Joshua C Cook

Author, Husband, Father, IT Manager

Category: Uncategorized

Creativity, Writing, and Role Playing Games

Creativity or at least trying to have a creative outlet was the whole reason I started writing. (You can see more about that here.) I like having that outlet, I find it enjoyable, even if this go around has been far longer than normal. But I digress. See when I was younger, much younger in fact, I was pretty heavy into D&D, or for you reading this who don’t know what that is.. Dungeons and Dragons. I loved it, classes, races, exploring fighting, done all in a story telling environment. It was all pretend, and it was all fun.

My son has started exploring that world, and I’ve been along for a ride somewhat. What’s interesting to me now, is how much it’s all changed. Now I played what’s known now as “1st Edition” rules. Old school. Like 6 races, a dozen or so classes, that’s it. These days there’s so many variants, half-breeds, sub-races, etc that really, I can’t keep track. My reaction to this has been interesting. One one hand it’s pretty cool to see SUCH a huge range of choices for a player.  You want to be a half jinn warlock in a pact with a fae lord? Sure go ahead.

But on the other side I kind of feel that SO many choices ruins a chance for the player to explore other aspects of role-playing. Finding new ways to make a character unique. Here’s my personal example..

Back when I played,my favorite character of all time was a Dwarf Fighter. Boring you think? Predictable? Not at all! See this particular Dwarf (Named Barstile Ironpeg, a name I’d use many years later when I got into MMO’s) had a quirk. He was deathly afraid of Doppelgangers. In D&D terms a Doppelganger is a monster/creature who can basically mimic any one. Copy them and BE them, until discovered. They don’t have to be evil, and a great many aren’t. But in my characters backstory, an evil doppelganger had tricked his village into letting him in, and he betrayed them to a band of gnolls. Ever since Barstile was constantly worried that everyone he met MIGHT be a doppelganger. He spent every drop of treasure he could get on making sure people weren’t. if I had a good DM who went along well with this quirk, things got really interesting. I even got to the point once where I’d have Barstile stay up till everyone else was asleep and take a blood sample from each other character and use a “magic” item he bought that was supposed to tell him if they were a doppelganger or not. (Note: it was a fake magic item, Barstile was easy to dupe that way)

The reason I bring this up, is that in a lot of fantasy/sci-fi I read, I don’t see a lot of this sort of thing. Giving something common a quirk, a twist. Instead I seem to find a lot of crazy rare races/powers/etc, but yet they act fairly normal. Taking this farther, in my current WIP (Blood of a Fallen God) one character, in this world of dead gods, creatures, and (rare) magic, has turned to drug use to cope with something. It’s not working out for him, but it gives what could be a ho-hum story line something to bite on. Creativity can be mental, not physical.

 

Lesson: Don’t be afraid to take something normal and give it a twist, instead of making something fantastical, and making it normal.

One book, or Three books

One book, or three smaller books?

Recently I did a full read through of what I’ve done so far on ‘Blood of a Fallen God‘ this epic fantasy story I’m working on. And realized I had some really good break points in the story, which meant if I wanted, I could break it up into three books. There’s advantages and disadvantages to that however, and so I went on some social media to ask. What was interesting to me was the while the voting actually clearly favored breaking it up (78 to 12) the comments were mostly in favor of keeping it as one large book. Note, the people I was asking were, for the most part other self-publishing authors, and if there’s one thing a group of authors will do, is come up with 1001 different ways of doing the same thing and being 100% sure they are in the right.

Some of the comments were somewhat amusing.. the idea that for something to be an “epic fantasy” requires a certain word length I found rather funny.  But I guess if you think length of story means it’s epic, sure.. though that’s not where I go. Epic fantasy to me means a grand story, covering multiple locations with multiple characters. Now this usually means a larger story, but that doesn’t really mean a minimum word count.

But I digress.

Advantages to breaking it up:

More $. Fact is, three books will, traditionally make you more $$ than one. Assuming the price points are good.

More reviews (hopefully)

Lets me say I’ve written 10 books instead of saying 7 *heh*

 

Disadvantages

Costs are higher.. instead of one cover, I have to provide for three.

