Talks

Knowing When to Hold ‘Em

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No, this isn’t a Kenny Rogers homage (I got that out of my system early in my career—and you can read it here, if that’s your sort of thing). I’ve been thinking of the relationship writers have with ideas, and the differing schools of thought. I read one author’s answer to how he kept track of ideas—I forget if it was King, or maybe Konrath—which was basically Write them down so you don’t lose them. But the ones I had to write down in order to remember usually ended up not being very good. The best stories grabbed ahold of me until I wrote them.

I’m paraphrasing, of course, but you get the idea. I can see the value in writing down ideas for later. I have a plain-text document with snippets of ideas going back 6-7 years. I have half-finished stories as old as that. I’ve gone back and reworked years-old partials into complete stories that were completely different from the original intent. I’ve also probably forgotten more ideas than I have recorded. Were most of them crap? Perhaps. Some of the recorded ones are crap. I also have a couple of ideas I’ve neither written nor recorded, but which have stuck in my head for years. I’ll write them one day. I know it.

My wife and I discuss my work sometimes. There are things she’d like to see me do, because she thinks the result will garner more attention and money for my art. I don’t think she’s wrong. A talk she and I had last month yielded what could possibly be a breakout mainstream novel for me. I’m stoked as Hell to get to work on it. Right now, though, it only exists as the merest of outlines in my head. That’s OK. I know I won’t forget it. And according to the guy I paraphrased earlier, that means it might be Real Frickin’ Good. And every so often, the missus asks me why I don’t write one of these Right Frickin’ Nao.

I’m not in a rush to write it, though. Doesn’t that sound strange as all get-out? I have a theory of my own that I’m following. I don’t think I’ve seen it championed elsewhere, though I’m not arrogant enough to believe I’ve actually Stumbled Across Something No One’s Ever Thought of Before. I’m going to hold off on writing that novel, and a couple of others I have in mind, until I’m even better at my craft than I am now.

Don’t get me wrong. I haven’t been trying to sell you anything that I didn’t feel was solid, entertaining work. If you can buy it, I think it’s worth your time. But I am still growing as an author. When I started writing for publication, 1500 words was my norm and 20K seemed like an epic. As I’ve grown, my stories have naturally grown in length—novellas come naturally to me now. I’m getting to the point where I can comfortably crank out a novel. I have a finished novella right now that both of my pre-readers say needs to be a novel, so I’m laying it aside and going back to it after I finish some contracted work.

Stephen King wrote several novels before selling Carrie—sold them eventually, under the name Richard Bachman, but they got a bunch of rejections when he first tried to move them. I’m sure he revised them prior to re-pitching, taking advantage of the experience he gained writing The Shining, ‘Salem’s Lot, etc. Joe Konrath wrote ten (give or take a couple) novels before he landed a contract for the Jack Daniels novels. My buddy John Everson just released his sixth novel, which has been in the works for something like a decade.

I don’t think I’ll end up scrapping five novels before writing a salable one. I’m too tenacious and willing to hack and revise for that to happen. I do seem to have a good instinct for when to bail on a sinking ship and just toss a piece into the Recycle Bin. But a few of these ideas, like the one my wife put in my head—I don’t want to still have my training wheels on when I knock them out, you know? So I’ll be holding on to them. Maybe for a year or two. Maybe longer.

If it’s any consolation, I’m itching to write them a thousand times more than you are to read them.

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Archive: Hand-holding Ain’t Happening

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I’ll be in Salt Lake City from the 29th to the 1st, attending the World Horror Convention. I’ll have something from the archives for you here on the site each day, though. The conversation behind this blog post happened about a year and a half ago (OCT ’10), but my reasoning is as sound and relevant now as it was then. I probably won’t be changing my mind any time soon, either. The “publisher of my upcoming novella” is publishing the sequel later this year, has just pu

This week’s *facepalm* moment is courtesy of an author I spoke to online tonight. The author, who’ll probably come across this blog post given the wide dissemination my website’s material has across a variety of social media, is the father of a bouncing baby book. Self-published, POD-all-the-way-baby. Now, this may not be the kiss o’ death that it was a couple years ago; the marketplace is evolving, as I (and alot of better people than I) have pointed out on multiple occasions. It does have bearing on the rest of the situation, so I wanted to bring it up. Newly self-published author. With me so far?

