Thursday, December 29, 2016

5 Tips For Having a Successful Blog

Forgive the clip show format of this post. I figure if I'm going to talk about what has worked for me, I might as well direct you to some of my more successful posts. I mean...why not, right?

Also, this post may be a little different from what you are expecting. Normally articles with similar titles to this one are all about SEO. You know, the perfect title to make people click. Subheadings, also with perfect titles, to keep people reading. That sort of thing. But that's not what I'm writing about today. Why? Two reasons. 1.) If you're a blogger you've probably read about SEO until you're absolutely sick of it, and 2.) I must admit I haven't fully mastered the art of SEO yet. So this is something a little different. But hopefully "different" is what you're looking for. So here are my tips for writing a successful blog post.

Know Your Audience

I am an indie author and am therefore followed by a lot of indie authors on social media. So whenever I share juicy information about writing (not my writing, but writing in general) I tend to get a lot of page views. And sometimes a few comments as well. Here are a few posts about writing and indie publishing that have been successful:

Share In The Right Places

This is related to knowing your audience, but takes it a step further. I'm talking about actively seeking out your audience, then sharing a blog post that is pertinent to their interests. Here are some articles that got views from people who wouldn't normally have been reading my blog if I hadn't shared them in the appropriate Facebook groups.

Shared with my Spanish learners group:

Shared with my indie authors group:

Shared with my weight loss group:

The key to sharing in groups like that is to do it infrequently and to only share information you think may be of interest to the other members. Don't share as a form of shameless self-promo. That doesn't go over well.

Write While You're Emotional

This may do nothing for you in terms of SEO. After all, when people read your title they don't know how passionate you were about your topic, unless you've filled your title up with f-bombs or something. So there's no added incentive to click, but once they do they are more likely to share, retweet, or comment because what you had to say made an impact. Here are some of my more emotional posts:

Network With Others

This one's obvious. If you write a blog post that helps someone else out, they'll help you share your post with the world. I've done little networking on my blog so far, but I plan to do a lot more in the new year, so hopefully this list will be getting a good bit longer. Here is my measly collection of posts designed to help my fellow indie authors:

And a Little SEO

I've said I'm not an expert in SEO, but I do seem to have pulled off a few successes here and there. How do I know? Because I have a few blog posts that continue to get views long after I've stopped sharing them, which means they must be turning up on web browsers when people search certain topics. Here are some of my posts which have had the best staying power, and which must therefore be good examples of SEO

These are the things that have worked for me. I'd love to hear your own experiences, so please leave a comment.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Is It Offensive to Call a Woman a "Girl"?

I'm not the kind of girl to get all upset over vocabulary.

See what I did there? Now you know my personal feelings about the word "girl."

But before you go accusing me of being a traitor to my gender, you should know I do have some feminist leanings. Sure, I don't care one whit about gender-specific words. "Girl" doesn't bother me. I've never felt the need to replace history with herstory. You can refer to the entire human race as mankind all day long and I won't bat an eyelid. I was never even bothered by the now archaic practice of using "he" as a generic pronoun in formal writing. It's just easier than saying "he/she" or "s/he".

But I do get my feathers ruffled by some things. I have a strong disdain for chivalry, which makes me something of an odd nut considering that I'm a Christian living in the Bible Belt. In many of the social circles in which I move, chivalry is alive and well. And I know men don't mean anything offensive by it when they hold a door for a woman. I know they're just trying to be gentlemen. To do what their mamas taught them and treat all women like queens. But still, it irks me. Okay, we make it to the door at the same time and the man reaches out and opens it then lets me go in first, fine. I can handle that. But if he sees me walking toward the building from halfway across the parking lot and he waits at the door just so he can open it for me, I'm like, "Seriously, dude?" I mean, why? Just why? But...honestly? I think it bothers me not so much because I find it offensive to women, but because I find it offensive to men. "Huh?" you say? Think about it. Why is there this unwritten rule that men should suffer just so women don't have to? Why should that poor guy have to stand out in the rain and the cold so he can hold the door for me like his mama taught him? Just go in and get warm and dry. Please. My gender should not make me entitled to an easy ride at your expense. Just, please.

The Quandary of the Word "Girl"

It was brought to my attention that some women find "girl" offensive yesterday. I started a thread in an online writers' group, asking about my wording of this passage from my WiP:

Damian was more of a beer guy than a wine and Champagne guy, but this was his Valentine’s gift to his fiancée and Jenn liked to indulge in the finer things in life. So if she wanted fancy, he’d give her fancy. No one could accuse Damian of not knowing the way to his woman’s heart.

I was worried about the word "woman". To me it sounded macho. I envisioned a scruffy guy with a beer gut wearing a wife beater (picture Onlsow from Keeping Up Appearances) coming home from work and saying, "Woman, you better get in that kitchen and get me a sandwich and a cold beer or else!" "Girl" reminded me more of high school sweethearts. You know...he takes her to the fair and wins a huge stuffed animal for her. He pins her corsage to her dress before taking her to the prom. He always addresses her parents as "sir" and "ma'am". That kind of thing. So to me, "his girl" was similar to saying "his sweetie" while "his woman" sounded more like "his bitch."

When the first commenter suggested that "girl" was condescending, that was the first time I'd ever been introduced to the idea some people found the word offensive. Then two more people commented with the same sentiments. Huh. It hadn't even been on my radar, but apparently it's becoming a rule that no one should refer to women as "girls". It had never even occurred to me to be offended by that.

What I Found Out About the Word "Girl"

I was confused as heck, so I had to do a Google search. I had to know if this was really a thing. Turns out it is. From what I learned, it seems to be mainly an issue for women in the workplace. If a woman wants to be taken seriously as a professional, she's going to get upset if her male coworkers refer to her as a girl. Okay. Makes sense. No one takes a girl seriously, but you'd darn sure better take a woman seriously.

But Damian is not Jenn's coworker. Or her boss. He's her fiancé so what the heck is wrong with him calling her his "girl". It just sounded endearing to me. I still haven't quite figured out the answer to this. It has something to do with seeing women as sexual objects and not respecting them as people. But to me "woman" has more of that feel to it than "girl". Again, your "girl" is someone you take to the prom and bring home to mama. Your "woman" is someone who'd better do what you tell her or she's going to see the backside of your hand. Think of The Godfather. In the beginning, Kay is Michael's girl. By the end she'd morphed into his woman. But maybe my view is outdated. Like I said, I've only learned of this "offensive" word in the past twenty-four hours, so perhaps I need some time to digest it.

Why It Bothered Me That People Would Find "Girl" Condescending

I got upset about this. I mean really. I couldn't stop thinking about it for a long time. Even shed a few tears. Yeah. Tears. At first I couldn't figure out why I was crying over it. I thought maybe it was the shock of finding out that something I consider normal, even endearing, could offend someone else. I think everyone's probably been in that situation at least once. It's not an easy thing to experience.

The more I thought, about it, however, the more I realized I was offended. Why? Because the people questioning my use of the word "girl" were also questioning Damian's use of the word "girl". They were saying Damian was condescending. If you're a writer you know how easy it is to fall in love with your characters. I've fallen in love with Damian. He's my baby. I created him and he's mine. My own. My precioussss.

