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Archive for August, 2012

The Ultimate Betrayal

Long time readers of this blog will remember the story I posted one chapter at a time called Betrayal’s Hands. I stopped posting a few weeks back because I got busy and because I was done to the very end and, to be honest, the end sucked more than the rest of it did. I had my suspicions, after trying to rework it as I read through it, but it wasn’t until I sought some outside assistance to be sure of it. The feedback agrees with my hunches: Betrayal’s Hands is going into the slush pile that shall never again see the light of day.

I apologize for anyone who was enjoying it in spite of the many flaws it contained. There is a decent story to be had in it, I believe, but rewriting it would be more work than writing something from scratch. Perhaps someday I’ll get around to it but I doubt it very much. I’ve got too many other projects that rank higher in my mind’s eye.

Speaking of those other projects, the current one is a new fantasy novel destined to become a series. It’s called Child of Fate (the first book), although something about the title doesn’t feel quite right to me. We’ll call that the working title for now until it’s too late for me to come up with something different. Anyhow, it’s a story about a farm boy turned mercenary, although right now he’s still far more farm boy than warrior. I’m on chapter 9 and around 120 pages into it. I’ve got a lot of plans for the first book so I might be a third of the way through – it promises to be a long one!

But wait, there’s more. I had an idea just this morning that came out of the blue. It involved Wanted and Ice Princess. A concept for a third book smacked me in the back of the head. I’m going to let it sit there and rattle around for a while to make sure it sticks, then who knows, perhaps Carl and Jessie have enough left in them for one more run through the meat grinder!

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.

You Want Me to Write about WHAT?

August 24, 2012 11 comments

I’ve been a writer on the side for several years now. Officially, that is. Unofficially I’ve been writing since I was…well, a lot younger than I am now (let’s not get hung up on details). I’ve gone through the stages where I wrote tried to figure out what to write and who to write it for. I’ve scoffed at some genres then been knocked on my butt when I found out how well some of those genres sold. Through it all I have been write about one thing – writing a book about basket weaving is not going to make me rich! :)

A while back I read a study that indicated the majority of e-readers were owned by women. It wasn’t a big majority, but anything over 50% counts. Conversely, the majority of tablets were owned by men (or in my case owned by me but used by my children to play games on). That made me begin to understand why some of the genres were so successful (e.g. romance and it’s many shades). So all I had to do was write romance-ish books, right? Well… not exactly.

My wife recently picked up 50 Shades of Grey. I was torn on the decision. On the one hand it’s a book with loads of bad reviews, written by a writer that made me grimace when I sampled the blurb and some of the text within, and it’s very poorly edited. Professionally speaking, I just couldn’t condone it. But then there’s the sheer volume of copies sold, not to mention the promising secondhand mention of the affect its had upon women reading it (one friend recommend I “nip down to the shops and get some plastic ties, cuffs & a whip”). With advice like that, how could I deny her?

To continue the tangent, my wife is most of the way through it and her opinion of it is that it’s not her thing (the BDSM), the writing seems immature or inexperienced, and there are countless mistakes throughout that are driving her crazy. But she’s still reading it. And no, I haven’t needed the ties, cuffs, or whip.

So I asked her what the deal was. The movie Magic Mike was a big success amongst women and the most regular review is that there’s too much plot and not enough dancing. Similarly, books like 50 Shades are light (at best) on plot and long on smut. Is this a sign that (like usual) most men have no clue what women want? Do you ladies want sexy, fun, light, and humorous entertainment without the burden of plot and story behind it? Oh sure, there needs to be enough to make it look good if somebody should glance over and ask about it. Think of it as a beard covering the steamy parts hidden within.

I asked my wife that same question and I got a half smile and a shrug. That’s it. What the heck is that? How do I, and other writers, provide the kinds of things you’d like without being able to get any clear guidance or data? Maybe that’s just my man-brain and the quest for something that makes sense, but throw us a bone here. Ladies, you’ve been dating and marrying us for years. You know by now us guys don’t do well picking up subtlety. Help us help you…

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.

What Really Happened on Vitalis

For those not familiar, Vitalis is a world I created in a futuristic science fiction series. It starts out with a crew on a space transport that have a run in with some inter-stellar salvage experts (read: pirates, matey). Things don’t go so well for any of them and the long and short of it is a new world is discovered outside of the Terran Coalition of Systems (aka known space). Sounds pretty cool, right?

