You Don’t Open A Bookstore to Become Rich (except in BOOKS)

By Bobbe Arnett

Twenty-eight years ago this month, my sister Tricia and I opened Mostly Books.  We considered Beaucoup Books and a few other names but settled on Mostly Books as that is what we had in the store.  We began with used books, unique greeting cards, and gifts.  Our dad wondered what we were going to do with so many empty shelves in the store but it did not take long to fill them up by trading books for credit toward used books. Soon we started putting books on the top of shelves and then adding bookshelves to every nook and cranny we could find. 

As the years went on, we added more and more new books as customers kept requesting them.  We worked with many local authors to promote their books.  We have always sold fiction, mysteries, children’s books, non-fiction, psychology, romance, westerns, southwest books and many other subjects. When the big chain bookstores moved into Tucson we adjusted our inventory again adding more and more backlist books.  We greatly increased our selection of recovery books and we now carry all things recovery related including medallions and gifts.  Selling books at offsite events and conferences also became critical to our survival.  We look forward to the Tucson Festival of Books every March because we know we will sell tons of books, meet authors and market to thousands of new customers.

When another used bookstore moved into our shopping center, we increased our new book selection, t-shirts, mugs, sleep shirts and other book related merchandise.  Our book inventory is now about half new books and half used books.  Our greeting card section continues to grow as well and many of our customers say we have the best selection in Tucson.

Online booksellers, e-books and e-readers have also affected our sales tremendously.  When people could buy the same book cheaper online and with no sales tax, they went for it in a big way.  A lot of book lovers’ family bought them e-readers as gifts.  We responded by selling Kobo e-readers and Kobo e-books on our website.  The e-book trend has also inspired more people to read and has even help increase sales in our new books.  People are finding that they want the physical book as well as the digital copy when the book is amazing.

Everyone who works in the bookstore is a book enthusiast.  We love talking about books, discovering new books, open boxes that only contain books - if books are involved we are happy.  So of course we all read A LOT and most of us belong to several book clubs.  The nice thing about employing only book lovers is that our book selection is very selective.  We try hard to find amazing authors to introduce to our customers so that our shelves never stay stagnant.  It also means that are staff is happy to recommend a new author to our customers and, even better, will tell you that they have already read it and found it to be incredible.  Our personalize customer service has help create loyal customers, and we truly won’t be here without their continual support.

Many people come in and say they want to open a bookstore when they retire so they can sit and read all day.  We find that quite amusing and tell them we only get to read at home, not while working.

If you live in Tucson, you can find the wonderful people of Mostly Books and their extensive inventory of books at the Monterey Village, 6208 E Speedway Blvd. Also, give them a call at (520) 571-0110. Mostly Books is extremely friendly towards Indie and Local Authors - I know from experience - so make sure you support them with a visit and your business. You can also find them online at http://www.mostlybooksaz.com/

 Make sure you visit Christopher Patterson’s website atwww.christopher-patterson.com and also make sure you sign up for his monthly newsletter where you can keep up to date with what’s going on in his world, his articles and blogs, get access to freebies, and experience promotional material. You can sign up for Christopher Patterson’s email newsletter at http://eepurl.com/b5AUa1

Complimentary Copy of A Chance Beginning in Honor of the Audio Release

Hey Everyone

In honor of the audio release of A Chance BeginningI am offering complimentary copies of A Chance Beginning for kindle. Make sure you go to Amazon to pick up your complimentary copy of A Chance BeginningYou can do so by clicking on any of the hyperlinks. A since your kindle copy of A Chance Beginning won't cost you anything, you can click on over to Dark Windsmy second book and the continuation of the adventure begun in A Chance Beginning, for only $4.99. So, you can pick up the first two books of the Shadow's Fire Trilogy for only $4.99 and experience an adventure that is being enjoyed by Paolini, Tolkien, and Martin fans. 

Once you get your complimentary copy of A Chance Beginning, and your copy of Dark Winds for under $5, click on over to audible and pick up the newly released audio version of A Chance Beginningnarrated by Amrit Sandhu

And, if you haven't already signed up for my email list, make sure you do that as well: http://eepurl.com/b5AUa1 

So, here's what you need to do. Pick up your complimentary copy of A Chance Beginning. Pick up your copy of Dark Winds for under $5. Go to audible and pick up the audio version of A Chance Beginning, which you can do with an audible credit, by the way. And, lastly, sign up for my email list.

Thanks everyone and HAPPY READING and LISTENING!!!

Writing Process in Progress by Jordan Rivet

I’m an American writer living in Hong Kong. I got my start writing creative non-fiction about expat life in Asia, but found my true passion when I began writing the books I love to read: fantasy and science fiction. I wanted to build my own worlds and craft the kind of high-stakes adventures that keep me up at night.

I published Seabound, a post-apocalyptic adventure set on a souped-up cruise ship, in the fall of 2014. My writing process evolved as I completed three more books in that series and started the Steel and Fire YA fantasy series. I’m now a full-time author and recently launched my seventh novel. My writing process continues to be a living thing, growing and changing as I learn from other writers and from my own experiences. Here’s what it looks like right now:

Stick to a routine

Having a regular writing routine is the most important part of my process. I write five days a week from 11 am to 7 pm. Forcing myself to get dressed and walk to work puts me into “writing mode” whether I feel like it or not. I go to the same Starbucks every day and work right through lunch. My Starbucks is in a busy international area, and it’s helpful to have life and variety around me while I write. I usually run out of steam around 4 pm, so I take an email and Internet break and then dive back in for another few hours. 

Outline

I get a lot of my ideas while working on other books. There’s no better time to get inspired than when I’m already in “writing mode.” If an idea comes to me, I’ll write it in a notebook or add it to an existing document on my computer. By the time I sit down to start a new book, I’ll already know a bit about the characters, the world, and the story arc. This saves me from the dreaded blank page! I like using a 3-act structure when I’m planning a new book. I type out a basic outline and fill it in with short paragraphs for each major plot point so I’ll know where the story is heading. 

Hammer out a rough draft

I usually write my rough drafts quickly. My record is 67,000 words in eight working days. In general, I bang out my initial drafts in a month, NaNoWriMo-style, because it helps me keep up the momentum in the story. I want to write page-turners, and it helps if I write as if I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I also do a lot of my world-building here. It’s easier to come up with fantastical ideas and settings when I’m in the thick of writing the story than when I’m writing the outline. There will be plenty of time to make sure the world-building details are consistent in the later drafts. This part is all about making up cool stuff and seeing where the story takes me.

At this point I consider the draft virtually unreadable. One of my biggest fears is that I’ll die with a draft in this state and someone will discover it in the future and be . . . underwhelmed.

Build the structure

The next step is to print out the draft, read it through, and plug the events into a storyboard like this one. Looking at a classic story structure helps me see where the holes in my existing story might be. This is where I make final decisions about the plot and world-building and decide where to add or expand chapters. I’ll do this multiple times for different POV characters. Each person needs his or her own story arc.

Craft the second draft

Writing the second draft is the most extensive and painful part of the process. It’s also a lot of fun. I get to take the raw material I’ve created and mold it into a book. I add and rearrange chapters, expand and intensify scenes, fill in the setting details, and make any big plot changes. I’ve had drafts grow by 40,000 words during the Draft 2 stage. At this point I also do a lot of polishing and rewriting. By the time this draft is finished, I feel pretty comfortable letting my trusty band of critique partners see it.

Collect and consider feedback

While my critique partners read and work their magic, I usually jump into another book. Momentum is really important to my productivity, so I continue to write even while I’m waiting for feedback. I sometimes read books on the craft of writing during this stage. It’s important to keep learning, but I don’t like to get distracted by how-to books when I’m in the middle of a fresh draft.

When my readers get back to me, I listen to their advice, paying special attention to issues of pacing and character development. These things are hard for me to judge when I’m so close to the characters and have spent so much time in the thick of the plot. My first readers help me isolate the issues I can no longer see on my own. Anything is fair game for revision at this stage. I’ve been known to kill off characters and add whole POV sections based on the advice of my early readers. The books are invariably better for it.

Draft 3+

From this point I’ll do at least one more draft, depending on how much feedback I received and how much the language still needs to be polished. I’ll often add 10,000 or more words with each pass. My word counts always grow significantly throughout my process. Sometimes I’ll do up to five drafts, but that has become less necessary as my writing has gotten cleaner. Then it’s time to send the book off to my editor!

Think in series

At the moment I’m writing entirely in series. I’ve written a post-apocalyptic trilogy and prequel, and I recently launched the third novel in what will likely be a five-book fantasy series. For both series, I haven’t been certain whether my ideas had series potential until I finished rough drafts of each Book 1.

For later books in the series I repeat the process above, often beginning the initial stages before I get to the end of the previous book. This helps the characters stay fresh in my mind and keeps the momentum going. I still get my best ideas while working, and that includes ideas for the next in series.

Shooting for sustainable productivity

If I finish a book on a Wednesday, I start right in on the next one on Thursday. I try to stay out of my own way by sticking to my routine and relying on the process that works for me. I want to be in this career for the long haul. Developing a consistent writing process is an important part of meeting that goal.

My process will continue to change as I experiment with other strategies and figure out what works. That’s part of the fun of it! I may not be able to go on my own high-stakes adventures in a fantasy world, but writing is the next best thing.

Author Bio

Jordan Rivet is an American author of swashbuckling YA fantasy and post-apocalyptic adventures at sea. Originally from Arizona, she lives in Hong Kong with her husband. She fenced for many years, and she hasn’t decided whether the pen is mightier than the sword.

Find Jordan’s books on Amazon here!

 

Make sure you visit Christopher Patterson’s website at www.christopher-patterson.com and also make sure you sign up for his monthly newsletter where you can keep up to date with what’s going on in his world, his articles and blogs, get access to freebies, and experience promotional material. You can sign up for Christopher Patterson’s email newsletter at http://eepurl.com/b5AUa1

The Attack on Indie (Self-Published) Authors by Christopher Patterson

I was in the middle of doing some research for another article I wrote when I came across several other articles dealing with self-publishing. I have to admit, I was excited to read them since they dealt with self-publishing and, even though self-publishing is becoming easier and more mainstream, its still hard to find usable resources. These articles quickly disappointed me. In fact, they downright upset me. I don’t know. Maybe that was their goal. Exert a gut reaction from someone who disagrees. What was the central idea behind these few articles? Self-publishing is a terrible idea, those who are self-published authors really aren’t authors, and writing should be relegated to the elite few.

 We Live in a DIY World

I am a little embarrassed to say that there might have been a time in my life when I agreed with these magazine writers and editors. I have always enjoyed writing and reading, but my first artistic love was the guitar. More specifically, I specialized in classical guitar. I practiced relentlessly (most of the time), worked and worked on fundamentals, toiled over studies and modes, and eventually studied classical guitar performance at the University of Arizona. I was proud to be a musician. I was proud of my skill and hard work. I was proud of my ability to sight read.

 And then came the self-taught guitarist.

 Man, these guys truly pissed me off. They learned a few riffs. Learned a few modes. Learned a couple chords. And there they were, playing on the U of A mall, strumming and singing to whatever the new, hipster song was at the time…and there they were, women swooning over their skill and men wanting to be like them. You’ve got to be kidding me. This guy couldn’t tell you what mode he was playing, or why those chords went together. He certainly wouldn’t have been able to play anything by Fernando Sor or Johann Sebastian Bach. He’s not a real guitarist. Or is he?

