Some Advice: Reputation is Everything

Normally, writing blogs are just about that; most are tips and tricks on how to write better such as eliminating filler, catching redundancies, use Active Voice, etc. Others are more about the business side of writing such as marketing, self-promotion, mailing lists, etc.

In this post, I want to discuss something very near and dear to my heart, but something I see time and time again new authors throw away and that is their professionalism which affects their reputation. For people who know me as Christianmichael Dutton who writes under the pen name Hui Lang (Chinese for Gray Wolf), they know I am one and the same. I take my brand, my persona, and my interactions with everyone seriously. Everything I write here, either a blog post for Dragon Soul Press, a short story for my Red Hoods Page, or a fanfic doodle on my personal FB page, I give 110%. I am a known plotter and I typically plot out a story five or more times before deciding on how I will write the story. Then I get feedback on my work if time permits after I’ve gone through several cycles of self-editing.

Let’s start with a foundational rule:

If you’re an author who wants compensation for their work, you need to treat this as a serious business.

Let’s talk about some things that shows a lack of professionalism and how you can mitigate irreparable harm to your reputation. These things are doubly important when you’re an indie author because you have full control over your writings and publishing.  

You publish a work that isn’t edited or poorly edited. You know why it’s so hard to find a lit agent or a publisher willing to accept your story? This. This is the reason why the big trad houses have an intern whose job it is to simply read the first three pages of every work just to weed out people who cannot follow directions or send in poorly edited works. I frequently download samples of many indie authors’ books. I can’t get past the first chapter on so many of them because it comes across as if English was their second language with the help of Google Translate.

You chose a terrible cover. “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” applies to people, but not to books. If you work with a trad pub house and they slap a cover that looks like stock art drawn by an eight-year-old or you grab a cute image from Pixabay because it’s royalty free, nothing screams out, “AMATUER!” than an amateurish cover. When I see that, I think your writing matches and I don’t even bother to download the sample. If you cannot afford a great graphics artist, then go with a trad publisher who puts out great covers on their books. Check out Dragon Soul Press’ covers and see for yourself the high quality they use. Some are amazingly gorgeous (Shadows of the Fallen, I’m looking at you).

Your writing is lazy. You use Passive Voice. You used tropes and clichés that the big trad pubishers don’t want, so now your book isn’t marketable unless you self-publish. You use a ton of adverbs. You switch POVs more times than spinning on the Mad Tea Party ride at Disneyland. The rule of “Your first million words is crap,” isn’t just some made-up mantra by self-righteous authors of a bygone era. I wrote my first book when I was fourteen. It was crap. My second book was also crap. By the time I had written my third book, I already had written well-over a million words from all the campaign and adventure writing for the table-top role-playing games Dungeons and Dragons and Pathfinder. My third book still sucked. When I finished my fifth book, Fallen From the Stars, it finally looked like something I might be able to market, but it took me over a 1.5 million words to get there. If you want to fast track your learning experience, then get feedback. Serious feedback that doesn’t hold back on where you’re weak.

You don’t leverage social media effectively. As an author, you post cute cat memes, send … ahh … naughty pics to other people, launch a vitriolic diatribe against Flat-Earthers, but support anti-vaxxers, and so on. You swear like a sailor on your media pages, but you write cute furry YA stories. It’s perfectly fine to post whatever you want to post. No one should judge you for that unless you’re harassing people or being an all-around jerk, but keep it separate. Your author page should have your million loyal fans who see you as the awesome writer, and only your close friends and family get to see your cursing sailor, hedonistic anti-vaxxer jaded personality on your personal page.

This advice may come across a bit harsh, but again, review the foundational rule. Treat being an author as a serious business, forge great relationships with other authors and fans, and people will reciprocate.

Happy writing!

Creating Good Female Villains

One thing I don’t like in fiction is female villains. A lot of their motivations tend to be cliche or at worst, misogynistic. It’s irritating that women villains cannot possess the same motivations of their male counterparts.

Here is a short post on helping you craft better female villains. I don’t say good because you still need to have good characterization as a skill, but if you get the motivation right, your villain will at least be better.

