Reviews for Deadblood

5 Stars for Deadblood on Amazon & Goodreads

"This twist on the legend of vampires is quite refreshing as it brings to mind the question, 'How much do we really know?'I would recommend this book to anyone who likes the supernatural..." ~


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Writing Process Blog Tour

I’d like to thank Toi Thomas at for involving me in this blog tour. I’m new to this sort of thing and sort of fell down on the job with regard to finding other writers to participate. Honestly, I’m not all that connected, but I’m working on it.

The way this works is I’m supposed to answer four questions about my process and work. Here goes nothing.

1)      What am I working on?


My current project is The Paler World series. It’s a series about a young man who finds himself at the center of a war for the existence of all the magic hidden just under the world we see every day. He must learn to see the Deeper World and use its magic in order to fight for his life and honor his parents, but first he has to figure out what he really believes and which side he should be on. The first book, The Flatstone Beach, is in revisions and I hope to have it published within the year.


2)      How does my work differ from others of its genre?


Honestly, it beats me. Just kidding. I hate this question because to answer it you have to be a real egotist and I already over-indulge that aspect of myself. All written and spoken stories, going back to before written language, build on and inform each other. I don’t write literary fiction, but I’ve read some wonderful stuff in that genre and it inspires me in my own work and gives me an ideal to strive for. Certainly the speculative fiction I’ve read also influences me a great deal. I feel like we’re all, as writers, inveterate borrowers and for me to say that my work is in some way unique or special gives short shrift to authors who I may not even remember reading or whose stories were subsumed in the work of another without anyone even realizing it.


I think I’ve done a fairly well at dressing my story in a different set of borrowed clothes than I’ve ever seen used together before. I’ve tried to avoid using many of the terms in the lexicon of fantasy writing by imagining the practical uses of these things in a vast and ancient magical community, and how these people might reasonably discuss these terms and items. There is an underlying etymology and lexicon that I’ve tried to make as reasonable and original as possible. I think this approach of trying to break out of the fantasy shorthand that we all share has given me some deeper insight to my characters and their world than I might otherwise have achieved. Beyond that, the best things about the story are the quick-paced action, the coming of age trials, the sense of wonder at a world beyond our knowing—in other words, my own spin on all the very unoriginal things about fantasy stories that we fantasy readers all love, expect, and keep coming back for.


3)      Why do I write what I do?


Because these are the stories I would want to read. I write across several genres and non-fiction areas because I find them interesting and want to share what I find interesting about them. I think almost all people want to share stories. The motivation behind me telling a story about magic, or a quantum computer, or an alien parasite isn’t so different, at its heart, from the motivation of a guy telling you about a great sports play or the lady who tells you about the most recent cutest thing ever that her kid or cat did. There’s something that fills our heart, or excites our mind, and we want to share it. I find this to be one of the most redeeming things about the human experience because even if the story is ugly or terrifying, it’s a reaching out for community, and often an attempt at uplifting others with something that had an uplifting impact on ourselves in some way. The biggest difference is that I use a laptop and keep my distance while most story tellers trust their audience enough to engage them face to face.


4)      How does your writing process work?


The blog just prior to this one goes into great detail on this subject, but in a nutshell, once I start on a project I work on it exclusively until it is done. If I have other ideas, I write them out and file them. When I’m done with the current project, I go through the file to see what the next most exciting project is and start that one. I consider revisions a separate writing project and blogs and so forth are marketing and don’t count as writing at all.


As for the creative process, I read, I watch documentary television a great deal, I listen to NPR. I am just constantly on the lookout for something that interests or moves me so I can turn it into a story, including my wife’s descriptions of her truly unsettling nightmares. Once I have that seed, I’ll turn it over and look at it from every viewpoint I can imagine until I see a facet that was unexpected. I then take that idea and try to turn it into a story someone might find interesting. Sometimes the idea comes quickly, without much reflection, and then I’m suspicious that I didn’t examine the story enough and that it is obvious or too derivative. In a small, but growing, number of instances the story comes out of a dream. Sometimes the dream provides an inspiration that I can put through my normal process of analysis, as is the case with two that are in the file and awaiting my attention at this moment. Much less often, as in the case of “Terrible Weight”, one of my most successful stories, the dream is a complete, beginning-to-end narrative that I can get out of bed and essentially transcribe into a complete work.