Oh...sorry. Not sure what happened there. Anyway, you don't insult Damian in front of me. Basically, if you want to hurt my baby, you have to fight your way past me first. (That's an odd thing to say, because I allow other characters in the book to hurt him badly, but whatever). So I was perfectly fine with him saying "girl". I very well could have changed what I had written (I didn't, thank goodness) and I would have been fine with it. But I would have made him vulnerable to attack. I would have given people an opportunity to call him condescending and a chauvinist. Wow. I really dodged a bullet on that one. Or, rather, he dodged a bullet.

What "Girl" Means To Me

I was sixteen when I started dating my husband. I was his girl. I'm now thirty-seven, and I hope I'm still his girl. I hope that when I'm eighty and my boobs are dragging the ground, my crow's-feet have spread over the rest of my face, and my legs are riddled with varicose veins, I'll still be his girl. I hope that he will still be able to look at me and see that cute redhead who caught his eye on the football field at band camp back in the mid 1990s. Because that's what I think of when I hear the word. I think you're saying I'm youthful and spunky. Wide-eyed and full of life. Optimistic about what the future holds. I don't think you're calling me unintelligent or immature. But then, maybe I need to get out more. Who knows?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

5 Things That Were Different About Season 1 of Supernatural

Anyone who watches Supernatural knows the show has changed a lot over the years. I've actually blogged about this in the past, but I'm re-watching season 1 again (I think this makes round 3) and am noticing some specifics that may have slipped by me last time, so I thought I'd list them.

The Blood Spray

This is a staple on the show nowadays. Whenever there is a "monster of the week" style episode, and even in some episodes related to the main story arc, if someone is killed by that episode's primary villain, rather than show the person dying, it shows blood splattering on a nearby surface. When I began my latest run through season 1, I was excited to see the blood spray in the pilot episode. But you know what? I'm now over half-way through the season and I don't think I've seen it since. Hmm...something I so strongly associate with this show was virtually nonexistent in the early episodes. It doesn't take away from my enjoyment (seasons 1 and 2 are still my favorites) but I do find it interesting.

Carry On My Wayward Son

Another Supernatural staple. If you're a fan, you know this is the song that has been played during the recap of every season finale since the beginning. Or has it? Actually no. The song does appear during a recap in season 1, but not in the finale. It's in the episode before the finale. And I think I know why that song was chosen. A major theme of the first season is Sam's relationship with his dad. In the last few episodes this conflict comes to a head, and the title of the song (if not the rest of the lyrics) fits perfectly with that particular story arc. But it's not in the season finale...sorry. For that you have to wait for season 2.

The Colors

This was something I noticed about the show when I watched season 1 for the first time. The colors were always muted. I suppose the intent was to add to the creepy atmosphere by stripping the world of everything bright and beautiful (I think I'm quoting church hymns now...). It worked. I loved the look of the show in the early days. I think season 6 was the first season where everything was presented in full color, and I'm not sure why that change was made.


Another recurring theme. It's a long running joke on Supernatural that Dean is obsessed with pie, but when Sam makes a food run he always forgets it. Guess what? Not in season 1. There's only one mention of pie. It's in the episode Scarecrow and, yes, Dean does eat it but only because the creepy little town where he's stopped for lunch is famous for its apples and the local restaurant is famous for its apple pie. You have to wait for season 2 before you actually get to hear Dean say he loves pie.

The Bad Guys

This is huge. This is the main reason the show is so different now, and it took me awhile to figure it out. The way it happened was this: My husband and I were watching an episode of season 1 together recently (I made him watch it with me, saying, "I have to show you how different the show was back then") and he actually found himself enjoying it (he doesn't usually like re-watching television programs. Movies, yes, but TV He turned to me and said, "Why was the show so much better in the beginning?" The answer? The bad guys. They were actually scary in the early days whereas now...not so much. But why were they scary? Because they weren't regular characters on the show. They didn't have personalities. They didn't have motives other than causing as much destruction as possible. They were always in the shadows. Unseen. Shrouded in mystery. And that made them frightening. Now demons are presented simply as businessmen vying for position and making their way up the corporate ladder. Vampires are just trying to keep their families fed. The devil is a narcissist, sure, but he's pretty darn funny at the same time. But it didn't used to be that way. It used to be scary, and I liked it when it was scary.

Did I miss anything? I'd love to know about it, so feel free to leave me a comment.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Amusing Things You Find in Your Childhood Diary

Every now and then I pull out my old diary and reread some of the things I wrote. I came across this little gem recently. I am reproducing it here with all the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes because they are part of what makes it so cute. It was the final sentence that made me laugh the hardest, though.

February 19, 1989 (I was nine years old)

Dear Diary, Yesterday I got back from my Grandma's house. Me and my cousin did fight. I got to sleep upstairs, but I got scared. Today I hung up a 1988 calender that was in the kitchan. My mama was turning it into a dish cloth, but I didn't want it to go to waste. I also put my sign Language in the bedroom and put up a sign that says Welcome to the room of who won first prize in messiness. Yesterday, when I started to wach Tales from the darkside, my Daddy said, "You ready to watch two worms from the hole," because of my brainteaser. Right now I am watching Benji the hunted and Daddy is playing the computer. Children of a lesser God came on today. I like that movie, but it isn't but half as good as Nightmare on Elmstreet 3.

So...Nightmare on Elm Street 3 is a higher quality movie than Children of a Lesser God? Proof positive that I have always been a horror movie buff.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Writing a Series Versus a Standalone

A Recent Decision

The question of whether Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy would become a series was there from the beginning. In fact, before I sat down to write the first word, I had to decide which story I was going to tell. The ending? Or the backstory? At the time I only had a little of the backstory in my head and didn't think I could make that into much of a book, so I wrote the ending instead. But as I was writing it, the backstory grew. And grew. What at first only stretched back five years eventually came to encompass centuries of Fuentes family history. As I was writing Primogénito, I was thinking constantly about the other stories that could be told about these characters. I wanted to tell those stories, but I had some reservations about writing a series. I will explain those reservations in a moment. First, some reasons why many authors choose to write a series as opposed to a standalone book.

Benefits of Having a Series

The primary benefit of having a series, especially for indie authors, is promotion. If one book in the series becomes popular, it will drive sales for all the other books. And if you discount one of the books, that drives sales even more. I know of a lot of indie authors who will make the first book in their series free for a few days when they release a new installment. So readers snap up the freebie then go on to buy the sequels. At least that's the hope. And for many people it works.

Why I Didn't Want to Write a Series

If I'm honest, I was resistant to the idea of turning my book into a series because I was being a literary snob. In my mind, a single book could be a masterpiece but writing sequel after sequel, or prequel after prequel, or even spin-off after spin-off, would cheapen the value of the original work. Keep in mind that I was a kid in the eighties, the decade of the bad movie sequel. Remember The Neverending Story II? No? Neither does anyone else.

