Friday, February 24, 2017

The Middle Grade Slump?

In all my writing career I don't think I've had as much trouble at laying down pixels as I've had for a Middle Grade fantasy book. Although I've written and published several YA titles, this is my first, out of the gate, MG. It's a whole different ballgame. I've read many MG titles, including some old Roald Dahl books, and I can't really see too much difference between them and the YA titles. There doesn't seem to be any writing "down" going on in the MG examples. I think it just takes a simpler touch, meaning easier and more understandable words. Chapter lengths can also come down in length and, of course, these types of books range from 25,000 to 45,000 words or so. 

There is a need for more humor in MGs (I believe)--the emotion that all kids understand. Eight to 12 year-old children can even understand irony--you can't underestimate them. An emphasis on characterization is also vitally important here, pulling the reader in to sympathize with the main and supporting characters--unique and diverse sketches of people who really come to life within the young mind.

I have what I call a portal fantasy, something akin to Narnia. That's where the characters enter a fantasy world via some transporting vehicle--through a mirror, hole in the ground, wardrobe, magical door, etc. In my case, my lead characters, in possession of some magic goggles, find that they can climb up and over solid rainbows to arrive in another land. I had a little problem with the suspension of disbelief with this one, as I have had similar precautions and hesitations with YA titles. 

I have virtually stopped writing this little book after about 12,000 words. I've hit a wall. I'm aghast at my unwillingness to push on through this. I feel I've hit a stone barrier or painted myself into a corner, with seemingly no way out.

I'm finally going to ask any of you children's writers out there for a little help or/and support. Like the Titanic, I'm sending up white rocket distress signals in an attempt to find my motivation and interest again.

Here it is:

My kids slide into the first land which is called Slobstalkia. The inhabitants of this land are young and obese, to the point of dangerous health and unsavory eating habits. Their diets consist of lards and fats. While my kids must wait for another rain to hitch a ride on a rainbow, in an attempt to get back home, they do everything they can to help the Slobstalkians change their eating habits and achieve a new, healthy lifestyle, with plenty of exercise. Yes, there is a message there that can translate to the reader--eat right--keep fit. I have to describe this land in fairly intricate detail, so the reader is transported to another, strange and unique environment which can be fun and thrilling at the same time. 

I have this book plotted out for the visitation and interaction of two more lands (three lands total) before they eventually catch a ride home on the last rainbow. The second land is called Filthania, which is a place rife with very bad hygiene. The lesson there is to clean these people up--washing clothes--bathing--taking pride in themselves in a physical sense. Another lesson learned.

I won't go on to describe the third land. I think you get the point. My dilemma is wondering how am I going to describe three different lands, all with individual detail and nuance within the frame of a book that is loosely regulated by a smaller word count? The project seems massive to me--almost impossible. I could concentrate on one land and get it right. But to follow it up with two more in the same book seems daunting.  It could be a trilogy. And that's a lot of risk. It could be an extraordinarily long book, since there really isn't any hard and fast rules about length and subject matter for any genre/category. Or it could be just one single land, and solving one or several problems in that land, then a return home.

This multiple land issue has blocked me dead in my tracks. I don't know the way out. Do you have any suggestions at all on how to solve this problem? I would appreciate any views or ideas about this subject.

Write like you're dying, because you are,


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Writers and Health


First exam went will, if a bit painful, but the next stage will be working the torn hernias that are likely to pose problems as far as the space needed for the prostrate shave or removal process. It's a bit crowded down there for the room to work; def going to ask to be put under for this entire procedure, and expect them to get as much done as possible. They might do the prostrate surgery then hand me off to a hernia specialist (another out patient facility where I'll have to start the process all over again). I''m afraid of this massive trade off to specialists, who will have their own payments plans with extra medication that I probably won't need.

FYI: Do not sit at your computer eight to 10 hours a day (year after year) without breaking and walking about for a good 15 minutes. Keep you legs circulating via swift walks or massage. Perform full body stretching and neck rotations. Tale deep breaths outside and then relax your heart. Take one aspirin everyday without fail, and stop smoking. Blood clots show no mercy when they break free and travel to the heart, lungs or in the brain where they can cause serious vein and arterial blockages that can kill you. Stroke and pulmonary embolism kills 1/3 of it victims. Don't EVEN give it a chance. This goes for driving trucks long distances, secretarial work, airline flights and other static positions. Bluntly, if your job requires you to sit on yous ass all day, you're in serious contention for a clot in the lower legs. Kidney stones are another problem and nearly as serious. Be attentive to the silent killers who are waiting in the wings. Don't give them the chance. Start early on your health regime and stay with it. Stay mobile and eat the proper foods. You'll be glad you did.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Long Distance and Harsh Words

Hello, friends. This post is rather atypical of what I usually write about. But I thought it was very relevant in our associations with people on the Internet--particularly in a social setting.. In a roundabout way, this would apply to communicating with other writers, agents and publishers. I thought it was important because I see so much of it.

