Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Good Intentions 2: Natural Consequences

So once upon a time in 2010, I wrote a little story that became Good Intentions.

As I’ve noted before on this blog, Good Intentions came up while I was writing Poor Man's Fight and got stumped on a minor bit of character development. I wanted to keep writing even though I was a bit stuck. I also wanted get unbiased critical feedback on my writing skills before I dove any further on Poor Man’s Fight, too, and, well… there was this website I’d been to many times called where people could post stories for free to a rather wide readership.

For all its erotic content, I am to this day still unsure whether to consider Good Intentions a work of erotica in an urban fantasy setting, or if it’s an urban fantasy tale with lots of erotic content. I’d like to call it the latter. My need to make sure nobody’s shocked at the explicit content says I should probably stick with the former.

There’s no explicit sexual content in this blog post, btw. Hope that's not disappointing.

So. I hadn’t really written erotica before, but I figured, hell, I could do this. I would have to have a plot, though. It gets back to something I heard George Lucas say when I was a kid: “A special effect without a story is a pretty boring thing.”  (Yes, he actually said that. Look it up if you’re jaded and full of doubt.) I generally feel the same about sexual content in any medium. I don’t want there to just be two people going at it for no reason; I want some sort of context, because I feel like that makes the whole thing better, right?

I should also note that about the only erotica I had ever read was stuff on and a few other random bits and pieces. I did not exactly have much in the way of grounding in the genre.

The story changed dramatically from my initial plans, even over the first few chapters. I originally conceived of a much snottier, more aloof and not-remotely-fun Rachel. I envisioned a story with Alex striving to measure up to Lorelei’s standards while Lorelei, in turn, strung him along as cover while she rebuilt her personal power and mortal resource base. Lorelei would use Alex to her own ends without much care as to whether he lived or died at first, but as he survived and overcame every obstacle in spite of her expectations, she’d warm up to him. Lorelei would also use Alex as a temporary sex toy. I had no plans for a rich cast of supporting characters, or for a storyline about redemption, or for Alex to have a past even he didn’t understand (no spoilers in the comments, please!).

I had in mind a climax where the mystic bonds between Alex and Lorelei broke at some sort of prom-like thing just as Lorelei really began to feel genuine love for him, and then she’d fly off to answer the summons of her old arch-demon master with one last longing look at Alex. I saw Alex calling in his markers with Rachel to help him go rescue her.

But then I started writing chapters two and three, and I realized there was no real reason why Lorelei wouldn’t just eat his face and be done with him. That required a major course correction to make the whole thing work.

The more I thought about it, the more interesting it seemed to me that rather than being evil but susceptible to good, Lorelei was just… tired of being evil. Not looking for redemption, but knowing that her current path was empty and boring. And while I didn’t want a storyline about a bad girl changing her ways for the love of a good man—any story about one person “changing for love” makes me wince—I did like the idea that Alex represented opportunities and choices she could make to change herself.

And then Rachel went and grew a personality, too.

It also grated on me a bit that Alex, though not quite twenty years old yet, felt so much to me like an older sort whose compassion and forgiving nature came from a whole lot of mileage. He seemed to me like a guy who’d had his heart broken a lot, and sometimes deliberately and brutally… but no matter how vicious and real high school drama can be, that’s all still high school drama. I realized then that Alex had a past he didn’t understand.

I figured out, eventually, that these were three weary and lonely people with a lot of scars on the inside.

So if you’ve read this far, you are probably very interested in what happens in the sequel. I have tentatively titled it Natural Consequences. The prologue should be a big hint, of course. Aside from that, you will see:

*Alex in legitimate fear of losing his goddamn mind
*the origin of Lorelei
*the return of Diana the Werewolf
*Lorelei explains The Truth About Monsters
*a lot of very pissed off vampires
*much more of Molly and Onyx
*Alex and the guys having their shittiest Halloween ever
*Why Wade came home early from Afghanistan
*Jason trying to start a relationship that doesn’t kick off with a girl literally jumping in his lap--or, as gamers like him would call it, “playing on hard mode”
*the reason behind Alex’s long, long run of bad luck (hint: it wasn’t luck at all)
*plenty of explicit sex
*plenty of explicit violence
*and plenty of explicit Rachel (as if there’s any other way!)

So here you are: the prologue to Natural Consequences (until and unless I change the title).

“But there is no way you can perpetrate that amount of carnage and mayhem and not incur a considerable amount of paperwork.”  --Nicholas Angel, Hot Fuzz

Prologue below the cut!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Support Other Independent Authors!

