Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit

My editor is THE COOLEST editor ever! Behold Exhibit A:

Still Life with Fantasy and Fruit #1

All of this was sent to me by my editor, except for the fruit. Here's what you're looking at, left to right, front row: Robert Redick's The Red Wolf Conspiracy; a Braeburn apple; Daryl Gregory's Pandemonium; another apple; Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett's Have Mercy; and then moving to the back row, an Advanced Reader Edition of Peter V. Brett's The Warded Man; a NEW! AWESOME! copy of Mr. Brett's latest novel, The Desert Spear, two weeks before it's available in stores (Whoops! I just drooled on the keyboard in nerd ecstasy!); bananas, because this shit is bananas; Richard K. Morgan's The Steel Remains; and a final apple.

And now we pause for a celebratory squee. Squeeeee!!!

I had no idea how cool it would be to get free books until I got them. I mean, when I was a younger nerd with more hair, I'd get "free" books from those book clubs, but we all know they weren't really free because you had that commitment hanging over you to buy only six more books in the next year at regular club price and you had to return that card on time or they'd send you a crappy book of the month instead of something you wanted. These books are free. I don't have to buy anything or "just pay shipping and handling." And yes, I'm bragging about it. I'm having a nice brag right now, because this is the coolest perk I never expected for getting published. I didn't expect any perks, to be honest; getting published is satisfactorily perky all by itself. It doesn't need perks. But they are there, and this is one of them.

In coming days, weeks, (months?) I'll be reviewing these. I'm reading The Warded Man first because I've heard nothing but stellar things about it and I'm fond of reading stellar books. But after that and The Desert Spear, I'm digging into Richard Morgan's book. His Altered Carbon was awesome stuff and so were the sequels, so I can't wait to see what he's done here. Oh, and you know what? I almost bought that book over the weekend! I picked it up, all excited, and then I checked the publisher on the spine and went "WHOA!" kind of like that loud man in the Staples commercials but several decibels quieter. Richard Morgan's with Del Rey, too! I had no idea. I put the book down—very reluctantly—because I thought maybe, just maybe, Tricia would surprise me with it. And she DID! So that is Exhibit B. The books & authors in the front row are unknown to me, but I'm looking forward to this particular introduction and I'll share the experience when I get to them.

I really need to write an effusive missive o' thanks to my editor now.

School's keepin' me busy and it's tough to find the headspace to write, but I'm at 30K on Hammered now and deep in research on the Kabbalah for my Kabbalist warriors. Happy Passover to all my Jewish friends.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Three Writing Myths Busted

I like encouraging folks to write. It gives me warm fuzzies. I think most everyone has a story to tell, and if they want to work at it hard enough and long enough to tell it very, very well, then they should be able to find an audience for that story and someone willing to pay them for it.

But it can be discouraging, I know, to work for so long on a project with no certainty of it ever sitting on a bookshelf with its own cute little ISBN barcode.

Luckily, there's some encouragement to be had. Fantasy author Jim Hines recently conducted a survey of 246 published sci-fi/fantasy authors about how they sold their first books, and the full results of that survey are now posted on his blog. Here's the link to his awesome work, please check it out.

Though it's obviously skewed toward sci-fi/fantasy authors, it contains information that should be useful to everyone, and busts a few pervasive myths. I'll highlight a couple of them here and throw in my personal, anecdotal info.

Busted Myth #1: You have to sell short fiction first. 
Out of 246 authors, 116 sold a book without ever selling a short story. That includes me. (I participated in Jim's survey.)

Busted Myth #2: Traditional publishing is dead, self-publishing is the way to go.
Not so much. There are huge, isolated success stories—Christopher Paolini is the one that comes to mind—but the key word here is isolated. Those kinds of success stories are anomalies. Out of the 246 surveyed authors, only one self-published first before getting picked up by a major publisher.

Busted Myth #3: You have to know someone in the business to get published.
140 of the authors (over half) had no contacts at either their agency or their publisher before making their first book sale. I'm one of those. I know four whole people in the industry now, but I still haven't met them in person: I know my agent and a colleague of his, and I know my editor and assistant editor at Del Rey. But I "met" my agent through a query letter. And I didn't "speak" to my editor until my agent made the deal. So the proof is there and it's solid: you can get into this business based solely on the power of your written words.

