Friday, August 1, 2014

Lots of hard work happening right now

A quick note on a few projects I've got in the mix. I'm in the middle of launching a new website that should be going live before the weekend is out. I'm also working on the final draft of the fourth book in the Twelve Stones Series, which means it should be out by the end of the month.

News forthcoming... stay tuned...

rJ

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

A preview of The Twelve Stones: Petrichor for my loyal readers! 

The flames from the dragon’s snout were hotter than anything found on earth. The fire spat from Scott’s transformed body instantly vaporized most of Professor Maxwell Collier’s body. Emily Harper watched as her former fiancĂ©’s body was turned into ash by Alex’s friend Scott who had used the shape shifting stone to transform himself into a fearsome dragon. 

The ashes from Collier’s body floated down peacefully back to the ocean. Emily buried her face into the crook of Alex’s shoulder as Scott flew through the clouds enjoying his new body.

“We have to move…” Alex said softly to Emily who didn’t react.

Christina stepped up to Alex and slide her arm into her friend’s, “Em…”

“NO!” she screamed, whipping away from both of them. “We can’t just leave…”

“There’s nothing left Em…” Alex said. “We have to go and regroup before those men with guns back at the power plant figure out they weren’t hallucinating three giant birds and a dragon.”

Emily buried her crying face back into Christina’s shoulder who patted her reassuringly. Christina looked down at her friend and back at Alex.

“Better get Scott back,” Christina said softly, her eyes darting up to the sky where Scott was still flying through the clouds.

Alex nodded and began waving, trying to catch his friend’s eye.

Eventually, Scott spotted Alex and with a flick of his wings, aimed his massive body down towards Alex, Emily and Christina. Using the stone borrowed from Alex, Scott shapeshifted back into his human form, the massive dragon’s body deflating and returning him to his naked form.

“We’ve got to get back to the hotel and regroup,” Alex said firmly.

Scott didn’t say anything, only leaning down to pick up his clothes that were lying on the ground where Emily had dropped Alex’s backpack. 

“Can I get the stone back?” Alex asked. “I need some clothes.”

Scott glanced at the stone in his hand and his clothes in the other, hesitating for a second.

“I wanna try something…” Scott said and waved his hand over Alex.

Alex was suddenly dressed in a loud Hawaiian shirt and comically over sized shorts. He looked down at the ridiculous outfit he was wearing in dismay.

“It looks like Jimmy Buffet threw up all over me.” 

“Payback for turning me into a parrot…” Scott said with the slightest hint of a smile.

“Funny, but how about you give the stone back before you inflict your tragic sense of fashion on anyone else…” Alex said, holding his hand out.

Scott didn’t say anything, and only drew back, holding the stone close in to his chest. 

“Scott?” Alex asked again beginning to be concerned. “The stone…?”

“I…” Scott’s eyes began darting around as he took a step back. “You’ve got two stones already. Can’t I hang onto this one? I mean, think about it, if someone takes you out, we lose all three. Isn’t there something about keeping all your chickens in one basket, or whatever?”

“Scott…” Alex’s voice stayed soft, but there was a definite edge to it now, “I know how that stone can feel. It’s powerfully seductive… but you need to give it back before it takes over.”

Scott licked his lips and looked nervously at Christina and Alex. “You don’t understand…”

“I do…” Alex said softly. “I understand Scott. But, we’ve seen what happens when someone handles a stone they’re not ready for.”

“Alex, I’m still me, I’m not going crazy, I just…” Scott looked around stepping back toward the cliff that led down to the beach. “It’s important, there are things I could do with this stone that would change the world. I need it to make things right.”

“The very second we have all twelve stones under control, I swear, I’ll let you research them all,” Alex said carefully. He didn’t want to hurt his friend, but he was preparing himself in case Scott wasn't holding it together as well as he'd hoped he would. 

“Remember what Siobhan said? The more stones I hold, the more powerful they get. If I have any hope of going up against Kline with his three, I’m gonna need every advantage. The dude’s already a billionaire with nigh unlimited resources. One miscalculation, one false step, and that’s it for all of us. Not just you and me, but everyone on this planet. You get that, right? We can’t know what might happen if he managed to separate us and got hold of that stone.”

“What if…” Scott looked around desperately, “What if I just borrowed it, just for a day or so? Let me take care of something. I swear I won’t go crazy and kill everyone, or even try to meltdown a nuclear reactor. I just need to take care of something.”

“What Scott?” Alex asked gently, “What do you need to take care of?”

