March 21, 2013


        The ever-popular Frequently Asked Questions.  I can honestly say I never, ever thought there would be so many people here that I’d need to do something like this.  But here you are.  And much as I love getting to say “hullo” and chatting with folks, it gets really exhausting answering the same questions again and again every other day.
         So, rather than get annoyed with folks for asking the same question I just answered twice on the last status update, I figured I’d just put all the answers to the most common questions in one document and update it every couple of months or so.
                   That way, people can just ignore this.  It’s much more efficient for all of us…

When does Ex-Communication come out?
        Ex-Communication is being released on July 9th, 2013.  I know, finally…  It’s been done for ages, but then got caught up in the whole Crown deal and the usual publishing stuff.  Sorry for the long wait, but I really think it’s going to be worth it.
Is Ex-Communication the last Ex book?
        Nope.  I’m currently finishing up a fourth one which should be out in October of 2013.  I’ve also got very tentative plans for a fifth book, but that would all depend on Broadway Books and how well the series does for them.
        I’ve never really planned it as a trilogy or having a set specific storyline.  I get to leave some threads hanging for later things, and if all goes well I get to pick up those threads in later books.  There are some specific things I know people are hoping to see resolved in Ex-Communication, but there are a few things that may still linger.  The series could go on for a while.
What’s the fourth book going to be about?
        I’d rather not say at the moment.  I don’t like spilling too much in advance because people tend to latch on to a lot of out-of-context stuff and make a lot of judgments about it—despite the fact that it’s a snippet they’re seeing out of context.  I’m kind of like JJ Abrams that way.  Just without the fame, prestige, money, or power.
What’s the fifth book going to be about?
        See above.
Why are you so against people talking about your books? 
        I actually love to think people are talking about my books.  It still stuns me, to be honest.  What I hate are spoilers.  That’s why I always delete it when someone posts revealing information from the back half of a book and why I try to avoid those questions in interviews.  It’s fantastic that someone enjoyed it so much when XX found XXX and realized XXXX, but by talking about it (or posting or whatever) they’re making sure the person they’re telling can’t enjoy it the same way they did.  It’s like explaining how a magician does all his tricks and then taking someone to see the show.  It won’t be as fun, and it’s not how you’re supposed to see a magic show.
         And, yeah, this is a page for folks who’ve read my books, but not everyone’s read everything.  A lot of folks are here for the Ex-Heroes series, but a lot of people found this page because of 14.  It may be a stupid attitude in the information age, but I don’t want to ruin the experience of these books for anyone if I can avoid it.

Will there be a sequel to 14?

        I don’t really have one planned.  14 was always intended to be a stand-alone book, which was part of the reason I was able to do so much with it, story-wise.  It’d be tough to do anything with it that didn’t feel a bit cheaty or expected (I hate prequels).
        That being said… I have had a few very loose, very faint ideas for a sort of side-quel to it.  Think of it as more of a Next Gen– Deep Space Nine relationship.  But I wouldn’t do anything until I had a good, solid story to tell, so that’s not happening in the foreseeable future (for at least a year or two).
Will there be a sequel to The Junkie Quatrain?
        Probably not.  I think a lot of the fun of The Junkie Quatrain was the interconnected-overlapping nature of the stories, and it would be tough to replicate that without feeling a bit forced and awkward.  I think we’ll probably have to draw our own conclusions about what happened to all those characters.  Well, all the ones that survived anyway…
        However, we may see some of the various characters again.  Quilt has been showing up in my stories, in one guise or another, since my first real attempt at a novel in college (sort of like Stephen King’s Man in Black, Randall Flagg).  If you follow my ranty blog at all, Quilt’s actually a supporting character in The Suffering Map.  I think he’s just a creepy, badass professional in almost every reality.
Do you have any plans to attend XXXX—Con?
        I love attending cons and meeting folks, but it usually burns down to time (I do need to keep writing books) and money (airfare and hotels add up quick).  Driving distance has better odds than flying distance, west coast has better odds than east coast.  I’d love to do more, I just need to figure out ways to make them fit with those two factors.
Will you be my friend on GoodReads?
        Nope.  It’s nothing personal, I just really don’t like Goodreads.  To be honest, I can’t stand the site, I submit nothing there, I post nothing there, and make it a point to spend as little time there as possible (which fortunately works out to “no time” in an average month).  I understand a lot of people love the site and if it works for you, that’s fantastic.  I won’t be there.  No friends, no reviews, no messages, no comments, no nothing.  I’d explain why, but… I’m taking the Thumper approach.
Is there going to be a movie/ TV series/ cartoon/ graphic novel of your books?
          Man, wouldn’t that be cool?  Alas, there’s been a lot of interest (from a few big players), some talks, a few meetings, one lunch where I had a really amazing cheeseburger, but as yet no one’s decided to move forward with anything.  Believe me, if it happens everyone will know.  Everyone.
Are you really working on a remake of The Wraith?  That movie was awful (great car, though).
         Alas, no.  It was just a funny comment to end an interview and some folks latched on to it.  I had a clever idea a while back for how the story could be redone, but I think it’s very, very, very low on Hollywood’s list. 

