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Archive for August, 2011

How can Blogging Help a Writer

Book Sales Graph

The title is designed to suck you in and make you think I’ve got some solid stats on what writing a blog can do for you. If you’ve read this much, it appears to have worked! The reality is I’ve got nothing solid, just a slowly growing trend of noticing I’m getting steadily more and more visits to my blog as I write more posts and network with more people via blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other networking sites (e.g. Goodreads).

So does it work and does it help? Yes, I think it does. Well I hit a personal sales record this month for books sold. Granted, I had some sales taking place and maybe I didn’t make the most money, but at this stage of the game it’s not about bringing in revenue, it’s about getting my material out there, reviewed, rated, and noticed. To further test that theory I opened up a new blog tonight. This one’s just for pics though, and no, not THOSE kinds of images. I put all my book covers along with a brief blurb on Tumblr, as well as convenient links to take an interested reader to the Amazon buy link.

The address for my new Tumblr blog is: booksbyjason.tumblr.com.

Categories: Writing Tags: , , ,

Objects in Motion Tend to Get Stuff Done!

Sometimes the problem isn’t hitting n many words in a day, sometimes the problem is just getting started. Once the creative juices have been stimulated with a proper back rub and maybe a little grammatical foreplay they start to flow and things move along rather nicely. The problem is getting in the mood for some people. And no, it’s not specific to one gender or another – we all suffer a lack of motivation from time to time.

I’ve accomplished a few tasks this morning that seemed daunting, for example. Whipping up a preliminary action item report with some broad timelines to respond to an audit from our customer was not a task I looked forward to, but it was something I’d promised. So I did it, and then I moved on to a few other necessary but burdensome items. Those are done too, and now I’m feeling completely drained.

I start my final class for my MBA today, you see, and that involves writing up a capstone project. It’s a research project more commonly referred to as a thesis. I was fine with it until I saw the minimum length is 45 pages – not including title, table of contents, or appendixes. What’s 45 pages to a guy who writes novels in the hopes of one day making a living at it? I’ll tell you what it is, it’s ridiculous.

In an age where being business is done by being concise and hitting our distracted target markets with something fast and easy to generate traction, writing something loquacious like this is preposterous. I view it as one more example of how academia struggles to push itself into obsolescence.

So if I’ve got so much work to do, why the hell am I writing this? Refer to the topic. I’d stalled and this was my way of getting the ball rolling again. Momentum reestablished, I can now push forward to make things happen. Maybe it won’t be on my school project, but now I’m primed to accomplish something, at least. And that’s the take-home tip for a stuck writer: Try finding something else to write about to get your fired up and moving again. Then transition over and don’t look back. Before you know it you’ll be flying!

Surprised by a Sleeper

August 27, 2011 1 comment

“Humans have advanced to span multiple solar systems, diminish the effects of aging, and conquer the human genome, yet their cruelty towards their own kind binds them to the stone age. The rim worlds are the outer solar systems for human civilization. Men and women earn their living with their wits and talents, although treachery often nets a bonus.

The Rented Mule is a ship with a crew seeking to earn an honest living in a realm of dishonesty. No stranger to trouble, they know the unwritten rules of the trade and have avoided being claimed as “salvage” for many years.

On a routine transport mission the Mule has to struggle with not only the usual dangers of traveling through rim systems, but also a new navigator with a troubled past and a romantic interest in the ship’s engineer.

Plagued by threats from without and within, the crew’s only hope when the Mule suffers catastrophic damage may be an uncharted planet. The fate of the Rented Mule and crew is in the hands of the neophyte navigator.”

Book 1 of the Vitalis series, by Jason Halstead

Book 1 of the Vitalis series, by Jason Halstead

You’ve just read the blurb for Vitalis – New Beginnings. This is the first of a new multi-part series of science fiction books. The first one rings in as a full size book to introduce the setting. It also spins a heck of a tale that involves some romance, some intrigue, some good old fashioned sci-fi fun, and enough action to satisfy every need.

The surprise behind this was that I came across the idea to write it almost on a whim. Having done so, I had an opportunity to try to put together some cover art. After a few hours of getting nowhere it suddenly snapped together for me. So then I sent it off to an editor friend / colleague and forgot about it. Ten days later it came back with surprisingly few edits.

Well, I’m out of reasons to put it off so come September 1st, Vitalis part 1, New Beginnings, will be available on the Kindle, Nook, and all the other places. Links to follow when available!

