Review me…

Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds has been out there in the wild for a little over a week now. I know from a few private messages and from the retailer’s weekly reports that a few copies are floating around. The individual feedback has been overwhelmingly positive – and trust me I never get tired of hearing good things about myself so I thank all of you who have taken the time to drop me a note. I do, however, have one small favor to ask of those of you who have already purchased your own copy (and those of you who plan to purchase your copy in the future).

It would be incredibly helpful for me if you’d go back to your retailer’s page and leave a review. I’d never presume to tell you what kind of feedback to give – either positive or negative – but as I’ve learned the hard way, when it comes to selling ebooks, nothing gets a no-name work noticed like good reviews and ratings. In addition to total sales numbers, reviews are a big part of the secret algorithms the big retailers use to decide what moves up the rankings, what gets featured, and what doesn’t.

Retribution will probably never make it to Amazon’s top ten in ebooks > sci-fi > dystopian, but if someone were to happen across it using a key word search, a few reviews could really help make the difference between picking up their own copy and moving on to the next alternative.

To pick up your own copy or leave a review, all you need to do is follow one of these helpful links:

Once you’re there, I’m sure you can figure out what to do without any more prodding from me. Now go forth and say great things!

Retribution…

Retribution - CoverGod watched His creation evolve since long before the written word. He watched even as the first vertebrate flopped out of the sea. He watched long before that. He had great expectations for this new world. This was the one He hoped would finally get it right.

Even though Man was created in His image, they possessed a particularly irksome ability to veer wildly off script. It didn’t help that God’s one-time right hand spent every waking moment for eons finding new and exciting ways to tempt them away from their pre-ordained course.

Once upon a time, a bit of flooding, razing a few misbehaving cities, a smiting here and there, and the occasional miracle had been enough to keep the masses on the straight and narrow. In an age of endless entertainment and short attention spans, even an omniscient and almighty God was apt to have trouble getting His point across.

Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds is the story of what happens when the Old Testament God clashes head-to-head with the modern world.

My virgin effort at fiction in a short story format is available now from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Letting go…

So, because it’s the thing that’s preoccupied the bulk of this long weekend, it seems that I can’t quite get my mind off the impending availability of Retribution. We’re in that interminable stretch where the retail giants are doing their thing. I have absolutely no control over how that process works itself out… and since a writer, at least an independent, has absolute control over every other step of the process, I’m finding this moment of “letting go” an absolute agony.

I’m not lunatic enough to think this little offering of mine is going to sell a million copies or really change the world in any appreciable way. It’s one small story out of hundreds (thousands?) that gets self published online every day of the year. The only difference is that this one is mine. That doesn’t make a lick of difference to the world, of course, but it makes all the difference in the world to me. That’s not surprising since this story has been living completely in my head for the last six months. I never really thought of myself as the “creative type,” at least until I sat down at the keyboard and realized creativity isn’t just paint on canvas or chisels and stone. I’ve heard that kind of self-discovery is a good thing.

For the first time so far in 2014 I’m sitting here without an active project in front of me demanding time and attention. Being “done” is a good feeling. It’s a happy place. It’s fulfilling in a way that’s rather hard to articulate. It’s also full of a gut wrenching fear that about whether what you’ve done is good enough; whether it’s going to pass muster with the dozen or so family and friends who you might be able to convince to give it a read.

So there’s your Sunday morning sample of what it’s like being inside my head. When you add that to the daily requirements of dealing with an unrelenting tide of stupid people, I’d say it leaves little doubt about why I end every day completely exhausted.

Roadmap…

So, we’ve got the cover, we’ve got the narrative, and we’ve got the sales blurb. That means it’s time to race over to Amazon and get this thing published, right? Well, the answer there is more of a “sort of” than a yes or no. I’m not ready to pull the trigger today, but as always I have a roadmap laid out in my head of what I think the way ahead looks like for Retribution.

Sometime between tonight and Friday I’m going to load it onto my Kindle and read the thing from cover to cover one last time. I’ve discovered through a lot of trial and error that just because you think you followed all the formatting rules for e-readers, there’s a pretty good chance that you screwed something up. Unfortunately that mostly shows once you have things loaded onto the actual device itself. Yet another of the minor pitfalls and annoyances of self publishing that in the end will be worth the trouble. Fixing those will be the main event for this weekend.

Sunday, if all goes according to plan, is going to be the great day of reckoning. That’s when I’ll sit down in the morning and start uploading the final product to the retailers. I’m going to work primarily through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, but also fall in on Smashwords to get access to their own storefront as well as take advantage of their “special relationship” with Apple’s iBooks. By the time everyone’s long weekend is ending, Retribution: Chasing Heart’s and Minds should be going live. That’s the roadmap, anyway. How close that comes to reality remains to be seen.

