Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Steven Montano: shaking up the genres

An independent author interview

Most authors strive to stay within a genre, occasionally mixing horror with romance or science fiction with mystery and throwing in a love interest for good measure. I've never before come across an author who aggressively tosses as many different genres into the mix as Steven Montano, whose Blood Skies series mixes military science fiction, war, occult horror, modern vampires and witchcraft, and animates the mix with supernatural energy. I had to ask him about it.

Steve Montano has published five novels, two short stories and a novella, all set in his fantastic, futuristic and horrific future timeline called Blood Skies, or the World After the Black; he released his latest, Book Five in the series, The Witch’s Eye, just last week (launched on this blog, among others), and he’s hard at work on completing the projected seven-novel cycle.

It’s a demanding self-imposed challenge for a man who is also a full-time professional accountant, a husband and a father of two. On top of that, he blogs regularly and maintains a presence on all the social media.

I had to find out more about his creations and his creative process.

Blood Skies is set in a post-apocalyptic world, but the apocalypse is different from any other I have read: a change in the physical laws that lets magic work and makes once-imaginary creatures like vampires and warlocks real. What was the inspiration for this unique, dark vision?

The idea originally began as a steampunk vampire novel, but I quickly grew tired of trying to write steampunk and instead searched for a way to make it so I could write an “anything goes” world and have it seem believable. Since the single most dramatic change I could think of in regards to how the world worked involved the presence of magic, I started with the notion of a magical apocalypse, and just built on that. I’ve enjoyed developing the setting, as it basically allows me to include whatever “real world” elements I want and just make up the rest.


Is there any aspect of your world that you hope readers will recognize in the current one? In other words, are you sounding a warning about anything in particular, or is this just whimsy, total imagination?

I use real-world war events and military history as inspiration for some of the horrors depicted in Blood Skies, and the way that magic is simultaneously feared and relied upon could probably serve as a sort of metaphor for nuclear power, but for the most part I try to play things straight. Maintaining some semblance of realism is important — perhaps even more important when dealing with an entirely fantastical world — so even though my stories deal with vampires and magic and fictional civilizations, I try to keep the characters and the way they behave in their insane surroundings grounded in reality.


Your books feature a lot of characters, and are told from multiple points of view. Tell us more about your favourite characters.

That’s difficult, because I’m fond of all of my characters (even the secondary ones) in some form or another. Eric Cross has always been the primary protagonist in the series, but it seems that in every book I come up with a new character I’m partial to, which is usually why I end up extending the narrative and making it so I can tell some of the story from their POV. Danica Black, a former prison warden turned mercenary, has always been compelling to me because she’s more of an anti-hero than Eric, and she comes across as heartless even though she struggles with a dark and tragic past. Mike Kane, a prisoner turned soldier, is a relentless smart-ass who blends heroism with comic relief. Ronan, a swordsman and former assassin, is my “hitman with a heart of gold” character, whose incredibly warped sense of the world is put to the test in The Witch’s Eye when he inadvertently finds himself in the unlikely position of holding what’s left the team together once they’ve all scattered to the wind.

Do you base your characters on real people in your life? If so, are you one of them?

I don’t make my characters exact duplicates of anyone I know in real life, but of course I take aspects of different people’s personalities and blend them into these fictional people. It’s safer that way…if I tell someone I based a character on them, I have to listen to how I got them all wrong. ;D

There’s no question Eric is the most like me (poor guy), but even he and I have our differences. Many of Cross’s insecurities bear a striking resemblance to my own, and he’s the easiest for me to write in terms of knowing how he’ll behave in any given situation, because I feel like he and I are pretty much on the same wavelength. Cross makes his fair share of stupid moves every now and again; one of the reasons I like writing him is because I know I probably would have done the same thing, whereas with some other characters, I’d be tempted to change things up to make it more realistic.


How do you handle the challenge of writing from multiple points of view? What makes it hard, and what makes it possible, at all?

