Update on Seeker of Legends

I'm about a quarter of the way through writing Seeker of Legends, the sequel to Hunter of Legends!

I expect to finish the first draft by January, and spend a month or two editing and formatting it for publication. I've also started re-reading the 80 or so pages I've written of the 4th book in the Runic series, and am excited to start working on that as well.

I'll keep you updated as usual, both in this blog and on the home page of my website, with the usual graphs showing percent completion of each stage of writing. I'll also post the first chapter or so of Seeker of Legends in a bit as a teaser.

Creating Characters for Your Book

Stories are usually character-driven...making your characters the most important part of your novel. The more interesting and believable your characters, the better your book will be.

Great characters can make up for a so-so plot. Look at the Marvel films. Most have the same basic, well-worn plot (evil threatens the world, heroes must work together to save it), yet the characters - the deeply flawed Tony Stark, fish-out-of-water Thor, brooding and back-stabbing Loki - keep you coming back for more.

We love these characters.

The same goes with your books. If you have characters people love, readers will buy your books just to see what they do next. So how do you create characters for your book?

Do you create an excel spreadsheet, writing down every detail of their past, their psychological profile, their favorite colors, their strengths and weaknesses? Do you draw detailed pictures of every item of clothing they own? Every relationship they've had? Their hopes and dreams?

I would caution against it.

Now, of course everyone has a different way of writing, and of creating their characters. But in my experience, the more detail you use when initially creating your characters, the less real they become.

Because, in over-using your logical brain - the logical, list-making, problem-solving part - you stifle your creative brain. That part that seems to work by magic, creating things out of thin air, without you having a damn clue how you did it.

Now, as a physician, I can tell you that I have a well-developed logical brain. I'm all about facts and math and problem-solving. But as a writer, I have to turn this part of my brain off. I've never fully created a world, or a character, with this part of my mind. Sure, you have to start with it. Maybe you outline the basics:  the rogue with a heart of gold, the bumbling mad scientist, the wise wizard, the rich, dominating businessman - but when it comes to writing the character, turn that logical brain off.

See, your characters - after a certain point - should write themselves.

You'll be in control at first. You'll use your logic-brain to write them...until they start being real to you. Until they come alive.

Once that happens, your creative brain takes over. The characters start writing themselves. They tell you what to write. When you try to force them to do things they wouldn't do, they resist. They push back. You start to feel like your writing is going in the wrong direction. You start to get "writer's block."

And if you try to force them too much, your readers won't believe in these characters.

You see, your logical brain just draws the barest outline of a character. Just enough that you can kinda tell who he or she is. Your creative brain fills in the details, the colors. It animates that character. Breathes life into them.

Now, sometimes it takes a long time for a character to come to life. I've written 90% of a book feeling like one or two of the characters is still dead. A wooden, lifeless stand-in. So I re-write these characters. I do it until the character comes to life. And when they do, I sometimes have to completely change their whole side of the story. Because they tell me what I need to do. This happened to me with Erasmus in the Runic series. And with Sukri and Gammon in Hunter of Legends.

I can tell you, with utter seriousness, that after the first novel in a series, I write for the same reasons a reader wants to read...to see what happens next. To see what my characters will do.

Because I have no idea what they'll tell me to do next.

 Because they're alive to me.

I know that if I don't feel this way about my characters - or at least most of them - I'm not doing it right.

So I recommend resisting the urge to over-create your characters at the beginning. Give them room to grow. Leave them mostly a mystery, one that you can unravel over time. Because your readers will be doing the same.

 

 

How to Smash Through Writer's Block

Ah, the dreaded writer's block. That singular affliction of writers, a disease of the mind that paralyzes the fingertips, making authors stare at an endless expanse of white screen, a reflection of their empty minds, fingers hovering over the keyboard. A catatonic state that can last days, or sometimes weeks.

A disease with no cure save for the passage of time.

Luckily, as a physician, I've studied this disease extensively, and I've come up with a cure!

How to Smash Through The Block:

Writer's block is caused by the (mostly false) belief that you need to be inspired to write. Nothing is further from the truth...in fact, I'm not inspired to write this at all! 

Your muse, that strange, uncontrollable part of your mind that is the source of your creativity, is lazy. A damn, no good, lazy bastard. It's that roommate who lays on the couch all day smoking weed and watching Netflix while eating your food. You need to kick it to make it work. Or find some other way to inspire it.

How do you do that?

Write.

That's right...write. Put your fingers on the keyboard and start typing. See, at first your muse will remain silent. Your writing will be forced and uninspired. But as you write, ideas will start to flow, and you'll find yourself entering a groove. Your muse will start talking to you.