Not sold…

Earlier this morning, while waiting for one of the endless piles of laundry to finish, I gave birth to a third draft. What we have is fully formed, edited, formatted, and copyrighted short story. I’d be lying if I said I was completely happy with it. Then again, you can count on one hand the number of times I’ve ever been completely happy with anything, so take that with a Copyrighthealthy dose of salt. I’m happy enough with the content – aside from the inevitable grammar, punctuation, and usage stuff – but my real hang up at the moment is the title; Retribution: Chasing Hearts and Minds.

That’s not the first title. It’s not the second or even the fifth. It’s the eighth if I’m counting correctly. I’m just not sold on it yet even though it feels like the best of the bunch. Having said that, I’m not currently in a mode of letting the perfect stand in the way of the good enough.

This little project of mine is moving out. I’ve just launched it into the hands of someone who was there at the beginning to give this draft its first formal read through. Letting other people see one of these things is the most nerve wracking part – especially when that person reads. A lot. It means you’re going to get compared to people who do this for a living. That’s a tough standard to meet when you’ve cobbled the idea together a few hundred words at a time working nights and weekends. Still, it’s my baby and that means I’ll be immensely proud of it even if the rest of the world thinks it’s ugly as sin.

Soon enough you’ll all get the opportunity to make up your own minds on the issue. I just hope I’ve done the work well enough to meet expectations. Everything else is gravy.

Garden of Allah…

Don Henley released the song In the Garden of Allah in 1995. That would have made me a high school junior or senior depending on the date. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of it before. I’m willing to bet that most people haven’t. I spent a lot of time driving around – because that’s what you do when you grow up in the sticks – and there was almost always music on the radio. It was a catchy tune back then and mostly I forgot about it until about two years ago when it started popping up when I told iTunes to shuffle. I must have been listening to a lot of Eagles tunes then, because it kept coming around. It’s one of the very few seven minute songs I don’t get bored with halfway through. After a few times through, it really got stuck in my head… and that’s about the time I started writing.

It wasn’t anything coherent at first. Maybe a few scribbled notes, a sentence here or there, but nothing with substance. Then a funny thing happened. It evolved and coalesced into the nucleus of an idea. I started off with the idea of writing something political and ended up with something clearly more religious. Blatantly so as it turns out.

So there’s the inspiration behind the short story I’m heroically trying to edit. It’s all there on paper now not because I wanted to explore than nature of good and evil, but because a really liked a quirky Don Henley song back in high school. Clearly the muse works in strange ways.

Editorial control…

I enjoy almost everything about the writing process. I like that, for me, it’s a solitary effort. I like that it forces me to live inside my own head. I like that it demands a focus and discipline that I don’t always want to demonstrate in other aspects of my life. Most of all, I like that when the final period is added, I can sit back point at the screen, and have the deeply personal satisfaction that I put all those words on all those pages. Even though I spend most of the day writing at the office, there’s no sense of ownership. A finely crafted email or policy letter just doesn’t have the same feel. Most of that kind of writing is set within strictly proscribed left and right boundaries. You can pretty the words up a bit, but I’ve never finished rewriting a section of policy and thought, “damn that’s good.”

I’ve left my work in progress sit for a little more than a month. It’s a much needed cooling off period, so I can try to read through it with a little bit of objectivity. And therein lies the current problem. I love the creative process of writing. I love it right up to the point it becomes the editorial process of reworking all the bits and pieces into a more cohesive and understandable whole. It’s maybe the most necessary step, but there’s nothing at all in it that I find enjoyable. In fact forcing myself to sit down and do it is far more difficult than expecting myself to sit down every night and create brand new material.

Exerting editorial control is a necessary evil. It’s an evil that I started tackling last night. It’s an evil that I’m going to spend many more nights wrestling with… mostly because it reveals that the story that I thoughtfully crafted over the winter is full of plot holes, grammar and punctuation problems, inconsistencies, characters that go nowhere, and generally shows that all I’ve done so far is finish a first draft. I knew that intellectually, but the intervening days gave me the space to realize it with more than my brain.

It’s time to get back to work… and by “work” of course I mean that activity that takes inordinate amounts of time and shows absolutely no promise of ever paying for itself. Even knowing all that, a bad day editing is better than my best day doing most anything else I’d consider work. So yeah, it’s time to get back to work.

Holding…

Anyone who was following along last month might remember that I was giving fiction a bit of a go. Since I haven’t mentioned that little effort in a few weeks, it felt like it deserved an update. If you’re expecting some exciting or late breaking news, this is your fair warning to go find something else to read this evening. That’s because the update is that there really isn’t an update.

Since I set it aside, Unnamed Short Story #1, has been sitting quietly in a file (or in several files to be more accurate). Why? Because if you’ve ever tried finding a mistake in an email you’ve just written, magnify that problem by a few hundred percent and you’ll start to understand what I’m up against.