There are many more nuggets of golden info to be found in the survey—I highly recommend it—but here are the last couple of stats I'd like to point out: It seems most of the authors sold their first books in their mid to late 30's. (I was 38 at the time of the sale.) And while 58 authors sold the first book they ever wrote, many wrote 2-4 books before they got their first sale. I wrote two other books before I wrote Hounded and learned so much in the process. I also learned quite a bit from the process of writing Hounded; I wrote the next book in the series more quickly and it didn't require as much editing.

Hopefully this info will encourage some of you on your journey to getting published!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Killer Bug!

Things I normally don't blog about: bugs.

But I just recently realized that I'm sharing the planet with this particular bug and I think it's cool. It's called a wheel bug, and it's the largest of the assassin beetles. Sort of like a ninja insect.

See that little tubelike doodad underneath its conehead with the googly black eyes? That thing will whip and stab another insect and paralyze it almost instantly, and then it'll start pumping saliva and enzymes into the critter and liquefy its insides before sucking it all up like a slurpee. They kill lots of garden pests so they're actually good to have around, but they're kind of scary.

For humans their bites are painful and don't heal very quickly; they'll probably leave a scar. But they don't attack unless provoked, and they move pretty slowly unless you're right in their face.

These things usually go for caterpillars and such, but they can even take out bees with no trouble and yes, even praying mantises! Check out this YouTube video here; the mantis puts up a fight but once that beak is in there, it's nothing more than a mantis milkshake to the wheel bug.

Sweet dreams!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Enormity of a novel vs. wee little goals

If someone says unto thee, "I must have your completed novel in five months. Begin," what you would begin is not a novel at all, but an epic freakout over the impossibility of the demand. The number of words involved—75,000-120,000, depending on your book—boggles the mind and shuts down the engine of the little train who could.

So don't think about that. All that will get you is a plate of roasted fail drizzled in a savory fail sauce and served with a side of fail.

Instead, think about all those people in November who write novels in a month. And think about writing the equivalent of a three to five-page paper each day until you're finished, the kind your English teacher made you write. About a thousand words per day. You can do that. It'll take you a couple of hours, maybe three. Plus you can hold down a day job. You might not get to watch TV, but what you're writing is better than anything on TV anyway, right? Maybe on a weekend you could write more than a thousand. If you were super diligent about that, you'd have a 90,000-word novel in three months.

But you're not going to be super diligent, because you have a life. Or if you don't, I'm sure you're trying to get one. That's okay, I highly recommend having a life. You can take off a day or two here and there and still make your deadline in five months. And you know what? The year's not even half over! You can write another novel before the year is out! You can even take two months off for a backpacking trip across Europe and then come home and write a novel about it!

The first novel of my series, Hounded, took me over a year because I didn't have a deadline and I was attempting to have a life. I left it alone for weeks, even months at a time because there wasn't any urgency. After I got a contract, I wrote much more quickly. :) I wrote the second book in five months. Now I'm already a third of the way through writing the third book and I have until July to finish it. The practice helps, and the deadline helps a lot.

So give yourself a deadline and start practicing. If you'd like to see how long many Sci-fi/Fantasy authors worked at getting published before selling their first book, check out this handy-dandy info here courtesy of fantasy author Jim Hines, who surveyed 246 SF/F authors and crunched the numbers. You'll see that some of them worked a long, long time. Decades. Some of them, on the other hand, sold books after a just a few years. None of them ever gave up. My data is in that survey; I wrote for 19 years before I sold my first book. If you're an aspiring writer, I hope you'll be one of those who sells theirs quickly—but if the time of "quickness" has already passed for you, I hope you'll keep working anyway—the practice helps.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Serendipitous surprises

I love it when something cool happens in the writing process that I didn't plan ahead of time. Just like a reader enjoys being surprised (most of the time) by what happens in a book, I like to be surprised while I'm writing it. It's a large part of what makes writing enjoyable. The characters take on a life of their own and do things I never expected, and sometimes these surprises turn out to be major plot points.