Author pops up wanting to make small talk, and asks me about my side business, which is a Virtual Assistant company run by my wife and I. Because we mention marketing and promotional services, he thought maybe I did these things for authors. I don’t at present, though I am talking with a company about doing just that, but anyhow, all this led up to a discussion of this author’s marketing efforts. Basically, this guy is doing nothing to promote his book, isn’t sending out review copies (he stopped after ‘a few PDFs’) and is just ‘going to wait until a publisher picks up the next one. Promotion is their job.’ I’m paraphrasing him, but you get the idea.

What makes you think the publisher will have a promotional budget, or that they’ll be willing to spend it on you? I ask him. They’re not going to spend much money on promoting your work unless you’re a bestseller. They want a guaranteed return on that investment.

‘My agent will convince the publisher that I’m a bestseller,’ he responds. ‘That’s his job.’ But the guy isn’t promoting his book, isn’t sending out review copies, AND… I almost forgot… took down his website. Doesn’t have a website. In the third decade of the Information Age, during a time when the entire industry is changing (possibly in his favor, even, if he plays his cards right), when he’s already at a disadvantage by being a plankton in an ocean of self-published work, not all of which is (or will ever be) consumer-ready to begin with. No website, no reviews, and probably no sales numbers, because people aren’t just going to wake up in the morning knowing you exist.

Imagine if I walked into a random biker bar and told all the guys in there that they were going to give me all their money, without a fight, because I’m the best fighter any man has ever seen and they don’t wanna test me.

If your book’s intended audience is more than just friends and family, you need to be ready to market and promote your own work. Even if you have a publisher. Damnation Books, the publisher of my upcoming novella, even wanted my marketing strategy in writing once they decided they wanted the manuscript. Black Bed Sheet, the publisher of my second book, has been a partner in promoting my book since prior to publication, but even then, I’ve had to take the lead. They put the blurb I acquired from a pro author on the cover, but I had to get it. They’ve used quotes from reviews in their marketing material, but I sent the book to the reviewer (and tens of others). They sent print copies to reviewers who insisted upon them, but I made the initial contact and obtained mailing addresses.

I’m not dicking them down for that, either; it’s just a simple fact across the board that small presses have no budget for marketing. Another simple fact is that no one could possibly know the book better or want it to succeed more than the author themselves. It’s also not just a small-press syndrome, either. I’ve had authors from major publishers tell me about the lack of promotional support given them by the publisher. If you’re not Steve King, you’re probably gonna do the lion’s share. Alot of the authors you love are probably great at it, too. They have blogs, message boards, newsletters.

The worst part about the whole deal, though? This author isn’t ignorant. Ignorant, I can understand. In an era where any random asshole can self-publish his own book, it’s a simple matter of statistics that most of them aren’t going to know how to lay a book out, edit a manuscript or design a cover, let alone plan a marketing strategy and implement it. When all was said and done, though, after explaining to him everything outlined in the preceding paragraphs, his response was ‘Yeah, I know where you’re coming from. I used to think like that, but now I don’t.’ I was ignorant once. I did jack-shit when my first book came out, and I got jack-shit in return. Learned my lesson, though.

Seriously? I wish him the best, but I think he’d be better off giving my biker-bar strategy a try. The end would come quicker.

For those who don’t want their hands held, but could use a little hand up, here are my essays on procuring blurbs and reviews and webpage design for writers.

