January 6, 2018
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
Confession: I am in awe (and envy) of novelists who can glibly elucidate what their novels are about. I am not one of those novelists. Most of the time I opt to shunt aboutness to the side. I just crawl through the secret tunnel, lock myself into my writing grotto and make shit up about whatever and whomever and whenever. Ah, but no such luck in 2018. Why? Because 2018 is a Marketing Year.
And in Marketing Years, you have to be able to tell people what your novels are about so they can become motivated to buy them.
Sigh. This is kind of an old problem for me. When the hardcover Chronicler's Edition of The Luck of Madonna 13 was released, I was obliged by circumstance to write the dust jacket copy, which traditionally includes some form of aboutness. Readers of that edition have told me they found my jacket copy amusing, but not, strictly speaking, informative in an aboutness sense. Part of what I wrote there was the following:
"…this crucial blurb is [usually] written by the publisher's PR people, who are selected for their special skill in tantalizing honest bookstore browsers. Sadly, the Wynderry Press blurbists were on lunch break when the dust jacked needed to go to press, so the Chronicler himself (that would be me) was grudgingly pressed into service. I can guarantee that they will never, ever let that happen again.
"The thing is, the person who wrote all the words inside is the absolute last person to write a tantalizing one paragraph teaser. If authors were any good at one paragraph teasers, why would they have to write whole novels? Think about it."
Because this is a brand new year however, I have resolved to expend extra effort on aboutness, which I confess would be so much simpler if there was a nice eyebutton to do it for me. ~ ETE
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December 30, 2017
CIGAR? OR NO CIGAR?
In the mid-90s I smoked a few cigars. Okay, maybe a few dozen. It was a moment in time during which I was trying on the absurd idea of starting a boutique record label focused on instrumental guitar music. I learned many things during that brief episode, one of which is that cigar boxes typically look vastly better than a cigar could ever taste or smell, further proof that I didn't have the makings of a mogul. I'm one of those people holding the belief that the best thing about cigars is making guitars out of empty cigar boxes. So the "no cigar"allusion gets flipped on its head. And happily so. Ain't this one a purty thing?
But none of that is the point of this post. My earnest goal was to have pushed all four books in the Last Nevergate Chronicles to the point of Total Prepublication Readiness by the end of 2017. Will the pencil edits in my printout of The Ashes of Madonna 13 (the last item) get plugged into its Scrivener file by midnight tomorrow, causing the God of Modest Achievements to flip a new cigar box guitar in my direction? If the great Cronus knows the answer already, he ain't telling me. ~ ETE
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November 20, 2017
LET THE REAL FUN BEGIN
Last Tuesday I fed all umpteen chapters of The Ashes of Madonna 13 through my antique Bludgeworthy's Denouement Adequacy Determinator. Fact is, I was a little nervous, since I bought it on Etsy a few years back and had never tried it out. "As is, no guarantee," said the fine print. But I was evidently in a reckless mood that day. That's not saying I was qualm free. For one thing, it's an analog device. How cringeworthy is that? Firearms, rotten eggs and typewriters are also analog devices and look how dangerous they can be in the wrong hands.
For another thing, it deploys an unknown number of inch-tall twyk men to do the figuring-outing. Who but a Terry Pratchett or Jack Vance sort of mind could even conceive of something like that? Maybe I should have considered that before I pushed the Buy button? Oh well: then was then, now is now. So in the spirit of caveat emptor I activated the reanimator, topped off the master feeder tank with an extra jot of happy juice, said a prayer to the Lucky Madonna, took one last look at the manual, held my breath for the required seventy-two seconds and pulled the activation lever. Then I pulled up a chair and waited.
That was six days ago and I'm still waiting for something to appear in the tickertape output slot. Out of frustration I re-read the last twelve chapters in my Scrivener file this morning, fixed a few obvious gaffes and decided to just go ahead and declare the first draft complete at 115,000 words. Wouldn't it be fun if "The End" actually meant it was done? At least the 'real fun' can now begin. But not today. Next week. Maybe. ~ ETE
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November 10, 2017
THE LAST LONELY SCENE
Its owners call this place the Treehouse at the End of the World. It's perched on the edge of a cliff in Ecuador. And yes, it really has a swing. One of the ongoing characters in the Last Nevergate Chronicles (I'm not saying who) saw a vid of that place in the St Coriander Library not too long ago. Somebody in red was fearlessly swinging that swing out over the yawning gulf. My character decided it was where she wanted to go when the story was finally over and she could collect her unemployment benefits. I had to tell her that she needed to re-read her contract.
She said she's temperamentally unsuited to the reading of fine print and that I, as her creator, should know this even better than she does. So she organized a meeting of every character still alive at this late date in the story. For a moment I felt trapped in a National Football League nightmare where I was the team owner who referred to 'his' players as prison inmates. But the meeting went surprisingly well, perhaps because no attorneys, mediators or arbitrators were allowed. The only story outsider present was my accountant, who verified that my hourly rate for keyboarding the entire epic was exactly the same rate the characters were making.
A hush fell over the room. "Really?" said more than one at exactly the same instant.
"Really," said I. "We're all swinging on the same swing here." I then floated the following proposal: I will consult with each of them and keep their thoughts in mind while I write the last lonely scene. Then when it's all totally baked, edited, tweaked and tossed out to the readers of the world, we can all pile into the real last Nevergate and visit yon treehouse for a swinging cast party. Tumultuous applause ensued.
The last lonely scene has begun. Look out, Ecuador. ~ ETE
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September 5, 2017
THANK YOU LUKIEN AZGOOD!
So what if he was only born yesterday? So what if he has marginal prestidigitory talents and practices hero worship? All such negatories to the side, Junior Spellfellow Lukien Azgood had the chutzpah to finagle his way onto the set during a chaotic scene yesterday. He tapped the Chronicler on the shoulder and said, "Hey, you think you could use me for something? I'm only a rookie here, but from what I can see there's a missing element in this scene. A particular knack. Mine's not too glamorous and you probably haven't even heard of it. But probably none of your readers have either. And I've always wanted to be in a book with cool magic in it. And I'll work for nothing just to get my foot in the book. And I won't make a fuss about not having a bigger part. And I promise I won't flub my lines any more often than anybody else in your cast does."