Categories: Writing

Why Twitter Rocks or On The Fly Cover Art

I had a few moments of peace today and I wondered how I could ruin it. Well I just recently finished writing the rough draft for my second part of Vitalis so I thought, why not work on the cover for it?

Book 1 of the Vitalis series, by Jason Halstead

Book 1 of the Vitalis series, by Jason Halstead

Many thoughts came to mind, most unreasonable or way beyond my ability. Ultimately I decided to see if I could find a critter that is featured in the novella. To risk a minor spoiler, said critter is a combination of a dinosaur, a bird, and a gorilla or feline. Not a chimera, per se, but an alien critter that developed thusly. Oh, and the characters call it a “chickasaurus”. Yeah, you’re curious now, even if it’s only to understand just how off my rocker I really am!

So anyhow, I’m looking for this critter online, hoping for some way to either find a free pic that was similar or something I could photoshop together. I ran out of time quickly without any luck. So I posted on Twitter that I was looking for a free pic of a cross between x, y, and z.

Almost immediately I got a response from a guy by the name of @joekawano on Twitter. He threw something together and offered it up to me. It was clearly an amalgamation and cartoonish, but it was amazing and cool. No, it doesn’t fit what I’m looking for but that doesn’t detract from the plain coolness of the out-of-the-blue situation. I mentioned I was just kind of venting a little and he went another step to actually throw together a sample cover for me with a silhouette of the “monster” in question. Here’s his cover:

T-rex / Chicken / Gorilla

Cover concept by @joekawano

It’s wrong in many ways, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that I thought this was downright cool and entertaining. Joe thought this was for Voidhawk, not a new series, and again the creature just doesn’t work for me. It’s still a pretty cool image and offering though, and I wanted to make sure I drew as much attention to Joe’s work as I could as a way of saying thank you for both his offer and the entertainment I got out of the process.

So if you’re on Twitter give this guy a follow and a shout! @joekawano

The Battle Lines of Writing

I’ve been reading some blog posts lately about EBooks and how some of them look unprofessional. This can be caused by many reasons, from poor editing to poor formatting to just being a shoddy piece of work. As a writer, we hope the last reason is always somebody else’s fault and never our own, so let’s assume that what you and I write is top shelf material and move on.

Poor editing? It happens – especially if it’s self edited. It’s no indicator of your ability as an editor, it’s a simple fact that it’s exceptionally hard to self-edit. The best way to do it is to read it aloud, but even that has failings. For example, when reading to my kids at night I often reword the stories on the fly to make them sound better to me. The problem with that is I am still reading the story, so I see the missing information and still process it as context. My children don’t see that and miss out, thus the story is incomplete or confusing to them. Well that and my daughter has confided in her grandparents that sometimes daddy takes shortcuts when reading stories. Ah, children…

So the solution is obvious! Read the story into a recording device and play it back. I bet that sounds like a wonderful thing for every person out there! Who doesn’t want to listen to take the time to read aloud a story that you already wrote, as well as turn around and listen to your own voice reading it back? Yeah, that’s going to be a fail and we all know it. Or at least 999 out of 1000 of us know it. That one person might have the discipline to stick with it, but for the record I don’t know that guy or gal!

Next up is printing it out and reading it with a red pen handy. I’ve done this plenty of times and caught a lot of errors. The problem is there are still some left behind. It’s infuriating and unbelievable, but it happens. So do it a second time? Sure, if you can, but the odds of catching something on that second go-round is much worse.

Clearly the best option is another person. But to really spit-shine a story, you need multiple stages. Self-edit, then a second party for content and continuity, then a third party for line editing (grammatical mistakes and the sort), and finally I’d recommend having you go through it again yourself just to make sure nothing was missed. It’s time consuming and frustrating, but you only get one shot at a first impression, so why risk screwing it up?

Then there’s the bane of all writer’s in the EBook publishing world – formatting. Formatting the document for the EBook type isn’t that big of a deal. Sure, it can be a pain but if you start out keeping that format in mind it becomes a lot easier. No the problem is that no matter what your intentions and how hard you try to make it look perfect, it’s never going to convert properly that first time. If the average writer isn’t there by now, this particular problem is the one that will make you want to drink. Heavily.

The solution? Well, there’s no pretty one, it’s a case by case basis. The best bet is modifying it in HTML but that requires knowledge of said HTML. Sounds ugly and miserable, doesn’t it? Well, by the time a writer has gotten to this point they’ve realized that it’s not an easy process – and some of the hardest and most frustrating work has yet to begin (marketing).

