Monday, December 31, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 98 -- The Viscount and the Witch

by Michael J. Sullivan

Started: Dec. 31
Finished: Dec. 31

Amazon link: The Viscount and the Witch, short story (The Riyria Chronicles)

Notes: I've been meaning to read this fantasy author for some while now. He has grown in popularity in the last few years, and I've run into him over at Reddit. He seems like a decent fellow, and he seems to know what he's talking about. Also, from bits and pieces of samples of his work that I have seen, he seems to know how to write. This is the first whole piece I'll have a read of his, a short story about the two characters central of Sullivan's longer works.

Mini review: Quite the nice story. Nothing too dramatic here, not an abundance of action, but the relationship between the characters is fantastic, and the writing solid. Also, the characters themselves are quite interesting. Yes, I'm sold. I'll be looking for more from this author.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A different kind of Christmas present

Every year I try to surprise my significant other with a Christmas present that I know she will not expect from me. Some years I'm more successful than others. This year I pulled off the ultimate, giving her something she never would have thought I would have come up with. As you can see below, it's a doll house, about two feet tall. But no, I did not go out and buy this doll house. I had to buy the wood and the instructions for putting it together, but I fitted it together, glued it, and painted it myself. I took me about a month, a few days each week slipping away to my writing tower/cabin where I had everything hidden. I think I did a pretty good job. It's not perfect, and I can find a dozen things I'd like to change, but below it is. I apologize for the awful quality of the images, as my computer's camera isn't all that great.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

A writer looks ahead to 2013

What's coming for Ty in 2013? What are my writing plans?

The truth is, I have few specific ones. I'm not setting concrete goals for the long term.

Sounds lazy, but the truth is, I have so many things I want to write, and my interests and mental/emotional state range from day to day, so I don't like to tie myself down with a long project that I'll tire of before I'm finished.

I've been in the mood to get back into fantasy somewhat, so I will possibly turn that direction in the coming months. But I've also been thinking a lot about a zombie novel idea I've had for some time.

Whatever direction I turn, my next work(s) will likely be a serialized series of four to six parts, or possibly a series of connected short stories. It's only been in the last few months that I've been working in this format, and I've found uses for it that were unexpected. For instance, there are stories I want to tell set in my fantasy world of Ursia, stories that aren't long enough for a novel but are more than a short story, maybe even more than a novella or novelette, sort of weird lengths. And then there are connected stories that really should go together in a series or collection. For instance, I've been wanting to write some of the background stories, the histories in a manner of speaking, for some of my characters, but those tales mostly come in little bits; otherwise, there would be long stretches of not much happening. These origin tales are ripe to be serialized or to come in a series.

That doesn't mean I've given up on novels. I've been giving a lot of thought to my next Ursia novel, which will feature Kron as the main character, and will be titled The Company of Seven. This novel will stay within the confines of the city of Bond, making it somewhat related in style to my earlier novels City of Rogues and Ghosts of the Asylum. Some old characters will return, and some new ones will appear. Also, though I've not titled any of these novels as such yet, The Company of Seven is actually the third novel in a trilogy, the first book being Ghosts of the Asylum, and the second being Demon Chains. Once I have published that third novel, I will likely give each of them a slightly different title, at least on the cover, to acknowledge they are part of a trilogy; each novel stands as a work alone in and of itself, so if a reader only picks up one of them they should not feel slighted, but there are related events and themes shared between them.

I've also got a background novel for Ursia that I'd like to work on, one I've been giving a lot of thought to. The events take place approximately 10,000 years before City of Rogues, which I think of as the "central" novel to my entire Ursian Chronicles because it happens sort of in the middle of the much longer timeline I have in my head. For those with long memories, yes, the events predate even the existence (or at least appearance) of the god Ashal and my Bayne character. This novel will likely be titled Whom the Gods Slay.

But it will be a while probably before I step into a full blown novel. For one thing, some personal things are likely to hit me in the coming couple of months, and I'll have to deal with them, which means I don't want to be bogged down with a long work while my mind might be elsewhere. So, I'll be focusing upon short stories and serialized fiction for at least the next few months.

For that matter, I wrote a fair number of shorts this past year which should see publication in the coming year. I'll make sure to post something here, and at the appropriate social networking sites, when and where and how those stories are available.

So, here's to 2013! I wrote about 600,000 words in 2012, and I'd like to top that in the coming year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

A writer looks back at 2012

The last week or so, I have written three blog posts that I set aside for a while for my own consideration. Each of these posts was quite lengthy, and I wanted to give myself time to digest what I'd written before hitting the "Publish" button. In each case, after a couple of days, I deleted the posts without publishing. Why? Well, the posts had kind of negative vibes to them, and of late I've been feeling we've got enough of that in the world. Besides, it's Christmas.

So, instead of focusing on the negative, I thought I'd take a look back at my reading and writing in 2012, now that the end of the year is approaching.