 I slowly began to understand, as I got older and wiser, that we were both, in fact, guitarists. We were different types of guitarists and our skills definitely lay in different areas. But, nonetheless, we were both musicians. In reality, many of those self-taught, non-music reading hipsters probably have or are making more money at playing the guitar than I even have or will. They recognized a market and played to it. Good for them.

“There Are No Guarantees"

 This attitude permeates almost every area of our world, every industry, every business. The girl who studied history in school and now makes a living by taking photographs is ridiculed by everyone else who went to school for photography. The self made business man who was a high school dropout receives the scorn of every other business person who has their MBA from some reputable school. The teacher who didn’t go to school to be a teacher, but rather went to school and studied English is now the most decorated Biology teacher in the district, much to the chagrin of every other educational professional. And the examples go on and on and on.

 The Industry Has Changed

 I was in college when I decided I wanted to be an author. I have always loved writing. I loved reading too, but when I read, I was enjoying someone else’s imagination, someone else’s creation. I wanted people to enjoy my creation, my imagination. I had started what would eventually become The Shadow’s Fire Trilogy, as well as several other spin off stories that are still works in progress. I thought what I had was pretty good (it wasn’t at the time) and so I started looking at what I would need to do to get my book published. I was excited, ready to go, and expecting to make a gigantic impact on the fiction world—especially in fantasy. Wow, was I in for a rude awakening.

 The Gatekeeper

 My dad was, for most of my life, a self-employed, small business owner. And he was good. Successful. Innovative. So, when I tried my hand at sales—and I was pretty good at it—I, of course, turned to my dad for advice. I was selling insurance and mutual funds and really trying to target businesses, trying to encourage them to set up company insurance plans and 401(k)’s. My father explained to me the concept of the gatekeeper.

 The gatekeeper. The ominous interceptor of information. The ruthless decider of worth and worthless. The unyielding door to the vast riches and markets held by the small (or large) business.

 The gatekeeper was usually the front secretary. This was a person who seemingly had a job that was low skilled, low pay, and easily done. Wrong. This is the person most trusted by the boss. This is the person who is privy to management’s most inner thoughts. This is the person who has outlasted all other employees, keeping their head down and doing their job. And one of their jobs? Sift through the countless letters and phone calls and even in person drop ins to determine whether or not they are worth the time of their employer. As a salesperson, you must find a way to either get through, or around, the gatekeeper in order to meet with the big dogs. The gatekeeper was the bane of many salespersons, and the destroyer of hopes and dreams of that one, huge policy that could make an insurance agent rich.

 The World of Publishing

 How does this relate to the world of publishing? Simple. The author is the salesperson and the world of publishing has landmines of gatekeepers just looking to blow you up.  I was surprised to find out how similar the world of writing and books and publishing was to sales. Only, in the world of publishing, they mask these portentous figures with titles such as agent or acquisitions publisher. And forget about going around them. In the world of sales, if you’re cunning and sneaky enough, you can find a way of avoiding the gatekeeper. Not in the world of publishing. You can’t even step through the door of a publishing house unless you’re being led on a leash by an agent, and not just any agent, an agent with a track record of success.

 It is so incredibly difficult to get published today.  Like I said, you first must find an agent. So you send out hundreds, if not thousands, of query letters. And after receiving rejection letter after rejection letter telling you your writing just isn’t that good, you steel yourself up, thicken your skin, do several rounds of rewrites and revisions, and repeat the process three or four times. Finally, you get something that is good. People read it and respond positively. You even know someone who knew someone whose cousin’s husband’s cousin worked at a major publishing house, and they assure you, your manuscript is ready. This is it. This is the moment. You send out the query letters. One. More. Time. And…thank you but at this time, we aren’t interested. It’s not your writing though. You no longer suck at the craft you so desperately want to be successful in. No. It’s almost that high school break up letter that no one wants. You would rather your ex-girlfriend tell you that you smell, she thinks your ugly, she hates your family. But instead, she tells you, “It’s not you, it’s me.”

 Welcome to the final rejection letter. And why is this one so hard to take. Because, at any other moment in time, like that failed high school relationship, your book would have been a best seller. It was just the wrong time. See, in order to get an agent, in order to get published, you must have experience. You must be fresh and new (remember, there’s no such thing as a new story). You must have published something before. Wait. Record screeching. What? How can I ever get my book published if I need to first be published in order to publish a book that isn’t yet published? Did that last sentence just sound weird? Sure, because that’s what has happened to the publishing industry. How do we get around it? Well…

 Welcome to Self-Publishing

 When I first started thinking about getting published, self-publishing—or vanity publishing—was so expensive and treated with so much disrespect by the rest of the writing community, any writer worth anything would have never even considered it. I was lucky enough to actually get picked up by a small publishing company and that only happened because I knew another author who had published with them and she gave me an in. At that point, as you might suspect, I thought I had made it. I was wrong. That was only the first step. I won’t go into the rigmarole that was my experience with a publishing company, but I finally left and found myself at square one again.

 By this time, however, self-publishing had started to revolutionize. Amazon had created a company called CreateSpace. They did print on demand. They offered editing services. They even offered marketing services. One of my editors who worked for my former publishing company actually suggested to me that I self-publish. It was much more respected now, much cheaper, and the industry already had several stories of self-published authors selling a ton of books and then getting picked up by major publishing houses. Could that be me? Maybe.

 You see, self-publishing offers prospective writers—authors—an opportunity they may not otherwise have. Just like online colleges offer people an opportunity to education, teach yourself music books offer musicians the ability to learn without shelling out a bunch of money, and YouTube offers someone who is otherwise not mechanically inclined a way to work on their car.

 The Attack

 The Huffington Post posted an online article written by Melissa Foster and Amy Edelman in 2012 that listed four reasons why Indie Authors aren’t respected. It was a well put together list. I agree with all the reasons.

  1. Bad editing

  2. A lack of gatekeepers

  3. Quantity over quality

  4. Crappy covers[1]

Yeah, pretty much spot on. But these are things that a self-published author can overcome. Find editors who want to pump up their resume. Save up some money and pay for it. Find students at your local college going through Creative Writing degrees. Take your time. Understand the concept of delayed gratification. Know that the more time you take, the better your product is going to be. And be willing to shell out a couple hundred dollars for a good cover. I found Adriana Hanganu. She does an amazing job and she is very reasonable.

 Melissa Foster also suggested in an article titled “Are Self-Publishing Authors Killing the Publishing Industry?” that Indie Authors are killing the publishing industry by “creating a devaluing for the written word.”[2] Wow. Thanks. In some cases, I am sure there are pretty terrible self-published works out there, but are they any worse than some published works. I mean, read several books about a certain shade of color, or a series about sparkling vampires. These are better simply because they were published by a traditional publishing house? In another Huffington Post article, this one written by Dr. Jim Taylor, an adjunct professor at the University of San Francisco, he asks the question, “Are Self-Published Authors Really Authors, or Even Published?”[3] Dr. Taylor confesses that four of his 14 books are self-published, but still gives a somewhat unfavorable view of the self-publishing world.

 The article that upset me the most, and the one that prompted me to write this article, was an article from the New York Post. Joseph Epstein writes an article entitled, “Think You Have a Story in You? Think Again.” Epstein completely trashes writers thinking about self-publishing and eventually finishes his article with this condemnation: “Don't write that book, my advice is, don't even think about it. Keep it inside you, where it belongs.” [4] I’ve linked all these articles to their online sources, so you can read them yourself if you want.

 Final Thoughts

 This world is full of nay-sayers. And, using the words of my wrestling coach in high school, there are no guarantees. The only guarantee I can make you is that if you don’t give something a shot, if you don’t do your absolute best, if you don’t work hard, you will not make it and you will not be successful. What is my advice to you? Keep writing. Don’t just write for the sake of writing. Write your best, whatever your goal is. Understand what self-publishing means. Understand the hurdles you have to overcome if you decide to self-publish. But keep that dream alive, and let other people read it. Don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t ever stop believing in yourself. Write your story and Dare to Dream.

 Make sure you visit Christopher Patterson’s website at www.christopher-patterson.com and also make sure you sign up for his monthly newsletter where you can keep up to date with what’s going on in his world, his articles and blogs, get access to freebies, and experience promotional material. You can sign up for Christopher Patterson’s email newsletter at http://eepurl.com/b5AUa1

 

 [1] Losowsky, Andrew. "The Big Reasons Indie Authors Aren't Taken Seriously." The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 25 Aug. 2016.

 [2] Foster, Melissa. "Are Self-Publishing Authors Killing the Publishing Industry?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 24 Oct. 2012. Web. 25 Aug. 2016.

 [3]Taylor, Dr. Jim. "Are Self-published Authors Really Authors or Even Published?" The Huffington Post. TheHuffingtonPost.com, 30 Sept. 2013. Web. 25 Aug. 2016.

 [4] Epstein, Joseph. "Think You Have a Book in You? Think Again." The New York Times. The New York Times, 27 Sept. 2002. Web. 25 Aug. 2016.

How to Be an Audio Book Narrator by Amrit Sandhu

If you’ve ever heard an audio book and have thought, “I’d love to do that”, then I’ve written this guide for you. This is all I know about being an audio book narrator. I’m a newb in this field however I’d like to tell you it’s much easier than you think, and also much more challenging than you think.

Yes, this sounds controversial, however being an audio book narrator is not hard, if you have kids then you’ve probably been doing it already each time you read a bedtime story. But the hard part can be learning the new skills both on computer and vocal, setting up your studio, and most important of all, sticking with long books.

If you have any questions, then don’t be afraid to post in the comments below and I’ll get back to you. Failing that, you can email me direct at amrit@laughingmonkey.tv or get my contact details through my website on www.laughingmonkey.tv.

As for what mic I use, after doing a lot of research I decided on getting the Cad E100S which is an American made mic. It had great reviews and was a favourite for voice over artists. The Cad came out much cheaper than the Neumann’s so it fit my budget. So far I’ve been pleased with the results.

I’m not going to go through setting up a home studio. There are countless videos on youtube on that, but, if you want to see photos or videos of my setup then just ask in the comments below. If enough people ask, I’ll post some.

 

Voice Acting

Being an audio book narrator is a lot like being an actor. In fact, you certainly will be acting the roles of the characters you speak. However there is no physical visual performance being recorded, even though you might be animated in your physical appearance, you won’t be performing on stage in front of an audience, nor will anyone see anything you do, so it is 100% dependent on your voice to get the message across to your listeners. You might think that’s obvious, however when you only have your voice to deliver a message, it’s very important you understand what the author is saying and you’re able to deliver the message in that way. Hence reading a subject you understand or are at least familiar with is often a good first step.

 

What Motivates You?

The reason you start recording an audio book is an important question. It is your reason is what will get you through to the end. Or not. So ask yourself, why do you want to narrate a book? Whilst the idea may seem romantic at first, that idea will soon fade once you experience the vast amount of work, time and effort it takes to record a finished piece. I’ll go into the time it takes to record and produce a final piece later.

