Trying to make sense of the senseless

Something awful happened last night. A young woman, my cousin, was murdered. I don’t know the details. I don’t know that I want to know the details. I doubt that details would help. I didn’t know her well. It’s like that with your extended family. As kids you see each other at the obligatory family gatherings, once, maybe twice a year. You ignore your elders, as the young are prone to do, while your elders roll their eyes at the naïve self-importance of youth. Maybe you pass a few hours chatting, comparing notes on school and this teacher or that coach, and then you go your separate ways until the next family gathering.

Time passes and you wander out into the world. Words, stories, tall-tales and mundane minutia filter back to you about each other’s lives, primarily though the voices of your parents and siblings, with all the well-intentioned filters that go along with that. Collegiate victories of GPAs and scholarships, or the well-worn paths of relationships gone bad and good, first jobs and quit jobs and maybe a mad foray into the world of entrepreneurship, these become the stock in trade. It’s all so very normal and very regular.

What strikes me now is that what I recall about her includes nothing about her schooling, or her work, or romances. What I recall now is that she was so very, very alive. Not over-the-top, manic energy alive, but just brimming with a sometimes serious, sometimes cheerful, indefatigable sort of energy. She had a quick smile and offered it freely. In a world that so often seems populated by people who are dull, gray and can find no reason to smile, the loss of her quick smile seems that much deeper a loss.

It would be easy for me to lament how little I knew her and how I never will now, but death doesn’t give us easy answers. We had different interests and our lives were moving in very different directions. Some people we will only ever know slightly and, for better or worse, she was one of those people in my life. Her death saddens me, because I knew her in some small way, but it would be false to act as though my sadness resembles true sorrow. That right is reserved for those who knew her best and loved her the most, her immediate family and close friends.

It always seems that, in moments such as these, we’re admonished to put our anger away. Yet, of all the things I feel right now, the strongest is anger. I’m angry about the naked selfishness of the man who killed her. I’m angry that someone I remember as bright and good has been swallowed up by the great unknown that comes next. I’m angry because acts like this have become, not the exception, but something so regular that we are numb to them, save when they touch us personally. I’m angry because someone will give inevitable, self-righteous counsel that my anger is wrong and I should seek to forgive and show compassion.

It’s only been a handful of hours since I learned about this and this is where I’m at right now. I’m sad and angry and I don’t know what comes next.

Of Things Mundane and Not

Mundane:

So, following the very annoying necessity of switching hosting services, I found myself in the unenviable position of needing to repost all of my old blog entries. Even when one posts as sporadically as I post, the task took a while. I did take the opportunity to excise some posts that had limited relevance, such as announcements about giveaways that have come and gone. A few posts didn’t make it back up because I only had partial versions of the posts saved in word documents or had no record of what those posts contained. On the off chance I find those posts in a complete form, I will add them back to the blog with a note about when they originally appeared (or as near as I can tell, as I have done with all of the old posts), so as to avoid confusion. A few posts got put up out of order, but I don’t foresee that being a particular problem as most of the posts exist perfectly well as stand-alone texts.

Not-so-mundane:

The giveaway of the new Branchverse short story, Smythe, went well. I anticipated very few people having an interest in it, short stories just don’t compel the same size of an audience as they once did, and was pleasantly surprised when more than 15 copies were picked up by readers. If you missed the giveaway, it’s still available on Amazon here. Amazon sets a minimum price of 99 cents for all ebooks, whether it’s a short story or a novel, so that’s the post-giveaway price. It does run approximately 28 pages, though, so you get something for your dollar.

The new, as yet to be officially titled, Branch novel is also moving along. I’m between 50-60 pages into the book, or around 20,000 words, which puts me near the 20% finished mark, all other things being equal. I’ve been aiming for a steady pace of writing for the new book and, so far, it seems to be working. While there is something gratifying about coming back to a new book every few months and knocking out 40 or 50 pages in a mad, 24 hour writing spree, it’s hard on the body and inefficient. So, I’ll only resort to that if I must. 🙂

Attention Sam Branch Fans! Short Story Release Info and Other News!

