Thursday, December 1, 2011

Now What?

I just finished up a short story that turned into a novella. I'm not sure how that happened, but it did. Actually, it is just short of a novella, but I'm not counting. It was a monster to me. I reckon the best thing to do is let this simmer on the back burner for a few days and then approach the second draft. I hope it isn't like my other short stories where a near complete re-write seems eminent.

What else is going on? Well, I have one short story in at BCS (Beneath Ceaseless Skies) and I'm trying to figure out what to write next. I envision self-publishing a couple of projects which I would make available for free on Kindle and Nook. I'd also like to produce trade paperback versions for both projects available at a very small cost to cover printing, etc.

The first project would be a set of fantasy short stories introducing folks to my fiction. Just need one more good story to complete that set. Next would be this quasi-novella I just finished.

This past year has been a major wake-up call regarding book marketing. Writing is hard enough, but marketing is even harder. There's no real formula except for the the one you create based on your style and experience. It can be frustrating and time-consuming, but if you are passionate about your product then you will have fun doing it. If you aren't having fun marketing your product, then you may have lost your passion about that product.

Now to place my chin in my hand and contemplate what to write next.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Black Characters in Horror Movies: Do They Survive?

Last night at a Halloween party, I made many new friends, two of which were a couple of African American gentlemen. One was dressed as an undead Tupac and the other as the leader of a white power movement. Strangely, that made me a little uncomfortable but in a fun way...I think. I, on the other hand, went as a hillbilly, which wasn't too far of a stretch for me.

Our obvious affinity for Halloween was just the icebreaker we needed, and so we all started to share Halloween stories. Eventually, we ended up discussing black characters in horror movies and how they never survived the movie. A couple of us disagreed, and so they challenged us to name five horror movies where the black actor makes it to the end.

Talk about fun! As a fanatical horror movie buff, this is just the thing I love to talk about.

I rattled off three pretty quickly.

(1) The Thing
(original) : Childs (Keith David) survives.

(2) Dawn of the Dead (original) : Peter (Ken Foree) indeed escapes. Note, they wouldn't let us use the remake where Kenneth (Ving Rhames) makes it.
(3) 28 Days Later : Selena (the stunning Naomie Harris) not only makes it but kicks serious ass.

We tried Candyman, played by Tony Todd, but were not allowed that one because he was a villain. We got a good chuckle when Vampire in Brooklyn with Eddie Murphy was brought up, but we couldn't really count that one either.

BAM, (4) Blade with Wesley Snipes. And then, sadly, we got stuck for awhile. Keep in mind, the actor needed to survive the movie. I pulled out my trusty iPhone and discovered the website which gave us some ideas.

We chose (5) Gothika with Halle Berry.

Notable mentions should include Queen of the Damned where actress Aaliyah played Akasha. Although she dies at the end, it was a great role. Danny Glover in Predator II, Scatman Crothers in The Shining (although he didn't survive the movie, he does survive in the book) and Charles S. Dutton in Cat's Eye.

While still not as represented as they should be, it does appear that black actors are getting an increasing number of great roles in horror movies. I hope this is a sign that we can continue to embrace the horror genre as a way to bring people together.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

My car is a sword.

It occurred to me that writing in the traditional fantasy genre is the best vehicle for expressing my thoughts and feelings about the world. Or, at least it should be. After all, I am well-read in the genre, and I enjoy taking the simple idea of swords and sorcery and broadening it, filling it up with robust characters and new takes on magic and action sequences. It seems comfortable to me.

I imagine a lot of writers come to this realization about their genre sooner or later, but it actually dawned on me just a few days ago.

The reason I thought about this (I suspect) was because a friend recently told me they missed my "goth" stuff, which usually reflected my dry, pretentious sense of humor. When I was in "goth" mode, my characters could afford to hate the world for no apparent reason. I could develop cute, nerdy, pretentious goth girl characters. Not that I didn't write with feeling, but my writing supported the genre's stereotypes a little too much. In a sense, it was a bit like mental masturbation. Like the drum solo that never ends or the guitar player who overplays.

I've written more in the traditional fantasy genre this past year than in all the previous years put together, and I wasn't sure what drove me to it until now. When I write traditional fantasy, I worry less about the technologies involved, less about how to get my characters from here to there. Life is simpler.

Ironically, this leaves the door open for me to make things as complicated as I'd like. To me, fantasy is a more comfortable place to develop atmosphere and motivation, plot and pace. In fantasy, I seem to be able to create characters that pop and stories with layers. It all goes back to writing what you know and being comfortable expressing a full range of emotions and feelings within that realm.