Aside from the prologue of Blood Skies, I actually didn’t start writing from a second POV until Book Three, when Cross’s disappearance mandated a new character take over as the eyes and ears for the readers. For me the trick is to keep it simple: if you’re writing from multiple POVs, be sure to make them different enough individuals that the reader never gets confused, and try to use them in such a fashion that it makes sense to switch perspective — i.e. you’re still advancing the story by switching characters, not just re-telling every event from multiple viewpoints.

Blood Skies is the name of both the series and the first novel in it. Did you have such a good experience with the first novel that you decided to expand it into a series, or did you envision a long story arc and plan all the installments in it, first?

The former. The original draft of Blood Skies was actually quite different from how things wound up. As I mentioned before, the first version had strong elements of steampunk, and it was only about half as long as the finished novel. The original draft also had no survivors, so it definitely wasn’t intended to be an ongoing series. ;D

But as I revised and prepared Blood Skies for publication in early 2011, I got hit with a number of ideas for potential sequels, and decided I wanted to leave things more open-ended. Then, just a month before I released the book, I had an avalanche of ideas for Black Scars, so in the end I was very happy I’d decided to give myself the option for writing Book Two and beyond.

Can you describe the story arc? Where are you so far, and where will the next four books go?

Blood Skies (the series) at a glance is about the war between the humans of the Southern Claw and the vampires of the dreaded Ebon Cities, but before long the story turns to humankind’s struggle to protect their world from the dark powers behind The Black, a cataclysmic event that transformed the world into the wastelands it has become.

Blood Skies introduces Eric Cross, the protagonist of the series, and establishes many of the rules of the setting. Black Scars introduces Danica Black and Mike Kane and shows the formation of Cross’s team of mercenaries. Books four to seven (Soulrazor, Crown of Ash, The Witch’s Eye and Chain of Shadows Parts One and Two) chronicle the team’s struggles against the forces behind the creation of The Black. The final three books in the series (Vampire Down, The Ending Dream and Darker Sunset) will deal with the aftermath of the struggle, and show how the team’s victory was anything but complete.

All of your books seem to feature many of the same elements: witchcraft, horror, vampires and a damaged, changing world. Are they all based in the same alternate time-line, or are they different tales, entirely?

I’ve always tried to push the idea that the World After the Black is a conglomerate of multiple realities: the shattered remnants of different worlds, realities, times, or planes of existence having all crashed together with Earth as the focal point. The truth is, no one really knows where most of the elements came from originally — Earth and all of its disparate parts have been forcefully fused into a new paradigm. Part of the reason I did this, honestly, was to enhance the horror of the situation, for it means the world that humans are trapped in is all but impossible to break down and understand.

Do you ever find elements from your novels or from your life as a novelist have an impact on your other identity, as an accountant?

I do wish I had an arcane spirit with me at work, if that’s what you mean. ;D But seriously, the only real effect I find is that I wish I was doing more writing than accounting. With luck, I can continue to move toward that goal.

Do you have plans for any other types of stories outside of the Blood Skies world, or the genre?

This year I plan to publish City of Scars, which I wrote a few years back, the first novel in my epic fantasy Skullborn series. I’ll also eventually publish another stand-alone horror novel called Blood Angel Rising, about a pair of hit-men tracking down a fallen angel. On top of that I’ve written dozens of horror and dark fantasy short stories which I should probably allow to see the light of day at some point.

What is your favourite type of book to read?

I like dark epic fantasy, military sci-fi, and some horror. I enjoy some paranormal romance and urban fantasy, though it has to be taken in short doses. I’m also a sucker for a good murder mystery.

Who would you say are your major influences as a writer?

To this day my biggest influences remain J.V. Jones, China Mieville, Clive Barker, Tanith Lee, John Marco, John Meaney and C.S. Friedman. I’ll eat up pretty much anything those authors write. In the Indie field I’m a huge fan of Michael Hicks, Jon F. Merz, Jen Kirchner, Alan Edwards, Mike Berry, Candice Bundy and that Bruce Blake guy.

