It's the end of November, and the winter holidays are almost upon us. That means food, family, and friends. For me, it also means trying to catch up on some of the shows and movies I've been missing these past few months.
I just finished Season 3 of Black Sails, which is probably the most underrated show on T.V. If you've never seen an episode, it's basically Game of Thrones with pirates. Fascinating heroes, warring factions, betrayals, intrigue, massive ship battles. Like Assassin's Creed IV, it also borrows from real the history of Nassau, recreating a number of historical characters and events. It once again proves Starz still has some of the best original content out there. If you haven't seen Ash vs. Evil Dead or Spartacus, stop reading this and get to it! They're also both a lot of fun.
Speaking of Game of Thrones, I'm finally caught up through Season 6. I had mixed feelings about it, since I'm a huge book nerd, and I don't like the idea of events in the show spoiling Winds of Winter before it's even out. I know, I know. But before you mock me, I caved. After all, the last I thing I want is to be awkwardly left out of conversation circles at all the holiday parties, where everyone is talking Westeros but me. In any case, I'm glad I did. While there were a few hiccups, and time passed at pretty much whatever speed it needed to for the plot, overall, it was an incredible season. Maybe my 2nd favorite, next to Season 3. So many great character moments. The dialog seems to be getting better and better every year as well, which is an amazing feat.
Beyond that, it's been more reading, writing, and research for me. Oh, and holiday shopping! I have a lot more of all those things in the coming weeks. Hopefully some new project news around the new year? Yes, I think so.
The last few months, I've been hard at work on several new projects, with barely a moment to come up for air. As it turns out, I'm not the only one who's been working hard.
Merry has just finished the final version of The SnowFang Bride, the first book in her SnowFang werewolf paranormal romance saga. As I mentioned earlier, the first draft originally appeared on Wattpad and did very well. This final version is a lot tighter, darker, and sexier than any of the versions I've read before. It looks fantastic, and I couldn't be more proud of her.
I'm about to stick my head in the sand and get back to work, but I thought I'd come up long enough to help her announce. Here's her synopsis from the Amazon page:
Centuries of political games killed most of the female werewolves. Now only a few survive, and the Elders work to change the old ways of thinking.
Winter, the only daughter of the SilverPaw Alpha, finally meets the soul Gaia has chosen for her: Sterling, the cold, demanding, and entirely-too-human Alpha of the tiny SnowFang pack.
Thrust into a world of human wealth for which she was never prepared, Winter must become Sterling's flawless wife and Luna from the moment she arrives. The city is full of threats, both werewolf and human, and Sterling's past is full of secrets best left undisturbed.
When they are betrayed by those closest to them, Winter and Sterling embark on a dangerous game of brinkmanship that will change their lives, and the future of the werewolves, forever.
It's hard to believe how time flies! Although I don't talk about it much, I do have a day job, and I have to admit, I didn't realize how much time had elapsed since my last update.
It's Memorial Day Weekend here in the states, though, so I have no excuse not to update. Well, I do have excuses, actually: a bunch of old MMA fights that need watching, a cheesecake that needs finishing, 2 cats who need more attention (they never get enough), and a Witcher 3 saved game which is almost--but not quite--finished. I'll try to put those aside for now.
Mostly, I haven't updated because I've been working on a new software project during the day, and I've been trying to stay away from social media so that I can focus what energy I do have into writing. It's been a busy few months.
My wife is also working on getting her first novel ready for publication, and that's been an exciting sideline in its own right. The first draft of The Snowfang Bride has over a million reads on Wattpad, and it's been amazing (and daunting) trying to help her get the final version ready. Merry played a huge role in helping me get The Aeschylus out the door, so it's nice to be able to reciprocate. Having a spouse that writes is nice in so many ways. It's also hard sometimes; we're brutally honest with each other. We're also each others' best helpers and first critics. I wouldn't have it any other way, I don't think she would either.
As for me, I think it's safe to talk--at least in general terms--about my next projects, and when to expect them.