You need to write to become inspired, not the other way around.

I don't suffer writer's block anymore, because I write every day that I can. If I'm stuck, I outline. Or just force myself to type. I can (and often do) delete a bit of what comes onto the page, but that's okay. Frank Herbert, author of the Dune series, said that when he looked back at his novels, he couldn't tell the difference between the quality of his writing when he was inspired, and when he was just plowing through, forcing himself to write.

So write!

If you haven't written a book yet, that's your secret to success. Just write. It doesn't need to be perfect the first time...that's what editing is for. You're never going to build muscles if you just think about going to the gym. You have to go almost every day, whether you feel like it or not. The same goes with writing. Don't talk about it, don't think about it. Just do it.

Half the time I sit down to write, I have the urge to do something else. It just seems too hard at the moment. I don't feel inspired. Then I start writing, and boom, the words just come. So kick your muse, and start writing!

Like, now. Stop reading this and write something!

Dealing With Bad Reviews

Congratulations...you've published a book! After years of hard work, your masterpiece is ready for others to enjoy. Now it's time to watch those glowing reviews come in. Go on...hit the refresh button on your book's Amazon page a few thousand times a day. Five stars, here we come!

And then it happens: The Bad Review.

Because you see, some people are going to hate your book. And what's worse, they're going to hate it publicly (the bastards). They will describe, in brutal detail, everything that sucks about it. Your baby is going to be publicly eviscerated, and there is nothing you're going to be able to do about it.

Don't panic.

Instead, follow these simple rules!

Rule #1: Don't defend yourself

Your first instinct is going to be to protect your baby. Write a counterpoint to every wrongheaded view that bastard of a reviewer (who probably hates theirlife and wants nothing more than to crush you) managed to type with their sad little fingers.

Don't do it.

Some people are going to not like your book. Hell, some people hate kittens and babies. That's okay. They're not out to destroy you (I hope), they just feel strongly about your book. And if your book is pretty good, most of the reviews are going to be alright. One bad review is not going to tank your book.

Rule #2: Don't check for new reviews before bed

Admit it, you check your Amazon page for new reviews a few billion times a day. That's normal - and extremely unhealthy. Don't do that. And for the love of God, DON'T check for new reviews right before you go to bed!

I wish someone had told me.

You'll be laying in bed, your phone clutched in your hands, eagerly checking for a bump in your review count one last time. Wait, hold up...what's this? *Gasp!* Another review!

You scroll eagerly downward, and then you see it: the bad review. And not just any bad review...an utterly devastatingly bad review. 30 pages long, dripping with disdain.

You conduct an impromptu crash test of your phone case, throwing your phone across the room. Then you stare up at the ceiling, imagining all the horrible (and highly illegal) things you'd like to do to your reviewer. Morning comes, and you're still staring at the ceiling, imagining yourself strangling the bastard. After having re-read the review 4,000 times.

Which brings me to my next rule:

Rule #3: Read bad reviews once - and only once

Read your good reviews over and over. You've earned it! But don't obsess over the bad ones. Read them once, process them, and let them go. The more you think about them, the less happy you'll be. You don't need closure. Hell, a year after they're written, bad reviews still give me heartburn. Go write another book.

Rule #4: Don't check a good reviewer's review history

You got a GLOWING review! Yay! You're on cloud nine. This reviewer frickin' LOVED your book. Thought it was the best damn thing they've ever read. They liked it better than chocolate and coffee and meth and sex. Combined. Or taken sequentially, your pick.

Then you look at the other books they've reviewed...and every single review reads like yours.

The glow fades. You feel duped. That 5-star review means nothing now.

My advice? Hold on to that high, baby. Treat it like a new girlfriend or boyfriend that thinks you're the greatest guy/girl/etc. they've ever been with. Chances are they said the same thing to their previous partner, but do you need to know that? Nope! Bask in your ignorance! Knowledge is pain. 

Rule #5: Learn from it!

Bad reviews feel awful, but making mistakes often does. Some reviewers have a point...and as an author, we can learn from them. We can grow by fixing the mistakes we made in our current books and avoiding making them in our future ones. Think of bad reviews as your teachers. Teachers you never asked for and don't like very much, but you know, teachers.

Rule #5: You'll break these rules

Yeah, I can't follow them either.

 

Seeker of Legends!

Now that Hunter of Legends is published, I've dug in to write the sequel, Seeker of Legends. I'm 40 pages in, and going strong! I've already hired Bookfly Design to create a book cover for January 2018, and plan on publishing in February or so.

I'll create a bar graph soon that will show my progress, and as always, I'll keep you updated here on my blog!