I'm also a horror movie buff, and have been for as long as I can remember. I mean that literally. I saw Poltergeist when I was four and it instantly became one of my favorite movies. I had several friends who had also seen it and I remember them coming over to my house for Poltergeist role-playing games. This was particularly fun in the pool because we could hold on to the ladder, letting our bodies float in the water, and pretend we were Carol Ann holding on to the headboard while the closet was trying to suck her in. Did you know Poltergeist spawned a couple of sequels? No? Neither does anyone else.

Halloween is the prime example of what I'm talking about. This is one horror movie I actually didn't see as a kid. I think I was in college the first time I watched it. This is only my humble opinion, and you are welcome to disagree, buy I consider Halloween to be the best slasher movie ever made. I liked it so much I decided to have a Halloween marathon. I didn't make it past the second movie.

Okay, so I've given you some of my opinions of sequels. But I wasn't planning to write a sequel. Remember, I already wrote the end of the story. What I need to do now is write the prequels. I have even worse associations with that word than with sequel. Why? Because the first time I ever heard that word was in high school. A friend of mine, who was fangirlishly obsessed with Star Wars, told me that there were plans in the works for a prequel to that series. I remember thinking, "Prequel! Ha! Clever word. It's like a sequel, but it's before the events of the original movie, so it's a prequel." I also remember thinking, "Wow! A brand new Star Wars movie. Can't wait to see it!" Well, I did see it, and, like everyone else who saw it, I'm still trying to forget it.

Changing My Worldview As I Mature

So my early experiences of series were less than positive. I have since come to adore, even respect, quite a few series. The Little House series was one of the first. Then I discovered The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter. And let's not forget Tolkien. Did he ever write anything that wasn't set in middle earth and didn't comprise part of the backstory of The Lord of the Rings? If he did, I haven't read it. And I don't think anyone could accuse him of cheapening his work by continuing to write books set in the same world.

The Deciding Factor

There were two things that compelled me to turn Primogénito into a series. First, while I was writing it I couldn't get the backstory out of my head. I just really wanted to write about those events. After I published it I started on a new project, but was still sort of in love with Damian Fuentes. I wanted to spend more time with him. Don't get me wrong, I like the new story I'm working on, I just feel like I've jumped into a new relationship too soon after terminating the previous one. I think Damian and I have some unfinished business.

Those feelings were powerful, but they weren't what made me finally bite the bullet and start pounding out the prequel to Primogénito. The decision became unavoidable when I started reading the reviews my book has gotten. You can read two of them on Primogénito's Amazon page. Both make statements that led me to conclude that the rest of the story has to be told.

First, one of the reviewers said, "The story starts off rather weirdly, and it gave me an impression that I was supposed to know some of the background already. It took me a while to actually figure out what was going on." seems that not revealing the backstory early enough is a potential weakness of this book. Well, if readers need to know all that before they read the book, why don't I give it to them?

Then, in another review, it says, "I'd really like to know Leo’s story, and the stories of Damian’s ancestors, and also that of Damian’s first encounter with Renato and his brothers. This seems like such a pain-ridden family, even if some cannot truly feel the pain, like Renato. Leo cannot have been the first to dig his heels in and try to fight back. Or maybe so. How common are children after the first two?" So for this reviewer it didn't come across as a weakness, but as something that would be very interesting to read about. Well, again, if people want to read that story, I might as well write it.

What I'm Up To Now

So now I'm busy writing the prequel (the first of several) to Primogénito. I haven't abandoned that other new story I had begun, but I've got to get that prequel out or it will eat me alive. I'm considering prepublishing it on this website and on Wattpad as a way of advertising the other book, so feel free to drop by and check for new chapters. It will basically be my first draft, so anyone reading it will be welcome to leave feedback (as long as it's polite).

You can also read Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy now on your kindle. It is on sale for only $0.99/£0.99 until December 6.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Small Annoyances at the Grocery Store

Like most grocery stores, the one near my house has a loyalty card. These can be a great thing. If used effectively, they can really save shoppers a lot of money. The thing about this particular store is that they recently replaced their old loyalty card with a new one. That means that the card I had is now obsolete. No worries, they gave me another. But the new card has caused me more headaches than I can count.

First of all, I had to give my cell phone number to register for the new card. Then I received a text with a link that I was supposed to click in order to verify my card. The problem is I still have an ancient phone that does not have internet access. Text messages I can get, but clicking on a link isn't going to work. That means in order to use my card I have to pick up my phone and call an actual number and activate it. I just plain don't want to do that. I hate doing that kind of thing. Always have. Always will.

Well, I can still get points on my card if I just give my cell phone number to the cashier at the store. It's slightly more annoying than handing over the card itself, but it works. The problem is, the first few times I told the person at the counter my number I apparently spoke in tongues or something. On more than one occasion, with two or more different cashiers, I said the number, causing the woman at the counter to look at me with knitted brows. Then she (the various "she's" who took my number on multiple trips to the store) repeated the number for confirmation, and invariably got the last two digits wrong. Every single time.

The last few times I've been to that store, I've been overly conscious of the way I say the number. I want to make sure I'm understood. So I've been using a trick I learned from my days of doing community theatre. It was pounded into my head over and over again that in theatre, your voice should go up at the end of a sentence. Quite often in regular conversation, we end our sentences by going down, but in theatre, things go up. That's because if you're on a stage trying to be heard by people in the back row, if you inflect your voice down the audience will lose the last few words of what you say. I thought that was maybe what was happening to me at the grocery store. So I began inflecting up at the end every time I said my cell number.

My method seemed to work. The cashiers could hear me and understand me. But the trials and tribulations are far from over. The most recent time I went grocery shopping I said my cell number and then the cashier looked at me with eyebrows raised and a smile on her face. "Are you sure?" she asked me. Not quite understanding what she was getting at, I just kind of smiled back at her in an attempt to silently communicate my confusion. Then she said, "The way you said your number, you sounded like you were asking a question." I just can't win!

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Learning to Deal With Critical Reviews

A Natural Fear

We all fear rejection, and when we put our babies (aka books) out into the world, if they get rejected we feel it on a very deep level. When I published Amelia's Children last year I didn't even send out review requests because I was so terrified that people would hate my book. Then I finally got brave enough to do it, but my efforts only earned me one review. It was five stars, though, so I was greatly relieved. If you're interested, you can read it here. Then a few months later, another review for Amelia's Children came rolling in. This time it was only three stars, despite the fact that the reviewer had some very positive things to say. You can read that review here. I'll talk about my feelings regarding those reviews in a moment, but first I want to discuss my new book.

I released Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy this Halloween. This time I did things the "right" way. I started sending out review requests before the release date. The results, however, have been disappointing so far. One person rated the book on Goodreads, but did not leave a review. One person reviewed it on her blog but did not post it anywhere else. And one person left a review on Goodreads, but nowhere else. As of today, I still have no reviews on Amazon for this book. And the reviews/ratings I do have are all three stars. I'll discuss those reviews, and my feelings about them, in a moment, but I want to tell you how I feel about my book first.

