Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess New Release Sale!

Crocodile Princess  Front-med

Little Gou’s first novel-length adventure is now available on Kindle for just 99 cents for the month of September. Grab it now while you can!

The story:

“Every last member of the Mao family will die by the Hour of the Rat a fortnight from now.” 

With these words begins a race against time, as the roguish martial artist called Little Gou hunts across the back roads and waterways of Old China to find a young bride-to-be who has become a pawn of the mysterious Lady Moonlight. He must outwit friends and foes alike, all of whom are dancing to the Lady’s song, and unravel a scheme that could see thousands dead or enslaved and the Middle Kingdom aflame with rebellion if he fails. But, worst of all, he has to face the woman who abandoned him in the name of family duty- the love he can never be with, or forget. 

Influenced by Legendary Wuxia novel writers Gu Long and Jin Yong; and in the spirit of movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; Little Gou and the Crocodile Princess is a martial arts action & adventure thriller set in the Jianghu martial underworld of Old China. Through a combination of wits, swordplay and kung fu, the martial artist Little Gou, and his companion the warrior nun Sister Cat, must uncover the truth behind a deadly plot to bring the martial underworld to its knees, or die trying.

 

Five Nights at Freddy’s

While I’m not a gamer, I do enjoy watching play-throughs by other people from time to time because a good game really is a work of art. Case in point is Five Nights at Freddy’s, which is a jump-scare independent horror game that manages to be really good at what it does. The short version is that you’re a night-watchman at an animatronic-filled restaurant where the robotic entertainers get a little…mobile…at night, and if they reach you then well…Why not watch this playthrough by Youtube gamer Markiplier and find out?

Not safe for work language, and if you can’t handle jump-scares you might want to pass as well.

Rob

 

Batman: Assault on Arkham

I just finished watched the new DC animated “movie” Assault on Arkham, and I have to say that to date it’s probably the best of the direct to video animated films DC has done. This might be because the main character, despite the title, is actually Deadshot (who is leading the Suicide Squad) not Batman. Batman is more of a presence/antagonist to the main characters, and this provides a nice change-up of the usual roles that makes the story kind’ve refreshing.

This is also the most “adult” of the movies they’ve done, which is probably meant to be in line with the “New 52″ dark and dirty philosophy, and there’s a fair amount of sex and graphic violence in this one as well. (Perfectly in keeping with “villains” being the lead characters.) I’m generally not a fan of this new “darker” DC approach, but in this case it actually works for the story, so I’ll give it a pass. The story itself is full of odd holes and logic gaps, but that’s par for the course for these DC movies, and they’re not as bad as some of the other movies they’ve done. (Batman: Son of the Demon was so stupid I had to turn it off halfway through because I couldn’t take it anymore.) In fact, the only real complaint(s) I have about this movie are Batman’s costume (which is this weird half-armored thing) and the fact Batman has pupils, which bugged me a lot every time they showed them.

And hey, Kevin Conroy is back as Batman! C.C. Pounder is Amanda Waller (who is the real Waller, not an anemic model like the New 52 version) and hearing the two of them spar off against each other really is like old times. That alone made the watch worth it for a Batman:TAS series fan like me!

Rob

Amazon’s “Secret” Kindle Category Passwords

Being a self-published writer is never an easy thing, it requires you to be half-writer/half-marketer to succeed, and the ever changing self-publishing world is full of all sorts of little tricks and traps. The traps are mostly about people trying to take your money for “services” you may or may not need, and the tricks are all about getting your book seen by the largest number of people. (And thus improving your chances of people buying your books!)

It doesn’t help that Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform is itself a giant labyrinth filled with ever changing rules and channels. One recent change is to their “Refine By” sub-categories, which can make a big difference in how your books are shown and presented.

Normally, when you self-publish a book on KDP you get to pick two categories for that book to be in. Say, “Romance>Historical” and “Romance”, and your book would be cataloged under those two categories and subcategories. The problem is that each category already has a certain number of titles in it, arrayed by their ranking on the site as a whole and other factors Amazon doesn’t reveal. So, for example, Romance>Historical has 24,420 ebooks in it at the moment, and Romance itself has 194,408 ebooks.

Good luck getting anyone to notice your nice new book in those piles!

Now, to make things a bit easier on authors, you also get seven “keywords” (which can actually be more than one word) that you can pick to describe your book. Traditionally more keywords could be added later by readers as well, and Amazon would use your keywords and theirs to add your book to a few extra “Refined by” sub-categories that you could only get to by Amazon employees adding your book to them.

Say, for example- Romance>Military. It’s a sub-category that exists, but they had to manually add you to that list if they thought you belonged and you didn’t have any say about it. Being included in that list could also be huge, because instead of competing with 195,408 ebooks the Romance category, your book might now be one of 3,128 books moving up and down within Romance>Military group. This could really help up your odds of being noticed and your books being sold.

And now, Amazon has changed their system. Instead of them adding you, if you use certain keywords when you register your book they act as passwords that automatically get your books added to these select lists! For example, if I included any of the the words “military, navy, army, soldier” among my keywords when I added my book to the Romance category my book would automatically be added to the Romance>Military “Refined by” sub-category. You can find a complete list of the “passwords” and more details on the KDP Selecting Browse Categories page, which you can then use to more accurately get your books into the sub-categories you think they belong to.