In reading, I kind of jumped around a lot this year. The first half of 2012 was taken up by my reading quite a bit of Ed McBain, but I stepped away from him for a while because I felt I was getting burnt out a little on him; no worries, though, because I've still got a sizable stack of McBain novels to read, and he's got plenty more available.

One obvious lapse in my reading this year was epic fantasy, or heroic fantasy, action fantasy, whatever you want to call it, including Sword & Sorcery. I did break down a few times and read such literature, but for the most part, I stayed away. This was intentional, not that I've turned from this genre, one of my favorites. The thing is, I spent much of 2010 and 2011 reading this type of fiction, and writing it, so I felt I needed a break. That break will likely continue for some little while, but I've a stack of such books waiting for me, as well as a growing list of fantasy e-books on my Kindle. I'm looking forward to getting back to such fiction, but I have plenty of other books and e-books also to read, and I'd like to whittle away at those some more.

This past year, I've also been on a bit of a Tolstoy kick, having read War and Peace a year or two ago. I wasn't constantly reading Tolstoy's works this past year, but I did read one of his shorter pieces, a biography about him, and a biographical look at him written by one of his children. This trend will also likely continue, at least for a while, as I've several of his books stacked up, and other works of his waiting on my Kindle. It's funny, in a way, because I don't consider Tolstoy a great writer, though many consider him such. I'm much more interested in his personal, spiritual journey and how that affected his writing, than I am his actual fiction writing; because of this, much of the books I have yet to read by him are non-fiction. I'll probably get to some of that this year, maybe.

I did discover several new writers this, at least new to me, and three stand out as new favorites.

First up, there's Edward Lorn, the horror author. More than once I've called Lorn a Stephen-King-lite writer, and I stand by that, and mean it to be a positive (and, thank goodness, Edward has taken it that way). His characters are just as interesting as King's, but without the thousand pages of back story and all the flash backs and usual stuff that goes along with King's fiction. If you like horror, check out Edward Lorn.

Then there's Scott Fitzgerald Gray, who I didn't exactly discover for the first time this past year, but I did read his novel We Can Be Heroes for the first time. It really blew me away, quite possibly my best read of 2012. If you like a mix of science fiction with action and thriller fiction, and some geeky techno stuff thrown in, check out Gray's novel. Also, this is a novel with strong resonance to gamers, more for video gamers but to some lesser extent also board gamers.

The third novelist I read for the first time and enjoyed this past year was Joe Hill, though I'm a bit split on Hill. His novel Heart-Shaped Box I found awesome, worthy of his father (Stephen King, by the way), but his second novel, Horns, I found a bit longish, jumping back for way to many pages to back story, though still written quite well.


2012 was a weird year for me concerning my writing. I started off the year going full blast, with plans to write a novel a month. This quickly went by the wayside by March or so. It wasn't that I couldn't follow through with my plan, but that my interests were being drawn to other forms of fiction. I did write and publish a few novels this year, but I've also produced one five-part series, as well as still working on another one, and I've written a bunch of short stories, at least some of which should see publication in 2013 at various venues. Not all my writing has been a success, and some of it I'll admit is probably not my best work, but it has all been done in the name of learning, and what I sometimes think of as "not my best" turns out to be a favorite of a number of readers.

Still, I did actually pen about 600,000 words of new fiction this past year, and I can live with that. It didn't mean my initial goal of putting out twelve new novels, but that's still a lot of words.

Also, in 2012, I've been doing a lot of experimentation. Most of that experimenting has been done under a pen name, sometimes with good effect (sales), sometimes not.

And no, I won't tell what my pen name is. If you happen to guess correctly, I'll admit it to you, but not publicly (and I'd hope you could keep a secret). It's not that I'm ashamed of anything I've written under my pen name, most of it being fantasy and horror and some action thriller material, but that if my fanbase (whoever small it might be) started buying my e-books under my pen name, then that would ruin my experimenting. In some ways, I'm competing with myself, but I'm also having some fun doing it, and I'm trying a few things that don't necessarily fit with my "name" writings, and aren't necessarily what most of my regular readers are looking for (all three of them).

Next year, in 2013, I'll keep writing, the good Lord willing and the creek don't rise. See you there.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

A little Christmas cheer

What with all the tragedy going on in the world today, instead of focusing upon that (because there's enough of that everywhere else online and elsewhere), I thought I'd show a little Christmas cheer. The wreath below was created by a friend of mine after I had picked up 75 pine cones out of the woods (yes, I counted). She used wiring to connect the pine cones to a bare frame, then used a glue gun to snug it all down. Next, she used some gold spray paint to lightly gloss the edges of the pine cones. Finally, she used some fake greenery (it was available) as a kind of backdrop, tying it with wire on the back of the wreath. Below are the results.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

One writer's Christmas list for Santa

Dear Santa,

I realize this is your busy time of year, and I hope I've not put off too late sending you this letter. Honestly, I'm not even sure if I'll make your Nice List this year. Not that I've been extraordinarily bad, but good? Maybe, maybe not.

