Monday, December 10, 2012

Happy Anniversary to me! Judgment Tramp is FREE for 2 days!

It was just over a year ago that I decided to venture into the world of indie writers. It's been,hands down, the best decision I could have made regarding my writing path. I've learned an incredible amount about this crazy business in just a year. I've found the community of indie writers to be some of the most supportive, generous, innovative, and creative people I've ever met. It has been a real privilege to be part of the excitement. I'm looking forward to an even better year going forward. So much more to do, learn,and write!

Of course, you know I have to celebrate by doing a giveaway:  Announcing 2 days only- Dec. 10 & 11- JUDGMENT TRAMP is free in the Kindle Store. Great time to grab a copy! Over 23,000 downloads since publishing last December! 4.5 stars on Amazon

~Jeff 8^D

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

So What About Those One-Star Reviews?

Guest Post by Kristin Comstock

1 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars DONT READ THIS BOOKJanuary 30, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: Fahrenheit 451 (Paperback)
Ray Bradbury tries to write a bestseller in this boring novel. He keeps the audience in the book for about three pages, then everyone falls asleep. If he could do it again, I think he should have never written books in the first place.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Thank you for your feedback.

The dreaded one star review. What does it mean really for writers and readers? I am not an author, and only a sometimes writer, but I am an avid reader and sometimes reviewer, and strong supporter of indie writers. Personally, I will probably never write a one- or two- star review. Why? I think I need to have actually read a book to review it fairly, and frankly, life is short and my reading list is long. I would never make it through a 1 or 2 star book. But that's just my personal philosophy. And I certainly don't subscribe to the  "I think this book is just a 3- star book, but there are a ton of 5 stars,so I'll give it a 1- star so it all balances, and everything will be right with the universe" phiIosophy. (Yes, I have seen this stated more than once. I'm not an author, but this one kind of steams me!) Don't get me wrong, I'm sure there are plenty of one-star reviews just begging to be written. Obviously, there are plenty of readers with a different perspective than mine,leaving one- and two-star reviews. I started thinking about this the other day while catching up on all the hot news surrounding reviews. What is the value of legitimate one-star reviews and why do reviewers leave them? So I spent a little time browsing reviews on Amazon. What I found was just what you would expect; the reasons for leaving one-star reviews are as diverse as the tastes of readers reading the books. Here's a look at some of the most common ones that I found.
Many one-star reviews were given because a reader "couldn't get into it". As in " I just can't get into ________ (wizards, vampires, bondage, etc), so I'm giving this book a one star review." These reviewers seem to be using the star system to rank books according to their personal preferences,or as a way of relating how much appeal the book had for them.
Sometimes one-star reviews are given for typos, or poor editing. I have seen poor reviews based on one error that was troubling to the reviewer. ( By the way, lest we begin to believe this happens only with indie published books, I can point to at least 2 traditionally published ebooks I have read recently which would need to get this rating because of several minor proofreading errors.)
Particularly fascinating to me are the one-star reviews that  also talk about strong points of a book or things that the reviewer liked. For example, Agatha Christie's classic bestseller, And Then There Was None: "It was well written. It was a page turner. But it had a very anti- climatic ending. So not worth my time or money"  or this for a more recent bestseller, Water For Elephants, " This writing is exceptional and managed to keep me interested during the course of the book. Still these marvelous little glimpses of author Sara Gruen's potential do not permit me to recommend this book to anybody." (Huh?) So why a one star and not a 2 star? Or 3 star, if you find a book "fast paced and super compelling" but you didn't love the way the characters developed, as one  Hunger Games reader wrote?
Sometimes reviewers wish  the author had done something different , gone in another direction, as again in The Hunger Games: "I hoped that the plot device would give an opportunity to explore human nature...but it fails." And sometimes a reviewer just is not comfortable with the subject matter. How about those one-star reviews for the popular parenting book, Everyone Poops?