I thought so to, and I released them one part after another. The average length was 20,000 words to 30,000 words and I priced them dirt cheap at $.99. Seven parts in all and sales skyrocketed earlier this year. I had a couple of months with over 5,000 sales for the series and people emailed me and tweeted me and Facebooked me to tell me they love them. Life was good!

Then a handful of people took it upon themselves to get upset with the length of the books. They spent $.99 for something hey liked – something they admit sucked them in – and they were pissed off about it. So they wrote essentially the same review on each book and gave them all a rating of 1. This sunk the series practically overnight. The positive feedback to me was great, but since it wasn’t placed on Amazon on the books themselves, it didn’t do any good. Instead the haters down-rated the stories into the abyss. The lower the rating the less interest Amazon’s algorithms have in it – and the less it’s shown to potential buyers. Thus you see the power of reviews and the power of readers.

All those blog posts and other times when I’ve told people how important reviews are to authors like me? Yeah, I meant it. This entire series and a substantial portion of my financial ability to write new stuff has been sabotaged. It had nothing to do with greed on my part, it had to do with getting new stories in people’s hands as quickly as possible. The pricing of $.99 each was actually detrimental to me, rather than a pricing scheme. And the Vitalis Omnibus, which contains all 7 of the stories is longer than the vast majority of published novels out there and half the price – so no, I’m not trying to screw anybody over financially. As a matter of fact, I kind of feel like the exact opposite has happened because of this.

Whining aside, I’ve taken Vitalis parts 2 – 7 off sale. Yep, they aren’t out there anymore. I left New Beginnings up because it’s free and how can you bitch about free? My desire is for people to check it out and enjoy it as a sample of what’s in the Vitalis Omnibus, then they can go and buy that. Sometime next month I plan to release Vitalis: Resurrection, the novel in the Vitalis series. For the record I said novel, not novella, not novelette, and not short story.

My friends and loyal readers, I thank you all for the support an for continuing to read my books. I also beseech you to remember my story when you read a book (no matter who the author is) and please leave a review and a positive rating. Who knows, you might just be helping them make sure their kids can get into college.

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.

Taking A Step Back to Go Forward

My current writing project is pure fantasy, as I alluded a few posts back. It’s going to be vintage sword and sorcery, completely with any scary critters to make J.R.R. Tolkien proud. Don’t worry though, I’ve no intention of invading Middle Earth. No, this one is going to follow band of characters along an unusual but still familiar fantasy storyline.

Many years ago (more than twenty but not quite 30) I learned about a game called Dungeons and Dragons. I was young and impressionable when I was introduced to it, and it’s safe to say it may have been my first love. This is back in the day when special effects were hardly special and the thought of medieval entertainment was the furthest thing on the mind of entertainment companies. Thus my imagination, aided with the rules set forth by Gary Gygax (may he forever Rest In Piece) and TSR (a few years later) provided countless hours of entertainment. These days I still remember it fondly. It’s been years since a break out gaming session occurred amongst old friends and I, but I wouldn’t be opposed to it if the opportunity presented itself. And for the record, I’m talking about the classic first or second edition of the game, none of the newfangled D20 rules that over-complicate things.

So for this newest story as I was stumbling around with character ideas it occurred to me that I already had great characters that had lived countless adventures and endured loves and losses beyond my ability to remember. Why not use them? And now I’m nearly 10,000 words into my next fantasy book, which I anticipate becoming a series with ease. I’ll even share a touch of the characters in the hopes that it wets more than just my appetite.

Alto – A farm boy turned warrior who learns nobility. Eventually he’s destined to…yeah, like I’m going to give that away!

Kar – Fiesty wizard who encourages learning and insists his companions to constantly challenge everything.

Karthor – Kar’s son, a priest of Leander, the god of growth and light. Karthor and Alto are the same age and quickly become fast friends

Patrina – Northern warrior princess (or at least daughter of a chieftain). Hmm, two good looking and competent young men from a neighboring and sometimes hostile nation to choose from…what could go wrong here?

And did I mention the increasing raiding from (mostly) goblin tribes into both realms? What about the possibility of a greater power behind it with its own ulterior motives?

So much potential…and that’s just the first book!

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.

