Weekly Roundup – Routine Housekeeping

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Some weeks simply don’t have a lot going on and this was one of them. I have managed to keep myself busy, mostly with small projects which were shunted to the side while I was finishing my last manuscript. As has happened every time during the transition from one book to another, I feel guilty for not having started on the next one! Seriously – I just spent the last ten months of my life creating Traitor’s Moon, so you would think I deserve a small break, but my author-self isn’t happy with the lull in action.

One of the projects was to create an author page on Goodreads. My books have enjoyed many reviews since 2016 and I felt it was time to make myself more available to my readers. There were, and are, reasons I didn’t want the exposure. Let’s just say it’s all wrapped up in my desire to remain anonymous and leave it at that. Yes, it’s true, Alexander Elliott is a pseudonym (gasp!) and I intend to keep it that way for the foreseeable future.

I’m also looking into making my books available in print! The main reason I haven’t up to now is the cost, but I believe I’ve found the solution in The Book Patch; a print on demand service. Many people prefer an actual paper book, including me, and believe it or not, some refuse to read eBooks at all. Print versions would provide broader exposure and give me something to autograph! Besides, my bookcase is crying out for physical copies I can admire and show off.

Now that the decks are mostly cleared I can focus on getting the next manuscript started. First, I need to combine and organize all my notes and ideas, gathered over the last several months. Some are on the computer while the rest are hand-written, residing in a manila folder. (What can I say? I am a curious mix of old/new school, but since it works I’m not prepared to change the process.) After that, I will create a rough outline to make sure I have the major plot points accounted for, followed by the actual writing. There are some exciting goodies in store for the Gladstone Shifters, and I’m eager to let my ideas loose on the page!

Weekly Roundup NEW RELEASE! Traitor’s Moon

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Traitor’s Moon, book 2 in the Gladstone Shifters series, went live on Amazon as of Monday! If you’ve been following my blog, you know how long I struggled to finish the manuscript. With the help of some wonderful beta readers, the book is in great shape and I am very proud of it. It’s a shame I will be unable to market it effectively.

It’s probably safe to assume most indie authors do not enjoy the business side of writing, and marketing is a large part of the angst. It requires computer savvy, money, time, and comes with no guarantee it will work. Will readers buy the book? Will they like it? Will I recoup my expenses? Will I get some great reviews? The only way to find out is put it out there and see what happens. Scary. Risky. Discouraging. Exciting. Uplifting. Rewarding. it’s really a mixed bag.

The hard part for me is not wondering if my book is any good – I truly believe it’s a wonderful story and it represents my best work to date. The difficulty is knowing my marketing efforts will be largely ineffective in reaching my potential readers. Why? Because I lack the know-how, money, and time to do it “right” if I go by all the articles I’ve read. I’m left with doing the best I can with what I have and hope it sort of works out in the end.

So do I continue or throw in the towel? I could give up, but I’m not going to yet! I truly enjoy my writing, and over time I hope to build up enough titles to start bringing in sufficient income so I can hire a marketing professional. What if it never happens? Then I will still have a hobby I love and the pleasure of creating great stories. My dream is not to become rich or famous, simply to earn enough to quit my day job.

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As soon as the promotions for Traitor’s Moon are in place, I can get busy writing again. I wish I could crank out a book every four months, but if the pattern holds true, it will be the fall before the next manuscript is ready. Meanwhile, I have lots of great ideas simmering on the back burner.

I had an interesting conversation with a co-worker this week, after finding out he was an avid reader. I don’t know him very well yet, and I had him pegged as the kind of guy who loves nothing better than to park himself in front of the television and watch sports – preferably with a can of beer handy. It was a pleasure to find out I was wrong, and he thought my assumptions were amusing. I told him he was like an onion and I was just now learning things as the layers are peeled away. I enjoy the instant connection with people who love to read – even virtual strangers!