This Book Is More Than My Baby

We all love our books. That's why we refer to them as our "babies". But not all "babies" are created equal, and of the two books I have published so far, I absolutely have a favorite. I openly admit to loving Primogénito more than I love Amelia's Children. That's right, I like the book with the lukewarm reviews better than the one which earned five stars right out the gate. There are multiple reasons for this, some from an objective, critical standpoint and some from a very personal standpoint. I'll get into the details later, but first I want you to understand exactly how strongly I feel about this book. Basically, if Amelia's Children is The Hobbit, then Primogénito is The Lord of the Rings. No, I'm not actually comparing myself to Tolkien. I know that would be considered almost sacrilegious in the literary world (but at least I didn't compare myself to Shakespeare!). What I'm comparing is the difference between my two books.

Like The Hobbit, Amelia's Children is fast-paced and exciting. The tensions build gradually until by the end you can't put the book down because you want to know what's going to happen next. And no, those are not my words. I'm merely quoting things people have told me after reading it. What I've learned from the people who have made the effort to contact me and tell me their feelings is that Amelia's Children is a crowd-pleaser and a page-turner.

Primogénito, on the other hand, is my masterpiece. Not that I'm putting it on the same shelf with The Lord of the Rings. I'm not. I recognize the world-building genius of Tolkien and do not presume that my own book is nearly that rich with detail. But it is pretty rich, especially compared to Amelia's Children. And I worked my butt off to make it that rich. Even though it's an urban fantasy which takes place in our modern society, still a lot of work went into the world-building aspects of that book. And I think I did a good job. In fact, one of the critical reviews it has received (which, again, I will discuss later) applauded my efforts at sculpting a captivating backstory to explain the paranormal element. But I love my book for more reasons than just that.

What Makes Primogénito Objectively Better Than Amelia's Children?

Amelia's Children was my debut novel. And because I self-published I did not have an editor standing between me and my audience. I could put it out there whenever I felt it was ready. You should know that I am a grammar nerd, so I made sure it had been thoroughly scoured for glaring mistakes and awkward wording before I hit the publish button. But I only knew what I knew at the time and there are a few things I have learned since then. Primogénito reflects those things. Basically, I was better at following "rules" by the time I sat down to write my second book. Here are some examples.

Concise writing
Have you ever had your writing referred to as wordy? Do you even know what that means? When I wrote Amelia's Children, I had no idea what it meant. And looking back, I see that my debut book was "wordy". I recognized it to an extent on the first proofread. I think I deleted the words "just" and "I mean" at least five times per page as I was preparing the book for publication. One word I did not delete, however, was "that". It's still there, in the edition that is currently available from all the various booksellers. It's everywhere in Amelia's Children. Maybe one day I'll do another revision and take some of them out, but for now I'm busy promoting my second book and writing my third. But I can guarantee that my subsequent books, including Primogénito, will rely less and less on those filler words and more on words which have real meaning.

Deep POV
I had never even heard of deep POV when I wrote my first book, but it's something I tried to pay close attention to with my second. So Amelia's Children is full of phrases like, "I thought", "I saw", and "I felt". Primogénito is not. If you're not familiar with deep POV, here's the abridged version. Basically words like "think", "see", "feel", etc., are barriers between the reader and the character. They are little ways that the author makes his presence known in the book. Deep POV is a method of removing the author from the book entirely so the reader only sees the characters and, hopefully, feels what the characters are feeling. This is only my humble opinion, and I know I'm biased when it comes to my own book, but I think I pulled off some pretty awesome deep POV in Primogénito.

Show, Don't Tell
This is the cardinal rule of writing. Don't tell me your character is angry. Show me his cheeks getting hot, the blood pounding in his temples, his fist colliding with the brick wall. I don't really feel that this is a weakness in Amelia's Children, but I was definitely better at it by the time I wrote Primogénito. The area where it can be seen the most is in the relationships between the characters. If you read a lot of book reviews, you may have heard the term "insta-love" thrown around. It's not a positive term. When people use it, they are referring to a romance where the characters fall in love but the reader never fully understands why they fell in love. Basically what's happened is the author has told the audience that the characters are in love, rather than showing it. There's a bit of insta-love in Amelia's Children. Sarah falls for David the minute she meets him and that initial attraction forms the basis of their entire relationship. In Primogénito the characters' feelings for each other are shown, not told. To the point that I want to cry for my own characters every time I re-read the book.

So, my point is Primogénito follows the rules better than Amelia's Children does. But just following the rules will not guarantee people will enjoy a book. For that you need an engaging story, and maybe that explains why my first book has better reviews than my second. Amelia's Children moves at a faster pace and spends less time on character development. Primogénito does have some pretty darn suspenseful moments, but it's the characters who push the story forward rather than the action. Maybe that kind of book is not for everyone. I don't know. Let's take a look at what people are saying.

A Modest Collection of Three-Star Reviews.

I must say I agree wholeheartedly with the first person who reviewed Primogénito. You can read that review here. Her feelings about my book echo my own. She fell madly in love with Damian. I'm madly in love with Damian. She was fascinated by the backstory and learning how the magic works. I can't say I'm fascinated by it, because I'm the one who came up with it, but I am darn proud of it. She wasn't a huge fan of Ashley. I'm not a huge fan of Ashley. The problem is she docked two stars because she didn't care for the Ashley/Nick storyline. I'll talk more on that later. First, let's look at my other three-star review.

You can read Primogénito's second review here. This one doesn't go into much detail about the pros and cons of the story. Her main critique is that the pacing is too slow in the beginning.

What Can I Learn From These Reviews?

Focus On the Positive
First let me say that I have yet to get a review accusing me of poor writing. I don't want to jinx myself. I don't want to pat myself on the back too soon, because as soon as I do I likely will get one of those reviews. Nonetheless, it's encouraging to know that, so far, no one has complained about grammar, typos, writing style, etc. And until I do get a review complaining about those things, I must conclude that I'm doing well with that part of the writing business.

Learning from the Negative
The critique of the Ashley/Nick storyline troubles me. Not that I can't see her point, I absolutely can, but I don't see it as being such a big problem because I never intended the book to be about Ashely and Nick. From the beginning, it was about Damian. The need to save Nick is motivated by Damian's feelings of guilt over what happened when they were kids and Damian's desire to take care of everyone around him. But someone took off two stars because she couldn't identify with Ashley and couldn't feel for her struggle to get her husband, and her life, back.

