2015 Lineup Started & New Release!


In the excitement of the Fiction River Subscription Drive , I forgot to mention that I had published another short story, The Cancer Under St. Paul’s. It’s set in Victoria London in the chilly fall, and I’ve been told it’s a bit creepy–so it’s a perfect read to curl up by the fire by in the lead up to Halloween. Cover and blurb below:
http://www.amazon.com/Cancer-Under-St-Pauls-Fantasy-ebook/dp/B00N7GMWWI/ref=sr_1_2_bnp_1_kin?ie=UTF8&qid=1411172420&sr=8-2&keywords=Jeffrey+A.+Ballard
To save his father, a child must stand against an ancient evil. Backed into a corner, without options, Will clings to the suggestions of a simple doll—the one that started this mess in the first place. Innocent, trusting, Will hurtles to confront a foe with no such qualities or compunctions. Will must find a way to save his father, and his innocence.
At the start of the month, I started working on the 2015 lineup, writing ad-copy, designing covers, making e-books, etc. I’m releasing six new titles, plus one collection in 2015, but because several of those stories are still on submission, I don’t know which ones yet. This complicates matters.
The result is I’m designing covers for *all* my stories. My plan was to spend all of September doing these publishing tasks and then officially pivot October 1stto writing novels in series. Well, that pivot is going to get pushed back. Complicating matters further, there was a very specific effect I was interested in for one cover, but I needed Photoshop to do it.
The result: I *love* Photoshop. This is only going to delay me further, already I’m moving the majority of my cover design over there, but there’s a steep learning curve (Hurray for YouTube and Lynda.com!). My new target is to wrap everything up by the first week of November. We’ll see. I hope to share some covers next time to ooh and aah over.
‘Till next time!

Fiction River Subscription Drive

 https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/403649867/fiction-river-subscription-drive
Well, this is going to be a picture-y post, so sorry in advance. Fiction River has started a subscription drive on Kickstarter this past week. For those that don’t know or remember, Fiction River was my first professional sale. So they’re near and dear to my heart.
 http://www.fictionriver.com/volumes/time-streams/http://www.amazon.com/Highlight-Life-Science-Fiction-Short-ebook
My story, “The Highlight of a Life,” debuted in Fiction River: Time Streams in August of 2013. It was my first experience getting a piece ready for publication and working with editors, and what a wonderful experience it was. I’ve grown up a bit since then, and made a lot of writer friends and talking with them I’ve learned how unusually smooth and professional the experience was. So if you ever get the chance to work with Dean or Kris, jump at it.
http://www.amazon.com/Kerephrine-Reaction-Science-Fiction-Novelette-ebookThe Kickstarter has a lot of awesome reward levels and stretch goals, some which are already disappearing. Many of the rewards levels include free e-book or signed print books from authors who have appeared in Fiction River, including yours truly. You can get a free e-book or signed print version of “The Kerephrine Reaction.” All while supporting a great magazine producing great fiction. Personally, I signed up for the $30 electronic subscription, it’s a great value and there looks to be some really exciting volumes in the coming year. I’m particularly excited about Pulse Pounders (Thrillers) and Alchemy and Steam (Steampunk).
Support it if you can! I know I’m looking forward to a year of great fiction (full disclosure: I have no stories in these coming issues, although I wish I did, 😛 ).

Don’t forget the small-in-the-moment stuff


Oh, man. That was a trip down memory lane. I was searching through our external drive of pictures, trying to find one of Watson our basset hound that seemed appropriate and was starting to get nostalgic (and dare I say a little weepy?*), when I stumbled across this gem.