I hired him on the spot. You gotta like anybody who can shamelessly start that many consecutive sentences with "And." Besides, how could I pass up a deal like that? And oddly enough, Lukien reminded me to remember to put Lysheem's famous Triplehorn Helmet* in the slam-bam windup.
Truth is, this novelistic nonsense could go on forever if it wasn't for unplotted walk-ons like Lukien Azgood. Being more than ready to wrap up The Ashes of Madonna 13, I hereby make prodigious expressions of gratitude to Lukien Azgood for getting past Security and onto the set at just the write moment. ~ ETE
* Image above is an unofficial, unauthorized artist's conception of Lysheem's actual Triplehorn Helmet residing in a secure vault at the Transpoint Independent Archive.
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August 20, 2017
Today, for excellent personal reasons, I found myself curious about how long it took J.R.R. Tolkien to complete his 525,000-word± epic of epics to the nth power, The Lord of the Rings. Do you have a guess? Mine was 12 years. The answer according to Michael Martinez in the Middle-earth & J.R.R. Tolkien Blog is pretty much, "it depends." But he gives a range to "it depends": 11 years to "semi-final draft of the main narrative to about 17 years from start to first edition publication in 1955. But it didn't end there. There were several revised editions and he continued to make changes until his death in 1973 at the age of 81. So much for the idea of writing a novel and moving on. Sometimes long, complex sagas take up residence inside your head and just won't leave you alone. Ever. Tolkien's LOTR trilogy evidently lived inside Tolkien's head and demanded changes for 35 years, the better part of half his life.
This is my favorite Tolkien picture. My first year in college I had a pipe like that and I confess it did absolutely nothing for my prowesses, suckage of suckages. And I had such high expectations for a high correlation between pipe smoking, excellent grades and carloads of excellent young ladies fawning over me. Sigh. Maybe if the taste of pipe smoke was even in the same ballpark as the aroma I could have at least given myself a decent shot at mouth cancer by age; 60, but no-o-o-o-o-o.
Now that we're done with that, I can thank the month-long writerly institution called Camp Nanowrimo (July 1-31) for prompting me to dive into the onerous task of rewriting and editing the three volumes of The Last Nevergate Chronicles that were supposedly baked. Took a couple extra weeks of August to complete that task, so now I can get back to the 95% complete fourth volume first draft, which during July went on a diet and shared some of its original heft with book three, which shared some of its original heft with book two. With any luck at all I'll beat Tolkien's 17 years from beginning to first edition publication of the entire saga. Or not. And does it matter? ~ ETE
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May 30, 2017
ASHES AND GRASS.
I've been taking a little writing break, mostly thanks to other urgencies, like spring finally starting to show up here in the Northwest. That means the canary grass grows in great daily leaps, sometimes as much as three or four inches a day. Leave it too long and you can lose whole chapters in there. As any writer with multiple acres of grass knows, this means it's time to limber up all the grass cutting implements and get busy outside before too many turns of phrase are consumed by voracious verdure.
Today I took a break from mowing to think about the dog. We have this new dog named Cinder, a factoid that has nothing to do with this post at all. Except that her name brings to mind another frequent outcome of fiery events, to wit, ashes…stuff that's often associated with both combustion and the endings of things. A lot has happened in the 25,000 words since the last post and these happenings pointed me to a possibly more apropos title. So today I cranked up Photoshop and designed a tentative cover for the new title.
This just in: the new riding mower has a flat tire already, so tomorrow I can maybe get in a few new words while it's getting fixed, all the time wishing that words would grow as fast and steady as canary grass. ~ ETE
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February 20, 2017
THE END IS NEAR. REALLY. I THINK.
Ah, 2016. Rest in peace. Really. How could 2017 not be better? No elections, for one thing. So no need to get all wound up and off one's feed over what I usually realize too late is just an elaborate circus with clown car demolition derbies, gaslighting booths and puppet shows…not to forget the manure-shoveling competitions.
For me, an even better thing about 2017 is that I really think I'm getting to the very end of the Last Nevergate Chronicles. No really. I am. But you know how endings are when you're spinning a tale with a lot of threads. They're hard. But they're also fun. In my case part of the fun is because the last book is turning out in ways I could never have imagined when (in all my ignorance) I began writing the first book. In 2005 I made an attempt at putting a synopsis for a trilogy on paper, but hindsight informs me I would have better spent the time actually just letting the characters go at it. Trust the characters. Leastways that's what the newsletters from the Amalgamated Guild of Fictional Personas are always harping on.
In the August entry below, I went out on a limb and figured out I was about 30K words shy of having a complete draft. Wrong, of course, but not supercalifragilistically wrong. But who cares anyway? It's not like my publisher is going to fire me if I don't submit a draft next week, which is one of the great things about ironclad uncontracts. Trust me on that.
Can I get back to tying threads together now? Thank you. ~ ETE
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August 1, 2016
THANKS TO CAMP NANOWRIMO…AND PANTSING
Imagine me jumping up and down, applauding myself as though my team had just won the SuperBowl, making a range of "yeah baby" gestures and shouting "epic win" over and over. Then imagine me cool, calm and collected, acting like writing 25K words/month is an every month occurrence for me (as desirable as that might be). I'm thinking about such trifles today, the end of my second National Novel Writing Month event. This one allowed participants the luxury of setting their own goal and their target word count. I decided to throw 25,000 words in the direction of The Ghost of Madonna 13 manuscript, the third novel in the Last Nevergate Chronicles that I started during the 50K words-in-a-month NaNoWriMo novel writing event of last November. Of course, things changed along the way in July.
Many Indie publishing experts opine that three 60-70K word novels in a series are more advantageous than two 90-100K novels, so this seemed an auspicious moment to reconfigure the series into four novels instead of three. I did that about mid-month, so most of the words actually went into a bucket tentatively titled The Dream of Madonna 13, which is now shy only about 30K words from being a complete draft.