Are you in the right genre?

Swords and sorcery. I'm happy to be back.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Somewhere Between Life and Death

I started a short story last Sunday evening, and I finished it two days later. The story is 4k words, inspired by the art of Storn Cook for the RogueBlade Entertainment's Stealth Challenge. The story is called The Little God.

Wish me luck!

I've never completed a short story so fast (that was so polished) in my life. I'm not sure what inspired me to knock this out other than a conversation I had with my brother just a few weeks ago. It was a heart-to-heart, just hanging out during a family gathering, talking about how we had inspired one another throughout our childhoods. Truly a relationship of great respect and love even though we are both very busy people and have little time to hang out.

Anyway, he told me I could do anything if I could just stay focused on the task at hand. Sure, that's what everyone says, but there were other things said during that conversation that bolstered his main point quite a bit. So, for me--this time--the message hit home hard.

So, I wrote and I wrote.

Now, back to the monster I'm finishing for Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Aside from the fiction, my marketing campaign for The Budget of Your Life: Breaking the Chains of Debt has begun, and I'm eagerly working with my marketing agent, Jen Shak, to get some sales rolling in.

I'll keep you posted if I discover anything worth mentioning.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

A good week, and inspiration.

After suffering from a slump the past few weeks, I seem to have pulled out of it. It is always difficult to say what causes these things, other than life happens. There has been a lot of extra curricular swimming going on, as well as a good deal of quality time spent with my better half. That can certainly keep your productivity low...but in the best possible way, of course. It is always good to live.

I'll just blame the greater part of my listlessness on some particularly stressful work days and worrying about getting my yard together, the latter of which will never be truly together. What is "together" for a yard anyway? Is your yard together when the city doesn't put a notice on your door begging you to cut your grass and pull those long-ago-dead plants? If so, I seem to be safe for the moment.

As I fought through days of un-creativity, I went to the Rasputina show in Kentucky at the legendary Southgate House. Daniel DeJesus is her latest cello player, and I purchased one of his solo CDs called "From the Subconcious." His work has lit a fire under my ass. He is an unbelievable "riffer" on the cello and has an angelic, impossibly strong voice.

It took me a minute to get used to him, but like any fine wine or rich coffee, it was well worth it. 

Friday, July 15, 2011

My Special Place

Wow, it has really been a few weeks since I posted. I'll be real honest here. When a story has me completely engaged--or otherwise kicking my ass--I have a hard time being "social." That means I may not have a FaceBook or Twitter update in a few days, or even a week. It is a bummer because then it might seem like I'm not working, but I am.

Sometimes I just have to go to my special place to make it all happen.

"Kenny, tell us, where is your special place?" OMG, I thought you'd never ask.

My special place often times is just a quiet piece of land in my own mind, a period of reflection that lasts a few days. Nothing special happens, other than I wait and try not to talk Michele's ear off. It is a very strange time, because (as a lot of writers will tell you) I feel like I should be doing something, but I'm not. It's all just stewing around in my brain. Usually, I engage in a variety of house chores or try to watch a few movies.

Eventually, something causes it to click. It could be a particularly aggravating day at work, or just being bored.

Yesterday, it was a drive to Louisville to pick up the lil' woman from the airport after her return from Florida to visit her sisters. As the bluegrass rolled by, pieces started falling into place, bad ideas were tossed aside and my confidence kicked back in. So, maybe a long drive is worth the price of gas after all.

Anyway, I have a new article up at Rogue Blades Entertainment called "Big Heroes Make Big Decisions." Check it out.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Let the world do its own spinning.

The third story I'm working this year has some dialogue that is extremely challenging. But that is a good thing. I do not particularly struggle with dialogue, but to give this story a third dimension, this part needs to be spot on.

The wild child inside me is saying to just let it flow...and it did for the most part. But it wasn't quite right until just yesterday, a testament that sometimes dialogue does take some work. Sometimes my characters are lazy, and they don't want to do the song and dance for me.

This particular character is partly E.B. Farnum (played by the great William Sanderson) from Deadwood and partly a stubborn grandfather (perhaps my own) who has watched generations of his people succumb to lawless madmen.

Here is the best of E.B. Farnum, which I think is some of the best dialogue ever written, just mesmerizing. Note, this is R-rated.

The Best of E.B. Farnum.

Do I have my work cut out for me or what?

Approaching this character, this particular piece of dialogue, I put myself into E.B.'s head and fired him up a little, just a small injection of dignity and indignation. Now, if I can just ensure it translates to the page...E.B. might say to me, "I'd hate to cripple your progress, Mr. Soward. But for a favorable recompense, perhaps I could tender a song or two."  

