For This Season, I Am Thankful

5204161765_df561a1866_bHard to believe it’s Thanksgiving already. To be honest, the holiday kind of snuck up on me – much like tax season has a habit of doing. But with Thanksgiving here, I want to stop and ponder the things I’m thankful for. Not that I don’t do that during the rest of the year. It’s just nice to have a specific day set aside for it.

Without going into boring details, it’s been a tough year and a half for me and my family. Living in the Bay Area has presented all sorts of annoyances and challenges. We originally moved out here to take part in a church plant, but that fell through (for us), and ever since then it’s been tough finding the purpose of our being out here. With the ridiculous amount of people out there, the outrageous cost of living, and the traffic – excuse me while I curse a bit to relieve my frustrations.

Annoyances aside, I’ve never been more grateful for a particular season in my life. Although it’s been a hard one, I know that I’ve grown leaps and bounds being out here. It’s benefited me and my wife being apart from our extended family for a while. I’ve learned how to stand my ground as a father, husband, and Christ-follower. My wife and I have learned to make decisions for our family without the ‘voices’ of friends or family tainting the waters. Overall, we’ve learned to stand together as our own little family unit, making decisions that we feel are right for our family without the constant criticism that we received in good measure before we moved out here.

I’m grateful for hard times. I’m grateful for the annoyances, the irritations, and the constant frustrations. They are doing their work to build endurance, patience, and humility in me. And although this season has been a tough one, it is just that – a season. And sooner or later, all seasons must come to an end to open the doors to a new season.

Cheers to all of you this Thanksgiving. May life always challenge you with a struggle.

Photo courtesy of floodllama via Flickr Creative Commons

Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World (Book Review)

Rise of the MachinesI’ve been at this ‘author’ thing for many years now. I’ve been a true writer since the age of eleven when I was writing full-blown short story episodes, and I’ve been a full-time writer since 2009 penning six full-length novels, a novella, and countless short stories to date. I was self-publishing my work when self-publishing was just beginning to reveal itself, and I experienced the pitfalls of vanity presses and the convenience of PDF ebooks when they were first showing up on the publishing scene. To say the least, I’ve been in this profession – knee deep – for a very long time now.

Regardless of how much time I have spent as a writer, there’s still one thing I struggle with – marketing.

See, I’m not a salesman by nature. Most authors will tell you that they hate asking people to give them money for something they created. I know that some of my own issue with this is low self esteem – which I am constantly working on – but a huge part of it is that I’m not wired as a salesman. I’m wired as a writer. I write. I observe. A lot of times, I’m quiet and like to keep to myself. If you see a glazed look in my eyes while you’re talking to me, it probably means I’m orchestrating how one of my characters is going to die.

As an author, marketing has been my biggest villain. It feels unnatural to me, and I don’t have the resources to hire out a marketing firm to help me out. It’s a constant struggle, one that has kept me up some nights wondering how I’m going to make it as a writer if I can’t even properly market the books I write.

And then I stumbled on the blog of author Kristen Lamb. Her posts on marketing, writing, and social networking really spoke to me because Kristen is very down to earth, and she struggles with the same things I struggle with. The only difference between her and I (besides she being female and me being male) is that she found a way to break through the marketing stigma and reach readers in a more natural, less salesman-type way.

Reading Rise of the Machines: Human Authors in a Digital World was like breathing in fresh air. In it, Kristen does something which I haven’t seen other marketing experts do – she combines who you are with what you do. She directs authors to use their personalities, their writing talent, their hobbies and passions and share those things with the world in order to drawn potential readers close. She takes what you’re already wired for – your passion for writing, your passion for 24, your passion for cooking – and teaches you how to pour that passion out among everyone you meet online and in person, and let that passion build up who you are as a person, not just as an author.

Kristen presents a very holistic approach to book marketing, and it has really opened my eyes not just to better marketing strategies, but to who I am as a person. As shy as I am, I don’t always want to share my passion for movies, cooking, or parenthood, but Kristen shows you that by sharing your passions and connecting with those who share the same passions, you are more effective at building your author platform than when you constantly bomb Facebook and Twitter with countless ads for your book.

She also teaches you to give more than you receive. When interacting with ‘strangers’ online, many of us authors mistakenly believe that its okay to constantly bomb Facebook and Twitter with ads about our books and expect everyone to stop what they’re doing to check out what we wrote. But why would they even draw near to us if they think we’re only going to take their time and money and offer nothing social in return? Humans are about relationships, and relationship-building is the key to connecting with readers and potential readers.

I enjoyed this book because it changed my perspective on how to build an effective author platform and it changed the definition of online marketing. I definitely recommend this book for authors who are struggling to connect with others online and share themselves as authors.

You can get Kristen’s book for your Kindle here.