Since the The Aeschylus came out 18 months ago, I've been promising a new novella called The Maker's Box. That book was acquired by a publisher last year, and for a long while, I thought everything was set. Then that publisher was acquired by a third party company, and through a long series of events, the rights for the work ended up getting reverted to me. Shortly after this, another publisher expressed interest, but asked if I could write a companion novella or two to go with it.
Since then, I've been hard at work on 2 more tales of short novel-ish length, cramming every spare moment I can over my keyboard. Have I mentioned I'm slow?
Things are going well, though, and I'm really excited to talk about all 3 stories. They each revolve around different characters in different parts of the country. A young girl receives a mysterious box from her father in Dunham's Reach, New York. A psychopath and a sociopath fall in lust in east Texas. A San Francisco photographer becomes obsessed with one of his beautiful young subjects, who never seems to age, no matter how many years pass.
But while the settings vary, the same themes resonate in each. Lust. Obsession. Madness. All the things you'd expect from a David Barclay story. I'm more excited than I've ever been about these particular tales, and even more excited about the publisher.
So, time to get back to work. Hope to see you soon.
-When we're talking about murder, the motives are farts.
Back in the early aughts, I had the opportunity to interview a homicide detective from Dallas P.D. It was an amazing experience, not just because I was starting out as a new writer, but because I'd been turned away by half a dozen smaller police departments, and I was beginning to think I'd have to start my first novel without having done any firsthand research. So there I was, completely ignorant of my chosen topic with a chance at the mother lode, thanks to the generosity of one man.
One Saturday morning, I got to drive into Dallas, see the inside of the Crimes Against Persons division at the station on Lamar, and spend some quality time inside an interview (interrogation) room, the chosen venue for the event.
The interview lasted about 2 hours, and I learned an incredible amount, things I could have never garnered from internet research. Everything from how calls are routed through the department to the history of the pump-action shotgun they keep hanging on the wall of the office. I was very lucky. Nobody else would even talk to an unpublished kid, let alone dedicate several hours of his time. This one particular detective did, an act for which I am eternally grateful. Unfortunately, the book I was working on at the time didn't turn out, and I've always been afraid that interview would go to waste.
This past week, I just crossed the 15k word mark for my new novel and hit a wall. There's a murder at the beginning (I mean, it is a David Barclay story), but I couldn't figure out who was behind it or why it needed to happen. That might sound ludicrous to some — I mean, I am in charge of the story — but be that as it may, my characters wouldn't talk to me. I spent a few days floundering around until I remembered something the detective said all those years back: "When we're talking about murder, the motives are farts." You can probably guess what I said next: "What?" And his response: "Fear, Retaliation, Theft, Sex: F-R-T-S."
Acronyms are rampant in police jargon, but I've never encountered this one before or since. And wow, it's elucidating. No matter how complicated the circumstances or how intricate the details, the motive behind most homicides often boils down to one of these four reasons.
If you do a search, you can find plenty of other lists out there. Lists that distinguish between love and lust, that add contract killings and other edge cases, etc. But when we're talking about every day, garden variety murder, I think I like this simple acronym better. Sure, Theft is a bit more broad than, say, Property Dispute, but don't they basically boil down to the same thing?
When I started to think about this list in relation to my story, I realized how useful it was. I knew 2 of the motives didn't apply right off the bat. After some brief thought, I discarded a 3rd. What was left was a gross representation of the reason behind the killing; all I had to figure out was the details. Once I had those, I knew who did it. When I knew who did it, the other pieces started to fall into place, and I was suddenly unblocked again.
I suppose the moral of the story is that research is a strange animal. Sometimes the details you think are important aren't. Sometimes seemingly inconsequential items become important later on. And if I could offer one piece of advice, it would be to get away from your computer once in a while. You never know what you might find, and how long that information will stay with you.
It's been just over a year since The Aeschylus first hit shelves, and I'm really pleased to announce it has now sold over 5k copies across all retailers and platforms! While that might be a far cry from Bestseller status, it's a pretty good milestone for a niche title from an unknown author. Ironically enough, it didn't land with a huge splash, but it's proven to have long legs. More and more people keep finding it, and I hope that trend continues this coming year. As I've mentioned, it took a long time to write, so it's still very gratifying and humbling to see it in people's hands.