Cliche motivations for female villains are anything of the following:

  1. Anything related to “women’s issues.” The glass ceiling, relationships, unequal pay, domestic abuse, falling in love with a male Bad Boy, etc. Don’t use these issues as motivation to make the woman bad.
  2. “Amazon Women from Mars” or something along the lines of Women vs. Men in a misogynistic way.
  3. “Queen Bitch.” The female is a villain simply because she has power/money/magic, etc.

To have a motivation that doesn’t fall into these kind of traps, think of the tropes heroines are motivated to pursue and simply make the consequences of their actions bad. Despite this, they continue their goals.

For example: A super heroine pounds the living tar out of some bad guys who are trying to fire a laser at a nuclear plant thus making the Chernobyl disaster a walk in the park. Heroine saves the day. End of story. The villainess does the same thing. The bad guys die along with the support personnel who had no idea they were working on a laser to destroy a nuclear plant. This turns into a legal nightmare for the government who have a duty to enforce the law.

If this was a super heroine, she would probably hang up her cape and call it a day or mend her ways. The villainess won’t. The ends justify the means—after all, innocent lives were at stake. She does it again, this time to low-life bank robbers, then muggers, then to some teenagers vandalizing a beautiful park because she can’t control her strength (and doesn’t really care to). Sooner or later, the government has enough and puts resources to have her arrested.

The villainess now fights the government, the police, the National Guard, etc. She rationalizes they are nothing more than a system of control and the best way to deal with it is to destroy it.

One of the things that makes for a great villain is the ability to rationalize their actions in small steps, but it scales up. Real life crook Bernie Madoff didn’t wake up one morning and decided, “I’m going to create the biggest fraud in history today!” No, he altered a trade sheet here and there. He obtained and spent a $250k meant for investments here and there. He continued until he racked up billions in fraud. If he was caught in his very first year of defrauding investors, he would probably be out of prison by now. Change the gender and now you have a female villain whose primary motivation is greed, starts small, and then it builds up.

Happy Writing!

Pitfalls to Avoid: Mary Sue Characters

You: “Oh man, people are going to love my female MC. She’s a total badass!”

Friend: “Why?”

You: “Because she has all sorts of magic at her disposal, she can fight with swords, she’s got a genius-level IQ, and she’s beautiful. Guys just swoon for her, but she’s a virgin, saving herself for her True Love.”

Friend: Rolls eyes. “Of course. What does she do?”

You: “I’ve got a whole series of books planned. She’s from a fantasy world, but she’s transported to our world in the 21st Century. She then learns about guns while wielding magic. She has to fight Neo-Nazis, werewolves, evil corporations, and gives a speech at the U.N. on women’s rights. She doesn’t need a man to save her.”

Friend: Sighs…loudly. “That’s it? What’s her flaw?”

You: “Umm…flaw? Oh yeah, she was abused a lot by her parents. She doesn’t know how to love. She can’t decide from the six men who are chasing after her, but she can’t let a man in her life though she did have some girlfriends with some buxom elves and hot shifters. She–“

Friend: “Stop! Just…stop. I have a major headache now and I need a drink.”

What did I describe to you? If you guessed that the author had created a Mary Sue character, you’re right. What is a Mary Sue? I won’t get into the origins of such a character (but you can read about it here), but they are a very powerful, virtually flawless character who overcomes any obstacle in the story. Ultimately, they are boring characters because they will plow through every scene by their sheer will alone.

I write this post because if you’re an indie author or an amateur writer who is looking to publish, this is a very common mistake to create a main character who can do everything. Trust me, as I write this, I’m not writing this from a pedestal looking down upon you. I’m guilty as charged as well and this post is also for me as well (I have a few characters in my Rise of Evil Series that I need to take a hard look at and pare them down a bit).

So, let’s get back to the boring part and what you can do to fix them or at least create believable MC’s the reader can get behind. Remember, these are guides, not hard rules.