These will get your books into the “Refine by” lists you can see under the main category lists when you’re Browsing on Amazon, and those are definitely places you want to be to reach the most eyeballs. I’ve seen “Refine by” lists that have as few as 1 or 2 books- I kid you not! Can you imagine what getting your book onto a list that small would do for your chances of being noticed?

Of course, this is all about gaming the system, and I feel a little guilty talking about it. But then again, Amazon isn’t really hiding this, so why not take advantage of it while it’s still an advantage?

Good luck!

Rob

 

End of the Month/Camp NaNoWriMo Report

Well, July 2014 has now come and gone. How did it go for writing?

Well, I dedicated myself to participating in Camp NaNoWriMo and writing 50,000 words of fiction in July.

What was my total for July? 19,872. (Average 595 a day.)

Verdict: Crash and burn!

So what happened? I’m a writer who has done 60,000 words in a month before (2000+/day) and it’s not like I haven’t finished a novel. (I’ve finished two, so far.) I should have been able to pull this one off handily, right?

Well, I made a few mistakes, so let’s go over them.

  1. I stopped a novel I was already working on to start a new one for Camp NaNoWriMo. Officially, you should be doing a new project for NaNoWriMo (although many of my fellow campers just finished old projects) and so I decided that I’d put my current book #3 on hold to try and whip off Book #4 over July before going back to it. Big mistake! My passion and mental energy was already in Book #3, so shifting gears to Book #4 took a lot of time and all it did was take time and energy away from Book #3.
  2. I tried writing in a completely new genre with Book #4 that I have never written in before and don’t normally read in. I tried to write a fair-play modern mystery novel thinking I’d seen my fair share of episodes of Murder She Wrote, and read more than my fair share of Historical Mysteries. (I love historically set mysteries.) You would think my experience reading Historical Mysteries would translate to writing a modern one, but it didn’t at all. You see, Historicals use the mystery as a device to explore a historical setting and culture like Ancient Japan or Tang Dynasty China, which give them a very different flow and style. Modern Mysteries, on the other hand, are all about the mystery and characters, and often about the troubled dramatic lives of the central character, which is something I’m not used to writing about. (I’m more of a plot/idea/adventure type writer.) So, I went in to a speed-writing competition already hobbled by not knowing my new genre, and not realizing that I didn’t know my new genre well enough. End result was a mess!
  3. Speaking of plot- despite all my talk about preparation and plotting techniques in June, I ended up deciding to just Pants my NaNoWriMo novel. I actually did plot out the mystery side of the story, so I knew what happened and whodunnit, but I didn’t plot anything out about the main character’s journey or the dramatic twists that would happen in the story. I also didn’t think deeply about the characters, as I thought I’d create and explore them as I went. While this was a reasonable approach in theory, in reality it meant that 8000 words in I hit a wall so hard I gave my bruises bruises. The tone was off, things weren’t going anywhere I wanted to go, and every day I spent trying to fix it meant I was falling behind on my word count. Going in without a fairly solid plan of some kind for the overall story was a disaster, and I paid the price for it.

So, the end result of all this was that at 8000 words in, I hit a creative wall and got so frustrated fixing it (and falling behind in word count) I eventually just gave up on the whole thing and quit. Instead, I went back to Novel #3, and found that I was still in love with and it that it flowed much better than Novel #4 ever did. It’s not a modern mystery (it’s a Young Adult Fantasy Novel), but it is something that I feel natural and comfortable writing because it suits me and my style. (As a result, I’ve added almost 12,000 words to it in the last two weeks.)

And I think that’s the key really. If you’re going to do a NaNoWriMo competition:

  1. Write a book you’re passionate about at that time.
  2. Write a story that feels natural for you and your style as a writer.
  3. Plot and plan as much as you can.
  4. Know your characters and their place the in the story beforehand.
  5. Don’t try writing in a genre unless you know it (very) well.

One last thing I discovered about myself is that I’m more of a “little piece at a time” writer, where I write best when I’m slowly working at something a little bit each day. Speed-writing just doesn’t suit me for some reason, at least not at the moment, and I find large writing targets more of a distraction than a benefit. As a result, I don’t think I’ll try NaNoWriMo again, but will instead keep writing in my own way at my own pace. That said, it was totally worth a try, and I would strongly recommend any writer or want-to-be writer give it a go. You’ll learn a lot about yourself and your writing whether you succeed or fail- I know I did!

Structuring Your Story

Today I came across the blog Storyfix, and author Larry Brook’s 10-part Story Structure Series. In it, Brooks lays out his take on the 4-act structure, and presents it in a straightforward and easily useable way for writers of screenplays and novels to make use of when planning their work. Here’s a sample:

Introducing the Four Parts of Story

Some writers like things in nice little boxes.  Others, not so much.  Either way, you can look at your story like a box, of sorts.  You toss in all kinds of stuff – pretty sentences, plot, sub-plot, characters, themes, stakes, cool scenes – then stir it up and hope that somehow, by the grace of God, it all ends up in some orderly fashion that your reader will enjoy.