So what do I do with that? Do I need to rewrite the book, starting a little earlier in the story so we can see Ashley and Nick happy and whole, which will cause us to really feel something when things start to go wrong? Or should I merely rewrite my blurb? Because the book has three POV characters, I had three different ways I could have written my blurb. I could have done it from Damian's perspective, or I could have done it from Jenn's (Damian's wife). I chose Ashley because the situation with Nick is mysterious and creepy and I thought that would attract the interest of potential readers. But perhaps what I've done is give the impression that the book is all about Ashley when really it's not. Here's the blurb so you can see for yourself:

“I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and see him standing at the foot of the bed, staring at me. Some nights I don’t think he sleeps at all.”
Ashley Preston has a problem. Her husband Nick has fallen victim to a mysterious illness, alternating between bizarre physical symptoms for which doctors cannot determine a cause and alarming personality changes which have Ashley fearing not just for Nick’s health but for her own safety as well. Desperate to save her husband, she turns to the only person she believes can help her: Damian Fuentes.
Ashley knows Damian’s family has dabbled in some kind of dark magic over the years. She also knows that when Nick was ten years old, Damian’s grandfather performed a strange ritual on him. Convinced that this ritual is at the root of her husband’s problem, Ashley begs Damian to delve into the Fuentes family’s darkest secrets in search of a cure. But Damian has spent the past five years trying to distance himself from his family and his traumatic past. Helping Ashley will mean resurrecting the long-dead ghosts of his most disturbing memories. If he saves Nick he may very well lose himself.
So maybe I've made a mistake in attempting to draw readers in by making them think the story is all about a person who turns out to be one of the less likable characters. The one comment in the review that I keep playing over and over in my mind is, "The other characters basically carried them through and made the story what it is." Well...yeah! That was the point. Primogénito, at it's heart, is about Damian and Jenn. They are the ones you should feel for when you read the book. Ashley is merely the catalyst who sets them on the dark path which leads...well I won't tell you that. You can read the book to find out.
As far as the other review, which calls my book "slow-paced", is concerned, I'm wondering if I'm marketing to the wrong audience. It also underscores another fundamental difference between Amelia's Children and Primogénito. While my first book contained a collection of interesting characters who all went through their own personal drama, the story was primarily plot-driven. And while Primogénito contains some interesting plot twists and (if I do say so myself) a pretty darn fascinating backstory, as a whole it is more character-driven. So calling it a dark fantasy and writing a blurb which emphasizes the creepy and mysterious aspects of the story may be a bit misleading. If you'd like to read more about the difference between plot-driven and character-driven books, you can read this article.
So What is Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy?
It is a character-driven drama which also happens to have some intense, suspenseful moments. And dark magic. Let's not forget the dark magic.
It is the beautiful love story of Damian and Jenn. It is not a romance. We do not get to see these two meet and fall in love. When we are first introduced to them, they are already married. Within the first four chapters we discover that they are expecting their first baby. The driving force behind the story is the fear that Damian's past will come back to haunt them and destroy everything they have spent the past five years building.
It is the story of Damian's struggle to put himself back together after enduring an unspeakable trauma which occurred five years before the events of the book. Ashley's appearance at his door, begging for help, pulls him right back into the hole from which he has finally climbed out.
It is the story of Jenn's fear of losing Damian. She's afraid of the darkness which will take hold of him if he gets involved with his family again after all these years. She's afraid of losing him to Ashley, whom he dated in college and who still harbors some lingering feelings for him. She's afraid of the evil of his past coming and destroying their life together.
It is the story of Ashley, a woman who never really put her life back together after the trying events of the past, and who is now dealing with the new trauma of figuring out what is happening to her husband, Nick.
It is an emotional rollercoaster.
It is a tear-jerker.

It is a paranormal book with a very detailed backstory. Really...if I decided to write the prequels I would probably end up with a series of at least eight books.

It does start off slowly, because there's a lot of character development at the beginning, but it has an ending with a heck of a lot of action and suspense.

It is a dark fantasy. And I mean dark. The things Damian's family has done in order to obtain the magic are truly disturbing.

It is a relatively clean read. Though some really gruesome stuff is mentioned as part of the backstory, very little is actually shown in the book. And I don't do f-bombs. Just because I don't particularly care for f-bombs.

The Shameless Plug

Yeah, I know...self-promo is not cool. But I'm an indie author. If I don't plug my book, who will? So if you like character-driven stories which also happen to have a creepy, mysterious element to them, check out my book on Amazon:

Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy
If you're more into plot-driven stories with lots of twists and turns, and you don't mind a little insta-love and some mild overuse of the word "that", check out Amelia's Children:

If you have any advice about getting my book into the hands of people who will actually love it, please tell me about it in a comment.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The 10 Best 70s Horror Films

Let's Define Terms

When I refer to 70s horror movies, I'm referring to films that have a certain look, feel, pace, and, well, just general quality. I've long considered the 70s to be the best decade for horror, but my definition is a little fluid. Because I'm thinking of it in terms of style as much as timeline, I have a few movies from the late 60s and early 80s which I lump into the catergory "70s horror films". Just needed to get that out of the way before we begin to avoid confusion.

Night of the Living Dead (1968)  The only thing quintessentially 60s about this movie is the fact that it is black and white. The creepiness, the fact that it centers on just a few characters stranded in the middle of nowhere, and the fact that it is able to achieve amazing scares with few special effects makes it very 1970s-esque horror. Couple that with the fact that this is the movie that ushered in the zombie apocalypse genre, and you have more than enough reason to go watch it.

Rosemary's Baby (1968)  Another from the late 60s that I'm throwing into the 70s category. Though the mood is more psychological thriller than horror, still there's the whole "I'm carrying the devil's child" thing, which adds the supernatural element, thereby turning this into a horror movie. Why is it a 70s horror movie, despite the year it was made? It has more to do with the look of it than anything else. 70s movies looked different from sixties movies. The actors looked like real people, as opposed to actors in earlier eras whose hair and make-up were more appropriate for a Broadway stage than an intimate close-up with a camera. The 70s were the decade of realism in film, but that realism began in the late 60s. (Midnight Cowboy is another example of a 60s movie with a very 70s feel, though it's not horror so it doesn't make my list.) Rosemary's Baby is dark, gritty, quiet, and, well, everything that made 70s horror so great. It just wasn't made in the 70s.

The Exorcist (1973)  The first movie on my list that was actually filmed in the 70s. To me, this is the best horror movie ever made. I have no idea how many times I've seen it, but it still scares me every time. And I mean it scares me for days after I've watched it. The creepy thing about this movie is that, in the beginning, everything that's happening is completely mundane. A house makes weird noises at night. Objects get misplaced. A preteen girl exhibits odd behavior. Nothing seems out of the ordinary until well into the movie. Then when it's over, you walk through your house and you hear a weird noise and think, "Is that the devil?"

The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974)  The 80s is the decade famous for slasher movies, but there were a few made in the 70s. The difference between 80s slasher movies and 70s slasher movies is that the ones from the 70s were actually good. They were more creepy than gory and built the suspense to almost unbearable levels before the killing actually started. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre has a few weird moments (the camera pointed at the girl's face for a ridiculously long time while she sits at the dining room table screaming) but it also has one of the coolest scenes in any horror movie ever. It's close to the beginning when they've just gone into the house, then the door in the back opens, the villain steps out and attacks one of our unsuspecting protagonists, and disappears again behind the door. It came out of nowhere and when I saw it I was like, "Whoa! What just happened?"

The Omen (1976)  There are few things creepier in a movie than evil children. And when the evil child might actually be the devil himself, that's even worse. This movie is mysterious, creepy, suspenseful, and everything else that makes good horror good.

