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Adrian, a spy for the King, sees a nobleman murder a servant. His desire for truth is pitted against the dangers of a high-stakes political game. When his friend Draken insists on pursuing justice, Adrian must protect those he cares about as the political games of powerful men alter the lives of everyone around him.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 Writing Year in Review

There’s a saying that measuring performance increases performance. With that in mind, I’ve measured my short story submissions and rejections for quite some time, and now I’ll share my 2016 data in all its glory and compare it to 2015. To scale expectations, this is an evenings-and-weekends thing for me.

If the numbers don’t seem to match up quite right, some submissions and their acceptance or rejection span a year-end, so the numbers don’t really add up as a self-contained block of 2016-related work.


Short Story Statistics 2015 2016
Submissions 13 30
Acceptances 3 2
Rejections 6 21
Pending 4 7
Max submissions per story 3 6

Rejections included two honorable mentions at Writers of the Future. While this is a promising sign, it’s still a very polite rejection that comes with a nice certificate. Honorable mention there means you’re roughly in the top 10% of a pool of non-professionals.

One of my pending entries is a finalist in a contest, so we’ll see how that goes in February. It will become either a new anthology publication or a new rejection. Last year I was a runner-up in the same contest and was still included in that year’s anthology as one of my 2015 acceptances.

In the novel category, I have one submission titled “Crystal King” in editing at Immortal Works. The sequel “Crystal Queen” first draft is 30% done. Technically, I have two submissions and two offers but ended up passing on the first.

Analysis of submission info

While at first blush it looks like I worked harder and saw less success, that’s not really the way it happened. So much of this is subjective that the hard numbers need a whole stack of footnotes to make sense. Several things went very well.
  • I wrote more, improving my skills as an author.
  • I submitted more, getting my work in front of more people. Some of my older stories should likely be retired instead of continuing to make the rounds.
  • I networked more, and have a lot more contacts and friends in the business.
  • I attended several conferences and conventions. This served three purposes.
    • Listen to presentations to improve my skill.
    • I gave presentations and sat on panels to share what I know.
    • I sold books at a table or booth with author friends to pool our efforts.
  • I’ve been president of a chapter of the League of Utah Writers for almost a year, and I’ve had the privilege of bringing in a monthly presenter from the local writing community.

2016 Goals

I set some goals last year and did fairly well, but didn’t hit everything.
  • 😀I attended four conferences as networking opportunities.
  • 😟I recruited new beta readers but didn’t get four specific new readers like I had specified in my goal.
  • 😀I have a publishing deal with Immortal Works for my novel “Crystal King.”
  • 😀I submitted several more than four short stories to publishers.
  • 😟I did not get invited to an anthology.

2017 Goals

New Year’s Day is coming, so I’ll take the opportunity to set more goals. These may not look like much, but there are reasons behind each goal.
  • Finish and publish “Crystal Queen” with Immortal Works. They have dibs on sequels.
  • Speak at three conferences (panelist, presenter or moderator). Most likely are LUW spring and fall conferences, LTUE, Salt Lake Comic Con, and FanX. I’m likely to attend all five either way.
  • $200 in face-to-face book sales at conventions and conferences.
  • Publish four short stories. (stepping things up from the 3 and 2).
I’m still a shy and often reclusive person, but I’ve built up a tolerance for exposure to social situations by sticking my neck out and leaving my comfort zone behind. I can do a passable impression of an extrovert, so long as I don’t have to go for too long at a single stretch.  These goals and my interactions with both new friends and strangers push me in a good direction.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Homophones: John's Pet Peeves Number 7

I haven't done a Pet Peeves post in nearly a year. Have I been on a path of inner Zen, full of peaceful meditation? No, I've been just as annoyed at things, but haven't shared my annoyance. You're welcome. But thanks to this facebook post, I have a topic. In case that link doesn't work for you, it started out with a complaint about people using grizzly when they mean grisly, and people chimed in with their favorite homophone errors. (Words that sound alike, but with different meanings and spellings.)

One of the biggest problems is that these beasties hide from spell checkers. You need a tool that's context-sensitive to find them. Take for instance my parenthetical statement above. I accidentally wrote "a like" instead of "alike" before I fixed it. Some tools will catch that. Others won't. That leaves us needing to know the difference on our own if we want to write clearly and correctly. Never trust your tools blindly, because they can be wrong. I once sent out a resume with the word "internet" replaced with "interment." The spell checker thought it looked just fine. The funny part is that I got that job anyway.

Writing English can be a big challenge for some, and these beasties are one of the big reasons why it can be hard to write the right word.

So in the interest of enlightenment (and giving me a chance to vent about a pet peeve), I've gathered a few homophone errors for your perusal.

Not a word: (I'll avoid most non-words since spell checkers will find these for you. The first one really bugs me a lot.)

