Monday, June 30, 2014

Hero(ine) Failure

I write fantasy, horror, adventure and science fiction. As is true for every genre, there has to be a hero(ine) who triumphs at the end.  I've discovered a flaw in my writing skill.

In simple words - my lead characters suck.  Oh, they really suck.  How much do they suck?

Many of my fans and test readers LOVE my secondary characters and say "eh" to my lead.  Even my editor (the woman who corrects my writing mistakes) tells me: Your lead was a little boring but I loved what you did with (insert lesser character name here).

My original writing of THREE STEPS: THE JOURNEYS OF AYROLD had the lead character basically stumbling through the pages blindly doing what he was told.  Uh, this is the lead character?  It took a lot of rewriting to get my character to finally come to life and have a little backbone.  In the first draft of ANCIENT BLOOD: THE AMAZON, again my heroine was a wimpy and lame 'leader' of the team of scientists. My co-author rewrote her to give her a spine and a little gumption.  By the end of the book, Ana literally flew off the pages.  My Amish novel currently being hawked by an agent had the lead boy, Daniel who, like others before him, just blindly followed directions. My editor really loved his school mate and felt that character was more fleshed out than the lead who she found to be a bit ambiguous.  In my current work-in-progress, my heroine I've discovered is just like all her predecessors.

I was close to three-quarters of the way through the final edits with a projected release date being June 30, 2014, when I realized, my lead, Jewyl, was a waste of words on the cyber paper.  My test reader fell in love with her sidekick, Chardo and his antics and ambivalent sexual ways.  In fact, it was my discovery that the leader of the group wasn't my heroine but another character completely.  He, in fact, was taking charge and controlling most of the situations.  So, the projected release date will come and go.  I would rather than a strong lead character than make a deadline.

So what makes a hero(ine) in a story?  I was going to use LORD OF THE RINGS as an example but that would be a poor choice since there were many heroes - even ones you probably wouldn't consider.  Think about it - Frodo was the lead, but not the only lead. Sam played a part. Merry and Pippin played their parts. Ganldalf was important, as was Aragon, Legolas, Gimli and so many others.  Did you consider Gollum a hero?  Each of these characters was a hero in some way and a lead character.

So, by looking at the cast of LORD OF THE RINGS, one is able to see that being a hero has many different qualities.  I would say, it isn't always about being the lead character that they whole story revolves around but it could.

Off hand I would offer the following as the guideline for a hero(ine): The character who steps up at the proper time (moment) to be the catalyst to the ending.  And therein lies the crux of my issue.

My weak, wimpy, lackluster characters need to step up, be noticed, so that when the time to shine is thrust upon them, the reader knows the character has the skills and knowledge to perform faultlessly.

In other words, to have a long lost heir to the kingdom be the innocent blacksmith's apprentice, that person must have the knowledge to be a king.  Of course, having him thrown into a sword fight untested would be totally inappropriate.  This lad would have learned some sword moves and techniques while testing the new swords or repairing broken ones.  Obviously he would have to be able to read, therefore he secretly reads when he is alone.  The same holds true for horseback riding and other talents.  He must be a very observant youth to watch those in stations above him, perhaps a knight or some lord.

So I don't have to completely rewrite my current work-in-progress, but I do have to make sure that Jewyl is somewhat in control of most situations.  In other words, I really need to get to know my character better so I can relay the proper information so when she is placed in the situation for her to be a heroine, the reader has slowly been fore-shadowed that she can do it.

I'm sorry Chardo, but as a secondary character, the sidekick, you have to take a backseat in the story. You can have your moments to shine but you can't be the star.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, June 23, 2014

Refund - Royalty Lost

You've written the Great American Novel.  You spent over a year sweating laboriously on it late into the night knowing full well that in mere hours you would need to get up to go to work at the full-time job. You paid big bucks to have it professionally edited.  You paid even more money to get a super snappy cover to grab the readers' attention.  Finally, you paid somebody to format the book so it could be published on Amazon as an ebook and paperback.  You did your homework and spent, if not thousands, at least hundreds of dollars to see your name in print.  By the way, I'm not talking Vanity Press publications, another totally different subject.  I'm talking for

The book is available.  You rejoice.