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Throwing in the Towel

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About a week ago, I came across a thread on a private forum I frequent from an author I know in passing. He wrote a nice, long, heartfelt post about how he was quitting writing because he didn’t feel he was good enough at writing fiction. He compared it to a fighter who knows he isn’t good enough to make pro, so he gives that shit up, but might stay involved in training new talent or whatnot. He said he’d be staying involved in one way or another (he’s also an editor). There were the sort of reponses you might imagine:

  • “You’ll come back. You always come back.”
  • “I’ve thought about quitting before; Hell, just yesterday!”
  • “I’ll never quit, it’s in my blood, etc.”

You get the idea. Of course, I had to chime in. And what kinda pal would I be if I just rehashed what had already been said? So, here’s (most of) my post from the forum:

If you CAN quit–and I believe this applies to anything–YOU SHOULD. Life is too short to spend time doing things you don’t feel like you can’t live without.

End of 2010, I realized that I was juggling a family, a military career, a side-business with my wife, a writing career and drum or bass guitar (sometimes both) practice at church for over three years. It was getting to be too much. Something was gonna have to go.

I gave up the music. I’m a much better author and editor than musician–I was good enough to play bars, but that was about it, and with the military moving me around so much, the only steady playing I could do was in church. Do I miss it? Absolutely. But I can encourage my son to play. His grandfather bought him a drum set for Christmas, so I still get my jam time in. Who knows what’ll happen when I retire from the Army? But…like I said, the very fact that I COULD walk away was a pretty good indicator that I SHOULD. And so far, I haven’t had any regrets.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Today’s douchebaggery is brought to you by the letter “L.” Now, a word from our sponsors… But hear me out. Aspiring to be a pro author is a shitload of hard work. First, you have to write. Then you have to make sure your writing is technically sound. You have to find a publisher. Sometimes, you have to find an agent. You might have to find another publisher or agent if the first one rejects you. You have to do all this with multiple projects at one time, while looking for your next project. You have to promote your work. Maintain a website. Interact with readers. Contact reviewers. Attend conventions. Network with colleagues.

Conventional wisdom has it that something like one percent of authors are pros making their whole living from writing. One percent. A recent college study showed 1.37% of women would say yes if a stranger offered sex. The average person has a better chance of finding sex in the street . If there’s anything you like to do that would fill the void left by quitting writing, it makes logical sense to do that other thing.

For me, there’s no substitute for telling stories. Everything I’ve done for the past six years has been worth it. Many other writers feel the same way. But not everyone is wired the same way. Just something to keep in mind. If you realize you can’t live without it after all, you can always come back.

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The Writing Warfighter

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I work hard to keep a wall between the different aspects of my life. I don’t want my family to be plastered all over my website and public profiles to such an extent that my wife is accosted by nutjobs at conventions if all my hard work pays off in notoriety. The clients of my family’s side business may not enjoy zombies, serial killers and such. Military operational concerns (and the plain ol’ desire to not want to deal with it when I’m home) necessitate minimal revelations to the public about my career in the Army. That last one, though, is sometimes that hardest one to keep separate.

My military life coincides with my writing life more than anything else. Most recently, this was brought to mind by Drew Williams’ recent guest piece on Brian Keene’s blog. Drew solicited personally inscribed signed books from a number of genre authors, then sent the box of 32 books oversea’s to a buddy’s troops in Afghanistan. You should read the whole blog entry, but for those with limited time, here are the names involved, because you should totally support them with your cash:

Kim Paffenroth, Cody Goodfellow, Harry Shannon, Nate Southard, Michael Laimo, Maurice Broaddus, Bob Freeman, John Skipp,  Steven Shrewsbury, Gene O’Neil, Scott Nicholson, Tom Piccirilli, Brian Knight, Mike Oliveri, Gord Rollo, Lee Thomas, J. F. Gonzalez, Mort Castle, Kelli Owen, Brian Keene, Mark Rainey, Nate Kenyon, Sephera Giron, M. Stephen Lukac, Bryan Smith, Elizabeth Massie, and Weston Ochse. (And a second thanks to Brian Keene for letting me borrow his blog and one to Brian Knight for finding a few extra “RARE”ities!)

