Thursday, April 26, 2012

Have Metaphors and Similes--Will Travel

Similes and metaphors are literary devices that help you paint pictures and show visual images to the reader as an expression. Lots of  writers don't use them, or use them infrequently, but they can really add another dimensional depth to your prose, if done right and sparingly. Similes and metaphors can do wonders to enhance your trademark voice/style, and many of the greatest works of literature have and utilize these literary techniques. You'll often see them in works of poetry, stories and songs.

Now, a simile is used more as a comparison or approximation, and usually contains the words "like" or "as". Metaphors do not contain those words, and are more absolute in defining a subject. "The famished girl roared like a lion for an ice cream cone", would be a typical example of a simile, because it expresses a likeness or nearness. Metaphors are more of a statement or absolute, as appears in  the sentence, "The little girl is a fragile flower" or "The man was a dinosaur."

Now the trick is to place these little gems throughout your manuscript without being too obvious or over the top. "The fragile old woman flew through the shop door like a locomotive." Obviously this doesn't work since an old lady who is fragile would have a tough time flying through or to anything and, certainly, locomotives don't fly. Connect your word dots and make sure everything is in agreement and that the metaphor or simile agrees and supports a likely condition of the subject. I don't have a MFA degree in writing, but I have used some metaphors and similes to advantage and have been rewarded by some very positive comments. One example is below, and it's a bit thick with simile, but I got the tone and message across, then backed off for several pages. The thing is, if you are going to use metaphor and simile, carry it throughout the manuscript, using good balance and placement. Let it become part of your style/voice in the prose you write, and use it when it supports and really brings out a scene in 3-D imagery, affecting and heightening, if possible, multiple senses.

"She nudged the joystick, bringing the wheelchair up to the fringe of the jogging trail. Mr. Stud Cake was just making the S-turn on the path like a Standard bred pacer on the homestretch at Woodbine. She pulled the charcoal sketchpad from her side and set it on her lap. Just as the young man approached, she dropped the pad, letting it bounce twice on the grass. The handsome runner chirped to a stop, panting. He walked three steps, retrieved the pad from the grass and stepped up to the wheelchair. His eyes locked on hers for a brief moment before they panned down to her legs."

Can you spot the simile in the paragraph? Does it help you visualize the jogger and his running technique? He's kind of fast, even eloquent maybe, since the comparison is in reference to a racehorse on a track. "Mr. Stud Cake" might be seen as a metaphor, as well. Let's try another example further on in the text:
"It took him a while to process the insult. She could almost see the gears trying to mesh in his head, the synaptic nerves groping for contact, the tiny bulbs flickering. The guy's an off-brand computer, with a hard drive crash.  He backed away and resumed his position on the path. With a swagger, he crouched and kicked off. She watched him jog around the bend, mentally scratching him off her list. Next."

 We've made this guy an off-brand computer. He has an obvious mental defect, of course. That's a metaphor. Let's try another simile:

"The next prospect was a distant speck. Clearly, he was moving and sucking oxygen. Always a good sign. As he approached, she became aware that he was wearing an enormous, full-sleeved jogging suit. His arms flapped in spasms, kind of like a large pterodactyl trying to get airborne. His stride was crazy-legged, totally out of firing order. He appeared to run as much sideways as forward. She nearly laughed out loud but thought better of it. Instead, she felt somewhat sorry for him. It might have been his first experience at jogging. Diane was no stranger to barbs or insults. And even with a slung gut and knocked knees, wasn’t Seabiscuit hard on the eyes but chock-full of speed and heart?"
It's pretty obvious that I likened this runner to a clumsy pterodactyl, because he had a hard time trying to build up enough momentum to resume his jog. Experiment and try out a few metaphors and similes in your text. For as simple as they are, they can add a whole new tier to your writing style and imagery.  
Red-shifting otta here,



Sunday, April 22, 2012

My Book and its Origins

This is kind of a freebie/promo post, obviously, but it also has some significance when we consider how we came up with our book ideas. I've heard people tell me that they get their ideas from their children, newspapers, movies, songs and dreams. It usually happens pretty quick. My story origins took 15 years or so before it took hold of my consciousness, and later my soul. If I had ignored any segment or facet of the plot or storyline, I doubt any of it would have come together.

Planet Janitor Custodian of the Stars did not suddenly spring forth from my forehead like Harry Potter did with J.K. Rowling. Sometimes ideas come to a writer in puzzle pieces over a long period of time. Such was the way this story gradually unfolded to me. It went something like….

