Madness!

COVER, Madness on the Orient ExpressLast week I receive two author copies, dead tree format,  of the anthology Madness on the Orient Express.  While I love ebooks for convenience, adjustable font size, and lightweight delivery system, a digital publication just can’t reproduce that moment of New Book Bliss.

 

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Technical difficulties

This week I started the process of switching website host providers, and last night I moved the files to the new server.  In the process, all of the media files disappeared, including all the photos of book covers. Reloading didn’t help. Since I plan to rebuild my website in the near future to shift the focus to new projects, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend more time on this right now.

If you’d like to receive a notice when the new site is up, here’s a link to my Contact page. Signing up for my upcoming newsletter is probably the best way to hear about new developments.

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Query letters, demystified

Writing is the art of seeing through another pair of eyes. This is true at every step of the process, from creating characters to describing a scene to understanding what agents, editors, and readers want.  For many writers, putting together a query letter is nearly as daunting as writing a novel. Literary agent Kristin Nelson offered these helpful tips on her most recent newsletter:

Fact #1: Shorter query letters get a better request response from agents and editors.

Fact # 2: Literary agents rarely read the entire query letter.

Fact #3: Clearly outlining in your query letter how your story fits in the market will encourage literary agents to read your entire email letter closely.

Fact #4: A really good title for a novel will catch an agent’s attention.

Fact #5: A really terrific concept in your query won’t save you if the letter itself is poorly written.

Fact #6: If you have to defend that your novel is over 200,000 words in your query letter, then you are not pitching your story from a place of strength. And agents are more likely to pass.

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Review of online resources

Recently I’ve added some internet services to my routines and resources. In descending order of joy and usefulness, they are as follows:

#1  Lynda.com. Wonderful tutorials, impressive range of useful topics. I’m building skills in PhotoShop, Illustrator, web design, online marketing, and illustration. I love this site.

#2 Basecamp.com.  Simple but effective product management tool. It works. I’m also a big fan of the site itself, particularly the hand-drawn illustrations–great match of design and tone.

#3 Duotrope. So far, not impressed. $50 for a year’s subscription, and the first month has yielded no useful leads–at least, nothing I didn’t already know about from other sources. Probably a better resource for people who are looking for exposure-only markets, or, possibly, relatively obscure literary markets. If you write speculative fiction, www.ralan.com is a better resource and a free service.

YMMV

 

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Affordable swashbuckling

When Brian Thomsen was managing editor at Wizards of the Coast, he liked to say, “If Dumas was writing today, he’d be writing for us.”

I grew up reading Alexandre Dumas and I’m a history geek, so I was intrigued when I saw The Black Count, a biography of his father, Alex Dumas, in a Barnes & Noble. It immediately went on my wish list, but Life intervened and I didn’t think of it again until I received this week’s BookBub update. The Kindle version is $1.99 until March 1.

A few words about BookBub might be in order. It’s a service for people who read ebooks. They curate online deals and send you updates listing reduced-price or free books in your areas of interest, with links to Amazon.com, B&N, and other online booksellers. I’ve not only gotten some great deals on books I’ve been wanting to buy and authors I usually read, but I’ve also discovered some unexpected treasures and a few new favorite authors.  If you’re a voracious reader, this is a great resource.

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Newsletter 2.0

I stopped sending out an email newsletter a few years back. The interactivity of social media and blogs made a newsletter seem outdated. As a writer, I didn’t see the point.

As a reader, however, newsletters make a great deal of sense to me. There are several authors whose books I’ll read on the day of release. Not all of them have newsletters, and I wish they would. I don’t always remember–or have time–to check for new releases, and would love to get a heads-up when a new release is on the horizon. To me, the ideal newsletter would be short and infrequent. Its primary focus should be upcoming releases, but I’d also like to hear about new projects and work in progress.

So. On the theory that you should write the sort of things you want to read, I’ll be starting a newsletter this spring. It will be sent via MailChip, so your contact info will be secure and spam-free. If you’d like to receive an occasional email newsletter, you can sign up in this post or on the Contact page.

Subscribe to ec’s newsletter

Thanks!  You’ll get an email from MailChimp shortly.  Follow the link to confirm your subscription, and you’re good to go. 

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Writing for Star Wars

In the twelve years since the release of Dark Journey, my one and only Star Wars novel, I have received many emails from aspiring Star Wars writers who want to know how to break into the Extended Universe. With a new movie on the horizon, I expect that every writer who has ever visited the galaxy far, far away will be seeing an increase of these email queries. For what it’s worth, here’s my story.