The Dark Side of Research

August 18, 2012 1 comment

As a writer I have to do a lot of research. I’m all over the place, genre-wise, so that means I have to be open minded and willing to try new things. Most of the time that’s good, but not always. For every good character or concept in a book there should be something that balances it. And what balances good better than evil? That, unfortunately, means digging into some of the darker sides of humanity in some cases. There are things I’ve learned that I can’t honestly say I’m better off for knowing.

I recently finished Black Widow, a book that caps off a series about a woman who was sexually abused as a child. She took that experience and gained strength from it, becoming a champion for other victims. She becomes a detective who focuses on helping out abused women and children, with a special interest in destroying anything resembling human trafficking. And that, my friends, is what this post is about.

The media is too concerned with which politician was born where and whether they filed their taxes right to care about important issues. Human trafficking, most generally with sexual slavery intentions, is very real and it’s very much alive even here in the United States. I’ve read some accounts and seen some footage that is deeply disturbing. Heart-wrenching, even. As a father or two young children the thought of anything like that ever happening to them is enough to justify nearly any punishment for such offenders. Yet unfortunately, so few of them are ever caught. Meanwhile we have high level members of our government and military being slapped in the wrist for being caught with child pornography.

The numbers are overwhelming when it comes to the people affected by abductions and trafficking. Not just the children taken and abused, but their families and friends that will forever be changed by it as well. It’s easy to get caught up in the landslide of numbers and assume there’s no real impact or difference one person can do. And maybe that’s right, maybe turning in the creepy guy at the mall that keeps following the teenage girls in skirts up the escalator time after time won’t make a difference in the overall numbers. But what about the girl he picks to follow out to her car, slip a rag filled with chloroform over her mouth and nose, and then toss into the trunk of his car? Would it make a difference to her if somebody would have said or done something?

I’m by no means a public spokesman for doing the right thing, nor do I have any ties to law enforcement, but you can bet your ass I keep an eye out for things that are just plain wrong. All I’m asking is that everyone else do the same thing.

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.

The Lost Girls Meet a Black Widow

Thanks to a timely turn-around by my content editor (Lisa Shalek), I’m happy to say that Black Widow is out a couple of days before I expected. Black Widow being the fourth book in my Lost Girls series. It brings together everything from the first three books as well as a tying up some loose ends presented in Voices and Bound. All in all, it’s got quite a story arc and I’m very pleased with how things turned out. I suggest checking it out if you enjoy strong female leads, a touch of urban fantasy, and crime & mystery thrillers.

For Katalina Wimple the memories of a lifetime of struggle can disappear in a moment of bliss. They can also come crashing back in when she’s confined in a cold, dark tomb at the mercy of the knife of a new kind of killer.

Katy’s new case puts in unfamiliar territory. This time it’s a man who’s been hurt. A man from her past that she once admired. To solve this case Katy has to find peace with her past and find a killer with more reason to hate than even she has.

Black Widow, book four in the Lost Girls series, by Jason Halstead

Black Widow on Amazon

Black Widow on Amazon UK

Black Widow on Kobo

Black Widow on Barnes and Noble (coming soon)

Black Widow on Smashwords

Print version of Black Widow

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.

Looking For Feedback on a Fantasy

August 15, 2012 3 comments

So there’s this grotto fed by hot springs, a full moon, and a gentle breeze blowing… Wait a minute, it’s not THAT kind of fantasy! What I’m talking about is a new fantasy book (or hopefully a new series). You see, I finished Vitalis – Resurrection and sent it to my editor yesterday. Black Widow should be out very soon, and that means my fingers are idle and in need of something new to write! Sure, I’ve got lots of options, but I want to break away and start up something new. So I’m thinking fantasy, but my idea of fantasy fiction and what others might like may not be on the same page. I’m very much in the conceptual stages right now, but I’d love to get some feedback on what people think they might like to see. For example…

Should there be a single main character or a small group of them? And if it’s just a single main character, should that character be male or female? (I confess I have a real fondness for writing female leads that kick ass – a combination of juvenile fascination and a desire to show how strong I consider the “gentler” gender to be capable of)

High, medium, or low fantasy? (high = loads of magic rivaling technology, all sorts of races and critters / low = historical earth / medium = somewhere between the two)

I’m willing to entertain any other thoughts or suggestions as well. I have plenty of my own ideas rattling around in my head, I’m just trying to make sure others will be similarly fascinated with what comes of it.

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.