Just a reminder – both books in the Gladstone Shifters series will be on/off sale over the next several weeks, so check my website or book listing on Amazon if you want a good deal.

Weekly Roundup – Plot vs. Characters

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

I had an interesting discussion with a co-worker recently concerning the merits of certain Sci-Fi films. For me, the only ones which matter are Star Trek and the three original Star Wars films. Many will disagree with me and that’s OK. The point of our discussion was what made them great movies, and I believe it’s the development and interaction of the characters which made them fun to watch and created loyal fans. The plot was important and the action exciting, but they only really mattered because of the way they affected or involved the characters.

What does this have to do with my writing? A great deal! I must confess, at the beginning I was convinced that the plot and action were key, while the characters were only so much window-dressing. Frankly, I was wrong – guilty of both ignorance and arrogance. As I became more comfortable as an author, a curious thing happened. Each book I wrote became progressively more character driven and I was then forced to reevaluate my basic assumptions on what constituted a great story.

It’s now obvious that the plot and action points become the vehicle for character development, interaction, and growth. It isn’t either/or, but both, and in the process they merge together to create a memorable reading experience. When readers finish a book, it’s the characters they remember and what they experienced along the way. Of course, writers cannot neglect a plausible and interesting plot or neglect to include sufficient drama and action. The story will fall flat without them, but it’s the characters which bring it all to life and are remembered long after the book is finished.

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Traitor’s Moon is almost ready to publish! I have made some terrific improvements and cleaned up the manuscript in a dozen different ways, thanks to some terrific beta readers. One of the sticking points was the need to streamline the final chapters and improve the end matter. After three or four configurations, I finally got it right. It was necessary to write some additional material, relocate portions relating to book three (teasers), create an additional chapter, and simplify the Epilogue. Whew! I’m glad that work is done, and I’m very pleased with the results. Unless I hit a major snag, the release date should be sometime before the end of February.

As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, I am also re-editing Expectant Moon. I want the first book to benefit from everything I have learned since it was released, so I am reading through it and making changes. Most of it is correcting small spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors which were missed somehow. I also changed a character’s last name (he appears briefly here but has a much larger role in Traitor’s Moon), made minor phrasing changes, and provided more detail between breaks in the action. In addition, the Prologue was tweaked to make it easier to understand.

All in all, the book will be in much better shape for new readers to the series. Obviously, I’m hoping those who purchase Traitor’s Moon will also purchase Expectant Moon, and I want them to have the best version I can produce. The terrific new cover design should also attract attention. I wish I already had book three written and ready to go, as I have a feeling readers will be demanding MORE. Not a bad problem to have…

Weekly Roundup – Surviving the Polar Vortex and Mediocre Movies

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Well, that was fun.

Much of the U.S. was slammed by the polar vortex last week, and I can’t say I’m sorry to see it gone! I suspect this “winter on steroids” is going to be our new normal, if ANY weather patterns can still be regarded as such. Personally, I missed two full days of work and was almost clobbered, twice, by other cars. Even at home I was bundled up trying to stay warm while the gas company asked everyone to turn their thermostats down. Still, I was most grateful to get through it with my health and automobile intact!

This week, we are supposed to get three days of ice, but without the bone-chilling temps and wind. I don’t mind winter, I simply hate having to drive in it. I suppose it’s the price I pay for living in such a beautiful part of the country, enjoying all four seasons. Fortunately, there is little threat of fires, floods, mudslides, earthquakes, hurricanes, or extreme heat waves – yet.

Enough about the weather! A few weeks back I went to see Mary Poppins Returns, and wanted to share my thoughts about the film. It was fun to return to her world, and the sets, costumes, and acting were all top-notch. Even so, Lin Manuel Miranda smiled too much and seemed to have nothing to do except show up whenever the script called for another song and dance. Emily Blunt was a wonderful Mary Poppins, though she was a bit too grouchy for my taste and over-played the character’s vanity.