Originally posted 2-12-2013

On Wednesday, February 13, the new short story set in the Samuel Branch universe will go live on Amazon for Kindle devices.  If you haven’t taken a look at the sneak peek (available here), the story takes place between Falls and Turns and is told from the point of view of Carmichael Smythe. I will post a link to the story when it goes live here, on Twitter, and on Facebook.

As promised, in celebration of my birthday this month, the short story will be free. It’s my present to all of the long-suffering fans who had to wait years between the first and second books in the series.

In other news, I’ve been hard at work on the new Samuel Branch novel and recently crossed the 13,000 word mark. This means that, assuming this book winds up being normal book length, I’ve crossed over the 10% finished mark.

I’ve also done some test recording and believe I’ve worked out the kinks in the process. If all goes well, I should begin recording an audiobook version of Falls later this week! A few of you out there may even get a chance to get a listen to some early chapters. More information to come on that oneI 😀

Author Interview: P.J. Larue

As promised, this week we have an interview with children’s author, P.J. Larue, author of “The Mystic Princesses and Whirlpool.” So, without further authorial intrusion from me, I give you the interview.

1. What inspired you to write? Was it a particular book? A particular author?

I wrote in high school, but stopped for a long time. I started writing again about two and one-half years ago after a former co-worker and his three sons were killed in a car crash. I didn’t know him very well, but the intense grief that a family would feel after losing all of its men at one time, spoke to me.  I sat at my computer, tears streaming down my face, as I wrote a poem to his sister who was also a former co-worker. I hoped to bring some solace to her. It turned out that her family did find comfort in it. Another friend of the family added pictures of the four men as a border around the poem. The sister keeps her copy of the poem at work and each of the men’s wives and mother hung it in their homes. I also have it hanging in my office, as a reminder that life is short, and we never know when it will end.  I do not share the poem on the internet, because I believe it belongs to the family. To know that something I wrote means so much to them is humbling.

2. How did you settle on writing for children and do you plan on expanding into adult fare?

Even though I’ve been promoting my children’s book, I write poems and pair it with my photography. Some of my poems and poetry are on my Pinterest board and on my Facebook page.

I wrote The Mystic Princesses because several of my co-workers encouraged me to give writing a shot once they read the poem I mentioned above.

I enjoy writing short stories. I like researching a historical event. My story lines then provide “reasons” for why the historical event unfolded as it did. I submit the short stories to writing contests.  My short story “The Confession of D. B. Cooper” received an honorable mention last year for the Writer’s Digest Crime Competition at the end of 2011.

3. You’ve said elsewhere that your book for children, “The Mystic Princess and the Whirlpool,” teaches peace and preventing violence. What prompted you to choose that topic over more common topics in children’s books, such as truthfulness or teamwork?

After the initial draft, I realized I had four characters that represented the elements of water, fire, air and the earth, but no conflict. The book was all happy, and needed tension to move it forward. So I added Princess Harmonie, named for Harmonia, the daughter of the god Ares, from Greek mythology.  I used Princess Harmonie to represent peace, and the initial four characters to use their elemental powers to protect her from her brothers and sisters who want to fight and cause wars.

There is so much violence in the world, and I can’t help but think we as authors can help bring it down a notch or two. Our youth are exposed to video games, movies and books which are desensitizing them to the value of human life.  Movies and video games are often inspired by successful books. It would be a great accomplishment if authors could help to turn the tide toward teaching others to respect each other’s opinions and to value life. I remember being taught the Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would want to be treated.” I’d love to be part of a movement to teach that again.

4. You currently publish as an indie author. Do you want to transition into traditional publishing or do you plan continue in indie publishing?

Currently, I plan to continue with The Mystic Princess series as an indie author. However, I am open to both avenues. If one of my short stories were to catch the attention of an agent, I would definitely explore the options presented.

5. Children today are considerably more tech-savvy than they were even 10 years ago. Do you see digital books, such as those for Kindle, as the inevitable end point for children’s books, or will there always be a market for hard copies?