When I'm planning a book I write chapter by chapter outline that contains the major events of each chapter, nothing more. It's a guideline with lots of room for detours. Sometimes the detours are lengthy.

For example, in Hexed I had a priest and a rabbi walk into a pagan bookstore as a joke and it turned out to become a major subplot of both that book and Hammered

Right now, as I'm writing Hammered, a trip to Asgard that I thought was going to take one chapter has now taken four. And because of the way things have developed, there is going to be a vampire problem that I never outlined at all, but I can't wait to write it. Jesus was to make a cameo appearance in chapter four, but now he's going to be pushed back to chapter nine or ten because of other events that have developed in the meantime.

After the book is finished I like to compare the outline to the finished product. All the events of Hexed I had outlined are in there, but they're in a different sequence than I originally planned and there are several bonus events that crept in, like the priest and rabbi subplot.

25K on Hammered now. And if anyone knows a reliable Hebrew speaker, give me a shout; I need to translate a couple of sentences for the book.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Fascinating info on the biz

Fantasy author Jim Hines conducted a survey of 247 sci-fi and fantasy authors—myself included—on how they broke into the business. The information should be interesting (even encouraging) to anyone trying to make their first professional sale. Here's the link. This is only part one of several blogs where he'll break down the data, so stay tuned for more updates.

Many thanks to Jim for putting this together. The numbers show that the self-publishing route is pretty grim; but it also shows that a surprising number of people have broken into the industry without an agent and without a single short story sale.

Four cool things

Today I installed TweetDeck as opposed to Tweetie and I think I like it a bit more. It automatically shortens URLS (Tweetie didn't) and makes shortened links to pictures on the web if you just drag 'em in there. So that's cool thing number one. (If you're not following me on Twitter, the username is kevinhearne.)

Got the taxes finished and they weren't nearly so bad as I feared. Cool thing number two.

I get to hang out by a pool tomorrow when many, many people elsewhere are still freezing. Cool thing number three.

I've found a small groove to write in; I've only managed spastic fits here and there the last few days but I think I'll have time to write the rest of the night now—cool thing number four. 23K on Hammered.

Monday, March 15, 2010


Caffeine withdrawal. Argggh. Unrelenting pain. But I will carry on!

Right now I'm in Payson visiting my mom and I'm sorry to say it doesn't have much in the way of bookstores. There's a library, to be sure, and I think there are a couple of used bookstores with yellowing copies of old paperbacks crowding the shelves. They'll order anything new that you want. But there isn't a bookstore one can walk into and browse the new books for hours, smell the ink and caress the paper and smile at the soft crack of the binding. There isn't a chance to discover a new author on a display some publisher has paid for, no helpful associates hand selling this title or that, no opportunity to be surprised by something and pick it up on impulse. And so I don't think I could ever live here, though Payson has many other charms. We like going to bookstores too much as a family to give up that simple pleasure.

It's been pointed out to me that Wal-Mart sells books. But one cannot enjoy browsing in a Wal-Mart. Its cold fluorescent lighting kills all joy and discourages literacy somehow. Going to a bookstore is a tacit celebration of human achievement and lofty ideas; going to Wal-Mart is a tacit acceptance of the lowest possible standards and a willingness to take advantage of exploited labor.

I've never been to Portland, but if I ever make it I will set aside a day to explore Powell's. Since I've heard disturbing things about Amazon, I'm going to switch to Powell's for my online purchases—they seem to still be focused on books, in any case, whereas Amazon has bloated to the extent that books are only a portion of their business.

Right now I'm reading A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick and The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet by Reif Larsen. Neither was purchased at Wal-Mart—I'd be surprised if Wal-Mart carried them. The latter is a loan from a friend, but the former was picked up leisurely in a bookstore after an hour's pleasant meandering amongst the shelves.

Even though I have plenty to read right now and a book of my own to write, I'll doubtlessly return to the bookstore this week; it's just something that has to be done to affirm that I'm on vacation.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Oh yeah! A surname would be good...