Drawing a comparison to penpals and dating sites: 

So you found somebody you like on the Internet. That other person likes you. You just started something wonderful that excites and fulfills you. You might even develop a symbiotic love for each other. A man might be searching for that electronic girl friend. You know, a cyber cutie--an email female--that pixel princess? A woman might be looking for that goofy Gmail guy, that Internet intellectual, that cuddly computer hunk.  
Why is it that we can say the meanest and most cruel things to each other in Internet emails? Words that sting, doubt, question, threaten, accuse, belittle--name your poison. It's because we think we can spout off and avoid any confrontation. We don’t need to own our words. We are detached. Even phone calls to potential mates can become heated and cause disagreements, ending in short or long-term rejection. The calamity can happen quickly, un-expectantly. It can happen as a result of a simple miscommunication. A few words interpreted the wrong way can start a firestorm of anger and hatred. You can commit a word-slip and hurt someone’s feelings without knowing it.
People always look for the best in others regardless of most circumstances. All human beings seek peace—they all want shelter, sustenance, good health and a loving family. These are universal expectations and truths that every human being on this planet strives for. We are all connected, like an umbilical cord that has not been severed. Like a mother and baby, we can feed off each other and attain the nourishment of life. The more we feed, the more we grow.
Here’s a surprise: people deal with each other exceptionally well face-to-face. They are too busy scoping out characteristics and admiring the presence of another, hopefully, attractive human being. They are polite and respectful, and desirous of learning and becoming close to the other person. They oft times want to share and travel. They are curious about the wonders of life’s nature and feel comforted when they search out the wonders together. BTW, nature is a prime magnet for discovery. Wonder and discovery brings people together, in such an innocent vein. 
People don't do so good when they are physically detached from each other. There is a massive hole in the relationship. The love and respect core is missing.  

Contra wise, there is a certain thrill upon meeting your virtual friend. It is the last step in the process of coming together, and it is necessary. It is crucial. True, unconditional love cannot flourish unless two bodies meet and merge in a slow and mutual relationship. People can read magical compatibility in the eyes of another. The eyes never lie. Without meeting in the flesh, you are blind and unaware of spiritual truth. “What God has brought together, let no man separate.” That means a physical union, friends. And guess what? Two souls can merge into each other and plug up some very big holes.
My suggestion to all of you on the electronic air waves is to be kind, understanding and tolerant of your friend/friends, even though they might raise the bristles on the back of your neck. If things begin to break down because of suspicion and mistrust, stop right there and discuss the problem honestly and out in the open with gentle, soothing, kind words. Discussion is the triage for minor differences. Or would you prefer a major trauma when things have gotten too far out of hand? The choice is yours.
If you don't confront your differences in good spirits, you might lose the potential love or friend of your life. Try laughter and jokes to salve some of your disagreements. Humor takes the edge off and delivers some needed comedy relief...Or else? Or else you might end up needlessly heartbroken and alone. Learn to forgive and heal. Redemption is a precious commodity that everyone can afford. It costs nothing to put love first over mistrust and negativity. Remember the song: “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”, theme from Blast to the Past.  Yeah, corny.

Live easy and love hard.

Chris, aka Triceratops @ AW

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Take a Ride--Create a Book

A fantasy came out of nowhere and clobbered J.K. Rowling over the head--she'd found her destiny. She took a train ride to discover the idea of Harry Potter; a kid on his way to wizard school. I didn't realize how potent that ride was until I experienced one myself. Here's a short article on what happened to me on a long car ride. 

The Little SF Dystopian that Could and Came out of Nowhere

I'd been a slave to the keyboard and typing chair for six months, having not been out of the house. So I jumped at the chance when my niece, Jamie, ask me to come along for a ride. Driving down a back road with Jamie and her daughter, Fia, on a balmy summer day, we were discussing how low our gas was and if we could make to a town called Fort Payne. Fia was acting up in the back seat, broadcasting 180 decibels from the hole in her face. Jamie reared her head and said, "Shut the hell up, please. Or we'll pawn your azz for gas money at the next pullout, I swear!"

Fia tried, "But I was just--"


I thought about that outburst for a minute. My ears were still ringing. Then it hit me... What if, I mused, that in a distressed (dystopian) society, heads of households were allowed to pawn dependents to a company called Family Trade & Loan for huge cash advances? And what if that dependent was a teenage girl who ended up with a six-month sentence at the Tranquility Harbor Moon base on Luna, assigned to a rough and tumble mining company filled with slobaholic miners?