  • "alot": Not a word. "a lot": Many things, or a grouping of things, or an area. "allot": To distribute or assign. You wouldn't write "alittle", so don't write "alot". You can allot a lot of little lots lots of times.
  • Walla”: Unless you’re talking about half the name of a town in Washington State, you probably mean the French word “voila.” It’s a synonym of “lookie what I just did.”
Wrong word: (in random-ish order)
  • "too": Also. "to": Opposite of from. "two": twice as many as one. "tu": You, in Latin. By odd coincidence, our score was two to two, too.
  • "grisly": Gory. "grizzly": a kind of bear. I included this one because it was what started the whole discussion on facebook. That headless fish is a grisly  prize in the grizzly's maw.
  • "awhile": An adverb. "a while": A noun phrase. If it doesn't work replacing it with "for a short time", then use "a while." In a while, stand there awhile. Sometimes they're interchangeable, but it may change what the sentence means in subtle ways.
  • "aloud": The process of not being done quietly. "a loud": An adjective describing the state of something. A loudspeaker reproduced a noise that a loud speaker at the microphone didn't intend to make aloud.
  • "board": A piece of wood. Usually. "bored": Nothing to do. I'm so bored I'll board this door up. Yeah, I cheated and verbed the noun because it's allowed in this case.
  • "brake": Something used to stop movement. "break": to come apart, or a time to rest. If the brakes fail during your break, the car will roll away and break that wall.
  • "led": To be taken somewhere. "lead": Present tense of "led," or to be in charge, or a metal on the periodic table, or the first of something, or a clue. He led me to the lead paint as the lead item on his lead list.
  • "lose": To not win, or to misplace. "loose": not held in place. Don't lose loose buttons.
  • "than": A comparison. "then": used to order in time. He was taller than her, then he grew.
  • "write": To put words on paper. "right": To be correct. "rite": A ceremony. Write the right rite. (Put the correct ceremony on paper.) -or- Write the rite right. (Put the ceremony on paper without errors.)
  • "baited": To have bait on it. "bated": stopped or reduced. I waited with bated breath as he baited the hook with a worm. Baited breath makes me think of eating worms.
  • "peek": To look surreptitiously. "peak": a high point. "pique": To irritate, or stimulate curiosity. I peeked at the peak of his head to pique his interest.
  • "stationary": Not moving. "stationery": Writing paper. The stationery was stationary until I moved it, but it was still stationery as it moved.
  • "there": A place. "their": Denotes ownership. "they're": a contraction of "they are." Their friends are over there where they're arguing over homophones.
  • "stanch": Stop the flow of blood from a wound. :"staunch": Loyal or committed. The staunch fistfighter stanched the flow of blood from his nose.
  • "mantle": Something that covers our surrounds, as in a physical cloak or a concept of authority. "mantel": A shelf above the fireplace. The adventurer hung his mantle on the mantel to dry by the fire.

Not Really Homophones: (other things that really throw some people)

  • "lay" vs. "lie" vs. "laid" vs. "lain": Um, right. I'll just point you here. People have written entire articles on this.
  • "rifle": A long gun, or to ransack with intent to steal. "riffle": to flip through or thumb through quickly. (Note they sound different, so they're not homophones.) He riffled through the pages of the owner's manual as he rifled the rifle vault.

One fun thing about homophones is that they can work merry mischief when a book goes to audio. Something that's perfectly clear in print may be a jumbled mass of identically sounding words, as you can see by some of my contrived and convoluted examples. Be extra careful out there if you think your writing might ever be read aloud. Expert hint: Read your writing aloud.

I found some of my favorites on other lists like this and this. There are more tickling the back of my mind, so I may add others when they rear their ugly heads.

Edit: I rewrote this blog as a guest post for LDS Beta Readers. You can find it here.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

When it Rains, it Pours

Some weeks are like that, both metaphorically and physically. It's rained a lot today and caused flooding through quite a bit of Utah, which matches the rest of my week.

Monday to Thursday I spent 42 hours at work. we've got a project underway that needs extra attention, so it's eating a lot of my time. I'm several hours behind a coworker for the week. This is what software people refer to as crunch time.

Michael Darling

Tonight, I got to introduce Michael Darling who came to tell our Herriman chapter of the League of Utah Writers all about "Top Ten Cliches, Mistakes, and Shortcuts to Make You a Better Writer!" It was a tongue-in-cheek list of things to (NOT) do to be successful. We had a great Q&A session after, and then spent 40 minutes or so in critique groups to review writing from some of our attendees. The writing ranged from story to back cover teaser to song lyrics. It's fun to pick out the principles that apply universally across such wildly different material.

Michael is the author of several short stories (and is in the anthology It Came from the Great Salt Lake with me) as well as the new novel Got Luck. I have a signed copy from this spring's FanX con in Salt Lake City.

Friday and Saturday, I'll be at the League of Utah Writers fall conference where I have a presentation "Analysis of Writing: Numbers can Tell You Cool Stuff About Words" and a panel "Do's and Dont's of Presenting Yourself as an Author" to help with, and a bunch of sessions to attend. There's a writer's gathering Friday night at a nearby pizza joint, and there's an awards banquet Saturday night where I find out if my poetry, novel chapter 1, and flash fiction were good enough for a mention on the League contests.

There's a good chance I'll do a post-conference post on the panels I attended.

Add to that the real estate company my wife works with having an open house on Saturday, and yeah, my week's a bit full. It's good to have weeks like this from time to time, but I look forward to taking a little down time to just hang with the family for a while. Sunday has regular church meetings and nothing else planned. Yet.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Salt Lake Comic Con 2016 Schedule

Salt Lake Comic Con is September 1-3, 2016. Several authors who have published through Xchyler Publishing are ganging together at a booth. If you have early Christmas shopping planned, or if you like steampunk, fantasy, urban fantasy, dystopian, or genre fiction in general, stop by! We also have a drawing for an Amazon gift card. We'll be in booth 2226 at the west end of the green section in the northwest main hall.

Follow the red arrow to our booth.

I stole that map from Sarah Seeley who has four panels and is one of the authors at the booth. Thanks, Sarah!

Also, I'm a panelist this year, which should be loads of fun. We'll talk about how language helps us find our tribes and helps us to communicate with those we relate to.