Are you doing it to become famous? Are you doing it so you can make money? Or are you doing it so that you can tick this off as another thing you wanted to do in life? My reason? Well simply put, I wasn’t looking at monetary value, nor any fame aspect. I simply wanted to have a recorded piece which my children could listen to forever, long after I was gone from this mortal body. So it was my gift for them. That reason was strong enough to get me through to the end of the book without giving up. And that’s what you need. Whatever your reason for wanting to record a book, as long as it is stronger than your desire to quit you will be fine and get through it. So do it for you mum to listen to, in the worst case.

Oh, and as far as fame goes, I hate to admit it to you, but unless the person is already famous, I wouldn’t be aware of who is narrating an audible book I’m listening to. And since it’s all audio, I would have no idea if that person passed me on the street, so no, this is one field where fame is not prevalent. However, for me, that was one thing that attracted me even more to it. I didn’t want to be famous. But I did want to create.  

 

How Long Does it Take?

An hour of recorded finished audio can take between 4 to 8 times that to edit and finalise. That’s a lot of investment for a book which is 36 chapters long. I found it took me about 40 minutes to read 5 pages. Editing time took me around 2-4 hours for that piece depending on how many mistakes there were in my read. Of course, as the book went on I became a better reader and was able to read with less mistakes.

So yes, the time invested in recording an audio book is going to be longer than you plan. So your reasons are what will get you through it.

 

Start Practise Recording

 

Right, so I’m assuming you’ve got your mic, your studio is set up and you’re ready to go. My advice is take a book you like - any book, and start recording yourself. Read the first chapter whilst recording yourself.

Next, listen back to it whilst reading your book. There will most likely be a lot of background noise, a lot of pauses, times you’ve forgotten to read words out or times you’ve just missed entire sections altogether. Usually, the first attempt will be awful. So don’t worry about that.

Whilst you’re listening to your audio, think of how you could have said it better. Or imagine a professional actor narrating the book.

Now I would like you to re-record the voice over and think of the actor who is narrating it. Slow your words where necessary. In fact, we often read too fast when we’re nervous, so get used to that red light saying record and be comfortable in it and slow yourself down.

Listen again.

Basically, that’s what I did, over and over, until I was happy with what I heard. This is your school time. You are learning to use the tools, getting comfortable with the mic, learning to read in a quiet room with nobody to listen to you except a computer. You will get it. Just keep with it. If you absolutely hate it, then maybe this is not for you. But if you enjoy telling the story and strive for improving your recorded performance, then this sure is for you.

 

Edit

 

So the editing phase is where you get to have fun and improve things. Like taking away the background noise removing long unnecessary pauses, and even changing the tone of your voice.

I use a tool called  Adobe Audition  for this, but free software such as  Audacity  is just as good.

Learn how to use your software of choice. There are plenty of help videos on youtube  on this.

 

The Test

So once I was confident in what I produced was good, I asked a few other people to listen to it, and see if they were engaged and enjoyed it?

This can be tricky as people often don’t want to do things that others ask them to do, especially anything that takes longer than 5 minutes. So, it will be a good idea to make a friend, who has a similar interest whom you can critique back. You can also set up a local  meetup  group, or better still join a facebook group such as the  VoiceOver Club.

If you can read one chapter well, then you can read the whole book.

 

Listen and Repeat

 

A great way of increasing the kind of accents you have is by practicing them. And a great way to practice is by listening to different accents you hear, and mimicking them. When you’re watching a film, or tv show, attempt to copy the actors voice. The more voices you have in your bag, the more variation you can add to your audio book.

The other great way to practice is when you’re listening to radio adverts. These are actually good ways to practice different delivery methods: is it naturally spoken or not, which words have they emphasised. The key is to listen and repeat.

One way I found was that different voices come from different sources of the body. A booming voice might come from the belly, whereas a squeaky voice will be all from your throat.

Strive for excellence

This is something I realised in my life a long time ago (in a galaxy far far away). Those who strive for excellence, will always keep growing. They will better than they were. Continuously.

So if there’s one piece of advice I can give which is crucial to this, and probably any task you set before yourself, strive for excellence. It’s not about doing the best you can do, it’s about finding ways you can do better, to give the best final product.

 

Don't Over Perform

Now I admit, sometimes I record pieces where I think at the time I have produced something superb. And then I play it to somebody else and they think it’s cheesy or over performed. This is a common problem in voice over. We can give it our all and then over perform, and come across terrible.

But that’s ok. Just tone it down. Maybe take a break from the mic for a bit and return and have another go at it. Record several versions of a shorter piece and ask people what they prefer.

 

Get Your First Audio Book Contract

 

So by now you should be in a place where you’ve practised, and have received good feedback. So put yourself together a short showreel and go to www.acx.com  and choose a title you’ll be happy to read.

Don’t be discouraged by not receiving an offer. It could be that your voice just doesn’t match what the author had in mind for that particular book, so keep applying and you will get a deal.

If you keep getting rejected, then  contact me and I should be able to give you some advice.

 

Planning Your Schedule

With ACX once you are offered a position you will need to agree to a delivery date. Now, is the time to work your schedule. How long will it realistically take you to record it? How much quiet time do you actually have? Are you away on a holiday, or another event? Are people staying over at yours who will be potentially loud? All these factors will drastically affect your ability to finish your book on time.   

I try to set one rule in life when it comes to delivering a project: “under promise so you can over deliver“. There will be times where you might not be able to record due to illness, or random guests coming over, or your computer dies (by the way, always save to a cloud device such as google drive), so factor this buffer time. If you think you can get it recorded in a month, easily, including edits, double that time.

The Recording Process

Initially when I started out recording I began reading one chapter at a time. On average this took me about 45 minutes to do. Then I would send the recording to Chris, he would listen and let me know if I was on track or not. In the most part I was often on track. However, because there were 36 chapters in total, this would become a very long slow process. So I found simply by reading more than one chapter at a time, I was able to double my output. My advice is therefore read as much as you can in each sitting. Don’t just settle for one chapter. Read, two or three at a time.

Be sure to take breaks. You will need to keep your energy up and if you do feel your energy dropping, go eat something light and then do a few stretches or maybe go for a walk before starting up again.

I would keep a glass of water at hand, as it can get pretty hot in a recording studio, especially in the summer and your mouth can dry out. It is better not to drink too much water though, rather, just put a small mouthful and swirl it in your mouth to keep it moist. If you drink too much then all kinds of mouth noises will get picked up in the recording.

 

Communicate with the Author

The beauty about ACX is they are the contract makers and encourage you and the author to interact with each other in any form you want.

The book I read was A Chance Beginning by Christopher Patterson which is actually part of a trilogy called Shadow's Fire. I have to admit I’ve made a friend through this process. There is nothing like two minds getting together as one, so communicate with the author and keep them very much involved in your project.

So if there were delays, I contacted Chris well in advance. Chris was actually more the director of the piece. You see, direction will be needed, and who better by than the author? So Chris and I came up with this process. He would write me paragraph on each chapter, telling me what the tone is, who the characters are and what he imagines the voices should be like, and that was often enough to get things spot on for Chris in terms of what he envisioned.

We didn’t always get it right, there was a time the accent Chris recommended for the Dwarves did not fit in what I envisioned, so I recorded him two versions of the voices and he preferred the one I suggested. So if you do feel something else works then don’t be afraid to share this with your author.

 

Error Checking

The thing about ACX is it is a shared project with shared ownership. It’s in the interest of both parties to produce an audio book that sells. So that’s two pairs of eyes and ear that 100% want this project to work. There is a saying in Punjab: Two minds together are like 11 individual minds. I have to say, without the guidance and direction of Chris I wouldn’t have produced the book to the level I did.

After recording each chapter, I had Chris listen to it just to make sure I was on track. Then I would begin the edit. Later, the editing took so much time I decided to outsource this part to get the project done. So in the end we had two checks done, one by Chris to make sure the accents were on the right path and mood and tone of each scene was correct, and secondly my editor who would actually pick up a lot of mistakes which we missed out.

At the time of this writing we are on the final corrections of the last 6 chapters. We will then add some background music between every five or six chapters and then combine all of the recordings into one final file.

Marketing

Regardless of your reason for making an audio book, unless it makes money it will be difficult to keep the process going and recording your next book. Therefore it will help a great deal if the author has some kind of following where you know sales are likely.

In most cases, authors on ACX are there because they do not have a large publishing house backing them. Therefore all marketing will need to be done by the author, and possibly you. In fact, this article is written specifically with that in mind, to generate awareness of the book. So blog about it, share it on social media, spread the word and find ways to get sales.

Have Fun


Recording an audio book is a mammoth task but not one that is out of anybody's reach. Therefore, I will say make sure you have fun. Always laugh, during the good times and the bad times, and it will get through it.

Good luck and if you do have any questions on this topic, then give me a shout at amrit@laughingmonkey.tv.

© Copyright LaughingMonkey.tv 2016

Anyone can be a Writer by Christopher Patterson

Mystery surrounds writing—all of the arts, really. It seems to be weird dichotomy when people learn or find out that you’re a writer, especially the author of a book, let alone a series of books. They are almost in awe, super excited for you, and can’t believe that someone could actually do such a thing. But then, they are critical. How do you make any money? Do you live on rice and beans? What’s your real job? I tend to focus on the awe and excitement.

People are always enthusiastic and happy for me when they find out I am an author. Everyone always says the same things: “How amazing.” “How do you do that?” “I could never write a book.” “I’m not creative.” “I wish I had your creativity.”

Aspiring Authors

Notice you can't even see the published authors on the chart
My buddy Tim visiting me at a book signing

My buddy Tim visiting me at a book signing

Sacrifice and Hard Work

My first book signing at Mostly Books in Tucson

My first book signing at Mostly Books in Tucson

I am very appreciative of the compliments. Trust me, I am more appreciative than many people might think. I try to stay as humble as possible. Humility produces wisdom, after all, even though I am very proud of being an author and the accomplishment that it represents.  I do recognize the hard work and the time and the sacrifice that goes into writing book. I live it. But what amazes me the most is how quickly people are to discount themselves, put themselves down, and defeat themselves before they have even tried something. I see it in sports all the time.

 

As a wrestling and football coach, I experience kids giving up before they even give themselves a chance. It’s too hard. It’s too time consuming. They just don’t have natural ability. Whatever the excuse, they give up before ever getting started. I didn’t realize that same trend in today’s society applied to the arts as well until I officially became a published author. And all the while, the thing I continue to say to myself is, “Anyone can do this.”

I truly believe that. Like I said, I’m extremely grateful for the congratulations and admiration. But really, anyone could do this. I don’t say this to take away from my own creativity or hard work, but one of our mottos on our wrestling team—and one of my mottos in my own life—has always been, “Hard Work will always beat talent that doesn’t Work Hard.”

Define You

chapter-one.jpg

Clearly, not everyone wants to be a writer. So, this is not to say that everyone should be a writer, or that everyone wants to be a writer. This is to say, if you want to be a writer, you can be.

First, let’s define what kind of writer you want to be. That will, of course, dictate what course you take with your writing. I once attended a writing conference put on by Writer’s Digest and the presenter gave us three different types of writers and asked us to decide which one we are.

1.      The first type of writer is the writer that simply wants to leave a legacy. This is the person who wants to leave memoirs to their family, create a family tree, or simply get their thoughts onto paper and see it as a book. This writer doesn’t care about sales. This writer doesn’t even care about how many people see their book. It’s all about the accomplishment of writing a book.