9 of 61 people found the following review helpful

1.0 out of 5 stars EwwwFebruary 14, 2004

By A Customer

Honestly, if you're reading this book, you're in need of serious psychiatric help. This book should only be read by the most hard-core of poop fetishists, as it contains words that no self-respecting sailor would use. This is terrible. "POOP" STINKS

So with so many reasons for giving out 1-star reviews, how should we, as readers and writers, be looking at this dreaded rating? The master science fiction writer,Ray Bradbury, may have just shrugged off the review above. He expressed this perspective in his 1996 interview with Playboy magazine, "When I started writing seriously, I made the major discovery of my life - that I am right and everybody else is wrong if they disagree with me. What a great thing to learn: Don't listen to anyone else, and always go your own way." There may be something to this attitude-after all, a writer has to be true to him or herself.  But, as a writer, you may not be quite as confident or successful as Bradbury yet, so , perhaps, a more useful attitude may be to take what you can learn from the review and move forward- just as Ray Bradbury surely did. 
Maybe writers should even consider one-star reviews as a badge of honor. After all, most bestsellers have a healthy blend of 1 to 5 star reviews. Hang around long enough and it's hard for a book to escape them. Sure, I know those 1 star reviews are about as welcome as a bad case of poison ivy, but consider this: A few thoughtful, yet less than stellar, reviews, may lend a bit of authenticity to the book's reviews as a whole for the potential reader. People tend to be suspicious of a book with nothing but glowing reviews. Wool (the Omnibus Edition) by Hugh Howey, one of my favorite reads of 2012 has 1562 five-star and 12 one- star. A few of the negative reviewers express doubt over the validity of all those 5 star reviews. They can't believe they're in the minority and dislike a book that so many people are raving about. But the reality is, readers hand out stars for all kinds of reasons and many times the basis for the rating is purely subjective and the low (or high) rating may or may not be an accurate reflection of the quality of the work. Readers and writers both need to take the stars as a tool but certainly not as gospel. Different strokes for different folks, y'all.. and on that cliched note, I'll leave you with this profound quote from Kurt Vonnegut:
"Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae."

What are your thoughts on one star ratings as a reader or writer? Do you give out negative reviews? What is your criteria for a one star rating? 

Kristin Comstock is a transplanted Michigander just like her friend,Jeff Currie. She is an educator, social media consultant and manager, avid reader, sometimes reviewer, and strong supporter of indie writers. She resides in Texas with her 3 very busy children, and 2 ornery cats. Track her down on Twitter @krismos.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Utterances of an Overcrowded Mind: Author Interview: J.D. Currie (Me!) Re-posted

Here is my interview by Paul Dorset from Sat., Sept. 8. Go to Paul's blog, Utterances of an Overcrowded Mind, to catch up on his series of interviews with some truly amazing authors! 

Author Interview: J.D. Currie

Today I am pleased to present to you all the fourteenth in a series of Author Interviews. Recently I sat down with the sick and twisted J.D. Currie and our conversation went something like this:

Paul:  I like to start my interviews by asking if you have any writing rituals?
J.D.:  Not really - I don't have a favorite shirt I wear or anything. The only thing that's important when I'm writing is to find a spot where I can concentrate and focus on the story. Oddly enough, it doesn't have to necessarily be somewhere quiet. Sometimes a place like Panera Bread is good.

Paul:  What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favorite authors? Why?
J.D.:  I generally like the same sort of books I try to write - mainly thrillers or mysteries. I love reading Ken Follet, Jack Higgins, and I've read everything Alistair Maclean ever wrote. Once in a while I get out of my comfort zone and delve into literary fiction. I love Hemingway's short stories, but I'm not much of a fan of his books.

Paul:  If someone had the power to step into your creative mind what would they see?
J.D.:  Probably smog, cheese, or maybe a landfill filled with empty M&M bags! I always have lots of story ideas. I tend to act out scenes of a story in my head, sometimes for an extended period, before I write anything down.

Paul:  Do you have a favorite character in each of your series, aside from the lead? If so, which one and why?
J.D.:  Imme Amoud, who is a re-occurring character in my Eb Maclean series of books. Imme's on the side of the angels (barely!), but she is violent, sexy, and dangerous and she plays by her own rules. Imme's survived being near the Twin Towers on 9-11, and she has a mysterious past (that will slowly be revealed as the series goes on). Eb notices almost right away that her plummy English accent (supposedly acquired from her days at an upper class English boarding school) comes and goes depending on the type of persona she wants to convey at any given time. 

Paul:  In all the years you’ve been publishing your work, what is the biggest mistake you made that you could share so others can avoid making it? 
J.D.:  I haven't been at it that long, so my big mistakes are probably still to come! I think my biggest mistake so far was writing my first two books without any consideration of e-publishing. That caused my editor/marketing partner a lot of trouble when the time came to put my book on Amazon - I hadn't done any formatting at all. I also wrote the book and put the e-version on Amazon before ever considering what kind of marketing plan to follow. I would recommend that authors begin building their author platform on social media (Twitter, Facebook) before publishing their book when possible.