Friday, Sept 2nd at 5 PM, room 253A
Edit: I've been added to a second panel. This one will be a lot of fun, and I'll be sure to come in steampunk attire. It's even in the same room, 253A. [Edit: They added the picture for this second panel finally, so here it is:]

Saturday, Sept 3rd at 8PM, room 253A

A Celebration of Steampunk: Wildly imaginative and stylized, steampunk is a culture and a genre all its own. But how did it start, and how can you get involved? Is it just all about the fashion, or does the genre have something important to say about the relationship between technology and society? This panel will discuss the best steampunk books to read, whether you are a newcomer to the fandom or a longtime lover of the literature, as well as recommending cosplay resources for beginners and pros.
So there you have it. I'll be at the booth some of the time and at panels the rest of the time. We should have a posted schedule of author's planned time at the booth in case you want a book signed. I'll have these books there:

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Salt City Steamfest 2016

On Friday I spent some time at our booth where we had books on sale. Several steampunk, some urban fantasy, and a smattering of other cool stuff.
Kelly Olsen (Our sponsor), John Olsen, Scott Tarbot, Sarah Seeley, Jay Barnson, Julie Barnson, Scott Taylor

I found out the final schedule Thursday confirming I would be presenting two panels, one on Friday and one on Saturday. The Friday panel  was on Victorian Weaponry. I brought out a laundry basket full of some of my treasures to share and show off in addition to having a slide show.

You can see the slide show links and a brief description on the bottom of my presentations page.

These fine folks showed up to my Victorian Weaponry panel

It was a lot of fun, and we ranged through historical weapons, how that differs from steampunk, customizing your own costume parts, and a whole lot of ground in between. It turns out that people built some really weird stuff in the Victorian Era (and times nearby to that). Never assume an idea is so weird it hasn't been done before.

The Apocalypse crew. Titan machines, clockwork dolls, and sky pirates, moderated by Jason King

I was getting ready to head back to our book booth when I was asked by Jason King to fill in on the Choose Your Own Apocalypse panel, to champion the cause of the clockwork dolls. Unfortunately I was competing against giant robots and drunken sky pirates, both of which had much greater appeal. I mean, who can compete against drunken sky pirates? It was a lot of fun, and my first experience with on-stage improv.

Saturday afternoon I had a presentation on A Gentleman's Guide to Steampunk. Paul Genesse stopped by to assist since there was a little confusion as to whether it was a presentation or a panel. We talked about how Steampunk is a genre linked at the hip with high society and manners because of how it tends to tie in to the Victorian era. I spoke about a wide range of things, including dining, walking, riding in a vehicle, writing, talking and appearance. The net result is that if you use good manners, even if you don't nail them all in Emily Post style, you'll have not only a better con experience, but also be a good influence on those around you. Good manners carry over to all our interactions on a daily basis.

I also stepped in to help with another panel Saturday talking about Victorian Weaponry when a panelist didn't show. Two guys from Winterfest helped out, and I brought my basket of weapons in from the car again for show and tell. This was much more a panel discussion than my Friday presentation.

One sad note is that this will (according to the schedule handed out) be the last Steamfest in Salt Lake City unless someone else wants to take up the cause. :(

Thursday, July 21, 2016

DragonComet 2017

I'm a finalist again this year for the upcoming 2017 DragonComet writing contest. The contest is run through LTUE each year in the spring.

They run the contest in three triads where they pick finalists from each triad, then toss them all into a big cage match at the end. Well, not quite. They have professional writers and artists judge the entries together to determine winners and runners up.

Once the winners are announced at the LTUE conference, they publish an anthology of all the winning entries and some runners up. Here's the one from last year where I was a runner up and my friend Jay won first place in the writing competition.

You can get the previous anthology here and here.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

League of Utah Writers Editing Workshop

I attended an editing workshop sponsored by the League of Utah Writers a week ago, and got some good advice from a roster of speakers that spanned several publishers and professional editors.

Our organizers and discussion leaders, Callie Stoker and Johnny Worthen

Callie is an editor, and runs The Manuscript Doctor as a freelance editor.

Johnny is a local author with several books to his name, and is always easy to spot in a crowd.

Our panel of experts
From left to right:
Emma Hoggan—editor at Future House Publishing
Angela Eschler—editor and founder of Eschler Editing
Annette Lyon— editor and award winning author
Lisa Mangum—author and editor at Shadow Mountain

I took lots of notes and had a great time. I got to sit next to my friend George, who has won an award as Utah's Biggest Liar five times. He's decided to branch out from verbal to written word.

They sent out an email with all the slide presentations, but, alas, that's for those who paid to attend. That's your incentive to sign up for the next workshop. :)

The advice on editing ranged from the lowest level of spelling and punctuation to the highest of flow and form. For any who think it's not that hard, give it a try and join the League. If you're right, you're a natural. if you're wrong, you're in the right place to learn what it takes.

Emma is at Future House Publishing, which is doing a wonderful job with their marketing, and involving their authors. I have friends publishing through them and have heard nothing but good about them. Her presentation on Point of View was great. It's something every editor needs to know inside and out, even if you're just editing your own work.

I don't know Angela well, but enjoyed her presentation on narrative structure. She went over scene and sequel structure, as well as how and when to use scene and chapter breaks.

We had Annette speak to our LUW chapter in Herriman a few weeks back as well. She's got quite a range of experience, and covered the nitty-gritty details of punctuation in this workshop.

Lisa covered voice. If you can't tell which character is speaking without dialog tags, you may have a problem.

This workshop was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. There's a workshop on Querying next month which should be just as good.

Monday, April 11, 2016

League of Utah Writers Spring Workshop 2016

The League of Utah Writers held their spring workshop on Saturday, April 9th, 2016. It was a great event, with a lot of mid-level to advanced panels on writing, the business of writing, and related classes and panels. Here's what the schedule looked like.

I attended five different panels, all useful. I attended a board meeting before as president of the new Herriman, Utah chapter, but that was all administrative stuff, so I won't torture you with that. On to the sessions!

