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 …

A Week of Firsts

The past two weeks saw a series of firsts for me. First, as you can see from the photo, I received my first proof in the mail. I cannot tell you how very cool it is to hold in my hand. The sense of accomplishment runs deeper than I thought it would. All aspects of this was due to my labor, from writing the story, writing the ad-copy, the cover design (not the art, though), designing the interior. It’s super awesome. I’ve been wavering on what to do with my first copy; I’ve been leaning toward lugging it to the next con I go to and trying to a get famous author to sign it (heh).

While I was waiting for the print book to get into place, I went ahead and put up the ebook version of Voices in the Deep and had my very first sale! I have done zero promotion beyond this blog, so I can be reasonable certain whoever bought it, was not family or friends. This was also rather satisfying.
Continuing the firsts, my story Underwater Restorations (Part 1 and Part 2 here) in OrsonScott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show was reviewed by Tangent online (my first review!). You can read it here.
And finally, not really a first, but a relief none-the-less, I finished another short and got it off to my alpha readers. I had started writing this one in early February, so almost ten weeks to write. That’s six weeks too long. Part of the problem is I had zero idea where to go at one point, the other was I was spending a lot of my writing time learning to compile .epub and .mobi and other publishing tasks. But those tasks should be behind me now for a few months.
Now all I need to do is figure out what to start on next (eyes the precarious, swaying mountain of ideas).

Milestones

These past few weeks saw two major milestones in my budding writing career. The first is the completion of my novelette “Underwater Restorations” in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Showwith some very cool artwork by M. Wayne Miller (in color this time!). It’s a strong issue and I am humbled to share the issue with such great writers. The table of contents is:

1. “The Sound of Death” by Gareth D.Jones
2. “Underwater Restorations, Part 2” by Jeffrey A. Ballard
3. “Extinct Fauna of the High Malafan” by Alter S. Reiss
4. “Right and Wrongs” by Brain K. Lowe
5. “A Little Trouble Dying” by Edmund R.Schubert
6. “From Other Places” (Audio) written by Shannon Peavy and read by Emily Rankin
http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00JG4UIG2/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00JG4UIG2&linkCode=as2&tag=jaballard-20The other milestone? I finally put up my first title, Voices in the Deep, for sale! Whew, what a learning curve that was/is. Still loads to learn. Publishing your own title can be done very simply; publishing it right so that it looks professional took some time for me to learn. The print edition is still being ironed out and I’m currently working on getting the title up at Barnes and Noble, Kobo and other places. So look for it at your favorite retailer soon!
My plan was to release a title every other month through 2014 starting in March, but the learning curve pushed the first release into April. However, now that most of the machinery is in place, I plan to get back on schedule and release the next title next month in May. So stay tuned for that! You can catch a sneak peak of it on the front page of my website.
Hopefully, now that the publishing pieces are in place, I can refocus on doing what I really love: writing!