Anyway, below is a list of things I would like for Christmas. Receiving even one of them would be much appreciated, but if you can bring about others, the more the merrier, as they say.

1.) The ability to write a thousand words in ten minutes. A good thousand words.

2.) To never have to edit again. Ever. Never. Really.

3.) More hours in the day.

4.) Less to do in the day other than write.

5.) The return of Rogue Blades Entertainment, in some form or other. Hell, let it be Jason's full-time job. He deserves it.

6.) Have Amazon make the KDP Select program actually be useful to indie writers again. It was somewhat useful when it was first introduced a year ago, but nowadays, not so much. Would these mean the death of freebies? Maybe. I'm not sure that would be a bad thing. And while we're at it, make Amazon get its head out of its ass and stop the whole exclusivity thing.

7.) Please make all e-book distributors more user friendly, more technically savvy, and above all else, more marketing savvy.

8.) Less whining from indie writers as a whole. It gets to be overwhelming at times.

9.) Tablets and dedicated e-reader devices for everyone!

10.) For all the children of the world to join hands and sing together in the spirit of harmony and peace.

Ty Johnston

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Does indie author success lead to snobbery?

Over the last few years, I've seen a number of my fellow indie authors rise high. Some of these people I know relatively well, or somewhat well (at least online), others I only know by name. I've also watched a number of them plummet back down into obscurity. Then there are a precious few who sort of just keep on keeping on, who chug along without gigantic success (at least financially) but who also don't tank out. For the record, I consider myself in that last group, sort of a mid-lister of indie writers.

Some who were riding high a year ago are now nearly forgotten. Others who only published their first e-book or book in the last six months have had huge success.

But there's a trend I've noticed among successful indie authors, and perhaps it also occurs among those successful in other businesses, but I know writing, so I'll stick to it.

What is this trend of which I write? You can probably guess by the title of this post.


Actually, that word isn't truly appropriate, isn't quite accurate, at least not in all cases.

Perhaps a noun? Maybe ... braggart?

No, that's not it, either. What is the word I want?

Oh, hell, I'm a writer. I'll make up my own word. Let's call it ... know-it-all-edness.

How about that?

I see this all the time. Somebody who was a nobody (at least in terms of being an indie author) a few months ago or a year or two ago, suddenly finds themselves with some success. Maybe they're selling ten thousand or more e-books a month. Maybe they're making six figures a month. Doesn't matter. The details vary. Anywho, I see a number of such indie authors who online have suddenly become experts in their field, despite the fact their field is so new there really are no experts in it.

They go around offering advice, which is a fine thing to do, helping out beginners and others with not as much success, but often enough I see such "advice" constructed in strict rules that absolutely must be followed, and anyone who doesn't follow those rules is an idiot and a fool and will never make anything of themselves as a writer ... in fact, they're probably not a very good or a very serious writer.

What kind of rules? Here are some examples:

You absolutely MUST have a social presence online.

You absolutely DO NOT need a social presence online.

You MUST give away FREEBIES.

You MUST NOT, ever, under any circumstances, give away FREEBIES.

You absolutely must drop every distributor but AMAZON because they are the king of all and rain down manna from the heavens.

You absolutely must NOT drop other distributors than Amazon, because doing so limits the number of readers you can reach.

FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, you HAVE to utilize the KDP SELECT program.

Or, OH LORD, please don't tell me you're STILL using KDP SELECT.

I could go on. If you're an indie writer who has had his or her head above ground at any point during the last year, you've probably seen or heard all of these, and likely plenty more.

It's not that I mind those trying to help. Really, I don't. But I do mind those who are condescending, who treat other writers as if they are little children.

Yes, I'll admit, there can seem to be a lot of silly, sometimes juvenile characters out there in the indie writer world. Many of them are newbies, and they will either learn or they will move on to something else. A small handful are crazy, or mean, or disturbed, or whatever. There's nothing unusual about any of this. That's the open world of online commerce today. If we've not all learned this from Twitter and Facebook and forums and message boards, then we should have.

Also, these "helpful" authors who lay down the law, who have a there's-only-one-way-to-make-it-big-and-that's-my-way mentality are fooling themselves. If I had to guess, I'd say we could probably add their names to the list of authors who won't be around in a year or two.

Ask any long time writing pro. Yeah, I'm talking about the folks who were being traditionally published for years before the Kindle came along. Financially, writing is often an up-and-down experience. Sales blossom, sometimes explode, then they dwindle away. Not in all cases, but often enough. For instance, how many copies of The Bridges of Madison County do you think sold last month? Or even The Godfather? Sure, there's Harry Potter, but that's an anomaly, nowhere near the norm.

I write this ... this little rant, I suppose one could call it ... not for those out there who have had huge success, especially those with heads that have grown so large they believe themselves an expert. Because they're not. They're lucky. Damn lucky. They might be good writers, or they might not. Ask any old pro, and those who are honest will tell you no one can predict what will or will not be a successful book, let alone a best seller. These know-it-all indie writers might have done a ton of work, might have worked their fingers and their butts to the bone, but that alone does not insure success (though it can help).

