Friday, May 23, 2014

Of Inspiration, Dreams, The Elms Hotel, Steampunk Detectives, and a Clockwork Killer

Novelists take their inspiration where they find it; songs, life dramas, friends stories, whatever. They have to, because inspiration is sometimes difficult to find, let’s face it, there’s no new idea under the sun. But the inkling for my last novel came to me in a strange way. A dream.
I was at The Elms, a huge sprawling Hotel in Excelsior Springs in Missouri, attending my local writer’s group weekend retreat. The Hotel is the third built on the site; the previous two buildings burnt down in huge fires, and was a frequent base for Al Capone and boxer Jack Dempsey. We had a great weekend overall. We done some writing in the same room that Harry S. Truman had once used, and we drank into the wee hours in the snug bar on the Saturday night.
Suitably tired, my wife and I retired to our old-fashioned room, and fell asleep. Imagine my surprise, when I woke in darkness, roused out of my deep slumber by a shocking dream. The bright red numbers on the bedside clock read 4:35. I sat and recalled the dream, and to my shock, found a whole novel in my head. A whole crime novel, thorough in every way, and in a genre I’d never touched before, Historical Crime.
I had all the main characters, an image of them, and their names. I knew the complete plot, from the first murder on page one to the final throes of the murder suspect. I had the period, a year after the American Civil war, I had the location, Chicago, Illinois, and I even had the surprise final plot twist that turned the book on its head.
I lay sweating in the darkness, wondering if I could sneak my laptop out and start writing, but my wife slept soundly, and I didn’t want to disturb her. I considered leaving the room to write in the Hotel foyer, but the thought of her waking up to find me gone dismissed the idea. So I settled back on the pillows, and determined to stay awake, the dream still fresh in my mind. But of course, nature weariness and the residual effects of the alcohol took its toll, and of course I fell asleep again.
When I woke, the morning sunshine was trying to break through the heavy velvet drapes, and I sat up, terrified that I’d forgotten the dream. The clock now read 7:35, and that made a trip downstairs far more acceptable. To my astonishment, I still remembered every nuance of the dream/novel, and jumped out of bed, dressed quickly, grabbed the laptop, and set off down to the foyer, leaving a sleepy wife behind who questioned my leaving through heavy eyelids.

In the expansive tiled foyer, which a hundred people could have easily played football in, I sat in a very comfy leather armchair and wrote the synopsis, plot points, and the first chapter, 1500 words in all. As the morning wore on, one by one the writers arrived and were told the whole dream thing, and they read what I’d written.
“You have to finish it!” They said. But of course, I already had many projects in the pipeline, and this new one had to sit for a year or three before I got the next surge of inspiration. It turned out to be a chance meeting and a chat in a bar, where I told the whole story to a writer colleague. “Why not make it Steampunk?” she asked. “Steampunk is very big right now.”
That did it. I set off that afternoon, and pushing all other projects aside (I usually have about six or seven novels on the go) I started work. I wrote the book in three months. I introduced some new characters not in my dream, and to my surprise book two automatically beckoned, looming large on book one's final pages, making my novel the first of a series.
The Clockwork Killer: Book 1 of the Steampunk Detectives, will be available soon, and I hope you enjoy. And to writers everywhere I say, take your inspiration by the throat and write well and hard. Never discard what you dream up, and always remain open to suggestions.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

FREE Novel: What’s in an Amazon Top Rank?

What does the Amazon Ranking System mean?
Well, sometimes it actually means quite a lot.

Scenario 1; An excellent author has done his job, and written a fine outstanding novel. The editors have taken the book, and sought out every mistake, and the “Comma Police” have trampled on every sentence making certain that no extra punctuation marks mar the structure. The cover has been painted by Van Gogh, and the title fonts have been carved in gleaming white marble by Michelangelo. The back-flap has reviews by the Queen, Gandhi, and God himself, and the preface was written by William Shakespeare. The book then sold 50,000 copies per day for six months, made every concerned very rich and got added to every bestseller list in the world.

