That time I became a successful writer #writeeveryday #author #amwriting

RockyBalboaIf I had to come up with a specific trigger that decided me on writing a book, I guess I’d come up empty.  Put an experience a year behind you and things start to go out of focus, I suppose.  There had been plenty of false starts before I wrote Commune One, so I can’t really tell you why this one stuck and the others didn’t.  Maybe I wasn’t the right kind of person to write a book back then, whereas now I’m the kind of person I need to be.  Maybe it really was just all about learning discipline.

What I can say for sure is that, at some point, I sat down and started writing a story and, after hitting around the 90 or 100 page mark (I used to measure things in terms of pages at first), I realized that I was probably going to finish.  Moreover, I realized the story I had was probably going to take a few books to complete, and that seemed okay to me.  At no point did it occur to me that I might not get these done.  So, I suppose you can legitimately call me a writer now.  Or a hack.  That works too.

As I put the finishing touches on that first book, it occurred to me that I’d have to start worrying about publishing the damned thing, so I dove into that process as well (and learned a whole bunch of new and important lessons through its execution).  I learned how critical patience is, for example.  You don’t want to rush this stuff, definitely.

As the first couple of sales started to trickle in, I started looking towards what would be next.  For one thing, I knew I had two more books to write.  For another, I got curious about audio books.  If you’ve read some of my other stuff on here, you’ll know that I’m a passionate believer in audio books, given that they turn my daily commute into something I can look forward to rather than dread.  And it just seemed to me that, in a market completely saturated with new entrants at various levels of quality (I’ve seen self published works of outstanding caliber right alongside those of stunning mediocrity), it behooved a fella to do something to stand out from the herd.  This is just one of those important life lessons you pick up when you compete at anything for any given amount of time…and this market absolutely is a competition, make no mistake.  Writers are competing for time and attention, so step one is not getting lost in the crowd.

An audio book with your name on it is just such a way to stand out from that herd.  See, anyone can publish a book now; that’s not an amazing achievement anymore.  Signing with a publisher: big deal.  Putting your ebook up on the internet: not so much.  But an audio book…well.  That’s a thing that has to get produced.  Someone (other than you, your friends, or your family) needs to believe enough in the story you’ve created that they’re willing to invest time and effort into it.  In essence, you need other people to believe that your work is good enough that you can all make some money on it.  Readers (and listeners) know this instinctively: if they see that your novel has been released as an audio book, they figure maybe there’s more to what you created than just some random person button-mashing away on a keyboard.

Coincidentally, at the same time I was pondering this industry, R. C. Bray (my hands-down favorite narrator in the audio book business) decided to host a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) in which his fans could, you guessed it, ask him whatever they wanted.

Before I continue with this, I need to confess that, as I spent my wee hours of the morning contemplating the process of getting an audio book produced, I fantasized about having Bray one day narrate one of my books.  I vividly recall thinking that if such a thing ever happened, I’d consider myself a success as a writer.  For me, it wasn’t down to book sales or some big, fat publishing deal.  My meter stick was just being able to hear something I’d written alongside the likes of The Martian or The Mountain Man series or even the Arisen series.  I thought about that, silently, unwilling to mention such a conceit even to my wife, and advised myself to dream on.

During the AMA, I asked what I thought was a simple question: “Given the cost to produce the average audio book (I had read it could run anywhere from $10K-$20K, depending), could he offer any advice on breaking into the market for a newbie?”

His response was kind but clear: That’s a pretty deep question, honestly, and there isn’t enough time to answer that here.

He didn’t blow me off, though.  He sent me his e-mail address and said, “E-mail me this question so I know its you and, when I have the time tomorrow morning, I’ll give you the answer it deserves.”

So I did that and we got to talking offline.

There was a bit of back and forth and I explained what my situation was to him, insofar as stating that I was interested in getting my book produced in audio format but that I didn’t have $10K to put up to get that done.  Turns out that there are a few different ways to get the job done, some of which include profit splitting…in which case I only had to find a narrator who believed that my book was good enough to bet his/her time and effort on.