I write this for those beginners out there, and for those who have been trudging along without much success. The truth is, to be blunt, yeah, you might not be a good writer. You might even suck at being a writer. I make no claims to being a good writer myself, though I think I'm a fairly decent writer who has penned a few good short stories and one or two nifty novels. But I write this for those less-than-successful people because many a great writer goes unnoticed, and because I don't want them to think there is only one road to success for indie writers.

Because there isn't. Each successful indie writer has had a different route to success. One thing they've all had in common is luck, and a certain level of skill and talent (usually at least a little, but not always). I've read sample chapters of e-books that have thousands of reviews, many positive, yet I wouldn't read those e-books even if they were free. I've also read some e-books that no one seems to know about, yet those e-books were some of the best writing I've had the pleasure to discover in years.

On top of that, there's the fact this industry is still so new that it is often facing change, sometimes drastic change. Six months ago, it seemed like change was coming so fast, there was no way to keep up with it. Big events related to publishing and indie authors seemed to happen every day. Of late things have seemed to slow down, but that doesn't mean things will stay that way. Why is change important to remember? Because what worked for an indie writer's success six months ago, a year ago, or two years ago, might not work today. Oh, it might work. Maybe. But possibly not. Hell, probably not. The market has gotten tougher and tougher with more and more people jumping on the band wagon, and despite those who cry out how great certain e-book distributors are, it's common enough for such distributors to come up with some new rules or some new program that isn't necessarily beneficial to the individual writers, though it might be a good thing for the distributor(s).

I also want to add that when I write about this know-it-all attitude, I do not mean to refer to anyone in particular. This is something I've seen in a growing number of indie writers. Not all or even most successful indie writers, but enough that it seems to be a trend. I'd also like to point out that there are some very successful indie writers who show nothing of this attitude. They help others without speaking or writing down to them as if they're dealing with idiots. I appreciate that, and I'm sure others do, as well.

As for those who think they know everything, there's no talking to them, or writing to them. They already know everything. They have had their success, and for whatever reason, they've come to believe it is the only road to success. They are simply wrong, and too stubborn and pigheaded or foolish to admit it. They've let their success get the best of them. Being successful, financially, doesn't make one suddenly become a genius or make one in any way, morally or otherwise, superior to others. It doesn't even mean one is smarter or a better business person than everyone else (though one might be). It simply means one did some work, maybe even a lot of hard work, and got lucky.

And for those who like to pick apart and rework every single thing that anyone ever says ... NO ... HELL, NO ... I am not saying or writing or suggesting that luck is the only thing it takes to become a successful indie author, or a success at anything else. But I am saying luck is a big element, bigger than nearly everyone gives it credit. You can write like Shakespeare, do your marketing like Apple, have your covers done by Rembrandt, and have the bank account of a Rockefeller, yet still not make it as an indie author. I've seen that, too.

One last thing to keep in mind ... being a success at anything varies from person to person. Maybe one person deems success a six-figure salary. Maybe another deems success as paying off their house, or putting their kids through college. Maybe another person just wants to get their bills paid. And maybe for some writers, success is simply getting a nice note from an editor or publisher. It all varies. It's all different. We all have different levels of success. I'm where I want to be, and that's fine with me. I might only sell a thousand e-books this month, but that's fine with me. I'm in this for the long haul ... no, I'm in this for the rest of my life. Sparking big all of a sudden does not appeal to me, because I've seen enough writers do that and then burn away to ash. I don't want to do that.

Besides, the bills are getting paid.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

HUGE Holiday e-book sale and giveaway bonanza!

It's mad, MAD I tell you!

Here at the book lot, we've got to make room for next year's models, which means we're giving away e-books at rock-bottom prices, even offering some for free!

Check the links below to where the e-books are available at low, low prices or absolutely free!

City of Rogues: Book I of The Kobalos Trilogy -- epic fantasy -- FREE

for the Kindle

for the Nook

at Apple

at Smashwords

at Sony

at Kobo

Bayne's Climb: Book I of The Sword of Bayne -- epic fantasy -- FREE

for the Kindle

for the Nook

at Apple

at Smashwords

at Sony

at Kobo

Ghosts of the Asylum -- epic fantasy -- ONLY 99 cents

for the Kindle

at Apple

at Smashwords

at Kobo

Demon Chains -- epic fantasy -- ONLY 99 cents

for the Kindle

at Smashwords

The Storm -- horror -- ONLY 99 cents

for the Kindle

for the Nook

at Apple

at Smashwords

at Kobo

More Than Kin -- mainstream, literary -- ONLY 99 cents

for the Kindle

for the Nook

at Apple

at Smashwords

at Kobo

100 Years of Blood -- literary horror -- ONLY 99 cents

for the Kindle

at Apple

at Smashwords

at Kobo

And many more great deals available at these sites!