Halloween (1978)  Another slasher movie. I saw this film for the first time in the late 90s. I was hesitant to watch it because I knew it had spawned a chain of really bad sequels and I thought the first in the series would be equally bad. It's now one of my favorite horror movies of all time, and definitely the best slasher movie I've ever seen. What makes it so scary is that Michael Myers waits a really long time before he starts killing people (unless, of course, you count the initial kill at the beginning). It seems that the point of the first half of the movie is to lull viewers into a false sense of security, making us think this guy might not be as bad as we think, then bam, the terror begins.

The Amityville Horror (1979)  Okay, so the haunted house story has been done. And done. And done again. Almost to the point where it's not scary anymore. But this haunted house movie was made in the 70s, so it's got to be good, right? And it's the haunted house with those windows. You know the ones I'm talking about. The windows that became so famous the people who bought the house after the movie came out had them replaced in an attempt to deter people from coming to take pictures. (You can read more about the actual house here.)

The Shining (1980)  Coming out of the seventies on the other side now. Chronologically, this movie is barely 80s. As far as the story and the mood are concerned, it's all 70s. Directed by Stanley Kubrick, whose style is, admittedly, not for everyone, this is one of his more palatable films. Well, if you're into horror it's palatable. If not then...but what am I saying? If you're reading this, you must like horror movies, so go watch this one.

The Evil Dead (1981)  This movie barely made my list. Not only was it not made in the 70s, the over-the-top emphasis on gore during the last half places it more in the 80s genre than the 70s. But the beginning of the movie is all 70s. Mysterious. Creepy. Setting up a pretty good story before the bloodbath begins. The fact that it launched Sam Raimi's career, as well as Bruce Campbell's, should be enough reason to watch it. And it's actually pretty well-made, considering it had virtually no budget, a very inexperienced production team, and bunch of no-name actors. There's a reason this one is considered a cult classic.

Poltergeist (1982)  This is another one whose inclusion on my list is questionable. Made in 1982, its heavy reliance on special effects give it very much an 80s feel. But nevertheless the story unfolds in a very 70s fashion. Similar to The Exorcist, the first weird things that happen are pretty mundane. The suspense builds gradually and, like in Halloween, we're almost lulled into thinking these ghosts aren't so bad after all. Then, bam, the daughter gets sucked into her closet and the terror begins.

The 90s and Beyond

There are a few horror movies that came later which also have that creepy feel to them. The Sixth Sense (1999) is a good example. But it turns the usual horror format on its head by being terrifying at the beginning, until you realize at the end that the ghosts actually aren't evil. So the look and feel is 70s, but the story is something completely new. The Ring (2002) is right up there with the best of 70s horror in its ability to scare me, and continue scaring me long after the credits have rolled. The fact that it opens with the death of a teenager is straight out of the 80s, though.

So what are your thoughts? Are there any great 70s horror movies, or 70s-style horror movies, that I've missed? I'd love to hear about them in the comments.

And don't forget my new book, Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy, is now available on Kindle.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Why Was Last Night's Supernatural Episode So Great?

Yeah, I know, I'm releasing a new book on Monday and should be blogging about that. And I know I just hosted a contest and giveaway and should be devoting this week's post to that (don't worry, contestants, I will send out prizes on Monday.). But if I'm going to write about last night's episode of Supernatural, now is the time to do it.

So why did I like the episode so much? The answer is: Mary Winchester. Yes, I admit I was a bit skeptical when I saw that she had come back from the dead. Okay, more than a bit skeptical. Actually, my first thought was, "Well, that's a lame plot twist if I ever saw one." But the first few episodes of Season 12 set my doubts to rest. Mary's return has been handled very effectively by the writers so far, and I'm looking forward to seeing where it's going to go from here. But back to last night's episode.

So, it's almost Halloween, and Supernatural decides to celebrate with a traditional haunted house story. It's something that's been done hundreds of times, and probably dozens of times on that show alone. It's a story that's so common it's really hard to make it scary. And it's especially hard to make anything scary on Supernatural because we've already seen so much we almost know what's coming before it happens. Sam and Dean charging into a haunted house isn't really suspenseful anymore because, seriously, what's going to happen? Are they going to die? Well, considering that it's Supernatural we're talking about, yes, they absolutely could die. But so what? They'll just come back. Those two have died so many times it doesn't really have any meaning now.

So how do the writers overcome this obstacle and make a show that is spooky and suspenseful and everything we want to see during Halloween week? They send Mary Winchester into the house instead. And she goes by herself. And the audience knows it's very possible that she's going to die because...well...she's not Sam or Dean. She's not guaranteed to stick around until the series finale. And here's the thing: I really did not want her to die. As skeptical as I was about her return, I felt that it would be even worse if they killed her off after only three episodes. So I was literally on the edge of my seat waiting to see if she would survive the haunted house. I won't reveal the ending in case some of you reading this have not watched it yet, but I was delighted to finally have one of my favorite shows get my heart racing the way seasons 1 and 2 used to do.

So I take my hat off to the writers of Supernatural for giving us a character that we can be emotionally invested in, but who could also die any minute. It adds an element of urgency that has been missing from the show for a long time.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

One Week Left In My Contest and Giveaway!

Again, I'm celebrating the release of my new book, coming out October 31. Here's yet another teaser:

To celebrate, I'm hosting a contest and giveaway here on my blog. Here are the details:


What can you win in this contest? 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places will be awarded. The prizes are as follows:

1st Place: $20 Amazon gift card, Kindle copies of Amelia's Children and Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy

2nd Place: $10 Amazon gift card, Kindle copies of Amelia's Children and Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy

3rd Place: Kindle copies of Amelia's Children and Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy

How To Enter

Step 1: Read the sample chapters of Amelia's Children right here on my website.

Step 2: Answer the following questions. Each question has multiple answers. The more correct answers you give me, the more points you will receive.

What books, movies, and TV shows seem to have had the greatest influence on me while I was writing Amelia's Children?

Which fictional characters inspired some of the characters from Amelia's Children?

How did I name my characters? Just make stuff up. If I get no correct answers, I may award points for creativity!

Step 3: Submit your answers to by October 25. Prizes will be awarded October 31.

That's it. There's no catch. I'm not even asking you to buy my book (of course I'm not, because I've included it as one of the prizes). I just want you to have fun and maybe win some free stuff along the way!

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

2 Weeks Left To Enter My Contest And Giveaway!

As I said last week, I'm releasing a new book on October 31. Here's a new teaser:

To celebrate, I'm hosting a contest and giveaway here on my blog. Here are the details:


What can you win in this contest? 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places will be awarded. The prizes are as follows:

1st Place: $20 Amazon gift card, Kindle copies of Amelia's Children and Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy

2nd Place: $10 Amazon gift card, Kindle copies of Amelia's Children and Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy

3rd Place: Kindle copies of Amelia's Children and Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy

How To Enter

Step 1: Read the sample chapters of Amelia's Children right here on my website.

Step 2: Answer the following questions. Each question has multiple answers. The more correct answers you give me, the more points you will receive.