I think we may be in a transitional period right now, because ereaders are very popular with adults, and they are spreading to children, as well. Ebooks typically cost less than print books and schools are moving toward the use of ereaders instead of distributing print books.

Toddlers and pre-school children love to turn the pages of books. However, with interactive ebooks becoming available, that could change. Elementary age, which is my target, is tough because the children are converting from picture books to chapter books and may not be fully into the tech group yet. I may be a little ahead of the curve by issuing The Mystic Princesses and the Whirlpool only in an epub format. I do expect epub for children to take off, though, since children are so tech oriented.

6. Do you start with the art or the words for your books, and do you see an advantage to starting with one or the other?

Spouting Horn, Kauai, was a large part of the inspiration for the book. However, I would say that I start with the words, primarily. I don’t see an advantage of starting with one or the other. However, the art must be colorful and pleasing to catch attention.

7. What is your biggest challenge in crafting prose for children?

I found writing on an elementary school age level to be a challenge. I did not “dumb it down,” but I did have several conversations with my editor about appropriate vocabulary and sentence structure for that age level. She recommended that I use the Flesh-Kincaid reading level tool in Microsoft Word to test my sentence structure, length and difficulty levels.

8. If you could tell every parent in the world just one thing, what would it be?

Monitor your children’s TV, video games and books so that their children don’t become desensitized to violence.

9. If you could tell every child in the world just one thing, what would it be?

Make sure they learn to read well. Without reading skills, it is difficult to find a job that will support a family.

10. Do you have your next book planned and, if so, can you tell anything about it?

 

I have written about 75% of The Mystic Princesses and the Magic Show, which is set in New Orleans.  It will feature child safety, such as how the princesses can escape from the Children of Ares if they are captured. These same techniques may help children to escape from potential predators in real life. Like the first book in the series, it also has environmental awareness. The magic show is to raise funds for cleaning and healing wildlife injured as a result of a hurricane causing an oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

11. Last one, what are your long term plans in terms of writing?

I’ve pictured The Mystic Princess books as a series of five books, with each character being the primary heroine in one of the books. I will set the books at different locations, so that the readers can learn about each of the areas, but in each book there will be lessons that the children can learn. If I end up with a successful series, it would not have to be limited to five, though.

I also have been toying with an idea for a novel that I want to write, but that may have to wait until I retire from my current full-time job. I don’t think I’ll have the time to write and promote it right now, but it will give me plenty of time to plan the characters and plot.

Get the Book:

Amazon Link:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Mystic-Princesses-Whirlpool-ebook/dp/B0086YGAEM

Barnes and Noble.com:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-mystic-princesses-and-the-whirlpool-p-j-larue/1111259489

iBookstore Link:  http://www.ibookstore.com/products.php?i=B0086YGAEM

Connect with the Author:

Contact:  pj@pjlarueinc.com

Website:  www.mysticprincesses.com

Goodreads Link:  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/16059950-the-mystic-princesses-and-the-whirlpool

Facebook Link:  https://www.facebook.com/pj.larue.12

Facebook Fan Page:  https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Mystic-Princesses-and-the-Whirlpool/313900812057752

Twitter Link: @PJ_LaRue

Pinterest Link:  http://pinterest.com/pjlarue12/

Your Novel Is Live….So, What Now?

Originally posted 12-18-2012

Writing and publishing (even self-publishing) a novel is a massive time investment. My recently released novel, Turns, had a nearly three-year genesis from the time I wrote the first few pages until I finally took it live.  Admittedly, the lion’s share of the writing, revising, editing, revising, reviewing and (God save us poor, forsaken writers) revising happened in the last year, but that is sort of secondary. The point is that when you write a novel, it consumes your time and lives in your head every single day. Then, abruptly, it’s over. The novel is written. The book is published. If you’re lucky, people are buying and this thing that dominated your life leaves a great, gaping vacuum in your world. Even if you are actively marketing your book as an indie author (if you aren’t, why not?), it’s still not a psychological and time investment on par with writing the book. The question becomes, “So, what now?”