Doping: The Eighth Deadly Sin

Apparently years and years of practice, working out, training, and administration of methenolone (street name Parabolan) will allow a person to throw a shot put 70.08 feet. That’s a long ways…too long, according to the IOC. They disqualified the Belarus woman who scored that winning distance for failing a drug test twice. The silver – now gold -  medalist tossed hers 67.91 feet, just a hair over 2 feet less. That’s a difference of just a hair over 3%! What amazing gains steroid use allows!

If you detected at least a hint of sarcasm in the paragraph then you read it correctly. I’m a weightlifter, even a former competitive powerlifter. Feats of strength are in my blood, but that’s about it. I know people who have more than that in their blood. I’ve seen people bench press over 500 pounds without a bench shirt. I’ve seen people deadlift and squat 800, 900, and 1000 pounds. You don’t do that with just good looks, eating clean, and hard work. On the flip side, years of hard work AND using juice will add a little something special to your bench press, clean and jerk, squat, deadlift, 100 meter sprint, or shot put. How much? Well figure I made it up to a 405lb bench at 229lb of drug-free bodyweight. Those are pretty good genetics for being beastly strong, but in my case that’s all I had going for me was genetics and years of training. There are lifters out there able to bench 600, 700, and even 800 pounds at 220lbs of bodyweight with the help of genetics, training, and good drugs.

So figure a modest difference of 1.5x what a normal person could d0. If we take 50% and add it to the best a “drug free” person could do and you’d be looking at a shot put of 46.72 feet. But the new gold medalist tested clean and still tossed hers 67.91 feet? Could it mean the athletes and coaches know how to beat the tests? GASP!
Let’s dispense with the bullshit. Olympic and professional athletes use whatever they can to be competitive. They have to or else they’re out of a job. Cameron Van Der Burgh (South Africa) admitted to three dolphin kicks off the wall in his 100 meter breast stroke gold medal race. One is allowed. He says he knows he shouldn’t but when everybody else is doing it if he doesn’t then he’s not able to compete with them. That sums it up right there. If one guy is going to “cheat” then everybody has to if they want to remain competitive.

My suggestion is to stop the BS. You can’t expect new world records every four years without the use of assistance. Training techniques might improve but not by much. People aren’t working out harder now than they have in the past (they’ve worked out damn hard at all times). So give people what they want to see, open it up and let people be superhuman without pretending they’re really not. That’s what we want. That’s what we pay to see. This gives it the chance to be carefully regulated and safe. The only scary thing that could happen would be seeing no significant gains over existing records because of it.

And if that doesn’t work then learn a lesson from Eric Idle in the closing ceremonies and always look on the bright side of life. (the best part of the closing ceremonies, hands down)

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.

Sometimes the Voices Don’t Agree

Almost every writer out there knows about the “voices.” It’s the characters in our heads that demand we tell their story. The problem I’ve discovered, is that those internal voices have something in common – as twisted and screwed up as the characters may be we understand them. They make sense.

Why is that a problem? Because in the real world people don’t make sense. Their voices are sometimes shouting two things at once and those two things can be contradictory. It shocks me because I like to think that my readers are a cut above the average. Science fiction and fantasy are the realm of dreamers and thinkers, after all! But in spite of that occasionally it still happens that someone slips into the wrong line. I have no other explanation for why someone would rate a book 1 star and say of it, “Save yourself some frustration and don’t get sucked in.” Um, as a reader I want to be sucked in. I want to find myself immersed in a story.

I’m counter-complaining about my Vitalis series, by the way. It seems people are still bitching about paying a devastating $.99 for the novellas. Or, as they label them, the ‘chapters’. This is speculation on my part but perhaps they seem like chapters (even though each book consists of well over a dozen clearly labeled chapters) because they got sucked in and read them quickly. I’ve bitched before that this was my intent upon writing them, but it keeps coming back to haunt me.

So this person bought it, read it, got sucked into it, and then got frustrated because he had to buy the next one (for, GASP, another $.99 – and the first one is free, by the way. Or buy the Vitalis Omnibus to avoid the frustration of switching books). Okay, that defies my logic but I’ll entertain the process and continue. So seven novellas later a reader has spent $5.94 for a total of seven books that add up to over 400 pages of science fiction that sucks a reader in. I don’t have one handy at present, but the last Dean Koontz novel I bought (the third Odd Thomas book, though the title escapes me), was not that long and it cost me well over $10. I’ll be the first one to admit I’m no Dean Koontz but there are thousands of other authors out there with books that offer the same ratio of lesser length yet higher cost. Shame on me for offering a discount to my readers! Clearly I deserve a public flogging by way of review and a kick in the pants via a poor rating.