Reading this got me to thinking about a similar experience, which I shared in the comments on Brian’s blog. I started my writing career while on a FOB in Afghanistan, and a few months after I began making friends in the horror community, Ms. Fran Friel, a lovely person and outstanding Stoker-Nominated author, conducted a similar drive to send books for me. I got a box of probably twenty or so books later that month. I read my first books by Gord Rollo and Stephen Mark Rainey that way, amongst others, and I’ll never forget that amazing display of generosity.

That was just the first of many overlaps. During my last deployment, to Qatar, I stumbled across a Permuted Press anthology, ROBOTS BEYOND, in a random pile of books in a barracks common area. Having reviewed a number of Permuted titles and being on friendly terms with several of their authors, I was tickled to find this. I ended up submitting a story to the editor’s next antho, as a matter of fact, and it was shortlisted (I’m still not sure when, if ever, that antho is coming out, but I can’t wait to read it). It was so nice to have a little taste of home that I didn’t have to chase down. I also have a few older Dorchester titles, procured from a lending library, that I still haven’t read.

During that same deployment, I made friends with an Airman while riding the post shuttle. He also was a writer, and had recently self-published a novel through Createspace. He only had a few weeks left on his deployment when we met, but we killed a decent amount of free time together. Not only did I advise him on a way to break his series down to make it more palatable to editors, I also recovered the entirety of the EIGHT THOUSAND DOLLARS he gave Booksurge in return for shitty editing, cover design and book production.

I wrote the bulk of the stories that would eventually become MAGICK & MISERY and DESPAIRS & DELIGHTS while deployed to Afghanistan. I wrote the entirety of WILD while deployed to Qatar.

I gave a powerpoint presentation on the small press to a group of soldiers in order to obtain my instructor credentials at the US Army Signal Center. I penned an essay on military service as a support system for creative efforts while in a leadership course. I’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of that piece, and its work probably still isn’t finished.

I’ve met an astonishing number of genre stalwarts who formerly served or are still on duty, either in the regular army, the Guard or Reserves or as government employees. They include, in part, Brian Keene, Weston Ochse, Bryon Morrigan, R. Thomas Riley, Jeffrey Wilson and Tim Deal, among others. I know I’m forgetting several.

I’m grateful for the occasional intersections my military life makes with my writing life. It’s important to keep them separate for the most part, both because of national security and the preservation of my sanity, but I’ve also met some great people because of crossed paths. It’s even opened a few doors for me, because if American soldiers past and present comprise approximately 1% of the United States population, horror authors publishing while on active duty are an even smaller, and sometimes fascinating, segment. Most importantly, I’m grateful to have a respected and honored career with which to pay the bills and support my family while pursuing my dreams.

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Military Service as a Support System for Creative Efforts

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For Veterans Day, I dredged up a post from the previous incarnation of my website. Some of you may have read this before. For those who haven’t seen it, this is, essentially, my “secret origin” as an author. Everything below this dotted line is from the original post.

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Author’s Note: I typically keep my military life and my budding career as an author completely separate from each other. This is a choice that I’ve made; I could probably write the occasional essay or blog post on knucklehead soldiers I’ve served with or deployment hijinks, but really, I don’t want to bring my work home with me, and for me, writing = home. Army Lincoln is not the same as Author Lincoln (or Business Lincoln, for that matter).

Every so often, however, paths intersect, and I figure I’d share one with you today. This is an essay I wrote last year during Advanced Leader’s Course (basically, a six-week class on how to be a Staff Sergeant). We were instructed to write about any topic relating to our personal experiences in the military. Since the military is mainly responsible for the genesis of my career (and for supporting my family while I write on the side), a paper focusing on how the two intersect seemed appropriate. I didn’t want it to go to waste, so I figured I’d share it here.