“You won’t… can’t understand,” Scott said, his voice cracking. “You were gone Alex, and I had to do things that you don’t know about. Things that I have to fix now...”

“It’s okay buddy,” Alex said, keeping his voice low and conversational. No need to spook his friend. “Whatever’s wrong, we can fix. But you’ve got to give that stone back first.”

Scott looked down at the stone he was holding close and slowly stepped back. “People died because of me Alex…” Scott said, his eyes pleading. “I’m sorry, but I need to do this. I need to fix what I did and I can do it with this stone. I swear, I’ll bring it back as soon as I can…”

“Scott!” Alex shouted. But he was too late. Scott had already begun the process of shifting into the enormous dragon, its massive wings beating against the salty ocean air.

Alex leapt back, and held out the fire stone he'd claimed from Emily's now dead fiance. He felt the raw power of his new stone combine its energies with his other stone. He raised a palm and aimed it toward his friend, ready to unleash the pure destructive force he was holding.
But he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t, wouldn’t pull that trigger and risk hurting his friend. He watched Scott quickly gain altitude out over the Pacific Ocean as he quickly flew away from their position on the beach.

Alex stared at the rapidly shrinking dot that was his friend in shock and cursed the wind blowing in his face. He had two stones left, but what if Kline found him? Could he hold out against all three?

“Alex…?” Emily asked in a small voice.

“I know…” Alex said softly. “Unless I miss my guess, these stones are a whole lot more dangerous that any of us ever realized.”

He took off the necklace his father had given him and looked at the stone wrapped within the wire. His father had returned this stone to him only a few days ago (an event that felt eons away).  He’d tried to warn him about the dangers of the stone, but Alex hadn’t listened. How could he be so stupid to let Scott handle a stone without knowing what would happen?

“Maybe he went back to the hotel,” Christina said hopefully.

He watched the tiny dot that was his friend recede into the distance until he could no longer see him. He swallowed and thought about what to do. Looking over at Emily and Christina and they way they looked (and how he felt) he knew they didn't have a choice. 

“Even if he didn’t, we ought to,” he said finally. “We need sleep, and we’re not likely to get any out here.”

Emily didn’t react. She was still in shock and nearly catatonic over what she’d just been through. Alex glanced at Christina who nodded. She grabbed Emily and led her to the Hypertruck.

Alex watched Emily get into the truck silently and felt a pang of guilt. It wasn’t his fault her fiancĂ© was dead, but if he knew anything about human nature, she’d blame him.

And to be honest, he wasn’t sure she’d be wrong to.

Alex stepped into the Hypertruck and started up the engines hoping that he could pilot it home and avoid the inevitable roadblocks between them and their wouldn’t keep them from getting back to the hotel for some rest. With Collier’s death and Scott’s apparent betrayal, all he wanted was for the worst day of his life to end.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

New Book! (And New Blog too!)

My new book The Twelve Stones: Skyfire is out for your Kindle and Kindle Fire! It's the continuation of the adventures of Alex, Emily, Christina and Scott. The stones are revealing themselves and it's up to our intrepid band of heroes to keep billionaire industrialist from collecting them for himself.

Here's the description in case you're not convinced:

Twenty two years ago, Alex McCray found the first of the Twelve Stones - a set of powerful artifacts left for Humanity to find and use to save Earth from certain destruction.

Reunited with his best friend Scott and ex-fiance Emily, Alex is forced to confront the circumstances of his disappearance and death so long ago.

Meanwhile, billionaire industrialist Rupert Kline learns of a new stone recently uncovered at one of his copper mines in Zambia and flies to claim what he believes is his rightful destiny.

As the stones reveal themselves, Alex realizes that he's been put on a path to not only confront his past, but what lies in his future as well.

If you enjoyed the first book (The Twelve Stones), then I think you'll really have a lot of fun with this one. Secrets are revealed and the danger is escalating. Who will collect all twelve stone first?

I'm also going to try and start posting on here more often (gotta take my marketing seriously) so watch this space! I guarantee good content... or at very least mediocre content that will still help you waste time while you're at work.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Good news! So you decided to write a novel!


Congratulations! You've reached the point where an idea that's been bubbling in the back of your is finally ready to germinate into a real idea!

Bad News! It takes a lot of work!

The only way a novel gets written is if you sit down and write it. Now, there are a great many things that can help you make the whole process easier. I should mention, these are things that work for me. Every writer's style and process is different, so play around with various techniques and find one that works for you. For me, this is what I do:

Step One: I pare down my idea to its absolute basics into one or two lines. If it's about a boy falling in love with a girl who is a magical time traveler stuck in 1999, then that's all I write, I concentrate on building the rest of the world/conflict/story in my outline.

