Friday, September 30, 2011

Have I got an idea for you!

That's one of the usual reactions you get when you tell someone you're a writer.

It's incredible how forthcoming people are with their great ideas. Don't they know that they could take their great idea, write it into a book, and sell it for millions of dollars? Of course they do! But why should they do that, when all they have to do is give their idea to a writer-friend and have that person do all of the actual work? Then, the "idea man" can just sit back and collect the profits from his brilliance. That's what America's all about right?

And of course, us authors being the friendly, congenial, and tactful people we are, rarely have the backbone (or discourtesy, depending on the situation) to tell these helpful people that we already have lots and lots of ideas that we'd love to write, if only we had the time. Nor do we mention that the spaceship discovered by archeologists under 100 feet of ice in Antarctica premise has already been done,or that the half-elven prince in search of a magical sword to save the kingdom really isn't that great of an idea anymore.

One of the things writers learn through thousands of hours of experience is that the story's premise usually has very little to do with its success. A premise is a gimmick. It's a spaceship in the ice or a magical sword (or ring) and that's all it is. A bad writer can take these ideas and kill them. A great writer can turn them into bestsellers. In either version, the premise remains the same. It's the execution that matters. One of the things I love to read in reviews is "I loved this character so much!" When I hear that, I know I've connected with someone. I've taken an empty page and turned it into a story, and more importantly, into characters that my readers can actually feel for. That's not to say I'm a great writer, though I would certainly like to be at least good on some level, but it does tell me that I have succeeded somewhere, with some readers, at doing what I'm supposed to.

Now here's the crux of the matter: Your idea won't work for me. 

What does that mean? Well, it's like this. In order for me to develop a world and characters that seem real and organic, I have to be interested. And the ideas that interest me most are the ones that I create, because those come from the places that my mind goes when I'm being creative. And being a writer, I have lots and lots of ideas like that. I have notebooks full of them, waiting for me to explore and create and refine them into stories. I have a lifetime's worth of notes sitting under my desk right now, and I'll probably never get to half of them. And with that being the case, why would I invest hundreds of hours in someone else's idea, doing months of labor all by myself, and then happily hand over a percentage of the profits? That doesn't make sense at any level. Imagine going up to an architect and saying, "Hey, I've got this idea for a house! It's got a steep roof and gables, and a really long covered porch. Why don't you build it and then give me half the profits?" I can't think of any trade where someone would expect that, except with a writer.That's not to say that the spaceship under the ice doesn't have potential. It does. But it's not for me to write, it's for the person who had the idea.

Now, if a person should feel like they really want to help a writer out, here's a good way to do that: Buy his or her book. Review it. Tell some friends about it. Spread the word. Building that kind of relationship with a writer is likely to be far more rewarding than offering him or her that great idea and creating an awkward, uncomfortable situation for everyone involved. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Melanie Nilles guest post

This week's guest is Melanie Nilles, another Indie fantasy author from the Kindleboards. She has a new fantasy book out (her 12th title!): Tiger Born

The Writing Journey of Melanie Nilles:

I've been writing for a long time. It started in grade school, but I didn't get serious about it until I was a freshman in college.  I always loved making up stories, but I had always loved reading. The problem was that I have always been picky about what I'll read. I started writing as a fun escape from the difficulties of my life and to create stories that I would want to read.

Going back into grade school, I remember the first time we were asked to write our own stories. It was in third grade, and I won't forget how that story took Thumbelina and turned it, but my ending was a letdown. You know, I have a terrible memory, but I can still envision that classroom and that story. It sticks in my mind quite clearly.

We also had a program in our schools back then called the Young Authors program. One student from each class at all the local schools was chosen to attend this conference. We created our own stories and submitted them to be accepted. I had always wanted to go and you could only ever attend once between first and sixth grade;  and in sixth grade, I was finally chosen. I remember listening to a children's book author talk, although I can't remember what it was about. I asked my mom to buy one of his books for me and he signed it. While a mouse chewed a corner of that book, it still meant something to me. It was the first time I had an autographed book and got to meet an author in person.