Review of '100 Web Sites for Fiction Writers'

My little e-book, 100 Web Sites for Fiction Writers, recently received a review over at the Voracious Reader blog. So thanks for the nice review!

However, the reviewer brings up a good point, that the e-book needs an updating. This is something I've been considering for some while, as a number of the sites have changed or no longer exist since I finished the e-book more than a year ago. What do others think? Is it time to update?

Monday, December 03, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 97 -- Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell

by Susanna Clarke

Started: Dec. 3
Finished: Dec. 31

Amazon link: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell

Notes: I have heard a very many good things about this novel of two magicians in early 19th Century England. I've heard this is a great young adult book. I've also heard it's great adult literary work. Can it be both? Or more? I'll have to find out for myself.

Mini review: Over all, I didn't care much for it. It's a decent book, but I felt overly lengthy with the plot meandering around all over the place and sometimes seeming to disappear altogether for a while before getting back on track. More bad: I didn't care for hardly any of the characters, finding very few of them worth my appreciation. The good: The descriptions of the locales throughout Europe I found quite nice, brief enough so I did not become bored but also providing enough information to keep my interest. Also, the last 40 or so pages were much better than any of the rest of the story, though I still did not feel the payoff was quite worth it, especially after I'd waded through 800 pages already. The writing style is accessible, easy to read, but often it seems to go on for long periods without saying much of anything important, without seeming to move the plot forward. Also, the writing style reminded me much of several 19th Century authors, specifically Dickens, of whom I'm not a fan, which my explain my lack of enthusiasm about this novel.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 96 -- Countenance of War

by J.R. Tomlin

Started: Nov. 28
Finished: Dec. 3

Amazon link: Countenance of War, a Historical Novel of Scotland (The Black Douglas Trilogy)

Notes: I've been reading quite a bit of historical non-fiction of late, and I'm still in that kind of mood. However, I've also been in a mood for some sword-slinging fiction. What to do? Oh, what to do? Easy. Turn to some historical fiction, specifically this novel of Scotland.

Mini review: Plenty of war and sword swinging in this one. For fans of the movie "Braveheart," this is what happens after, sort of a "Braveheart: Next Generation," with the focus upon one James Douglas. Plenty of real historical characters from the period make an appearance, and there are more than a few scenes of raids, open warfare, and a fair bit of skulking about. I have some nitpicks with this novel, but nothing too strong. I look forward to reading more about Douglas in some of the author's other books.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What is my best novel?

The question that tops this post is one I face from time to time, though never from writers. Writers understand, it would be nearly impossible to pick out one of our own "best" novels, though some might have a favorite or two. Sometimes the question is a bit different, asking what is my best writing, or what is my best story, but it amounts to about the same idea.

For me, there is no simple way to answer the question.

What is my best novel?

Well, that's hard to say. I think Ghosts of the Asylum is the best plotted of my fantasy novels, but as far as literary value goes, I tend to feel my best novel is probably my more mainstream novel, More Than Kin, which is also my most personal novel, though not autobiographical by any means.

100 Years of Blood is likely my most difficult novel for readers to take, to understand, and it is also the most literary novel I've penned, as well as one of the most boring from a plotting point of view. One of thing's I find somewhat amusing about 100 Years of Blood is that it is, as I've called it, a novel of questions, not of answers, which was intentional on my part because I wanted to write something that made the reader think for themselves instead of just another fast-paced, action-oriented novel that reads like a movie script and spoon feeds everything to the reader. There are enough such novels on the market, in my opinion, and though I'll admit some of them are quite good and entertaining, it is possible to do more in the literary field. As expected, 100 Years of Blood is my least selling novel. I also find some small amusement in that readers who have approached me about this novel always tell me they have figured out what the "secret" is, that that secret is pretty easy to discover. Really? If I made the "secret" all that obvious, it likely isn't the real "secret," wouldn't one think? But it's a novel of questions, and I'm one who prefers to let a piece of literary work (or "art," if I can be so bold as to use the word for my own work) speak for itself and to allow the readers to take away their own conclusions.

For a long while, I felt my short story "Beneath a Persian Sun" was the finest thing I had written, but over the last year or so I've come to find many faults with the tale. I still think it's a good story, but it could stand to be rewritten. Though I'll never do that. From time to time I make minor corrections in all of my works, but I never go back and do a major rewriting once something has been published.

Of late, I've been feeling pretty good about a short story of mine that has yet to be published, titled "Daedalus Reborn." It should be available sometime next year in an anthology, but I won't say anything further about it other than the editor was quite pleased with my little tale.