Marketing Book Checklist

Britney Johnson
Britney spoke about checklists, and how to use them to simplify and organize yourself. For instance, when you are arranging for a book cover, you should remember to also arrange all the associated artwork like bookmarks, facebook and twitter banners, facebook and twitter post pictures (which are a different size than the banners), and all the related things that may have your cover art.

From the marketing standpoint, she talked about ROI (Return on Investment) and how you need to start with a goal, and you need to track the time and money spent, the resources used, contacts made, and books sold based on those expenses.

She also talked about how to pattern marketing after successful authors. Know who follows them on social media. Track their amazon rankings. Scan their social media for their marketing campaigns. All of this lets you map their successful strategies to the spikes of their rankings so you can see what worked for them.

As a rule of thumb, most authors should expect to put 10% of their income back into marketing in one form or another.

In summary, don't reinvent the wheel.

Elements of a Swoon-Worthy Romance

Jennifer Moore
Jennifer spoke on romance. I don't write romance novels, but you can find elements of romance in every type of story, and it can lend a great depth to what you write. Besides, I have friends who have told me I need help here. Being the severely left-brained type, I deduced that they know what they're talking about, and took their advice. :)

While this is not an exhaustive list, these are the elements she talked about. She took them from a longer presentation she's given in the past.


I learned a raft of new terms. A Meet Cute is the two characters' first moment  together, with a tug of either attraction or annoyance. They have their Dark Moment, and as you keep their yearning and tension high, you lead to the inevitability of their relationship. Then there's the payoff.

Knowing the language is a big deal. Knowing what people expect from a romance is a big deal, too, even if it's not the focus of a story.


Some of this I already knew. There are internal and external conflicts, detailing what the characters must overcome. Internal conflict is things like insecurities, prejudices, class war, and conflicting goals. External conflict is from the environment or other people, and their purpose is to force the characters to face their fears and to expose their internal conflicts.

Internal conflicts are resolved through either character change/growth, or the character exposing their true self.


The characters must each give up something. If she meets "the wrong guy" first, then he may refuse to sacrifice for her, demonstrating to the reader that it was never meant to be. Whoever is the most flawed gives up the most and makes the Grand Gesture (another dictionary entry for me) to grow the most.


Dialog is good for increasing "show" and reducing "tell" but must be done right, in a way that feels natural. This reminds me of a panel at LTUE dedicated to dialog where they talked about the difference between "natural" which is boring, and "feels natural" which can be very useful.

Dialog puts us in the scene and is a powerful tool. We can understand when a character says one thing and means another if it's done well.


This was listed as the biggest factor in the list. When we remember a book it is because of the characters, their flaws, and the way the plot turns based on their flawed choices.

Jennifer noted that it may not seem fair, but in a typical romance, the male character is the most important, and must be lovable.

Identity vs. Essence is critical. An identity is what someone appears to be, or how they portray themselves, or what they first see in someone as the superficial surface. Essence is what they truly are. The right person falls for the essence, while the wrong may fall for the identity. Gaston falls for Belle's pretty face while the Beast falls for her good nature.

Alpha heroes are typically strong, macho, powerful and successful, but also tender.

Beta heroes are softer, playful, charming, considerate, and must fall on the right side of the line between nice and wimp.

The heroine must be a symbol to the reader to generate sympathy, envy, or kinship to draw the reader in.

Self Publishing

Ruth J. Craddock

Ruth has a great collection of quotes. I didn't get them all down, unfortunately. One I got was "If you never give up, you can't fail."

The stigma of being self-published is diminishing quite a bit, and times are changing. She decided to go with the self-pub route because when she finally got a publisher to give her a deal, it was a mess. She turned it down after learning of the nightmares of other writers, and figured she could do it herself.

The good thing with self-publishing, is you have full control of everything. The bad thing is that you have full control of everything. The tricky part is to do it with quality.

You will get what you pay for. Be ready to pay for editing, art, marketing, layout, and whatever else you are not an expert at.

For editing, check with multiple editors to get someone who matches your style, and is interested. Then get a sample edit to make sure of the match. Most will do a sample chapter.

She was kind enough to sign a couple of books for me during the break between sessions.

Anatomy of a Social Media Campaign

Mike Bacera
Mike gave a crash course on what a social media campaign looks like. Success of many campaigns is measured in dollars.

He dispelled two rumors up front. First, that you can sell to your followers, and second that you can't measure success. A bad post will do nothing more than annoy followers, while a good one isn't likely to turn them into an advocate. You don't go to twitter thinking, "I want to buy a book today. Let's see what people are tweeting about."

Social media is the spice, not the meal. The point is to enhance, not to be the end result.

In general terms, a campaign is an effort to meet a business goal. It's normal to expect 80% of the results to come from 20% of the work. It's hard to predict what that 20% is, so you have to do the other 80% anyway.

A campaign strategy is the guideline, while the campaign tactics are the specific actions to take.

The highlights of a plan come in phases.


This includes analytics and Return on Investment, identifying other campaigns to see what worked.


You need goals, desired outcomes, indicators, activities, and output as part of a plan. An example of a plan my include events planned four weeks out, two weeks out , one week out, the day before, day of, afternoon of, the evening of the event, and the day after to keep awareness up.

Experiments can be used to test for what succeeds the most. If you have a good mailing list, do an alpha/beta test by sending out two or more different emails to a small subset, then send the one with the best results to the rest of the list.


Bad designs are all different. Good designs share a lot of common attributes. At about this point, we ran out of time, so Mike gave us an opportunity to sign up for his mailing list to get a copy of the full presentation. Do you see what he did there?

Mike gave me some additional information to add so we're complete on Design, Share and Measure. Thanks, Mike! I've added it here:

Design continued...