That’s one way to write a novel or screenplay.  At the very least, you’ll have to pour the box out and start over again, time after time, before any of what’s inside begins to make sense to anyone but you.  You can get there doing it this way… but there’s abetter way.

If fact, if this is how you go about telling your story, you’ll be reorganizing your box, time after time, until you do finally stumble upon the structure you are about to learn here. Or, more likely, you’ll abandon the project altogether, because nobody will buy it until you do.

Tough to hear, but it’s true.

Now think of that box as a vessel holding four smaller boxes.  Which means, things just got clearer, if not easier.  Imagine that each box is different, designed to hold scenes that are categorized and used differently than the other boxes.

In other words, each box has a mission and a purpose unique unto itself.  And yet, no single box contains the whole story.  Only all four, viewed sequentially, do that job.  Each scene you write is in context to whichever box it goes into.

Imagine that these boxes are to be experienced in sequence.  There’s the first box, the next box, the one after that, and then a final box.  Everything in the first box is there to make the other boxes understandable, to make them meaningful.

Everything in the second box is there to make the first box useful by placing what we’ve come to root for in jeopardy.  The first box may not make sense until the second box is opened, and when it is, the reader is in there with your hero.

Everything in the third box takes what the second box presents and ratchets it up to a higher level with a dramatic new context.  By now we are in full rooting mode for the hero of the story.

Everything in the fourth and final box pays off all that the first three boxes have presented in the way of stakes, emotional tension and satisfaction.

The things that go into any given box go only into that box.  Each has its own mission and context, its own flavor of stuff.  Or, more to the point, scenes.

When you lay out the four boxes in order, they make perfect sense.  They flow seamlessly from one to the next, building the stakes and experiences of the previous box before handing it off to the one that follows.

If you take something out of one box and put it into another, the whole thing can go sideways.  Only by observing the criteria and context of each box with your scenes will the entirety of the collective boxes make sense.

When you add something to the mix – when you’re wondering what to write next – you need to put it into the right box or the whole thing will detonate.

Because the box tells you what it needs.  And it will accept nothing else.

And that, folks, is the theory and opportunity of four-part story structure in a nutshell.

It took me about 90 minutes to read the entire series of articles (which are like a condensed 10-chapter textbook on story structure), and I found that even for someone as familiar with story structure as myself it was still an interesting read. Brooks presents his ideas in a clear approachable fashion, and the way he frames and explains his way of structuring a story is insightful.

One thing I got from the article is the realization that I’m what Brooks calls a “Blueprinter”, which is another take on the whole Plotter/Panster dichotomy. A Blueprinter outlines the key elements of the story structure, but not the details, and then just writes the parts in between those key points. So far, that seems to be the best way to write for me, since I like an element of improvisation, but at the same time I need to know where I’m going so I can direct my writing towards that goal. I’m still trying different styles of planning stories, but this resonated as it’s already something I’m doing.

The one critique of this series I have is that I found the articles tent to get less specific and more vague as they go along. The initial articles are pretty solid, but the later ones (like the one on Pinch Points) get extremely unclear as to what exactly he wants the reader to do with this idea. (Short version- Pinch Points are where the audience (but not necessarily the hero) gets to see what the antagonists are really up to and how screwed the protagonist really is, so that we can build tension.)  He also pretty much ignores the whole issue of climax and how the Second Plot Point is a lead-in to that climax. I can forgive some of this because how a story ends can really vary a lot depending on who writes it, and it’s hard to set down hard and fast guidelines, but I have seen other writing instructors (like Blake Snyder) do it better.

Speaking of Snyder, Brooks has his own version of the Beat Sheet to go along with his story structure, which you might find useful to take a look at after you’ve read the articles. (Since it’s a condensed version of that advice.)

In any case, this series is definitely worth reading, especially if you’re someone who has trouble with structure or are trying to figure out the best way for you to plan your work. The way he presents the parts of a story as working together is pretty solid, and I will be taking some of what he says to heart when thinking about and planning my own stories. Overall, I found this series to be an elaboration on Lester Dent’s Formula in many ways, and I think that’s a good thing, since he takes what Dent offers and reframes it in a way that works for stories as a whole, not just pulp adventure works.

Rob

Strange Hero Yi Zhi Mei

I’ve just started watching Strange Hero Yi Zhi Mei on YouTube and I have to say I’m really enjoying it so far. Despite the odd title, this is a good old fashioned swashbuckling action series about a Robin Hood type character in old China that seems to be an adaptation of a Chinese comic book. The tragic but gifted hero and his three assistants do their best to right wrongs and kick the butts of scheming officials and other villains using their good ole WuXia martial arts skills.

Having seen a few Chinese TV series before, I’d have to say that the acting and production values of this one are pretty high (even considering it was made in 2010) and overall the series is very well put together. The whole thing has been subbed in English, so it’s an easy watch and each episode ends with a cliffhanger of sorts so expect to be dragged in and find yourself racing along with these four before you know it!

Rob