        And I think that covers most of it. 

December 29, 2012 / 2 Comments

That What Got Done

            Well, it’s the end of the year.  Time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions and all the things we really want to make sure we do this coming year.  And to celebrate the fact that 2012 was not, in fact, the end of the world.

            However, it’s also a good time to look back and think about what we did this year.  Did last year’s resolutions get met?  Did we get close?
            Did we even really try?
            I started off the year working for Amazon Studios, the film branch of the well-known online media giant.  I had a meeting and did a treatment for a sci-fi film called Original Soldiers they were trying to develop.  It was pretty clear early on that we had different opinions on it, but they decided to see what I did with it anyway (I saw Liam Neeson in a glorious B-action movie and they thought they could get… I don’t know, Schindler’s Robot).  They still went with someone else (or possible, as my girlfriend supects, just canned the project when they didn’t see a potential Oscar anywhere), but they paid very well for the work I did.
            After that it was diving back into Ex-Communication, which I’d only barely started.  That was a good chunk of the year (I think until late August or early September).  The final, sixth draft came in at a little over 100,000 words. And I’ll be doing some more work on it before the Crown release.
           It’s about time to mention Crown, too.  As some of you may have heard, I was offered a four book deal with Crown Publishing, a division of Random House, for the Ex-series just as I was finishing up Ex-Communication.  While it’s great on one front, it did sort of put me on hold for a while as far as “what to write next.”  If the deal happened, Crown was going to want another Ex-book.  If it didn’t happen, well, I usually wrote something non-superhero-and-zombie related between Ex-books as sort of a palate cleanser.  So there was a period of about two months this fall where I wasn’t really sure what to start working on.
            I ended up going back to a sci-fi horror idea I’d started ages ago (before my Crusoemash-up) and doing a fair amount of work on that.  But then some things shifted, negotiations hit a certain point, and I shelved it again.  Alas, at this point I think I can honestly say Dead Moon has become my booty call idea.  I should keep that in mind next time it’s late at night and I’m feeling the need to poke at something…
            For a couple of reasons, I shifted over to an idea that had been tickling my mind, a concept for a new series.  After a false start, I ended up scribbling out almost 15,000 words of notes and outlines and huge swaths of action and dialogue.  I stopped because I didn’t want to burn out on it, and also because the Crown deal was finalized.
            So, right around Halloween, I started working on the fourth Ex-book.  Still working on a title for it, but the book itself is about 2/3 done by now.  I think I might actually be on schedule for the April 1st deadline.
            I also had to do a bunch of layout stuff and edits for the new editions of the Ex-books.  It wasn’t tough, but it is time-consuming. And there’s more of it coming in January.
            I also managed to squeeze in about ten reviews for Cinema Blend here and there.  I enjoy writing reviews because when they’re done right they’re a good mix of critical analysis, storytelling, and a bit of snark (when deserved).  Which reminds me, I still owe them a review for this box set…
            And of course, here on the ranty blog I scribbled out forty-four articles about writing.  In all fairness, this is one of the weakest years here since I started this.  Plus thirty-three articles on another page I keep up.  And those H.P. Legocraft pages.
            So that’s what I did.
            What did you do?
            Yeah, I know, I’ve got a bit of an advantage.  I don’t have kids.  This is my day job.  So I get to focus a lot more time on this than most people.
            But y’know what?  I had a full-time journalism job when I wrote Ex-Heroes. Almost all of my fellow authors at Permuted Press—Craig DiLouie, C Dulaney, Tony Faville, Jessica Meigs, Thom Brannan, and more—still have full time jobs.  Michael Crichton started writing when he was in medical school.  You don’t get much more full-time than that.  Edgar Rice Burroughs, Maya Angelou, John Grisham, David Wong, Clive Cussler, Stephen King… all these famous writers and many, many more had full-time jobs when they started their writing careers.  Heck, King had a full-time job and two kids.
            So, with that in mind… I ask you again.  What did you do this year?
            As I’ve mentioned before, it all comes down to priorities.  If I want to spend a few hours each day with my (hypothetical) kids or watching Netflix with my lovely lady, that’s my business and my decision.  It says where my priorities are and there’s nothing wrong with that.  Likewise, the fact that my lovely lady and I live together, both work out of the home, and only see each other for a total of four or five hours a day on an average day… well, that says something about our priorities, too.
            A fellow I know got the screenplay rights to a fairly well-known book series.  It was at the same time I was starting a novel, so I jokingly said we should make a contest out of it.  He kind of brushed me off, but loudly announced his upcoming adaptation to the Twitterverse.
            The book I was starting was 14.  To the best of my knowledge, he still doesn’t have a first draft of his adaptation.  Granted, he’s trying to start a business and has two kids.  And there were a lot of movies he had to see.  And some opening night parties.  And a bi-weekly poker game he never misses…
            The only way to get ahead is to write.  There is nothing else. There are no tricks or magic bullets.  The work will not get done if you don’t do it.  It doesn’t matter how you spin it, if you’re not writing, you’re not getting any closer to selling something.  And if you’re not selling anything, it’s really hard to make a living at this.
            Which is why you’re here, yes?  To get some tips on making a living at this.
            A page a day.  That’s it. That’s all you need to do.  If you can write a page a day, you’ll have a solid draft of a novel by next New Year’s Eve.  You could have the first draft of that script done by April Fools Day.
            If you write it.
            But if the latest episode of Dexter or Dancing With The Stars deserves your time more than writing… well…
            Next time—or next year, if you prefer—I’d like to go over what this little collection of rants is trying to accomplish.
            Until then, pour yourself a glass of champagne, kiss someone special, and then go write.
            Just write one page.
August 10, 2012 / 3 Comments