NaNoWriMo 2014 Win

Winner-2014-Web-BannerAfter weeks of toiling over a manuscript that eventually decided to veer so off course from its outline that it is now dead in the water, I reached the 50,000 word goal in my NaNoWriMo novel. My original goal was 75k, but the state the manuscript is in right now will not allow me to reach that by Thanksgiving.

This was the tenth year doing (and beating) NaNoWriMo. For me, NaNo isn’t particularly tough – which is why I add extra challenges to my 50k goal. One year I did 100k and two stories. My second or third year of NaNo I finished by Day 7. Once I get going with the words, it’s hard to get me to stop. And the fact that I type like the wind helps too. I was actually asked to stop participating in a typing word spree during a local NaNo meeting because I continually beat out the other participants and kept taking all of the prizes.

Don’t get me wrong, I do find NaNoWriMo challenging, but I’m usually able to hyperfocus on it and get it done fairly quickly. That being said, this year threw me for a loop. I set my goal at 75k to give myself a bit of an extra challenge, but between starting late, serious issues with the manuscript, and some family interruptions, I called it a day when I finally reached 50k on Saturday morning.

Now I get the fun task of restructuring this manuscript. See, I started writing backstory and history that I found out later didn’t match up with the backstory and history I had written in my other novels.

*sigh* Continuity is my archenemy.

Anyway, hitting 50k is still an accomplishment in its own right. So I rewarded myself with a treat.

WP_20141124_007

The Friday Muse – An Intro to My NaNoWriMo Characters

Participant-2014-Web-BannerLast week I shared a raw snippet from my NaNoWriMo novel, Salt. This week, I want to give a brief rundown of some of the characters from the novel. These are all works-in-progress, so they’ll probably end up changing some at some point down the line.

Salt -
One of the main characters, Salt is a disfigured man who awakens in a crashed vessel on the planet Valeriu. He is taken captive by the Kingdom of Lyte because his fingerprints have been melted off, and he has absolutely no memory of how he became disfigured, who he is, or where he actually comes from. Salt has only one eye (after the disfigurement), half of his face is severely burned, and he has severe asthma which forces him to wear a special scarf over the bottom-half of his face to shield his lungs from the elements. He rarely talks because of his condition.

Princess Ill (ill) -
Next in line for the throne of the Kingdom of Lyte. Princess Ill is young, but well-seasoned in the art of diplomacy. Although she seeks peace, she is severely disheartened by the state that her mother, Queen Elsor, has left the kingdom. The citizens have lost faith in the God of Lyte, defiled the temple, and have become increasingly complacent toward the Disparaged – corrupted humans who wander the wilderness beyond the kingdom walls. Princess Ill is ready to turn the kingdom around once she is crowned queen, which will occur near the beginning of the novel.

Queen Elsor -
Current queen of the Kingdom of Lyte. Queen Elsor has become increasingly complacent over the years, and has allowed her desire to be accepted by the people to override her responsibility to enforce the laws of the kingdom. Her husband, the Old King, was killed during the Great Corruption, although the means of his death are disputed among many citizens and even Princess Ill. At the beginning of the novel, Queen Elsor chooses to crown Princess Ill as Queen of the Kingdom of Lyte because she is tired of appeasing the people and is ready to retire.

The Gloom -
A strange, alien presence that inhabits the Shadowlands beyond the kingdom walls. The Gloom fills most of its living grounds with darkness, and creates a Blood Moon when its presence is in full force moving through the land. Nobody knows the origins of the Gloom, but many believe it is directly responsible for the Great Corruption which created the Disparaged.

Coral -
A mysterious girl found in the dungeon with Salt, Coral is quickly accused of being a spy from another kingdom to the south, but vehemently denies it. Coral is sly, manipulative, and her motives are in question from the beginning of the novel.

Ryn, Tamlyn, Victor – (Placeholder names)
These three siblings are citizens of the Kingdom of Lyte, yet none of them adhere to the laws or regulations of faith that they are expected to abide by. Ryn is a priest in the Temple of Lyte, Tamlyn is a rebellious young girl who practices dark magic out of sight of the rest of the kingdom, and Victor is a sadistic man who enjoys torturing others. Just like any other dysfunctional family.

Okay, that’s all I’m willing to share at the moment. Can’t wait to be done with NaNoWriMo so I can start really picking this thing apart and begin a massive edit storm!

Remember Me and My Backlog of Xbox 360 Games

Remember Me

I’m a pretty avid gamer. My dad raised me with Pitfall on the Atari 2600 and Choplifter on the Commodore 64. I even delved into the fantastic world of Zork in my youth, and spent countless hours on Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64 in my late teens. Nowadays, gaming is about all I do in my free time when I’m not writing or spending time with my family. I have over 2000 hours logged on Half Life 2: Deathmatch, I’ve been playing Guild Wars 2 since beta, and I have nearly 20k of achievement points on my Xbox 360.