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Play your fantasy game, and write.

A couple of weeks ago, my writer-friend David Dalglish (author of the Half-Orc series among others) gave me a great game to play that would not interfere with my writing. Not too much, anyway.

You see, I had to give up video games five years ago due to the fact that they had completely saturated my life, causing me to become the greatest slacker this world has ever known. It was amazing that I did not lose my job. My habit? Everquest, Star Wars Galaxies and Age of Mythology. By the time it was said and done, I was in debt, had neglected all my friends and had all but given up on writing.

The best thing I ever did was quit. I subsequently killed my debt, got promoted multiple times at work and started writing again. My life turned around.

But with my first book published now, The Budget of Your Life, and my life back on track in general, I have been fiending to do some sort of gaming, conscious of the fact that anything too heavy could destroy me.

Warily, I posed the question. Is there an online game out there that is not completely devastating to one's life? David's answer, Might and Magic: Heroes Kingdoms. You can pretty much play for free (or pay a little something) and you do not need to install any special software. It is a combination SIMs and Age of Empires.

Basically, you set up a kingdom, build alliances, create cool characters and go to war. You make a few moves an then come back later to see the results. So far, it has satisfied my need to pillage things and hasn't had much of an effect on my spare time, especially my writing. It has had just enough of an effect to be fun.

Thanks a lot for the suggestion, David! your fantasy game, and write.

My creative juices are better than your creative juices.

The urge to write comes and goes. Often, it is as elusive as a bunny hopping through a field of indian grass, and at other times it is an elephant that comes into the office and sits right on top of you. And, yes, more often than not the writing is always better when the elephant does its thing, but sometimes it is a healthy exercise to go chasing the bunny.

I thought I would mentions some of the things that put me in the mood to write, whether I catch that damn bunny or not. In no specific order of importance:

1. A stressful day of work gives me the strong urge to be free, to be the one telling the story rather than someone else dictating it to me.

2. Music almost always gets me going. Specifically, dark bands. Case in point, How to Destroy Angels was tonight's special guest on the Kenny Soward Show.

3. Mid-life crisis. I try to sleep or take a nap and then wake up and realize that if I don't get up and write something now, I will never do it. Half my life is over.

4. An image or scene in my head that absolutely will not leave me alone, specifically something that is brutal or sad. What is brutal and sad to me is a subject unto itself.

5. Nothing to do for about four days. While it rarely happens, nothing like plenty of sleep and then right into the office with a coffee and a positive attitude. The day job should be far, far away.

6. Winter. While this is becoming less and less a factor--I'm becoming a hermit in the spring and summer now too--nothing like being cozy in your house while everyone is freezing outside. Strangely enough, watching Deadliest Catch has the same effect on me.

I'd love to know what gets those creative juices flowing for you. Drop me a comment!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fun with repurposing ideas.

There is a specific publication I have to be published in. Besides it being an SFWA publication, I just want to prove something to myself damn it.

Wisely, I spent a good deal of time reading up on the types of stories they publish, a great time saver. This in itself was a big change from my younger days when I used to randomly send pieces to anyone who took them. It is hard enough to get published without being completely off the mark with regards to content.

Then I had to think up a story that would work well with this specific style. When I couldn't think of anything, I started going back through stories I'd written ages ago but had never published. For one, I forgot how many stories I'd actually written. And two, many of them were pretty good.

One in particular was a western (in the vein of Deadwood) about a town run by lawless madmen, and a widows revenge on their leader. I might have gotten it to work with this specific publication, but it would definitely have needed a fantasy twist...and the story was much more of a horror story.

So...I took the entire town and plopped it on huge tank-like tracks and sent if off into the wasteland, and there sits the story. This really opened things up creatively, and allowed me to add some cool elements. I'm 1/3 through, and I'll keep you posted!

You guys ever re-purpose stories like that?

Thursday, May 19, 2011

One good story for every two written.

Lately, as my friend J.M. Martin will attest, it usually takes me a few tries before I get a story right. And even then, it is hardly right. But it is at least good enough to submit by that time. Unfortunately, the only way to shorten that time--to really get to the meat of the story after some lengthy experimentation--is just to practice and get better.

A recent example. I labored over a 7,000 + word story that started out with a group of adventurers standing in front of a cave, about to embark upon some dungeon capers. It wasn't a horrible idea, specifically because I wanted to work on character interaction, dialogue and flow. It was an exciting story with the typical dungeon humor, two battles and an interesting ending.