My One Rule About Writing

I really do have just one rule about writing. This isn't a "One Rule" a la Barney Stinson either. It's the only one and I mean it. Ready?

"Don't start a new writing project until you've finished the current one."

A lot of writers will understand the temptation to work on more than one project. You're slogging through, trying to find that thing that's missing, or fix that something that just doesn't sit right, or maybe you've been at it for 70,000 words and you don't see the end. Then one day you hear an interview in the car or you're lying in bed turning over a half remembered dream in your head and, BOOM, brilliant new idea. You get inspired and start typing. You ride that crest of enthusiasm all the way into shore, but not, usually to the end of the project. Now you're stuck again and you have two projects that aren't ready to be shared with anyone. How do I know? Over a period of about 20 years, before I created my Rule, I started literally dozens of works of fiction of all lengths, but only finished a handful and published just three.

I realized I needed a different approach and now I have The One Rule to Finish Them All.

A lot of writers will disagree with my rule and many will favor what I call "The Joss Whedon" method. Not long ago I read an interview with Joss Whedon in a business magazine in which he outlined his recipe for success and the piece which stuck out to me, because I disagree with it, was what he called, "Eat dessert first." As I understand his point of view, Joss believes you should do what you're fired up about and go back later to fill in the hard and boring parts. Well who are you going to listen to? Me, a guy you've probably just heard of, or the creative juggernaut that is Joss Whedon? Hmmm. Perhaps I should re-phrase.

Once you're on the level of a Joss Whedon you can work any way you want. In fact, once you have Buffy the Vampire Slayer up and running you're pretty well on the way because writing, or creating and having others do a lot of the writing, becomes your full time job. The problem is getting to that first far and elusive milepost. Maybe the new idea that you're really hyped about is the one that will get you there, but you can't know that until it happens. What you can be absolutely sure of is that the unfinished work on that flash drive in the back of your desk drawer will never get you there unless you finish it. The first Buffy script might have been made up entirely of fun parts, but few stories worth writing are so blessed.

 I'm FB buddies with author Heather Elizabeth King, who recently posted a video about how to get published. The secret, she says, is to write something good. Heather contends that to do that, you have to "give yourself the gift of a first draft." I absolutely agree. Editing is a different project than writing the first story. Don't edit along the way. Power through to the end and then go back and tune it up. If you stop to edit along the way, the chances of getting bogged down and leaving a project incomplete increase dramatically.

I'd encourage any author to try my rule on the last thing they sat down to work on. Don't try it from scratch with something that looks more fun. Finish the one you worked on most recently, especially if it's difficult. The challenge will make you a better and more disciplined writer. You'll also begin to see the subtleties of The One Rule and understand how to adapt them to your unique workflow.

The rule will work a little differently for everyone who tries it. The way it works for me has developed over the last couple of years. For me a project is the first draft of a new project or the edits and revisions of a previously completed first draft. I also view editing and revising as a separate project that gets its own time in my creative spotlight.

This rule is not the rule that will get you published or get your movie made. The idea is to finish your story so that you have a vehicle to take down the road, hopefully all the way. After you complete that vehicle you still have to edit, refine, and promote, but at least you'll have something to edit, refine, and promote instead of just an unfinished idea.

When I first started working like this it wasn't a rule per se, but it led to a good deal of success for me. I was doing well in competitions and getting good response from editors with several different stories, all written in a relatively short period of time -- about six months. Other aspects of my life took me away for a while, but that initial test was still valid. When I got back to writing in late 2012 I didn't follow the method I'd had so much success with and I didn't get very far. I hadn't codified the Rule yet, but I still managed to break it by engaging in a complicated re-write of another, earlier project, while writing a new first draft. I took on too much and was unable to juggle both “Deadblood” and The Flatstone Beach.