That being said, I have an insane backlog of Xbox 360 games that I need (want) to play through. I won’t even mention how many games I have on my Steam account that still need to be played. Part of the reason I have such a huge backlog is because I allow my emotions to drive what games I play. Most of the games on my shelf have been played through partially, until I don’t ‘feel’ like playing them anymore. Then I move on to another game. And then another.

Yeah, I’m trying to curb this issue before things really get out of hand. But you know what? Sometimes you’re just in a certain mood. Sometimes you want to fire up an FPS and run through levels frantically shooting people, other times you want to take it slow and steady and carve your way through an RPG. It all depends on the kind of day you’re having.

Game Shelf
My video game backlog is out of control!

As of late though, I’ve started forcing myself to sit down and actually complete some of the games on my shelf before moving on to other ones. I finished Resident Evil 5 a couple of weeks ago. Decent game – my first fully completed game in the Resident Evil series. Didn’t care for a lot of the environments in the game, but the story and gameplay was solid overall.

And just this last weekend I completed Remember Me. Only took me two days too. The game has a solid sci-fi storyline with combat that reminds me of the Rocksteady Batman games. The Neo-Paris environments were pretty nice. Voice acting was great. Overall, I enjoyed the game. Nabbed almost half the achievements for it on my first playthrough, and I hope to play through it again some day later on down the line to nab the other half.

Anyway, next up on my radar is the Mass Effect series. I’ve already started #1. We’ll see how this goes.

Perspective

I ran across this music video a couple of weeks ago and fell in love with it for a slew of different reasons. For one, I love the song. Second, it talks about cancer and how we are all beautiful no matter what season we are in. And third, it showcases perfectly how perspective can be used to trick a viewer (or reader in the case of a story) to look at something from one angle when in fact that angle is the wrong way of viewing it.

When I first watched this video, I felt slightly disturbed at the lengths the son went to convince his mother’s coworkers to shave their heads in support of her struggle with cancer. And then I read some of the comments below the video on YouTube and realized that the whole video is being told from the mother’s perspective.

It would be easy to assume the mother is just really paranoid, but I think the skewed perspective of her son also stems from her own doubt (and lack of self-esteem) that her coworkers would ever agree to support her in this fashion unless they were coerced.

The end of the video proves otherwise, as her entire office has banded together to support her, thanks to her son and the love he has for her. Her son was instilling a major dose of self-esteem into her, which she desperately needed.

Love it!

The Friday Muse – A Bit of NaNo

Participant-2014-Web-BannerI crossed 32,000 words in my NaNoWriMo novel last night, so I figured it was time to share a little sample of it with everyone. This is an unedited passage from the novel. NaNoWriMo raw! So please disregard the fact that I actually wrote a sentence that states:

the grungy wall lit in a glean of shine from the dim candlelight

Anyway, this particular scene introduces a couple of my antagonists – Salt and Coral. They are both in the dungeon underneath the castle in the Kingdom of Lyte.

NaNoWriMo Sample
Her bright orange eyes nearly consumed him with her stare. “Do you not know how to talk, Shiny?”

Salt turned his back to her and gazed on the grungy wall lit in a glean of shine from the dim candlelight in the dungeon.

“C’mon, Shiny. Don’t leave me to talk to myself. I will, you know? I’m just makin’ converse. Need somethin’ to listen to ‘sides this silence.”

Salt said nothing to the strange woman. He adjusted the kerchief that covered his mouth and brushed off his thick tan canvas pants and tan denim jacket. The floor of the dungeon was covered in a strange dust that was beginning to upset his lungs. The kerchief would keep most of it out, but it wasn’t the perfect or most ideal garment. He would have done much better with a respirator mask.

“Look, I don’t know why you’re in here. Why are you in here? I’m here ‘cause I stole some bread. What can I say? I was hungry. I’m still hungry. Do you think they will feed us in here? I could really go for some beef. Do you think they have beef?”

Salt wanted nothing more than to shut the woman up. Telling her wouldn’t do it, and besides, Salt didn’t want to speak unless he had to. He wasn’t sure where he was, or what he was doing here. He awoke in a ship that had crash landed on this planet. Some ‘ambassadors’ from the kingdom brought him here, and when he couldn’t answer the question of who he was, he was tossed here into the dungeon.

“Are you hungry? Why aren’t you answering me? I just want to know if you’re hungry. Maybe we can convince them to give us some food.”

Salt noticed a small rat scurrying underneath piles of straw that were scattered across the floor of the dungeon. He reached out with his gloved hands and tried to grab hold of it, managing to pinch the animal’s tail before it slipped out of his grip and vanished through a very small hole in the stone wall.

Interesting, Salt thought. There’s a way out of here after all.

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