I know some people like to build in downtime between major projects and it seems to work for them. It makes sense. You give your body, mind and imagination a chance to rest up. If you’ve got a family, you probably owe them some serious quality time. I know I basically fell off the edge of the world in the last month or so leading up to taking the novel live. It hasn’t been much better since. Fortunately, people expect that kind of behavior from me and my social obligations are limited. Still, for some people, myself included, creative momentum is a fickle mistress. If you abandon her for any length of time, she may shun you. I suggest bridging projects for people in this category.

I think of bridging projects as things with a comparatively small time investment. If you have a creative hobby other than writing, like painting or photography, spend some doing that. It keeps the creative juices flowing without using up whatever fuel you have for writing. If you’re more of a one-trick pony, work on ideas that have a limited page count, like a short story or a novella. Update your author website or give that blog you know you’ve been ignoring some love. One of my bridging projects in this post-Turns landscape include a short story set in the same universe as my novel, but from the perspective of a different character. I’ll also be recording for the audiobook versions of both Turns and the first Sam Branch book, Falls. I’ll be taking my own advice and trying to get back into posting to this blog regularly, including an interview with children’s author P.J. LaRue.

Whether you’re a downtime advocate or live in fear of losing creative momentum, make a plan before you get to the publishing stage. Know what you’ll be spending your time on so you don’t find yourself at loose ends.

Branch Update: “Turns” Is Live! Go! Go! Go!

Originally posted 12-10-2012

Lots of news!

I am very pleased to announce that Turns is now officially released and available on Amazon!

 

Want it for Kindle? Get it here!

Want a paperback version? Get it here!

 

After much consideration, I have chosen to enroll Turns in Amazon’s KDP Select program. What that means is that digital copies of the novel will only be available for the Kindle, via the Amazon website, for the next three months. While I am an advocate of spreading the written word as far and wide as possible, participating in the KDP Select program lets me do some things I couldn’t do otherwise. First, it means that readers who have Amazon Prime can borrow Turns for free. Participation in the KDP Select program also means that I can a run the occasional giveaway, where any reader can download the novel to their Kindle for free. The tradeoff is that I can’t offer digital versions of novel for the Nook, iPad, or any other digital reader while I participate. I recognize that this decision may frustrate some readers, but the situation is temporary. My current plan is to offer Turns in other digital formats beginning in late March, unless there is some deeply compelling reason not to do so.

I am also in the process of trying to get those nifty little boxes you see on Amazon, the ones that show all the available formats of a book, installed for both Turns and Falls. With luck, this will make getting the version of the book you want, digital or physical copy, easier on everyone. This isn’t in place, yet, but I’m working on it and will keep everyone updated on the process.

I’ve gotten my first review for Turns on Amazon, which you can read here.

I’ve also gotten another five star review for Falls, which can be read on Larry B. Gray’s website here. Thanks so much, Larry!

In case any of you were wondering if you’re going to have to wait as long for Book 3 in the Sam Branch series as you did for book 2 (a couple of years for some valiant readers), I’m sincerely hoping you are not. In point of fact, I may have already written a few pages of the next book! Having a group of alpha and beta readers in place should help to keep me on track and my goal is to release the next book within the next year, give or take.

So, like the post title says, Turns is live! Go! Go! Go!

Branch Update: Interviews, Reviews, and Blurbs, Oh My!

Originally posted 12-3-2012

So, there’s a lot going on right now in the world of Sam Branch. First off, I was recently interviewed by Tom Immins, author of the Sam Lucas series of thrillers. The interview covers a lot of ground, including fun stuff like who I’d cast to play Sam Branch in a film adaptation and the most painful of all questions put to a writer: “Where do you get your ideas from?” You can read the interview over on Tom’s Blog here http://samlucas-thriller.blogspot.com/2012/11/author-interview-with-eric-dontigney.html and be sure to check out his books while you’re there.

In other news, the 5-star reviews are accumulating for the Revised and Expanded edition of Falls over on Amazon. Head over and take a look here http://www.amazon.com/Falls-Samuel-Branch-ebook/dp/B00A8S29DK if you’re still on the fence about getting a copy.