A Pullet Between The Eyes

            Don’t worry, that title will get explained soon enough…

            First things first, though.  I was doing some clean-up here and realized there were a few old drafts that had been saved.  Stuff no one ever saw where I was testing how things worked here.
            Long and short of it… this is post #200 on the ranty blog!  I can’t believe any of you have hung around this long.  Heck, I can’t believe I’ve hung around this long…
            Many thanks to all of you.
            Anyway, to celebrate, let’s talk about one of my favorite topics.  Spelling.
            As I’ve mentioned here once or thrice or twenty times, in order to be  a writer I have to have a solid vocabulary and I need to know how to spell those words.   Absolutely nothing will shoot down my chances faster than an editor finding a half dozen misspelled or misused words.  People can argue all they want about literary brilliance and arbitrary rules, but at the end of the day spelling mistakes are always going to be the first thing an editor or reader judges my manuscript on.  That’s why I need to know these things and get them right.
            And when I say “I” in this case, I mean “me.”  Ineed to know these things.  One of the absolute worst mistakes a writer can make is to become reliant on their computer’s spell-checker.  A computer doesn’t understand context or nuance, it just understands if a word is spelled correctly or not.  To the logical processes of a spell-checker, there’s no difference between oozy and Uzi, rain and reign, or shear and sheer.  They’re all spelled correctly.  So if I’ve got a mercenary waiving his oozy as he tries to climb a shear cliff in the reign… well, the spell checker’s going to tell me that’s fine.
            Case in point—the title of this week’s little rant.  That golden gem was found in the manuscript for Ex-Communicationby one of my readers.  That’s how one of my zombie killers made sure his friend wouldn’t rise to become one of the undead.
            With a chicken.  And the spell-checker saw no problem with that.
            If you don’t understand the comedy there, work on your vocabulary.
            Y’see, I use a spell-checker, but I don’t depend on it to do all the work for me.  I get a second set of eyes on the manuscript (and a third, fourth, and fifth) and I go over it myself line by line, usually in two different formats.  And I own a dictionary.  A real-world, three-inch-thick copy of Webster’s with a bright red cover that I can turn to if I need to check spellings or definitions.  So when I send something out to a publisher or an editor, they’re not going to see someone take a chicken in the head.
            And that brings us to the new list of misspelled and misused words.  One of these appeared on a major retailer’s website.  Another one showed up on a fairly big pop culture website.  And a couple of them are, alas, examples of  people who trust the spellchecker a lot more than their own common sense (I’ve got a few friends who are professional readers who love to share typos with me). 
            So, a vocabulary test.  As always, feel free to keep score…
overseas and oversees – only one of these is a place
hoard and horde – one of these is a mob, one is a collection
bus and buss – one’s a playful kiss, one’s an electrical conductor
flout and flaunt – one means show off, one means to mock
monolith and monogram – one of these would be your initials
whole and hole –one of these you fall into
hurdle and hurtle – one is a verb, one is a noun
pair and pare – one of these means to whittle down
racket and racquet – one is sports equipment, one is noise
pane and pain – one is a shape for glass
discus and discuss – one is an Olympic event
breaks and brakes—one is for wheels, the other is for windshields
tactical and tactile—only of these pairs with logistics.
reek and wreak – one of these stinks
heroine and heroin – one of these is a bad addiction
plaintive and plaintiff – one is sad, one is accusing someone
least and leased—one of these refers to rental contracts
corral and coral—you’ll only find one of these underwater (hopefully)
drier and dryer –one of these is a machine
site and sight –one of these is found on a firearm
            Did you get them all?  Remember, you only get points when you knew what both words meant.  Which one of the above words relates to touch?  Which one’s a large stone?  Which one’s an attraction?
            For some folks, it doesn’t matter.  They’ve become so dependent on the spell-checker they can’t even grasp the idea that the machine doesn’t know what word they were intending to use. All they see is that the spell-checker said it was right, therefore their hovel is flawless! 
            You’ll find a lot of these same people in forums bitching about how all the big editors have unrealistic expectations and don’t know good stuff when it’s right in front of them.
            Y’see, Timmy, spelling and vocabulary are not mechanical because language is not mechanical.  That’s why I can’t trust a machine to know these things for me.  If I can’t be bothered to learn them, I’m going to fail again and again and again.
            So buy a dictionary.  Learn to spell.  Learn what words mean.
            Next time, one last quick cut I forgot about.
            Until then, go write.
August 3, 2012 / 2 Comments