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Abstract

My paper is about the manner in which I’ve meshed my military service with the beginnings of a second career as a published author. I’ve accomplished most of my work as an author simultaneous with my most important work as a Soldier; that is, while deployed. During the course of two deployments overseas, I’ve written the bulk of what eventually became two published collections of short stories and a novella slated for publication in January 2011 as a limited-edition hardcover and in March 2011 in paperback and digital formats. While I’ve been a writer in some form or another for as long as I can remember, the drive behind my dual careers is a promise my wife and I made to each other that we would not allow our time apart during deployments to be wasted.

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to outline what I believe is a rather novel concept; mainly, that military service has the arguably unique ability to support creative people in the pursuit of their arts. Creative people, for instance, dancers, painters, writers and musicians, are typically forced into careers that use their talents to make their employers, rather than themselves, richer, or are else driven to careers outside of their creative interest in order to support themselves. People desiring to make their living in the arts generally have their back up against any number of walls; these include the creation of work “on spec” (that is, creating the art, writing the story, choreographing the dance, etc. and then attempting to sell it) and the rather problematic situation of being able to pay the bills, afford insurance, etc. when money doesn’t flow as expected or necessary.

Military service solves some of these problems. Stephen King, the famous horror author, tells more than one story of how a check from an editor arrived just in time to pay for his child’s medication, or a utility bill. A Soldier just setting his feet on the path to literary greatness doesn’t have such issues; I didn’t begin my career as a publishing author until around the age of 24, but had I done so at the age of 18, I’d have been able to provide medicine to my children without concern. It is practically a given that anyone attempting to be creative is more likely to be successful when under less stress. That the military provides a decent living (providing one has skills in the area of budgeting one’s funds), provides additional allowances for housing and food, and comes with insurance, is of immeasurable value, particularly in today’s economy.

Description of Events

I deployed to Afghanistan with the Tenth Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, New York in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in January 2007. This was my second deployment; my first was to Iraq in 2004. That first deployment was a complete waste, as far as I was concerned; not only did I return from combat to divorce my wife, who had spent all my money, but I’d done nothing to improve my life over the course of the entire year. I could have attended school, gone to the gym to bulk up, picked up a new hobby, or even written a book. When I wasn’t doing my job, I spent all my time playing music and video games and watching movies.

When I deployed the second time, I was newly married to my second wife, and we discussed how disappointed I was in my tour to Iraq. As a brand-new Army Wife, she was concerned about the survivability of our marriage and the strength of our relationship. The solution we came upon together was to make a promise to each other; that even though we were apart, we would strive to make progress in our lives so that the year apart would not be a year wasted. We accomplished several goals together (saving some money, buying new furniture and finalizing my adoption of my wife’s daughter) and my wife succeeded in a few goals of her own (finding a great job, completing her Associate’s degree and winning an award from the United Way). I returned to college myself and in addition, within a couple of months, rediscovered an old love: I started writing fiction again.

I’ve been a writer for as long as I can remember, except for the five-year stretch I spent with my first wife. I’d been published several times as a child and served as a reporter and student editor of a community newspaper with a circulation of over 10,000 during my senior year of high school, a position which led to an internship at the Rochester, New York, Democrat & Chronicle. I had several stories in various stages of completion stored in a lockbox, where they’d sat since high school, and sitting on my bunk in that humble Afghanistan mud hut with my laptop and a brain full of ideas felt like driving my car again after a year away, or like that first night back home. Having my first story in almost a decade win a contest and get published in not one, but two venues within months of each other was just the icing on the cake.

Not only did I write and submit several other stories for publication (all of which were accepted by a variety of print and online publications) throughout the year, I also accepted stories for, edited and produced an anthology of horror stories by other writers, all while serving as the night-shift supervisor for Bagram Air Base’s backup Joint Network Node (JNN). The anthology was published in December 2006 and while now out of print, was well received in the small-press community. The bulk of the stories written during my deployment to Afghanistan, plus a few written in the months following, became my first book, a collection of short stories entitled Despairs & Delights.