What books, movies, and TV shows seem to have had the greatest influence on me while I was writing Amelia's Children?

Which fictional characters inspired some of the characters from Amelia's Children?

How did I name my characters? Just make stuff up. If I get no correct answers, I may award points for creativity!

Step 3: Submit your answers to by October 25. Prizes will be awarded October 31.

That's it. There's no catch. I'm not even asking you to buy my book (of course I'm not, because I've included it as one of the prizes). I just want you to have fun and maybe win some free stuff along the way!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Contest (With Prizes!) to Celebrate the Release of My New Book

The Reason For the Contest

I have a new book, a dark urban fantasy, coming out on October 31. Here is a teaser:

To celebrate, I'm hosting a contest. Details follow.

First, the Fun Stuff

What can you win in this contest? 1st, 2nd, and 3rd places will be awarded. The prizes are as follows:

1st Place: $20 Amazon gift card, Kindle copies of Amelia's Children and Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy

2nd Place: $10 Amazon gift card, Kindle copies of Amelia's Children and Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy

3rd Place: Kindle copies of Amelia's Children and Primogénito: The Fuentes Legacy

How To Enter

Step 1: Read the sample chapters of Amelia's Children right here on my website.

Step 2: Answer the following questions. Each question has multiple answers. The more correct answers you give me, the more points you will receive.

What books, movies, and TV shows seem to have had the greatest influence on me while I was writing Amelia's Children?

Which fictional characters inspired some of the characters from Amelia's Children?

How did I name my characters? Just make stuff up. If I get no correct answers, I may award points for creativity!

Step 3: Submit your answers to by October 25. Prizes will be awarded October 31.

Have fun!

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Let's Stop Blaming Amazon and Focus On the Real Problem

The Problem With Amazon

If you are a member of the indie authors community, you have no doubt heard complaints about Amazon's strict policies regarding self-published books. If you're a newcomer, here's a quick summary. Amazon reserves the right to ban your book or terminate your account at any time. If they do, they will send you a letter giving you a vague reason but no specific details then tell you not to inquire further. Amazon will also remove any review of your book that they deem dishonest, and they include reviews from your family and friends under the heading "dishonest". And too many "dishonest" reviews is another reason they could potentially terminate your author account.

No, I have never been in trouble with Amazon, and I hope I never am, but like all indie authors, some of these policies make me more than a little nervous. But I'm not laying all the blame on Amazon.

The One Problem I Do Have

Most of these strict policies scare me, but as I said above, I'm not blaming Amazon completely. The only area where I agree wholeheartedly with the authors who are lodging their complaints is communication. It seems to me that keeping authors informed would be a good thing. After all, if you don't fully understand what you did wrong, how can you be expected to improve? It seems to be Amazon's practice to have very little communication with indie authors, and I disagree with that practice. Communication is always good. But as far as everything else goes, I think we should be focusing our attention elsewhere.

What Is Amazon?

Amazon is an online retailer. Amazon is not YouTube. People can put crap videos up on YouTube, call all their friends, and get those friends to view those videos, like those videos, and follow that YouTube channel, and that's perfectly okay. Why? Because YouTube is not selling these videos. They don't have to keep people satisfied with the content of the videos made available there because people aren't paying to watch them. Yes, YouTube does have policies, but for the most part, the atmosphere there is "anything goes."

Amazon is different. Amazon is a store. People pay money for what they get there and if the customer is dissatisfied, the store's reputation suffers. And what's bad for Amazon is bad for indie authors because if we want to be able to sell our books there, well, we want Amazon to have an impeccable reputation. Many of their policies that sometimes hurt indie authors are just good business decisions, pure and simple. We are not their only reason to exist, so they are not going to cater to us and us alone. And if it's the choice between us and a paying customer, of course they're going to put the customer first. I think most business owners would agree with that philosophy.

The Real Problem

Why would Amazon have such strict policies for indies? There could really only be one reason. Because people have abused their policies in the past. Take reviews. Why would they delete reviews by friends and family members of the authors? I would imagine it's because there have been a lot of really bad books published recently boasting pages and pages of five star reviews. How would such terrible books get such great reviews? Because the reviews were all written by friends of the author. Does that mean that any review by someone who knows us personally is dishonest? No! Of course not. That's what makes it so infuriating. If we have a friend who reads our book, and actually likes it, we'd naturally like for them to be able to leave us a glowing review. It's very frustrating that they aren't allowed to do that. But at the same time, I understand Amazon's issue. We are asking people to pay for our books. If they see a string of positive reviews and buy our book on the assumption that it must be pretty good if that many people like it, then find it to be a mess of grammar errors, plot holes, and flat characters, that not only reflects badly on us but also on the retailer making money from our book. And Amazon is going to protect itself first. That's the only way they can stay in business.

What Can Be Done?

There's no easy way to solve this problem. We can't control what everyone else does. We can't stop people from engaging in dishonest business practices. And we can't do anything about the consequences that fall on the rest of us when other people do that. But if we can't be part of the solution, we can at least vow not to be part of the problem. So if you are an indie author, please, write a good book. Edit your book ruthlessly. Proofread meticulously. And when you are finally ready to publish, run your marketing campaign with the utmost integrity. Remember, your book does not just represent you, it represents the entire indie community. We have to protect our reputation just as tenaciously as Amazon does, so do the right thing. Sometimes the best way for indies to help each other is by tending to their own business first. That's how we'll show the world that our books deserve just as much respect as those published the old-fashioned way.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Irony of Star Trek

Two Kinds of Futuristic Fiction

When people envision the future, they often see two possibilities. They either see a paradise in which all disease, war, and poverty have been eradicated and people are free to live their lives the way they want, or they see a future in which mankind has nearly destroyed itself and a small band of survivors is fighting to restore society to what it once was. Examples of the second kind are everywhere. Logan's Run, The Terminator, The Matrix, The Hunger Games, etc. are all examples of this grim view of the future. Star Trek, however, presents to us a very optimistic view of where humanity is headed. It shows us a society that is more cultured, more educated, more civilized than the society we live in now. Or does it?

What is Star Trek, Really?

Does Star Trek present to us a society that is indeed more civilized, and therefore superior, to the one we have now? Or does it merely show us a society that believes it is superior? Hmm...interesting question. Let's probe a little further.

If you are a Star Trek fan, then I don't need to explain the Prime Directive to you. For the rest of you, here's the abridged version. The Prime Directive is a strict rule of noninterference. Members of Starfleet travel throughout the galaxy and encounter countless lifeforms on countless worlds. Many of these lifeforms are intelligent and have formed their own societies. Starfleet's primary rule when dealing with these societies is to let them govern themselves. Let their civilizations develop in their own way. The last thing they need is Starfleet stepping in and telling them what to do.

The irony is that the actual people who make up Starfleet, or at least the people who are the main characters of Star Trek, do not believe in the Prime Directive. Oh, they'll say they believe in it. They'll say it's their most sacred rule. But how many Star Trek episodes have had as their central theme the idea that without the Prime Directive the whole situation could be much more easily resolved? I haven't done an exact count, but I'd be willing to guess at least half of the stories we've seen on Star Trek involve, at some point, a desire, even a need, to defy the Prime Directive.