So what's next?
Well, I have to get off my butt and finish a few things. I have a completed novella and a few more stories, but the real mountain now lies in completing the 2 novels I have before me. A few people have asked if I'm doing a sequel to The Aeschylus, and the answer is No, not yet. But eventually? I hope so. The story I have in mind will be quite a different beast, but I hope I get to tell it before too long.
If you haven't picked up a copy yet, you might want to check out my free stories What Stays Below and Low Prowls The Goblin King to see if the writing is your cup of tea. Either way, have a happy new year, dear reader, and I hope to see you in 2016.
Well, it's Christmas Eve, and I'm huddled into the darkest corner of our apartment, staving off the winter chill and trying to keep our 2 cats from bounding up the nearby presents and onto my desk. Neither of those efforts is going particularly well, but I don't mind. It's going to be a fun week.
After a busy month at work and a flurry of Christmas errands, I finally get a little time to myself. That means more time to write. I have 2 big projects going at the moment. One is that new novel I keep mentioning—a little stagnant but alive—and the other is a project I expect to be of novella or short novel length. The words are coming easier, now, and the new story in particular is catching fire. Maybe, like so many before, I just do better in the cold and the dark.
Speaking of the cold and the dark, I'm also finally reading The Road, a Cormac McCarthy novel that has somehow eluded me so far. I love McCarthy, particularly because his style flies in the face of anyone who believes there is one way, and one way only to write. The Road, like so many of his others, is pure storytelling. Quotation marks? Nah. Apostrophes? Sometimes. His style is a living, breathing thing, and it doesn't follow the rules. There's something wonderful about that.
If you've never read The Road or seen the movie (also excellent), it's pretty damned depressing. Enough to keep my spirits in check and make sure I don't go writing about any singing birds or happy elves, in any case. Can't have too much of a good thing, especially if this vacation is going to turn into a holiday writing sprint, the way I expect.
Anyway, I'd love to write more, but I have work to do. Merry and I wish you a happy holidays from out here in San Francisco, and for now, bid you goodnight.
So does Twilight, my writing buddy.
Well, it’s been a busy few months! The Aeschylus has made rounds on The Fussy Librarian, Candid Book Reviews, and is about to go live on My Book Cave. What Stays Below had a terrific reading on Manor House, and Low Prowls The Goblin King is finally available in print through Acidic Fiction’s Toxic Tales Vol. 2 collection. I’ve been working on a few new projects, but nothing to announce just yet. Progress on my new novel has been slow. I’d like to say it’s because of my day job, which has been incredibly busy since my last post, but the reality is, I’ve had a long feeling-out process, and… I’m slow. It’s coming.
Meanwhile, a number of my friends are doing National Novel Writing Month and finishing up new works again. I’m really proud of them, but I never participate.
Merry tells me I’m a bit of a grouch in this regard. Part of it is that life responsibilities get in the way, but a larger part is that I’m obsessive about my work, even first drafts. I don’t believe something is good just because it’s done, and I don’t like crapping stuff out just because I can. A professional baseball player doesn’t train hard one month out of a year and then eat cookies the other 11 months. He busts his ass every day, or his ass gets busted back to the minors.
So, call it OCD. Or hubris. Or just say Merry’s right, and get me a Grinch hat.
I’m still working, it’s just going to take a little longer. It will be worth the wait, I promise.
My new story, What Stays Below, is now out exclusively through The Manor House podcast! This is a creepy little monster-in-the-morgue tale that was a hell of a lot of fun to write. You can click the link to find the show, or just search iTunes / Stitcher / Android for “Manor House: The Podcast.”
Protagonists come in all shapes and sizes, genders, and personalities. Heroes are of a more specific bent. According to Merriam Webster, a hero is:
Not all heroes are cut from the same cloth, however. They have a wide range of personalities, preferences, and quirks. Nevertheless, most heroes tend to fit within an archetypal mold. The reason for this, I would argue, is that a hero’s archetype determines the nature of his story. The hero’s journey is a classic storytelling device, one that is formed and limited by the hero himself.