Yes, those were my glasses. And no, I didn’t have a backup pair at the time. I actually had food poisoning that night, and when I was well enough to leave the bedroom, I found Watson still chewing on them. I had forgotten all about that.
Time will do that. Watson has been a good dog for so many years, that I forget the wake of destruction he left as a puppy. Two T.V. remote controls, one pair of glasses, one couch (longer story), ate a part of our wall (really),  my wife’s sweater, countless “indestructible” dog toys, and that’s only with a few minutes thought–we even have a folder on the external drive labeled “destruction.” For years when I went through security at the airport, they would flash the black light over my driver license and see a bunch of puppy teeth marks (my money clip still has them) and I’d kinda grin stupidly at them and shrug.
We tend to forget the small-in-the-moment stuff like that. My writing career (since pursing seriously) is coming up on two years old and already I’m forgetting the small stuff. I’m gearing up for a fundamental pivot in direction on October 1st and have been getting pretty stressed about it, trying to wrap stuff up, determine an optimal plan, divine the future, etc.
But looking through the pictures of Watson reminded me not to get bogged down in the details so much that I miss the small things. So I’m going to exhale, remember where I was two years ago, where I was one year ago, and take small steps into the coming year, making sure I don’t get so bogged down that I miss those special small-in-the-moments stuff.
* Watson was diagnosed with terminal cancer 14 months ago. They gave him 12 months to live at the time. We’re constantly waiting for the shoe to drop, so it’s emotional to look back over all the pictures we have of him (particularly as a puppy), and relive those memories. But for the moment he’s going strong, doing his Watson thing (which now seems to be destroying toddler toys).

Armadillcon 36


I spent last weekend at Armadillocon down in south Austin and had a blast. There were some great panels; I went to a really fun reading of Barbara Ann Wright (who is hilarious); and met and hung out with fellow writers.

That last one is huge for me. Writers, like any professional group, have a shared identity and language specific to their experiences. It’s wonderful to be able to tell someone you got an honorable mention in Writers of the Future without having to explain what that is or that you got a 250 day lower-tier form reject after a bump notice and have them commiserate in earnest with you, having been there themselves.
I also left out some print copies of my stories on the freebie table in front of the dealer’s room. They were all taken within a few hours! I have no idea if anyone will read them or if it will lead to more sales, but I’m honestly relieved they were taken. It was kind of a benchmark test to see if the covers were intriguing enough for people passing by to pick up, and if the ad copy was interesting enough for someone to take it home. And in that respect, they passed!
Because of all that I left Armadillocon on a bit of a writer’s high, which is quite the improvement over last year when I left Worldcon in need of a vacation! Small steps.
Progress made.

A Hodgepodge of Progress


These past two few weeks have seen a potpourri bag of small progress steps for me. Probably the most visible would be that I now have all my titles up on Google Play and iTunes. iTunes took some work—they remind me of that finicky person we all know that (everyone seems to know one) that has to have everything * just so.* Well, it’s done now and their customer service was very helpful too, so enjoy!

I finished an online class call Writing with Depth by Dean Wesley Smith that was extremely helpful. Very early on in my writing career I identified great writing and then tried to understand *why* I liked it so much and how to do what they did. There was one aspect that clearly made those stories stand out, and I didn’t even know what it was called or how to research it. That was three plus years ago. Turns out it’s called depth in writing. I didn’t even know that when I took the class! Pure, dumb, wonderful luck. If you really want to elevate your writing, you should try that class.
I also came to what feels like a large career decision. I feel like I was headed down the wrong path by writing short stories, novelettes and novellas in hodgepodge fashion in whatever striked my fancy. I had an epiphany, much like my dog seems to do every walk (very stubborn that one). Readers read mostly novels, they read series’ even more. I’m no different. Duh. I needed to stop the path I was on and do a course change, a conceptually simple thing to do.
So I’m going to start focusing on writing in multiple series containing novels. I’m finishing up a novelette now that started as an exercise in the Writing with Depth class, but after that I intend to write another short story about Isa, Puo and Winn from Underwater Restorations (Part 1, Part 2). I also have a novel roughly mapped out for that gang. My tentative plan is to start writing a new trilogy (or more) in 2015. Many ideas, we’ll see which one comes out ahead by January.

The Kerephrine Reaction Published!

It’s been a busy week in publishing for me. I put up The Kerephrine Reaction a novelette I’m pretty excited about. This one started with a question of “How do I build a story around the sense of smell?” The Kerephrine Reaction was the result. It also earned an honorable mention in the Writers of the Future Contest! 