Now, as this conversation was going on, it happened that Bray went over to Amazon and bought the ebook of my novel without telling me.  You can imagine my surprise when, after getting a few chapters in, he told me he wanted to narrate the series.  I won’t belabor the point but I will say that I immediately called my wife and lost my damned mind into the phone.  I don’t recall exactly what was said anymore but she did have to remind me to breathe several times.

Commune - Audio Cover

My second book is now finished and in the editing process, soon to be sent out to my narrator (mostly so I can get it into his queue; he’s ridiculously busy).  I haven’t really gotten rich doing this and I honestly don’t care if I do or I don’t.  I decided a while ago what success as a writer meant to me: write something that people would enjoy and maybe one day hear it performed by my favorite audio book narrator.  Money is kind of besides the point.

I can’t really offer any advice to aspiring writers to replicate such a thing.  I can’t write an article that tells you how to craft a good story (hell, I’m not even sure that I’m 100% on the process) or even how to write competently.  A lot of what happened to me over the last year had more to do with luck and random timing than anything else.  How do I advise someone to be in the right place at the right time?

The best I can really do for you is to say that if I hadn’t tried, it wouldn’t have happened.  At no point during this entire process did I believe I was good enough for any of this to take place.  Even so, I said “screw it” and put my chips forward.

And that’s what it takes.  Have a little faith in yourself, despite any evidence to the contrary that you can dream up.

How to Finally FINISH Your Novel #writing #books

I was fourteen years old the first time I started writing a novel.  The first time I finished a novel was a couple of months ago.  I’m thirty-eight.

As you might guess, I have some experience with running out of steam.

Now, the first thing to understand is that I didn’t just live through twenty-four years of continuous attempts and failures to complete a novel.  That was twenty-four years of attempting to write a novel when I became inspired to tell a story (I’m bolding “became inspired” for reasons I’ll explain shortly).  My best guess lands at five or six distinct stories that I tried (and failed) to complete over that time line.  A lot of these occurred early on; very few of them in later years.

Having never completed a novel, I began to accept the idea that some people are writers and I simply wasn’t one of them.  I was a good communicator.  I was certainly skilled at writing my thoughts down.  And yet, whatever bit of internal wiring is required to tell a cohesive, 70K+ word story was apparently a gift with which I had not been born.  Without any great deal of regret (I didn’t really know what I was missing out on), I stopped trying.

Let’s fast forward a bit to now, where I’ve published my first novel, it seems to be getting pretty well received, I’ve signed an audio book deal, and I’m well on my way to completing the second book in the series and starting up the third soon after.  What the hell changed?

It’s actually pretty simple but the answer was so far removed from storytelling that I didn’t even realize it until fairly recently.  The pursuit of two activities literally gave me all of the tools I needed to complete a novel:

Power lifting and software development.

These are two vastly different disciplines that have a couple important parallels: namely, they take a long time to do well and you will definitely not enjoy every part of the process.

The problem I had with writing was that I was pursuing it as a leisure activity, to be done only when I was “in the mood” or “feeling inspired”.

Developing software is a part of my day to day job and, if you’re going to produce anything remotely useful outside of a miniature test app or school project, it takes a lot of time.  It takes time to first build an idea into a working platform and then it takes a significant investment of time to support that software and keep it from going stale (software of any moderate complexity absolutely will degrade and break down over time).  I certainly enjoy developing software, but I don’t enjoy all of it.  I like tackling difficult or unique tasks like developing TCP socket based command-response protocols, writing flight simulation software, or automating complex systems.  Mundane crap like file IO, serialization, and GUI design are the pits; to be classified as the painful, repetitive garbage that I have to slog through each time I want to develop a new thing from the ground up.  We design for code reuse and inheritance to mitigate this, but there is still always a point where you have to put a button somewhere or write the code to read a file.  It’s mind numbing and I hate it.

But, if I want to enjoy the finished product, I have to plow through that ignominious work.