When I realized that “Deadblood” was pulling me off task I should have probably dropped it, but instead I finished it because it was far closer to being finished. By that point I was actively working on two projects and it was hard to determine which was primary, so I went for the quickest completion.

Fortunately, I had recognized what was wrong fairly quickly. I formalized the One Rule and finished the project that was closest to completion – the "Deadblood" re-write. After that I returned to work on The Flatstone Beach exclusively. By February of this year I had a complete first draft of that novel and sent it out for reading and editing. Since early February I've written four short stories and a novelette. All four shorts have been through edits and revisions, and three have them are currently under consideration by various publications. In short, I've completed more work in the last two months than I had in any previous year, and in the last 14 months I've more than doubled the amount of completed works in my entire fiction writing career.

So if writing is a new first draft or the revision of a first draft, what is all the other stuff writers do? Obviously, I still blog, I still do social media and other marketing, and I still write queries, and send submissions. I don't consider these activities to be writing because they don't advance a story. These are marketing activities. Making changes sent to me by an editor are what I consider a "production" activity.

And what happens when that thunderbolt comes to me with the next great idea? I write it down quickly. You can't, and shouldn't want to, stop your mind from wandering to other creative avenues and projects. When a good story element or snatch of dialog comes to me, I get it down quickly and file it with my other notes for that story. That way when I finish the current project I have a file full of exciting stuff to launch me into the next one.

For this to work I have to know my limitations. Writing is usually very energizing for me, but at the end of a project, right as I'm finishing, my energy level drops and I get a little bummed. I don't know why. You would think finishing something would be the best part, but for me it's the worst and I know that I'll need a couple of days, or even weeks, away from writing to recharge. I also suck at editing stuff that I've recently completed because I remember it instead of reading it.

After this break, I give that first project to someone else to edit and start a new one. Once I'm done with the first draft of the new project, I'll do my own edit of the first one and then compare it to what I get back from my editor or beta-readers. This process is a separate, new project. This got me in trouble with “Deadblood” because the editing work was so extensive. I mistakenly viewed that edit/re-write as "not writing" and ended up splitting my writing time between two projects, slowing both to a crawl. It was much slower than working on the two projects in sequence because I needed to mentally change gears and voice as I bounced back and forth between the two, very different projects. I liken it to a method actor in two different plays having to get in and out of two characters every night. It wastes time and can actually become confusing.

 Author's typically set goals for progress. Mine is now 400 words per day, no matter what, and extra words done today don't roll over to tomorrow, e.g. if I write 642 words today, I still owe myself 400 tomorrow. I still blog (though less than before), market, and make notes on other ideas. But all of that is in addition to the 400 words per day. I don't write any other story in the sense of writing from beginning to end, nor do I revise a draft of a different story. That discipline keeps me focused on my top priority and keeps me moving forward to completion. That's my One Rule in detail and I hope you can adapt it so it works for you.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Crowd Source Criticism and Trent Reznor

About a week ago I heard a promo for NPR’s All things Considered which advertised an upcoming interview with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails. I enjoyed the on-air portion but it left me wanting more. Fortunately they posted the long form hereMaybe it's just because I'm a music nerd but I thought the best parts were left out of the broadcast edit. For instance he talked about what I've begun referring to as "crowd-source criticism". 

Trent Reznor
Reznor said, "I think we live in very dangerous times right now... with the Internet and the feedback loop you can get from people who somehow feel their fingers are connected to an impulse — first second of hearing something, I need to write some reaction that gets blasted out to the world." It's essentially what I'm doing right now; critiquing an interview that, in part, discusses a critique. Is my criticism more valid because of my past credentials or is the reporter more valid because she works for NPR? Do you need to have credentials other than the support of the crowd? It seems not, but a lot of snarky and ugly stuff does get pushed to the surface when the crowd is the only determiner of quality.