Now the next step.  Marketing.  You pay token amounts to different Twitter accounts to get the word out. You establish Facebook accounts and pay for advertising so others can learn about your new book.  You move forward with other media outlets and start the marketing of your book.


You see the book's rating on Amazon slowly move up.  You have sold copies!  You check your KDP account and note the number of books sold and see the royalty figures climbing.  You move over to the CreateSpace area and note the sales being generated there.

Dollar signs light up your eyes!

A few days pass and you've kept a close watch on the numbers.  It is exciting.  You can even see the sales in Europe, Great Britain, Australia, Japan and other foreign countries.  Exactly how much is 101.51 GBP?  You find a monetary converter on the web and save out the address to your favorites.   WOW!  Almost $173 in U.S. funds.  The excitement is overwhelming.

A few more days pass and you once more check on your royalties.  Sales has been going up and UP!

You now have 100.10 GBP.  HUH?  That number is less than it was before.  The foreign market has dropped but there has been sales.  Wait!  Even the U.S. sales is confusing.  Sales shows books being sold but the numbers no longer make sense.  The new book sales ... added to the old book sales ... should be higher, but is only minimally higher.  How can one add 30 more books but only reflect 25?


Amazon allows all readers a seven day grace period in which they can return a book.


Hmm?  What can go wrong with this idea?

I get a book.  I now have seven (7) days before I need to return it and get my money back.  Being a tight-wad, I open WordPad (or Word) and my Kindle app on my computer.  It takes some time but...

I highlight the text of a Kindle page.  Click "Copy" and then ALT-TAB to WordPad where I conveniently hit "Paste" which puts the text there.  Oh, yes, it also copies the book title and credit along with it - big deal. A quick delete and it is gone.  There.  A couple of hours work and I now have a copy of the book on my WordPad or Word application and can save it.  Tomorrow I send the original back to with my sincere apology that ...

  1. I didn't want it and made a mistake
  2. I didn't like it and want my money back.
  3. My kid ordered it by mistake.
  4. Some other obscure reason.
Amazon has a "No questions asked" return policy.


I can't go into a restaurant, order a meal, eat it and then tell management I didn't like it and walk out.  I certainly can't pump my tank full of gas, drive until it is near empty and then expect a refund because I didn't get 39 miles to the gallon.

Yes, I can go into a chain store, buy a shirt or shoes, take them home and return them because they were the wrong size or some other reason.  Yes, I can return a dead plant to a garden center within a reasonable amount of time.  If there is a flaw in the material or construction, most items can be returned.

You can't return computer software that has been opened.  You can't return music or videos (DVD) unless it has been damaged and then only for the same item - not cash.

Why would a major corporation fall prey to the concept of accepting returns on books?  Yes, it can accept returns on the usual suspects such as clothes, household items and equipment.

But with intangible items, like music and/or books - the author is being cheated out of possible royalties.  Yes, for clothes and other commodities that are returned, the vendor loses revenue.  Only the unscrupulous buyers are the ones who use the item (wear the dress, for example) and return it for full refund.  Yes, I realized there are unscrupulous readers... but Amazon is inviting them to the table to feed and gorge themselves at the expense of the author.

If this concept continues at Amazon, I fear that many authors will pull their books from the pool in hopes of bringing the giant to understand that lost royalty is lost income.

How do you feel about this?  Me?  I've seen returns and watched anticipated royalty dissipate before my eyes.  Amazon gave me the chance to eliminate the middle man so I could earn more but if they continue to allow returns, I don't earn.  I may have to consider another option.

By the way -- don't feel smug if you're published through one of BIG publishers, a return is a return, you just don't see it and if you got an advance, a return still hurts in the long run. 