Back in 1998, the people in charge of Star Wars fiction decided to Shake Things Up with “The New Jedi Order,” a big story arc that would be spread over 20+ novels. The broad strokes of the story arc were planned by a team that included some of the participating authors, the Del Rey editors, and the LucasFilm continuity team. Some of the novels would be Big Books that dealt with pivotal events in the war, others would be smaller, more personal tales. One of the smaller stories would focus on Jaina Solo at a painfully low point in her life, when she was reeling from the death of a loved one and dangerously drawn toward the dark side.

The Del Rey editor, Shelly Shapiro, wanted a female writer for this novel and asked author R.A. Salvatore, who wrote the first novel in this series (Vector Prime), for recommendations.  He was familiar with my work in the Forgotten Realms, a D&D setting. Since most of my novels in that setting featured strong female protagonists, Bob thought my writing style would be a good fit for Jaina’s story. I was invited to submit a proposal to Del Rey. This included a chapter-by-chapter outline of the plot I created to fit the parameters of the story arc, as well as a writing sample. The proposal was accepted (though it was substantially revised during the writing process) and I was offered a contract. At each step of the way, from outline to final draft, the Del Rey editor and the LucasFilm continuity team reviewed my work to ensure that it fit the New Jedi Order story arc and did not conflict with any of the “history” established in hundreds of novels, short fiction, comic books, and game products.

The contacts I made while writing in the Forgotten Realms also led to the opportunity to write three short stories for the Star Wars Gamer magazine.  This was owned by the Realms’ publisher, Wizards of the Coasts, and edited by Dave Gross. I’d written some short fiction for Dave when he was the editor of Dragon Magazine. As with the novels, these stories had to be reviewed and approved by Del Rey and LucasFilm for continuity issues.

As you’ve probably gathered from this, there’s a lot of planning involved in Star Wars storytelling. Several years have passed since I was involved with the EU, but I hear that Disney, who purchased Star Wars from LucasFilm a year or so back, is deeply involved in the planning process.  My heart always sinks when I get an email from someone who has already written a Star Wars novel and dreams of seeing it in print, because if someone doesn’t have the benefit of inside information, the odds of them writing a novel that fits the planned story direction is very slim indeed.

So what’s an aspiring writer to do?

Del Rey, a large New York publishing house, holds the license to publish Star Wars fiction. The only way any writer can publish a Star Wars novel is through this publisher. Generally speaking, Del Rey hires established writers with a proven track record. It is an incredibly competitive market and very tough to break into, but that’s the path you’ll need to take.

I realize that this may be disappointing news, but please don’t be discouraged. If you’ve already written a Star Wars novel, you’ve invested many hours into learning the craft of writing. You’ve proven that you have the passion and discipline needed to write a novel-length manuscript. So even if you don’t publish that particular story, you’re many steps closer to publication than you would be if you hadn’t written it.

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Review of MADNESS ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS

COVER, Madness on the Orient ExpressIf you’ve been thinking about picking up this anthology but wanted to get more info first, this detailed, story-by-story review ought to do it.    Here’s a link.

The reviewer commented on the anthology’s diversity. This is a hallmark of Jim Lowder’s projects, all the more impressive when you consider the ven diagram suggested by TWO very specific themes: the Cthulhu mythos and the Orient Express luxury train.

Looking forward to Jim’s next project, whatever that may be!

 

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2014 in review

In many ways, 2014 was like the second book of a trilogy.  The year had its own narrative arc, but its primary purpose was to move the story forward to the point where Important Stuff Happens.

Nevertheless, here’s a few highlights of 2014.

  • Walked over 2000 miles, approximately the length of the Appalachian Trail (minus the mountains and black bears…)
  • Started hiking the network of trails in southern New England. Climbed Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire, walked part of the North South Trail in Rhode Island and part of the Appalachian Trail in Massachusetts.
  • Daily exercise has, for the first time, become a firmly entrenched habit.
  • Nonfiction:  Read stacks of books focusing on the the science of habit formation, wrote a considerable amount of web content.
  • Fiction:  Published 2 short stories, 3 poems, and the foreword to a poetry anthology.
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Na zdrowie! (To good health)

I‘ve been focusing on developing good health and fitness habits this year. Though I have a ways to go, I have been illness-free for over a year. No serious respiratory infections, no asthma, no panic attacks. Allergies are under control–the occasional itchy eyes, but nothing that slows me down. For someone who has been sick with one thing or another for YEARS, waking up every day feeling well and energetic is a blessing I will never, ever take for granted.

An interesting result of this lifestyle change is that the story tap is starting to flow again. Fiction is not my primary focus right now, so I quickly consign story ideas to a file and then get back to work. But every now and then, I catch a whiff of a story that’s busily fermenting (and sometimes fomenting) somewhere in the brain-basement. I have missed that warm, yeasty aroma.

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