I’ve seen lists of 8, 10, even 12 different proposed hero archetypes elsewhere, but I think the list is a lot smaller. I think there are only 4, at least if we’re going by the literal definition where a hero is male. Heroines are equally important, but I think they have their own archetypes and their own story tropes, so I’ll save those for a different post.
The Chosen One
One of the most well-worn (and most popular) of all story tropes is the heroic journey of The Chosen One. This is our Harry Potter, our Luke Skywalker, Neo, and King Arthur.
The Chosen One is often young, growing up in mundane or difficult circumstances. Through some kind of extraordinary event, he learns he has a role to play in changing the world.
The young hero is clever but naive, inexperienced, and even depressed. However, one important note is that the young hero is always bold. He’s always willing to step up and do what others won’t. The hero’s journey is about the boy growing into the man, about the inexperienced lad becoming a leader, often with the aid of a mentor.
The Rogue is our sly, swashbuckling, good-looking, (usually straight) lady’s man. He also has a killer sense of humor. This is our James Bond, Han Solo, Eddie Dean, and Tony Stark.
The Rogue can be genuinely likable but can also be cunning and superficially charming. The most important thing is that The Rogue is cool. He never gives into pressure. He’s good at what he does and likes to be seen doing it. When faced with insurmountable odds, The Rogue will use his wits or even cheat to win.
In most stories, The Rogue is directionless when we first meet him. His hero’s journey is about finding a person to love or a cause to believe in. Once he has that, he becomes as determined and unstoppable as our other archetypes.
The Mysterious Stranger
The Mysterious Stranger is a man of great skill, hard judgments, and a mysterious or war-like past. This is our Roland Deschain, our Conan, Zatoichi, and Sergio Leone’s Man with No Name.
This hero is unusually gifted in the art of war. When facing a challenge head on, he’s nigh unstoppable, even from the first page. He follows a strict code, although the code isn’t always understandable or even moral. He’s stubborn, taciturn, and relentless. We often meet him in the middle of a great journey or seemingly impossible quest.
The Mysterious Stranger almost always lacks guile. He is often tested by villains who outwit him or beat him dishonorably. Sometimes, his hero’s journey is about learning to defeat these villains. Other times, it’s about discovering a hidden well of emotion, or learning to love something outside of his quest.
The Survivor has little discernible skill but is able to succeed through wits and tenacity. This is our John McClane, our maze-running Thomas, and our Mad Max.
Even if he’s not particularly learned, The Survivor is always clever. He’s able to see clues other characters can’t and take advantage of almost any situation. He’s also usually a bit quirky.
A Survivor’s journey is about learning a new skill or solving a great mystery, often saving those around him in the process. Usually, Survivors are capable but reluctant heroes, and they’re made great by circumstance.
Note these archetypes fit different patterns and are meant to be separate from one another. A Chosen One can never be a Survivor, a Rogue can never be a Mysterious Stranger, etc. There’s no question these are tropes, but they are distinct tropes with distinct characteristics.
A natural question, then, is Are these tropes bad? Is a story boring or unoriginal if it doesn’t stray from a mold such as this? Different writers have different answers, but I’ve never been particularly elitist. My answer is No, bad writing makes bad stories. If your hero fits one of these archetypes and your story follows the same hero’s journey, but your execution is excellent and your characters are believable, then so be it. If you do something totally original, great, but again, execution is everything.
Of course, this is just a thought exercise, and other writers may have an entirely different way of breaking down different types of heroes and different types of heroic journeys. It’s fun to consider, though, isn’t it? It’s amazing how many popular characters can be easily classified into one of these categories.
My book isn’t for everyone.
If we want to talk hard lessons, that’s probably the first thing I learned as a new novelist. The Aeschylus is a long book. It has dozens of characters, 2 timelines, and subplots that jump 80 years. It combines elements of an old school political thriller with sci-fi horror, and let’s face it, it’s pretty violent.