While at the conference, we were put into groups and asked to write a short story. I had trouble making something up on the spot but I managed. It was pretty lame, even by my standards back then, but that was our task, so I did it.

I didn't do much with writing after that, except for letters (actual handwritten, snail-mailed stamped letters because we didn't have internet back then). I had half a dozen pen pals I wrote back and forth to at one point and I enjoyed it. It was a way to express myself, especially in high school.

But it was in college that I really focused on creating characters and a plot and actions that built to a climax.  I put down my first novel then and was hooked ever since on that writer's high of immersing oneself in another world and letting the characters talk through the author in the act of putting words on paper. I used a spiral-bound notebook and typed it out late at night in the computer lab in those first three years of college.

In my fourth year of college, I bought my own computer. I had trouble creating at the keyboard and found it easier to write in a notebook that I could easily stuff into my backpack during classes and come out when I had time between. In the evenings, I'd type out anything I wrote. I later started creating at the keyboard. I was lucky to finish one novel a year to that point and thought that was pretty good, although my writing was terrible back then. Workshops and critique groups over the years have helped me improve greatly.

It took sixteen years and about six or seven trunked novels since my college freshman year to write a story that a small publisher contracted. I was never a short story writer, but I loved novels and this one was part of a series. That's when things started happening for me, and that was only three years ago. Since then, the publishing landscape has already changed.

Two years ago, I decided to start self-publishing with Amazon's Kindle program and Smashwords. I haven't looked back since, although if a big publisher offered the right contract, I wouldn't turn it down.

It's been a long journey and, while the road behind and the road ahead are full of many bumps, I wouldn't quit for anything. I have always been a writer and always will be.

Melanie Nilles also writes as M. A. Nilles with her twelfth published work, TIGER BORN, under that pen name. You can read more about her at

Tiger Born links:
Barnes and Noble

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

5 Winners!

Just a quick note to congratulate the 5 winners of the Shadow Born contest at Goodreads. The books will be going out ASAP! This is my third Goodreads giveaway, and each has netted over 1,000 entrants and hundreds of to-be-read additions. I can't thank the team at Goodreads enough, nor the fans who are kind enough to star and review my work, and help it get into the hands of others.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Paying it Forward

The Liebster Award is a bit like a chain letter, but in a good way. The idea is that bloggers who receive this honor can pass it on to other bloggers, particularly those we feel contribute something useful to the community but have less than 200 followers, and therefore could use some exposure. Karen Woodward recently honored me with this award, and I've spent a few days (okay a week!) putting together a list of my own. This was difficult because I have to choose only five bloggers and there are so many people out there doing wonderful and interesting things.

Well, I've finally completed my list. I would encourage you to take a look at these blogs, you might find them as enjoyable as I have!

Young Readers At Home
Owl Tell You About It -Laura Ashlee
Lexi Revellian
Scribbles N Jots -Barbara Kloss
Writing Loving It

Thanks for stopping by!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

September Blues

September is turning out to be a challenging month for me. I know I'm behind on blog posting... I really need to thank Karen Woodward for the award she sent me. I'm going to pay it forward as soon as I can, honest!

Anyway, I have been busy with a lot of things, not the least of which is an inconvenient issue with my bank account. It started when I pulled my last music CD from distribution. I've been so busy writing (books) lately that I haven't had any time to write, produce, or publicize my music. Because of that, my last CD had been sitting there on the digital shelves, selling just a few tunes every month. That would be okay I suppose, but unlike e-book distribution, it costs me money to keep my CD available. And without me realizing it, my distributor automatically renewed my distribution contract for another year. This resulted in a good chunk of cash disappearing from my bank account about two weeks ago. Since then, I've been trying to get the issue sorted out. Customer service at the distributor lost track of my emails, and in the meanwhile -because my account was overdrawn and I had complained to the bank about the unapproved renewal- they canceled my check card thinking I had been defrauded or something. So now I think I've finally got my money back, but I have no ATM access.