Cut to the Quick

            Two cutting references in two weeks.  Hmmmm…

            Bonus points and a vocabulary star if any of you actually know what that title phrase refers to.  No, don’t cheat and look it up.  Be honest about what you know and what you don’t.
            So, since I was away editing for a bit I though this would be a good time to toss up some thoughts on editing.  I’ve been doing this professionally for almost a decade now–full time for close to six years–and I still need to do lots of editing.  It’s just one of those unavoidable truths–99.9999% of us don’t write usable first drafts.
            For the record, that .0001% is Paul Haggis, so don’t think you’re the exception.  He is.  And it took him thirty years to become the exception.
            Cutting is painful, though, because it means losing lots of stuff.  I poured my heart into the first draft of 14, but in the end I still needed to cut over 20,000 words from it.  That’s a hundred pages, gone.  And it’s a leaner, tighter, stronger book because of it.
            Well, because of most of it.
            Knowing that my writing needs work is a strength.  It’s not admitting failure.  It’s admitting I can improve, and if someone can’t admit that they’re never going to improve.
            The thing is, so many folks think making cuts means lopping off entire subplots or removing well-developed characters or cutting out that three page monologue from a random guy on the street explaining how tax cuts for the rich are really good for the middle class.  Editing doesn’t mean cutting all that (although you probably could lose that monologue and not a lot of folks will complain).  It can mean just a general tightening and trimming of all the little things. 
            Think of those Olympic swimmers, runners, and bicyclists.  They know that shaving their exposed hair and wearing tight clothes reduces drag.  Not by much, but the little things pile up and can make the difference between a gold medal and a silver one. 
            So here’s a couple very easy, straightforward ways you can make cuts and maybe trim a few thousand words from your writing…
            That— Whenever I start editing, I always start with a “that” pass.  It’s a word we all drop into our writing in an attempt to be grammatically perfect, but four out of five times the writing would be just as clear (and more concise) without it.
            Phoebe thought that Wakko would love her new dress.
            He chose the same weapon that his predecessor had used.
            Phoebe thought Wakko would love her new dress.
            He chose the same weapon his predecessor had used.
            On my first pass through 14 I removed over 600 uses of that.  That’s over two pages.  In Ex-Communication, I cut over 200 of them.  Use the Find feature in Word (it’s up there under Edit) and search for it in your writing.  See how often it shows up.  Check how many of them are necessary.  Odds are you’ll find at least half of them aren’t.
            Adverbs—  This is usually my second pass through the editing draft.  This time I use Find to locate all the places “ly” shows up.  I can admit it—as I get caught up in the flow of words a lot of adverbs sneak into my writing.  And they’re pretty useless…
          They all screamed loudly at the approaching psychopath.
          “Shut your damn mouth, bitch,” snapped Phoebe angrily.
          He eagerly grabbed the statue he’d spent weeks searching for.
            Do those adverbs add anything to their sentences?  Would a reader figure out that Phoebe was angry, or that the scream was loud?  I’d guess three out of five times I find an adverb in my writing I don’t need it.  The fourth time I’ve chosen the wrong verb, and once I’ve got the right one… well, I don’t need the adverb.  If I’m using my vocabulary well, there aren’t many times I’ll need one.  I cut over 500 adverbs and adverbial phrases out of 14 and 330 out ofEx-Communication.
            I heard a great rule of thumb from writer/ editor Pat LaBrutto that I’ve mentioned a few times.  One adverb per page, four adjectives per page.  It’s just a guideline, granted, but if you’re averaging six or seven adverbs per paragraph maybe you should give them all a second look.  And then a third look.