Paul:  How do you find the time to write?
J.D.:  This is one of the toughest things for me. I don't make enough time for writing. When I'm working on a story there is always a magic moment where the story grabs me...and then I know I'll stick with the project until it's finished. The problem is getting to that point! I'm trying to rectify this over the summer, and I plan on setting aside a certain number of hours every week to write. It's definitely a work in progress.

Paul:  What is one thing you hope I do not tell the readers?
J.D.:  I guess I hope you don't talk about my sick, twisted little mind. It's a very odd thing being a fiction writer...I spend way too much time thinking about dark things...the less-than-savory aspects of human nature. It's an occupational hazard of any writer of thrillers. A good writer has to be willing to look at the dark side of human nature and have an active curiosity about why people do what they do in moments of stress.

Paul:  If you are self-published, what led to you going your own way?
J.D.:  I fell into indie publishing by accident. I wroteJudgment Tramp with the idea I would shop it around to agents, but a very good friend of mine passed away right when I finished the book. I made the decision to print and sell the book myself to raise money for a benefit we held for my friend, and that kind of made the decision for me. I don't regret self-publishing at all. I think it will become an even bigger part of the industry in years to come.

Paul:  Do you plot your stories or do you just get an idea and run with it?
J.D.:  I plot the basics of the story out in advance, but I'm not afraid to follow an idea if it comes up during the writing process. I think over-plotting a story is a mistake, and I think beginners get caught in this trap a lot, usually after 100 pages or so. Writers have to be flexible - the characters are often going to take over a bit, and sometimes that's the difference between a good story and a great story. Allowing the characters to act out a bit is also a good cure for writer's block.

Paul:  Do you do a lot of editing or do you find that as time goes on your writing is more fully-formed?
J.D.:  I try not to edit at all. Usually I have to do some editing, but I try very hard to keep from being heavy-handed about it. I wonder how many writers chop the heart out of a great story because they've read somewhere that writers must edit their work, or because they've read that the first draft of a story is always bad. When I first started writing I over-described everything, but now I try to do in one sentence or a paragraph what I used to describe in a page and a half of narrative. 

Paul:  Do you have to do much research for your stories?
J.D.:  I try to do the minimum amount of research necessary to make my story fly. I'm not interested in writing Tom Clancy style techno thrillers, but I do want my stories to be realistic. I write about locales I understand - I'll never write a story set in Prague or Berlin unless I visit those places and become familiar with the area and people. I grew up in Michigan, and I love South Haven, Michigan, the area where Judgment Trampis set. Using this area as the setting for my book was my way of writing what I know.

Paul:  What is your most recent book? Tell us a little about it
J.D.:  My most recent book is Judgment Tramp. It's a thriller, but it has a bit of a psychological twist to it. The protagonist, Eb Maclean, is an ex-army helicopter pilot who is having trouble re-entering civilian life after being wounded in Iraq. He gets involved in a mystery when his half-sister's car is blown up outside of the restaurant she owns. As he stumbles toward solving the crime, Eb finds out that his own family is involved in the mystery, and he also has to confront some uncomfortable truths about himself. I wanted Eb to interact with strong female characters in the book (and the series), and that's something about my book that is different than many thrillers.

Paul:  Do you also write any poetry, non-fiction or short stories? 
J.D.:  I've recently become interested in writing short stories - something I thought would never happen five years ago! I intend to do more short stories in the coming months with the goal of publishing a compilation. I'm a working musician and piano teacher, so I'm in the beginning stages of writing a how-to book about playing the piano (The piano technique I use).

Paul:  Do you have any pieces of work that will never see the light of day?
J.D.:  I have stillborn stories and "drawer novels," just as I'm sure every writer does. Never say never though. Something in one of those clunkers may inspire me someday to write the Great American Novel. Anything else I write I write for people to see...I don't keep a journal or anything like that.

Paul:  Do you enter competitions? Are there any you could recommend?
J.D.:  I've entered the Writer's Digest short story competition the last two years. If I win I will definitely recommend it to others!

Paul:  How much marketing do you do for your published works or for your ‘brand’?
J.D.:  I have to confess when I published Judgment Trampon Amazon back in December 2011 I took a blind plunge into the murky online publishing world. I had virtually no platform, no experience with social media ( my Facebook didn't know my face, and Twitter was just some activity that celebrities did), or online marketing. In other words, I didn't know much about promoting my "brand." I quickly realized there would be a little more to this indie publishing thing than sitting back and watching the sales roll in!