It was the same story with power lifting.  If you’re of the inclination (not all of us are, which is cool), pulling a double body weight dead lift for the first time is an exciting, heady experience.  Getting to a point where you can do that is a never ending, punishing, mind numbing slog unless you learn to love the grind.  Power lifting is ALL ABOUT the grind.  You make no progress; you see no improvement whatsoever unless you get your work in every day, you’re consistent, and you stick to the program.  There are literally months of work invested for the sole purpose of accomplishing a lift that might take a total of ten seconds.  The first time I hit a squat for 380 lbs, I spent roughly 8 or 9 seconds under load, followed by racking the bar, feeling fairly good about myself, and then walking out of the gym to the amazement of no one at all.

Nobody cared but me, which is as it should be (I don’t compete).  All that aside, you need to understand that I trained for roughly three months to get to that point from my previous max (which at the time was 350, I think).  Those three months were not fun.  There were plenty of times where I would have been just as happy to stay in bed and sleep in rather than get up and go train.

In these examples, you learn that the days on which you aren’t feeling it are the most critical days of all.  It’s not about what you can accomplish when you’re feeling inspired.  Inspiration is bullshit.  Inspiration is enough to get your ass moving…and that’s about it.  By the time you’re looking at coming anywhere near the finish line, your fickle friend Inspiration is long, long gone (probably sleeping around on you, by the way).

When Inspiration has left, there is only The Grind.  And what you do during The Grind determines whether you achieve your goal or fall short along with everyone else who quit at those most critical of moments.

Writing a novel is no different from pulling 500 lbs off the floor.  That one act (i.e. publishing) is preceded by months of dedicated effort which must be spent whether you’re in the mood or not.  The days where you simply aren’t feeling the drive are absolutely the most critical days.  These are the times where you have to sit down and write no matter what.  When you’d rather be sleeping, rather be playing video games, rather be watching some show on TV, rather be out with your friends; these are the moments where you’ll be able to tell if you have a snowball’s chance in hell of finishing what you set out to accomplish.  If you can sit down during these times consistently and just write (even if that writing is shit), you have a good chance of finishing.

You’re not going to love every minute of writing your book.  Get over the fantasy and learn to love The Grind.

Josh

Author Joshua Gayou on @MightyNetworks #SocialMedia #author #books #fiction

mighty networksI happened to see an ad for this new-fangled Mighty Networks thing run across my Facebook feed (ironically, they were advertising on Facebook to tell me how ineffective Facebook is as a platform, but that’s neither here nor there) so I thought I’d go take a quick look at what they had.  There were some pretty interesting things over there, I thought.  It seemed like there were a lot more options for personalized, live connection with other users, many of which were a lot more elegant and better done than what I’ve seen on Facebook, Twitter, and even through what’s available here on WordPress.  Because of this, I’ve gone and setup a presence there that I’m hoping will become a place that readers find useful.  Among some of the other features provided, you can go there for:

And various other stuff besides.  I’ve also added links to the areas I think will be most useful in the top menu bar of the sight (see below).

Joshua Gayou menu

Come connect with me, IF YOU DARE….

MUAHAHAHHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHAHAAAHHAHAHAHAHHAH!!!

Or, maybe go eat a pack of Oreos.  Those are good too.  But totally come say hi after getting your Oreo on.

I will be doing a radio interview with host and author @SEvanTownsend #books #author #interview

Speculative Fiction CantinaThe good people at The Speculative Fiction Cantina have booked me for an hour long interview on August 25th, 6 PM Eastern Time (3 PM Pacific).  We’ll be discussing my book(s), writing in general, and any other thing that happens to come up.

The show is hosted by S. Evan Townsend, a gifted and well regarded author in the sci-fi/fiction arena.

Mark your calendars, my friends 🙂

What Writing a Book Taught Me About Reviewing Books #reading #writing #books #bookreview

I have a favorite quote that runs as follows:

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.

Anton Ego, Ratatouille

For a kids’ cartoon, this is one of the greatest quotes on the state of The Arts (in general) that I’ve ever heard.  Having written reviews on various films (and to a much lesser degree, books), I can say: yes – writing a scathing review lends itself to a certain perverse enjoyment.  Moreover, I do tend to enjoy similar reviews written by others regarding works that I didn’t like.  Yes, I know.  I’m going to hell.

Then I put my butt on the line and wrote a book.  I have a much different outlook these days.