As I wobble toward a twisty slam-bam finale of this epic (for me) four volume project, I'm continually surprised at what the characters want to do and how they insist on creating mysteries that have to be solved by the end of it all. Could I have outlined this in advance? Nah. Some people might, but not me. And really, why? Pantsing it is just too much fun. Thanks, characters. ~ ETE
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June 23, 2016
THREE THINGS I LEARNED DURING THIS REWRITE
Today I wrapped up the second draft of Treasure of the Holy Quincunx. The draft began at 62,966 words and ended at 67,048 while the chapter count grew from 30 to 33. Along the way the story shrank, expanded, got clarified, cleaned up, tweaked and tightened. Weak areas in the early going got bumped up in tension and drama and the high stakes fight scene near the end got revamped with improved action. It's all the usual stuff that although satisfying in the end, also feels a lot like work.
What felt less like work were the various things I learned along the way. Here are my current three favorites.
SIGMUND FREUD WAS 5'-8" TALL. He was also a habitual cigar smoker who sometimes wore those fashionable round eyeglasses that iconic intellectual types seem to favor. Not long before he died of cancer, he made this observation: "What progress we are making. In the Middle Ages they would have burned me. Now they are content with burning my books." None of that did I learn when I was an undergraduate psych major.
HYPERDENSE PHOTONS make lifelike Semblances possible. I've been featuring Semblances since 2002 and never knew this until now. Go figure. Of the Semblance characters that appear in this book, my current favorite is Darius Shakespeare, the red-headed stepchild of the more famous William.
A LINE & COPY EDITOR'S HAT is an essential piece of headgear during rewrites. Mine is exactly like the one on Freud's head, except that it's yellow.
Next step for this manuscript is to make an ebook out of it and send it off to my first reader. Gulp. ~ ETE
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June 10, 2016
INDIANA JONES? NOPE. JACK REACHER? NAW, IT'S TRAVIS ONE-SHOE!
Three months ago I finally wrapped up the first draft of Treasure of the Holy Quincunx. In accord with generally accepted practice I packed all the words in a coffee can, added a chunk of white sharp cheddar and abandoned them to three months of aging while I did other stuff. Last week I retrieved them from the can, ate the cheese in a quesadilla and dove into the first rewrite.
On the first read-though on the computer I mostly looked for typos, missing words, double words, and such. Fixing these first saves a lot of circling and attending to minutiae during the flow and continuity pass on a bound paper draft. I didn't come up with as big a haul in my error bag as I feared, which was nice. And the story still felt like a story with beginning, middle and end, and plenty of plot twisties. Plus, I still loved the main characters, Travis One-Shoe and Maya Ng. Good enough. So next I designed a new cover for the upcoming ebook, which you see here. Certainly the best so far, at least from an eyeball-grabbing and genre-telegraphing perspective. IMHO. Next is the hard part: reading like a story editor. Didn't take long after I'd started scribbling on the manuscript before certain defects in the tension department of the first few chapters leaped out at me. I'm now in the process of making fixes. With any luck I can get the first rewrite completed before I have to switch gears and slide back into The Ghost of Madonna 13, my project for Camp Nanowrimo, which starts July 1. If the amazing luck of Madonna 13 is with me, I'll get the last third of it nailed down. Somehow. Even if you're not Madonna 13, please feel free to wish me luck. ~ ETE
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March 31, 2016
Was my quickie second draft of The Mask of Madonna 13 ready for the Outside World? Probably not. But, hey, I'd plugged all the paper copy edits into my Scrivener file and I was kinda sick of looking at it on both a laptop and a bound paper draft; my eyes were ready for a different venue. So a few days ago I built an ebook in InDesign, figuring my next read would be via Kindle or iBook on my wee iPad. Now I could lie in bed and read it like a book, which lets me see the flow and continuity better. And make notes without having to pickup a pen or pencil. Naturally, when I've gone to the trouble of making it into something that feels exactly like a 21st century book, there's a huge temptation to crank up my courage and send it to somebody else. Enter my trusty First Reader.
I'm not sure why surrealism symbolizes the mysterious act of handing a piece of writing off to my First Reader. I don't look like the guy in the picture and neither does my first reader. But he's a great (and fast) first reader who always sees a book in ways I haven't…or couldn't. And being schooled in NLP, he's masterful at delivering big picture critiques in palatable and encouraging ways. Which are things I'm absorbing right now.
Thank you, First Reader. ~ ETE
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March 18, 2016
GRATEFUL [TO THE] DEAD
There's a line from Gabe Chouinard's January Magazine review of the hardcover Chronicler's Edition of The Luck of Madonna 13 (way back in 2002) that still kicks my sorry ass: "[Ellison] is able to weave lucid prose around ideas that are so profoundly bizarre, Jack Vance would scratch his head in awe." Chouinard exaggerates, of course: Jack Vance (one of my scifi heroes) could kick my bizarreness butt any year of his long life. Still, thanks for the kind thoughts, Gabe.
As I was taking a pencil to my long-awaited (at least by me) first draft of the Luck sequel yesterday, I was reminded just how much pleasure I get out of making silly, bizarre shit up and trying to make it sound plausible. Which got me thinking about Val LeClercq.
Back in high school, Val LeClercq could make up persuasive, plausible answers to any question you could throw at him, whether he knew anything about it or not. On the spot, real time, no hesitation, straight face. That's Grade AAA bullshitting. I didn't know Val well, but I alway admired him for that talent and tried my best — which was none too good — to emulate him. I lost track of him after graduation, but figured he'd end up in marketing or politics.
Yesterday I decided to see what Google knew of him…and was shocked to learn he had passed away in 2005, a couple years after retiring from the University of Texas English Department where he'd been an Associate Professor. Evidently he was known for research into problems in methodology of literary scholarship. Whew. Not marketing, not politcs, but methodology of literary scholarship. I couldn't have gotten much wronger if I'd devoted my entire life to it. Doesn't mean I'm not grateful to the dead, tho. Thanks, Val. ~ ETE
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March 16, 2016
DRAFTED AT 13
I have this new ritual for times like today when I complete the first draft of a novel on a rainless day here on the wet side of the Cascades. I fire up the laser printer and bind up a copy of the draft complete with the latest cover design. Then I set it outside so the sun can look fondly upon it and the new grass can feel all 83,214 words of its heft. Then I let the iPhone in on the action to shoot it and send its happy digits through the ether to this computer.