I've had a few people ask me why I self-publish, and whether or not I'm interested in getting published by a regular publishing house.

I would, of course, love to get into mainstream publishing, but thus far it hasn't been a major focus for me. I'd rather work on my craft first. The mainstream publishing efforts will happen sooner or later.

When I decided to make a book out of Good Intentions, the requirements for a first-time novel just plain didn't fit. The book doesn't fit easily into any genre (too much plot and action to be "erotica," too much erotic content to be straight-up "urban fantasy"), and it's over 205,000 words. First-time novelists usually get in at 120k-130k if they're lucky. I didn't like what I would have to do in order to cut the book down or break it into two parts. Plus, it had been online for a good while on Literotica, which can be somewhat damaging (not Literotica so much as the long run of "available for free").

With Poor Man's Fight... well, I gave it a shot on one single publishing house's open calls for sci-fi. They passed, but I had to wait three months to be sure of that. If I went with traditional publishing, and if I was insanely lucky beyond any reasonable expectation and the first publishing house that looked at it said they wanted the book, it would still take at least two years. And, y'know, having already put out one fairly successful self-pub, I just plain didn't want to wait that long.

Being an independent author and self-publisher is, quite frankly, a lot of fun. I have my own deadlines. I have my own standards to meet. Sure, it'd be great to work with a professional editor and to have someone help publicize and all that (hint, hint to my readers: feel free to plug my book(s) wherever you want!), but in the end I'm only answerable to myself. Freedom is a cool thing.

I wanted to use my blog here to plug a couple of other independent authors who have put out some very cool stuff in different genres:

*Phillip Winberry has a 1940s noir-ish murder mystery called Reno Splits. I picked it up on a recommendation from a friend and found that I really dug it.What I found here was an interesting protagonist and a spotlight on a little-known practice in how divorce was handled back in the '40s, when it wasn't so common or so easy as it is today. Reno Splits shows off a great deal of historical research--something I admire greatly--and a good deal of basic humanity that I simply don't see in a lot of mystery films and novels. Give it a look!

*Never by Jason Vanhee just plain kicks ass. More authors need to be this thoughtful in what they write. I have to say, this is the sort of thing that inspired me to try my hand at self-publishing, because it shows off the sort of freedom and imagination one can exercise when you think outside the box of what fits into neat little categories on bookshelves at a retail store.  Mr. Vanhee has other works to his name, but... well, at least one other I can think of has been picked up by a mainstream publisher. Dreams do come true.

*Jason Andrew has, quite simply, a big bucket of stuff out there that I think a lot of my readers would enjoy. Give his Amazon page a look. Much of his work is in various anthologies, but he has works all his own to offer as well. Full disclosure: I know Jason personally, and I can't think of a single author I know who puts more effort and energy into encouraging others to pick up the craft.

That's it for today. I know I said I'd have a prologue piece for the sequel to Good Intentions up on my blog by now. It's on the way; I just have to make sure all the plot hints still work with what I've written before I put it out for public consumption.

As always, thank you all so much for your interest and support.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Progress, Diligence, Word Counts and Angels with Tourrette's

I try to make sure I write every day. At a minimum, I try to make sure I crank out 1000 words every day during the week (I have a day job, after all), and on a day off (during the week) I feel that 3000 words is a responsible goal.

There are limitations to this, of course. I don't often hold myself to the 3000 word goal on my weekends unless I've got nothing at all going on. Sometimes my work day sucks and I know my mind is blown and I haven't the energy to write. I live with my girlfriend and our cat, and both housemates need varying amounts of attention, time and energy from day to day. They deserve as much as I have to give, of course, so when one of them is in need, the writing comes secondary.

I've got a relatively busy social life, too. I'm an adult gamer geek, as are the vast majority of our friends. I should note: nobody lives in their mom's basement, nobody has comically low social skills, they've pretty much all got real jobs (or understandable short-term unemployment; turns out the economy still kinda sucks). The gamer stereotypes so cherished by ignorant television executives simply don't really apply anymore. Anyway, all that means I have plenty to do besides write.

But I need to write. I want to write. The stories, they kinda have to get out.

I have found that my measurable productivity has slowed over time. I'm pretty sure that's because I'm more thoughtful about my work. I want to make sure I'm happy to put my name to something now that I have a few successes under my belt.

So, yeah, a thousand words a day/evening is a good goal.