If all that sounds weird and unappealing to you, you’re not alone. That’s perfectly okay. Somewhere along the line, The Aeschylus found an audience, and 7 months after its release, it’s still selling and reviewing quite well. If you’re a published writer and you’re not an overnight miracle like Ernest Cline or Gillian Flynn, you’ve probably gone through a similar experience. Your book is good, so your fans are out there. How do you find them? How do you get more reviews? How do you get good reviews?
There’s no easy answer, because if your book is available for general sale, anyone can buy it, and anyone can leave a review on Amazon or Goodreads. There are some options, though. In particular, I wanted to share my experiences with NetGalley, how NetGalley reviews helped promote The Aeschylus, and how ultimately these reviews drove it to the next sales tier.
If you’ve never heard of NetGalley, check them out here. From their own description, they’re a site that helps “media, librarians, booksellers, educators, reviewers, and bloggers… to discover, read, and share reviews about new books before they are published.” Essentially, they’re site which caters to professional book reviewers. Site members request a free copy of your book, and sometimes, they decide to leave a review on a professional website, and/or Amazon, and/or Goodreads. Sound good? It can be, but there are 2 catches. First, it costs about $400 to get a book listed, $600 for a listing with a promotional package. Second, reviewers can and do leave bad reviews just like anywhere else.
When I first started out, I heard a lot of mixed opinions about them. By and large, the consensus was this: you’ll get your highest review scores on Amazon, your middle tier reviews on Goodreads, and your lowest reviews on NetGalley. Naturally, my first reaction was, “That can’t be true, else why bother?”
I had a theory on why some authors had a negative experience, so suffice it to say I ignored the naysayers and decided to list The Aeschylusanyway. Now time for a little honesty. How is it really doing?
As of this writing, The Aeschylus is surprisingly even across all review sites. That wasn’t always the case. For the first few months, my Amazon score dropped to a low 3.8, my Goodreads hovered at 3.9, and my NetGalley score was up around a 4.2, the exact opposite of what I’d been told. How did that happen?
Let’s start with Amazon. Amazon customers represent an extremely broad range of readers. You’ll find Manhattan book critics on Amazon. You’ll also find giggly teenage girls, your best friend’s dad, and the guy down the street who reads at an 8th grade level. Are all those types right for your book? Probably not, and sometimes, it’s a random toss-up as to whether you get a fan or a troll. There are things you can do to help narrow the pool, such as having a very clear blurb and allowing a book preview, but I’ll save those for another post. Generally speaking, Amazon doesn’t only have casual readers, but casual readers are only on Amazon. Thus, you’re going to get a lot of casual readers and a lot of casual reviews. If your writing style is more John Steinbeck than E.L. James, that’s something to keep in mind.
During the 1st month of its release, I did a 3-day free event for The Aeschylus to help get it in the hands of new readers. It was a big success, and for a brief time, it actually rose to the #1 free most downloaded book in the political thriller category, which I was really, really happy about.
As expected, I got a slew of new reviews. Unfortunately, most of my negative reviews came during this period and directly after my next free event the following month. Who leaves a bad review for a free book, anyway? As it turns out, people do. My particular reviewers were confused by the time transitions or got more horror than they expected. I made a few adjustments to my synopsis, but what really helped was getting the book in front of a more specific crowd.
When I first entered the book on NetGalley, I had no idea how it would turn out. Actually, I expected an even tougher lot. But then something wonderful happened. The reviews started coming, and they were all fours and fives. I had found my audience.
Now, I’m not saying that NetGalley is somehow easier or full of soft-hearted souls. Far from it. There are plenty of writers who have had bad experiences, and I absolutely believe the ones who said listing their book was a mistake. The thing is—and this is something I’ve had to accept--The Aeschylus is not a casual book. It’s long, it’s detailed, it’s full of crazy, evil people and crazy, obscure allusions: to Lovecraft, to Eco, yes, even to the Greek playwright, Aeschylus. In other words, it’s written for readers like me. Readers who like horror but don’t necessarily need romance or fantasy elements. Readers who don’t mind getting a little blood on their hands. Surprisingly, there seem to be plenty of those folks on NetGalley, and altogether, maybe 15 or 20 of them ended up transferring their reviews to Amazon and Goodreads. Those reviews helped rope in more readers, and more importantly, I think they helped rope in the right kind of readers.