This invigorating ritual has happened exactly once so far: today. Perhaps fittingly, today's completed draft was for The Mask of Madonna 13, which has only been brewing for thirteen years. So sooner rather than later, Book One in the Last Nevergate Chronicles — The Luck of Madonna 13 — will have some company. Will that be a Whew Moment or what? Meanwhile, I can sit back with my bound draft and the handiest mechanical pencil and make the poor unsuspecting draft pay for its typos and clumsies and gaffes in continuity and character arc and dramatics and all that other stuff that the demons stick in there when I'm not looking. Even better, I can put #amrewriting in my tweets for a while. Good thing I like rewriting. ~ ETE
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March 11, 2016
I thought that actually getting to the long overdue end of The Treasure of the Holy Quincunx yesterday would be a bigger rush than it turned out to be. But maybe the God of Rushes was taking a nap at the time. Or maybe is was a big day for first drafts of novels coming to an end. Either way, I'm guessing it was the God of Rushes who hooked me up with the God of Flying Dreams for all that effortless soaring I did last night. Whatever gods ye may be, thanks for that.
My traditional ceremony upon completing a draft is to put the words into an empty 3 lb. coffee can with a lump of good extra sharp cheddar and let them age together until just the right degree of manuscript ripeness is achieved. Minimum ripening is a month; maximum in my experience, is about three months if you want to avoid the transfer of too many pungencies from the cheese to the draft. So I got up early today, performed the ritual and started to totally forget about that draft by immediately taking up another overdue-for-finishing manuscript. Alas, my forgetting didn't get off to a great start, thanks to a mysteriously anonymous email that arrived around noon. All it had in it was this Uncle Sam image. Maybe you need more evidence of pervasive snooping by alphabet agencies in order to believe it's really happening, but as of today, not me. ~ ETE
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February 21, 2016
No, it's not Wednesday. And I won't be talking about either camels or sex in this post, so do not — I repeat with emphasis — DO NOT think about either of those humpish things. Except for the picture of a beautiful desert sky, this is a totally camel free post. This is about that old chestnut, "getting over the hump." When I wondered as to its origin, the best I could find on short notice was this from Dictionary.com:
A meaning attested from 1901 is "mound in a railway yard over which cars must be pushed," which may be behind the figurative sense of "critical point of an undertaking" (1914).
Not wanting to spend all day on this, I successfully refused to wonder why railroad yards would have mounds that required cars to be pushed over them. But the railroading image did make me realize (at least in the writing of The Treasure of the Holy Quincunx) that the critical point of an undertaking can be a moving target. This project was supposed to be a 20K word freebie novella. But the critical point of finding an ending escaped me and kept escaping until the story arrived at 57K. But I've got it now…and I didn't even have to think it: my protagonist, Travis One-Shoe, came up with it while spinning a web of bullshit trying to provoke an antagonist into a fight.
Contrary to my pantser nature, I'd been trying to outline the climax chapter and the denouement yet again, but that kind of linear thinking hadn't quite gotten me over the hump. I should've just trusted Travis, who is nothing if not nonlinear. I apologized profusely for witless authorial behavior and offered to buy him a Bittah Blue, which he accepted. They've got these great tankards at the Falling Frog Pub in St Coriander that make me want to down more than my usual single brew limit. One-Shoe is already on his third, but he's the kind of character who can drink me under the table any day of the week. And he doesn't have to worry about getting his typer's license revoked. ~ ETE
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February 4, 2016
THE 98 THINGS
Although marketing pays my bills, close to zero marketing currently gets directed toward my own novels. Actually, that's not mere laziness: I blame it on some marketing advice from a bestselling legacy and indie novelist: if your're an indie author, fugeddaboudit…until you've got five or six novels under your belt. His arguments made sense to me as an indie author and businessguy, so I keep pushing my Inner Marketer back into its untidy little compartment and focus on wrapping up my fiction WIP. That doesn't mean I don't have a vast marketing to do list, it just means I'm not checking off any boxes at the moment.
Meanwhile, the family's most successful novelist is currently in Maniacal Marketer Mode. That's my daughter Jan Ellison, whose Random House trade paperback edition of her acclaimed first novel, A Small Indiscretion, is being released on February 9. I've been helping with the launch prep, which naturally covers all sorts of marketing ground. Yesterday, she sort of tongue-in-cheekishly sent me a link to a helpful article by Diana Urban, a BookBub marketing guru: 98 Book Marketing Ideas that Can Help Authors Increase Sales. Jan's sly comment under the link was "don't forget to also put dinner on the table every night, make sure your kids get into college, pick the nits from their heads, and, oh yeah, write your next book." That should give you a clue that Jan's a multimom, a condition that Annie Black, the protagonist of A Small Indiscretion also shares, not-so-oddly.
Jan spent five years in charge of marketing for a Silicon Valley financial software startup a couple decades ago, so she knows the drills. And she's a charger. She brought me in to help with branding, promo and website stuff just before the hardcover launch a bit over a year ago. Since then, it's been fascinating — and valuable — to see the default marketing and promotion routines of an elephantine legacy publisher. And also to see how hard an enterprising author still has to work. Yikes! For some fascinating, behind-the-scenes insights, I highly recommend visiting her website and signing up for her newsletter, True Stories from a First-Time Novelist. Forgive my redundancy, but I highly recommend it. You can click the image or sign up from any page on her website.
Yesterday's first glance at Urban's 98 ideas earned a TL;DR from me. This morning I made myself actually read it while consuming a hearty repast of oats, berries and coffee, the perfect accompaniment for too-long lists. After the first read, I found myself wondering how Jan's activities stacked up against the BookBub list, so I went through it again with this in mind. Wow! Although BookBub's list seemed aimed at Indie published authors, she's nailed most of the items. Double wow!