My biggest disappointment was in the totally forgettable songs and musical numbers, some of which should have been cut altogether. There wasn’t a single tune such “Spoon Full of Sugar” to keep me humming after the film was over, or even immediately after the scene was finished! Overall, it was a pleasant film and not a bad sequel considering how long it’s been since the original.

As a writer with a vivid imagination, I still want to know what Mary really is: witch, paranormal being, umbrella goddess?? Where did she come from? Why doesn’t she age? Who else is getting her attention? Is she single? Where does she live when not floating through the sky? Most important of all – why does she wear those ugly shoes?

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My beta reader feedback for Traitor’s Moon is still trickling in, so I’m really not much closer to finishing the book. Rats! I really wanted to release it by next weekend, but it doesn’t seem realistic now. A problem with the concluding chapter and Epilogue was pointed out, and I am busy adding and deleting material to strengthen the ending and create a better bridge to book three. The work needs to be done, and I’m thankful a beta reader pointed it out, but it seems every time I turn around there is one more thing I need to tweak. I’m at the point where I simply want to be FINISHED with this book, get it out there, and move on!

By the way, last week’s bad weather and time off work allowed me to get my taxes done. I eagerly await my refund…

PS – Happy Birthday Sue!

Weekly Roundup: Gladstone Shifters Part 3 – The Writing of TRAITOR’S MOON

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Traitor’s Moon, scheduled for release next month, is the second book in the Gladstone Shifters series. In some ways, this story was easier to write, since the foundation and main characters were already established. The plot was a natural progression of what took place in the first book, so ultimately I knew where I wanted things to go. Getting there turned out to be far more difficult than I anticipated!

Nolan, the primary love interest in this book, finally meets his mate but they are forced to remain apart for much of the story. Figuring out how to create this tense situation and integrate it with the rest of the action was something of a nightmare, and I had to replace the original plot points with something quite different. It all worked out in the end, and though readers will never know about the cool twists and turns I had cooked up, letting go of my original ideas was disappointing.

With an upcoming battle and lots of babies on the way, I decided to add a pack doctor to the Gladstone family. She was supposed to be just another minor character, but her importance grew as the story unfolded and I chose to expand her presence in the book significantly. Not only did I name her after my mother, but she finds her mate – another minor character who will have a greater role in book three of the series. Anyway, her expanded presence was one of the reasons my plans for Nolan and his mate went off the rails. It took a while to figure out how to keep all the good stuff without a major re-write.

Adding new characters, or expanding the role of established ones, is a delicate balance. Gladstone is a growing pack, so a mix of new and familiar faces is expected. While it’s crucial to remain engaged with the MC’s, new blood can make for lots of interesting action and sub-plots, and this is one of the things I really enjoy as an author. As the characters come alive and interact, I get to shape their experiences and bring in unique personalities, including all their baggage.

One of the most difficult and emotionally challenging things I had to do with this book was kill off some of my characters. Reality demanded the good guys take a hit this time, and I had to decide who and how they were going to die. Getting rid of some of the villains was kind of fun but planning the death of the others was neither pleasant nor easy. There’s a good reason I have a box of tissues by my computer, as the action brought me to tears more than once. It’s true, I did NOT kill off any of the MC’s, but the battle scene and it’s aftermath was heart wrenching.

On the lighter side, I had a tremendous amount of fun reuniting Jack with his mentor’s journals and introducing a newly discovered True Elder in Alaska. Both of these sub-plots became significant additions to the story, and the research required was both interesting and enjoyable. While these sections lengthened the book considerably, they brought needed scope and breathing space from the drama going on everywhere else.

The repartee between Nolan and his mate was something I really hadn’t planned to include. Once the two of them were finally brought together, it was Nolan’s smart-ass personality which made the dynamic between them come alive. The zingers, name calling, and pranks set them apart from their packmates and injected a bit of harmless fun. Since I’m always looking for ways to insert humor in my stories, this was a welcome addition and hoot to write.