It's funny for a writer to look back on works he or she penned years in the past. I cringe when I look into my earliest novels, yet those are the ones that sell the best for me. On the other hand, for a while I was somewhat disappointed with my fantasy novel Demon Chains, mainly because I remember feeling burned out from reading and writing so much epic fantasy at the time (I went straight from writing Ghosts of the Asylum into writing Demon Chains, something I normally do not do for fear of becoming burned out on a genre). But as I've looked back, I find Demon Chains isn't so bad of a novel, though I don't think it's my best. Sales for Demon Chains are decent, and usually better than Ghosts of the Asylum.

I've heard other writers say they cannot judge their own works fairly, and I've come to the conclusion there's some truth to this. Though I tend to think of Ghosts of the Asylum as my strongest fantasy novel, it is also the least selling of all my fantasy novels. So, I can't judge.

Which of my novels is my best?

I couldn't tell you.

I can't judge. I don't always love all my children, but I don't hate any of them through and through.

Books read in 2012: No. 95 -- Jesus

by A.N. Wilson

Started: Nov. 24
Finished: Nov. 28

Amazon link: Jesus: A Life

Notes: 'Tis the season, right? Actually, I just finished this author's book on Tolstoy, and it came to my attention that the writer had actually written numerous biographies of historical figures, one of them being this one about Jesus. The approach, apparently, is to look at Jesus as a historical figure and not so much as a religious figure, which I find interesting. However, I'm a bit skeptical of how this author will approach the subject matter of Jesus. Wilson did a strong job of demystifying Tolstoy, so I'm wondering if he will try to do the same with Jesus. Then there is the fact that Wilson, now turned back to Christianity (I won't call him "born again" because that has social, even possibly political implications I'm not sure are appropriate), was an avowed atheist during the writing of this book about Jesus. Frankly, if he spends much of this book trying to debunk Jesus, Christianity, and religion in general, I'm likely to lose interest. It's not that I can't tolerate atheism or skeptical thought and writing, even appreciate them at times, but I find some of today's ardent, vocal atheists (with whom Wilson associates) as annoying as I do the overly rambunctious evangelicals. I simply want to study the subjects for intellectual purposes, not be talked down to by one side or the other. So, I'll see how Wilson handles this book and the historical figure of Jesus.

Mini review: I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at the route the author took in his exploration of a historical Jesus. I felt he did jump to a few conclusions without evidence, but at least some of the time he would say something along the lines of, "here I am making a guess." He seemed to come down on the side of Jesus being a non-divine entity, a healer and religious figure of much ability and wisdom whose words have been distorted and changed many, many times throughout history. The author gives some evidence for this, but most of it is, in my opinion, not overly strong evidence. I'm not disagreeing with Wilson's conclusions, but I also am not agreeing with them. I think he would understand that, for in the end he portrays Jesus as such a mysterious and complicated figure that even the early church fathers had little idea with whom they had actually been dealing, that Jesus is practically unknowable, at least from a historical point of view. As far as how the Christian churches have dealt with Jesus over the centuries, I find much in agreement with the author, thus I quote Wilson here: "Few of the Christian Churches have ever viewed the teaching of Jesus with anything but contempt. And while Churches might think that they are returning to the teaching of Jesus it will invariably be found that they are pursuing a distorted version of one or two of his ideas while contradicting the others." I agree with those words. I could write a book on such myself, and perhaps some day I will, but for now I will not bore or frustrate the reader with my own thoughts and ideas, which change often enough, anyway. Wilson leans toward a Jesus who wanted others to think for themselves in order to become closer to God, and I tend that way in my own thoughts.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 94 -- The Repairman

by Harry Harrison

Started: Nov. 22
Finished: Nov. 22

Amazon link: The Repairman

Notes: I've never read anything by this late, popular science fiction author, but I've been hankering for something short and fun to read.

Mini review: Well, this did the job. A nice little fast read. I don't know the original publication date for this story, but it reads like a late 1950s or early 1960s tale, something that could have appeared on television on The Outer Limits or some such show. The repairman character is kind of a jack-of-all-trades fix-it man who has the job of traveling from planet to planet in order to rebuild or repair beacons that help spaceships navigate throughout the universe. In this story, the repairman finds himself dealing with a somewhat intelligent but barbaric lizard race who has turned a beacon into a holy shrine and temple. How to fix the beacon without making the lizard folks angry? That's the gist of the problem, and it was a pretty fun read. If you're ever in the mood for something breezy, or for some old-fashioned science fiction, or both, I can suggest this tale.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Why I have stopped online marketing

In the last year, I have done two blog tours, interviewed more than 50 writers for this blog, gathered more than 2,000 followers on Twitter, and made more than a thousand friends on Facebook. I have also made use of social networking sites such as StumbleUpon, Digg, Reddit, and a handful of other sites. I've made use of Amazon's KDP Select program and various other online marketing tools. I've post at a dozen or more various online boards, a few of them on a regular basis. I've blogged and blogged and blogged, with the posts drawing the most attention (by far) being the ones I wrote about weapons (mostly guns and swords).

During that time, my sales dropped, dropped, continued to drop, bottomed out, tanked out ... whatever you want to call it. Across the board, at all sites where my books and e-books are available.