Made me happy to still be in content mode…and the 52,065 words from NaNoWriMo moved me a lot closer to being able to move into marketing mode, build a new website, etc. Am I looking forward to that? Nah. Maybe I'll just stay in content mode. ~ ETE
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November 27, 2015
NOT THE WAR, BUT AT LEAST A BATTLE
The fog clears, the scales fall, the world reappears. DRAT! I hit the 50,000 word mark this morning and the peppy NaNoWriMo website stuck its neck out and validated that I was clever enough to submit 50K words of something. Then it told me I'm a winner. And it even let me customize a WINNER certificate for my personal aggrandizement. So much niceness all in one day.
The only bummer is that my "winning" 50K words ain't near enough to be the novel called The Ghost of Madonna 13. So it's winning a battle, not the war. Good start though. And really, I'm going to miss all the daily forays into the new places the characters sent me on this third leg of the Last Nevergate Chronicles. Since the series is mostly set in future versions of the vast and thinly populated "Navajo country" of New Mexico and Arizona, I kept wishing I knew how to channel the late Tony Hillerman. Lacking that I had to rely on my memories of past driving expeditions and buckets of hours hobnobbing with Google Maps and prowling the amazing imagery that's available on the Intertube these days. Truth is, a month long vacation from reality is a treat and a gift.
So thanks NaNoWriMo for a wondrous 27 days of grind-it-out seat-of-the-pantsing. Next year? A definite maybe on that. ~ ETE
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October 31, 2015
HOW A NEW DREAM FIRED UP AN OLD IDIOM
In a dream last night I was watching an old Saturday Night Live episode where the psychopath Mr Hand signs the hapless Mr Bill up for NaNoWriMo. As expected, things didn't so go well for Mr Bill. So I wake up sweating and remember that a couple days ago my very own Inner Mr Hand signed me up to participate in National Novel Writing Month this year. I tried talking him into unsigning me, but he just laughed. Next, I faked a bout of delirium tremens, but Mr Hand wasn't having that either. "Hey, why not live dangerously for a month? You're not that big a chicken shit are you? And I've worked out a great plan for you…."
So what's Mr Hand's cruel plan for me? Simple. Just have 50,000 words of the third book in The Last Nevergate Chronicles cranked out by the end of November. When I whined that going on a research expedition to a sacred mountain somewhere would make more sense, he put on this snarkabilly sneer and said, "Sacred shmacred! Hey, what's the big deal? I know for a fact that you've been dragging a title around for years [The Ghost of Madonna 13]. So use it, for chrissakes! Title like that, book oughta just write itself."
Yeah, right. But just try telling a psycho like Mr Hand that he's up to his eyeballs in excreta. And I have had that title for a long time….
It was right about then that the dog ambled into my studio to get out of the rain. "So Cisco. Got any ideas for how to spend my last afternoon before NaNoWriMo starts?" He gave me his usual blank stare…the one that makes me start looking around for metaphors that he might have spouted if he were a metaphor kind of dog. Or if not a metaphor, at least an idiom. That's when his tail stopped wagging and just stood straight out like it was clamped in the air by an invisible vise while his body started wagging back and forth. Wow! With that idiom for inspiration, I spent the rest of the day designing a cover for The Ghost of Madonna 13…which inevitably led to redesigning the covers for The Mask of Madonna 13 (Book Two) and The Luck of Madonna 13 (Book One) so they'd all work better as a set.
Sometimes, all it takes is an idiom. Thank you Cisco. ~ ETE
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October 11, 2015
END OF THE LINE. NOT.
Ah, endings. Books gotta have them, right?
I just reread the September 6 entry where I made a confident assertion about The Mask of Madonna 13; I was one chapter away from "having a draft in the can." I should know better than to tempt the 1200 like that. A month and change later I've written four new chapters and I'm still a couple away from that elusive first draft. So much for the plan of launching/relaunching five novels all at once in 2015. This is where I remind myself that wishes, hopes and dreams are not quite the same as plans. Truth is, I'm planning to make a Real Plan…just as soon as Mask and Treasure finally decide to end themselves. Go ahead, chuckle. And anyway, the gurus at Random House say mid-February is a good time to launch books, which is when the trade paperback edition of my daughter Jan's acclaimed (I love that word) debut novel, A Small Indiscretion, will be released. So maybe….
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September 6, 2015
CHANNELING TRICKS: THANK YOU MADAME RUBY
Yeah, it's been a while, but I've been busy (surely you've never heard that one). Nonetheless, here's an update.
I couldn't have written The Luck of Madonna 13 without Dr Lavendra Cortioli's massive history of the IsoTown Movement, Oddballs, Cults & Worldchangers. Over the years, I've found myself increasingly curious about one item of fiction she mentions in her chapter on St Coriander: The Treasure of the Holy Quincunx by Ace Falken (aka Timothy Falkenridge), a 2241 so-called dark mystery novel that originally kicked off a Pulp Revival series called Flickers in the Attic.
A couple years ago a generous soul gave me a Skype session with a psychic who calls herself Madame Ruby (yes, this is how she chooses to present herself on Skype). During this session I made a jocular reference to my annoyance at not being able to access books that are written in the future. "There is a way," she said, "if you are are capable of patient diligence…and can afford the connection fees." Well me and Patient Diligence couldn't be any tighter if we'd squeezed out of the birth canal at the exact same moment. The fees could be a problem, though. In fact, they're the main reason that the process of channeling The Treasure of the Holy Quincunx via Madame Ruby's Ether Channel has taken so long. Channeling and transcribing whole novels is not cheap.