I started in the small press, which was the internet for people born before 1980. When I started we had trouble getting press passes and were looked down upon by publicists and “real” journalists. I actually found that small press (I wrote a lot for regional entertainment papers) had a harder time getting treated as members of the press than did my community college newspaper. I found this terribly frustrating at times, especially when I would see an interview with a major act that I hadn’t been able to get. In one instance in particular the publicist for a punk rock icon said I could interview his guitar player if I wanted, but the icon himself was interviewed by a major publication that did a truly awful job. Having that experience, I’m interested in what makes criticism or commentary worthwhile. Snark, unfortunately, gets a lot of eyeballs these days, but there is also a lot of truly poor journalism on the websites and in the pages of major media outlets.

When Reznor lamented, "I could spend a lot of time being frustrated about one aspect of the press, which is what low qualifications are required to become a quote-unquote journalist these days.", I wanted to hear more of that discussion. Unfortunately the journalist didn’t dig as deeply as I would have liked. This was also within a couple of days of AP making, at least to Nine Inch Nails fans, a huge attribution mistake regarding Johnny Cash’s cover of the NIN song “Hurt”. Perhaps the NPR interview was conducted before that story broke and broadcast later, but it was a wonderful coincidence that this happened at AP, an organization that should have the best qualifications and processes, within days of Reznor challenging the threshold of journalistic qualification.

I hope someone does another Reznor interview soon and really sounds him out with regard to what is journalism and what is criticism and how it is different from what we do on Facebook and other social media sites. Is crowd-source criticism more or less legitimate if it lacks journalistic credentials?  Those are topics I'd love to hear discussed in detail. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Gift of Baseball

As I’ve watched the Little League World Series over the last week or so I’ve reflected a lot on my own relationship with the great game of baseball. As we watch the Series play out in Williamsport, PA, it’s easy to draw on the all the old lessons about teamwork, good sportsmanship, and even learning to lose. But those great lessons aren’t really unique to baseball. In fact these sorts of themes are repeated so often that I wonder if they don’t become somewhat cliché. I wonder if we say them so many times as adults that the kids stop listening.  Yet as I watched the back and forth battle between Westport, CT and Sammamish, WA on August 13, as I saw the will to win in both teams and the true sportsmanship in both the overjoyed victory and the crushing defeat, it was obvious that those lessons are being taken to heart. This is a special game.

For me it started when I was a boy of six. I played my first season of T-ball with a hand-me-down glove from one of my mother’s cousins. I was a small kid, skinny, and a terrible runner. At school I was always the last picked for everything. In that first season of T-ball things didn’t get much better. It was the beginning of two or three seasons of stints in right field.

Two great things happened in that first season though. For the first time ever I was on a team, and a winning team at that. This was huge. I was not a strong player and I was picked on a bit by the older ,more talented boys, but I got to play and I got to be a part of something I could never have done on my own.  Of course every team sport teaches teamwork and it could be argued that some make a kid feel even more a part of a team because the positions don’t stand out so obviously in an offensive line or a group of soccer midfielders. In baseball, where you play is immediately obvious and you are immediately accountable. It is a team sport that sharpens rather than dilutes the individual, not just for superstar performance, but for their overall contribution to the team. Is it any wonder that this is the Great American Pass Time?

The other great experience was that I got better. I swung the bat more, I threw and caught more, I ran more and with every practice and game I got a little better. I liked getting better. I liked it so much I would take my second-hand glove and a tennis ball and bounce that ball off the back of my house for hours almost every day. I learned that depending on how I threw the ball I could make it come back as anything: line drive, grounder, one-hopper , or pop fly. I started out just trying to catch ten in a row, then twenty, then fifty. I made the catches harder on myself by making the ball come back further from my starting spot or come back faster. Of course to do that my throwing accuracy had to improve. Ultimately I played whole World Series out against the back wall of my house every afternoon for months. I got good, really good, over just a couple of seasons. More importantly, as I got better I believed more in my self. I believed that I, as an individual, had something worth contributing to a team and to other people. This is a belief I have carried with me as an athlete, professional, father, coach, and author.