Create good content. Don't steal other people's content (emulating other people's content is great though)


Learn how to effectively share your content on multiple platforms. Balance "being everywhere" with "being where your audience is"

Also, "Social Currency"
Whenever you post something funny or useful, you GAIN social currency
Whenever you ask people to take action (by my book, like my page) you SPEND social currency
Whenever you post something hateful or obnoxious, you LOSE social currency

When a person decides that your social currency has gone to zero or is negative they will block, unfollow, mute, or otherwise stop listening to you (this is bad)


If you planned your campaign right, you should have metrics. This will come in 3 forms:

Analytics: every major social media platform has it's own analytics (FB analytics, twitter analytics, mail chimp analytics, etc)

Trackers: services like and google analytics will let you track anything else that doesn't have it's own analytics page, letting you know click through rates and many more

Surveys: After a major campaign, survey your people.

- And then back to the 80-20 rule, which I think is the most important part. After the measure step, research your past campaigns and find out which performs best. That is is your 20%, keep doing that. The ones that failed (80%) either a) fix them, or b) stop doing them.

So yes, you will have to do some 80% activities in the beginning, but over time you will keep repeating and tweeting the 20% of activities that generate the most likes, shares, favorites, reviews, newsletter signups, and yes, sometimes, money.

Always think about ROI, which is

Desired Metric / Investment of resource.

For example, on Saturday I got 25 newsletter sign ups for a presentation that took 7 hours to prepare and 1 hour to give. So my ROI is

25 signups / 8 hours = aprox. 2.125 signups per hour.

If I can do something that generates more sign ups per hour, I am increasing my ROI, which is good. (this is only an example) :)

Writing and Editing Short Stories

Paul Genesse
Paul spoke about editing short stories, and that everyone should write them, even if they think they're only a novelist. Short stories build skills and allow for greater experimentation. There are lots more advantages, such as being small enough to finish a lot easier than a novel.

He gave a lot of advice about starting fast, and rocking the characters world, and keeping tension up throughout. You have to make the reader care. It's all about emotion. It would be a good idea to peruse the library, and read a lot of first lines to get a feel for what works, and why.

Everything in a story (not just shorts) must move the plot forward. The main character should be making choices. Passive main characters are boring.

Other little bits of advice are to limit the number of characters, generally to two or three. Also, voice matters. First-person works well, but third-person limited works well too. Third person omniscient, and second person, not so much. Shorts must end with a twist. Also, use the five main senses on page one.


Jodi Milner and Melissa Proffitt and my sock monkey in the corner
Jay Barnson
Several of my friends were also there. Here are pics of a few, but I kept forgetting to get the camera out while talking to people. It was fun to hang out, but we also purposely split up on some sessions to cover more ground so we could share notes later. While there were the occasional hiccups or challenges, it was a good time and I am glad I was there.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Salt Lake Comic Con Fan Xperience (FanX)

I attended several panels at FanX this year. In general, the writing panels were targeted more toward beginners than at LTUE. Even so, there was a lot of fun to be had and things to be learned. Somehow I managed to miss getting pictures of a couple of the panels, but most of them are shown below with a summary of my notes.

In addition to the panels, several authors published through Xchyler Publishing along with me got together to staff a booth to sell books. It was a great experience, and it was nice to have a full-sized booth. We were sponsored by my wife Kelly Olsen, a Realtor. Go and give her Facebook page a like, and remember her when you need a geek-friendly realtor to help you buy or sell a house in or near Salt Lake County. :)

Now on to the panels!


Pantsing or Plotting: Discovery Writing and Outlining

Shannen Camp, Angela Corbett,Julie Frost,Jennifer Jenkins,David J. West,Dan Willis

The panelists talked about several different plotting methods such as Save the Cat, Seven Point Story Structure, Three Act Structure, Hero's Journey, Thirty Point Beat Structure (attributed to Stephenie Meyer), Snowflake Method, and so on. One reason there are so many is that people's writing styles differ, and what works for one person may not work so well for another.

Our panelists were all to some degree a hybrid between pants and plotter, with some having tried seat-of-the-pants writing without plotting, and decided it was too much work. The problem is that writing without an outline means you will spend a lot more time in editing as you fix the technical details.

A better approach is to use that seat-of-the-pants creativity to fill in the details between the main points. Some other fun hints are to write your back cover blurb before you write the book.

Building the Scene: Step-by-Step Instructions for Fantastic Fiction

Sean A. Hoade

Sean's web site has lots of videos and stuff from his past presentations.

Scenes are what make fiction dramatic. Short fiction can bend things a little more due to its sometimes experimental nature, but novels really need scene styructure because scenes use a pattern to impose order on what happens in the story.

He covered some of the basics, such as what goes into a scene.

  • Character Goal
  • Opposition to the Goal (a person or nature)
  • Conflict
  • Resolution

The thing about resolution is that it can take several forms, some more interesting than others. It's important to know when to use each.

  • No. The character failed.
  • Yes. The character succeeded. Generally boring and should be avoided.
  • Yes, but... The character succeeded, but has a new problem surface.
  • No, plus... The character failed, and other bad stuff has been piled on.


I've Written a Book, How Do I Get It Published?

Dave Butler, Richard Paul Evans, Heather Rubert, David J. West, E.B. Wheeler, Michelle Witte

The panel had a mix of self-published, publisher-published, and a couple of acquisition editors. The panelists were asked what they would have done differently if they were staring over now. Two responses were to self publish anything not aimed at a publisher a lot sooner, and to get involved in the social side earlier with critiques, alpha and beta readers, and so on.

Self-publishing taught one of the panelists that writing is running a business, not applying for a job. If you think your job is to write and toss it over the fence for a publisher to do the rest, you're wrong. More publishers, particularly smaller publishers, are getting their authors involved in marketing, building a platform, maintaining contact with a readership, and taking more responsibility for their own success. This makes self-publishing and going through a publisher a lot more similar than in the past.