2.      The second type of writer is the writer who wants to spread a message. This is the writer that has something to say, something important to convey to the world, or a certain group of people. They have experienced something that others have experienced, they have information on important social topics, or they simply want to touch people in a positive manner. This writer does care about how many people see and read their book, but they don’t care about sales. They didn’t write the book for sales. They wrote the book to send a message, tell a tale, etc. They don’t care about how much they make, just how many people read their book.

Coin Money.png

3.      The third type of writer—and the type of writer I am—is the writer who wants to make a living from their writing. They want people to read, and pay, for their work and craft. Now, there is nothing shameful for wanting to make money from your craft. Most authors still have a great story to tell, and they want people to read it. They just want to make money from it as well.

Committing to Commitment

Desire is the key to motivation, but it’s determination and commitment to an unrelenting pursuit of your goal - a commitment to excellence - that will enable you to attain the success you seek
— Mario Andretti

So which kind of writer do you want to be? That’s the first step in this writing process. Next, you have to commit. What do I mean by commit? Commit some time—not a ton. Commit some effort. Possibly commit some money—again, not a whole lot. Commit to actually writing your story, whatever that might be. I think—no, I know—so many things don’t get done in our society simply because people won’t commit to something. Fear. Laziness. Other obstacles. Past failures. Whatever it is, you have to commit to writing your story.

What's Your Story

So, what’s your story? It’s interesting how sometimes the worst advice we get comes from our educators. Now, I say that with great trepidation, since I am, myself, a teacher. And, I have received some phenomenal advice from some fantastic teachers and professors. But, when I was in college and studying creative writing, I had several professors suggest that we write about what is commercially desired. If you want to make money, you need to look at what the market desires and then write that.

What terrible advice. From an economic standpoint, of course you would want to provide what the market wants, but you can do that and still write what you want to write about. People will be able to tell if you’re not writing what you’re passionate about. They can tell when you are, for lack of better terms, BS-ing them. Write what you are passionate about.

My Story

I love fantasy. I grew up reading fantasy and sci-fi, watching fantasy and sci-fi, playing fantasy and sci-fi games. I also love history. I knew that if I ever wrote anything, it would be fantasy, historical fiction, or a combination of the two. I have written contemporary fiction short stories—mostly for my creative writing classes in college. They’re good. I’ve gotten pretty decent feedback on them. But it’s not what I love. I have a hard time pouring heart into those stories. To be successful at anything, you have to be passionate about it, right? If you are a teacher, a doctor, a nurse, a plumber, a police officer, anything, you absolutely must be passionate. That’s not to say you’re going to love what you do every day, but if you hate your job or your career, what’s the point? I feel the same way about writing. What’s the point of writing if you can’t write what you love? You love sparkling virgin vampires who hang out with metropolitan, sophisticated werewolves? Then write about them and don’t worry what other people think, just make sure you write the best damn sparkly virgin vampire/metro werewolf story you possibly can.

Employee Satisfaction (%)

59% of employees said interest in their work makes them happy

Critics vs Good Criticism

You have to ignore critics. I truly believe that no matter what any of us do in life, someone is going to tell us we can’t do it. I mean, would we even have an Olympics if anyone listened to the nay-sayers and do-nothings of this world? Just look at the graph above. Look at how many people aren't satisfied with their job. Do what you love; and do what you think you’ve been called to do, whatever that calling might be. That being said—and I will leave this as the wrap up to my first installment of writing tips—do listen to and pay attention to criticism.

Our Stories, Our Babies

My little man Shaymus

My little man Shaymus

My oldest, Savannah, with Shaymus when we first got to bring him home

My oldest, Savannah, with Shaymus when we first got to bring him home

Our stories are our babies. I have children. Some of you have children. We take pride in our children. And when people are critical of them, we get defensive. They are, after all, a part of us.

We have this story, this idea, this adventure, this movie playing in our head and it hurts sometimes when someone doesn’t like it or understand it. But there is probably a very good reason for that. Let me say that most fiction is genre specific, as you may well know, so if you write romance and someone who typically reads mystery tells you they didn’t get your romance novel, they didn’t like it, or whatever else, you might take that with a grain of salt—unless you are trying to cross over into a mystery-romance genre. But if someone who reads a ton of romance tells you they didn’t get your story, you might want to listen up. You don’t have to change your story, but it may be a plot issue or a character issue or a formatting issue. Just like a good parent who would listen to other parents who have great kids, as authors we would want to listen to other authors and purveyors of our genre.

I recently received my first two star review, and I have received several three star reviews. I am not necessarily going to change my story because of them, but they do serve as signals or alerts that there are some people out there that might have issues with my style, my story, my method of writing. One of the worst things we can do as authors is be so stubborn about our story that we are unwilling to listen—in essence, we are deaf—to good criticism, criticism that wants to help us get better.

Again, you don’t want to change your story. That is one of the reasons why I left the publishing company I was with before I self-published. They wanted to change my story. Don’t get me wrong. They gave me some great criticism that changed me as a writer for the better, but I had to be open to that criticism. Remember, you know your story. It’s yours. You live it in your head, replaying it like a movie. Your audience doesn’t know it, but you want them to get to know it, live it just like you. So listen to your audience. Let them help you convey your message and your story as best and most effectively as possible.

Until next time, start writing your story and HAPPY READING!!!

Make sure you visit Christopher Patterson’s website at www.christopher-patterson.com and also make sure you sign up for his monthly newsletter where you can keep up to date with what’s going on in his world, his articles and blogs, get access to freebies, and experience promotional material. You can sign up for Christopher Patterson’s email newsletter at http://eepurl.com/b5AUa1

Adams, S. (2014, 06 20). Most Americans Are Unhappy At Work. Forbes.com. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/susanadams/2014/06/20/most-americans-are-unhappy-at-work/#623c350f5862

Dietrich, W. (2013, 05 04). The Writer's Odds of Success. TheHuffingtonPost.com. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/william-dietrich/the-writers-odds-of-succe_b_2806611.html

Goldberg, J. T. (2011, 05 26). 200 Million Americans Want to Publish Books, But Can They? Publishing Perspectives. Retrieved from http://publishingperspectives.com/2011/05/200-million-americans-want-to-publish-books/#.V7m114-cHIU

 

 

What Makes Me Want to Keep Reading by Brett Lindskog

As my tastes in literature have changed I've noticed that I go less and less for cool looking covers and cheesy fantasy novels to more and more realistic fantasy novels. Not realistic as in the fantasy being gone, but realistic as in feeling like the characters could be real people. What really makes me disgusted reading a novel, any novel, is the author playing God with the characters. Machina Ex Deus is lazy writing and a sign that the author is not serious about the humanness of the characters. And if we aren't reading novels to explore humanness at some level, what is the point? The characters are what drives Game of Thrones for example. These feel like real people put into real situations acting in a real way.

Another thing that turns me off of books is not getting to the point. The Wheel of Time is a great example of this. It started off great, neat world, real characters, high fantasy stuff. Then it kept going and going and going, with nothing being accomplished and whatever the characters did accomplish would seem to be set back with convenient resurrections and new prophecies. This was never going to end. I want my time back.

The above things that pull me into and push me away from a book are hard to quantify just by the dust jacket. I usually only go for books recommended to me by the serious readers that I know in my life. I usually can't stand the copy that is put onto the dust jacket. This is why there are things like GoodReads, and Reddit, and the good ole' fashioned book club.

Brett Lindskog is a good friend of Christopher Patterson and an avid fantasy and science fiction reader as well as a reader of Christian motivational non-fiction.

Two Food Items I Cannot Possibly Live Without

Once again, here is a blog posting that really has nothing to do with writing, reading, fantasy, adventure, fiction. Really, it has nothing to do about anything—except for food. Not only does food keep us alive, but food is amazing, as evident by my expanding waistline. It is delicious. It defines our culture. It speaks to who we are, what we like, our interests. Food can even tell other people how adventurous we are, where we’ve been, what our preferences are. This then, much like our “What three books would you take with you to a deserted island?” is much like those many childhood what if games we all played. My favorite foods, the two foods that I cannot live without, truly define me. But they are not just about my taste preferences. They speak to my childhood. They speak to my upbringing. They speak to my likes and dislikes.

My two foods—Eggs and Cottage Cheese.

Okay, before you gag at my choices, let me explain why these are my choices.

Eggs – first of all, eggs are a super food. They are high in protein. They are high in good cholesterol. They are high in calories, so in a situation where calories are hard to come by, they would be a great source of energy. Unfortunately, eggs have gotten a bad rap over the last three decades. In fact, they whole, low fat dieting craze has demonized eggs, falsely. Scientific studies now show that, in moderation of course, eggs can be a very important part of a person’s diet. Despite all the scientific evidence, eggs were a very important part of my diet. I grew up a vegetarian. Being a vegetarian, I didn’t have very many ways of getting protein. My mom wasn’t a huge lover of eggs, and she is fairly lactose intolerant, so dairy wasn’t readily available in my house. My mom turned to soy based products, veggie dogs, veggie burgers, tofu, etc. for our protein. My grandmother—my dad’s mom—grew up on a farm. She was a meat and potatoes kind of woman. Tofu and veggie dogs were not her thing. So my protein staple at my grandmother’s house was cheese and eggs.

When I started lifting a lot, competing in powerlifting and bodybuilding, eggs became a great source of protein, especially for those cutting periods. Even during wrestling, when I was trying to maintain a certain weight, hard boiled eggs were a staple of my diet. Two or three hardboiled eggs helped curb some hunger, gave me some energy, and didn’t pack on a bunch of weight.

Cottage Cheese – So many people think cottage cheese is disgusting. Its rotten cheese. Curdled cheese. Old cheese. Its got a weird texture. Its watery. But, much like eggs, it’s a super food. Its high in calories, high in protein, and, even though it’s a little higher in saturated fat, the fat in cottage cheese is not completely bad for you. Much like eggs, also, it was a main source of protein for me when I was younger.

Like eggs, when I started lifting heavy, cottage cheese, at 15 grams of protein per half cup, became a ready source of protein, and on the days when I could stomach low sodium, low or non fat cottage cheese, it was fairly low calorie as well.

Why these two together then? Well—and this may sound super gross for most of you—my grandma used to mix my eggs with cottage cheese. The cottage cheese cooled my eggs down quickly and I, still to this day, typically mix my eggs with cottage cheese. It’s amazing. Gross? Maybe. But growing up a vegetarian in the 80’s, when being vegetarian wasn’t very popular and we didn’t have all the meat-free foods we have today, I got used to weird textures.

So, there you have it. A relatively short post about food, my two favorite foods. Every time I eat eggs and cottage cheese, I am reminded of my grandmother and it makes me smile, and makes my taste buds love me.

Thank you for reading my blog. Check out my Author Page at Amazon and as always, HAPPY READING!!!


Three Books I Must Have on a Deserted Island

When you’re younger, you always ask your friends things like, “If you were on an island and could only have two foods for the rest of your life, what would they be?” or “What two friends would you want with you on an island in the middle of the ocean?” as if that’s not a completely loaded question. I think those are fun to think about. In a way, deep down inside, it makes us organize priorities and importance. That might sound a little too deep for silly, childhood questions, but have you ever thought about what three foods you absolutely couldn’t live without. Well, have you ever thought about what three books you absolutely couldn’t live without? Even as an author and an avid reader, I don’t know if I have ever truly thought of that question. I have certainly thought of my favorite book. And I would have to say, even though my favorite book is The Hobbit, it has changed several times, over time. But, what three books couldn’t you live without. Hmmmm.