If there was one thing about your published work that you could change, what would it be?

I hate that it took me so long to produce those books. ;D I also know my first novel wasn’t as crisply edited as some of my later work, a fact that I plan to remedy as soon as I have some spare time. I’ve toyed with the notion of releasing an Omnibus of the first three novels of the Blood Skies series, and I’ll doubtlessly re-edit the lot before I do that.

Thanks for having me, Scott!

Thank you for coming, Steven.

Steven Montano’s books are all available on Amazon. For a full list, visit his Amazon author page.

And don’t neglect visiting his website, bloodskies.com, his blog, and grab the Ebon Cities Gazette.

Follow Steven on Twitter @Daezarkian

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Independent book launch: Heart of the King

Book Three in Bruce A. Blake’s best-selling Khirro’s Journey trilogy launches today. And as if that’s not enough to get you excited, and maybe even forgive Amazon its many sins, the first book in the series is just 99 cents — for a limited time.

What is Khirro’s Journey?

It began with a vial of blood, a curse, and a quest to a haunted land.

It continued through a strange subterranean land and a city of the damned, where an assassin raised from the dead sought to end it all while a sorceress invaded his home.

Now, Khirro's Journey comes to its end.

A king's spirit. A coward's heart. Together, a kingdom's last hope.

Sheyndust, the Archon, desires to be Necromancer and wield dark magic the likes of which the world has never seen. For years, her deadly plan has fallen into place piece by piece, treachery by treachery, death by death. With her enemies on their knees and an army of the dead at her command, nothing stands between her and the ultimate power for which she thirsts.

Nothing except a farmer and a dead king.

The curse that bound Khirro to his task was broken when the blood of the king spilled, but the king's spirit—a tyger of vengeful flame—burns bright within him. It pushes Khirro through hostile lands to return to his home. It pushes him to be more than he ever thought he could be despite the doubt and fear devouring him. It pushes him in a race against time to save the kingdom, a race he is bound to lose.

As the final pieces of the Archon's plot fall into place, and her power and army grow, it looks certain that all will be lost.

Unless a coward can look inside himself and find the heart of a king.

Heart of a King is available today at all major e-book retailers. And don’t miss the chance to start the journey for just 99 cents!

Once you read either one, you’ll be hooked on Bruce Blake. And you’re in luck! You can get your next fix FREE: the breakout novel, On Unfaithful Wings (Icarus Fell #1) is free of charge on January 27 and 28 on Amazon.

Bruce Blake is author of:

Find out more about Bruce at his blog, or subscribe to his newsletter at http://eepurl.com/pjLej

Thursday, January 24, 2013

On Unfaithful Wings: A sure-footed supernatural thriller

An independent book review

Bruce A. Blake’s first novel is a thoroughly entertaining, as well as thought-provoking and heart-wrenching novel that breaks the author out of obscurity as well as out of several genre conventions.
Blake demonstrates from the first sentence that he’s a professional writer, a novelist with chops:

“I stood with my back to the church, much the way I’d lived my life.

Rain poured down the eaves, splashing against my shoes. Each drop pattering against the leather felt as though it landed directly on my mood.”

What I liked about this book

First, the style: Raymond Chandler meets Stephen King. Spare and terse, it presents characters clearly and sets the ideal tone for this occult horror/mystery thriller story. It shows not only Blake’s ability, but also his commitment to professionalism — it has obviously been edited by a professional. There is not an extra word, not a misplaced phrased, not a single malapropism, and maybe four typos in the whole e-book.
Second, the plot: a tight, fast-paced plot suitable for an action thriller. Blake doesn’t waste time, getting into the main action immediately, and there is not a throw-away scene anywhere. Every scene, every word adds to the plot as much as to character development, mood or scene.
Third, the characters: all solid and believable. The main character, Icarus Fell (yes, that’s his name and Blake has lots of fun with it) is fallible, thoroughly human, not too smart nor too stupid. One reason the plot flows so fast is that it’s seen through the protagonist’s eyes, and his foibles are so easy to identify with. The ex-wife is nasty, but also believable — who hasn’t met at least one woman like Rae? Who hasn’t regretted it? The angels and archangels carry a very believable lack of worry about humans’ plans if they don’t mesh with Heaven’s, too.