There were a number of issues at play which made completing Traitor’s Moon difficult. It took almost eight months before the manuscript was finished, and while that’s far too long between books, it couldn’t be helped. I was under a great deal of stress at work which left me burned out and lacking the time or energy to write. I also completed a major move last fall, putting me further behind and exacerbating my lack of progress.

Amid the plot changes, work drama, and move, I was blessed with a constant source of encouragement – one of my beta readers. She was not only willing to read the manuscript one chapter at a time, but freely shared ideas (many of which I ended up using) and kept my spirits up when I wanted to quit. I’m not sure the book would have happened without her, so I just want to say how grateful I am for all she did. (I love you TMC!)

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The manuscript for Traitor’s Moon is now in the hands of my beta readers. Hopefully, I will have their input soon and can make all the necessary changes by the end of January. This is wishful thinking, since it took twice the time I allocated for the last book and this one is even longer. I’m just in a hurry to get it published and want the world to cooperate with me.

Meanwhile, I am working on the book blurb, jotting down ideas for book three, and making a few editorial changes to the first book, Expectant Moon. I’m really glad to have the new covers in place and hope they will help drive sales of both books. I wish I could do more in the way of a book launch, but my finances are really tight right now. The gurus would all say I’m doing it wrong, and while they may be right, it’s the best I can manage with the knowledge and resources available. Some day, I’m going to pay someone to do this stuff for me.

While I am gearing up to publish and promote Traitor’s Moon, my mind is busy with book three. It will probably be a few weeks before I get started in earnest, but it’s coming together now that my mental energy has been freed up to think about something else. I’ll let you know as the book starts to take shape.

Weekly Roundup: Gladstone Shifters Part 1 – Creating Their World

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

My children were strongly encouraged to read when they were young and used to make frequent visits to the library to load up on books. Somewhere in the ‘90’s they started bringing home the Animorphs series by K.A. Applegate, and since the idea intrigued me, I began reading them too. An Animorph is a person who can absorb the DNA of any animal by touch, and thereby be able to morph into that animal. The early books were very imaginative and fun, and my boys and I had a great time talking about the stories.

That long-ago introduction to what is now generally called “shifters” was reawakened when I received a Kindle Fire tablet as a gift and started to search for something to read. Some of those shifter books were wonderful, while others were just plain silly or of poor quality. After I began writing, it was a foregone conclusion I would create a shifter story of my own. The first decision was what type of shifter, as there were many to choose from including wolves, bears, dragons, birds, cats, foxes, etc.

As I recall, most of the books I read were about wolves and I was annoyed by some of the ridiculous plots and nonsensical abilities given to the characters. By this time I knew I wanted to write about wolf shifters, and that it would be a gay romance, but I also wanted to correct some of the deficiencies I’d seen in so many other books. To do that, I had to establish the ground rules of what wolf shifters were, how they lived, and what unique abilities they possessed. Re-inventing the wheel wasn’t necessary, but the tires definitely needed some new tread!

As a first step, I created a list entitled “Common Traits for Wolf Shifters in Current Literature” and then noted after each one whether I wanted to keep it or change it.

Here are some examples of traits I kept:

  • Enhanced senses (hearing, smell).
  • Hidden from the human population.
  • Physically superior (stronger, faster, healthier).
  • Can control when they shift.
  • Live in packs.
  • Well-endowed, usually horny, love sex.

Here are some traits I decided to change:

  • Born in human form/shift at puberty – can be born in either form and start shifting after being weaned.
  • Fast healing – unnecessary, as a shift re-sets the original DNA, thus repairing any injury.
  • Super long life span – all live about one hundred years, with one exception (see below).
  • Some males can bear children – no, with one exception.
  • One true fated mate – no, but Luna (the moon) matches up mates.
  • “Werewolf” and silver – werewolves are Hollywood nonsense and silver has no effect.