  1. Outline all the challenges a character has to face in your story. Hand them some failure that sets them back and if you want to make it impressionable to your reader, make those failures debilitating. Say, for example, you have a master swordsman. He is awesome. No one can beat him even in twenty-to-one odds. Now, get him in a fight with a wizard where he loses his sword arm–chop that thing right off. He has to learn how to fight all over again. On top of that, he now has to weigh his battles carefully.
  2. Flaws in the backstory are meaningless unless they come into play in an actual scene. You want to “humanize” your MC with some trauma from their childhood? That’s an overused cliche in amateur writing as well, but that’s another post for later. That trauma is boring if it doesn’t come into play. For example, you have a young man who is sorcerer attempting to overthrow the evil king, but past abuse from his father causes him to freeze up. The evil king casts a spell to look just like his father, and the sorcerer is powerless, just stands there, and is captured, tortured, and sentenced to death.
  3. Make your character rely on others to achieve victory, and make that an endeavor as well. I’m not talking about him leading troops. I’m talking about he needs others to help him overcome a particular challenge. Bob from Accounting can’t see Sue the VP to convince her to fund Project Z; however, Jack, who … umm … works closely with Sue, can slide that proposal on her desk. But as life would play, Jack likes to play both teams and desires Bob too, so Bob has to figure out how to get Jack to agree to meet with Sue while not having to cave into Jack’s unbridled lust (and irritate his constant bickering wife).
  4. Bring the power level down. If you play Dungeons and Dragons or similar table-top role-playing games, you’ll know that your characters have a level assigned to them which measures their power and abilities. A 1st level wizard is no match for a 20th level wizard. In your story, you don’t want your character start right off as a 20th level wizard because if you do, your character won’t grow and achieve a pinnacle of power if you have a whole series of books planned out.

In summary, ensure your characters have flaws purposely created to give your story tension and drama. Your readers will appreciate your MC’s efforts to try to overcome or circumvent those obstacles.

Happy writing!

 

Interview with Author Abigail Linhardt

Graciously offering to sit down and be interviewed by us again, Abigail Linhardt takes time from her busy schedule while earnestly awaiting the release of her audiobook for Revary.


What is the first book that made you cry?

I was 13 years old when “Order of the Phoenix”, the fifth book in the Harry Potter series by JK Rowling came out. Just years earlier, I had fallen madly in love with Sirius Black. I loved him as a character because he was Harry’s only chance for a tradition wizard life and for familial love. When Sirius died in “Order of the Phoenix” I was crushed. I didn’t know that main, loveable characters could die. It was a chance for Harry and it was snuffed out. I cried for days. I was depressed. Changed my life and shortly after I wrote my own main character death.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

A have a couple. The first is too many story and character arcs—I get too excited, outline some and then get fixated on one and have to force myself to stop and outline the rest. This causes me to lose focus on the entire outline. Rather than filling in details later, I focus on one and then forget what my amazing conclusion was supposed to be! This leads to overdramatic scenes, too much action (which is a thing) and no rest for deep, psychological character development, which I believe to be very important. This also leads in to too many characters in one story. Which I try to fix by making more stories and the next thing you know, I have 20 MSWord documents open and no idea where my current WIP drowned.

Second is actually not reading in my genre. I read a lot, but I don’t read a lot of fantasy and science fiction, which is all I write. I end up instead reading reviews of fantasy stories and novels. Seeing what other people like or dislike about a major author. I don’t like a lot of major works, which makes me look like a hypocrite. But I also know that reading in my genre will make my writing stronger and more unique. Sometimes, I just buckle down and have to read a novel in my genre. But then the enormous number of books in one fantasy series always deters me and I stop.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

Yes! I want to write romance novels. But not your regular kind. I love the sword and sorcery genre (think Conan the Barbarian by Robert E. Howard) and heavy fantasy elements. I have read a few fantasy romances and they seem light on the fantasy and the gore. So whenever I get around to that novel, a pseudonym will come in to play. Just in case.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

I always try to write the books I want to read. Sometimes that is going hard into originality if I have a richly realized world to talk about. Sometimes, if what is popular something I like, then I will write that. Maybe readers don’t know what they want and I have a little something that might spark their interest! So I can never only bow to the whims of the people. There is also a chance that my original story uses well-known tropes just enough to draw them in. Then, before they know it, they are swallowed up in an adventure they’ve never had before!