What’s sitting on the shelf is a first draft. Some sections are barely an outline held together with a bit of awkward dialog. Translation: Almost every word of it is going to have to be rewritten before I even sit down to do any real editorial work. That’s not a complaint. It’s just the process. I know the only way I can even hope to make any objective corrections is to put distance between me and the first draft… and when you’re writing, time is the only real measure of distance there is.

So, USS#1 is in a holding pattern. Honest to God, I’m still incredibly excited that it’s even gotten to that point. Take my word for it, there were plenty of days I didn’t think it would even make it that far. In the meantime, I’m working on a few side projects and giving my alter egos a workout – some of it professional and some of it decidedly not. It might not feel like it from the position of outside observer, but every time I sit down at the keyboard, regardless of what I’m working on, it feels like I’m giving my chops a workout. I don’t know if I’ll ever make any money from doing any of this, but honing whatever modest talents I have still feels like a worthwhile investment.

USS#1 will come off the bench soon enough, but I’d like to let it sit for another two weeks or so. It won’t quite be reading it completely fresh, but a full month away feels like a decent enough amount of time away. How long things take from that point, your guess is as good as mine.

It will be…

It’s been a long time coming, but I’ve finally built up a sufficient head of steam that I feel comfortable saying a few words about a current work in progress. As I’m writing, it feels like a short story in waiting. As of last night it’s 2904 words and will most likely offend those with deep religious convictions. Being an offensive douche wasn’t really where this all started out (and it’s still not my intent), but any time you so much as touch on Christianity and are anything but strictly differential to the Almighty, there’s a certain subset of the population who will get their knickers in a twist. That’s ok. They’re entitled. As I’ve said before, opinions are like certain anatomical orifices – everybody’s got one and needs to use it often.

The fun (and admittedly frustrating) part of this whole effort is that after tinkering around for a couple of weeks, I actually have no idea where it’s going, how it will end, or what the point of the whole exercise is. There’s no outline. No concept map. Every day I sit down, re-read what I wrote the day before, and then have a little exercise in free writing. I’d like to bring the draft in around 10,000 words, but I’d be happy with anything from 8,000 to 12,000. Really, the plan is to just keep plugging away until it feels like something close enough to done to justify pasting it with the “first draft” label and chunking it over into my version of the editorial process. I’m not bold enough to even suggest a date when that might happen, though. It’s just going to take as long as it takes.

I’m not going to sit here on a sunday morning with a few thousand words on the page and guess whether it will be good or bad. At best, I can promise that it will be. That may not sound like much, but for a guy who’s been taking about trying his hand at fiction since high school, it’s a pretty big deal.

Free time is for wimps…

After kicking Nobody Told Me: The Cynics Guide for New Employees and What Annoys Jeff this Week: 2012 in Review out the door this summer, I took a break. Or at least I took a break from writing things I wanted published with my name on the masthead. I’ve still been tinkering with other projects, of course, because just sitting around with nothing on my plate makes me nervous and jerky. Still, it was nice to have some breathing room and to not be beating myself repeatedly over self-imposed deadlines.

As much as I’ve enjoyed not laboring under too many of those requirements these last few months, the gears have still been slowly grinding out a few new ideas. Now that the nights are long and the temperatures are getting downright cold, it feels like a good time to start tinkering and see if either of those notions have legs.

The first isn’t so much a fresh ideas as a continuation of the What Annoys Jeff this Week series. I’ve started doing some of the initial leg work to publish 2013 in Review as soon after the new year as possible. I’d love to promise it on January 1st, but creating commentary, editing, and formatting take time. More time than you might think if you’ve never given it the old college try. What that really means is that 2013 in Review is probably best described as “available in January” with a date to be determined. Sure, maybe it’s an exercise in pure ego, but who doesn’t want to start off the year with a blunt reminder of all the stupid shit that happened in the one that just passed? Anyone? Bueller?

In a departure from my usual ranting full of snark and discontent, I’m also gearing up for a first plunge into fiction in almost 20 years. I’m not so ambitious as to think I can take on a novel, but I have been kicking around an idea for a short story. I wish I could take credit for the original idea, but it was actually a passing comment from a friend at work that I haven’t been able to shake for the last few weeks (despite trying very hard to ignore it in hopes that it would go away). I’ve been doing my due diligence and some initial research. It’s still the barest fog of an idea, but I think it could make an interesting 10-20,000 word virgin effort. I won’t even hazard a guess about how long something like that might take me.

I like to think my chops have improved a bit since I wrote a few shorts back in high school, but I suppose we won’t know if that’s true until I sit down and start smacking the keys. Even if it never sees the light of say, I have the feeling it’s going to be a worthwhile mental exercise. So there are the two big bites I want to take off over the winter months. I’d say between those and a few other bits that are percolating, I can manage to keep myself gainfully occupied for the foreseeable future.

Apparently free time is for wimps.