I once heard an inventor friend of mine use the words, “Planet Janitor“ in describing a company he wanted to form that purified water through ionization. He thought the name had an environmentalist quality to it. That was 15 years ago. He never formed the company, but I never forgot the company name – it had a catchy, unique ring to it.
Fast-forward 15 years – I tried to come up with a Science Fiction tale that hadn’t been done before. I imagined some space travelers landing on a planet, where they ended up knee-deep in the bones of some giant alien species. The bone yard stretched for hundreds of miles in every direction.

The crew couldn’t fathom a catastrophe of such magnitude, a veritable genocide that seemed to wipe out the entire planet’s inhabitants. The most profound question amounted to what or who had caused such a global massacre. I imagined their ship was disabled upon landing, so they would eventually find out by unraveling a mysterious chain of events that would have them confront this unknown nemesis/killer. That idea stalled out for awhile.

A year later I read an article about the use of precious metals that were used in the construction of spacecraft, space stations and satellites. We’re talking about gold, silver, magnesium, aluminum, platinum and titanium. The article went on to propose that in the future, some lucky entrepreneur might be able to build a craft that could scoop up all of this wayward flotsam, and make a fortune with the reclamation. My mind wandered, thinking about asteroids that might contain precious metals, as well – kind of like a version of American Pickers IN SPACE.

It wasn’t until I put the three ideas together that I believed I had a plausible story arc. What if I had a crew who were adept at space trash salvage, but they had become so good at it that they mined rogue asteroids, and even ventured further out onto the spiral arm to visit small moons and planets. They’re notoriety would increase, and perhaps they might be hired on as private contractors to save some of Earth’s eco-systems. They would use some special skills that involved pyrotechnics, chemicals and high-tech machinery. Give them an old Russian ore freighter to scout the solar system and wahla! Those were my environmentalists – my planet janitors.

It wasn’t too far of a leap to imagine that this crew might have one last big job to perform before the captain and crew retired, since they’d obviously become quite rich, and a little famous. Then it hit me. Take them on the boldest mission ever, further out than they’d ever gone before. Take them so far out that their cyro sleep would advance the age of Earth’s inhabitants by 25 years – make their departure soul-wrenching, leaving loved ones and relatives behind.

That destination, of course, had to be the death planet I thought of upteen years ago. Blackmail the crew to get them there, sabotage their ship, give them no hope of ever returning, then assault them with the planetary killers. With no weapons, dysfunctional equipment, personality squabbles, betrayal, and dwindling resources, how could any crew manage to survive and make it back alive?

So, with that daunting plot, and in a vintage, old-school style voice and tone reminiscent of Robert Heinlein and Phillip Jose Farmer, I embarked on that journey and finished Planet Janitor Custodian of the Stars two years ago. It was the book that landed my second agent. Since then it has been rewritten and edited so many times, I get the shivers thinking about it. It sold to Engage Books of Vancouver, Canada, to a wonderful publisher/editor/friend of mine, Alexis. They spared no expense in the layout and format, including 26 interior illustrations and a custom-painted full color wrap-around lithograph cover.

I often think of PJ as a cross between Starship Troopers and Robinson Crusoe on mars. I’ve written 17 other books besides PJ, but for some reason this one will remain very near and dear to my heart. I was inspired in the very beginning of my writing career by the late, great Poul Anderson, who became my mentor. I also took many lessons from Alan Dean Foster, and remain a friend and admirer of his to this day.

Planet Janitor is available at Amazon, in hardback and Kindle editions. The Kindle price has been reduced to $2.99! The trade paperback edition will soon be released.

Planet Janitor also has its own website, courtesy of Engage Science Fiction:

I can be reached at:

Are You Ready to Self-Publish?

I'm sure we've all seen the miraculous success stories in the e-publishing world, particularly at Amazon, and to a lesser extent, the other major online publishers. There's a heck of a lot of claims and names being dropped; lists of those who have sold or sell thousands of copies per month. Many of these writers have gone from rags to riches, as can be attested to by their popular blog posts and threads in the large writing groups. I admit that I've seen them, listened to their reasoning, tabulated their facts and figures, and come away from it scratching my head, but also feeling very envious of their sales and popularity. In spite of the naysayers, we are experiencing a revolution of sorts in the publishing industry, and the concept of self-publishing has racked up some pretty good credits and figures. It seems everyone who has failed to sell the conventional route or has just started out, are diving into this lucrative pool.  Even brand-name authors are jumping on this wagon with both feet and landing squarely.