And the Angel of Death is one of the best villains ever. Of course, with that as your template, how could a writer go wrong?

Even the shining lamp of goodness in the story, Sister Mary-Therese, hits the right note. She has a heart of gold, but she’s believably good.


The story is written in the first person. It begins as Icarus Fell, waiting under the eaves of a church for a rainstorm to abate, is murdered outside a church, in the rain, as he is on his way to bring a birthday present to his estranged teenage son.

Yep, that’s where the story begins. The main character dies.

He wakes up six months later in a seedy hotel room, where the Archangel Michael explains his destiny as a harvester of souls. His new job is escorting newly dead souls to a place where an angel can take them to heaven. Michael doesn’t take no for an answer, but explains that if Icarus carries out his new duties faithfully, he will have a chance to see his son again.

Like every action story, though, his job immediately gets more complicated than first explained. Agents of Hell want those sames souls just as much, and they’re powerful and dangerous and nasty.

True to the thriller form, the cops are no friendlier to Icarus. They’re suspicious when he turns up in the city six months after the coroner signs his death certificate.
Throughout the book, Icarus has to dodge the cops, the agents of Hell and the ghosts from his own past, all while discharging his job. It becomes even more complicated when one of his “clients” is an old drinking buddy.

The author avoids the error that many first-time novelists make, the information dump. We readers get the back-story bit by bit, as we need them to understand the motivations of the characters. We learn just how Icarus “screwed up” his relationship with his wife, Rae, and the nature of his relationship with his perhaps-son, Trevor. We learn how Icarus grew up in the orphanage connected with the church where he was murdered.
And like a true professional author of mystery thrillers, Blake ties together all the threads. There is nothing random, nothing unnecessary, nothing unexplained in this book.


I won’t say this book has any weaknesses, but one limitation occurred to me fairly early on in the book: the paranormal universe Blake has created is firmly based on the Judeo-Christian bible. That’s not necessarily a bad thing — lots of literature is firmly rooted in the same mythos. The only trouble is that Blake is presenting a universe that basically says the Bible’s conception of the universe is correct. So, where do Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and other religions fit into this?

It’s not a big thing, but something that nagged me as I read this.

Overall, On Unfaithful Wings satisfies. I’m upgrading my earlier assessment from four to five stars.

Well done, Bruce!

Get On Unfaithful Wings on Amazon

Visit Bruce Blake's blog.

Bruce Blake is a member of the Guild of Dreams fantasy writers' collective and Independent Authors International.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Don’t miss this REAL iPad Mini raffle

 February is the best month.

Why? Valentine’s Day,

Photo by Kathy Ophelia http://kathy-ophelia.deviantart.com/
 and …

BestSelling Reads’ month-long giveaway!

The best authors in new fiction are celebrating the grand opening of BestSellingReads with a giveaway all February long.
BestSellingReads brings some of the most loved fiction under one roof. We’re best-selling authors, but like you, we’re also readers—and we know how to spot a great read and the writer who published it.
Throughout 2013 you’ll watch BSR expand to include many of new fiction’s most celebrated stars. We’re kicking off the grand opening of the BestSellingReads site with a great deal that lasts a whole month. Visit the site, enter the raffle and you could win an iPad Mini loaded with a book from every BSR author (including yours truly), or the winner’s choice of a $300 Amazon gift card.
Second and third prizes: $25 Amazon gift cards.
PLUS: if you add the BSR promotion to your blog, you have a chance at a $200 cash prize!
Visit http://www.bestsellingreads.com/february-ipad-mini-promotion/ for full details and to enter the Rafflecopter.
If there is one thing that Written Words readers know, it’s that you can trust me.