            Useless Modifiers — I’ve also called this Somewhat Syndrome a few times.  This is one I struggle with a lot, but I’m getting much more aware of it.  It’s when I pepper my sentences with  somewhat, almost, a bit, slightly, and other such modifiers.  They show up in dialogue a lot, and sometimes in prose when I’m trying not to sound awkward with a bunch of specifics.
            Nine times out of ten they’re not doing anything, though, except adding to my word count and slowing my story down.  Use the Find feature again, see how many of them are doing anything, and look how much tighter and stronger your writing is without them.  I cut almost 450 of these out of 14and over 200 from Ex-Communication.
            …Of…–The word of can be a flag that something could be cut.  A fair amount of the time, of is being used to tack on an extra bit of description.  More often than not that description’s unnecessary and something the reader already knows.  Which means it’s dragging my prose down and slowing the pace.  There’s a reason we all tend to say United States far more often than United States of America.
            Check out these examples…
Captain Lancaster of the Defiant is here to see you, sir.
The razor-sharp edge of the sword flew through the beast’s neck without hesitation.
Captain Lancaster is here to see you, sir.
The razor sharp edge flew through the beast’s neck without hesitation.
            It’s not a sure-fire thing, but once I went looking I found three or four of these in Ex-Communicationthat could go away.
            Appeared to be…   –This is one of those phrases some people latch onto and use all the time.  It slips into my writing, too.  It tends to be used as an introduction of sorts, leading the reader into some purple-prose description.  This phrase sometimes disguises itself as looked like or seemed to be or some variation thereof.
            The thing is, though, appeared to be doesn’t get used alone.  It’s part of a literary construction where the second half of that structure is either an implied or actual contradiction to the appearance.  So when you’re saying…
            –Phoebe appeared to stand six feet tall.
            …what you’re really saying is…
            –Phoebe appeared to stand six feet tall, but she was actually closer to five foot five without her stiletto heels.
            And what you meant to be saying all along was just…
            –Phoebe stood six feet tall.
            If you aren’t trying to establish a contradiction, using appeared to be and its bastard stepchildren isn’t just wasted words– it’s wrong.  I cut thirteen of these that had slipped into Ex-Communication at one point or another.
            “As you know…” –I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  If you take nothing else from this little rant, take this one lesson.
            “As you know…” is probably the clumsiest form of exposition there is.  Really.  Think about it.  Just by saying “as you know,” I’m stating that you–the person I’m speaking to–already know the facts I’m about to share.  As a writer, why would I have two characters engage in such a useless bit of dialogue?
            When a writer uses “as you know” or one of its half-breed cousins (“you may recall” or “if you remember” or many others), it’s a weak attempt to put out some exposition through dialogue.  My lovely lady pointed out that a lot of these sentences tend to start with “Look…”.  If I’m using any of them, almost across the board there’s either (A) a better way to get the information to the reader or (B) no need for this information because it ‘s already covered somewhere else. 
            If I’ve got a really solid manuscript–I mean rock-solid– I might be able to get away with doing this once.  Just once.  As long as I don’t do it your first ten pages.
            In Ex-Heroesit’s on page 98.
            Anyway, there’s half a dozen quick, easy, and relatively painless cuts.  Try them out and see if you can drop a thousand words or more.
            Next time, I think we’re long overdue for a talk about spelling.  And I’ve got a great list for you this time.
            Until then, go write.