Wait. What about a Burlesque  in Space? 'Cause maybe she's forced to work as an exotic dancer and given an "Attractapeal" rating for her physical attributes. Oh, gawd, yea. And let's give her a tin number tag and a jumpsuit that identifies her as a Sunshine Class (12 to 18 year-olds) ward.

All this brainstorming materialized in about 20 minutes and all I could hear was white noise in my head--I'd tuned everything else out.


I couldn't get home fast enough to start pounding plastic and scribbling notes. I'd heard plenty about the sex slave market but this would be a sanitized, legal work program sanctioned by the government. What kind of abuses could such a powerful entity inflict upon its slave labor wards? Unlimited, I decided. Because most of the cash advances levied out were screened to force the payment of huge delinquent back-tax settlements.

Out of sight, out of mind, wards wouldn't stand a chance in hell. Let the personal rights and freedoms be damned and trampled.

And that's how it all began for The Girl They Sold to Moon, a young adult dystopian thriller.  The cover art is stunning, filled with glitter and soft hues. It has large font for easy reading.

I think the lesson here is that lightning can strike at the most uneventful and unexpected times. Rides, walks, runs and vacations--they're all ripe for the muse to appear and start the creative dance. Get out and change your scenery. It's good for what ails you if you're blocked. It sure busted me out of a creative freeze.



Monday, September 19, 2016

Romance Blunders

I've been tucked away in the writing cave for the last 79 days, and it was a straight push to the end on a romance novel. Sorry for the long absence. Once you're determined and focused on a new story, you know what happens. Yeah?

A big call out to my super friends and AW, wishing you the best, always. I received great responses when I went into the AW romance forum with my tail between my legs.

I can't give anyone a complete rundown on how to write a romance, whether it's contemporary or genre based. But here's some blunders I hit along the way with my first attempt at this type of book.

Read the romance category or genre--at least a dozen books or more to get a feel for what's been done and what's being written now. It will give you an idea of how to write a character-driven story, rather than a plot-driven book, if you haven't gone the character route. There is a world of difference, except in sub-genres where the plot might be more crucial to drive the story along. It's all about the people, first and foremost folks.

Intimacy is important, including dialogue and inner monologue. This is a love story between any individual types. Let the romance flow, make it touching, meaningful and intense. The characters must be attracted to each, more so as the story unfolds, but not necessarily in the beginning. Inner thoughts and emotional feelings are very important.

Sex scenes, or passionate love-making scenes are not a laundry list of sexual gymnastics: stroking, sucking, fondling, blowing, sticking, juicing, whacking, plunging, licking all those naughty terms, unless you need those graphic examples for a certain emphasis. Use some metaphor to describe emotions and physical contact unless you are seeking a certain heat level where it can demand more explicit descriptions, including erotica. Is it a love tunnel, pussy or vagina? Make up your mind and try and stay within such body part names and tags.

The pace is a little bit more leisurely in a romance, not quite the SF shoot 'em up and let off mass explosions that kill dozens of people, unless there is a very strong sub-genre holding the story up. Some epic (saga) and historical romances might explore the backdrop of a major war or conflict. So that can be perfectly acceptable.

Read the Publisher guidelines. What is the editor and reader fan base looking for? Do you need the female MC at center stage with a full POV? Does the male or other other lover need a POV or not? Are male-centric romance stories okay without a female POV, or should there be a balance of some type? Typical Alpha male or not? Is "nerd" romance acceptible with this publisher? 

These examples were my major stumbling blocks. There are more for sure. Read up on formulaic or category romances and see what the differences are. For instance, the publisher might want an emphasis on men or women in uniform, country folks, military, doctors, cops, cowboys/girls and other specific types.

Are you writing Christian romance which has sweet and behind-the-door sex? Don't send erotica to a publisher who doesn't go for it. 

Happily ever after, unresolved or tragic endings also have a determining factor when selecting a publisher.

Harlequin (a category romance type) has very precise wants and needs, and you must follow those guidelines to break into any of their romance genres or other imprints. 

Live easy, love hard.


With the assistance and help of Christine Lavish


Thursday, July 28, 2016

Publishers in Trouble?

 This has been a very cruel Summer for all writers, and even agents. There has never been so many non-responses, nudges and slow contacts ever. I have talked with and written about this with dozens of other writers. In addition and in a general sense, it seems book sales have plummeted straight across the board. Of course, that depends on a lot of factors. It seems like some of the best brand name independent and medium sized publishers have changed policy, hit a wall or have gone under.

I'm going to welcome your thoughts on this this matter, rather than go off on a tangent and explain what I think is happening.