If you have a niche book, you might be able to find a matching niche publisher. There are a lot of small publishers out there, and many of them know exactly who their narrowly defined audience is. Different books and different publishers have different goals.

Character, Setting, Plot: Making Your Writing Do More

Frank Cole, Peggy Eddleman, Claudia Gray, Mikki Kells, J. Scott Savage, James R. Tuck

Everything you write should either illuminate a character or advance a plot. If you aren't doing one of those two things, you should either change or get rid of it. (Of course no rule is absolute, but this is a pretty bad one to ignore unless you have a good reason.)

Some interesting tricks to improve the power of your writing are to work to see scenes through the eyes of the character. A scene will be seen differently based on the character and what will seem important to them. Another idea is to figure out what lie a character may believe. This gives you a chance later to have a big reveal later to put the character through a transformation.

Four-Part Pacing: A Guide to Better Storytelling

J. Scott Savage

Scott offered to send his slides for this presentation to those who asked. I haven't contacted him yet, but his web site should work to ping him. He talked about dividing stories into four different parts. Each was labelled as "the most important part." :)

  1. Setup, sub-conflict, planting seeds, and introducing characters. The sub-conflict is resolved at the end of the first quarter as the main quest kicks in. Clues are given, and there is foreshadowing.
  2. Start the quest. This is often a false path where seeds are sewn to reveal the true quest at the end of the second quarter.
  3. The true quest is revealed. Major obstacles appear. The main characters have internal and external dilemmas which collide. Tension increases, and beliefs are questioned. The characters may discover something they have always believed is wrong.
  4. A major revelation. You don't want the reader to put the book down in the last quarter. Main character has a plan, and the plan fails. It's extra cool if you can get the reader to guess that plan before it is used. Don't cheat the reader, and deliver what was promised. In the end you have lessons learned and personal change.

Future of Biotechnology

Charlie Pulsipher, Blake Smith, John Steiner, Eric James Stone, Eric Swedin, Cassidy Ward

I missed the first few minutes of this one because of way too many people to talk to on the way. I ended up not taking a lot of notes, but this was an interesting panel to bounce back and forth between some very science-literate writers who have a lot of technical expertise to draw upon.

To apply this to writing, you're not going to be an expert at everything. When you need to do something new, you can get the details right by drawing upon an expert. Nanotech, biotech, anatomy, physics, whatever it is, someone will know their way around your topic and can steer you away from things that will seriously annoy people when you get it wrong.

Things I Wish I'd Known Starting as a Writer

Kevin J. Anderson, Rebecca Moesta

Kevin and Rebecca gave a list of points to consider. Normally this is a 2+ hour presentation, so they had to rush it a bit and trim some of their stories out.

  • Act like a professional. Never be a jerk.
  • Talk, act and dress professionally. Branding is a big deal. Unfortunately, he's had to deal with those who need reminders on basic hygiene like brushing teeth, bathing, and combing hair.
  • If invited to participate in a writing project, be on time, be the right size, and on the right subject.
  • Don't whine. If you've signed a contract, it's too late to complain about its content.
  • Don't make enemies, start feuds, or try to correct critics.
  • Don't put others down, especially in public.
  • Do your best work. Never phone it in.
  • Build and maintain your reputation. Save quotes from others because you'll have good chances to make use of them later. Publicity is cheaper than advertising, and you're always on stage.
  • Publishing is a business, not just an art.
  • Don't quit your day job.Life is expensive, and hope won't pay your way. Build a financial buffer.
  • Learn the business, and keep up with changes.

Steampunk: Beyond Goggles

Dave Butler, Steve Diamond, David Farland, Cindy Grigg, Aneeka Richins, Scott Taylor, Dan Willis

Steampunk is a broad and widely inclusive umbrella. I'm in the Steel & Bone steampunk anthology, and it includes time travel, alternate recent past, alternate worlds, and a whole raft of things that all count.

It's a great way to challenge expectations and build a new world and setting, yet still have a few things to help you deliver quickly when showing your world to the reader.

Main draws are the sense of discovery and romance of an age gone by, but with some cool alternative tech.

The best steampunk work hasn't just had gears and goggles painted onto a story for flavoring. It needs to somehow rely on steampunk for the core of the story. There hasn't been a deep, meaningful story in this genre that really rips into you emotionally, and such a story would help cement the genre as a staple among fiction categories.


Writing Heroes, Antiheros, and Villains

Angela Corbett, Matthew J. Kirby, Sara B. Larson, Kevin L. Nielsen, Craig Nybo, Wendy Toliver, Julie Wright

The difference between an hero and anti-hero is often PR. You can have someone universally disliked in their world who does great things, with others getting the credit. You can have a morally gray character who helps others by coincidence. Snape from Harry Potter is a good example of anti-hero because he's a jerk to Harry, yet by the end you see that he was protecting Harry just as he'd promised. He never promised to be nice to him or to be a replacement fatherly figure.

Interesting questions for anti-heroes are like asking what it would take to betray those you love. Characters are defined by their trials, so you can play with the concept that everyone has flaws, and the way we react is important, but can be unrelated to how it impacts others. Inconsistency (with a reason) can be a great tool.

How much bad to you put into your anti-hero? It depends. Whether you have them go through an atonement or redemption can also vary. This also doesn't mean you fix everything for them. It's more about coming to an understanding, to see why a character is the way they are.

Bad guys need something to care about or sympathize with, or admire. It humanizes them and makes them look smart, capable, caring, or whatever positive aspect you want to give them.