For what its worth, here are the three books that I don’t think I could live without, the three books that I absolutely must have if I ever get deserted on an island and have to live there for the rest of my life. I would like to say that these are not necessarily in order of importance.

  1. The Hobbit. This is my favorite fictional book. I first read The Hobbit when I was in sixth grade. The librarian at my elementary school had to special order it for me, and I can still remember sitting down at my desk and looking at that yellow cover with the picture of Smaug lying atop this huge mound of treasure. The picture wasn’t all that great, but my dad and uncle had told me about The Hobbit, and I had watched the cartoon I don’t know how many times. I just sat there, imagining the mysteries and adventure and excitement that lay behind that cover. And that was it. I was sold out to fantasy in that moment. Those first lines, the explanation of a Hobbit hole, the introduction of a company of dwarves led by some mysterious wizard—BOOM! Done. Now, I have criticized Tolkien’s writing as I’ve gotten older, and my tastes have changed, but The Hobbit has come out on top. So if I couldn’t get my hands on any other piece of fantasy fiction for the rest of my life, this would have to be the one I could read over and over again without losing my mind.

  2. The King Raven Trilogy. I read this trilogy (I know not technically one book but you can buy them as one book, so I’m counting them as one book) not too long ago. It was my first endeavor into the works of Stephen Lawhead and I was pleasantry surprised. I picked up Lawhead because of a suggestion. He is a primarily fantasy author—although he does historical fiction and historical fantasy as well—who writes with strong Christian undertones. I try to weave some of my faith in my own writing, so I thought it would be good to read other authors who do the same. I was very disappointed with most. Of course, I am very disappointed with much of what gets published right now. It seems that there are always three or four shape-shifter, romance, ménage-a-triose books in the top twenty of Amazon. They’re terribly written and simply satisfy some primal sense that some readers want out there. Much of the Christian fiction world—very similar to the Christian music world—seems to turn a blind eye to bad writing simply because it is a Christian novel. I don’t think that is right. Regardless of the topic, I feel like good writing should be good writing, and good music should be good music. My point being, I picked up The King Raven Trilogy with great trepidation, already having read some pretty awful Christian fiction, and found something that I quickly fell in love with. It is a tale of Robin Hood, but told a little differently. One of the things I love about this tale is its not a tale of Saxons versus Normans, but Welsh versus Normans—a very different spin. Nottingham isn’t even in the story, and it weaves English mysticism and myth into a very historically accurate fictional retelling of the oppressive Norman invasion of England and the ensuing results. In my opinion, historical fantasy fiction at its best.

  3. Okay, so this may seem campy for some, sacrilegious for others, but my third book would be the Bible. My desire is not to get preachy here, not at all, but I am a Christian and, even though I do not open up the pages of my Bible (or the pages of my Bible app) as much as I want to or should, the Word of God has been a mainstay throughout my life and, no matter what I am going through, I can always look to the Word for advice, guidance, solace, comfort, etc. I believe that faith is important. I know that theologies and denominations and styles of worship can get in the way, and I know for a lot of people faith is a very personal thing, but when I want to understand who God is and why He is doing something in my life, it is His Word that I have to turn to. In fact, whenever I get frustrated with all those things, those extrinsic things that really end up seeming so inconsequential, I can turn to the Bible and get a true bearing and understanding of my faith, my faith community, the faith of my family. And, to be honest, the Bible has some of those elements that I just absolutely love in a book, whether its fiction or non-fiction. To me, it’s very believable. It has tales (that are true in my opinion) of mystery, intrigue, romance, horror, adventure. It’s got guys wielding swords and spears and wearing armor. Can’t go wrong with that. And, of course, at the end of the day, it is a statement of who I am.

So, ladies and gentlemen, readers of fiction, fantasy, adventure, and everything else, these are the three books I would want with me if I were stranded on an island. I will be completely honest and tell you, part of me wanted to put my own books in the list. Not because I think my books are amazing, but because I figure it would be a great opportunity to perfect my own stories. With that, I bid you adieu until next time. Make sure you check out my Author’s page at Amazon and until next time, HAPPY READING!!!

Four Things I Love About My Favorite Book

My favorite book, like so many of us who are avid readers, has changed over time. When I was younger, I would say any one of the Hardy Boys novels could be my favorite, or A Wrinkle in Time. That one was the first book I read with my mom. My dad then turned me onto The Wizard of Earthsea series by Ursula K. Le Guinn and, for a long while, that would have been my favorite. I finally read The Hobbit in sixth grade and JRR Tolkien’s classic quickly became my favorite; until, of course, I read The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read most of the books in the Forgotten Realms universe as well as most of the Harry Potter books. I am somewhat irritatedly awaiting the next book in George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and FireWinds of Winteras I am all caught up with his quickly-becoming-classic series. I read Brent Weeks Night Angel Trilogy and was a fan for the most part. I love Stephen Lawhead’s work. His first series I read was the King Raven series, a historical fiction/fantasy series about Robin Hood. Very cool. I have also either read or listened to many of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan novels and Robert Ludlum’s books, listened to many of the early Star Wars novels (now mostly not accepted as a part of the Star Wars Universe), and have had an opportunity, through publishing my own book, to read other newer author’s works. After reading all these books—well, I should say reading and listening to all these books—my favorite of all time…man, that’s a hard thing to decide. But my favorite of all time has to be J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

There are four reasons why The Hobbit has stood up against all these other great masterpieces, four reasons as to why The Hobbit stands out to me as one of the best, most influential, and most prolific novels of all time.

1. The Hobbit started a whole genre and influenced thousands of books. Certainly, fantasy fiction has seen some amazing authors after J.R.R. Tolkien. And within just a few generations, we have seen the creations of sub-genres like Dark Fantasy, Epic Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, etc. and amazing authors like Jordan, Sanderson, Martin, and Salvatore.  These genres were created by men and women who were just as innovative as Tolkien, but in my opinion, it is Tolkien who gave them the start, gave them the platform with which to create their masterpieces. Every fantasy book that I read has some relationship to Tolkien and The Hobbit. Some of these similarities are very clear—and sometimes a little too similar—and some of these similarities are obscure, but I believe if you were to sit down and read every fantasy novel written, you could draw lines of influence to The Hobbit. This is why The Hobbit is the best. Every time I read a fantasy novel, or even an adventure novel, science fiction novel, or mystery novel, a part of me always thinks about The Hobbit.

2. Tolkien crossed genre boundaries with The Hobbit. I remember going through college and my Creative Writing program. Almost every single person, when they found out you liked any sort of genre fiction, looked at you like you were some second class citizen. I blame most of this on academia. Schools and universities are teaching young men and women in droves a lot of things and theories that are bogus and weird and just simply contrary to what we experience in the world outside of education, but one of those things that is closely related to us authors, writers, and readers, is that the only legitimate fiction genre is mainstream literary fiction, the kind of stuff you might find in the main aisle at Barnes and Noble, in the New Yorker, or in a coffee shop being discussed by espresso sipping, early twenties intellectuals who smoke e-cigarettes and have discovered the meaning of life even though they’ve never paid for a single bill or have had a single, meaningful responsibility other than school. Besides the fact that most schools teach their students that genre fiction is lesser, worse, poorly written, and meaningless, it is hard for someone who is into a particular genre to appreciate another genre. In my experience, that happens when an author crosses genre boundaries—and Tolkien did that. I have met people who love romance, mystery, adventure, sci-fi, literary, poetry, and non-fiction who have all at least appreciated The Hobbit. Whether its Tolkien’s world building skills, or his prose, or his level of description, or his ability to create analogy, or even his insane aptitude at creating not one, not two, but multiple imaginary languages—all based off of a dead language in Old English—readers appreciate Tolkien’s writing. I would be lying if I said I didn’t have issues with some of Tolkien’s story, or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. I can’t stand The Simarillion. But issues or not, and genre or not, most people appreciate what Tolkien did in crossing the genre boundaries with The Hobbit. There’s mystery, adventure, political intrigue, racial tension, a resistance to political and social norms, poetry, horror, and any number of other genres all wrapped into this singular fantasy novel that sparked a legacy of writing.

3. It’s a great piece of writing with great prose and great imagery and fantastic description. Tolkien is a good writer. I’m sure there are people out there who don’t like Tolkien or his work, but I think it would be hard to dispute that he is a good writer. Even at a young age, I like picking up a popcorn fantasy novel and slamming through a decently (maybe just ok) written book in a few days—maybe a week—and getting some good adventure, good fight scenes, and a satisfactory story. If nothing else, they always gave me great ideas for D&D adventures. But there is something to be said about great writing, in any genre, but especially fantasy. When you feel like you are living the adventure, man, what a great feeling. That’s what Tolkien does with The Hobbit. It’s not just some campy, corny fantasy novel that takes a few days to read and then you put it down to never read it again. This is a book that takes time. You find yourself rereading passages. Not because they were hard to understand, but because you know there is deeper meaning there. You know that it takes a few times to truly understand what Tolkien was saying. What was he alluding to? What is he foreshadowing? Or you come to this paragraph or two of excellent prose and you read it three times just because it is enjoyable to do so. His attention to detail—and I know some complain about it—gives me the ability to smell the smells, see the sights, hear the sounds, feel the tangibles and wonder the intangibles. Certainly, people have done the same thing, and maybe even people have done a better job, but picking up from reasons 1 and 2, and transitioning into reason 4, Tolkien was one of the first to do it with a genre that many cannot do it with, and in such a way that most who wouldn’t dare pick up a fantasy novel will pick up his.

4. The Hobbit was one of the first, full length novels I ever read that was written for adults. I was only eleven or twelve when I first read The Hobbit. And although I have read it four or five times—I know some people don’t have enough toes and fingers to count how many times they’ve read The Hobbit—I always go back to the fact that it was my first. Not to get really weird here, but I think it’s kind of like our first love, that first person we ever, truly fell in love with. We may not actually love them anymore—I know I am deeply in love with my wife, Kellie, and wouldn’t trade her or our family for anything—but they will always have a special place in your heart. I think, in a way, that is what The Hobbit is for me. I grew up playing fantasy games (D&D), and watching anime, and watching fantasy and science fiction movies and cartoons, but when I picked up The Hobbit for the first time, it all came together for me. I could see every character I had ever read or watched come to life on the pages of that book. I can still remember looking at the cover—it was yellow and it had a picture of Bilbo sneaking into Smaug’s layer—at my desk. We had just come back from the library and I had been bugging our librarian about the book. She said they didn’t have it, that it was a little too high level, but that she would special order for me. And she did. I get goose pimples just sitting here and writing about it.  That was it. That was the story that made my love for fantasy and sci-fi real. It was amazing. I could see Hobbiton, and the dragon Smaug, and the dwarves, and Gandalf. I had seen them before. I had imagined them. And here they were. Again, as I get older, I find little issues with the novel—character issues, questions I never asked as a kid, plot flaws—but I will always go back to that moment, when I opened that book, and my love for fantasy came to life. After that, I watched The Hobbit cartoon, read The Hobbit comic book, and began reading other fantasy novels. And, man, when the movies came out, I seriously might have shed a few tears. I think, then, it also truly sparked my imagination. Believe me, I had a vivid imagination before that. But just reading what Tolkien wrote, and I really think understanding how revolutionary it was at the time, I really wanted to convey a story, a message, a picture inside my head to other people. I really do think that that was one of those moments when I knew I wanted to write. Of course, my parents, my Uncle Bob, my grandmother, all these people and more, encouraged me and my creativity, but I don’t know if I would have ever come to the conclusion that I want to write, come to the conclusion of, “Hey, I could do this too,” if I had never picked up my favorite book, J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit.