When Has the Prime Directive Hindered a Mission on Star Trek?

When has the Prime Directive hindered a mission on Star Trek? All the time. My examples will come from the first couple of seasons of The Next Generation, because that's what I have watched most recently, but even in that small sample of the enormous Star Trek franchise, there have been several examples of a "need" to defy the Prime Directive.

One example is when Wesley is arrested for disturbing a flowerbed on a planet that imposes the death penalty whenever any law is broken. The Prime Directive dictates that Starfleet must abide by the laws of this planet while dealing with its inhabitants. But! But! If they abide by that planet's laws, Wesley will die! They simply cannot allow Wesley to die. They have to find a way to save him, even if it means disregarding the laws of the world they are visiting. Besides, that world's laws are cruel and barbaric, so to do what's right, they must rescue Wesley. And they do.

There is another episode where the Enterprise has to transport a group of diplomats who refuse to use the ship's food replicators. They insist on being provided with live animals so they can slaughter them and have fresh meat to eat. There is more than one scene in which we see one of the regular characters complaining about the finicky diet of the passengers. In fact, at one point, someone, while actually talking to one of the diplomats, says, "We no longer enslave animals for food." Well...if that statement doesn't carry an air of superiority, I don't know what does.

Why Does the Prime Directive Exist?

Star Trek is the story of a group of explorers. The very idea conjures memories of the European explorers of old sailing down the coast of Africa or setting off for the New World. What do we know about those explorers? Well, we know a lot of things, but one is that they most certainly did not have a rule of noninterference. They interfered everywhere. With everyone. Star Trek is supposed to take place in our future, so members of Starfleet carry those first explorers in their cultural memory as well. They don't want to repeat some of the viler things that were done in the past, so they resolve not to interfere. Sounds good, right? I wonder...

The Irony of the Whole Thing

What were the Europeans during the Age of Exploration? They were an advanced society with a strict code of conduct. When they encountered cultures who did not follow the same code of conduct, those cultures were labeled "savage" and "barbaric". They prided themselves on manners and proper dress. Cultures who had different ideas of how to behave in public were seen as "inferior". Music, art, and architecture in Europe were all reaching their height during the Age of Exploration. When Europeans first encountered the artwork of other societies, they labeled it "primitive".

Star Trek would have us believe that our future society is as far removed from that of those European explorers as a society can be. After all, Starfleet is not colonizing already inhabited worlds. They are not taking over and forcing everyone in the galaxy to obey their laws. So it seems that our species has really matured. Or have they?

How many times are words like "barbaric" and "primitive" used on Star Trek? How many times does the crew of the Enterprise encounter another culture only to be appalled at how its people behave? In the episode where Commander Riker takes a temporary assignment on a Klingon ship, there is even a scene in which several members of the crew are standing around making fun of Klingon food. So much for respecting other cultures.

The truth is Starfleet is travelling the galaxy, approaching new cultures with the exact same attitude as those Europeans of old. They have the Prime Directive rigidly preventing them from overstepping their bounds, but they do not like it in the least. In their hearts they all secretly want to step in and show these "primitive", "barbaric" cultures how things are done in the "civilized" world. So really, humanity hasn't changed a bit.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Most Confusing Advice People Give New Authors, and What It Means

Advice Everywhere

There are lots of "rules" out there dictating what separates good writing from bad. Why did I put "rules" in quotation marks? Because most of the time they are more like suggestions. They are good things to do, but if you want to venture away from that standard, it won't make your work intrinsically bad. In fact, most authors bend the rules all the time, even award winning and bestselling authors. So why are these rules so important if so many people disregard them?

The truth is, most successful authors don't disregard the rules completely. They bend them, and that is something quite different. Take grammar, for instance. This is a hotly debated topic in the indie publishing world. Basically you have your grammar snobs on one side and those who think grammar rules are arbitrary constructs that in no way impact one's ability to tell a good story on the other. Those who are all for breaking grammar rules will point to real, published, bestselling books that seem to happily ignore the world's definition of good grammar. They contain sentence fragments. They begin sentences with "but" or "and". They end sentences with prepositions. Yes, these authors are breaking some rules, but when you read their work it's obvious they knew the grammar rules before they broke them. When an author doesn't know the rules, it's painfully obvious, and the most common thing that can happen in that situation is the meaning of a sentence becomes unclear. In a profession where you use words to communicate ideas, clarity is vital. So, with grammar as well as all the other writing "rules", you have to know them, and know them well, before you can break them.

For more information about writing "rules", check out these lists of common mistakes amateur authors make:

My Confusion

When I self-published my first book last year I read a lot of books and articles on ways to improve my writing. I must admit, a lot of it was confusing in the beginning, but the one that consistently had me scratching my head was the warning against being too "wordy". Um...isn't writing all about words? Do I really want to start eliminating them from my books?

The point is not just to eliminate words. The point is to eliminate superfluous words. Those that add no meaning to your sentence. When someone tells you not to be wordy, it doesn't mean you can't be long-winded. It doesn't mean you can't be descriptive. It doesn't mean you can't take your time setting the mood and building the suspense. What it means is you shouldn't fill up your book with words that don't need to be there.

What "Wordy" Means

I'm going to humble myself. I'm going to analyze sentences from my own book, Amelia's Children, to show you how I could have made them less wordy if only I had known then what I know now. I'm not bashing my own writing. I love my book, and will continue to love it, but rereading it now I can see ways that the writing style could be improved, and I'm going to show you some of those ways.

Wordy sentence:
David had a hint of a laugh in his voice when he answered.

Improved sentence:
David answered with a faint laugh.

Why it was too wordy:
The reader doesn't need to know the laugh was in his voice. It's the emotion I'm trying to convey, not the physical aspect of how he laughs. Also, the first sentence contains the superfluous words "had" and "of". Sometimes those words are necessary, but if they can be eliminated they probably should be.

Wordy sentence:
David was sitting with his head resting against the back of the sofa.

Improved sentence:
David sat on the sofa, his head resting against the back.

Why it was too wordy:
The words "of" and "with" were unnecessary in communicating the meaning of this sentence.

Wordy sentence:
The excitement of the night was starting to wear off and I realized how exhausted I was.

Improved sentence:
The excitement of the night was wearing off and I was exhausted.

Why it was too wordy:
The word "started" is probably one of the most overused words in amateur writing. There are times when it is needed, but if the sentence means the same thing without it, get rid of it. Also, I don't need to tell the audience that my narrator "realized" she was exhausted. If she says she's exhausted, the reader knows she realized it.

Happy Rule-bending

As I said above, most writers bend the rules all the time. Some of these wordy sentences could work perfectly fine in a book, as long as every sentence is not overflowing with "of", "with", "was", "started", "had", etc. When there are several such sentences on every page the book begins to scream "amateur." Used in moderation, they're okay.

This was the most confusing advice I've ever received. What about you? Do you share my confusion, or do you struggle with some other aspect of writing. I would love to hear about it in a comment.