But I gotta say, for all you Good Intentions fans: the moment Rachel steps into a scene, the word count just kinda explodes. And it's not even all expletives.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Playlists -- Audience Participation Welcome!

I have no idea how I got to #1 on Kindle’s Military Sci-Fi list. Or how I’ve been so lucky as to bounce around on Amazon’s top ten in sci-fi for over a week. Or how I’ve seen Good Intentions jump back into the top 100 for erotica… but thank you. So much. I hate to lead off a blog post for the second time with a big “thank you,” but it certainly seems appropriate.

On to another topic:

This probably won’t come as a shock to anyone, but music plays a big component of getting into the mood and mindset for what I write. I’ve got playlists for things I write. Hell, I sometimes have playlists for specific characters.

I can’t have the music on very loud when I write. It messes with my head and disrupts the flow of actual words until all I get are repeating images that I can’t type out. I’ve also found that music without lyrics is much easier to write with… but I’m simply not into much classical (and basically no jazz), so my selections in that regard are a little thin.

I wanted to share what I’ve used as playlists for my two novels. I would absolutely be interested in hearing if anyone has music they have tended to listen to while reading my stories! Comment below!

Poor Man’s Fight has on an iTunes playlist I have quite literally labeled “Iiiin Spaaaace!”

1.       Tomorrow Never Knows as performed by Carla Azar & Alison Mosshart
2.       Second Chance by Shinedown
3.       Storming New Caprica off the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack (Season 3)
4.       Indestructible by Disturbed
5.       Walk by Foo Fighters
6.       Sing by My Chemical Romance
7.       Hold On by Sarah MacLachlan
8.       Fumbling Towards Ecstasy by Sarah MacLachlan
9.       Diamond Eyes by Shinedown
10.  The Farthest Star by VNV Nation
11.  Legion by VNV Nation
12.  A Good Lighter off the BSG soundtrack (Season 1)

The first two songs off this list completely captured the mood of the story for me. Each time I heard them, I felt like it was time to go write… and so I played them over and over again when I felt like I should be writing. As an aside, “Storming New Caprica” went on repeat for me during the pirate raid on Qal’at Khalil. Merciless, pounding drums, right?

Good Intentions… well, that one has some songs for specific characters:

Joan Jett -- Do You Wanna Touch
My Darkest Days -- Porn Star Dancing
Theory of a Dead Man -- Bad Girlfriend
Bette Davis Eyes – Kim Carnes
Substitute for Love -- Madonna

Orianthi – According to You
Lady Gaga – Born This Way
P!nk -- Trouble
P!nk -- Raise Your Glass

AC/DC -- Highway to Hell
Jimmy Eat World -- In the Middle
Rev Theory -- Hell Yeah
Michelle Branch -- All You Wanted
Nelly -- Just a Dream (flashbacks)

Social Distortion -- Bad Luck
Katy Perry -- Teenage Dream
Jason Derulo -- In My Head
Delhi 2 Dublin -- Dil Nachide (This is, by the way, the greatest band you've never heard of.)
Asia -- Don't Cry
Lady Gaga – The Edge of Glory
Sympathy for the Devil – Guns ‘n’ Roses cover

That's it for tonight. However, I want to give notice: the next blog post (or perhaps the one after it) will likely feature the prologue to my next book, the sequel to Good Intentions. I'm currently working with the title of "Natural Consequences," 'cause, well... you just can't wreak that much havoc without it coming back to haunt you one way or another.  :)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Tall Enough for This Ride

First thing I should say: I am completely stunned at the level of interest and support I’ve had for Poor Man’s Fight. My book has succeeded way beyond my expectations. The most that I had really hoped for was that it would do about as well as Good Intentions… but in just 17 days, I’ve probably sold as many copies of PMF as I sold of GI all last year. I cannot express what a difference this makes in my life and in my writing ambitions.

Thank you. Seriously. I don’t know what else to say but thank you.

Something about the book itself:

I’ve been meaning to write Poor Man’s Fight for at least 15 years. Maybe more.

All through childhood, I had no doubt that I would enlist in the military. I loved all things military. The G.I. Joe comic did more to teach me to read than any of my (very dedicated and capable) elementary teachers could. I had a lot of veterans in my family (Mom was Air Force and proud of it), and while none of them ever once put any expectation on me to do my time, my interests and world-view certainly did set that expectation.

It was the early ‘90s. I wanted to get involved in drug interdiction. The Coast Guard quickly became the obvious choice. I signed up. Boot camp was hard.