Reader reassurance

No scams, no malware, no hidden hack attempts here. So when I tell you about a chance to win an iPad Mini, you know it’s an honest promotion: a new group of authors I’ve joined, BestSelling Reads, is giving away an iPad Mini, and all you have to do is log into BSR’s Rafflecopter with your Facebook account or your email.

It’s secure and we’re not going to sell your contact information to anyone else.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Fantasy book launch: Blood Skies, Book 5: The Witch’s Eye

Steve Montano is a fellow member of the Guild of Dreams Fantasy Author’s Collective, and author of the Blood Skies fantasy series. The latest installment, book 5, launches today.

Here’s a little more about it:

THE WITCH’S EYE (Blood Skies, Book 5)

The war continues, and a new evil is born.

The Ebon Cities have created a deadly new breed of undead called the Witchborn, whose very existence spells doom for the entire continent.

To make matters worse, a nihilist cult called the Black Circle has learned of the Witch’s Eye, the source of the Witchborn virus and an item capable of opening a portal to The Black.

Eric Cross’s scattered and war-weary team must find the Eye before it’s too late. With the aid of some unlikely allies, the mercenaries will fight their way across the wastelands and challenge the horrors at the edge of oblivion.

And before the battle is won Cross and his team will make the ultimate sacrifice, and face one of their own…

Return to the world After The Black in Book 5 of the BLOOD SKIES saga!

Grab a copy at Amazon or Smashwords, and be sure to check out the page at Goodreads!

Steven Montano can’t believe he’s written five full-length novels in this series. Writing four more will likely be the death of him, he says. "At least it was fun while it lasted."

Montano lives in Washington State with his wife, two children, a dog of below-average intelligence, and a ridiculous number of books and bottles of wine.

Visit Steven’s official website and get caught up with the Blood Skies series at bloodskies.com

Thursday, January 17, 2013

NRA proposals: a new low in misdirection

Creative Commons photo by Ed Schipul
“Are the president’s kids more important than yours?” asks the National Rifle Association in its latest video. “Then why is he skeptical about putting armed security in our schools when his kids are protected by armed guards at their school? Mr. Obama demands the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes, but he’s just another elitist hypocrite when it comes to a fair share of security.”

The magician’s secret, the key to a successful trick, is misdirection. Patter, the high-speed, high-energy babble that comes from the trickster’s mouth, is part of that. “Look over here,” the magician says, pointing away from the hand that’s hiding the coin or pulling the card out of the deck. The audience looks away, and the magician shows the illusion. Magic!

The NRA’s video is political and social misdirection. The illusion: that guns are necessary to the American way of life, the survival of the USA as we know it today.

The result: US residents buy huge numbers of firearms, and 55 percent of Americans support the NRA’s proposal to put armed guards in every school.

I’m neither a citizen nor a resident of the US, but it’s a debate that resonates in Canada. I’ll leave aside the criminally negligent absurdity of the NRA’s argument, and focus on the message from a communications perspective.

The context

NRA head Wayn LaPierre: not crazy.
Just bad.
(Photo credit: AP/Alex Brandon)
The argument over increased control of guns in the US is an old and predictable one. After the especially horrible school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last month, the debate ramped up again. Groups like the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, among others, called for more and stricter controls on guns, and the National Rifle Association reiterated its hoary message: “guns don’t kill people — people kill people.” Then, the head of the NRA, Wayne LaPierre, proposed that the solution would be to put armed guards in every school in the US. “If it’s crazy to call for putting police in and securing our schools to protect our children, then call me crazy,” he told NBC News.

That’s not crazy. That’s irresponsibly disingenuous.