Another reason it's taken a while is that I've simultaneously been plugging away on The Mask of Madonna 13 (book 2 in the Last Nevergate Chronicles) and am only a chapter from having a draft in the can. And, since Clownbox Press has obtained the rights to publish Treasure in the present day, I've also been working on cover designs for it, always a good way for me to escape the tyranny of channeled transcriptions. With only a few more chapters of Treasure of the Holy Quincunx to channel, switching into Design Mode is not a pure escape. Actually, I've gotten more excited about this book than I expected. Travis One-Shoe is turning out to be a pretty cool protagonist, sort of what a Jack Reacher of the future might be like if he grew up in a 23rd century neo-Navajo orphanage instead of a military family. And the story casts a sideways light on the IsoTown of St Coriander, the Nevergate Era, the Nirvana Exodus and the behavioral quirks of CIs. You're going to like it; just be thankful that you don't have to spend endless hours plugged into earbuds (or vice-versa) transcribing scratchy audio from the Ether Channel in order to experience the hair-raising story of an illegal raid on a town full of ghosts. Yep, I'm the nice one.
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July 2, 2015
WELL ISN'T THIS NICE. AGAIN!
Yes, it is nice to win awards for one's creative efforts. In fact, it is so nice that it sometimes triggers spontaneous displays of exuberance, like running naked through the lawn sprinkler at the age of Way-Too-Old. Actually, it's been hot enough here in the PNW that I might have seriously thought about that if I only had a lawn. So I've had to settle for drinking straight icewater and expressing my sincere gratitude to the Woo-Woo Gods for whatever role they might or might not have had in this award*. What makes me suspect some degree of woo-woo-ness here is that this second book of the year award for The Luck of Madonna 13 has come exactly 13 years after the first, which arrived in 2002. Is that the luck (note lowercase) of Madonna 13 in action or what?
What makes it especially cool to me is that the Foreword Reviews people gave this award to a book with a cliffhanger ending that's part of a still unfinished series. That (and the fact that I now have some savvy Beta Reader volunteers for book two) made me feel guilty enough to plunge again into book two's first draft exactly yesterday. Anybody who downplays the motivational import of guilt wasn't raised Presbyterian. Kidding.
But that's not all. To celebrate the new award (bronze for the trade paperback/ebook revised edition, not the gold earned by the fancier hardcover Chronicler's Edition of yore) I'm putting the finishing touches on a tradepaper version of the Chronicler's Edition that will include a bunch of cool goodies that won't be in the ebook. I am the nice one. Stay tuned.
* For whatever reason, I am reminded yet again of the "Possibly Perfect Liturgy" (sometimes known as the "Agnostic's Prayer") from Roger Zelazny's wonderful Creatures of Light and Darkness:
"Insofar as I may be heard by anything, which may or may not care what I say, I ask, if it matters, that you be forgiven for anything you may have done or failed to do which requires forgiveness. Conversely, if not forgiveness but something else may be required to insure any possible benefit for which you may be eligible after the destruction of your body, I ask that this, whatever it may be, be granted or withheld, as the case may be, in such a manner as to insure your receiving said benefit. I ask this in my capacity as your elected intermediary between yourself and that which may not be yourself, but which may have an interest in the matter of your receiving as much as it is possible for you to receive of this thing, and which may in some way be influenced by this ceremony. Amen."
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June 20, 2015
NEW UPHOLSTERY, SORT OF
People with sofas sometimes revamp their upholstery. At least they used to. Authors and publishers sorta do the same with books. And more often now than they used to thanks to ebooks and print-on-demand tech. Yours truly recently decided to rename, recover and relaunch the two current books in what was originally called the Hallah Saga, a YA scifi/fantasy series featuring an orange-tressed heroine named Glix Larue. Speaking of Glix, she used to spell her name Leroux, but this confounded the tongues of some readers…and also a best-selling genre novelist who thought the original spelling would inhibit buyers from squandering their hard-earned starglass on a heroine with a twongue-tisting Gallic surname. Yeah, I'm stubborn, but I occasionally let down my guard and allow my judgment to be influenced by common sense. In this case, I went all extreme and took the heroine's name completely off the covers.
The series title is now Falling Sky instead of the Hallah Saga, which may or may not boost the chances of evoking a spike of curiosity. The new, more evocative titles and cover designs are as you see here (still subject to change, of course). The author/designer and the local Unfocus Group think that these titles and covers kick butt over the original versions. They might even do a better job of reflecting the story itself. Sometimes that's a good thing in a cover, sometimes it isn't.
Since neither of these books was originally given any kind of launch, this time around I'm going to mend my ways. What will that mean exactly? Dunno: still thinking about that part. As the song says, "it's complicated." ~ ETE
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March 17, 2015
THE LUCK OF MADONNA 13 IS A FINALIST
Funny things sometimes show up in my emailbox. The latest funny thing was an email today from Foreword Reviews letting me know that the new edition of The Luck of Madonna 13 made the cut and is a finalist in the 2015 IndieFab awards. Well that was nice, particularly since this is one of the prestigious awards just for books published by independent publishers (called small presses, university presses, etc. back in the day).
Was it a coincidence that on this very day I've been working on a cover for a new trade paperback Chronicler's Edition (what the original hardcover was called back in 2002) to be released around the time of the upcoming release of Book Two (see below)? Possibly. But I hear there are people who believe that there's no such thing as a coincidence. Me, I don't care one way or the other. But here's the latest version of the new cover as approved by the design committee of two. Knowing how these things go, it probably won't be the final version.
For anyone (perish the thought) who didn't get a copy of the original Chronicler's Edition, you may not know it had some controversial features. One of these was the future history section I put in front of the actual narrative. I removed if from the 2013 and 2014 new and improved editions and put it in a separate free PDF called the The Chronicler's Compendium along with a bunch of other backstory stuff that was on the book's old website. Some of this stuff will be back in the trade paperback Chronicler's Edition ii, but it'll be back in the back, not the front. That way nobody will think they are in any way obliged to read it. I'm the nice one, aren't I? ~ ETE
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March 6, 2015
THE MASK OF MADONNA 13 GETS DRAFTED…AND COVERED
In celebration of the virtual completion of the long-awaited (at least by the me, the author) second book in the Last Nevergate Chronicles, I designed a real (vs a placeholder) cover. Both the story and the cover took me into unexpected dark territory and I'm sorta glad to climb up out of there for a while. The 62,000-word almost-a-complete-draft manuscript is now locked into the Aging Box, where it will, I hope, mature like a fine cheese before I fire up the Slice & Dicer, aka the Rewrite Machine.