There is someone out there who is ready to build a better mousetrap -- Amazon created and brought to market the ebook industry.  This could kill it.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, June 16, 2014

Art - The Truth Hurts

I'm currently working on the last edits of my novel - current working title is Yendisa. Sometimes, to break up the monotony of my editing and writing, I will play with my graphics programs. In particular, DAZ 3D, if you must know.

I've dabbled with a few 3D rendering software packages in the past: Bryce, Poser, Autocad, ZBrush, Anim8or, Vue and others.

Of course, I spent most of my time using Bryce, Poser, Vue and for my final touch ups, PaintShop Pro.  I don't consider myself a total amateur but then again, I would never opt into the concept I'm a pro, either.  Let's just call me an avid hobbyist.

I digress.

In my attempt to keep my books -- okay, my costs -- in control, I do a lot of my own book covers.  I've had a few covers done by others where the publisher controlled the final product but still, I had a little say in the matter.  Sometimes my input was suggestions, but usually it was a simple Yes or No response with No being subjective to the publisher's call.

Back to my current work, Yendisa, which may or may not be the final title.  I had an original concept but it was voted down by a couple of my friends.  Then I attempted some "scenes" from the book.  They were voted down as illogical images.  Once you read the book, the image setup makes perfect sense. [sigh] But the cover has to draw the reader IN, not be a result of having read the book.

I banged around some more ideas and finally decided to go with my original idea but with some alterations. Personally, I think the following image is a great book cover.

Uh, I was wrong.

A couple of my friends still think I should have the book cover done by a professional who they feel might elicit a better image for the book.  I'm hedging.

I asked my #3 son who enjoys Sword & Sorcery type books.  His words: I don't like it. I'm not into 3D rendered people. They look fake.

Those first FOUR words echoed inside my head:  I don't like it.  I DON'T LIKE IT!


My son!  My flesh and blood turned against me.  I remember when he was a small child and I could do no wrong.  I was the shining light in his eyes.  What happened?  When did I fall to the side of the path?


I sat there - numb.  Maybe, just maybe "they" were right.  Maybe I shouldn't be doing my book covers. Perhaps I should invest in a professional's approach who would have fresh eyes on what the cover could be. 


Okay, he's my kid but he's over 30 and the world has definitely tainted his vision.  He doesn't know or even understand the concept of what I am attempting.  Why should I listen to him?  Ffppt!  He's a hack!


Maybe I should consider that option.  Hmm?  Not really.  Time for a 2nd reality check?  Maybe. 

Still, my hackles rise when I think of spending my hard-earned retirement money for me to commission somebody to do a book cover that I can do myself... and for free, I might add.

Tick-tock. Tick-tock.  Decision to be made... and soon...  Tick-tock...

Go ahead - weigh in on the verdict - let me know what you think.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, June 9, 2014

I Killed A Dog...

My friend, Elyse Salpeter, has written a great novel with some extremely intense scenes.  In the first few pages of "The Hunt for Xanadu" (available at she puts a pack of guard dogs to sleep by drugging except for one which doesn't eat the tasty treat. She has to dispense the vicious dog with a strike to its throat - killing it.

Surprisingly, she's been called on it via emails and reviews.


Nobody seems upset about the fact that she kills umpteen humans during the story - all in various modes of mayhem from death by martial arts to ... well, read the book to find out the other methods.

She killed a dog!  The reader is upset by killing an animal but not a human.

Are we that jaded we think nothing about taking another human's life?

Her book is not the only one where an animal has been killed and readers were revolted by reading that fact. There are several other books that have been published over the years where animals are cruelly killed in the story and readers are up in arms about the act.

Let me put it this way...  IT'S A BOOK!  IT'S FICTION!  IT'S NOT REAL!