After that, on any day that was warm and dry enough, and on which I didn’t have practice or a game, I was on my bike. And my mother’s cousin’s old glove was hanging from my handlebars as I rode far and wide looking for someone to throw, to catch, to hit with. I wanted to share baseball everywhere I went and I did. I was still skinny and not so tall, but I had learned the skills of the game and more importantly I had learned that I could be more than just what was given to me.

In time I would become an outstanding catcher and center fielder, I would throw more runners out at second than any catcher in my district and in one season in Junior High I hit over .700. I never hit six feet tall, I stayed skinny almost all the way through high school, and I was never a Presidential Fitness Award winner. I just learned the skills and did them the right way.

Baseball didn’t care that I wasn’t big. It just required me to put my heart into it and to practice and play with passion. As a coach and a fan of youth baseball I’ve seen the smallest kids on the field stand head and shoulders above everyone, as players and as leaders, time and again. Some people refer to a sport as a “love” or a “friend” but I see baseball as a teacher and constant reminder that we can be more than what we are given and that sometimes, something as unassuming as a worn out, second hand glove, hanging from bicycle handlebars is a gift that lasts long after it has been lost or passed on to the next generation.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

How "Deadblood" Was Born

My "new" novelette, Deadblood is out on Amazon as an e-book only, as of today. I originally wrote the story about 20 years ago. I came up with the idea while I was marginally employed as a music journalist in 1993 and 1994, and doing a lot of low-rent travelling around the U.S., interviewing and photographing music artists in the then-burgeoning alternative rock scene. Alternative and Indie are different, though not mutually exclusive descriptors, but that's a rant for another day.

That first version was called "Dying the First Time" and was published as a chapbook in the mid-90's. It was widely rejected by genre magazines in the late 90's. Throughout the 90's there was talk of doing a comic book series based on the idea. I wrote a dozen scripts and some initial pages were drawn, but the project fizzled for reasons I don't really call. I gave up on the story and forgot about it until a film came out in the early 2000's that seemed to incorporate the most critical factor of the story. That's another tale entirely and I'm still a little sore over that experience, so enough said.

In the mid-2000's I actually was starting to have quite a bit of success in contests and getting the attention of editors with more "science fictiony" stories but then I got a good, but demanding, job and started my Master's program, so that was that for a few years.

Now with school a year and a half behind me and my day job evened out, I'm throwing my spare hours into my true avocation. When I was finally able to turn my attention from cost accounting, organizational behavior, marketing, industrial organization, and statistics, I knew I wanted to get some writing done. I started in November 2012 with National Novel Writing Month and a story from a dream that has become The Flatstone Beach. I started on November 28, I think. So obviously I didn't finish by the end of the month, but I kept going and am now about halfway through the first book of what has grown into my The Paler World series.

As I've gone along I've wanted to start meeting potential new friends to share my work with and I got the idea (not terribly original) to re-publish some earlier stuff so readers could get to know me. As I looked through my files, I saw the dusty, worn, and neglected folder labeled "D1T". I was actually nervous about picking it up. I opened it with dread. Twenty years ago I held a GED and had taken two comp courses at my community college. I'd only published non-fiction at the time I originally wrote the story. I had written a lot of non-fiction, but a lot of that wasn't very good. I was afraid to see how bad a fiction writer I was 20 years ago, prior to earning three college degrees, including a writing intensive undergrad degree.

Now I'm not trying to say higher education is over-valued, but I was sucked right back into the story written by my under-educated, younger self. It contained some dated references and some dead giveaways of my immaturity, both generally and as a writer, but it had good bones. So I violated my one rule of writing, i.e. don't start a new project until you've finished this one, and spent about a month rehabbing the old girl. And here she is. I hope you find (or found) it a worthwhile way to spend a few pages.

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