As a reader, I’ve been amazed at some of the mistakes I’ve seen in EBooks – especially when I’ve also read a print version of the book. Having seen those mistakes I recognize that sometimes the error is in translation and I don’t let the errors bother me. I may be in the minority though, I’m not sure. I’d love to see more robust formatting and conversion tools and I’m sure we will see them in time. Until then, as a writer I remain frustrated and constantly whittling away at the little quirks that pop up, even if I can overlook them as a reader.

So there is no answer, just a constant battle against the evil Emperor Typographicus and his dark queen, Lady Grammaticus.

Categories: Writing

How to Write When All Else Fails…In 5 Steps

August 22, 2011 8 comments

In my day to day Twittering and blog reading I see people having troubles writing. Lightning struck and I realized that I should share some tips I use to get the words out. Your mileage may vary, but this is what works for me.

Writing Checklist

Five Tips for Writing

1. Write. Yeah, how, I know. Sometimes it doesn’t matter – write something else. A blog, a diary entry, a short paper on why you want to be a writer, a big of flash fiction of how you’d expect your day to go if you were a chihuahua.

2. Starting a book. I’ve read it plenty of times and I subscribe to it. Start with an earthquake and end with an explosion. Not literally (unless it fits the story), but suck the reader in immediately and hook them. A scene with a lot of emotion or some sort of intense moment can leave a reader powerless to look away. Then again so can a train wreck, and there are plenty of those kinds of books out there too…

3. Starting a sentence. Really? You need help starting a sentence. I’ve started four now on this point alone. Do you have trouble talking too? Stop over-analyzing and just let it flow.

4. Hitting n many words in a day. I read some articles and letters from R.A. Heinlein to budding authors where he suggested setting aside at least an hour a day for writing and writing whatever it is that they can. I subscribed to that for a while and perhaps that helped me get to the point where when I’ve got time to write, I write. If that’s what it takes for anybody else to get to that point then try it out. Block out the world and explain to your world that this is important to you and you need to do it. If you don’t have the support in place for your addiction – excuse me – obsession, then I’d suggest better communication with that support staff or finding a new one.

5. Write! Covered this I suppose, but the point is that’s what it’s all about. If you don’t write then you don’t finish anything. If you don’t finish anything you might as well be a mime and we all know how obnoxious those people can be!

That’s it, only five steps. No bonus, no magic pill or words or wand to offer that will solve your problems. It’s a tough road and not one for the weak-willed. Fight for it if you want it and you’ll find a way.

What makes me good enough to offer these tips? Well I guess it’s a subjective matter. There are best-selling authors out there that I don’t think deserve a tenth of what they get – but clearly nobody asked my opinion because they’re living the life, not me! I’ve got eight novels published with my ninth and tenth coming soon. Eleventh as well, come to think of it. What’s more I have yet to receive a review below four stars on anything I’ve written and a few fives as well. I haven’t hit big sales numbers yet but that’s okay – this is tips on writing, not on marketing! When I figure out how to sell 100+ books a month (or better yet, 100+ a day), THEN I’ll be offering marketing tips as well!

Quill and Inkwell

Cut the complications and crap - Just Write!

 

To learn more about Jason Halstead, visit his website to learn about him, his books, sign up for his newsletter, or check out some free samples of his books at http://www.booksbyjason.com

Categories: Self Help, Writing

Living Life in the Red

August 22, 2011 1 comment

For those that remember the cold war era, this post has nothing to do with communism. At least not intentionally! Nor is it about reliance upon credit and living in debt. No, this article is about the difference between getting by and living life without regrets.

Talk about a bold statement! I used to get by. I had fun and enjoyed my life but I wasn’t going anywhere or doing anything with it. There was no improvement or change, just the same old stuff one day to the next. Things were ‘good enough’. I just didn’t know anything else because I’d never had the notion that I could try. Instead for people that were successful i considered them lucky or flawed in some way that would come back to bite them in the ass. The best word to describe me: bitter. Okay, another word: pessimistic.

This isn’t about me though. I just wanted to throw out some self-observations in hopes that maybe somebody reading this can identify with that attitude or mindset. No, this latest inspiration for an article came while having a twitter discussion with a couple of people (@kreelanwarrior and @tjameswriter) that involved me picking up heavy things. Regular readers of my blog know I’m addicted to weightlifting – power lifting in particular. I’ve had my share of injuries from back strains to tearing my pec free of my left arm and needing surgery to reattach it. Yeah, you can grimace, it wasn’t pretty. It is a fun story to tell, but I’ve told it in another blog post already I think.