I continued to write when I redeployed to Fort Drum and after my relocation to Fort Bliss, Texas (where I lived at the time Despairs saw print). In 2007, I deployed again, this time with the 1-43rd Air Defense Artillery Battalion to Qatar. My wife and I made the same promise to each other again. A few weeks before flying overseas, I signed the contract for my second collection of short stories, Magick & MiseryMagick was published in August 2008, halfway through my deployment. My wife and I bought some nice stuff for the house, she completed her Bachelor’s degree, and I started working on a third book; this time a short novel, based on a real-life unsolved missing-persons case from the Old West, spiced up with gunslingers and zombies. I finished writing WILD the week I redeployed to Fort Bliss it was accepted for publication in September 2010.

In addition to writing the actual books, my work as a writer involves maintaining my website and social networking presences, scheduling book signings and meeting as many people in the industry as I can (online and at conventions). Since 2006, I’ve gone from a brand-new face in small press horror to an author who can sell limited-edition hardcovers of his work at a modest price, and to whom new authors come for advice. There’s even a reasonable chance that I can support my family with my writing after retirement. I firmly believe that none of this would have come to pass without my military service.

Outcomes

After four years of simultaneous work as a Soldier and author, I have three books either published or pending publication, a thriving interactive website that gets many hits a day and a small critique group of writers that read and comment on each other’s work (leading to the eventual publication of at least three other books to date by members of the group). Additionally, I began reviewing books by other authors in the genres in which I write, in order to provide additional content for my website. This in turn led to a contributor position at Shroud Magazine reviewing books and conducting interviews with other authors. I’ve made steady progress in the field; I started out writing short stories and having them accepted by publications that did not pay authors for their stories (the point of such publications is mainly exposure, and to get your feet wet as a new author). I now write exclusively for paying markets, and am being published by increasingly better-known markets.

My work as an author has also had a phenomenal impact on my military career. My focus and drive, as well as my increasingly well-honed communication and organizational skills, have led to two promotions in the past two years and a successful deployment as a Patriot battalion Tactical Operations Center (TOC) Battle NCO in charge of collecting and disseminating information to and from subordinate and higher level units. I also served as editor of the battalion’s monthly newsletter, supervising the work of a couple dozen officers, noncommissioned officers and Soldiers, editing drafts of articles and designing the layout of the newsletter itself, which was distributed each month to several hundred Soldiers and their Families.

Lessons

I have learned that military service only prevents a person from achieving personal goals if that person lets it, and that an Army career can actually be a help rather than a hindrance. I’ve learned that pursuing your dreams while serving as a Soldier sometimes requires a little creativity (I conducted a book signing tour in three states while moving to a new duty assignment, and have been interviewed on internet radio shows while deployed!) but that these exercises in creativity can help you as a leader of Soldiers, as well. I recommend that anyone in the Army who has the slightest interest in doing something with their Army life besides Army-related things pursue his or her dreams. It is not as impossible as it seems.

Conclusion

It only makes sense to make the most of the Army life; after all, the Army plans to make the most out of you. Setting goals for yourself will serve to keep you focused in the face of situations the average person can’t even imagine being in. Not taking full advantage of every resource you have is inefficient at best, and a failure as a Soldier and leader at worst. My experience has shown that a career as an author can thrive hand-in-hand with a career as a servicemember, and no matter what your dream is, you can succeed, maybe to an even greater extent than if you weren’t in the military.

Bibliography

AR 25-50, Preparing and Managing Correspondence, 3 June 2002

DA Pamphlet 600-67, Effective Writing for Army Leaders, 2 June 1986

Crisler, Lincoln, Despairs & Delights, February 2008, Arctic Wolf Publishing

Crisler, Lincoln, Magick & Misery, August 2009, Black Bed Sheet Books

Crisler, Lincoln, WILD, Publication Pending, Damnation Books

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