Okay, I never really thought that - but to answer your question, I've found that it’s a matter of expanding my platform and exposure one bite at a time. I'm active on Twitter, and Goodreads. I also have a blog, and I continue to explore ways to get my name and writing out in front of people. I've found that being active within the community of indie writers is a must. I truly live by the belief that when we help each other to be successful we, in turn, help ourselves. Innovative marketing and building a brand is a key for any indie writer.

Paul:  What do you do when you’re not writing? Do you have any hobbies or party tricks?
J.D.:  I like old cars - I own a 1962 Corvair that I hope to get on the road someday. I also like model trains. Lately I've become interested in streetcars and interurban railways as they were a type of railroading that closely interacted with people's daily lives. Music is my other profession. When I'm not writing or playing around with my model trains, you'll find me playing keyboard with several bands around the St. Louis area.

Paul: Well, that was wonderful, J. D. I wish you all the best for a successful future.

About J.D. Currie: I grew up in Michigan, and still feel a strong connection to the state. Currently I live in St. Louis, MO. I'm a writer and musician sharing stories in music and print. I was always meant to be a musician - everybody told me that - but it took half my life for me to fulfill that prophecy. The music is making me a better writer, and the writing is helping me tell better stories with my music. I'm the author of Fortress of Lies and Judgment Tramp, the first two books in the Eb Mclean thriller series.

J.D.'s Blog: J.D. Currie
J.D. on Twitter: @JDCurriewriter
J.D. on Facebook: J.D. Currie
J.D.'s latest book: Judgment Tramp (Amazon)

Thursday, September 6, 2012

5 Reasons Why Indie Writers May Or May Not Be Sticking With KDP Select.

It has been 9 months since I attempted my first free days with KDP Select. My first promo was shortly after I published Judgment Tramp, and truthfully, it wasn't exactly a success. (Read about it here) After that I decided to do a lot of detective work to discover what other writers were doing to make KDP Select work for them.  I read so many blog posts on the subject, I decided it would be beneficial to collect them all in one place and provide a list for others who were seeking information. Since then, I periodically search for new posts and continue to list people's experiences in a loose chronological order. (You can find that list here.
Over the course of the last 8 months or so, the majority of experiences have been positive with more and more writers jumping on board and giving it a try. I,personally, have run 5 more promos since the initial flop with various degrees of success. However, the KDP trend seems to be shifting somewhat, and, recently, I've come across more posts  from writers who have decided to cut loose from KDP Select. In light of this, I thought it would be useful to summarize why indie writers who have been participating in KDP Select may or may not have chosen to stick with it. Personally I've decided to stick with it as long as the benefits of participating in KDP Select seem to outweigh the negatives. I reevaluate every 90 days, but so far I don't see anything that will give my marketing efforts the same boost. However, the reasons that others are deciding differently are valid and worth considering. If you have been participating or are considering participating in KDP Select, maybe the following will help you decide which way to go. So here are the top reasons writers may or may not be sticking with KDP Select as gleaned from recent posts:

Writers ARE sticking With KDP Select because:

1. ...they are still enjoying the boost in sales after a free promotion , and the potential exposure to thousands of readers they might not have reached without the visibility free day promotions gives them. They may be one of the writers who credits the success of your books to KDP Select and the opportunities the program has given them. The impact of KDP Select may not be what it once was-writers are noticing a definite difference since around April/May when Amazon changed the algorithms-but many are still finding it a beneficial tool for marketing their books.  This may be especially true if the writer is a new author because using the program gives writers who may not yet have a following the opportunity for immediate exposure.
2. ...they are using ALL of KDP Select, including the free days. and aren't counting on royalties from borrows to take them to the bank.  Borrows are only part of the picture and, frankly, if your price is higher than $2.99, you will get less in royalties for that borrow than if the book had been purchased
3. ...they are willing to max out your free event by using websites, blogs, Facebook pages and other social media to advertise their free promo. This has become even more important for maximizing  chances at a bump in sales afterwards. The effect of a multitude of free downloads on sales rank has diminished since the program was first introduced, but the more visibility you achieve, whether through the promo itself or the lingering effect of  having made extra effort to advertise your book, the more likely it is that sales will pick up after your free promo. The number of free titles has increased as well, so books may need more of a marketing boost to push the number of free downloads up.
4. ...they like the great advertising  their book gets  when it appears on the free bestseller lists right alongside the paid bestseller lists; not for vanity's sake ( well, not much!), but because being next to the likes of Stephen King, Michael Connelly, or  Brad Thor makes for pretty darn good advertising. 
5. ...they are using the power of KDP Select to cross-sell their books. This may be especially true if an author has a series of books. Putting one book in the free promotion often helps build a readership for other books in a series and increases sales across all of an author's books. Despite all the changes, KDP Select still remains a powerful tool for aiding readers to sift through all of the books now available at Amazon.