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00LFL8T7O/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00LFL8T7O&linkCode=as2&tag=jaballard-20&linkId=NX3KY33NS5SF2W5A

Blurb: Thousands lay dead after a brutal crime wave swept through San Francisco in a matter of hours. The cause: Kerephrine, an alien compound that allegedly only Nira Rosenberg’s lab can synthesize.

Forced from her lab. Watched by the authorities. Nira must race to find the answers to clear both her and her lab’s name. Answers she soon learns with much higher stakes: her brother’s life.

I also started a newsletter so readers can get the latest news of my fiction releases. That’s all the newsletter will be used for. A little incentive: I’m planning on releasing a short story exclusive only to the newsletter list in the near future. So if you’re interested in learning when new fiction becomes available, and interested in a free exclusive story, sign-up today!
And of course, the now obligatory picture of my dog, taken from several years ago when he was puppy:

He’s still very puppy-ish, but not as white. He also snores now, which he’s doing right this moment as I write this, his cold muzzle resting on my feet while his hot breath ebbs back and forth over top.

He’s a solid dog. And The Kerephrine Reaction is a solid read! Eh, well that fell flat. But you get the idea–one of these days I’ll figure out this promotion bit. See you back in two weeks!

Almost done! I can smell it!

I had hoped to finish the zero draft yesterday on the novella I’ve been working on. My target was to write 10,000 words in eleven days. I thought that would be enough to finish the draft. Turns out I was wrong. I hit the target, but am still short of the end, although I am very close. All that is left is the finishing the final climax and the denouement. Then the real work begins.

I’m mostly a pantser, meaning I write into the dark, not from an outline. Another term for this type of writer is a “putter-inner”, a term I first heard from Dean Wesley Smith. For longer projects I tend to slide slightly from a pantser to an outliner on that continuum, but I am staunchly a “putter-inner.”
What exactly does that mean? Simply, I drop notes as I go along and then in revision go back and fix something or add something I know needs to be there. Other writers actually fix these things before continuing on (“taker-outers”, since in revision they need to remove stuff, while “putter-inners” need to add stuff). For example, I may have it in the beginning that it’s night time, but by the middle of the story I decide no, it has to be during the day for a critical plot point (and yes I’ve done that specifically).
The result of this method is that revision is workand can often take as long to go from a zero draft to a first draft as it took to write the zero draft. That’s what I mean by the zero draft, the story is done, but is full of notes on things to fix and fill-in. The first draft is when all those things are taken care of.
This novella in particular is going to be an exercise in patience and dogged determination. Too many things changed out from under me as I went along and now there is a mountain of notes to sort through.
But I’m getting close; Like my dog, I can smell that prize just out of sight!

The Dreaded Middle

You have to imagine a room full of people screaming and running in random directions, hitting walls, all while trying to claw their brains out to appreciate the phrase “dreaded middle.”

It refers to the middle of the story, after the beginning and before the final confrontation and resolution. It’s the bulk of the story and for many writers (this one included) the least fun to write.
Openings are fun. They’re exciting. Meeting new characters, exploring new settings. While endings are cathartic. They generate a feeling of accomplishment.
Middles are the slow slog between the two. And depending on the length of the project it can be a very long slog.
I’m currently working on a thriller novella, mostly as practice to try out and exercise my thriller writing muscles. But I hit recently hit that dreaded middle point, where the excitement from the opening has worn off and the ending seems to be hiding across a desert of plotting.
I had posted before that I hoped to be done with the first draft by the end of May or early June. Umm. No. Why? The dreaded middle and the middle story blues.
An often accompaniment to the dreaded middle is the unshakable feeling that this new wonderful creation that you were in love with last week, somehow got left out in the sun to rot and now stinks to high hell. Which is where the picture of my dog comes in. When you feel like your story stinks, you tend to want to just lay around rather than work on it.
Marcus Romer had a great twitter post about this:

The Creative Process 1. This is awesome 2. This is tricky 3. This is shit 4. I am shit 5. This might be ok 6. This is awesome
— Marcus Romer (@MarcusRomer) October 23, 2013