But something bothered me about the story. For one, the length. Nothing wrong with a longer story--if you can get past the cliche premise--but it just seemed like I was beating around the bush about something. My character interaction was fun, but it just did not seem did not make me feel anything. One of the characters screamed at me "you've only just scratched my surface!"

Who am I not to listen?

So I started again...right in the middle of the story, with a burst of revelation from one of the characters. I then found it necessary to have only one battle sequence, and my screaming character was next appeased. I ended up with a new story that was around 3,500 words; it was more serious and more real to me.

I realized then that the original story was simply an exercise to get to know my characters better. What a way to do that! Hours and hours spent writing only to realize that it needed to be redone.

The lesson is that there is nothing wrong with spending some time with the story in your head before spouting words. Mediate on it, sleep on it, or do whatever it takes to sniff out the real story.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Facebooking our virtual tombstones?

Facebook is like the iPod shuffle feature. One minute you are just cruising along, and then BAM, a crazy friend requests hits you smack in the face. Sometimes, it's a blast from the past, someone you liked or at least got along with who evokes old memories that may have dropped on your brain's selective retention list.

The most fascinating aspect is that as we get older, people on our friends list will start to pass away (some may have already), yet their pages will remain as a tribute to their memories; virtual tombstones, if you will.

Right now, sites of those who have passed away are still available online due to privacy concerns that keep anyone from actually accessing and deleting the accounts. But there is some indication that the creators of social networking sites have already begun preparing for the future and may offer family members of the deceased the option to take down the site or keep it up forever.

I think it is a great idea to leave these sites up. Whether you would like to visit the site of a deceased friend in silence, or would like to leave a comment, the opportunity would be available. How cool would it be to leave a comment recounting some old memory for everyone to see and be a part of?

When you think about the billions of people who have gone before us, forgotten, with no records of their existence whatsoever, social networking seems like a bit of a miracle, giving us some modicum of immortality. Chalk one up for the little guy.

Monday, May 2, 2011

I drank a shot of 1792 the day Bin Laden died.

I'm not a political person. Not that I don't have an opinion or don't care, I just do not see the point in expressing my political opinion every five minutes given the lines that currently divide our country, and the heat associated with being on a specific "team." Following politics too closely is usually a disappointing and emotionally draining exercise for me, so I just do not do it. I think a lot of writers feel the same way. Besides, political discussions do not go over well at parties. So, in the past 8 months I have not watched the news for more than ten minutes. That is, until last night when I heard that Bin Laden was dead.

I initially found out about Bin Laden's death through FaceBook, proving that my vigilant friends will always bring the "big issues" to my attention and reinforcing that I can continue to ignore the news.

Maybe this will become a political issue in the upcoming election, but for just one night we put politics aside. Both the Bush and Obama administrations encouraged our CIA agents to continue to hunt for Bin Laden, and that is all I need to know. Those agents (whose names we'll never know) were the ones who made the biggest difference. I do give props to our president for making an extremely gutsy decision in authorizing this attack.

The simple truth is that Bin Laden got the ass-kicking he had coming, and it had nothing to do with politics in America.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Best day jobs if you want to write a lot.

Even with an entire day of nothing to do, a writer will find time to procrastinate. Throw in a high-maintenance day job, and a writer will get next to nothing done.That is why it is essential for a writer to find a day job which requires little to no effort, both physically and mentally.

The following are jobs that could allow for long periods of time where one could maintain a train of thought, i.e., stare at the wall for hours, and potentially type something meaningful on a laptop or other input device.

5) Writer : Well, calling yourself a writer is probably one of the best day jobs to have if you want to write a lot. Telling everyone "Shhh, I'm working!" while you lock yourself in your office for hours on end would be ideal. But this only works if you are married to someone who makes good scratch, or conversely someone who understands there will likely be no vacations, no Christmases and no money for bills.

4) Recluse : Nothing screams author like someone who locks themselves away in a cabin and allows their body hair to flourish unchecked while cranking out novels. You wouldn't have the luxury of electricity, but all the time in the world to peck away on that old Royal with the missing "h." That is, after you've chopped your wood for the day and skinned the rabbits you caught in your traps. Sending in your manuscripts via donkey to the nearest post office sounds quaint. Somewhere in Alaska would be your home.

3) Parking Lot Attendant : I can vouch for this job, because someone close to me works as a parking lot attendant. While there are some responsibilities, if you end up in the right ticket booth there is a good chance you could spend hours in a relatively comfortable "writing bubble." Drawbacks are hot summers with only a fan to keep you cool and annoying customers asking if the lower level is up or down.