Usually a single book that large costs a fair amount more to buy.

If you don’t publish all three at once, it becomes a pain for readers to wait.

 

The other side is break it up into three, but publish them all at once as both separately, and as a ‘box set’. Nice idea.. but…

I want to put this out over kindle scout. I don’t think that strategy will work there.

 

I think I’m leaning towards putting it on Kindle Scout as one book. If it doesn’t end up getting ‘picked’ then I’ll break it up into three and sell it as three seperate books and a ‘box set’ that way I’ll get the best of both worlds, so to speak.

Elves? We don’t need no stinkin’ Elves!

Elves. One of the largest fantasy ‘tropes’ out there. I use them to, though mine are a bit more sinister than the ‘high fantasy’ types of Elves. That being said, I just ran across a great TEDx talk from Terry Brooks, titled ‘Why I write about Elves.”

Now, I have read some of Terry Brook‘s work. Not much as of late, and honestly after this talk I think I may pick up some of his stuff again, because I want to see what he’s talking about from my newer ‘writer’ persona. Mr. Brooks makes a good point about taking things out of our world, and translating them to a fantasy world for the purpose of giving writing some weight. Having been a reader of fantasy for more years than I care to mention, there are far to many fantasy books out there that don’t have any substance. There’s a story there sure, but it’s such a surface thing, and it’s highly highly formulaic. I’ve seen other videos and read books where it’s “Hero, artifact, quest.” that’s it.

And yes, that’s basic fantasy, but if that’s ALL that’s there, it makes for a bit of a dull read. Take Tolkien, at first glance it seems like a very light story, hobbit takes ring, destroys it to save the world from evil monster spirit thing.

But that’s only a slight reading of Tolkien. And yes, the movies (which I greatly enjoy, I have the extended releases for all of them.) sort of made it worse. But there are a LOT of environmental themes (Tom Bombadil, Mordor itself, the Scourging of the Shire, etc.) the overarching theme of the passing of ‘old world’ of magic and superstition to the world of men and technology, etc.

Good fantasy books carry this additional under story out there to the reader, to give them something to latch on to. Even in Tolkien’s work, Elves are portrayed as a very powerful, but old and vanishing race. Leaving the world of Middle Earth to return to their far away true home. In truth the Elves of Tolkien carry a fairly melancholy background, full of betrayal, racism, and tragedy.

I think the point Terry Brooks makes is a very good one, fantasy writers or truly any fiction writer, needs to give thought to giving the reader something real to latch onto, something they can translate to the real world, or even thier own personal experiences. I’ve linked the talk at the end here, it’s a great short video.

 

November Update

November is here, and I’ve been slacking! Well not slacking really, but slacking on blog updates. So what’s been going on?

  1. Election: It happened. That’s all I’m going to say about it right now. In a former version of myself I was a political junkie. I moderate myself on that stuff these days for ‘reasons’
  2. Book promos: I ran a Book Gorilla promo, and did a two week blog tour. I got 14 sales and 1000 pages read out of the BookGorilla promo, but still ended up being a net negative. The book blog tour… well.. it was ok. But I didn’t really get much out of it, no book sales, no real increase in blog or twitter traffic. All in all, I don’t think I’ll do it again. Do NOT take this as a negative on the company I used, they were awesome. I just don’t see the point of the book blog tour after doing one.
  3. Photoshop: I’m learning it! Whoot! Main reason? I want to do my own covers. I’m cheap, I want to make them for myself. Who knows if I get good enough, maybe for other people… maybe.
  4. Writing: I’m working on the next book in the Echo Worlds series, started a new book in a new series, and have had an idea of a book that sort of goes along with the Echo Worlds series. I be busy.
  5. Time of year: It’s the holidays, or at least the Holiday ‘season’ here in the States. Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas. Add in my son’s Birthday (and mine, though I don’t really think about it much.) and personal life is busy.

So all those reasons being said, I still feel somewhat bad about slacking on the blog updates here in November. I shall attempt to do more, and be more active!

Don’t forget that Bridgebreaker is out in Paperback, eBook, and Audiobook!