Thank you all for visiting my blog posting. I hope you enjoyed it. Check out my Author Page at Amazon and please feel free to peruse my website and, as always, HAPPY READING!!!

Five Things I Would Buy With A Million Dollars

So, clearly this really has nothing to do with my writing, writing in general, being an author, being creative—really, it has nothing to do about anything. I just thought it would be fun to talk about having a ton of money (I don’t really know if one million dollars is a lot of money anymore) and what I would do with it. Firstly, let me say that I think it is crazy that the PowerBall reached $1 Billion. I think its even crazier that people went out and spent a bunch of money on tickets, hoping they would be the lucky one. Now, I don’t normally play the lottery, but I did drop $20 on some tickets and won like $4. But, anyways. I do hope to have $1 million someday. But I would like to do it the old fashioned American way—through hard work.

What an author’s dream, right? Write enough, have a good enough book or series, have a great enough following to make a million on your craft? So if…wait, wait, wait, what’s this “if” stuff? When…there we go…when I make my first million, what will I do?

  1. The first thing I am doing is paying off my home. I know—boring. Oh well. The thought of paying $800,000 for a $200,000 mortgage 30 years from just isn’t that appealing to me. So, there you go, I pay my house off, sink another $100,000 in improvements into our house, and have roughly $700,000 left over.

  2. The second thing I do is take my wife to Europe—most notably, France and Italy. When my wife and I were first dating, she was saving up for a trip to Italy. She had everything planned. She had hotels and hostels. She had tours planned. And she was just a couple hundred dollars away from being able to afford it. Then, I got into a really bad accident and we decided to buy a house. Those to things completely drained my wife’s savings accounts and, thus, ruined her dream of traveling to Italy and see the amazing history and culture of Southern Europe.  So, after paying off our home, I am taking my wife to Italy and France (and probably Greece) and we’re spending a good two to three weeks there in complete luxury. I figure I can take my wife to Southern Europe, fulfill her dream of going, take a bunch of time to write and get some awesome inspiration from my surroundings, and pretty much do whatever we want for about $100,000, so after taking my wife to Europe, I still have $600,000 left over.

  3. Build my dream home gym. I love working out, has lived much of my life in the gym, competed in both power lifting and body building, and find more and more solace in lifting in my garage as opposed to going to a crowded gym where everyone is trying to show each other up, and hit on each other, and grunt, and slam weights, etc. I have decent equipment in my gym right now, but with $600,000 left over, money really isn’t an option. I would sink about $100,000 into my garage gym.

  4. I have $500,000 left over, $400,000 of which I can play with. I’ll explain why only $400,000 in just a moment. I would use the rest for my family and friends. I would pay off the rest of my debt, put money into college funds for my kids, send my brother to school, pay off my mom and dad’s debt, and put a decent chunk of change away for the future. I might take some of that and revamp the wrestling room at the school I coach at. I’m not a materialistic guy. I like working, so I certainly wouldn’t stop working. I don’t luxury things. I don’t need luxury cars. I like my home. My clothes are good. I like living in Tucson, AZ. I just really want to live a worry free life. That means no debt.

  5. Lastly, I take $100,000 and give it back. I give it to church. I know, some of you will read this and start thinking that churches are corrupt and why do we have pastors living in $10 million homes and spending insane amounts of money on trips and etc etc etc. I can’t speak to them and I can’t speak to their hearts. But I do trust God. He has requested 10% of our first fruits, and—even though I don’t give 10% all the time—I believe that’s what I should do. I believe my church would use that money for good, for spreading a message of hope and salvation, of peace and love. I would encourage everyone to give. You don’t have to be a Christian, or have a faith, to give and study after study shows that giving possessions and money away is actually good for your health.

There you go. That’s the five things I would do with $1,000,000. Its not very exciting, but it would fit me just fine. So, if anyone out there has a million dollars they want to give me, just let me know. Until then, Thank you and HAPPY READING!!!

The World of Self-Publishing

I am by no means an expert in self-publishing. I have one book out on Amazon, published through CreateSpace and Amazon Kindle, and my goal is to have Dark Winds: Book Two of the Shadow’s Fire Trilogy and Breaking the Flame: Book Three of the Shadow’s Fire Trilogy out by next spring, but who knows. My experience with self-publishing, I suppose, has been somewhat of a double-edged sword, a rollercoaster, like riding a wave, and any other metaphor for an up and down experience you could think of. Would I suggest self-publishing to other people? Sure, for the right person. I don’t think it is for everyone. If you had asked me that question a year ago, after A Chance Beginning had been out for a little while and my sales looked decent, I would have said, “It’s for everyone. Absolutely. Down with the traditional publisher.” I find that this process is much like selling life insurance. When I first started selling life insurance, my world was all about Universal Life Insurance. That was the only life insurance that was good life insurance. If you didn’t buy UL, you were stupid. Then, after a while and some much needed world experience, I realized that different types of insurance work for different people in different places in their lives. I think looking at the writing and publishing industry, my attitude is much the same. I recently had an opportunity to sit down with a man named Grael Norton from Wheatmark, a publishing company locally based in Tucson that helps authors do a number of different things, including preparing their manuscripts for self-publishing, helping people publish through Wheatmark, and helping writers prepare their manuscripts for trade publishers. Through my experiences, I had already started to realize how the writing and publishing industry worked, but sitting down with Grael really helped…well, open my eyes for a lack of better terms.

What I like about self-publishing: You’re in the driver seat. Your baby stays your baby. You get to write what you want to write. Your cover looks the way you want it to look. For the most part, you establish the price of your book. You help design the interior. Its all you. For the control freak like me, the micromanager, this is perfect. Self-publishing has been a great experience. I was, at one point, actually contracted with a publishing company. I will omit their name in honor of professionalism, but I started to realize that I didn’t have full control over my own work. In fact, in some cases, I had very little control. In fact, in some cases, I had no control. This was my imagination. This was my hard work, my sweat equity so to speak, and I can’t say what I want to say, can’t have this character and can’t use this language? Wait…what? I need to cut the first three chapters out? This character isn’t driving the plot. Get rid of him? It’s kind of crazy, when you think about it. All this hard work and, boom, your story is no longer your story. Don’t get me wrong, I am extremely grateful for the experience. But I am also grateful for the opportunity to self-publish.

Perhaps part of my positive experience with self publishing was the fact that I had received some great editing, and continued to receive great editing after I had left the publishing company I was contracted with. I have great friends that were willing to read my book before I published it. And I have thick skin. I can take criticism very well and understand that a different set of eyes will see different things. I also have friends that are fantastic artists and photographers and were willing to create internal design for me and cover design. These things all made self publishing a lot of fun and very easy. And, maybe one of the greatest experiences with self-publishing is that when I gave CreateSpace the okay, I got to physically see my book two weeks later rather than 18 months later.

What I don’t like: So, some of the things that I liked about self-publishing are also some of the things I don’t like. I now realize that my cover needs some revamping, as does my interior design. Not that they are terrible, but in terms of what is eye-catching, what sells in the fantasy/science fiction industry, I had no one to direct me. If I did, as I have found out on my own in speaking with people such as Grael Norton, I would have learned that there are certain aspects of the cover and interior that I missed, which should be there. I think that is probably one advantage in not self-publishing, there is someone there the whole time advising you, or just doing it for you. Editing too. I said I had great editing even though I decided to self-publish. However, I have already revised my already published book twice and am in the process of doing it a third time. I mean, I didn’t have someone sitting down and only working on my manuscript. They were awesome, but they had to edit my book when they had time. And they did it for next to free. The result—me revising an already published book three times.

Lastly, what I really don’t like about self-publishing is the marketing and publicity. I have become self employed, which means all the marketing and publicity is on me, including the cost. I’m not a publicist. I don’t have a specialty in marketing. This has been very difficult for me. I’ve done Facebook and twitter, and that has been mildly successful. I’ve done local book fairs and book signings. I sell a few books there. But all in all, it’s been pretty hard getting my book in front of eyes, in front of readers.  Do I think my book is good enough to sell itself through word of mouth? Yes, I do. But how do I get those initial people to read my book? And how do I continually hound friends and family about telling their other friends and family about my book? I’m sure they would understand, but part of me just feels like a pest.

I think self-publishing and companies like Amazon and CreateSpace and Kindle have revolutionized the industry and created a way for more writers to be heard, get their work out there, see their ideas on a page, and live a dream. But it is certainly a different, if not difficult, road. There are some great written works that may have never seen the light of day if it weren’t for self-publishing, and then there are some works that should have never seen the light of day. I am personally glad for my journey, glad for self-publishing, and very hopeful and expectant for the future and what it holds for my writing career. Writing and my journey has put me in front of some amazing people, people that I truly believe will help me achieve my goal of being a best selling author. If you have had a chance, make sure you check out my first novel, A Chance Beginning. You can buy it through Amazon.com for only $13.95 in paperback or for $2.99 on kindle.

The Five Things I Wish Fantasy Authors Would Stop Doing

So, being a fantasy author, and growing up reading, writing, watching, imagining, and drawing fantasy related stuff, I have found that the fantasy genre, like many other genres, have some fairly significant clichés and archetypal story lines and characters. I truly think that some of these are unavoidable. Fantasy is fantasy just like mystery is mystery and romance is romance. There is only so many different story lines, ideas, etc. that an author can come up with.

However, there just seems to be a number of things fantasy authors - and this is probably true with mystery, romance, and political intrigue authors as well - continually do that places us in the realm of popcorn fiction, turns off readers, makes us seem like the nerds playing magic in the high school hallways (no offense to nerds or Magic the Gathering players) and irritates even me. So, here is my list of the five things I wish fantasy authors would stop doing.

1. Deus Ex Machina

What does this mean? It literally means god from the machine. This is the literary device that was commonly used by Greek and Roman playwrights to work the gods into their plays or to help their heroes solve seemingly unsolvable situations. So how is this applicable today? Don't get mad at me. I love Tolkien and I love Lord of the Rings, but one of the final scenes, when the Giant Eagles save Frodo and Sam from the impending doom of Mount Doom's wrath, that is a perfect example of Deus Ex Machina. They should've died. You know it. I know it. The whole world knows it. The fact is, Tolkien broke a lot of the literary rules that many authors today must live by - and he is still great. But as I continue to read fantasy novels, and as I continue to write fantasy novels, I begin to realize that many fantasy novels extract their heroes and save their protagonists from situations that are hopeless, all because of a spell the wizard forgot he had, or the magic sword the knight didn't realize he possessed, or the world bending acorn the ranger received as an elvish gift. I suppose the whole point to fantasy and science fiction is that these are tales that are beyond reality, and I am certainly not looking for extensive realism in my fantasy, but I do want some. As morbid as it sounds, I want main characters to die. I want them to face the same hardships I face, encounter the same trials and tribulations, work themselves out of bad situations the same way I would - only, with the help of magic or a dragon or a magic sword. But I don't want them to be miraculously saved. When Matrim Cauthon in the Wheel of Time series (spoiler alert) dies, I wanted him to stay dead. But Rand al'Thor, not realizing he had the power of Bane Fire, brings Matrim back. Again, I know some of this is going to occur in fantasy, and I know it occurs in my own writing, I just want less of it. I believe, with less Deus Ex Machina, fantasy would cross genre boundaries.