I have ripped up various authors in the past whose works I considered to be inferior, although I can’t think of an instance of doing so in written form; I usually saved such activity for movies, which have always elicited a stronger, more visceral reaction from me.  But in casual discussion (either spoken or written comments on social media), I certainly have let it fly.

Man, I think all of that is over, for the most part.  I will say, however, that I’m reserving my right to pull the knives out for anyone clearly writing from a cynical point of view.  I’ll give you a good “for instance”, here…

I recently learned of a practice (because this kind of low-level industry stuff tends to fascinate me) wherein romance authors are going back and revising already released work in order to fulfill an ever increasing series of specialized fetish niches.  It hadn’t even occurred to me that this was a thing that you can do, and yet, having published a book, I have found how easy it is to upload a new manuscript any time I felt like doing so.

The more main stream your romance story is, the more competition you have to get noticed.  The more specialized your subject matter is, the more you stand out.  You get more attention.  It’s easier for people to find the book and send money your way.  On top of that, there are the thrill seekers who find themselves drawn to the bizarre out of morbid curiosity and you can probably get a few bucks out of them, if you’re outlandish enough.

Now consider: Author A releases a standard boy-meets-girl story to fairly decent reception.  A solid little base of fans is built up, all of whom buy into the romance and, for better or worse, fall in love with the characters.  Maybe this is a stand alone book or maybe it will grow into a series one day.

Perhaps a year or two later, Author A realizes he or she can generate a lot more notice and money by turning boy-meets-girl into brother-bangs-sister.  Names and relationships are changed, a few scenarios are tweaked, and cover art is swapped out.  A flood of new readers looking for an edgier, more forbidden thrill come rolling in, yet meanwhile a small collection of diehard fans are left wondering what just happened to a series in which they have invested a significant amount of time, thought, and emotion.

It sounds as though I’m escalating this quickly, yet I can assure you that there’s a thick, hardened, cynical rind on the self-publish industry; this is only what I’ve discovered in my short time thus far.  These kind of shenanigans are totally legitimate targets for vicious reviews, as far as I’m concerned.  Unfortunately, I tend not to read this kind of material, so you’re not likely to hear it from me.

All that aside, a lot of the young adult romance/fiction that I used to revile (the Twilight series standing in here as the patsy) was, at some point, the hard work of a writer who was excited about telling that particular story.  It doesn’t matter if I enjoyed the work or not; that story is the representation of someone who worked hard to dream up and create a tale about characters that he or she loved.  It doesn’t matter if it has technical issues, novice writing errors, or issues in plot, or if it is fan fiction, or what reading level it is considered to be.  In fact, some of Hemingway’s best work was on the level of See Spot Run, for God’s sake!

That author felt a drive to create something, and he or she sat down and worked at it.  They didn’t try to get famous for duck faced selfies or get IG hits for flexing their ass muscles in the bathroom mirror.  They made a thing with their own hands, minds, and hearts.  They’re not to be ridiculed.  Whether we enjoy their labor or not, they are to be celebrated, especially in this, our most illiterate of ages.

For this reason, I will never write an unfavorable review for a book I dislike (nor will I write a favorable review for a book I dislike, for that matter).  The author simply bled too much to have a jerk like me rip it to shreds.  I’ll keep my damned mouth shut, thanks.

Film, on the other hand, is a diversion created entirely through cynical means: a marketable product produced by committee for the sole purpose of ensuring a strong return on investment.  Open season, as far as I’m concerned…

Thank You to My New Readers #writing #books #postapocalypse

Thank YouTo all of you who recently bought a copy of my novel Commune Book One, I just wanted to take a second to say thank you.  I see it each and every time someone hits the purchase button.  It means a lot to me that you guys are willing to gamble your time and money on the stories I want to share with you.

I want to tell you all that I take your time, money, and consideration very seriously.  I’m well aware of the sheer mountain of material out in the wild begging for your attention.  It really can get overwhelming if you let it, and all of this is just supposed to be for fun.  I promise to bust my ass putting out good stuff that’s worthy of your time; your job is to take it easy and enjoy yourself, right on?