The misdirection

As President Obama announced his intentions to more strictly enforce existing gun control laws and pass new laws, the NRA brought out this message equating Secret Service protection with armed security guards in elementary schools, and equating 50-round ammunition magazines with Second Amendment rights.

This is how misdirection works:

Look over here, folks. We have a problem: obviously mentally disturbed people arming themselves with military grade assault weapons and using them against children and other unarmed innocents.

Now, watch this hand: we give everybody the same kinda weapons! Assault rifle here, assault rifle there, concealed handguns over there. Now watch what happens: two days after the Newtown school shootings, a gunman in San Antonio, Texas opened fire in a movie theatre. He was wounded and incapacitated by an armed, off-duty police officer.

See? More guns means more security!

Just don’t look at the body count.

(According to the Journal of Trauma-Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, “before a child in the United States reaches 15 years of age, he or she is…12 times more likely to die a firearm-related death” compared to children in other industrialized countries.)

I’m not going to tear that argument apart. You can see for yourself that the fact that it was a trained law-enforcement person who shot the crazed gunman refutes the argument that arming everyone protects everyone. Nope, I’m not going to say that. You can figure that out for yourself, because you’re reading this blog, and that means you’re smart.
This is how the magicians of the NRA are misdirecting the public involved in the gun control debate:

Problem: if even some categories of firearms are banned, weapons manufacturers’ sales and profits will fall.

Misdirection: The politicians are taking away your freedom! Their servants are armed, their children are protected! You deserve the same thing: stand up for high profits for gun merchants lax or non-existent gun control legislation!

Don’t look at the actual problem: 130 school shootings in the USA that resulted in at least one death of a student or staff member since the Columbine shootings in 1999 (according to FactCheck.org, an apparently right-ish site funded by the Annenberg Public Policy Center. I’ll let you form your own opinion on it: http://factcheck.org/2012/12/gun-rhetoric-vs-gun-facts/)

What they’re not saying

When someone’s trying to convince you about something, you have to ask what’s in it for them.

According to Business Insider magazine, more than half the NRA’s funding comes “in the form of contributions, grants, royalty income, and advertising, much of it originating from gun industry sources.

“Since 2005, the gun industry and its corporate allies have given between $20 million and $52.6 million to it through the NRA Ring of Freedom sponsor program. Donors include firearm companies like Midway USA, Springfield Armory Inc, Pierce Bullet Seal Target Systems, and Beretta USA Corporation. Other supporters from the gun industry include Cabala's, Sturm Rugar & Co, and Smith & Wesson.”

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/gun-industry-funds-nra-2013-1#ixzz2IAJ2j6bN
The NRA and its corporate masters sponsors never say that, do they? No, they spend millions of dollars and countless person-hours to maintain the current gun laws, so that they can maintain their sales and profits.

Someone shoots an innocent person.
Response: Don’t let Washington dishonour the Founding Fathers and take away your rights!
What they’re not saying: We love our money much, much more than your kids’ lives.

  What do you think?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

I miss winter

My house in winter: a source of inspiration.

Ever since I read Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, I’ve wanted to write about the power and majesty of winter. Helprin wrote about images of frozen lakes, mountains of snow, impassable drifts and sharp, bright stars in a sky frozen to crystalline clarity.

I remember similar images from my childhood in Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario: snowbanks high than my head along residential streets; fighting for dominion over hills of snow in the schoolyard until the teachers yelled at us to come down; snow-spray kicked up by my boots as I walked to the bus stop, glowing golden in the light of an approaching car.

I’ve written before about how I find a lot of inspiration from the world around me. I don’t have to create a new world to write fantasy — the world out my window is filled with wonder.

But with global warming, I am losing one of my favourite and most evocative sources of inspiration.

When I was a child, riding in the family car across the prairies in January, the snow covering the prairies would be polished by the wind and shining golden in the slanting winter sunlight.