For a while there, I was fearing I would have to enter the workforce once more, which is not appealing for a variety of factors, a big one being the state of the economy.

Then, a few months back, I decided to hang it all up and to stop my efforts at social marketing and most of my social networking.

Since then, my sales have jumped. Oh, my numbers still aren't as good as they were a year ago, but this month is better than last month which was twice as good as the month before. Across all venues.

So, all that online marketing, it didn't work for me. Obviously.

Social networking and marketing works for some authors, apparently, but for me? Nah.

So, I've given all that up.

Oh, I'll still post on Facebook from time to time, and I might even put up a tweet every once in a while. Maybe I'll even leave a note on an online board from time to time. The difference will be, I'm only going to do so when I truly feel I have something to say or add, and only when I really want to.

This has taken a lot off my mind, and I write more.

Another benefit I've found is that by staying away from most of the boards containing writers, I see and hear a lot less bitching, whining, and conspiracy theories. Which is like balm to my soul. It seems all writers do is whine, especially indie writers. It's a rare thing that I see long-time professionals constantly griping, though it does happen from time to time. But I see this mostly in indie writers (of which I'm one, and yes, I suppose one could argue that I'm whining here ... deal with it).

Any way, if one's sales are not what one wants them to be, I suggest experimentation. Which is what I did. Social marketing works for some. Giving away freebies works for others. Simply writing the next damn story or novel and getting it out works for others (and seems to be working best for me, along with a combination of freebies).

Concerning e-book freebies, I'd like to add that I don't care for them and feel the market is glutted with them, but yes, I have to use them. It seems to be part of my marketing efforts, whether I want them to be or not. I have bills to pay, today, not next year, and the long-term approach didn't seem to work all that well for me, though it is the approach I would prefer to have. Such is life.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 93 -- Smite Me, Oh Dark One

by Steve Thomas

Started: Nov. 17
Finished: Nov. 17

Amazon link: Smite Me, Oh Dark One

Notes: A lot of my reading of late has seemed kind of heavy, often even dark, so I was thinking I needed a few laughs to lighten things up some. I had heard this fantasy e-book about a dark god of the goblins is pretty funny, so I thought I'd give it and the author a try.

Mini review: Not laugh-out-loud funny, but definitely has an amusing ring to it throughout the tale. Also gives quite a different look at a creation mythology and the supposed villain or dark god of a pantheon and how such relates to traditional fantasy creatures like elves, dwarfs, goblins, etc. The writing here was pretty solid, in my opinion, and fit the subject matter to a T.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 92 -- Tolstoy

by A. N. Wilson

Started: Nov. 13
Finished: Nov. 24

Amazon link: Tolstoy: A Biography

Notes: For some few years now I've been enthralled by Tolstoy's journey as a writer and his changing views of morality and spirituality during his life. I'm not saying I agree with his viewpoint on everything, nor that I strive to, but I find his thoughts and writing interesting, his non-fiction more so than his fiction. So, for some while I've been looking for a good, popular biography of this famous author, a biography that doesn't get too bogged down by the scholarly approach. From my research, this book appears to fit the bill.

Mini review: I have plenty of quibbles with this book, but I must say, it has opened my eyes to much about Tolstoy and his life. For one thing, the author demystifies the sense of awe that surrounded Tolstoy during his later life and to some extent after his death. I believe there's little doubt Tolstoy was a literary genius, but I think there was also at least a little dementia there, perhaps growing worse with senility as he aged. Tolstoy put enormous emotional, spiritual and somewhat financial pressures on those family members closest to him, but they in turn (especially his wife) apparently made his last few decades no bed of roses. It did not help things that Tolstoy seemed to have an occasional tendency to stir up trouble simply for the sake of being noticed, of drawing attention to himself. All that being said, one of the problems I had with this book was that I felt it focused too much on Tolstoy's later years, especially the last few decades when his life was in turmoil to some extent or another. To be fair, that section of Tolstoy's life is much, much more available to historians and writers and readers than the earlier years because Tolstoy himself and his wife and his family and ... geez, it seems like every person the man ever spent more than a minute with ... wrote out extensive diary notes, letters, official papers, etc. I feel this was a solid book for what I wanted, but now I'm kind of wanting more, my eyes having been opened to Tolstoy, the world he existed in, and others around him.

Books read in 2012: No. 91 -- Broad-Sword and Single-Stick

by Rowland George Allanson-Winn and Clive Phillipps-Wolley

Started: Nov. 12
Finished: Nov. 13

Amazon link: Broad-Sword and Single-Stick With Chapters on Quarter-Staff, Bayonet, Cudgel, Shillalah, Walking-Stick, Umbrella and Other Weapons of Self-Defence

Notes: Originally published in 1911, this little book includes illustrations to show examples of various forms of defense. If I understand correctly this is sort of a combination late book about about the art of the duel (late because the art of the duel was pretty much dead by 1911) and self defense, which was growing in popularity. Allanson-Winn was a known author of boxing literature, and Phillipps-Wolley was a big game hunter, these two men bringing their practical knowledge to this piece of literature. As the rather long title in the Amazon link above shows, this book contains defense information about more weapons than simply the broad sword and single stick. As a fantasy writer, I'm often interested in such literature and how I can make use of it in my own writings, but I'm also interested from a historical vantage point.