– Josh

Review: Solitude by Dean M. Cole #bookreview #sciencefiction #postapocalypse

Media: Audio Book (audible.com)

Producer: Blue Heron Audio

Performers: R. C. Bray, Julia Whelan

I recently stumbled upon this page-turner through the fact that I follow R. C. Bray’s Facebook fan page and keep up to speed on his new releases.  There has been a lot of buzz about Solitude running across my various feeds; incidentally, I happened to make friends with the author recently and I found some commonality in our backgrounds (he’s a badass helicopter pilot/I wrote instrumentation software for helicopter cockpits once upon a time in a previous career).  Additionally, there seemed to be some overlap between our two books, so I figured I’d better dive in and see what he had to say on the subject.

Publisher Summary

From the best-selling author of the Sector 64 Series!

Earth’s last man discovers that the last woman is stranded alone aboard the International Space Station. If you like action-packed novels, you’ll love the electrifying action in this apocalyptic thriller.

Can humanity’s last two unite?

Separated by the gulf of space, the last man and woman of the human race struggle against astronomical odds to survive and unite.

Army Aviator Vaughn Singleton is a highly intelligent, lazy man. After a last-ditch effort to reignite his failing military career ends horribly, Vaughn becomes the only human left on Earth.

Stranded alone on the International Space Station, Commander Angela Brown watches an odd wave of light sweep across the planet. Over the next weeks and then months, Angela struggles to contact someone on the surface, but as she fights to survive aboard a deteriorating space station, the commander glimpses the dark underpinnings of humanity’s demise.

After months alone, Vaughn discovers there is another. Racing against time, he must cross a land ravaged by the consequences of humankind’s sudden departure.

Can Vaughn find a path to space and back? Can Angela – the only person with clues to the mystery behind humanity’s disappearance – survive until he does?

©2017 Dean M. Cole (P)2017 Dean M. Cole

Spoiler Free Quickie

Writing: 5/5 Stars

The proficiency of Cole’s writing suggests that he is a person either naturally gifted or incredibly focused on perfectionism.  The writing itself is natural and effortless both from the perspective of the 3rd person narrative as well as the character dialog.  He shifts from formal description to idiosyncratic inner-monologue easily, effectively putting the reader into the character’s frame of reference.  I can only imagine that this skill must have made the book a joy to narrate for the performers.

Additionally, I could find no evidence of any repeated crutch phrases or expressions (many authors have an unconscious list of favorite terms or expressions that they overuse; it’s a massive pet peeve with me).

Story: 4.5/5 Stars

There were points in the story early on that bugged the hell out of me, which ultimately distracted me from the initial plot setup.  The end of the book managed to make up for this through a pretty impressive plot twist; however the initial mystery setup in the story jarred me a little and so I was distracted by it.  Unfortunately (given what Cole is trying to do with the story), I’m not sure there was an easy way around this.  I’ll get into details in the spoiler-laden section below.

Performance: 5/5 Stars

There’s not much I can say about R. C. Bray that hasn’t been said a hundred times already.  For my money, the guy is hands-down the best narrator/performer in the business.  He makes a book feel like a movie.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about then you haven’t listened to him.  Go rectify that right now.

The surprise for me on this book was the performance of Julia Whelan.  First, I need to get some undesirable business out of the way:

Women narrators have a much harder time doing male characters in this business.  This isn’t a sexist jab; it’s a reality of bio-mechanics and the physics of sound waves.  I don’t know what it is exactly – blame testosterone or estrogen – but something about the structures in the average woman’s throat makes it a lot harder to shift down to a male register than it is for a man to shift up into a female register.  It’s unfortunate but it is a reality; a very present reality that female narrators have to deal with.

Well, Whelan has got it figured out.  The bummer for any narrator performing a character of the opposite sex is that the best they can really hope for is to not be distracting.  That’s about your best case scenario: don’t distract the reader.  The worst case scenario is that you botch the job so bad that you have the audience laughing on every attempt.

I’m here to say: Whelan’s female characterizations were nuanced and well executed while her male characterizations were far above what I’ve come to expect from the female talent of the industry.  She did better than just minimizing distraction; she succeeded in selling her performance.  I was absolutely fine with every male she did in this book, evidenced by the fact that I wasn’t paying attention to her voice at all; I was paying attention to the character.