While the manuscript has been sitting in the Aging Box I've been getting a marvelous education about how the Other Half (aka Legacy Publishing) does a book launch. This bit of schooling comes as a result of being enlisted to assist my talented, energetic and maniacally determined eldest daughter Jan Ellison with the launch and early marketing for her first novel, A Small Indiscretion (see my pre-pub review below), released in hardcover by Random House on January 20. Will any of this education be of use to her indie published father? He can hope, can't he? Will some of Jan's boundless energy rub off via some Transdimensional Quasi-osmotic Energy Mimicry process, too? Alas, probably not. Oh well. ~ ETE
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January 6, 2015
A SMALL INDISCRETION BY JAN ELLISON: A REVIEW
I got a copy of the hardcover edition from the author in exchange for nothing at all: it was a Christmas gift. Least I could do is write an honest review, right?
Because I'm inclined toward contrarianism, I'm going to put my bottom line at the top. As product-hawkers say in the fine print, your reading experience may differ, but for me, A Small Indiscretion is a thoroughly engaging, top-drawer first novel by a smart, classy writer. And it’s even better the second time around.*
Some books, I read once and that’s enough. Even excellent, 5-star books by excellent authors. No matter how satisfying the book was on that first reading, I just know I’ll never read it again. Others, I’ll read over and over, although I usually let some water flow under the bridge between readings.
In the case of A Small Indiscretion not so much water has flowed between first and second readings. A day. And I have to confess that I so far in this second reading am still in awe of Annie Black, the protagonist/narrator, and by extension, author Jan Ellison. More so, even. Some of the awe has to do with the raw, almost painful honesty that comes through in Annie’s descriptions of her own frailties and misadventures, and her evolution as a human being over the two decades spanned by the story.
But that’s not all of it. A particular treat for me was descriptions of places I’ve visited and more that I haven’t. I got to experience places in London and Paris, for example, in ways I probably wouldn’t have even if I’d been standing right next to Annie Black. There’s a simultaneous simplicity and richness in the writing that’s almost paradoxical. As a writer, it's hard not to appreciate that. It's also hard not to appreciate the unobtrusive insights on life and love that add cognitive weight to the narrative. Annie Black is a character who sees below the surface and Jan does a sleek job of inserting Annie's hard won wisdom here and there with grace and a gentle touch.
I also found myself appreciating Annie Black's family. Daughters Clara and Polly acted like real kids, not afterthoughts or cardboard stand-ins for flesh-and-blood offspring. A minor appreciation, maybe, but a novel that can be enjoyed time and again is made up of many such minor appreciations.
On the first reading I was pulled through book by the mysteries. They sucked me right in and kept me turning pages until I got to the last page (after a satisfying denouement). Although no bloody corpse appeared on the first page, I didn't find it the least bit slow starting and read it in two sittings with only an interruption for sleep. One of the mysteries I had to have solved was whether or not Annie was going to eventually give her intensely personal epistle to her young adult son; some of the biologically graphic disclosures might be called "too much information" in today's vernacular, after all. As with any novel with mysteries, I had my guesses; some turned out correct, some not-so-much. I like that in a novel.
As a fellow novelist I'm always looking for storytelling chops I might be able to steal or at least emulate. So this second time I around I’m reading more for appreciation of the author’s storytelling craft, how the hooks were planted, hints dropped and the pieces of the puzzle assembled at just the right times.
I’m also allowing myself to just soak in Jan's narrative voice and her command of nuance: in other words, the color and depth of her writing, the authentic ring of the dialog, stuff like that. And I’m taking it slower, like the way my mother always said I should eat. Not wolfing it down, but letting my literary tastebuds capture every bit of savor in the language.
So far, this second reading is even more satisfying than the first. A good sign.
*Confession: I've actually read iterations this novel more than twice already. Way more than twice. Except it had other titles before the wise folk at Random House scooped it up. Being a Very Early Reader is one of the benefits of being related to the author by birth. ~ ETE
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December 10, 2014
TIME TO TANGO WITH TILLIE & BIG-HEAD
You really want to be an early adopter for this "sorta-kinda christmassy" fable. That way you can kick back and read it on December 24th and see if you can stifle the urge to get out that can of Raid under the sink. Just kidding about the Raid. The PDF is only ten pages of big whimsical type, so it's not like I'm asking you to speed-read a novel or anything. Oh, and it's got pictures, too. So even better than reading it by yourself would be reading it out loud to some rapt kidlets.
A free PDF copy of Tango Tillie & Big-Head Billy is my whimsical holiday gift to the world this year, so please take me up on it. Then you can play Santa yourself by sending free copies to your friends, family, co-workers, etc. And pretty soon you could all be talking sympathetically about a termite for the first time in the recorded history of human-insect relations. Wouldn't that be fun!
Drop into Tillie and Big-Head's page and download a copy. And be sure to have a danciful 2014 holiday season. ~ ETE
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December 5, 2014
LAST DAYS TO GET THE LUCK OF MADONNA 13 FOR 99¢!
The Luck of Madonna 13 was featured today on Ereader News Today and an amazing thing happened: ebooks got bought. Dozens of them. By actual readers. Sales records are falling like digital dominoes. Seriously, that's a big thrill. Lloyd Lofthouse's blog said they generated sales for him and I figured I'd give them a shot. So far, they're the only similar service that's actually generated sales. So cool.
"WHAT A WILD RIDE" wrote one recent reviewer on Goodreads. If you haven't gotten on the Madonna 13 bandwagon and followed the too-lucky Sixteener Glendyl Fenderwell on her thrill ride of a Quest for the last Nevergate, you've only got until midnight Sunday, December 7, to steal a Kindle copy for 99¢. So do it. Here's the link to the Amazon page where you can get your very own Kindle copy. Wait no longer! I'm grinning, by the way. Fun to grin. ~ ETE
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November 18, 2014
NOT FOR NANOWRIMO, BUT SO WHAT?