Step two: I write a treatment. This is anywhere from one to two pages of the story summarized as I see it. It goes into some depth, I throw in the basic conflict, maybe the theme if I see one jump out at me (I forget, might've been Stephen King who said it, that the best themes and symbolism are the ones that you write by accident without realizing it), and maybe a twist if you're so inclined.

I take my treatment and then write extensive details about the world my character inhabits. Using the time traveling girlfriend as an example, I would think about how she time travels, why she does it, is she magic? or smart enough to build her own delorean? Does she want to travel back to 1999 on purpose and if so, why? Is she in love with the protagonist? Is she the protagonist? What motivates her to get back to her boyfriend in 2012? Is the boyfriend trying to build his own time machine to get back to her? Is she sending messages to him through time to help get her back? Is the trip fatal? All these things I include in the expanded treatment as I call it.

Next up is the step outline which for those unfamiliar (which I haven't seen a lot of people use actually) is basically a beat by beat of the book itself going through each scene one line at a time.

1) GF builds time machine and accidentally travels back through time to 1999.

2) BF comes in with the intent to propose and discovers her time travel machine and her disappeared.

3) BF recieves letter from GF announcing where she is ala Marty McFly style.

4) GF discovers 1999 isn't all it's cracked up to be what with Blockbuster video late rental fees and the lack of internet...

...and so on and so forth til we reach the logical conclusion of the story.

Then I take all that and let it simmer. I leave it for a day or two and then come back to it with a fresh pair of eyes. I rewrite what works, delete what doesn't and all in all decide if my novel is ready to begin.

Then I write it.

I don't set writing goals for myself. I find that guilt won't motivate me. Some days I'll write 500 words and I'll think it sucks. And others, I'll write 12,000 words of perfect prose without blinking an eye.

I keep track of my daily writing on a Google Calendar I have set up and since I know I have to report at the end of the day whether or not I did any work, I find the motivation comes naturally.

Good luck to you! Write a best seller!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

There's more to social media than just Twitter and Facebook

Most indie authors know that getting your name out there is one of the hardest things anyone can do. Fortunately, in this modern era there are a wide variety of tools and options for you to get your message out there in the great digital beyond. The more tools you use, the more likely you are to set yourself apart from the huge volume of material available online.

Twitter/Facebook/Blogs

These are the most commonly used social media tools and the sites that have really pushed the evolution of what we now understand as social media. These three sites are crucial to any modern day author who want to make a serious run at being a professional writer/selling their books online. The real challenge lies in building the audience, which I admit, can sometimes be an arduous process.

If the only people you're advertising on Facebook/Twitter/your blog are your friends, it won't matter how often you're tweeting or updating, you won't get very far. In my observation of what other writers (and my own experience), I've seen people get a fifteen to twenty percent participation rate from friends and family who are interested in their writings. Unless you have a built in audience of marketing professionals as friends who have their own audience of voracious readers, it's little better than talking to yourself.

This is where being on Twitter and using it effectively comes into play. In my experience on Twitter, I find using hashtags (#) is a great way of helping people find my website and my book. Something I've taken to doing regularly is tweet once or twice a day with hashtags of relevant media (tv shows/movies) along with a link to my book. Since I wrote a science fiction action/adventure novel, on Friday nights during Fox's TV Fringe, I tweet something silly or clever relating my book to that night's episode - sometimes relating it to a scene in my book. With all the people also tweeting #Fringe as they watch the episode, my tweet about my book shows up in their search results, and if I've made my tweet intriguing enough, I usually see a spike in traffic to my blog/book sales.

Facebook on the other hand, I don't use in the same way. I created a page for my novel The Twelve Stones (which you can easily "like" right here on my blog... hint hint), but I don't use it much because as I said, the only people I'd really be talking to at the moment are people from my friends list who already know I wrote the book and are tired of me yammering on about it. Plus, my friends aren't a very large audience of readers. This is why I limit posting from my Twelve Stones Facebook account. Without many people on that list (I'm currently at 32 or so likes on the page), it would be pointless to constantly post things from that account until I had built a genuine base of readers who have found that page because of them liking the book. I believe when I hit about 100 likes of non-friends I'll begin using the account to promote the book better, including creating targeted ads I can buy on Facebook to get more exposure. Facebook IS the future and you ignore it at your own peril.