2) House Sitter : Not only do you get that quiet time you need, but you can raid the refrigerator as well! To sit houses professionally, I imagine you need some credentials. Namely, have never broken into a house (at least not gotten caught). I actually follow a blog written by a lady and her husband who (I think) sit a house in beautiful Maine (CountryGirl). Sounds wonderful.

1) Night Watchman : While my other candidates for best day jobs for writers are relative long shots, this one is probably the most realistic. Sure, you have to walk the grounds every so often, but mostly you have a full eight hours to completely screw off without the boss looking over your shoulder, especially if you work third shift. If you are lucky and the place has a fast internet connection, you could probably get in some serious World of Warcraft leveling as well. Believe me, this career path has crossed my mind many times.

Aw hell. Let's face it. No matter what day job we have, us writers will always find something to complain about. True productivity comes from inside.

Any other suggestions for best day jobs for writers? Please, leave me a comment. I'm curious.

Monday, April 18, 2011

A writer's tale from the slush pile.

I received my first recent rejection last week of a story I sent in to Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a really great publication. I can't say I wasn't prepared for this, but it always stings.The story is simple in its premise--a dragon attack on a town--but told with some decent (I think) plot twists and good characterization. The rejection notes mentioned a shifting POV (point of view) that left the editor unable to get into the main character.

Fair enough. I discussed this POV shift with J.M. Martin before submitting the story, and we both thought it was an acceptable addition to the plot. And what drives me to publish this story is that it is based on a nightmare I had some six months ago; extremely vivid and terrifying enough to make me want to write about it.
Once the sting of the rejection wore off, I felt the need to make the story better. But not before sending it around to a couple more publications. If I get similar comments about the shifting POV, then I'll make some corrections.

One thing that made me feel better was to type in "tales from the slush pile" in Google and see things from the editors' eyes. I came up with some very enlightening reads.

Romance editor punts!

An editor finds some interesting things in the slush pile.
And some good advice.

The bottom line is that you have to love doing this. Beyond just reading and enjoying fiction, you have to burn with the need to actually create something that moves people. You have to love the process, the getting there, the interaction with other authors and readers. It is easy to be selfish, but much harder--and more rewarding--to get out there and genuinely become part of the writing community.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Write the kinks away...

Writing used to be more of a chore. I would sit there, waiting for the words to come, thinking this had to be the strangest type of profession. After all, writers just sit there looking thoughtfully at their computer screens, fooling around on the internet, or finding anything else to do other than writing.

Only recently have I been able to write because it is "fun," accepting both criticism and praise with equal amounts of grace, and oftentimes enthusiasm.

Mostly, this is because I've had years of sharpening my teeth on non-fiction, and so the general task of writing comes much quicker now. Publishing several hundred articles for Demand Studios, explaining complex Unix ideas through email, or ghost writing for clients goes a long way in developing decent writing skills. It also helps to have gone through the process of self-publishing a book. There were tough times, harsh criticisms and even harsher rejections. But in the long run, I was able to make a part-time profession out of it.

Up yours, odds!

The lesson here is that you should never shun the opportunity to hone your fiction writing by slogging out some non-fiction. Take whatever you can get. Sometimes the pressure of meeting deadlines can bring out the best in you, and that can only lead to good things.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Each day, I fight to write.

One of the most talked about subjects for any group of writers is writing production. We constantly try to increase daily word count. And it isn't just about quantity. No one wants to produce crap. But regardless of how much we labor over a character or scene, or procrastinate because we cannot find the words, we all know that to stop writing is death.

Most writers have families to support, and yet they still avoid making the sacrifice of pursuing a normal career due to the demands of a high-pressure day job, and the effects it has on writing production. As for myself, I put my fiction (and a family) on hold to build that career. Still, those who feel writing is their calling will always be willing to work around just about anything to get the words out.

Call it the voices in our heads, self-destruction or our pursuit of spiritual enlightenment. For some it just pays the bills. 

Most agree that setting a daily writing schedule helps, and I'm on board with that. Quit browsing the internet when you should be writing, and seek isolation when you do write. Watching Dexter while trying to write does not work. Trust me. A writer friend of mine, Jon Sprunk, wrote a great article about being In The Flow.

Are there any aspiring writers out there? How much do you write?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

And we're off...

Since I'll be doing 4 articles on heroics for Rogue Blades Entertainment (first up Friday, 7/1), I thought I'd put something together where folks can "check me out."

Are you checking?

This blog is dedicated to my fiction, the writing process, and any other abnormalities of life that influence my writing. It has been over 10 years since I've published a piece of fiction, but my pen (or fingers) have been hot, and the submissions are out.