Writing a Great Opening, Engaging Middle, and Perfect Ending

Kevin J. Anderson, Larry Correia, Peggy Eddleman, David Farland, Megan Hutchins, Erica Schultz, Eric James Stone

This is why I take pictures at panels, and what happens when I don't. I think we may have been missing Kevin J. Anderson on this panel. If I had my picture, I'd be able to tell for sure. Sigh. It would be easier to tell if I hadn't seen him on other panels.

Open with questions. You want to have your reader wondering why things are the way they are. This is different from a confused reader wondering what's going on. Confusion is bad. Boring is also bad. Never confuse or bore the reader. An opening must start with an inciting incident up front. The type of incident can vary widely.

The emotional pull of an opening should match the overall story. Your initial emotional promise and eventual emotional state need to match, just like your opening incident and resolution need to match. If you open with something funny, the reader expects a comedy, for instance.

Your main character needs to be in emotional pain for readers to care. Another way to make them care is to "pet the dog." The example given was to have someone, even a horrible opponent, do something to humanize them so people are engaged and care about them. Interest can also be built by giving a character an interesting ability people can relate to. We're attracted to powerful people.

Everything needs a purpose. You can't just toss in action for the sake of the action.

One attendee asked about whether you can have too many hooks. The panel agreed that it's really hard to have too many, so long as you fulfill all the promises you make to the reader. Don't write checks you can't cash.

Beyond Creation: Diversity in Writing

Sara B. Larson, Briana Lawrence, Valynne E. Maetani, Jared Quan, Ilima Todd, Robison Wells

One of the points here is that you shouldn't  go into check-box mode where you pick out genders, races and other features just so you can include them in the story without having an underlying story-based reason. Stereotypes can also come back to bite you. Valid, realistic portrayals of diversity with a story-based reason is a great goal to shoot for.

Diversity is a tool to show different types of hero. If you're upset about something done too little or done wrong, do it the way it should be done!

It's also good to remember that no matter what you write, odds are high someone will dislike it. One person may complain your characters are too much ---something--- while others will complain that they're not enough ---something---. Fill in your favorite check-box.

Use diversity to broaden the appeal and flavor, rather than to try to appease any particular audience.

It didn't come up in this panel, but a good example came up locally a week or two back when a white artist painted a picture of a black Eve. Was it a case of helping people think and broaden their view, or was it racial appropriation for commercial gain? Should we limit what people can portray to those attributes they have? In my mind, that's the opposite of diversity, which works best when we accept and promote a wide range of ideological input and tear down walls rather than dividing up based on tribal lines. Disagreement is a natural consequence of broading our exposure to the world, but we'll all be better off when we understant that disagreement does not mean hate.

Writing Action

Larry Correia, Steve Diamond, Mikki Kells, Adrienne Monson, Christopher Paolini, James R. Tuck

Action scenes increase intensity. This does not mean you should run full action full time, or that becomes your new normal, and there's nowhere to go from there. It all turns ordinary without the ups and downs, the lulls and fast parts.

It's possible to overshadow a story by putting in too much action without giving the action a purpose. It should always be there for a reason. Never misuse action. Don't sacrifice character development or plot by replacing it with meaningless action.

Some interesting points to consider:
How does inflicting violence change someone?
How does receiving violence change someone?

If your action scenes have a lot of sentences with He... She... He... then you're check-boxing, and trying to give too much detail of what's happening and not enough of what it means.

Yes, action scenes can get long and boring, and drag if you put in too much detail.

Violence must have a price and a consequence so it means something.

Two books to look at are The Face of Combat and On Combat. The first one may be the wrong name, since I only see stuff like Faces of Combat and The Face of Battle on Amazon.

Plot Devices and Twists: The Art of the Page Turner

Quincy Allen, Jason King, Craig Nybo, J. Scott Savage, Eric James Stone, Ilima Todd

The panelists gave lots of pointers.

The first line, paragraph and page really need to kick things up.

The first line should tell something about the character, and it should not be passive.

The first paragraph should expand on that first line, and grab the reader's interest.

The first page should pose a question and show what drives the character forward.

Jason King, one of panel's acquisition editors, says he generally knows by page 10 if he'll want a manuscript. Eric Stone told of when he was reading slush and said he liked to be disappointed up front rather than at the end of a story. The end must match the start.

It's generally frowned upon to start a book with dialog. We don't know the character enough to care yet what they say. We need an interesting character doing interesting things.

It's important to balance information vs. intrigue. The reader should know the "what" even if they don't yet know the "why."

Paragraphs, like chapters, can benefit from having conflict or tension on a smaller scale. Characters reacting to stress is interesting to readers.

Several things can draw a reader in, like pain, sacrifice, humor, or nobility. These can be built in as part of the character's personality.

Surprises and twists must promote the plot, and bring about conflict. Twists should be the result of specific decisions. It's best to plant seeds up front so those twists seem to have been inevitable when you look back on them.

Foreshadowing is great, but you need to be sure that there's a reason in the plot for the thing being foreshadowed.


So, there you have it. We sold a pile of books, had a lot of fun, and learned more about writing. What else could you ask for from a convention?

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Salt Lake's FanX 2016 and Symbiosis

I'll be at FanX this year, just a bit north of Artist Alley. Several authors published through Xchyler Publishing have banded together to rent a booth, and we'll be selling and signing books. Stop by to say hi and enter a drawing!

Those attending are, in alphabetical order (just because I'm left brained like that):

  • Jay Barnson
  • Ben Ireland
  • John M Olsen
  • Sarah Seeley
  • Scott Tarbot
  • Scott Taylor
  • Candice Thomas
We'll have anthologies and novels ranging through steampunk, dystopian, horror, Shakespeare rewrites, and fantasy.

