave things out.  Things like good imagery and description.  Things like character development and backstory.  You know, little things.

In response to this, I've decided to purposefully slow myself down by printing out the entire manuscript and going at it line by line with a red pen.  Whew.

I will say that my adventures in writing over the last 8 months have led me down a new path that I'd never even imagined.  My writing companions have been very supportive and instructive, and I've learned to read and write with new eyes.  As I am going through The Last Scion, I am realizing how much I've grown.  Rather than being totally discouraged by what I am reading, I am instead excited.  Unlike when I wrote the draft, I feel like I have the tools with which to fix it.  I see areas where I can make improvement and I know exactly how to do it.  I had approached editing it with a large amount of trepidation, much like one approaches watching home videos of oneself.  You know you're about to see some really embarrassing stuff.  In this case, however, I can edit those home videos and make them look like professional movies.

Thanks to everyone who has given me support during this insane writing project I've undertaken.  I hope I can do you all justice by putting out a product that is a compelling story with engaging characters and an immersing setting.  This draft will probably take me another month, but at the end, I think I am going to be proud of what I read.

Either that, or another two months of hibernation will yield another home movie.  We'll see.

It's A Novel!

I’m coming to discover that stories are a lot like babies.  I’ve never had a baby, and anatomy will ensure that I never really do, so I’m speaking mostly from speculation.  And the seed of a story being planted in my head is a lot less exciting.  But work with me here.

My ideas come from a lot of different places.  Some of them get caught in my idea net and make it to a piece of paper.  For me, a lot of my short stories start with a single line, and then it all sort of tumbles out in a rush.  I guess that’s really not like a baby at all.  That kind of sounds more like vomit to me.  Some of them certainly come out that way.  Some even smell as bad.

Maybe, then, novels are a bit more like babies.  A small idea starts somewhere in the back of my head and grows over time.  Eventually, I start thinking about it more and more.  The plot forms like the heartbeat, and eventually characters start kicking at the womb, saying “Hey, it’s dark in here.”  Eventually, you’ve got two choices.  Give birth to the story, or die.

Well, it’s not really quite that dramatic.  But when you have that idea just on the cusp of being born, and for some reason you’re not letting it come out, you’re really stifling that story.

I wrote the first draft of the 150,000 word novel The Last Scion in just under 34 days.  If we are to keep with the birth motif, here, that’s the equivalent of being in labor for 5 minutes.   That was one hell of a rush.  Now it’s in what I call “hibernation”.  In a drawer, waiting for me to come and take a fresh look and polish it.  I don’t intend to carry on the metaphor, here – nobody should ignore their baby for 2 months, nor should they polish it.

Lately I’ve felt another kick or two of an epic fantasy trilogy I intend to write.  I don’t have a title yet, nor am I really ready to give a summary of the book, but it’s definitely in the last trimester.  And all while I have “A Red Thing” and “The Wild Wizard’s Win”, two novella-length short stories, in draft.  I’m probably insane.  But I’m loving this.  I’ll do multiple projects as long as multiple ideas are flowing, and I don’t intend to hold this one back any more.  A week more or so of meditation, and it’s outlining time.  It’s an exciting thing.

Let’s hope I don’t bite off more than I can chew.  And in using the cliché, please know that I am not suggesting that you should eat your baby, either.

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