Well, I think this character might be sticking around for a while, so maybe I should give her a surname. It's so weird that I never really thought of it before, but one of my fairly important characters, Granuaile, got all the way through two books without her last name being mentioned...even in my head. I simply never thought of her beyond the first name. So odd, since I gave full names to very minor characters.

And you know what's weirder? Nobody who's read the first two books ever asked me. Not my primary readers, not my editors, not even my mom. They were cool with her having no more than the single moniker. I think it must be because it's such a rich, full name. If you can live up to a name like Granuaile, walk around wearing it every day, then you don't really need anything else.

Still, she isn't super-duper famous yet. I don't think she could pull a Madonna and live with just the first name, so I need to come up with something...and that something is MacTiernan. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Granuaile MacTiernan. Get to know her in 2011.

Friday, March 12, 2010


1. Still loving The Selected Works of T.S. Spivet. I will post a full review when I'm finished.
2. Looking forward to reading Peter Brett's The Warded Man. My editor is being really spiffy and sending me a copy.
3. I have discovered that some people are really, really fascinated by their salad spinners. Perhaps it would not be going too far to say that they love their salad spinners. There is a Salad Spinner Appreciation Society on Facebook. I do not own a salad spinner, but I joined it anyway, more out of appreciation for the existence of the society than for the invention the society appreciates.
4. 20K on Hammered, hoping to make better progress this week now that I'm on spring break.
5. My assistant editor has turned me on to a band called Amon Amarth, specifically because of their song "Twilight of the Thunder God." If I typed at the tempo their drummer plays, I'd have my novel finished tomorrow.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Coincidence? I think yes!

Thor the movie is currently set for a release date of May 6, 2011. My books, which all mention Thor and feature him prominently in book three, Hammered, will be coming out in May, June & July of 2011.

This is entirely coincidental.

Likewise, any similarities between the representations of Thor in the movie and in my novels are also coincidental, because both are based on original mythological sources. In the movie, Thor will have a hammer. In my books, Thor will have a hammer. That's because in the mythology...Thor has a hammer.

Someone will doubtlessly wonder, however, if my books were influenced in any way by the movie—or in any way by the comic.

No. The answer is no. My characterization of Thor is quite different. Looking at the cast list on IMDB, I see they're using gods and goddesses I'm not even mentioning, such as Frigga & Sif, & I'm certainly not using Volstagg, who's not in the original mythology at all but is rather a creation of Stan Lee.

Also, consider this: Hammered will be finished by July 2010. Its plot, however, and Thor's basic character, were written/conceived in 2008—all of which is long before I could possibly be influenced by the Marvel's movie being released in May 2011.

As for the comic, I've never read it. It might be good; I don't know. I have no plans to read it. The best Viking-themed comic out there is Northlanders, but it deals with the Viking people rather than their gods.

And now for a completely random fact: I prefer crunchy peanut butter.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Progress Report

1. Still like Apples n' Cinnamon oatmeal.
2. 17K on Hammered.
3. Wrestling with capitalized pronouns for deities, especially Jesus. Atticus didn't capitalize the pronouns for any other deities, so why would he start now? Yet I also understand the convention, so I'm torn.

Monday, March 1, 2010


March 1, I have decided, is a spiffy day. Behold:

1) My editor told me my revisions were spiffy and formally accepted HEXED a month before it was due to be delivered. I don't think it'll ever get old to hear that I've written an acceptable novel. :)

2) I inserted an allusion to Sheriff Buford T. Justice in Chapter 4 of HAMMERED. Any day in which one alludes to Sheriff Buford T. Justice is a spiffy day.

3) I have rediscovered Apples n' Cinnamon oatmeal after a long hiatus. I wonder why I ever left.

4) Jerry Reed's "East Bound and Down" is now stuck in my head and it's not that bad. I could just as easily have something abominable stuck in my head, like a Disney song or something from Spongebob Squarepants. Instead, I'm stuck with a spiffy chase scene song with banjos. Banjos are good on March 1.