(Btw, the analytics included on the Facebook pages are second to none and I highly recommend looking into your numbers and exploiting those to help you find new readers)

I won't go into much about Blogs. They've been around for years, and there's not much I can say about having one that you

1) don't already know

or

2) hasn't already been said a thousand times in a thousand better ways than I could say.

The important lessons to remember though are:

1) Always link your book within your blog posting to help with your Google search results.

2) Link to past blog postings (when relevant) to help increase your Blog's Google score

3) Put yourself on a regular schedule of writing clear, concise and RELEVANT content to your readers.

Other Social Media avenues

Here are a couple more sites independent authors (Especially KDP Select Members) should sign up for and use to your advantage:

Triberr.com: More than anything else, this is the site that has helped expand my blog reach across the globe. Be sure to check it out, but do so responsibly. If you use Triberr.com correctly, there's really no limit to the reach and scope of your audience. Take the time to set up an account, and talk to other people on how to best leverage your Triberr experience to help readers find you. The best advice I can give about this site is find the tribes that are most relevant to your writing.

Shelfari.com: I'm relatively new to this site, but it's a great add on to Amazon.com's e-book store. Amazon has embraced the independent author like no other site (with the exception of Smashwords.... more on them in a second) and Shelfari is somewhat of a Myspace/Goodreads hybrid that helps readers follow what their friends are reading. As an author, you can instantly see who has downloaded your book and you can send them a message as well as letting them easily contact you. Very cool stuff.

Goodreads.com: Same idea as Shelfari, except they got there first (but, as we all know, being first on the internet doesn't always make it better). My money is on Shelfari overtaking Goodreads as the place where readers gather and share with their friends the books they are reading, but I've been wrong before (But that's only because I thought I was wrong about something else. Turns out, I was right). My only thought is Amazon is doing a lot to take the lead on e-books and securing its place as the dominant online presence for e-books. I have a feeling Amazon will be throwing a lot more money Shelfari's way than what Goodreads will ever see.

Smashwords.com: Smashwords is a fantastic place to put your independent novel - that is, if people already know who you are and where they can get it. I started there, but as an unknown, I had no built-in audience and my work was ignored.

I believe that KDP Select and Amazon.com exclusivity for 90 days is the right path for an unknown with his first novel like myself. Because of my promotions, my novel is paired with other books who already have a large audience and I'm constantly adding new readers every day. Each time I've run a promo day on Amazon, my book has ended up in the top five bestsellers list. This tells me I am building my audience for my series The Twelve Stones and in the future, those freebies will pay off in a big way.

I know some authors dislike the idea of exclusivity to Amazon and I can sympathize with that idea. However, my experience taught me that without an audience, I will be ignored on Smashwords and with Amazon I've sold more novels using the KDP Select promotions than I ever thought possible (not counting the freebies). I believe a truly successful author will use both Smashwords and Amazon to their full potential. Since I'm writing two different series of books, my plan is to alternate between Smashwords and Amazon for the two novels. My hope is to create a feedback loop alternating between huge promotional days and a wider audience on Smashwords.

The Hard Part:

Unfortunately, with the expansion of social media, even if you use every one of the sites perfectly and do everything you can, it's still not a guarantee that it will work. The democratization of promotion through social media has enabled jackasses like myself to get my name out there in ways I never thought possible, but, there is a much higher signal to noise ratio. On one hand, the publishing industry acted amazing gatekeepers keeping terrible books (badly edited/written) off the market, but on the other, people with talent and a great book often had to go years receiving nothing but rejection letters. Fortunately with the incredible explosion of tablets and e-readers, the self-publishing stigma is no longer as it once was. The highest grossing movie of the last few years (which was released last weekend) started out as a self-published trio of novels.

You have to look at using social media as just another way of breaking through. Keeping at it day after day (along with writing more books) is the only way you can break through. Hard Work will beat the Talent Who Gives Up every time. Hard work + Talent turns you into an unstoppable force of nature. I know which one I want to be.

One last thing I'd like to add, don't advertise to writers, all they're doing is trying to get you to read their stuff too. Advertise to readers. Keep your social media strategy plain, keep it simple and your readers will find you.

Social media is just another aspect of the job. If you stick with it, there's no telling how high you can go.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Inspiration is everywhere

I've been having a delightful twitter conversation lately about my writing process. One of the questions I was asked was where I found my inspiration. I told her that I find it everywhere.