I found most of these traits to be quite fluid, varying from author to author, so I kept the ones I liked and changed the others to form a more consistent and logical set of rules. Naturally, I added a number of new things to my shifter world, not found anywhere else.

  • In addition to Alpha, Beta, and Omega, I added a new class of shifters called Delta’s. They exist to serve or guide the packs, filling roles such as doctors, historians, ambassadors, counselors, lawyers, politicians, and judges.
  • One very special type of Delta is a True Elder. True Elders are longer-lived (about two hundred years) and gifted with tremendous memory and recall. These specialized historians are charged with collecting and teaching shifter history, customs, and wisdom. Only a few are born each generation.
  • Luna – the mysterious moon force which guides all shifters. The moon is prominently featured in most shifter stories but other than being howled at, doesn’t seem to do much of anything. In my world, Luna has more direct influence on shifter life via True Elders, the use of dreams/visions, and the selection of mates. It is not a deity per se, but all shifters acknowledge its power and can physically feel it (especially during full moons).
  • Because I wanted same sex couples to have families, I created ways for it to happen. Luna is directly involved in the conception/mating/bonding process for Change Mates, Honor Mates, and Triad Mates. (If you want to know more, you’ll have to read the books!)

A very basic premise which influenced some of the changes I made had to do with keeping shifters hidden from the human world around them. Their history, customs, and way of life, (explained in Expectant Moon), needed to fit the whole idea of a secret existence under the noses of an unsuspecting human population. You still need to stretch your imagination to make it all work, but I like to think I’ve made it much more logical and almost possible. This delicate dance is seen throughout the story line in both books, and maintains a mysterious tension, adding spice to the “what if it were real?” vibe.

Next week, I want to dive into the writing of Expectant Moon, the first book in the Gladstone Shifters series!

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Current manuscript – I am agonizingly close to finishing Traitor’s Moon! I ran into another issue which needed to be fixed, hence the delay. IF, and I say again, IF life doesn’t get in the way, the book should be complete and in the hands of my initial beta readers by this weekend. Cross your fingers, toes, arms, legs, and eyes (and hold your breath too). I want to get this thing done!

WEEKLY ROUNDUP 10-17-18 May I quote you?

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

This week I want to share a mix of wonderful book quotes:

  • “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.” Groucho Marx
  • “The library is inhabited by spirits that come out of the pages at night.” Isabel Allende
  • “You cannot open a book without learning something.” Confucius
  • “The worst thing about new books is that they keep us from reading the old ones.” Joseph Joubert
  • “Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.” G.K. Chesterton
  • “Why can’t people just sit and read books and be nice to each other?” David Baldacci
  • “A book is a dream that you hold in your hands.” Neil Gaiman
  • “In books I have traveled, not only to other worlds, but into my own.” Anna Quindlen
  • “Everybody does have a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay.” Christopher Hitchens
  • “A book is a gift you can open again and again.” Garrison Keillor

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Traitor’s Moon – I’m deep into chapter 10! Two of the minor characters have been brought together as mates and were named after my parents. If they were still alive they would not be amused! I didn’t do it on purpose…it just happened that way – really! Anyway, I’m unpacking the story box at a faster pace, revealing jewels which had to wait their turn. I’m not sure if I get more pleasure from revealing it to myself or to my readers. Word count stands at 80,000+.

My graphic artist is busy working on the cover for Traitor’s Moon! I love seeing the book come to life visually this way. In fact, she is creating covers for the series, which means Expectant Moon will get a new one too. I may give you a preview but will definitely reveal it when Traitor’s Moon is released. I think you will be pleasantly surprised.

Weekly Roundup 9-5-18 Name That Character!

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Don’t be fooled – naming characters is more difficult than it would seem. Well, I think it should be if you’re doing it right.