For writers (or me at least), number 1 is the opening. Number 2 is the first half of the middle. Number 3 is the second half of the middle. Number 4 is always a constant companion (rejection anyone?). Number 5 is coming out of the middle and number 6 is the ending.
I’ve been through this enough times to know 5 & 6 are coming, and that there’s really one cure for number 3 and the dreaded middle: BIC. Butt In Chair time. You just have to sit down and slog through it having faith that 5 & 6 are around the corner.
I know this. But what I just realized is that the time it takes to move from 3 to 5 & 6 is dependent on the length of the project. Duh. Well, I write mostly short fiction. I’m not used to long dreaded middles. The novella I wrote last summer was a slog, I like the finished product, but I’ll always remember the struggle writing that one. Then there’s this novella. Still excited about it (I think it’s going to be really good), but I’m in the dreaded middle doldrums.
So, long-winded way of saying I’ve revised my estimates on the zero draft of the novella to the end of June. And my new self laughs manically at the fool that wrote “… my first novel … to be done in three months.” Still going to write a novel, but no longer delusional about three months.

Thrill–er!

You have to imagine the blog title said in my best Michael Jackson impression for the full effect.

One of my 2014 yearly goals was to attend a one craft level workshop and this past April I had opportunity to meet that goal. I spent one week on the Oregon coast (pictured right, gorgeous right?) learning how to write thrillers. The workshop was put on by Dean Wesley Smith and Kris Rusch.
It was exhilarating. It was exhausting.
I walked away from the week with six, hard-earned novel proposals, although they tended to get a little loopy toward the end. We did one a night (see the exhausting comment). But the lectures were the highlight for me. We went over what makes a thriller a thriller vs. a good mystery or drama. It was illuminative and a lot clicked into place for me through it. I had been struggling with pacing and the idea that form follows content for the past year, but it finally clicked into place.
It also turns out that I think I naturally tend to write thrillers (when I don’t try to reign myself in), but I haven’t been writing them as thrillers. I guess we’ll see as I put into practice what I learned over that week.
Of the six novel proposals, I intend to write three of them in the immediate future. I’m already writing one. I wanted to practice some of the thriller techniques in short form before committing to a novel so I took one of the proposals that I didn’t think was quite long enough for a novel and outlined it.
I hoped the story would fit into a short story, but it quickly became apparent that no, it wouldn’t fit into that little space. So I accepted it would become a novelette. Erm … no. That story refuses to be contained. So now it’s a novella and may end up a short novel after all, but I think it’ll stay at a novella length.
I expect to wrap up the novella by the end of the month or in early June. After that it’s time to start on my first novel, which I’m targeting to be done in three months. I no longer have trepidation about it. Turns out: thrillers are fun to write.
I’m having a blast again.

One-third of the Year Course Correction

I stated in an earlier post that 2014 will be the year of Indie publishing for me, and so far I’m track for that. I put up my first title Voices in the Deepin April after some delay. But I’m back on schedule and just released The Highlight of a Life. The Highlight of a Life represented my first professional level sale (first published in Fiction River), and was featured in the 2014 Campbell Anthology (still available!).

I also stated in my 2014 goals that I wanted to write 16 new stories. I’m revising that goal to 8 new stories, plus 1 novel. I have yet to write a novel and have decided it’s time. There are two reasons for this. One, novels sell better. The majority of readers read novels not short stories. The second is, my longer work always seems to be more positively received, which I think ties into the first reason.
I’ve never written a novel before so it should be an interesting experience. I’ve blocked off a 3 month period to focus only on that. I have more trepidation than excitement. Three months is a long time to spend on one project—I’m having some commitment issues. It’s been proven difficult to choose a project for the novel. I mentioned this to some professional writers and they all understood. One mentioned that it was a year of your life dedicated to one project. One year! Ugh, I hope not.
But with my revised 2014 goals, I’m back on track to meet them. I’ve achieved starting to put up titles and I’ve written four stories so far and attended one craft level workshop (but more on that next post).
Now to start that novel …