Reviews like this hurt sales. Hurting sales means it’s harder for me to A) stay positive and keep writing for those that enjoy the books and B) be able to afford to write. It’s impossible for me to stop contrary people like the reviewer in question from slamming me, but for those with at least two more active gray cells I ask of you to think clearly before leaving a review on anybody’s work. Consider whether the review makes sense objectively. Where you frustrated about something? Were there other parts that offset it? Would you be just as happy sending the author some feedback to let them know your thoughts rather than trying to screw with his or her livelihood? I speak for many of my fellow writers when I say that we enjoy receiving feedback, even the less than pleasant kind.

With all of that said, I’m working hard on my eighth Vitalis book (Resurrection). Yes, I said book. It will not be a novella. Just yesterday I reached a point that takes it to being longer than even the first Vitalis book (New Beginnings) and I’m only halfway through it. I have a lot more of Vitalis in me to write too, I just hope I can afford to do so.

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.

How To Do It

August 3, 2012 2 comments

Almost every day before the day is done I post on Twitter and my Facebook page a brief update of what the day’s writing was like. How many words and any highlights of what I’ve written. Typically the number is in the 2000 – 3000 or more range. I often use the #amwriting hashtag, though others may retweet it with #inspiring or other such tags associated with it. It comes as a shock and a surprise to many that I can crank out that volume regularly. I’ve been pushing myself to maintain a 1 book a month pace for 2012 and by this time it’s become a habit. Who’d a thunk addictions could be good!

I also often get questions asking how I can do it, and by ‘it’ I mean write that much. Do I keep my muse locked up in a cage under my desk? Do I poke said muse with sticks to make her dance and cavort to release the writing pixie dust? Sadly none of that is the case. Every writer is different, and it comes down to a matter of what you train and condition yourself to do.

I used to compete in powerlifting. For those just sitting down powerlifting involves bench pressing, squatting, and deadlifting the heaviest fricken weights you can lift – and sometimes that comes with disastrous consequences. I set a couple records in the federation I lifted in before disaster struck me, and now I don’t compete anymore. I still lift weights and I still lift heavy, but I’ll never be able to lift what I once did. But you’re asking what the hell weight lifting has to do with writing, right?

It’s the tricks I learned along the way. When training for a major event such as a powerlifting meet the trainee has to be very focused and disciplined. Eating the right foods, drinking the right drinks (and enough of them), and hitting the weights with the right control and frequency. It’s not so different from the Olympics really, except I make absolutely NO challenge to the incredible genetics, talents, and skills the Olympic athletes have – I’ve never been anywhere near that level!

So armed with the knowledge of how to make changes to myself, knowing that I need to focus my brain on the story at hand and sitting down to work on it every day wasn’t that much of a leap. My “trick”, if you want to call it such, is to daydream. Controlled daydreaming, really. I think about the story and what’s happened, as well as what’s going to happen next. I’ll often ask myself, “Okay, then what happened?” And the answer gives me a direction to go. What important bits did I forget or need to change or what if ‘x’ happened instead of ‘y’. I also come up with a lot of ideas in areas where my brain is free to roam. Long car rides, for example, are great daydreaming opportunities. That can be frustrating too, in case the laptop’s not available to write them down.

Once I get there I’ve got the fuel I need to crank out the next 500 – 1000 words at least, and from there new things pop into my head that keep the story flowing into the 2000 – 3000 range. I think my record in recent history was a Saturday when I cranked out 8500 words, but I also seem to recall a 10k day, so I might be getting the two confused. It reminds me of production at a manufacturing plant. Quantity is definitely an important aspect – without product (words, in the case of writers), there’s no chance to finish a book and deliver to the customer (readers). But too much quantity without quality isn’t going to do me any good either. The trick is finding the right mix, and then relying on editing to help with the quality.

So that’s my secret. From 550lb deadlifts to 12+ books a year. The only problem is what works for me might not work for anybody else. Just about every writers has their own tricks. Without exception the only way to find out is to keep trying new things and making yourself keep at it though. Now good luck and what are you waiting for, go write something!

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.

 

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