Today, as I rode along the Ottawa River, the world was gray: lead-coloured sky, soft gray ice on the river, soggy gray slush on the fields, dark gray slush along the sides of the gray roads, gray, leafless trees ...

Winter has no majesty anymore. It’s warm, only minus 4 degree Celsius. (That’s 25 degrees Fahrenheit for US readers.) A couple of days ago, the temperature in Ottawa reached plus 10 degrees (50 Fahrenheit)!

I remember snow squeaking and crunching as I walked outdoors. Now, it slushes and splashes.

Ottawa has a reputation as a winter city; in the American imagination, Canada is home to winter, source of cold winds that freeze the US from December to March.

It’s just not true anymore.

We have lost winter

I know there are some people who think that would be great. The people who moan about every snowfall, who pray for early spring, who prefer January rain to February snow.

But I love winter, and I know I’m not alone. I love the feeling of cold air on my face, the blue that only comes to a cold winter sky. I love winter sports, too: skiing downhill or cross-country, skating on an outdoor rink or frozen river or canal, tobogganing under a starry sky.

There is no blue like a clear winter sky.

I love walking through a snowy forest under the moonlight. Just looking at a snowy yard through my window sparks an urge to write, brings forth images and stories and even sentences. Now, I fear that’s all going away.

My problems may not seem important compared to those of polar bears, which depend on the shrinking Arctic sea ice for their lives, or for countless other species whose habitats are being destroyed by the increasing temperature of the planet.

But the loss of winter as a source of inspiration is indicative. There has been no denying that the world is warming for decades, and now the fact that it has been caused by humans and our industry is just as undeniable.

Except by the humans who perceive that their wealth and short-term livelihood derive from those world-warming industries.

There are solutions, dear readers. If you want to conserve something that shapes the world we know, there are steps we can all take. We can use less energy. And no, it won’t cause an economic collapse.

Let’s face it: we let the people who put economic growth ahead of every other possible consideration, including health, the non-human part of the world and even fiscal responsibility, run the economy and every industry, and they managed to bring about an intractable economic calamity with every tool and freedom they asked for.

Can we let them to the same thing to the world we need to live?

Friday, January 11, 2013

One Shade’s progress

By Tania Saiz [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

An in-progress view of collaborative publishing

Now that I’ve finished my first draft of my current novel, I’ve decided to share with you blog readers a real-time look as this work progresses through collaborative publishing.

Regular readers will know that my current work-in-progress is One Shade of Red, my spoof of the inexplicable best-seller, Fifty Shades of Gray. It began last fall when two ideas came together:

- that I could write a better story than EL James did

- that I needed a spark for my National Novel Writing Month 2012 project.

I succeeded in the NaNoWriMo project. In well under 30 days, I tapped out 50,000 words in a coherent story. I finished the first draft of the novel by about December 10 (still well within the rules of the NaNoWriMo game).

Computer addict 3 image found on
Concurring Opinions, courtesy Ipkat
I took a couple of weeks off from the book as a cooling-off period, and because, hey, it was Christmas. Gotta spend some time with the family occasionally, at least so those calls of “Would you come away from your computer for a few minutes, already!” have a chance to stop echoing.

Regular readers also know that last summer, nine other writers and I founded Independent Authors International, an author’s cooperative. One of the purposes of iAi is to share the various skills that authors have. I used that cooperative process to publish my first book, The Bones of the Earth. My premier editor and beta reader was Roxanne Bury (more sympathetically known as my wife). After I made the changes she recommended, I sent the manuscript to fellow iAi member Will Granger, author of Anabar’s Run and Anabar Rises. Another author and designer, Lisa Damerst (whose book cover work can be seen on the No Road Back) designed my cover, and I am very pleased with it.