Some authors insist on choosing unfortunate, distracting, or uncomplimentary names for their characters, making the story difficult to read or enjoy. You know the ones I mean:

  • a modern-day protagonist with a nineteenth century moniker such as Gladys or Herbert.
  • a sci-fi hero in the far future with a three-part name only a linguist can figure out.
  • a fantasy epic requiring a pronunciation guide for the MC’s (which, I am sorry to say, seldom helps).

I have my own set of “rules” for creating character names which takes additional time, but I believe it’s worth it. The main idea is to make them easy to pronounce, fit the time and place of the story, and match the character’s personality. The last thing I want to do is cause a reader to take a pass on the book because they can’t get past my attempt to be “creative”, cute, or mysterious.

If you think I’m simply being lazy, you may be right! For me, reading serves as entertainment, so I tend to reject books which force me to work hard to understand them – and that includes character names. I suppose I’m missing out on some great literature by being so picky, but life is short and my brain cells deserve a rest when I’m reading.

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This week has been strange as I began saying goodbye to co-workers and cut ties in preparation for my move. I will miss some people of course, but not the job, company, state, or city! I’ve been here almost four years but knew all along it would be temporary. I’m more than ready to get out of Dodge and start fresh in a new place. Moving is a pain, but being closer to my kids makes it worth the trouble.

I finished a crucial chapter of Traitor’s Moon and will spend today editing. It turned out differently than I planned, but I’m very pleased with it. The next chapter features a shifter memorial service, requiring a careful blend of human and paranormal elements to make it convincing. I look forward to the challenge! Word count is now 64,000.

My third grandchild was due on September first, and we are still waiting. The Doctor says everything is fine and my daughter-in-law is feeling good, but tired. Sadly for me, they live 1300 miles away (though the move will bring me 800 miles closer), so I have no idea when I will see the little one. Perhaps next week I’ll have good news to share!

 

Weekly Roundup 8-8-18 Defining Science Fiction – Does it really matter?

Weekly Roundup is an update on what’s going on in my world. Welcome!

Apparently I missed the memo. There is a long-standing argument going on regarding the true meaning of the term Science Fiction. Really? Is there any good reason to be concerned?

A read an article this week which seeks to parse out the true definition of the term and its competitors. Science Fiction vs. Hard Science Fiction vs. SciFi vs. SF vs. Speculative Fiction vs. Fantasy. Whew! I had no idea the concept was so complicated, but only because we’ve made it so ourselves.

I have some sympathy for the Hard Science Fiction argument, which is defined as stories based on actual science and theory. OK, but that certainly narrows the pool of qualified authors for novels of this genre, unless you happen to be a physicist or expert in quantum mechanics. In addition, it severely limits the type and content of stories, leaving us with limited (and rather boring) possibilities.

Let’s face it – our current scientific understanding does not allow for cool elements such as interstellar travel, shields, fancy weapons, teleportation, terraforming, visits to alien worlds, and all those other fun things Science Fiction is known for. If readers turn up their noses because a book isn’t labeled “correctly”, they cheat themselves out of a lot of wonderful imaginative fiction. Life is too short to be worrying about stuff like this.

I have no problem designating my books as Science Fiction, but if you want to call them SciFi, SF, speculative fiction or fantasy, feel free. I say forget the labels, hop on board, and boldly go where no one has gone before!

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  • Current manuscript – Traitor’s Moon is now in chapter six and I’m on the threshold of some really great action and drama! I can’t wait to see how it all turns out and then share it with my readers. Word count is 42,400+.
  • I heard about some family upset this week involving an unfortunate Facebook post by someone who should have known better. If you insist on sharing your views, make sure you aren’t offending the people closest to you. The whole world doesn’t need to know your opinion on every subject.
  • The move is getting closer each day and I will have to start using my writing time to pack and plan. Bummer! Originally, I was to move at the end of this month, but the Labor Day holiday got in the way and now it won’t happen until the end of September. If I could quit my job now and write all day, the book would be finished by then. (Hmmm…clearly an example of speculative fiction…)
  • August 14 marks my one-year anniversary as a published author! More on that next week.