So how does power lifting equate to living life in the red? Well, think of a tachometer on a vehicle – you know, the guage that tells you how fast your engine in spinning. It’s got numbers and colors on it, and red generally means you need to shift up or you’re going to blow your engine. Well, life has one of those too. You can keep your life tachometer in the lower ranges where you never challenge yourself. You’ll live a safe life without any great successes, but also hopefully without any catastrophic failures.

Tachometer

Tachometer

What fun is that? Maybe that’s fine for the majority of the population, but for some of us it just doesn’t work like that. We’re greedy, we want more out of life. That’s where living life in the red comes in. You don’t know what you’re capable of until you’ve found that line in the sand that shouldn’t be crossed. Then again, if you don’t cross it, do you really know where it is? Every toddler knows where their line is – they attempt to cross it constantly with their parents (trust me, I’ve got a toddler!). But as adults we’ve been beaten down time and again for pushing the envelope so we start to not try anymore.

Risk is scary. Failure is paralyzing. Losing is a painful pill to swallow. There are many reasons why we shouldn’t try, and some of them are legitimate (injury, emotional upset, or worse), but sometimes the risk is worth the reward. I tore my left pectoral muscle so badly I’ll probably never be able to lift again what I once did. I even notice problems in day to day activities and movements. If my pecs are contracted (flexed) the left side looks drawn up and funny compared to the right side. I’d risk it again though…succeeding is worth it. I still do try lifting maximally and I hope to one day get to where I once was. I lift in a safer and more controlled environment, but I still live in the red both under the iron and in other areas of my life. I’ve accomplished a lot more than I ever expected to because of that and I’m not any more entitled to success than anyone else is. I’ve got a long ways to go too, but life and personal achievement have something in common – you have the most memories along the way rather than at the end.

Besides, what good are goals if you’re too afraid of failure to try and reach them?

Success

Winning!

More Fiction, Less Science

Last week Erin O’Riordan put this post up on her blog. It’s my post, I just figured I’d repost it here for those that may have missed it but were interested in writing or reading science fiction.

So I write science fiction and fantasy primarily. I started out in fantasy, both in my early years of thinking I knew how to write and in my first published novel. Why fantasy and not sci-fi? Well, fantasy was easier! With fantasy I could make up the rules – even the really important ones like which way is up. That’s the magic of the fantasy genre, both figuratively and literally.

Science fiction is a lot more complicated. With sci-fi a responsible author feels obligated to remain plausible (most of the time). I liken it to the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. Star Trek was and is written by people with a respect for science and for imagining what the future could be. Star Wars was and is written by people who aren’t interested in science and rules, but rather in telling a story in an environment with cool guns and cooler outfits for enslaved princesses. Which is better? If you ask me a blend of the two with a preference towards the Star Trek end of the range. In either case, preservation of the outfits should have a high priority.

I have entire books written and sitting on my hard drive – and some begun and abandoned – in the sci-fi genre. I got caught up so much in the hard SF aspect that I lost the story and the characters. The science behind the fiction has to be plausible, but there are very few people these days that can go into detail about futuristic science and technology without losing readers along the way. The late, and great, R.A. Heinlein was arguably one of the best at this. Then again not many people can plot a rebellion and secession of the moon while simultaneously working with the government to enable mankind to reach the stars. Not only that but come on, who these days has their multiplication tables memorized all the way up to 20 x 20? I sure don’t.

The trick to writing science fiction, I find, is to stop being so hardcore. Rather than trying to explain the manner in which localized singularity generators can compress space-time around a ship to enable a starship to travel faster than the speed of light it’s a lot easier to just say, “Vitalis was seven light years beyond the outer periphery of human solar systems but thanks to the FTL drive they could make it in three months.”

Incidentally the singularity generators directionally warp space time to allow conventional propulsion to allow a ship to cover more distance without actually reaching or exceeding the speed of light. No, it’s not realistic and it’s highly unlikely anything like it would ever be viable but it is a great example of all the thought I’ve put into this sort of thing that you’ll probably never see in a book of mine because, seriously, who cares?