I will follow a similar process with One Shade of Red.
Sometimes, it's just too much information.
(Image source: Jeff Youngstrom, Creative Commons)

The first draft of One Shade of Red weighed in at 73,167 words. Upon re-reading it, I realized that if I was going to try to spoof EL James, I would have to pull back on some of my description. The book is about sex, and I wanted to write about sex as frankly and fully as I write about everything else, but the first draft contains descriptions that are WAY too graphic. I included much, much more detail than EL James ever did.

I am now half-way through the rewrite of One Shade; Roxanne has the first couple of rewritten chapters to look at now. When I have incorporated those changes, I will have to choose another editor for the crucial dispassionate second look and proofread. I will also have to find a cover designer.

I promise to keep everyone up to date. And don’t hesitate to ask questions!

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Writing Tips: Smashwords allows direct uploading of EPUB files

This is big news for indie authors: Smashwords is now supporting the direct uploading of EPUB-formatted books for sale through its e-retail network.

According to the Smashwords Official Blog, the new Smashwords Direct “allows our authors and publishers to upload their own professionally formatted EPUB files for sale at the Smashwords store, and for distribution to the Smashwords retail distribution network.”

Until now, listing your book on the Smashwords e-catalog meant starting with a .doc file, formatted exactly according to Smashwords’ specifications, and uploading it into their proprietary Meatgrinder software. If you do everything just right (which isn’t that hard), Smashwords will give you back an e-book in whatever format you wanted, and list it on their e-bookstore.
If you follow all of Smashwords’ recommendations, it will also list your book in other e-bookstores: Barnes & Noble, Apple’s iBookstore, Diesel, Kobo and all the others — except for Amazon. And that’s because of Amazon, not because of Smashwords.

The Meatgrinder system is fully automatic. If you feel proficient with a word processor that can save a .doc format, you don’t have to learn another software application. Meatgrinder takes care of the formatting, program codes and everything else.

However, it is a little limiting. As someone who learned desktop publishing way back when, I like the ability to choose my typeface and format my pages the way I want them to look. Learning to use an EPUB creation program like Caliber is no sweat to someone who learned, successively, PageMaker, QuarkXPress, InDesign and then HTML.

To quote Smashwords itself:

EPUB files uploaded through this new Smashwords Direction option must still adhere to the formatting best practices listed in the Smashwords Style Guide. Books will still be reviewed by our vetting team before shipping out to our retailers.

The company points out some limitations to the new option. First, Meatgrinder converts a .doc file into nine different formats for just about every e-reader there is, including PDF and .MOBI for the Kindle. If you upload an EPUB file, that won’t happen. “Nor will you get the downloadable samples,” Smashwords says, although it promises to improve sampling and add the ability to upload PDF and .MOBI files directly, as well.

You can upload your book as a Word .doc file first, formatted to the Style Guide, and then replace our EPUB with your own (assuming your EPUB is higher quality). This way, you'll have the major formats covered.

The author’s best friend

While Amazon is by far the biggest e-bookstore (although I have not found any reliable market statistics), I think that Smashwords is the indie author’s best friend. Amazon’s Kindle Publishing System works in much the same way as Smashwords’, but the output is restricted to Amazon’s e-retailing system. What’s more, Amazon takes 30% of the selling price of the book, while Smashwords takes only 15%. (That commission rises, of course, for books sold through other bookstores like B&N, as each player gets a cut.)

Smashwords head honcho Mark Coker’s Secrets to EBook Publishing Success is the clearest and most useful explanation of how to create e-books that I have ever read, and the Style Guide is an indispensible tool. Amazon just doesn’t have anything like it.

Smashwords also has an easy-t0-use coupon system, which allows the author or publisher to offer discounts, even free books, to individuals.

You can also set your price to zero. Amazon only allows you to do that for five days out of ninety, and only if your book is exclusive to Amazon. I have tried it with some success, but overall, I prefer having my books on more than one retailer.

In short, Smashwords, the little guy, gives authors a whole lot more.

Check out the documentation for Smashwords Direct at https://www.smashwords.com/swdirect. And tell Written Words if you’ll try it.