Give me your thoughts,


Ellora’s Cave (Dissolving--CEO backlash and mismanagement, fairly recent)
Samhein (Went bankrupt--awaiting buyout news, but it’s not happening yet, recent)
Sourcebooks (From un-agent to agent, recent)
Liquid Silver (Spiraled into buyout, neglected royalties--terrible sales from about 2013 on)
Kensington (Cut YA line, but no news on Lyrical doing the same)
Soho (No longer takes un-agented subs)
Spencer Hill (Dead--complaints about no royalty payments, recent)
Arctic Wolf (Dead--my very first indication that something was wrong with the big indies--late 2013. One of my first brand-name favorites)
Avalon (A Super-publisher. Some time ago but this hit me hard--absorbed by Amazon)
Helm Publishing, including Barkley ( Very recent self-destruct)
Juno Books (Dead—huge romance publisher--two years ago, imprint of Pocket Books—additional complaints about editorial staff—I won’t mention names)
Musa (Dead--negative publicity—producing too many books at once—fairly recent). 

Totally Entwined (Finch YA line has been cut, recent).                                                  
Entranced (Sponsored novel contest with decent cash prizes—blew up right afterward)    
Month9 Books (Tanking or tanked, royalty non-payment, staff-bullying)
Vinspire Press (No longer taking un-agented subs, recent)                                                                    
 Booktrop (Dead--very sudden collapse, recent)                                                                                                 

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Celebrity Blurbs

You're not going to like what I say. It's not my job to make you like me. It's my job to warn you. That's the whole idea of this site. You know the title of this blog and what it means. I've been an admirer and student of the gutsy Harlan Ellison since the Ice Age. I fight back.

Celebrity blurbs can be a real minefield for the new-up-and-coming author who is about to release his/her prized tome. BTW, soliciting for a blurb should take place, at the earliest, about three months before release. These can be galleys or ARC copies of the book. Just make sure you leave enough time, to get the blurb on the finished book before it hits retail. The earlier the better, because this little admiration blip can be used to boost pre-order sales. Otherwise, post-release, it could cost you or you publisher a small fortune to send out trade or hardback copies. This has happened to me.

So who should be solicited for a solid blurb? Unless you know them, don't even bother with the current heavy hitters--Charlaine Harris, Stephanie Meyer, Veronica Roth, Susanne Collins--and stay away from King, Rice and Rowling. You aren't spit underneath their shoes (in a figurative sense--no one hates you). But...they don't know you; they haven't got time for you and you're a bother in the middle of their busy lives. That's the reality of it.

The self-published set definitely has to do it themselves. They might even be better at it than any trade-pubbed author! In fact, I think they get real good at it and have more success.

Who should send out copies for blurbs? Aside from some exceptions, NOT YOU (self-pubbed excluded). Successful mid-list and recent breakout novelists just might give you the time. If you personally know a fairly successful author, give it a shot. I can speak from experience and tell you that I've lost a half dozen hardback books that cost $30.00 apiece, countless trade paperbacks and a truckload of ARCs. I knew these high-profile authors in some form or another. They knew me. I think I've had about 35 non-responders (fairly recently) on two books. Not one single blurb was offered in a span of four years.

My friend, HH, of the W.o.o.L series asked me for a trade paperback copy and promised a blurb. He never got back to me. He just got more famous and more famous. Hardly his fault for the media attention.

In 1990, Ralph Nader agreed to do the foreword in my auto repair book. Little did I know that my publisher paid $4,000 for a page of comments and then they took that amount out of my royalties. DO NOT PAY-FOR-PLAY BLURBS. Ever. That goes for pre-order reviews, too.

Why shouldn't you solicit for blurbs?
They haven't got time to read your book--they're way too busy.
It could be construed as a sign of desperation coming from an author.
They might think your publisher is beneath them, or that your publisher trademark is really a disguised self-published book.
They read it and hated it.
You're a bothersome intrusion into their privacy, even if you're fan.
They can get free copies this way without payment or risk. It happens.
You've nudged them too often and pissed them off.

Your publisher should solicit blurbs. Seen in the eyes of the celebrity author (or whoever), it is more respectful. The publisher is not as obviously biased or as desperate as an inquiring author. There is more weight behind a publisher request--more status--more importance. You might get the email or home address of the author wrong. The publisher marketing team, not you, should know who to send copies or books to in advance.

If you are determined to be proactive, go ahead. If you have landed numerous celebrity blurbs by your own hand without your publisher's assistance, you need to tell the writing world how you did it. I doff my worn fedora to you. Never mind if you've bought a truckload of books and tossed them every which way in sundry. Why would you want to go into debt before your book is published?

Red-shifting out of here. Happy blurbs trails.