I will have two books with me. "Steel & Bone" (a steampunk anthology) and "It Came From the Great Salt Lake" (a Utah horror collection).

One of the reasons we can afford to have this booth is that my lovely wife Kelly is sponsoring the space as a local Realtor and will have some goodies to give away. When I explain this relationship to people, the typical response is for them to think for a few seconds, then it all clicks. Their next statement is often about how it's cool to have a relationship that benefits both the authors and the sponsor.

The authors get a cheaper place to show their wares and interact with fans. The sponsor gets publicity and interacts with potential clients. That's what you call win-win.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Beyond Words

I am participating in the Writing Contest: Writers Crushing Doubt, hosted by Positive Writer. Please follow the link to learn more.

Hi. My name is John, and I am an introvert. (Everyone chime in with "Hi, John.")

It's like being eccentric in a way, since one of the cool things about being an introvert (or eccentric) is that you never consider it to be anything but normal. In the 7th grade I was voted the quietest kid in the school. I didn't know anybody, but apparently everyone knew me. I've known and enjoyed the life of a quiet introvert now for over half a century, yet introverts tend to form a small number of deep friendships rather than socializing widely. This was a handicap I didn't know I had.

I'd dabbled with writing fiction on and off for years. The sale of a story in 1995 was more fluke than skill. over the next eighteen years I collected quite a few false starts, and the occasional finished short story. My handful of submissions all garnered standardized form rejections. I was being crushed by doubt and had no idea how to improve.

It's not that I couldn't write. I'd written several chapters in popular books on software design. I just didn't know how to write fiction despite having read hundreds of books in the fantasy and science fiction genres over the years.

Then two things happened, with one triggering the other. First, one of my friends encouraged me to enter an anthology contest. That by itself would have resulted in several so-so attempts, and I would have figured I just wasn't fit to write fiction. It was the second thing which made all the difference.

As a result of my friend's invitation, I did some research and discovered the local writing community with all its quirky wonder. While my first attempts at writing were rejected as before, I was better at completing what I started. I also discovered a treasure trove of web resources on writing. Better even than those resources, I discovered within the local writing community a host of people ready to give me a hand, share encouragement, and let me join in as part of the community even though I was a neophyte.

Within months, I had turned the tables on my old failures and crushed my doubt. I won a position in an anthology, and got a view into the workings of a great editor who showed me what she was looking for in a story. Just this past week, two more anthologies were released with a story of mine in each, and I pitched a book I wrote for NaNoWriMo 2015 at a writer's symposium. The novel needs work still, but I know what it needs, and why it needs it.

Without that sense of community and belonging offered to me by local writers, none of that would have happened. I'm grateful for all my new friends, beyond words.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

LTUE 2016

Life, the Universe and Everything, as in the writer symposium in Provo each year.

This is my second year to attend, and I wish I'd decided to go a decade or two ago. I had a great time last year, but this year was leaps and bounds ahead for me personally. I know a lot more people now, and have stories in three anthologies, as of last Thursday when two were released in conjunction with LTUE. I had new business cards made up for the occasion to show off my three anthologies. You can find all three in my "Books" tab.

I started off setting up the vendor table for a group of Xchyler Publishing authors who get together at conferences to sell books and hang out. Here's my first official Dave Doering sighting as he came through the vendor area the evening before the conference started:

Dave Doering

It would take hours to do justice to all the fine panels I attended, so here's a smattering of photos I took throughout the three days. I'll also dump pics on Facebook and tag everyone I can.

Lindzee Armstrong, Eric Stone, Dene Low
 How to Pitch Your Novel

Candace Thomas, Lisa Mangum, Michelle Witte
Know Who You're Talking To

Rebecca Rode, Michelle Argyle, Angela Hartley, Larry Correia, Peter Orullian
 Defining and Measuring Success: It's a Mindset

Howard Tayler, Scott Parkin, Wayne Hanewicz

Michaelbrent Collings, Eric James Stone, Julie Frost, K. B. Rylander
Selling Short Stories

Robert Defendi, Michael Glassford, Alyson Peterson, Peter Orullian, Larry Correia
Writing Action Scenes

Larry Correia, Rachel Ann Nunes, Michaelbrent Collings
Keeping the Chatacter's Backstory Relevant

Kevin J Anderson Friday keynote

Steve Diamond, Larry Correia, Christine Haggerty, Michelle Corsillo, Adrienne Monson
It's a Book, Not a Baby

John D. Brown, Brandon Sanderson, Michael Jensen, Lynette White, J. Scott Savage
The Role of Magic in Your Story

Shannon Hale Saturday keynote

Chersti Nieveen, J. R. Jonhansson, Rachel Ann Nunesh, Michelle Corsillo, L. L. Muir
Bios, Synopsis and Blurbs

L. E. Modesitt, Shannon Hale, Brandon Sanderson, Jason King, David Farland
Writing Natural Dialog

Eric James Stone, Julie Frost, Scott Parkin
Escaping Semipro Hell

Aside from the usual panels, there were other things going on. The two books which were released each had an event. First was the Sibyl's Scriptorium event where I won Honorable Mention for my short story "The Blight". I got pictures of that one. I didn't get pictures from the horror panel which doubled as the release party for "It Came From the Great Salt Lake."

Jason King, Holli Anderson, David West
The Space Balrogs played host to the Sibyl's Scriptorium gathering

Peter Orullian spoke to the folks at the gathering before the awards

Me receiving my Honorable Mention

My friend Jay Barnson receiving his first place award

We spent one night with my son and his wife in Provo rather than driving all the way home that night. I looked at their fridge. I just ... Okay. That's cool. Don't try to read it.

Artists with word magnets. Not an expected result.
I'll declare the 2016 LTUE a success. I hope to see you there next year!