This blog is now three weeks old. In the beginning, I took some advice from a slick how-to-blog website and just plunged right in, opting for WordPress as the blog host and choosing the 2011 theme used to illustrate the article. Definitely a monkey see, monkey do scenario. As it happened, the advice was pretty sound.
How it feels to be a 62 year-old blogger with three weeks experience under his belt! (Image: WPClipart)
I had been dithering over blog hosts for a couple of weeks and probably would have dithered over a lot more blogging aspects if not for that gentle shove. Instead, I’m now up and running with a real live blog, and while I’m not doing anywhere near as well as some others who got started around the same time (I have been looking over the fence at their greener grass), I am making progress (unlike some quickly abandoned blogs I have come across). I have a few likes, a handful of followers, and even a comment or two. Things are picking up.
I would like to recommend a few how-to-write titles. Every author collects a small shelf of these books as they learn their craft. You may have a few (or a lot) already. If you do, then you probably have your own favourites. Perhaps I can add a title or two to your list. If you are just beginning, the books here will ensure you get off to a good start.
From the earliest days of writing, aspiring authors have garnered shelves of books about writing in all its aspects. A few select titles become inspiring favourites. (Image: Wikimedia)
I am new to being an indie, but I have been writing for over twenty years – mostly as a keep-me-sane hobby in a chaotic world. Yet, I still like to revisit the odd how-to-write manual now and then. Doing this helps eject any bad habits that may have crept in (and they do keep creeping in!). Some of the recommended books go back a ways, but sound writing principles have not changed over the years. The classic books about writing are the ones found useful by large numbers of writers. Many of today’s most successful writers (of any kind) got started with these very books.
The thing indie writers lack more than anything else is honest feedback. In the traditional publishing industry, all but the biggest-selling authors are subject to the opinions of their publisher’s various editors. Stories deemed too long or excessively rambling earn requests for cuts and rewrites before publication. Poorly drawn characters must be made more vivid. Perceived defects in the plot must be remedied. The use of words not suitable for the novel’s type or period also comes under fire. Copy editors rework spelling, punctuation, and grammar. Some companies even change works to fit their notion of what a book of any particular genre should be like; and so on.
C. S. Lewis (of Narnia fame) depended on editors to clean up his shaky spelling and clumsy punctuation. (Image: public domain)
A lot of struggling writers are still hoping to break into print. They see self-publishing as a humble temporary stop on a journey towards grander things. Their ebooks are merely practice runs as they whip themselves into shape for their real careers as print authors. It is easy to see why they might have this attitude. The old publishing paradigm has been around for centuries, an awful lot has been written about it, and it is still surrounded by a powerful aura of tradition, respectability, and substance. Even the least literate know a little something about the lives of a famous print author or two. Many such authors are positively draped in glory, with reputations that span the globe. Some of them have even become very wealthy. What up-and-coming author would not want to join them?
Print is now ancient and definitely on its way out. Your local bookshop probably fills space with new kinds of merchandise. (Image: public domain)
I decided to look into self-publishing on January 7, 2012 (thereby fulfilling a New Year’s resolution) and began in the obvious way by reading a whole slew of how-to books. These are often short – little more than articles really – and do not require a lot of time. Since their authors use them to promote other works, many of them are free for the downloading on Smashwords. Most of the rest are inexpensive. What you learn from them is essential if you are to have any chance of success. Do not skimp on this step. My advice is to soak yourself in self-publishing ebooks until the juices have made you a dyed in the flesh indie. I spent about a month with them.
Francis Porretto’s book yields an enjoyable and enlightening look at the indie writing experience.
Scat is Jim Graham’s first novel. Best described as a hard science-fiction thriller, the dialogue-driven plot revolves around ruthless resource-based political machinations worthy of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Like Dune, there is also a struggle for planetary independence. While lacking the mystical allure of Herbert’s Muad’ Dib, the book’s main character – hard-nosed laconic ex-soldier, Scat – makes a far more believable rebel leader. We follow his travels and exploits throughout the novel. However, Graham has chosen to use multiple points of view so we sometimes briefly see things through the eyes of other characters.
This stellar SF novel has garnered great reviews on numerous fan sites around the web.
I’m a big believer in science, but in recent years a lot of mystical ideas have crept in – mostly by way of quantum mechanics, a “science” which is rapidly acquiring the characteristics of a mystical religion. To make matters worse, cosmologists have decided that the quantum world is a microcosm of the cosmos at large, thus migrating those mystical quantum beliefs into the macrocosm. Now our descriptions of the universe (dark matter, dark energy, string theory, parallel universes, large numbers of dimensions) begin to resemble mystical beliefs as well. I got to thinking about all this (and some other stuff) and wrote up the following list of – admittedly opinionated – complaints about modern scientists.
The strangeness of quantum mechanics has inspired an inappropriate outburst of mysticism in scientific thinking. (Photo: public domain)
Fantasy writer Brian S. Pratt is one of the most popular authors on Smashwords. Yet, while he generally gets good reviews overall, many people have panned his novels for their bad grammar, poor character revelation, and skimpy plots. (I believe that he had cleaned up his spelling atrocities before I discovered him.) I’ve read only the first book in his lengthy Morcyth Saga series, but unless he has improved dramatically, I have to agree with his critics. To make matters worse, his writing style is clumsy, repetitive, and lacks imagination. With all this going against him, you have to ask the obvious question:
Pratt’s heroes have sound values and genuine courage.
To answer that question we have to start with another: who reads Pratt’s novels, anyway? I think it is safe to assume that his audience comes mainly from the young. These readers, while enthusiastic, are not sophisticated; they lack the broader reading experience needed to tell the difference between a well-written book and a clunker. However, that’s not the same as saying they are stupid. We humans are born with an instinctive feel for story. No one – sophisticated or unsophisticated – wades through a full-length novel unless they gain some genuine satisfaction from doing so.
This review was originally posted in the Smashwords and Goodreads pages for Rebellion.
This uninspiring book cover hides an exciting adventure fantasy with a female hero and a martial arts theme.
In spite of the shared surname, Rachel Cotterill is not a relative. I was attracted to her work by the novelty of seeing my own (rare here in Canada) name on a published fantasy. My curiosity overcame my aversion to the book’s horrible cover. Yes, I know it looks like some dreary leftist literary novel about Hispanic poverty in the American South-West, but the book is actually a lively fantasy adventure with a mythical setting, an interesting female main character (named simply Eleanor), and a strong martial-arts theme.
Much of the novel’s abundant action takes place at a kind of Hogwarts for assassins. These assassins resemble medieval knife-wielding poison-toting secret agents who venture out on dangerous missions in defence of a shadowy Empire that straddles a forested archipelago. Robin Hobb’s Assassin’s Apprentice comes to mind. If you liked Hobb’s book you will probably enjoy Rebellion as well. The story moves along quickly and fight scenes are abundant. The knife fights are especially good, as are the tense climbing episodes where Eleanor – never short on courage and endurance – scales prison towers or castle walls with only the scantiest of toe and finger holds. Weaponry includes throwing stars and these add a pleasing ninja touch to the young assassins. There are imaginative puzzles to be solved, unusual competitions to be won, occasional glances at Eleanor’s ambiguous feelings towards a certain young man, and for good measure, some deep-seated grudges among the students, which mean scores to be settled. These elements provide more than enough variety to ensure a good read.