2. Names and Places that I either can't pronounce, or sound like the author was literally looking around his/her desk and putting random words together

Everyone who reads fantasy and science fiction knows what I mean. You come to that one name (and for the sake of not wanting to slam any particular author, I will leave specific examples out) and as you sound it out loud - "Pap-stap-uter-ex" - you realize that at that moment, at the moment the author needed that profound name, he happened to be sitting in front of his computer with a paperclip in his hand and a box of staples on his desk, and he thought by adding ex to the end of the name, it made it clever. So as Sir Papstaputerex goes through his adventures, all you can think about is, "You couldn't come up with anything better?" I know that these are make believe world, and I know that these are make believe people, but can't we be a little more creative? And how about names and places that I can pronounce? I read a book not too long ago, and the name of a people in the book was literally so long, it took up a whole line on a page, and the author even explained how other peoples shortened the name because it was so long. WHAT? It just seems to me that there is going to be a certain amount of popcorn involved in fantasy, which is ok and expected. But that popcorn level goes up as we have more and more inaudible, unpronounceable, wacky names and places.

3. Telling Not Showing

Early on in my writing "career," I got slammed on this concept a lot. I mean, a lot. So much so, that I really reconsidered whether or not I wanted to be an author. I mean, here I am, having these amazing, insanely awesome scenes in my head. How else am I suppose to explain these scenes or places or even people to my audience other than describing them it such great detail that it takes a total of three to four pages to just explain the way the sun rises over the mountains, or the way her hair flutters in the wind? Two amazing authors are so famously guilty of doing this that if they were fledgling writers today, they may have never made it. Of course, I am talking about Tolkien and Jordan. I love their work and view them as pioneers in Fantasy Fiction. However, it seems that too many modern fantasy authors have chosen to follow in these revolutionaries' exact footsteps. Times change, as do the requirements and expectations of industries, including writing. I want to experience people, scenes, and places through dialogue (which will be another pet peeve of mine) and action, fighting, smelling, seeing. I really feel like I am just being told a story when I pick up many fantasy novels. I want to smell the smells, hear the sounds, see the sights.

4. Bad Dialogue

What is it about Fantasy and Science Fiction that authors think its a license for superfluous language, hyperbolic speech, and just bad dialogue in general? I mean, really? I often wonder if authors think to themselves, "Would I really speak this way?" Again, the author typically isn't inputting themselves into the story. These are other-worldly people, in other-worldly places, dealing with other-worldly things. But, if I want people like me reading my books, I might want my characters to speak like me - or them. Here is just a quick example of what I am talking about. Mind you, I just came up with this.

"Ho there, comrade of the eastern hills where the sun shines warm and bright every day of this and every year," Ethgar Blue Beard of the Hakawakaluka Clan exclaimed with great admiration and mirth, his bluish-black beard floundering in the subtle, cool, crisp breeze of the Fourth Wind and his black eyes blazing like dark, endless coals burning on a freezing, moonless, starless night. (A homage to my previous two pet peeves).

"Ho there, fellow barbarian, master of the western steps, where the grass grows tall and strong, lord of the horse people and crusher of all who refuse to follow the great traditions of your people," Spik'a-Val'um'inius replied, his hair - as bright as the noonday sun - shining and casting out the ever growing shadows of a darkening world, his eyes meeting the dark intensity of Ethgar's with an icy coolness about them, one that might freeze those he looked upon if it were not for the warmth in his heart.

"Dost thou come with the good news that makes my heart race like the wild horses of my lands?" Ethgar asked, his well-muscled neck undulating with every word, presenting his arms wide open, in friendship as a long lost brother might meet his kin.

"Nay, nay," Spik'a-Val'um'inius replied. "My news is as dark as witch's brew in the dead of winter."

What the hell was just said? I wrote it and I don't even know what I just wrote. But this seems to be the norm for most fantasy novels. Why? That's a great question. I feel like most fantasy novelists think they have to be the next Shakespeare. But I don't think that is what people are looking for. I think they're looking for stories they can relate to and dialogue they can understand. We, as authors, need to think about how we speak and how we would respond to certain situations and realize that that would be the response of most people, and that's what they can relate to - and that is what they want to read.

5. What is the Motivation?

Lastly, I need motivation. What is motivating the main character to follow the kooky wizard that just barged into the pub talking about the end of the world and so-and-so being the savior, and they have to leave right now? I truly believe that a thousand years ago, or in some make believe land, or a thousand years from now, people would respond the same way people would respond today.

"Um, here, let me buy you a beer and I'll meet you out back in five minutes," while he takes off as fast as he can.

Or

"Get the hell outta here before I beat you and have you thrown in jail."

If everyone is happy and content, why would they change? Or, if everything is so hopeless, there is never a thought a breaking the chains of oppression, why would they change? I suppose this speaks to the epic nature of most fantasy, the overarching ideas and themes, but no matter how epic a fantasy novel is, it needs to have some real motivation. There needs to be conflict. There needs to be problems. Something needs to be amiss and something needs to convince the protagonist he or she needs to change, needs to go an adventure, needs to go with the crazy wizard.

I do believe that at some point, and possibly still, I am at fault for committing all of these writing sins. But as I try to move from being pigeon-holed to one genre to writing across genres, as most authors want, I try as hard as humanly possible to avoid these mistakes. Let me know what your pet peeves and frustrations are with novels and authors. Thanks and Happy Reading!

On Writing Christian Fantasy by Dona Watson

Writing fantasy is a difficult thing to do and not for the faint of heart. And yet, it is a genre that many of us find ourselves in explicably drawn to again and again.

That’s because the realm of the imagination is a wonderful place. I think of it as brain candy. Orcs, unicorns, elves, angels, magic, trolls…each one of these are the work of someone’s amazing imagination.

As is well known, much of our current day fantasy fiction springs from the hotbed of Tolkien’s mind. But the roots of his creations hark back even further to the days of Norse imagination and mythology. However, Tolkien showed his mastery by taking an existing idea and making it better, developing it into something amazing that people could wrap their minds around.

And that is what fantasy writers do. We take a wonderful idea, add our own angle, and create something new.

However, much like Tolkien initially experienced, we often find that our intended audience rebels against our creations, considering our stories too bizarre. In many ways, the world of Christian fiction has become a narrow marketplace. While some who read Christian fiction choose not to venture beyond the popular and into the wide world of fantasy, others of us yearn to do so, daring to consider the fantastical and the supernatural and ask, “What if?”.

When Tolkien created Middle-Earth, he took the creations of the Norse mind and molded them into the mindset of a Christian worldview. Angels became known as wizards. Demons became orcs and other dark creatures. (For a brief yet comprehensive explanation of the lineage of Tolkien’s creations that goes beyond this post, see this video: http://youtu.be/YxgsxaFWWHQ.)

It took years for many Christians to accept the creations of Tolkien’s mind and for the most part, his work is now a treasured part of our literary culture, even translated into film, the possibility of which Tolkien himself would never have dreamed.

While we might at times feel alone, Christian fantasy writers tread narrow rocky pathways that, if we look hard enough, have previously been trod by those who became masters at writing stories born in a mind firmly couched in Christian theology.

There are many “radicals” like ourselves who have found the confines of traditional Christian fantasy too restrictive, too narrow a place to express the outflow of our imaginations. Many of our fellow Christians who yearn to explore the realms of the fantastic have been forced to look outside of Christian publishing to satisfy their craving for more. And so we find the Christian fiction world to be in a Catch-22 situation. In traditionally published Christian fantasy fiction markets, there aren’t enough writers because there aren’t enough readers—and there aren’t enough readers because there aren’t enough writers.

However, the world of independent publishing has allowed us to create what I will call a gray market—a world that lies between the general fantasy market and the traditional Christian fiction market.

In addition, indie publishing has allowed Christian fantasy writers a forum in which we can speak our minds freely. As indie writers, we can create and publish books targeted at the general market and yet maintain our Christian worldview. Even more Christian fantasy writers have found a niche in the general market where they can hold their candle high.

As writers we find that our market has become reachable in so many ways. And the good news is that Christian readers are discovering this new outlet for stories they have long craved to read. Not only is it a good time to be a Christian fantasy writer, it is also a good time to be a Christian fantasy reader. And that, my friend, is a very good thing.

So to sum all this up, is it challenging to write fantasy from a Christian worldview? The answer would be an unequivocal “Yes” but mostly because writing fantasy is hard.

Is it difficult for a Christian fantasy writer to reach their readers? If you write fantasy for adults and try to find a traditional Christian publisher, you will find the going extremely hard. If, however, you have enough energy to become a small business owner and publish your own work as an indie writer/publisher, the opportunities are unlimited.

At least that has been my experience. If your story differs from mine, I’d love to hear it. Because, as they say, we’re all in this together.

Dona Watson grew up with a book in one hand, dreaming about imaginary worlds of mystery and adventure. In high school, she found an old novel in a used bookstore, fell in love with fantasy fiction and never looked back. Look for her award-winning fantasy novel The Lightstone of Perlan, to be published this year, as well as other short stories online and in print. A writer and editor with an unbridled love for reading and writing fiction, Dona lives surrounded by way too many books in Southern California with a wonderful family and a precocious little dog. You can find her online at http://donawatson.com. http://donawatson.com - facebook.com/dona.watson twitter.com/DonaWatson - http://google.com/+DonaWatson

Dona Watson grew up with a book in one hand, dreaming about imaginary worlds of mystery and adventure. In high school, she found an old novel in a used bookstore, fell in love with fantasy fiction and never looked back. Look for her award-winning fantasy novel The Lightstone of Perlan, to be published this year, as well as other short stories online and in print. A writer and editor with an unbridled love for reading and writing fiction, Dona lives surrounded by way too many books in Southern California with a wonderful family and a precocious little dog. You can find her online at http://donawatson.com.

http://donawatson.com - facebook.com/dona.watson
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Once You’ve Read One, You’ve Read ‘em All

I think I have probably said this before, but do you ever feel like once you’ve read one fantasy novel, you’ve read them all. I suppose someone could say the same thing about most romance novels. Probably mysteries and thrillers as well. Lets throw horror novels in there also (you know, all those awesome vampire and zombie books that have been coming out). Oh, and just for giggles, lets include action and adventure novels on this list as well.