For all my friends, family, and fans that are dedicated Apple tech users, the new version of Falls has FINALLY gone live on iBooks! You can access here.

I am also happy to announce that I am in the last stage of edits and revisions for the new Sam Branch novel, Turns. Most the of the tweaking left to be done is very minor, comparatively speaking, and you should look for the print and Kindle editions between December 10 and December 12. Yes, I know I said December 7, but I’d rather push it off a few more days and deliver you all a better book than rush an inferior book to publication. I’ll let you all know if things change again, but I’m confident that this is the last adjustment to the schedule. And, speaking of Turns, I’d like to take this chance to officially unveil the back cover blurb:

“Overwhelmed by guilt and burdened with more power than he ever wanted, Samuel Branch is slowly crumbling. The pressure mounts with the arrival of the Green Man, who has risen from the very heart of the world with a single purpose: kill Samuel Branch. Sam is hampered at every turn by an ambitious reporter looking for a story, a newcomer with an ambiguous agenda, and a coven of black magic sorcerers. As he struggles with his own fragile state of mind, Sam must find a way to accept the costs of power or face certain death at the hands of the Green Man.”

It’s taken a long time to get here, but I’m very proud of the new novel and I hope you all feel that it has been worth the wait.

The Branch Update

Originally posted 11-20-12012

So, I’ve been woefully negligent about updating this blog, but with good reason. I’ve been working hard on edits and revisions. I can now announce, with great pleasure, that the revised and updated version of Falls is now available. In addition to a slew of rewrites and typo corrections, this edition also has approximately 12,000 words of new material. While the main plot remains unchanged, the new material should offer a deeper look into the world of Samuel Branch and the characters that inhabit it. It is currently available for Kindle and in print on Amazon, as well as for the Nook on Barnes & Noble. The Kindle and Nook versions are currently priced at $1.99 to provide readers an affordable introduction to the Branchverse. They can be found at the following links:

 

Falls for Kindle

Falls for Nook

Falls in paperback

 

In other news, Turns, the second Branch novel, is approaching publication. The beta-readers are hard at work and the last pieces of feedback should reach me soon. Assuming as goes well, I’m looking at a Dec. 7 release date. A few sample chapters will also go live on site prior to the official release.

In deference to the many questions and intense curiosity regarding the Carmichael Smythe character appearing in Falls (and the forthcoming Turns) I am presently working on a short story from the perspective of Carmichael, tentatively titled Smythe. It will offer the readers a glimpse into his head and also serve as a kind of bridge between Falls and Turns. The story isn’t critical to understanding either novel, but should answer a few questions about Carmichael.

For anyone reading this that also got a Kindle version of Falls, please do consider leaving a review on Amazon. Those reviews are pure gold for indie books like Falls. Thanks!

Why People Should Cut George Lucas Some Slack

Originally posted 7-29-2012

Over the last fifteen years of so, George Lucas has come under increasing and increasingly vitriolic fire from people claiming to be “fans” of his work. Let me admit up front that I found Star Wars Episodes I-III to be inferior to the original trilogy in raw storytelling terms. Much of those weaknesses could have been avoided with more focus on character development and less on visual effects. Did those scripts need another pass or three? Absolutely. Have the various changes and amendments to the original trilogy made it worse? It’s debatable, but that’s not really the point. What the question all really boils down to is whether or not a creator can or should retain creative control over properties once those properties become available to the public at large. I say, yes, the creator can and should retain creative control over the work. Here is why. I’m about to do the same thing.

I self-published a novel a few years ago and I’m presently closing in on the finish line for the sequel to it. The people that read and loved that original novel have my eternal gratitude. It’s been their persistent and heartfelt interest in those characters that has kept me going back to the keyboard to chip away on the new novel. That gratitude does not, however, extend to leaving that original novel in its original form. Since I wrote that novel, I have consumed millions of words of writing. I’ve read close to a dozen books on the craft of writing. Finally, I’ve set down hundreds of thousands of words of my own writing in the form of blogs posts, articles, reviews, and a new novel. The point is that, while creative works often remain static, our understanding and abilities as creators in our chosen fields do not remains static. I am a far, far better writer now than I when I wrote that first novel. I can understand its flaws, and why they exist, well enough to make a serious effort at repairing them.