I would have to say that the only part of the performance that was a stumble for me (and this is ridiculously minor but I feel like I have to point out something) was that her interpretation of the male lead seemed just a little bit askew from Bray’s.  This wouldn’t be a big deal if either she or he had done the entire book; however because they were trading off POV chapters, there was a bit of a mental shift required on my part when I heard Bray’s Vaughn versus Whelan’s Vaughn.  Again: minor enough that I don’t even care.

Verdict

Are you still here?  Why haven’t you gone to download this yet?

Here Be Spoilers

This story is incredibly tight (it’s only about an eight hour listen) but there were about three or four chapters in the start where I found myself really distracted by the plot.  The setup is that some experiment has gone horribly awry at the CERN Hadron Collider, causing some nebulous energy wave to wash over the surface of the planet and vanish (potentially “kill” but I’m not convinced they’re all dead) all animal-based life.  Those not effected by the event have survived due to the fact that they are not physically connected to the Earth and are in a total vacuum (an astronaut on the ISS and an astronaut and test pilot conducting a hover test in a vacuum chamber on Earth).

So, here’s where I start nitpicking as an engineer.  Right away, I’m trying to dream up what phenomenon could possibly yield such a result.  Knowing what I know about the experiments conducted at CERN, I know there isn’t really anything they can do (awesome though the accelerator is) to create such an event.  Even assuming the power and influence of the machine could be scaled up to produce a gravitic effect capable of encircling the entire globe, there is simply no phenomenon even hinted at in today’s science that suggests an energy field of any kind capable of effecting only animal based life.  It’s certainly not anything we could produce by accident.

This is compounded by the fact that the authorities (US Government) in the story attempt to shut the event down by launching nukes at CERN: before this takes place, the idea that the energy wave comes from the collider is only a guess floated by the main characters, who are removed from all intelligence on the occurrence when they start postulating theories – meaning that I can write the idea off as a wild guess on the part of the characters.  The minute the United States starts launching nukes at CERN, I have to assign the theory a lot more weight within the confines of the story.  As noted before, the wave as described is a thing that the hadron collider could not possibly produce.  The fact that no one in the book is mentioning this makes me cranky.

I start second guessing myself as the book goes along.  Two things are happening at once here: the characters in the story are dealing with the problem and working through it, struggling to survive.  Meanwhile, in my car, I’m wondering if I have all my science wrong and if there’s some sudden breakthrough on gravitational research that I’ve missed somehow.  I noticed when they found the God Particle.  I rejoiced when they were able to detect the as-yet-only-theorized-about gravity wave.

Was I asleep when the scientists dreamt up the Man Made Carnivorous Energy Weapon?  I had some reading to catch up on…

At that point I would have taken any kind of explanation as a way out.  Hell, tell me it’s an alien attack and I’ll be happy!  In the end, I noticed I was missing way too much of the story and decided to chalk the whole thing up to Fucking Magic ™.  There was good shit happening in the book and I was missing it.

Once I calmed the hell down about the stupid collider, I was able to settle in and really eat everything up.  The story was told at a fast pace and didn’t allow much time to relax for a breather.  I will say that there were some bone-headed actions perpetrated on the part of Vaughn (the male lead), however these were in keeping with his character as it was established from page one, so these were not cheap gimmicks; they were earned.  The result, of course, is that you want to reach out and strangle the character rather than the author.  Good job, Author.

I tore through this thing all the way to the end of the story, where that damned collider came into the picture again.  Only this time, Cole threw a wrench into the whole thing with a nice little plot twist that managed to make me question everything I thought I knew about the setup in the beginning of the story.  The ending definitely created more questions than it answered but it was good to see that the author has a plan for what’s going on that is explainable through means other than FM ™.  I have some ideas regarding where I think he takes the story from here and, if I’m right, I’m all for it.  If I’m wrong he has at least earned my trust in this story sufficiently that I’m willing to sit back in the sequel and not drive myself crazy with so many damned questions.