In the midst of all that, I've been trying to batten down the hatches for winter, which usually starts up in about a month with a rainstorm that lasts until, oh, June. I have a project vehicle I'm restoring (a 1966 Chevy Impala SuperSport) that has a lot of exposed and rusting metal. I've swapped the old blown 327 for a throttle-body injected Chevy 350 and replaced the 1966 factory brakes with power disc brakes. The car's running and more or less roadworthy now, but I'm running out of time to get it sealed up before the rain starts. I'm also finishing (or fixing) several projects around my house, including a bottle rack I just finished building in my garage. That one's for my wine hobby. I have about 350 empty bottles (kindly donated by a local winemaking club) that I'd like to fill with some Cabernet and Chardonnay as soon as the grapes are ready... another event that's also barreling down on me like a freight train. I'm supposed to be getting 250 pounds of one, 150 of the other, and I'm expecting the Chardonnay grapes to be ready ANY DAY. That means I've been cleaning up the garage and making room for my fermentation tanks and bottles in the midst of all this. And I haven't even mentioned my real job. I won't bore you with the details.

Also, I'm now writing the last chapter of my new book, which is the second new title I've written over the summer, for a total of probably about 140,000 words. I know, I know. For some people that's just ONE book, but forgive me if I'm a little ADD. I'll be revising over the next week or two and then I'll let it sit for a short while before I release it this fall. (The other title is the sequel to Shadow Wars, which I may not release until I have the third installation finished.) 

So, Karen thank you once again. I'll be getting that list ASAP. I'd also like to post some new pics of the Cabernet vines I planted in the backyard this year, if time permits. In the meanwhile, I hope you are all enjoying the last weeks of summer and stocking up on lots of good books to read when the cold weather hits!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Guest interview: John Blackport

 Rick Rivoire is flush with money, women, and prospects. He protects his country as one of the Rainguns, an elite regiment of spellcasting cavalry. But national policy drifts ominously into slavery and religious persecution, sparking rebellion. Joining the rebels could land Rick on a prison ship, in slave-irons --- or atop the same gallows where he watched his father hang. The alternative looks no brighter. He must either defend a government whose actions disgust him --- or risk everything he has.
Warning: This book contains graphic violence and some explicit sex. It is intended for adults only.
Q: John, your story sounds quite unique. What influenced you?
A: Stories by Bernard Cornwell; George Macdonald Fraser; and to a lesser extent, C.S. Forester and Patrick O’Brian.  My hero is a cavalry mage.  He conjures his own magical mount whenever he can, because he doesn’t get along with horses very well.  He also thinks of magical theory only when he must --- the way the men of Sharpe’s Rifles rarely think of ballistics theory, even when they must conserve their ammunition.
Q: This is historical fantasy, which is certainly a unique genre. From where did you draw inspiration?
A: In a way, I was inspired by the real-world wars that America has been involved with over this last decade.  I wanted to show how politics, money and religion can all interact to drive fundamentally good people to seek the ruin of other fundamentally good people. These forces are not cancers that can somehow be surgically removed from society, they are part of being human.
Q: You've certainly put a lot of thought into this book. Tell us how and why it's different than everything else out there. 
A: I always knew I liked fantasy, but I also knew I didn't want to write about another Dark Lord who wants to destroy everything for no apparent reason. The appeal of this trope is similar to real-world conspiracy theories: there's some comfort in the fantasy that all evil ultimately comes from the same place.
I believe the real truth is both more depressing, more uplifting, and more fascinating.  The real truth is that there are no simple answers: our lives, both public and private, truly are as complex and confusing as they appear. But that's also what makes them wondeful. 
Raingun is now available at Amazon and Smashwords
A sample chapter and more available at the author's website.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

And the Winner is:

Julie! Congrats. Your new Kindle is in the mail and should be there in a couple days.

Unfortunately, not everyone could win. However, those of you who are signed up for the newsletter, keep your eye out for something special this weekend. You are all signed up for the newsletter, right?

Also, there will be more giveaways coming, so you may get another chance! Hang in there.