Sorta feel like Stephen King and his Gunslinger series (don't I wish). Took him a long time to bang out the second book. And it's taken me a long time to bang out the second book in the Last Nevergate Chronicles. But some very kind reviewers of The Luck of Madonna 13 (Book One) recently said they were anxiously awaiting Book Two. Thank you Kind Reviewers. I'm now up to about 40,000 words, which I figure is about 5,000 words shy of the halfway point. For me, that's pretty cool because it sat at 13,000 for a decade. To put even more pressure on little old me, I designed a graphic tonight that may or may not be part of the cover for The Mask of Madonna 13. Note that I even put a hashtag on it. Wow, am I, like totally on it, Dude/Dudette? ~ ETE
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November 6, 2014
GET THE LUCK OF MADONNA 13 FOR CHEAP!
I really, really want you to read this book. That's why I write this stuff, after all.
So, for a whole week at the beginning of December you can get a Kindle ebook edition of The Luck of Madonna 13 for ONLY 99¢. Just visit the book's Amazon Kindle page anytime between 8AM December 1 and midnight December 7, 2014 and grab yourself a copy at 75% OFF THE REGULAR $3.99 PRICE. It's a great time to give yourself an early Christmas present for next to nothing.
See why pro reviewers called it "science fiction at its best" (Heartland Reviews) and "quite wonderful" (January Magazine) and "highly imaginative" (Publishers Weekly) and "a rip-roaring good tale" (Locus Online). You can see other things they said right here. ~ ETE
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November 5, 2014
ONE THING LEADS TO ANOTHER…GIVEAWAY
Whosomever coined the insipid banality that is the headline was either really bad at arithmetic or a talking horse with blinders. Or they never tackled Indie book marketing…an enterprise that provides irrefutable proof that one thing can lead you off in a myriad of directions at once. Only with Herculean (for me) effort have I hacked the myriad into a more manageable number. Thirteen of these are the second batch of signed copies of The Luck of Madonna 13 (the all new trade paperback edition) that I'm giving away on Goodreads. Just enter between November 5 and December 7. Click on the link or the Goodreads button to get in on it!
Goodreaders who won the last batch have added some nice reviews to the other nice reviews already there on Goodreads, which you can read right here. Just imagine what fun you could have adding your very own review to these?
Yes, I'm nothing if not generous: at least as generous as that talking horse with blinders…just not as colorful. ~ ETE
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October 17, 2014
MAYBE THE COOLEST GHOSTWRITING GIG EVER
I'm guessing my fellow ghostwriters would turn chartreuse — or at least fluorescent green — with you-know-what at my snagging the co-authoring gig for Don't Call Me Kilroy. And not just because it's hugely prestigious assignment to co-write/edit the official autobiography of a 2-d brand mascot. Even better is the feelgood element: the fact that this particular mascot has created smiles and colorful experiences for millions of kids (and at the very least, smiles for adults) without even being a 3-d character; talk about overcoming huge graphic obstacles. Rex Brand of Clownbox Press was so moved by Guy Brickwall's unique story that he insisted on publishing it. Because Rex is the most generous of publishers, he is making a PDF of this handsome illustrated autobiography available as a free download.
Possibly the world's first graphic memoir, Don't Call Me Kilroy tells the true story of the birth of a genuine graphic hero and his remarkable extended family. You can read all about it exclusively on my new Ghostwriting page. And you can download it there, too. If you're not moved by the touching tale of how Guy got his mom and his remarkable relationship with his stepdad — or if not fully moved, at least experience a handful of grins somewhere along the line — Rex promises to refund your entire unpurchase price! I told you he's the generous one. Take him up on his freebie while it lasts. ~ ETE
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October 7, 2014
NEW FREE THINGS RIGHT HERE
Updating and expanding this website finally made it to the top of the stack. And who benefits? The correct answer to this question is You, Dear Reader. In addition to the secret cache of free stories in the not-so-well-hidden Orphans Eleven section and the free teaser chapters of novels, my publisher has given me permission to give away Even More Reading Matter. This is in the form of free, downloadable ebooks of (1) Bittah Blue (a Northwest brew fable that's a perfect companion to a frosty bomber of your favorite Pacific Northwest brew, and; (2) Naked in the Blue Jungle (the harrowing adventures of a paingame testpilot). Naked used to be priced on Amazon at 99¢ but after thousands of destitute readers begged for a lower price, Rex Brand instructed the webmaster to drop it all the way down to zip. "We'll make it up in volume," he told me. I'm still scratching my head about that.
Rex also instructed the local webmaster (aka, Yours Truly) to make it easier for Interested Souls to download The Chronicler's Compendium (still absolutely free). We don't argue with Mr Brand around here, so all is now as he commanded. All you have to do to download any of all of these items is go to the Clownbox page. For my money this is way easier than jabbing at a big red Staples Easy Button…or even filing income tax forms for your favorite multinational corporation. ~ ETE
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September 10, 2014
WE GOT ASCRIBED
One of the challenges for readers these days is to have some way of knowing which titles out of the literally millions now available are likely to be worth reading. In the "good old days" before Amazon and ebooks and high-quality Print-on-Demand (POD) technologies became the norm, the gatekeepers (literary agents and major publishers) separated the wheat from the chaff and readers got what the gatekeepers decided was wheat. In this case, "wheat" is a synonym for books they believe they can sell. Are they always right? Nah. But at the very minimum, they limited the supply of new titles. Now virtually anybody who writes a book can bypass the gatekeepers and put it out into the world. Great for we writers who have eschewed by or been passed on by the gatekeepers; not so great for readers looking for "good" reads. Reader reviews on Amazon and Goodreads and other sites can be helpful, but they can also be spoofed. So now there are new unspoofable services arising with the aim of helping to separate the "good" from the "not-so-good." They use different strategies to verify "literary quality," but the ones I know about all require some measure of "expert" validation for the books they list on their websites. One of these services is Ascribe. I am pleased to say that The Luck of Madonna 13 survived Ascribe's literary gauntlet and I can now deploy their badge of honor with reckless abandon. Thanks to Mark Randall for all his efforts in bringing Ascribe into the world. Feel free to click on the Ascribe logo to see The Luck of Madonna 13's very own page on that site. Thanks! ~ ETE
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