More important to me, as the author, is that I feel a responsibility to that book and its characters. I honed it and shaped it as well as I could at the time, but I can see where I took shortcuts and where I shortchanged the character development in favor of skipping ahead to the big drama scenes. I did the kinds of things inexperienced writers do on their early works. Would that book have benefited from another pass or three before I made it available? Absolutely. Should I not take that pass or three now because people have read the original? I can’t think of a single good reason why I should refrain from taking another pass at it.

I’ll grant you, I’m not George Lucas. My fan base is small. I haven’t sold millions of copies of one version of my book just to say, “Wait, no, this new one is going to be the definitive version.” I can see how that would aggravate fans. On the flip side, though, I’d like to believe that George Lucas has enough integrity as an artist that he at least believes he’s bringing his creative works closer to what he meant them to be in the first place. It’s not a question of whether or not he’s succeeding. It never was. It’s a question of whether he remains the controlling creative voice in his properties. I say that he is and that he is doing nothing more than exercising his due rights. If you don’t like it, that is your prerogative, but express it by not buying his movies. Stop burning the man in effigy. Stop browbeating him in forums, columns and blogs. In short, cut George Lucas some slack.

A Few Thoughts on Batman and the Aurora Shooting – An Addendum

Originally posted 7-27-2012

Up until a few days ago, I had never heard the name Charles Hurt. Apparently, he is a staff writer for the Washington Post. I don’t normally read the Washington Post, as I live halfway across the country. Otherwise, I might have realized that this is the same paragon of intellectual prowess that wrote such stunning pieces as “Obama’s South Side Thuggery” and “’Islamist Firster’ president not what he claimed.” One of his most recent pieces, however, was about the Aurora shooting. Well, that’s what it was about in theory.

In practice, the entire letter was spent blaming the violence on Christopher Nolan, Warner Brothers and Sean Penn. Sean Penn? Seriously? Let me say up front, I don’t care for Sean Penn. I don’t enjoy his movies. I think he is a self-congratulatory tool. I act on these sentiments by not watching or buying movies in which he participates. Yet, for all that, I remain mystified by Penn’s inclusion in this list.  As near as I can tell, the only reason he appears on this list is because he has left-wing politics and Charles Hurt doesn’t seem to like people with left-wing politics.

Hurt singles Penn out for acting in violent films, but nary a word for conservative actor/politician Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose on-screen body count undoubtedly exceeds the combined totals of Nolan, Penn and Christian Bale. Nary one word directed at conservative Jerry Bruckheimer, who has served as executive producer on some of the most violent films of the last 20 years. How about conservative Chuck Norris? He never shied away from a big body count in his movies. Nope, those guys have politics Hurt likes, so they get a pass. Singling out Penn, who didn’t even appear in The Dark Knight Rises, was just a cheap shot at someone Hurt doesn’t like.

I’m going to set aside the political elements of Hurt’s screed and just consider who he blames or, more accurately, who he doesn’t blame. Nolan, Penn, and Warner Bros. all come under fire. Oddly, the person who doesn’t get blamed, and barely gets mentioned, is James Holmes. You know, the guy that actually pulled trigger (as near as anyone can tell). To read Hurt’s take on the events, you’d think that Holmes was a just robot carrying out instructions from the diabolical minds of Nolan, Penn, and the corporate person that is Warner Bros.

The absurdity of this stance is mind-boggling. James Holmes is clearly a man with some kind of mental illness. That he fixated on Nolan’s films is tragic, but ultimately irrelevant. He was clearly going to carry out violence, with or without the influence of any particular movie. I am forced to wonder, though, if Hurt would have been so quick to assign blame if Holmes had picked a film made by or starring a staunch conservative. It’s possible, but I sincerely doubt it.