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

I am not a fan of the ten to fifteen book-long series. I know that my genres (fantasy and sci-fi) love to do that, but I do not. I do not want to start a book and realize that there are nine more to go. It rarely works and a plot can rarely be sustained over that length of time without boring the readers, or changing to vastly it’s hardly the same story it was seven books ago. I write stand-alones and I love reading stand-alones.

That being said, I am writing a sci-fi trilogy and I have plans to expand on the universe of two of my stand alone novels. But making those stand alone novels as well. Jim Butcher did a decent job with his Chicago wizard Harry Dresden. I started on book three in his series and it stood alone just fine. Because of that, I know I can safely pick up one of his books and not be forced to start the next one right away.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

I would tell her a few things: One, don’t stop writing, you will make it. Two, your confidence is not arrogance. Young, writing me suffered a lot from fellow teenage writers and I wish she hadn’t. Three, just because you do not keep journals does not mean you are not a writer. I thought I had to fill dozens of journals to be a writer. But I found by the end of the day, after writing a short story, a few chapters in a novel, and some personal thoughts, that I had no need to write in a journal. I said what I meant through stories and that was fine.

Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

Yes and no. It’s healing for me to write some of the things I do. I cannot leave certain words locked inside me or they will kill me. I do not believe in bottling up something that needs to be said. There is magic and power in words—especially the written word. So I treat it with respect and always try to remember the power words hold.

How many hours a day do you write?

It really depends. On my blog, I write often about being organized and making time to do the things we want to do. My catch phrase is “You will never find the time; make the time.” I am a college professor with a weird and insane schedule as well as a day job as a marketing supervisor and manager. During the summer, like right now, I write for hours every day. I have the time and make even more! I write short stories, chapters, outlines, and ideas for most of the morning. As a long-time college student, I know I cannot sit in one mood for 8 hours a day writing. It starts to get weird, bad, and the prose gets ugly. So I make time to exercise, get up, move away, do grocery shopping in between. My writing hours need to be broken up.

During the school semesters, it is harder to make that much time. I always strive for 2 hours a day though. It might not be much, but it gets the job done.

Have you read anything that made you think differently about fiction?

I have a creative writing degree so I forced to think about fiction differently for a huge part of my writing career. I have read some weird books and multimedia novels as well. There was this one interactive, multimedia novel I found called “Nightingale’s Playground” that inspired me to try a project of my own. It was interesting to see stories told through words, video games, sound, and online interactivity. I created something inspired by that, using Mina Murray’s journal entries from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It was not near as cool as I don’t have the computer know-how. But it opened the door to me for things out a hardback or an e-reader. It is very cool, but it also made me appreciate the tradition written word. And I probably like that better.  

Where can readers learn more about you?

My Facebook. I also have InstagramTwitter, Twitch. My website abigaillinhardt.com will be up in September.

Author Interview with Simon Dillon

Dragon Soul Press sat down to interview Author Simon Dillon for his latest bone-chilling release, The Irresistible Summons. With the tagline of “How far would you go to bring the one you love back from the dead?” how could one resist the temptation? Especially when cutting-edge technology and evil meet.


How long on average does it take you to write a book?

I’d say it takes me about a year, on average, to write something like The Irresistible Summons or Spectre of Springwell Forest, if you include the initial inspiration, preparation and planning, writing the first draft, rewrites, edits, and so on.Irresistible Summons promo 8

Outside my usual psychological drama/supernatural thriller/horror spectrum, I’ve written some novels at record speed (my animal fiction adventure novel Echo and the White Howl, for instance), and others at a snail’s pace. I’ve got a fantasy epic I’ve been working at, on and off, for about twenty years. Still not sure if I’ll ever try and release it.

What was your hardest scene to write?

I can’t reveal that here, because it’s from a thriller/horror novel I’ve not yet published. Suffice to say, the scene in question was so disturbing and upsetting that I had to keep taking breaks every ten minutes to write that chapter. I’m made of pretty stern stuff, but that was fierce, even for me. It really had my stomach in knots.