I read a novel about a group of men, okay, bad men, who were struggling to stay alive in the jungles of India. They killed a tiger - a simple tiger going about its business and not attacking them.  My first question was why they did that THEN I wondered why the author even added it to the story.  Perhaps for flavor to remind the reader that they were in India.  Still, it seemed useless.  When this group of men stumbled onto a small native village, they caused all sorts of mayhem and destruction, killing the old men, the women and children. The young men of the village were out on a hunt.  Again, the reason for all the deaths, to protect the bad guys from being discovered.  Not exactly sure of the mindset that says if we kill everyone, nobody will know we were here, but...

Consider several of our Western genre tales where the buffalo and Native Americans were killed.

Again, these are stories, tales of wonder to entertain the reader.  None of it is real.

In my book I killed a dog...

Not really.  My imaginary character killed an imaginary animal.  In the real world, nothing had changed.

If you're going to get upset over the killing of a dog in a book, you'd best be getting upset over the death of any humans, too.

Just to make sure everyone understands -- fiction books are tales of the imagination - NOT REAL!

Please Note: No animals OR humans were harmed or killed in the writing of this blog entry.

Until next I ramble on...

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Little Praise for Scrivener

I have been a Word Perfect user for a long time in my writing world.  I learned how to create individual chapters and create a master document which controlled all the separate chapters.  I was in Heaven... or so I thought.

I was introduced to Word and even though I had to use Word Perfect at work and of course, for my writing, I found Word to be pretty slick.  It didn't have the "master document" concept as well defined as Word Perfect but the idea of typing over 100k words into ONE document did have its blessings.  I slowly moved to Word, especially when I discovered the edit mode where my friends could markup and send corrections on my stories back to me.  I started to transfer of all my documents to Word.

Last month I was introduced to Scrivener.

I have played with it just a little and already have fallen in love ... okay, maybe lust, with this program.  At first I wasn't convinced that it would be the do-all, end-all for my writing experience.

I moved a couple of chapters of my current work-in-progress and tried to see what all the whoop-de-doo-dah was about.  I wasn't all that impressed.  Then I discovered I was in plain word processing.  I moved over to the fiction novel mode.  Suddenly the program was ... okay, I heard angelic choirs singing.

There was an area for character descriptions.  Wait, there is more.  I could also store images of my characters for me to quickly refer to while I was writing.

Not only that, I could put in places and make up categories for what I needed ... like Gods/Goddesses, Research and much more.

I stored images of my characters, of my villages and cities, even sketches of what I thought my gods and goddesses should look like.  I was scouring the Internet for details about this and that and, in the past, would try to store the information in my bookmarks as "Research" with a sub-category for the book to help keep it all sort of organized.  So I had an image of my city "Lizbeth Harbor" - no wait, I had 4 images of my city and in my bookmarks they were LizHarbor-1 through LizHarbor-4.

That was the old way.  Now I have the images stored inside Scrivener and are Lizbeth Harbor, port side; Lizbeth Harbor, street; Lizbeth Harbor, inlet; and Lizbeth Harbor, town center.  When I go to my "Places" and click on Lizbeth Harbor, I can quickly see all the images.  And, there is also some web page links (pages displayed) of Internet locations I wanted to use.  I don't have to go through another program to see them, just scroll down, and there they are.

I have a innkeeper in my tale.  I had a vague idea of what the man appeared like but now with Scrivener, I have an image to detail from.

Why am I praising Scrivener?  Having all my research, images, details right at my fingertips is unbelievable.  I don't need to open another program to see this or that - it is but a short scroll down and click, there it is. And the cool thing is - when I go back to my story, the cursor is right where I left it.

I am now able to expound and detail my characters, locations and other aspects with ease and no fumbling around to relocate it either on my computer or someplace on the Internet.  During my edits of my current WIP I have upped the word count easily and added depth to my tale and my characters.  I think Scrivener will be the program to blossom my writing skills.

Plus, if I need a little back help, I can quickly export my project to Word, PDF and several other formats including epub for ebooks.

Scrivener is available for both Windows and Mac.  My only question is - Where have you been all my life?
Click for more information about Scrivener

Until next I ramble on...