This is what that ranking would look like;
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1 in Kindle Store #1 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks

Okay, okay, I know it doesn’t usually go like that, but a good Amazon Best Seller Rank could give that impression. Of course, it could be a very different story… (Yes, I know authors like this… and they know who they are!)

Scenario 2: This author has no writing skill whatsoever, but he thinks he has. He surrounds himself with a lot of rabid friends who tell him so every day, who then dash onto Amazon and write a number of superb five-star reviews, basically telling lies about the book’s contents. The editors have never gotten a hundred miles from the book, because the author is either so egocentric to think it’s already perfect, or has such a fragile ego that he can’t stand any form of critique at all. The book has been dropped in the “FREE” section of the Amazon Kindle store, with a bunch of naked torsos on the front cover advertising the “smuttiest porn you have ever read” while somehow maintaining a strict holier-than-thou attitude. Yes, it looks like porn, and it’s been downloaded a few thousand times. But this author has a secret weapon. He’s mastered the art of the Amazon Ranking System. Believe it or not, in Amazon you can actually pick your own genre to link your book to. And you can make it so specialized, that even with the three million books that Amazon sells, there’s only about ten books in the category. SO… even if your book is totally CRAP, and you’re the lowest book in that rare section, you’ll still show up as ranked number TEN.

As an example, here’s one of my own rankings in such a rare section.
Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,109 Free in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Free in Kindle Store) #10 in Kindle Store > Kindle eBooks > Literature & Fiction > Anthologies & Literature Collections > Horror

You see, there’s not much call for Literary Horror Anthologies, trust me. And this is how some authors look good on Amazon, while their actual product is way below par.

My own book?
The one with the #10 ranking?
It’s here…

Come see me at
Oh, and if you see any mistakes that the editors missed? Shh! It’ll be our little secret!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Can TV or Books Survive Without the Long Story Arc?

Can TV or Books Survive Without the Long Story Arc?

Sometime, back in the Black-and-White ages of television, viewers got hooked on shows, and watched each episode like opening a new bottle of beer (no one cares what order you drink a six-pack!). And in the days before video recorders, TiVo, and the DVD hard drive, it was essential that the television production companies keep each episode free-standing, so that if we missed one, it didn’t matter; we didn’t actually miss anything important.
In books, we more or less did the same, many authors had series of books about the same character, yes, but mostly they were essentially stand-alone volumes, single stories. They were written that way, meant to be read, and passed on to friends. Yes, you could be pedantic, and read them in the correct order, but mostly it didn’t matter. You enjoyed the characters, and you were enthralled by the stories, no matter what order you got them in. Let’s face it, in those days many of us got our books from the library, school, or friends, and we couldn’t guarantee them in any order anyway.
Then, in the dawn of the video recorder, around 1971, things began to change, people could record episodes when they were out, on vacation etc, and TV series began to have two part stories, and include details from previous episodes. The beginning of the long arc had surfaced.
In books too, writers had made the trilogy the mainstay of the long-arc novel, and it took guts to extend the series beyond that iconic number three. But again, mirroring television, the novel was about to change.
With the advent of increased cable television stations, the need to draw an audience grew, but a loftier goal was the keeping of an audience, and for that the television companies needed a hook to draw you back to a certain channel on a certain day at a specific time.
The long plot arc was born through necessity, and it’s here to stay. Today, we cannot imagine a television series without a long-arc plot. In fact, if the long arc is not presented quickly in the series, therefore giving us something to get our collective teeth into, we swiftly turn off, and watch somewhere else. There is a burning need to have a mystery behind every show, whether it be science fiction, horror, or soap opera.
In books today, we have so many series available in every genre that it is difficult to conceive of a single standalone novel anymore. Some authors do not even publish until they’ve completed at least two connected books. The age of the series is firmly upon us, and I for one am all in favor.
So, in summary, I ask the question. Do you, the book reader, read single books anymore, or do you hone in on a series?
In either case, tell me about your best stand-alone, your best series, the one of which you cannot wait on the next volume.
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