From novels that are presently published, the finale of The Irresistible Summons was an absolute fiend to get right. Previous versions were either too gruesome, too repetitive, too bizarre, too long, or – incredible though it may seem – too optimistic.

What’s your favorite under-appreciated novel?

I’m going to cheat and pick three books – The Bartimaeus Sequence (comprising The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, and Ptolemy’s Gate). This trilogy, set in a parallel London filled with powerful magicians, is particularly notable for witty first-person sections, told from the point of view of a highly intelligent and cunning demon summoned by the novel’s young protagonist. Highly recommended.

Or did you mean my own novels? Some of my children’s adventure novels are definitely under-appreciated, because they are just as much for adults as for children.

Do you want each book to stand on its own, or are you trying to build a body of work with connections between each book?

Out of what I currently have published, with the notable exception of the George Hughes trilogy (my children’s science fiction novels), all my novels and short stories stand-alone. Even the George Hughes adventures are each stand-alone stories, though they should be read in order, as there are recurring characters and references to previous incidents.

Having said that, my horror/thriller novels do share a certain DNA and express variations on a theme. One reader I know jokes about “Simon Dillon Plot Bingo” (imperilled heroine, religious oppression, big central mystery, haunted locations, supernatural elements, cults and/or secret societies, melodramatic overdrive, big twist ending – apparently). I don’t see this as a bad thing. I think it means I’m getting known for a certain type of story. Just as long as I can keep surprising people within that format, I’m pleased to be stereotyped to a degree.

Do you try more to be original or to deliver to readers what they want?

That’s a good question, because it follows on from what I said above. Actually, I think there is nothing wrong with following a formula and giving readers what they want. Agatha Christie did it. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle did it. JK Rowling did it (all the Harry Potter books follow a very clear formula, except the last one). But within these formulas, the above authors consistently surprised and delighted the reader.

Every writer wants to be original and put their own stamp on the world’s literature. However, that isn’t at the forefront of my mind when I write. Rather, I want to master the form in whatever genre I am working with. To that end, I try to give the reader what they want – but not the way they expect it. That’s the clue to any fine dramatic writing, in my opinion.

Of course, you can’t please everyone. The Irresistible Summons and Spectre of Springwell Forest both have fairly clear-cut conclusions, but one or two readers would have preferred more ambiguity. On the other hand, my next novel Phantom Audition (due out in October) is a much trickier beast. The various ways it can be interpreted may frustrate those who prefer clear-cut endings. As an author, you have to decide what you think is the correct, most satisfying ending, and stick with it. In fact, I always do. I don’t write any story until I know the ending and love it. Then I work backwards from that point.

Did you ever consider writing under a pseudonym?

I’m not sure why I’ve been so foolhardy as to simply go by my real name, but I don’t really see what I gain by hiding behind a pseudonym. Privacy is the main reason cited, but if JK Rowling didn’t feel the need for one, I’m not sure I can be bothered either. I’d rather be loud and proud about what I put my name to.

What is your writing Kryptonite?

I often lurk on the event horizons of social media black holes and get sucked into vortices of very dark humour. Plus the internet in general is so distracting.

Does writing energize or exhaust you?

A bit of both really. But I can’t not write. It’s like breathing. If I don’t write at least a little each day, I feel like I’m wasting my life.

What is the first book that made you cry?

Watership Down, which I read at the age of nine, just before I read the second book that made me cry, The Lord of the Rings. I find it hard to imagine any intelligent, thoughtful reader coming away from either of those novels unaffected or unchanged. The final chapters of both had an incalculable effect on my young psyche, and the bittersweet truth that in this world at least, all things end.

Both books conclude with death, whether the literal death of Hazel, in Watership Down, or the figurative death of Frodo in The Lord of the Rings (not to mention the passing of the Elves, and the melancholy end of the magical eras of Middle Earth). However, although sad, neither scene is negative. It is simply the way of things, and, as Gandalf puts it, “not all tears are an evil”.

Where can readers learn more about you?

I’ve got a blog,which has regular updates on all my writing projects. It also features film reviews, links to my film podcast The Tangent Tree (which I co-host with Samantha Stephen), and other book/writing related articles. On top of that, I have a Facebook page.