Inspiration isn't something that you can force, but rather something you observe about the world around you. The whole world is filled with ideas (Hollywood as a notable exception, especially lately). Every single thing around us has a story and those stories are usually the children of other stories.

As an example, I pointed out that even the table I'm writing on has a story. Who built it? What was that person's life like? Was their significant other cheating on them? Do they even have a significant other? How did he/she get to the point of building dining room tables? What motivates them in their daily life? Everything is connected, and every connection can be inspiration for a new story.

I'll grant you, some of those stories are more boring than others (again, I'm looking at you Hollywood), but, that's the real task of a writer - take those uninspired stories and turn them into high drama, or at least something compelling that will engage a reader. What you bring to it as a writer is what will make that story compelling.

An idea is little more than a lump of clay. The real beauty is in the skill of a writer carving away the extras and creating the sculpture that a writer sees in his mind's eye. The real test is bringing that idea to fruition on the page.

For a long time, I was unable to understand how people who come up with an idea for a story or novel wouldn't just write it (so long as they had a decent grasp of writing and grammar). Now, I've begun to understand it's similar to how I see a picture in my mind's eye... I have no way of actually painting that picture - I have zero artistic talent and my hands won't corporate with what I saw in my head. I imagine that's what it's like for someone who doesn't write their book.

Discipline is another issue brought up, and something every writer struggles with on a daily basis. I told her that so long as I write something for the day, I feel accomplished. Sometimes I can write for hours on end, and have thousands of words accomplished, and other days, I struggle to get out a few sentences. I don't believe in anything so silly as being unable to force the muse - that's just writer talk to seem talented and mysterious and an excuse to not write anything for the day. The most successful writers in the world treat it just as it is - a job. Michael Crichton was known for his marathon writing sessions lasting 14 hours a day, Stephen King is another great who spends his day writing, whether it's good, bad or indifferent, he's still there, plunking away on the keyboard.

It's that lesson that I take away every day when I think about being a writer. If I write, I'm a writer. When I don't, then I'm no different than any other loser who sits on the couch and watches TV all day. I'd much rather be a writer.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Ten things you should know before you start your Spec Screenplay



A friend of mine asked me for some advice on how to write a spec screenplay. Here's a few things I think every newbie writer should know. 



1)Don't try to be too clever. 

2) Write what you know. If you don't know anything, or only know very little about what you wanna write about, learn, read and research. Then write.

3) Outline EVERYTHING. 

4) After you outline everything, throw it away (although go ahead and keep it in the back of your mind...it's a roadmap), and let your script breathe and go wherever it wants to go. So long as you know the story and characters, you'll be fine. Your characters (and the story sometimes) will probably surprise you.

5) Write everyday. Even if it sucks, and you can't think of anything to write other than Polly Wolly Weaseal a thousand times on that blank screen, write every single day. Set a specific time aside and know, no matter what, that from the hours of say, 3-4pm, you are sitting in front of your computer with Final Draft on and the little cursor blinking, with nothing else allowed to distract you.

6) Don't get too caught up in goals. If you wanna have twenty pages down by friday and you don't get it done in time, don't beat yourself up - just reset your goals, and make them more manageable. Smaller goals will make you feel more accomplished, and help give you the confidence to succeed in finishing, but the downside is, writing it, may take you a little while longer. 

7) Once you're finished, you've only just begun. Rewrite your script. Rewrite it again. Show it to people. Then rewrite it again. A script is a living breathing world you're creating. If something doesn't make sense or slips through the cracks, someone smarter than you is bound to catch it.

8) Get a decent screenwriting program. Celtx is a free program that's similar to Final Draft which is the industry standard (www.celtx.com). (I would really recommend finding a copy of Final Draft tho...)

9) READ other people's screenplays, see what the format is like. Don't get too over involved in scene descriptions or people. Casting directors/directors like a good idea of what's going on in the script, but they don't need their hands held. White space in a script (meaning mostly dialogue due to formatting), is what studios like to see. There are plenty of great places on the internet where people post their scripts for review. Zoetrope.com is run by Francis Ford Coppola, and is pretty good for such things. 

10) Have fun. It's not the end of the world if you find yourself halfway through the script and you hate the ending. A spec script is generally written for yourself, or whatever agent/studio you want to get their attention. It does happen that studios will buy specs, but generally only from established artists. What you're doing with your spec is creating a portfolio of sorts, so that when you do take your stuff to an agent, he can see that you know what you're doing. From there, s/he can either sell your spec if it's any good (and even then only a couple of those are actually made), or even better, get you jobs rewriting other people's stuff.