I don't know about others, but I've had just as much difficulty and workload promoting and marketing my trade publisher's e-books, since they are now in direct competition with this flood of new initiates and entrepreneurs. Of course I'm reminded that I'm not pulling 70% royalty fees like they are. And I'm reminded of it every day. And maybe that's where the dollar signs are beginning to fog my judgement. It seems we never hear of the abject failures from those who have made this dive and come up with nada, or very little in the way of sales and readership. Oh, I've been tempted, all right. I've already set up relations with writers who will format me and supply cover art--for a pretty coin, or even a deal that I can stomach. But you've got to ask yourself a bank of questions before considering this publishing option.

Are you ready to expend cold, hard cash to have your books or stories formatted, edited and supplied with cover art, if you don't have this skill? Realize that you will be required to make this cost outlay right up front, without knowing if your book or story will ever sell. To anybody. If you're on a strict budget at the present, and this cost could sabotage your monthly payments, you would be wise to back off and wait until you have the capital.

Are you willing to be honest with yourself and claim that your book or story has gone through a vigorous structural, content and proof-reading stage, so that it appears professional, clean and easy to read? Or are you intent to risk ridicule and bad reviews, because YOU believe your words have been trimmed and polished and that the reader will not likely care or gloss over those types of mistakes? You're fooling yourself and cheating your reader if you think that publishing those pixels are going to, first and foremost, bring in gobs of cash in spite of the low quality, misspellings, goofs and errors. I can tell you that my trade publishers expended untold hours of editing that lasted months for each of my books. I don't have this editing concern.

Are you willing to expend 40 hours or more a week to a constant and unswerving promotion and marketing campaign? Creating your own buzz is hard enough, even when you have a publisher behind you doing everything in their power to get the word out and boost sales. If you self-publish, YOU are the publisher, the publicity manager, sales force, marketing manager, mail room lackey, and overall sales person. It all rides on you. How long do you think you can keep that up without pulling your hair out, and then researching new ways to create buzz after you experience several failures and dead-end roads? Oh, yeah, you'll have to adapt and research every day to find new markets and strategies, once you've exhausted your pool or worn out your welcome. You'll become a spam-bot, as I've nearly done, or have done. Then your popularity will decrease. For those of you on Broadband with limited gig usage, you'll have to watch your monthly tallies to make sure you don't run over your allotted usage.  You'll be googling and clicking on more websites than Carter has pills.

Are you ready for cutthroat competition? You won't be alone out there. You'll be in a sea of millions of writer/authors who have the same mind-set you do--sell thousands of copies to the general reading public. One of two things will happen: either you will start off with a bang and gain an impressive readership and sales, then find an increasing momentum, or you will be lost in that sea of millions of books or stories, and experience lackluster sales or no sales at all. Then panic will set in and you'll be forced to stoop or adopt to chicanery or some fly-by-night method of advertising, promoting and marketing that might not be aboveboard. Desperation drives many to think up new schemes and ideas on how to get their book or story front row and center. The display sites are full of self-publishers, all of them jockeying for position.

Are you ready to undercut your competition's prices? And I do mean slash and burn. If everyone decides to beat the competition by lowering their books to $.99, then the playing field has been leveled and there's nothing you'll be able to do about it. You'll exist in a sea of millions of $.99-cent e-books. Once the typical reader understands that these $.99-cent books are primarily put out by self-publishers, they'll become aware of the quality issues associated with them and give them the pass, which is already starting to happen.

If you decide to self-publish e-books or digital shorts, make sure you know what you're getting into--that means all ducks in a row. If you have a non-fiction book that appeals to a large niche audience, let it fly. Your chances of success with NF are far greater than fiction. How popular is your genre right now? Does it stand a good chance for sales? Just me, but I would not e-publish a collection of short stories unless I had a built-in readership. I would not e-publish an autobiography or a memoir, or poetry. Horror and westerns are not real popular, so think twice about them. Romance, erotica, fantasy, YA, some SF, and thrillers seem to hold their own and do very well.

Whatever you decide, be prepared for a long and arduous journey with self e-publishing. It won't be easy. Perhaps one day, we'll be reading about you on that top 1,000 list--a writer who went from rags to riches.