Mini review: There was actually very little about true self defense, meaning a street fight or the like, though there was quite a bit of basic information about fencing with various weapons, especially the broad sword and single stick. Those experienced in fencing will recognize all these basics. However, I was a bit disappointed that there was not more here about footwork, because footwork is quite important in fencing. I'd like to add, the chapter on using an umbrella for self defense was pretty funny, though also practical.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 90 -- On Writing

by Stephen King

Started: Nov. 9
Finished: Nov. 12

Amazon link: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Notes: I've actually read this book twice before, once soon after its initial publishing a dozen or so years ago, and then once more six or seven years ago. I decided to read it again to see if there was something I missed or if I've simply forgotten much. While I recall this book being quite interesting and well written, and offering another insight into King's life, I don't remember it being all that great a book when it come to the craft or business of writing. It seems a lot of people disagree with me, because this book consistently shows up as a favorite among authors as a top book on the craft. Maybe I'm wrong. Which is why I'm reading it again.

Mini review: No, I think I'll stick with my opinion of this book. Don't get me wrong. It is well written, and it is entertaining. It also offers some excellent insight into how King works and gives some fairly new (for the publication date) biographical information about the author. But I still don't think there's a lot of depth here pertaining to the actual craft or business of writing. I could sum up most of King's writing advice as: learn the basics, trust your intuition, then cut 10 percent off the first draft of everything. There are a number of excellent, pithy quotes pertaining to writing, but I don't feel they add much. I think this book would best serve those who are beginning writers, but those of us who have penned a million words or more won't find much here challenging (not that I think I'm above it all or anything, because the basics are always worth looking over again from time to time). To any writer who has not read this book, yes, I believe it is worth checking into. The book is a little dated, the technology and publishing industry having changed much in the last decade, but as with most things penned by King, it's an excellent read. At the very least, one gets to see how King approaches his writing and reading.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 89 -- Band of Brothers

by Stephen E. Ambrose

Started: Nov. 6
Finished: Nov. 9

Amazon link: Band of Brothers : E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest

Notes: I've long been a fan of the HBO series concerning E Company of World War II fame, having watched the series when it originally aired and possibly hundreds of times since. I feel it is honestly one of the best looks at war from a soldier's point of view ever put on the screen, or at the very least one of the best views of those particular soldiers during that particular war. Anyway, I feel I know these stories and these real-life characters, and I always want to know more, having read other books about the events and people. I've had this book for a while, the one which the TV series is based upon, and I've kept putting it off. But no longer. Christmas is nearly here, so I thought I'd treat myself.

Mini review: This is a great book, though not quite one of my favorites. Why? Well, truth be known, it's no fault of the book, but my own. I simply knew too much of this material before wading in, so very little was new to me here and actually seemed quite repetitive. Again, that's no fault of the books. The writing is crisp and the information provided is interesting and to the point without wallowing in minor details. My favorite parts were the personal reflections of the officers and soldiers. Armchair historians and casual readers of war history will love this book. Those who are more military historians seeking in depth details will find this book a good place to start, but will likely want to go elsewhere eventually, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Books read in 2012: No. 88 -- The End of the World

by Andrew Biss

Started: Nov. 5
Finished: Nov. 6

Amazon link: The End of the World

Notes: I was drawn to this novel some while back because, like readers do, I found the book description of interest. The tale is about a fellow named Valentine who leaves his parents' home to make his own way in the world, then he's robbed at gunpoint. Valentine ends up in a mysterious tavern or inn, and it seems like he might be dead, my guess being he was killed during the robbery. At this inn, he meets a number of odd characters. I was also drawn to this tale because it sounds somewhat like Neil Gaiman's Worlds' End storyline from The Sandman graphic novels; I have no idea if there is a casual connection, but it seems possible. Guess I'll find out.

Mini review: The writing here was crisp and clean, and there were some interesting steps into spiritualism, even Buddhism. However, I didn't care much for the main character, which especially hurts a tale told in the first person. Why didn't I like him? Well, for one thing, he was so whiny all the time, and while not a total idiot, he seemed constantly outside of the know, to have very little grasp upon reality, which I could stomach in a possibly less intelligent character, but not here where the character seemed to have the possibility of being quite bright though sheltered somewhat by his parents. In the end, I did feel somewhat sorrowful for the main character. Also, I want to point out that I didn't detest this character, I simply didn't find him all that likable. He reminded me a little of a less obnoxious version of the Ignatius Reilly character from A Confederacy Dunces as if written by someone trying to emulate Neil Gaiman.