Writers are NOT sticking with KDP Select because:

1. ...they believe that writers putting their books up for free is devaluing. They are afraid the use of the free promotion is overdone and creating a harmful "Walmart-like" expectation among readers who are becoming less and less willing to pay for what they have worked so hard to create and market.
 2. ... they believe that giving Amazon exclusivity is not a good idea, either for their books, and/or for the greater good. Perhaps they are a writer who has developed a readership among Nook or Kobo owners and doesn't want to exclude them, or they've tried the KDP Select program and it was good, but it's time to expand to other platforms. They may feel Amazon is dangerously close to becoming a monopoly.
 3. ...they don't like that their books' rankings take a rapid plunge, sometimes below where they started, after coming off free days, and, sometimes, take a while to recover. Since the algorithms have changed, free downloads don't seem to count as much toward sales rank as they used to and a book being free means no sales are recorded during those free days, of course, which most likely causes this initial plummet directly after a promo ends. My book has always plummeted initially and then risen back up. This is the bounce that we used to get all the time. My book hasn't bounced as well as some, but it has always bounced. What I notice, however, is a much slower rise in the rank.)(See Jeff Faris's insightful post about why you may not be achievIng the bounce quite as easily anymore.)
 4. ...they've noticed an increase in 1- and 2-star reviews, often coming from people who haven't reviewed any other books, or, obviously read the book, which makes them question the review's validity and/or intention of the reviewer. They see a tendency for some people who have downloaded books for free to leave harsher reviews. They may have seen an effect on their book's prior stellar ratings.
 5. ... they simply feel that KDP Select has run out of steam, and it's time to move on. It has lost enough of its effectiveness for them and it no longer seems worth it for many of the reasons listed above.

Which way are you going with KDP Select?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Fear of Rejection: What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Stronger?

I don't know about you, but I have my moments of cowardice, and there are some things that bother the heck out of me. I don't like sharks--and I'm absolutely sure that one will be having me for dinner the moment I jump into the water.  I'm not a big fan of power tools or machinery, especially after having the tip of my right ring finger re-attached after an accident involving a forklift. And most of all, I'm afraid of something a lot of people are afraid of--I'm afraid of rejection.

Writers have to deal with rejection all the time, so it follows that the writers who last in the business do so by finding ways to get past the hurt of receiving a bad review or a rejection slip in order to get something productive accomplished.

More to the point, writers have to find ways to make rejection work for them. In fact, it might not be a stretch to say that rejection, at least to some degree, is an essential element of professional writing. Rejection winnows out the weak and unfit--it serves as a form of career darwinism to improve the breed. I think there was some hand wringing from industry insiders when e-books came along--but I think the darwinistic trend of the e-market will function normally; it will still be a business where only the strong survive and the true talent rises to the top of the pile. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't have it any other way.

Writers have to figure out a way to motivate themselves when rejection comes calling, and how an individual writer handles rejection will sometimes determine the path a writer takes in the quest for success.If a writer is trying to snag an agent, then the first step on the path to success is essentially laid out--and some great writers struggled for years before finally achieving success in finding an agent, Indie authors may have dodged that bullet, but there are still many bumps in the road to endure before an indie writer can become successful. I'm sure some indie authors went down that path to avoid the agent's slush pile, but I believe that being a successful indie writer is at least as hard as becoming a traditionally published author.

Indie authors still have to sell books, and that entails so much more than writing. Indie authors may skip the agent finding process, but indie writers still have to deal with the criticism of the marketplace. More than any other writer, indie writers live and die by customer reviews. It's big part of the indie marketing process.

Indie writers have to put work out on the market to find out where they stand. An essential part of the indie writer's education is to understand how to interpret customer feedback--it's great if your project gets wonderful reviews, but it isn't the end of the world if you receive a few tough reviews--those reviews tell you about your work, and they also reveal a lot about your readers--because every review says as much about the author of the review as it does about your work.