The take home here? Details rock, but don’t bore your readers with them. To me a book isn’t about genre so much as it’s about story. Use the genre to further the story, not to show how much smarter you are than Einstein because you figured out the flaw with the Theory of Relativity. Trust me, you didn’t.

Got some aliens? Cool! As a reader I don’t need to know the precise ratio of their preferred mix of nitrogen : oxygen. If they can breathe our air great. If they can’t, give ‘em a helmet or some breathing apparatus. The obvious caveat to that is if a detail is integral to a story. If said alien needs a high percentage of hydrogen to breathe and humanity’s only hope involves convincing one to belch while holding a lit match in front of them, pay some attention to it.

Focus on the characters and the story. Develop them, move them, make them see and feel what’s going on. The reader wants to feel what it’s like rocketing through space and staring at the beautiful swirls and colors of a gas giant out the port window, they don’t want to read the concentration of gases in the atmosphere and hear how their interaction with each other causes the prismatic blend.

The fathers of science fiction

R.A. Heinlein, L. Sprague DeCamp, & Isaac Asimov

Fighting the World

Yesterday was an example of Murphy’s Law. The day started out a little shaky, but seemed to be okay, then it just went to pieces throughout. Even involved a few hours spent at work flirting with a complete server meltdown of my ERP server. If you don’t know what that means it’s okay – suffice to say it’s critical for an automotive (or many other) business to run for more than a few hours. Everything turned out more-or-less fine though.

So late last night seeking some purely thoughtless mind-candy I watched Sucker Punch. The movie with Emily Browning, Abbie Cornish, Jena Malone, Vanessa Hudgens, Jamie Chung, and Scott Glen in it. Probably a few other people as well, but I’ve dropped enough names. I had no idea what it was about by this time – I’d forgotten all the ads and marketing crap about it. To say I was confused and then surprised would be an understatement.

First off, I found the movie very well put together, even if I’m normally not into graphic novel and goth style art. It helped that there are five beautiful girls (often more) running around in trashy outfits the entire time, I’ll admit. For the record they did dress trashy, but it was tastefully done. Weird, I know.

Even without what made this movie special it could have been a good movie. Touching, even, if taken in the right direction. Instead they went into some daydream sequences that portrayed the main character (Babydoll, played by Emily Browning) as an ass-kicking super-secret-agent that was virtually unstoppable. The other girls help her out in these daydreams – but the weird part is that the daydreams are sort of like internal struggles the characters are having while their real-world bodies are trying to complete another task (gather items to escape from a place they are trapped in).

Great action sequences in a Matrix-esque style. Incredible special effects as well, from steam powered undead soldiers to a dragon who’s intent on having Babydoll flambe for lunch. I can’t say much more on them, other than to say the choreography was neat and the girls did a great job being sexy and dangerous.

All of the above was neat about he movie, but it didn’t make it stand out to me enough to write up this review of it. There was a plot twist at the end that caught me off guard but didn’t really surprise me. I’m not convinced it was necessary, in fact. Another twist shortly thereafter really surprised me and, I’ll admit, made me a little sad to see. Sucker Punch was an apt title by the time the movie ended.

Scott Glen comes close a few times to taking a bath in a tub of melted cheese (not literally) with his performance – but that’s what his character is supposed to do. He does a great job and it makes even more sense at the end. The words of wisdom he imparts are humorous and useful. It’s the message of the movie that really rung true with me though. A message about how important it is to fight.

I’m not suggesting bullying or starting up a fight club (even if you can’t talk about it) in your basement. The message is that everybody has choices and what you make of your life is entirely up to you. Even in a situation where you end up trapped in a mental hospital that’s a front for a whorehouse you have choices.

And yeah, it gave me some story ideas as well. Just about everything does these days. We’ll see what, if anything, comes of it.

Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch Movie Poster

Categories: Self Help, Writing

From Science Fiction to Pagan Spirits

Erin O’Riordan just posted a guest blog post about me on her blog. I’m rather excited about it for a couple of reasons. The first being that I talk about writing science fiction and some things I figured out along the way (with many more to come, I’m sure). The second is that she dug up an awesome picture of R.A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and L.Sprague DeCamp having a meeting of the minds. Okay, so it’s only awesome to sci-fi geeks like me, but humor me and Erin and go check it out anyhow.

http://erinoriordan.blogspot.com/2011/08/science-of-writing-science-fiction.html

It gave me some ideas for a follow-up post…but those I’ll save for my blog for another time!

Categories: Writing
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