This post isn’t really meant to be a specific plug, though. It’s more about revisiting advice I got when I first started: know your audience. It sounds like a no-brainer, but if you’re going to invest your valuable time and money promoting your book, you might as well do it with the right people. Will your book turn off casual readers? Turn on hardcore history buffs? Will it do better with adults or teenagers? All these kinds of questions should help you determine where to spend your efforts, and whether or not you want to use a service like NetGalley to get it in front of more critics.
I love audio books.
There’s something unique and powerful about hearing a good story told aloud. The best stories tend to make the best audio books, and I’ve always thought the true test of a writer’s skill is not the written page but the spoken word. The best stories flow from the tongue like a river, building up speed until they sweep you up and wash you away in a torrent of emotion. Not to mention, they’re a great alternative if you have a day job and can’t spend all day hunched over a traditional book.
A little while ago, I discovered Manor House. They’re a fantastic new podcast dedicated specifically to reading horror stories. They present stories from new authors as well as tried and true favorites such as Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart. They have a creepy Tales from the Crypt sort of vibe, and the readings are a lot of fun. I especially like A Story to Scare My Son, which manages to be both amusing and disturbing at the same time.
So of course I submitted a story myself, and lo and behold, they accepted. A few weeks from now, my latest tale of the macabre will be up and read live. How cool is that? I’ll post back with the air date soon.
One of the topics that came up during The Speculative Fiction Cantina interview was strange things we discovered while researching our books. I thought it would be cool to revisit this here and share some of the stuff I came across while writing The Aeschylus. “What? Research… fun?” you ask. Well the process isn’t, but sometimes the facts you find are!
So without further ado, here are 10 random things I discovered and used in The Aeschylus.
Just wanted to post a quick update for the Speculative Fiction Cantina podcast tomorrow. We’ll be live at 6pm EST / 3pm PST. You can listen to the show then or any time after by following this link.
A little while ago, my wife Kristen wrote a catchy little piece of flash fiction called A Cupcake Made of Anger. It’s about a couple having a spat in the kitchen, about how a cupcake becomes the symbolic receptacle for all the emotional overflow spilling into their relationship. I really like it. Not long after she wrote it, I started wondering if all of our creative works bear some watermark of our current emotional state, some taste of what we’re feeling at the time of birth. It’s more obvious with a novel than with a cupcake, but I think everything we build reflects our state of mind, for both good and ill. It’s ultimately passion that drives us to cook, or paint, or write… not wisdom, not intellect, not know-how.
Anyway, the reason I bring this up is because it occurred to me I haven’t been as productive these past couple of months as I should have been. I think I’m a better writer now than I was 2 years, or a year, or even 6 months ago. Intellectually. But emotionally, it’s been a weird time. We moved to California less than a year ago, leaving our house and comfortable Texas lifestyle behind. Since the move, we’ve lost 2 beloved pets to old age / illness. I’ve been working long hours at my day job, and my computer is currently crammed into a tiny office 3 feet from my wife. Love her as I do, it’s pretty cramped in here. In other words, it’s been tough to find the mental space to write. I haven’t been doing nothing, but the words haven’t come easy, and some of them aren’t as good as they should be.
So I decided I’m going to change things up this weekend. I’m taking my desk and computer and moving into the bedroom, much to the chagrin of Kristen and our current 2 cats. It’s going to make our Bay Area apartment look a little more ghetto, but it’s going to give me some space. I’ve never been the type to work well in noisy or distracting environments. Some writers will tell you that you should learn to work anywhere no matter the circumstances, but I think that’s crap. I’ve been at it long enough now to know how my brain works.
In short, I need darkness. I need solitude. I need to pack as much anger, despair, love, hope, rage, and joy into my writing as I can. These things don’t come from discord, as they do for the character’s in Kristen’s story, but rather from somewhere deep within, somewhere I can only access with deep focus. Such is the curse of the Type A introvert.
In On Writing, Stephen King advises to write (1st drafts) with the door closed. It’s always worked for me before, and the move across the hall should allow me to do it again. Change is a good thi