In reality, one might find this dilemma with any of the formulaic genres of writing. You’ll get pretty much the same story arc. The protagonist will be the same. That antagonist will have many of the same qualities. You might find yourself in outer space as opposed to some fantasy land with fairies and dragons. Your protagonist might be a grumpy blue alien with four arms rather than a cheerful Hobbit. And your protagonist could be an evil, imperialistic human general rather than a dragon, but isn’t it all the same. Won’t there be some odd, humble, or unlikely beginning to the story. Right, the protagonist will, just by chance, come across a map, a mission, or an opportunity. He or she will have a run in with some unlikely allies. You’ll know who the bad guy is right off the bat. He’ll have every quality you despise. You’ll hate him. You’ll never have sympathy for him. The odds will seemed stacked against the protagonist. The mission is doomed for failure. As a result, the world is doomed as well. The bad guy is just too powerful. But, wait, just at the last minute, the hero truly understands he’s a hero, discovers some object, person, or emotion that helps him or her to make this transition, and defeats the bad guy. And, hey, I love it.

I think you can find this with mysteries, romance, action, horror, etc. And if you are a lover of that genre, you love the story lines. You pick up a book knowing that it will be similar to one you’ve read before. In fact, you expect it. So what determines a good read, from a great read, to a terrible read? How do you determine whether or not the last mystery, fantasy, or romance was one of those ones you’ll really remember, life changing almost, and which one you’ll forget about in a week? Are Nicholas Sparks’ books really so different from any other romance? James Patterson, are his works different than any other mystery/thriller? Tom Clancy and action, R.A. Salvatore and fantasy?

My answer would be no. I’ve never read through a romance novel. Not my thing. I’ve read some Clancy, some Cussler, a lot of Crichton. I’ve read Patterson and Grafton. I’ve read Card and Zahn. And, of course, a ton of fantasy. The stories really aren’t that different. So, then, the questions remains, what separates them from the rest of the pack?

Writing. Its simple. These guys are, in many cases, spectacular writers. What do I mean by spectacular writers? I know, it may seem like a simple answer, but it really isn’t. They write action sequences that make the reader feel like they’re there, in the thick of things. They write love scenes that make you sweat. They write tragedy that makes you cry. At the end of the book, you jump up and shout “Yes!” at the top of your lungs with a fist held high. Ok, but how? Why?

One of the things that I have found with many modern novels is just simply poor writing. Those of you out there, those few of you that are writers and happen to be reading this blog posting, do you remember your creative writing classes, either in high school or college? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you didn’t take any. One certainly doesn’t have to graduate with a degree in Creative Writing to be a good writer. But if you did, do you remember that saying your teacher or professor repeated over and over again? Do you remember the red outlines on all your short stories with that same saying written in bold red pen? Do you remember asking yourself, “What the hell does she mean by…” Remember? Show don’t tell. So, the main gist of showing and not telling is writing in active voice versus passive voice. Showing the action of a scene rather than just telling the audience what happened. Can you imagine watching a movie that was a dialogue, just some guy sitting there telling you what happened in the movie? Or has anyone ever told you about a movie and you’re thinking, “Wow, that sounds great,” or “Wow, that sounds like it rally sucks,” then went to see the movie and walked away with the complete opposite opinion? But it goes even further than just passive versus active voice. As Ashley Ludwig, a friend who has very graciously served as my editor recently, put it, “Don’t memory dump. Show through dialogue and action. Tease the senses.” It was great advice. Don’t you, as a reader, want to pick up a book and hear, feel, taste, smell what’s going on? What Ashley was getting at was, in my own books, I have a tendency to write three or four thick paragraphs of information. It may not be passive voice, but it’s a lot of info in a short period of time. I’ve transitioned to relaying that info through dialogue between characters, or action sequences. I think it has worked out very well.

I picked up a book and, literally, within the first ten pages set it down because it was all passive voice. Really? This author broke the one cardinal rule you don’t break. Don’t write in passive voice. I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t get over it.

What else makes a novel so-so versus great. How about pages and pages of prose. Just thick paragraphs of info. I’m going to be honest, as a reader, if I get more than three or four paragraphs before any dialogue or action, I start glossing over. I start missing info because I am now skimming. How about grammar errors? Now, I am, as a write, as guilty as anyone and I have to say a few errors here or there are going to get past even the best copy editor. They don’t really irritate me too much when they’re scarce. But I’ve seen a lot of that lately as well. Or, this one really throws me for a loop. Character so and so gets hit with an arrow in his left arm, but is getting his right arm patched up. Someone stabbed him in the ribs, but needs magical healing on the gash on his chest. What? That kills a story for me. And not really lastly, but the last thing I want to talk about, would be simply writing a story arc with nothing special, nothing divergent. Like I said before, I expect to read very similar books when I pick up any fantasy novel. But the really good ones also have those difference, however minor, that separate them from the rest. If you’re going to just create a typical Dungeons & Dragons adventure and then write about it in 400 to 500 pages of very, very long and poorly written prose, don’t bother.

Great authors are students of their craft. They find ways not to necessarily change their genre, create new genres, or even buck tradition, but ways to be creative and great within those boundaries. Their writing is spectacular, not flawless but close, driving, action and dialogue driven, fresh. They understand the English language. They understand important writing conventions. They break rules that okay to be broken…like writing sentence fragments, starting sentences with And or But, and writing two sentence paragraphs, and they don’t break those rules that one really shouldn’t break, like writing in active versus passive voice. So bravo to those authors aforementioned and any others you think have created a successful story within the boundaries of their genre.

 

If you’ve enjoyed the blog posting of Christopher Patterson and like good fantasy, good adventure, or just a good story, please check out A Chance Beginning: Book One of the Shadow’s Fire Trilogy either on kindle or in paperback.

 

http://www.amazon.com/Chance-Beginning-Book-Shadows-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00KB3SO90/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1413399358&sr=8-1&keywords=a+chance+beginning

Someone Must Die

            We were sitting on the couch, watching the HBO rendition of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, known to most people who have never read the books as A Game of Thrones. My wife and I rather enjoy the series. There are some things I could do without, little changes between the show and the books and the gratuitous sex, but other than that, we have a good time watching it. It was the episode known as The Red Wedding. Now, I had already read the books, so I knew what was going to happen. I literally sat on the edge of the couch. When Kellie, my wife, would ask, “What is up with you?” I would simply reply, “Just wait for it.”

            Then it came. I won’t tell you what, exactly, just to avoid any spoilers for any of you that might want to read the books. But the scene I had been waiting for happened and my wife hit me as hard as she could on the shoulder and almost started crying. Someone had died. No, not someone, a main character, a protagonist, a mover and shaker, someone we had come to really like—love maybe, someone with whom we empathized. They were dead, never to be seen again save for reruns, and then again, why would you want to watch a rerun with them in it, only to know their inevitable fate? My wife hated it. I loved it.

            Fiction, especially Science Fiction and Fantasy, is a break from reality. People read it, for the most part, to escape the everyday doldrums of life. We get to live the life of a hero, a princess, a powerful wizard, a dragon slayer, a king, a universe-known smuggler with a soft heart, you pick. We get to imagine, live in worlds that don’t exist, dabble in ideas that are simply . . . well, fiction. In fact, we see books and movies that are technically fiction, technically fantasy, but they are so close to reality that people almost revolt against them. I truly believe that those who really don’t like A Song of Ice and Fire hate it because it, in many ways, resembles the twisted, wicked, aristocratic, dictatorial societies of our own world 500 years ago as well as today. It’s too close to reality. Where’s the magic? Where are the orcs? Hell, where’re the damn elves? Can you really have a fantasy book without any elves? Ok, it does have dragons. I really do like A Song of Ice and Fire.

            So, back to my point. Fiction is a break from reality, but if it breaks too much from reality, we are left with something that is completely unbelievable. I know, I know. Right now you are asking, “Um, how are dwarves and elves and orcs and dragons believable?” Well, take that grumpy dwarf blacksmith and replace him with your grumpy, mechanic father-in-law. That might have been too personal. Hopefully, my wife doesn’t read this. Sorry Sweetie. Take the haughty, stuck up, pretentious elf traveling with the protagonist and replace him with your coworker who is always right, always speaking out in meetings, always talking about his new BMW, always wearing designer shirts that you make fun of even though you really wish you could afford one, and who definitely can afford all of this because of the trust fund his grandparents set up for him. And all the while you hate to admit that this guy really is your friend and a good guy. How about that ugly orc? Maybe a big, brutish, dark-haired German Nazi (no offense to anyone who is German) who is chasing after the protagonist—an American spy during WWII—trying to thwart his plans to smuggle a Jewish family out of Nazi Germany. Ok, ok, but dragons? The dog that’s really not a pet and does his own thing, but in the end always helps. Or, possibly, the uncertainty of nature, the unknown. I know. That last one was deep. Very metaphorical.

            My point is, when you really think about it, all of these characters or creatures really are believable. They are simply representations of real people, real creatures, real ideas, and real problems. A mystery buff might call a fantasy lover a nerd, but the mystery reader’s detective is just a hobbit to the fantasy fanatic. The fantasy lover might find romance almost vomitous, but what is the relationship between Arwen and Aragorn but a love story, a romance. Despite the break from reality that any fiction poses to the reader, but especially genres like fantasy and science fiction, it still has some elements of reality to which we can relate. We typically could replace the main character with ourselves. I’ve been Aragorn, Sparrowhawk, Jamie Lannister, Kylar Stern, Ender, Drizzt Do’Urden, Jack Ryan, heck, I’ve even been Erik, one of the main characters from my own book. It is the believability of the situation, the characters that make us want to read these books, and I truly believe, as a one time English teacher, that it is the lack of believability of Greek heroes that makes it hard for our students to read an epic poem like The Odyssey.

            So what am I getting at. There are very few critiques I have of Tolkien. His work, to me, is amazing and set the groundwork for every other fantasy artist in the 20th and 21st centuries. One of those critiques is, however, the fact that no one dies—at least no one important. Boromir dies, but if you are like me, you never really liked him anyway. The movies do more to give him some sort of likeable qualities than the text. Frodo and Sam should’ve died but they are miraculously rescued by the Giant Eagles. Gandalf “dies,” but not really. Théoden dies, but again, if you read the book rather than watch the movie, at least I was not as attached. I want someone to die. I want some conflict, some heart wrenching moment that tests the resolve of the characters. I want something that gives real motivation to the action and the plot. Again, let me reiterate, I love Lord of the Rings. But if I could change one thing, I think it would that. You wouldn’t have a murder mystery without a murder, why have a fantasy adventure without people dying—on both sides. I mean, was anyone else perturbed by Wulfgar coming back to life in the Drizzt books? Was anyone irritated that Spock came back to life?

            Anyways, back to my wife and I watching Game of Thrones. I know my wife was pissed and sad and a mix of ten other emotions when that main character died. Part of her even wanted to stop watching the series (even though she still watches it). And that is exactly the reaction I want as an author. I want people to be so bought into my characters that if one dies, and they should since they are on a dangerous, treacherous mission with any number of perils along the way, that they will be mad and sad and depressed and irritated and outraged. That means I’m doing my job as an author, right?

            So, in my humble opinion authors, especially fantasy and science fiction authors, kill of a main character. It will drive your story and make your readers care. Someone must die.

 

Be sure to check out A Chance Beginning: Book One of the Shadow’s Fire Series. You can find it through amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Chance-Beginning-Book-Shadows-Trilogy-ebook/dp/B00KB3SO90/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1410796540&sr=8-1&keywords=a+chance+beginning

 

Thanks and Happy Reading!