I wouldn't jump on my proverbial sword because of a bad review, and I certainly would resist the urge to think I knew everything about writing just because I received a few good reviews. I'll do my best to learn everything I can about this craft, but at the end of the day I have to write the way I write. People will either buy into what I'm doing or they won't--but at least I will have been true to myself. I urge you to do the same.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Streamlined Writing

I like streamlined things--most of the trains, planes and automobiles I love are streamlined designs. My favorite big cat is the cheetah, and even though I have a horrible fear of them, I'm in awe of the way sharks can cut through the water.

My writing, however, was anything but streamlined when I started--it was downright flabby. I could never resist the urge to write ten sentences when one would do--and my early writing was plagued with excessive narrative that didn't add a thing to the story.

I still struggle with it--and worse yet, I sometimes overcompensate and cut too much out of my writing because I'm terrified of loading my work down with flab.

Over time I've learned (well, I've almost learned) to take certain steps to keep my writing streamlined without overdoing it.

The first step was to understand what kind of writer I am--I'm not a 21st century male version of Jane Austen--and I'm happy to admit it. I want to write tight prose that hammers out the story with a bare minimum of language, and I'm learning to structure my writing that way right from the first draft. That was my early mistake; I overwrote my early first drafts, with the mistaken assumption that I could edit that bloated writing into a workable story or essay. It didn't work--and now I try to do just the opposite. Most of my rewriting now is adding details, and it seems to work better for me.

The second step is to use the dialogue in my story to its fullest extent to tell the story. I think many beginning writers are terrified of dialogue, but I think it's a misplaced fear. Characters can reveal essential elements of the story in a few sentences of dialogue that might be difficult, or even impossible to convey with less than a half page of narrative.  Don't get me wrong--I think narrative has its place, but too often the flab in a story can be found in the narrative. I know that's true for me.

The final step is to keep the story balanced. I described my method for achieving that in an earlier blog, and it really works well for me. I usually get too involved in character development, and it's a constant struggle to pare the character development back so it doesn't overwhelm every other aspect of the writing.

Every word in a story or essay must earn its keep, and I think that's the biggest challenge of all. Language is the writer's best friend, but it is a friend that needs to be reigned in constantly so the story can shine at full brilliance.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Spartan means--Arcadian writing, and in life

I've been overweight a good deal of my adult life. It kinda crept up on me, because I'd never had a weight problem as a kid or a teenager, but in my mid twenties I started creeping up in weight. By the time I hit forty I was resigned to being heavy. I won't sugar coat it--I gave up. I made excuses for my weight, I rationalized my bad behavior away, and I settled into a life of comfortable obesity.

But it wasn't very comfortable, and the extra weight became harder to bear with each passing year. Being heavy isn't any fun at all, and when I developed heart trouble it became apparent that the extra weight was (and is) literally trying to kill me.

For me it's simple--I either have to move or die, and I've decided to get up out of the chair and move. I'm exercising almost every day, and I'm trying very hard to control my lousy eating habits. I'm walking, and I've decided to carry a loaded backpack to help me work myself into shape.

I've mentioned before that Colin Fletcher is one of my writing heroes, and his book, "The Complete Walker" remains as a definitive guide for the serious backpacker. Any discussion of backpacking will sooner or later turn toward the subject of getting in shape to walk with a pack on your back, and Fletcher coined a phrase at the end of a section of the book dealing with getting in shape to hike that stuck with me over the years--and inspired the title of this blog post:

"I'm afraid all these strictures end up sounding ferociously austere. But Arcadian ends can justify Spartan means. Many a beautiful backpacking week or weekend has been ruined by crippled city-soft muscles--because their owners had failed to recognize the softness, or at any rate to remedy it." -- Colin Fletcher, writing in The Complete Walker

So my loaded backpack is my Spartan means, and living, and being healthy and in shape, will be my Arcadian ends. That's a deal I'm finally prepared to make.

I have to make the same sort of deal with my writing life--I'm finding too many ways to avoid writing. It's frustrating, because I'm not suffering from a case of writer's block. I'm not having a crisis of confidence. And I'm certainly not losing some ways my interest in writing is greater than it ever was. 

So what's the problem? 

In my case it's pretty simple. I don't manage my time well. That's a killer for me. I need to organize my days better. My writing cross is time management, and it is easily as heavy a load as that forty-pound pack I carry on my walks.

We all have a cross we carry--and the solution isn't to ignore it and hope it will go away. I'll gladly carry my writing cross, because I know that it, like the backpack, will feel lighter if I acclimate myself to the weight. Spartan means are justified by Arcadian ends, and I'm ready to pay the price to get the payoff. 