My first ship was much, much harder.

One of those constant themes I derived from all that reading of military history and military fiction as a kid was camaraderie. I didn’t go in looking for new friends, but I did naively take for granted that I would find new friendships easily. I’m a personable guy. I had a great many friends in high school. One might have even called me “popular,” but I hadn’t a clue until the day of graduation because I didn’t run with what I presumed was the “popular crowd.” So, yeah, I figured I’d probably be able to get along with most if not all of my shipmates, just like all the guys in all the TV shows I’d ever seen about war and all the movies I’d seen and…

…and, yeah, not so much.

I was a scrawny, nerdy nineteen-year-old kid from the “land of fruits and nuts” who had voted for Bill Clinton, for God’s sake. I got put on a 110’ patrol cutter out of Key West, Florida with fifteen older guys who had nothing in common with me except the uniform. I got seasick—a lot. I had been on boats before enlisting, and I had thought it was fine, but then I discovered what real water was like. I have never liked drinking, and these guys were largely enthusiastic drinkers in a party town. My roommate was a good ol’ boy from Alabama with racial attitudes that horrified me and my multicultural Los Angeleno sensibilities. I was plainly not man enough for my supervisor, or his supervisor, or the captain. And it’s very hard to stand up for yourself when there’s a formal, legal rank structure with you at the bottom.

It was the hardest, loneliest year of my life. It’s not fair to say that they were all dicks, or that they were jerks all the time, or that there was never any reason that they might be justifiably annoyed with me… but overall, it was miserable. By comparison, boot camp had been a blast.

Tanner’s story isn’t mine. Tanner isn’t me. We’ve got some significant commonalities, as many protagonists will have with their authors, but I made a point of making sure he diverged from me in a lot of ways. Tanner doesn’t want a uniform. I wanted to be a successful serviceman so badly it hurt.

But my experience on that first ship—I was only there for a year, and then I transferred out and things got better—really influenced me. It also inspired a good portion of Poor Man’s Fight, at least thematically. Like I said, I had always drawn the notion from books and film and TV that comrades were supposed to be, y’know, comrades. Friends. Or at least not constantly shitty to each other.

I wanted to do a book where none of that camaraderie happened, because I had never read that book before. It’s probably out there somewhere and I just haven’t discovered it, but just the same, I wanted to write that book.

There are a lot of stories from my ship I wish I could’ve somehow worked into Poor Man’s Fight. We rescued people and we caught drug smugglers and I was part of the “Haitian Vacation” of 1994. I saw no combat, but I nearly died so many other ways it’s kind of funny looking back on it now (unless you’re my mom). There was the point where we went into drydock for six weeks, and I kind of snapped and started pulling pranks and throwing out insults right back at everyone.

There was also the night I realized I could hack it after all, no matter how awful all the circumstances were. Luckily, that happened only one or two months into my time on the ship.

The day I arrived in Key West was the first day of a massive influx of refugees from Cuba. They came on anything that could float. I’ve seen a family of four on a raft no bigger than my dining room table. We picked them up by the dozen, and eventually offloaded them to a larger ship. This usually involved our Rigid Hull Inflatable Boat, kind of a Zodiac boat stowed on the back of the ship and launched through use of a big crane.

So one night, with maybe a hundred refugees on our deck and the seas getting nasty and rain falling, someone decided it was time to offload onto a larger ship. I went out into the rainy night along with the rest of the deck department to launch the RHIB.

The motion of the ocean, as they say, got uglier with every moment. We had hundreds of pounds of RHIB swinging over us. I was on one of the stabilizing lines, with water constantly spraying all over my face and my glasses. I got worried about my ability to do my job, and figured I should warn my boss.

“Jim!” I yelled. “I gotta tell you, man, my glasses are full of seawater. I can’t see what I’m doing too well!”

Jim was in his thirties and balding and running the controls on the crane, and admittedly wasn’t a complete jerk to me all the time. He just kept his bespectacled—and water-covered—eyes on what he was doing and said, “That’s okay, Elliott, I can’t see a damn thing, either.”

And right then, I stopped worrying about whether or not I could handle all this. All that hype about precision and professionalism from the recruiters and the advertising? Bullshit. It’s just people stumbling along as best they can, just like the rest of the real world. They make mistakes and screw up and pick up and move on anyway, ‘cause the job still has to be done. And dumber, jerkier people than me could do this job. Other people had lived through this. There was no reason I couldn’t, too.