Fear & Understanding

As the father of two multi-racial boys, I've spent a lot of time thinking about the events of Charlottesville, and of nationalism and racism in general. I wrote Hunter of Legends after the birth of my son, who is half-black, half-white.

As those who've read the book know, Hunter of Legends delves into nationalism, and some of the ideas that drive it. I wrote the book partially to better understand where people who believe in nationalism - including white nationalism (as opposed to supremacism) - are coming from. There's a tendency to reject ideas we find unacceptable, to refuse to think about them or consider the perspective of those who hold those ideas. I believe it is important to do the opposite; the more unacceptable an idea, the more important it is that I understand it. That I understand how it came to be, and why people feel the way they do.

I've spoken to quite a few people from different cultures about nationalism and culture, including the concept of cultural dilution and cultural "genocide." It's interesting to note that these concepts are not just ideas held by white nationalists. I've spoken with people from Kenya who bemoan the gradual loss of their culture due to the influence of more westernized cultures and the rise of urbanization. I've spoken with Native Americans who believe that their culture - already devastated by the very real genocide perpetrated against them - is still under siege today, and that the lack of young men and women to continue their legacy may lead to the death of their ways. I've spoken with Asian Americans who, having immigrated to this country in the 70's, regret the fact that their children and grandchildren have less and less interest in their native traditions.

In all of these instances, the idea that one's way of life - their traditions, beliefs, and rituals...the things they hold near and dear in their hearts - may die away is shared. There is an underlying fear there, and mourning for something lost. These are real issues, and not just for "white" people.

Hatred, racism, supremacism, bigotry, and violence should be condemned, and nationalism can lead to these, as occurs in my book. People use differences in culture to justify hatred and disgust for one another, and as Michel de Montaigne, the 16th century French philosopher noted, the greater the difference between cultures, the easier it is to hold disgust for them...to think of them as less than human. We do the same for cultures poorly represented in our media...including those of the middle east, who are seldom displayed as anything but villains in our movies and television shows. The same goes for African Americans, who are disproportionately displayed as criminals in our media. My wife bemoans the fact that, as a Black actress, she struggles to find roles outside of the gangster/drug dealer category.

I think it is important for us to have a discussion about the underlying drivers of these feelings and beliefs. If we do not understand each other - if we refuse to understand each other - then we will continue to hate each other. It is easier to have compassion for someone when you listen to them and understand where they're coming from. We don't have to agree with each other, and we live in a country where we are privileged to have the right to our beliefs, no matter how unacceptable they may be to someone else.

We'll never change peoples' minds by keeping our minds closed, or by vilifying people. I want to write books that make me think, and that take me out of my comfort zone. I hope that, in reading them, they do the same for you.

The Perils of Self-Editing

It came to my attention that a rather major series of edits for the first half of Hunter of Legends had never been completed prior to publication. After the first draft of each book I write, I get feedback from multiple reviewers, then make a long (LONG) list of changes to make...sometimes numbering in the hundreds. And with each sequential draft, literally thousands of individual edits are made (between 1,000-2,000 per run).

After publishing Hunter of Legends, I discovered that I had not made some of the most important changes I'd listed, most of them to do with Hunter's character arc. I've since fixed the issue and republished the book as of today, although the paperback version is still pending.

I apologize for any inconvenience, but am relieved that I discovered the error within the first week after publishing!

Runic Revelation Audiobook Available!

The audiobook version of Runic Revelation is now available on Audible, Amazon, and iTunes! In addition, the audiobook for Runic Vengeance is well under way. It should be available in August!

I'm also well on my way toward finishing the final draft of my new novel, Hunter of Legends. I'll be getting the first draft of the book cover tomorrow, and will post the finished cover as soon as it is finalized.

Hunter of Legends 80% complete!

I'm almost done with the first draft of my new book!

Percentage complete is based on an estimated end book length of 450 pages. I think the first draft of the book will be a bit shorter than that, as I've only got 5 or so scenes left to write.

I've found it quite fun writing a new book, although a bit challenging. Writing sequels in the Runic series was relatively easy, since I had a full cast of characters and settings already created. Kalibar, Erasmus, Kyle, and the other characters practically write themselves now, as I've noticed writing the first draft of the fourth book.

 Starting over from scratch with a whole new cast of characters, and describing a completely new setting, is much harder. It takes time for the characters' personalities to materialize, for them to come to life for me. The more I write about them, the more I get to know them...and the more forceful they are in directing their stories. For it doesn't seem that I'm the one writing about them...they write themselves, and correct me when I get it wrong. I am merely a transcriptionist, doing as I am told.

I'll keep you posted on my progress, both here in my blog and on the graphs on the home page of my web site!