What's your writing cross? How do you deal with it? 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Announcing the Release of Michael K. Rose's SHORT STORIES!

I am pleased for the opportunity to help spread the word today about the latest release by the superb science fiction writer, Michael K. Rose.

The science fiction stories of Michael K. Rose can most accurately be described as eclectic. He is best known for his science fiction adventure series Sullivan’s War and in this collection you will find stories that adhere to the strongest expectations of the genre, such as “Sergeant Riley’s Account,” “Sleep” and “A Random Selection.”
But you will also find stories that, while speculative in nature, owe more to literary fiction than anything else. Works such as “Main & Church,” “Inner Life” and “Pedro X.” explore the psyche as opposed to the outer reaches of the galaxy.
Whatever your tastes, you are bound to discover many favorites amongst these ten stories. The first five have been previously available electronically but this is their first appearance in print. The last five stories are new to this collection.


"Sergeant Riley's Account"
"Inner Life"
"Mahler's Tenth"
"If I Profane with My Unworthiest Hand"
"A Random Selection"
"Main & Church"
"The Tunnel"
"Pedro X."
"The Vast Expanse Beyond"

eBook Editions Available at:
Amazon’s U.S. Store:
Amazon’s U.K. Store:

All Other International Amazon Kindle Stores. Links here:

Signed print copies are available from the author:

Praise for Short Stories:

"Michael K. Rose is an insightful, compelling writer with a talent for nuance and timing. He is able to make the impossible seem perfectly plausible and the unlikely seem as natural as summer rain. Short Stories is not only fiction for the deep thinker but grand entertainment for the rest of us, too. The tales are thought-provoking, intriguing, and have a tendency to stay with the reader long after the last page is turned. Prepare to be immersed!"
- K. Wodke, co-author of Betrayed

"If there is an author new to the world of publishing that I would place next to Ray Bradbury, Edgar Allan Poe and Isaac Asimov, it has to be Michael K. Rose. His collection Short Stories is not only entertaining, it is fulfilling from both a philosophical as well as an emotional standpoint. It is at times dark, light and colorful. It is sound in element, true to form and at no time did I think to myself 'That's it?'
"Short Stories is not only thought-provoking, it is the purest form of literature, as rich as a bottle of Montrachet 1978 and as tasty as a generous cut of Wagyu beef."
- Benjamin X. Wretlind, author of Sketches from the Spanish Mustang

“From the science fiction of everyday life, to the inner life of a human being, to the mysterious expanses of space, these stories are vessels to carry you to places you never dreamed you could go. No other writer today can pull together such different stories and weave the words together with the skill to keep you thinking about them long after you have finished.”
- Alexia Purdy, author of Ever Shade


Michael K. Rose is the author of the science fiction adventure series Sullivan’s War. He grew up in Arizona, where he now resides, after spending part of his formative years overseas and in Maine.
When he is not writing, Michael enjoys reading. He is a lover of classical music and regularly attends performances of the Phoenix Symphony and Arizona Opera. He also enjoys tabletop and card gaming.
                  He is an avid and enthusiastic traveler and has visited nearly thirty countries on four continents.
Michael holds a bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from Arizona State University.

To connect with Michael, please visit the following links:

Thursday, June 21, 2012

PTSD,TBI, and Thomas Tweed

**Way back, oh, 6 months or so ago, I began my Twitter life, and was fortunate enough to make the acquaintance of Benjamin X. Wretlind. Ben is an insightful, thought-provoking writer, and a gentleman to boot. I was immediately intrigued by the unique concept behind his Sketches From the Spanish Mustang novellas, and the book to be released July 1. I've read several of the novellas, including Cpl.Thomas Tweed's War. The protagonist in my books, Eb Maclean, also suffers from PTSD, like Thomas, and so I am doubly thrilled for the chance to host Benjamin Wretlind as a guest today as he discusses his character Thomas Tweed..**

My thanks to Jeff for allowing me to write all over his blog. As I mentioned in my preview, Jeff and I go way back...almost months, and in the social networking, connected world we live in, that's quite a long time ago. What I've learned from Jeff is that he is extremely helpful, always willing to go the extra mile, and he's a great writer.

Since Jeff recently posted a piece on his blog about post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) and how it relates to his character Eb Maclean, who appears in several works including Judgment Tramp, I asked him if he'd like to host this bit on PTSD, TBI and Thomas Tweed. Being the helpful person Jeff is, he said yes (of course).

As Jeff, in his recent blog post on PTSD, said, "PTSD isn't just about having flashbacks (the standard TV drama treatment of the condition) or temper issues, and sometimes the truth of the condition's effect on someone is quite graphic. I want Eb Maclean to be real, but I'm learning that every little aspect of his condition doesn't need to be explained in detail. In fact, most of those details are probably more of a distraction to the storyline."

Thomas Tweed is one of the central characters in Sketches from the Spanish Mustang and his story is probably the most complicated and strange I've written.  It's important to understand that even if a particular story line doesn't seem to include him, he's there nonetheless. When I first set out to sketch Tweed's life, I wasn't at all surprised to find he'd already been stereotyped by many other characters in the book. Thomas is a vagrant. Thomas is weird. Thomas is someone to avoid. Thomas needs help.
With the exception of one character, Thomas is never viewed as the person he really is: a returning Marine who suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) in Afghanistan and was admitted to a hospital in Denver so he could deal with his PTSD.
There is a lot of attention given these day to PTSD and an increased emphasis on TBI, however the fact of the matter is, most people don't understand exactly what a person might be going through, whether they returned from a war zone, they were involved in a crash on the freeway or they simply fell off their bike in the worst possible position.  We look at PTSD as something a veteran might suffer, but that's far from the truth.
In 2010, after I retired from the military, I applied for a job to help returning soldiers find the resources they needed. In addition, I was expected to weed out certain people who showed a possibility of either PTSD or TBI, even if it wasn't documented in their records. While I was very familiar with PTSD and TBI, I wasn't prepared to learn about one case in particular.
A man like Thomas Tweed.
This particular man suffered from an acute loss of memory from an improvised explosive device his squad ran across in Afghanistan during a routine patrol. While a portion of his brain was damaged from the explosion, he was able to recall some things from his past. Through therapy, his brain registered the events that were lost as "memories," but not everything stuck. It was almost like pouring rocks through a sieve: some rocks stay, others pass through the slots in the bottom.
This man had a wife and child, and all three needed help.
I used that case as a background for Thomas, and I also wanted to know what other people thought of him--those who didn't know who he was or what he'd gone through. I wasn't quite sure how to go about doing this until I watched a video from the band Shinedown called "What a Shame."
I'm going to ask you to please watch this video even if rock or alternative music isn't your thing. In particular, pay attention to the lyrics and the video itself. (I'd print the lyrics, but I think that might get someone in trouble with copyrights, etc.)

It was quite a shock to see this video and know exactly what it was I wanted to do: portray a man as seen through different eyes. Not all people would see him the same way, but he's a person nonetheless. He has hopes, fears, desires. Thomas is really the embodiment of every homeless man or woman you see on the street. He is a picture of returning soldiers. He is a man. He is human.

The story of Thomas Tweed is really one of the central themes in Sketches from the Spanish Mustang. While some people may think it revolves around the Artist and her gift or the individual story lines she "sketches," in truth the novel is about seeing things from a different point of view.

Because if we don't do this, we'll never know the truth: we're not all the same.
(And I'll tell you a little secret: it was my grandmother who taught me about the license plates. Incidentally, two of my previously held plates appear in this story. If you're not sure what I mean, you should pick up Sketches from the Spanish Mustang and find out.)


Benjamin X. Wretlind, the author of Castles: A Fictional Memoir of a Girl with Scissors and Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, has been called "a Pulitzer-caliber writer" with "a unique American voice." Aside from novels, he has been published in many magazines throughout the past 10 years.


In Sketches from the Spanish Mustang, a haunting, heart-warming and often brutally direct exploration of the lives of seven people in the mining town of Cripple Creek, Colorado, a woman must come to grips with the failings that cost the lives of her husband and child. Bestselling author Michael K. Rose says: "Mr. Wretlind has penned a tale of such emotional and literary depth it will haunt the reader long after the last page is turned."

With a pencil, a sketchbook and a keen eye for the details of the soul, the woman's lines and smudges, curves and tone reveal the stories behind her subjects. Life emerges on the page รณ vengeance, salvation, love and death. The artist's subjects fight for survival, only to be saved in the sketches of a woman with a gift . . . and a curse.

International Book Award winner Gregory G. Allen calls the book a "unique journey that rips away the outer layers of people allowing us to stare into their souls where humanity is universal: no matter the genre of writing."

Sketches from the Spanish Mustang will be available at all major online retailers for $14.95 on July 1st, 2012.  It will also be presented in an electronic format (e.g. Kindle, nook) for $5.95.