Marketing, Bridgebreaker, and Future items

Marketing : It’s complicated. So I did my mega-ultra-super marketing push.. and sold.. 34 units. 34 units at the sale price of 0.99 cents. Which because it was a countdown deal I got 70% of still at least. 🙁 Had a bit of a tail, but not a huge one. So all in all it wasn’t that successful. Looking back I think I made one really serious mistake, with so many services running at one time, I really have no idea which ones were truly successful, and while ones weren’t even close. Lesson Learned! I think I’m going to back off a bit on that, and marketing Bridgefinders in general. As it’s been said before, the best way to sell more books is to WRITE more books. So in that spirit.. I’m close to being down with the sequel to Bridgefinders! The cover above is in fact the cover of the next book, Bridgebreaker!

(And yes, there was much rejoicing.)

Currently the book is being read by Beta readers. Once I get that back, and ponder all of that input, I’ll be making changes, tweaking things, some more minor edits, then, publish time! I will again be doing an audiobook as well, so that will be going on, etc. So yeah, busy!

On future items.. I’m mulling over an idea of a story I sort of started once, and never finished. This is going to be a “I have nothing to work on so let’s work on that” project. So I don’t expect this to be something I’ll be pushing super often or super quickly. Who knows if I finish it, and polish it up I might do #pitchwars next year for it. Maybe not. I’ve discovered that while I love self publishing books, and find it fun, the idea of being ‘commercially’ published doesn’t really appeal to me much. I dunno. Maybe it’s because I am not fond of putting myself out there in that manner? Who knows.

Beside the point though. The real point is the coming of Bridgebreaker! Keep it tuned here to find out when it’s out. And as always remember to subscribe, join, follow, and all the above to see where I go with all this next.

 

— Josh

I’m not a Young Adult author.

I alluded to this yesterday, now I’ll explain further. I am not a YA author. There, I said it. And I don’t think I ever will be.

Let me break it down a bit more though. I can already hear you  “A good writer should be able to write anything.” or “I bet if you tried…” or even “But YA books sell and make money, you should do that and make bank!” I’ve had some variation of those said to me when I tell people I’m not a YA fiction writer.

YA for those rare who don’t know, is ‘Young Adult’ fiction. Now I’m not really clear on what constitutes a Young Adult really, it has always sounded like a label looking for a reason to me, but I’m increasing both amused and dismayed by the number of labels used on people, ages, etc. (Which is like a whole other topic.)

But to do my traditional number it down style..

  1. 1. Maybe a good writer CAN write anything, but that doesn’t mean it’s good. Look at say Stephen King. He writes mostly Horror, with splashes of fantasy and other elements. But he has his genre. Look at Hugh Howey, author of the Wool series, He’s got his niche as well. Authors have area’s and subjects they are drawn to, and are better in.
  2. 2. If you only tried… This assumes I haven’t tried. But I have. And it is, well, bad. Worse than bad. And I don’t mean it in a ‘I’m my own worst critic’ way, I mean BAD. There are some actual reasons for this. To start with, I’m really to far removed from the YA experience. Though as I said I’m not quite clear on what YA is, my best guess is late teens, very early twenties. I’m 42. I don’t have a good frame of reference for that age range. Adding on to this is the fact that simply I wasn’t much of a YA when I *was* those age ranges. I was hopelessly weird and introspective, literally would flinch if someone brushed against me, and massively introverted. I wasn’t social, I was a complete moron when it came to women, and was wasting time doing pretty much nothing. I wasn’t even a good student at the time. I don’t have that connection in my mind to that time in my life, it’s all sort of vague and depressing.
  3. 3. I hate this one. Yes, YA books CAN be very popular. And of COURSE I’d love to make a living writing, (True fact, people think I make mad money off the books I’ve already done. I made 112$ last year off book sales. yes, 112$.) But writing something I don’t feel, and can’t connect to just to make money, well, I can’t do it. It would suck all the joy and fun out of writing. Period.

 

So what KIND of writer am I? Glad you asked.

 

I have no clue! 🙂

See the first few books I’ve done have all had the overall theme that you can’t trust a damn soul, and that pretty much everyone and everything is out to get you. Different stories, but that’s still the overall feeling through the books. This current book throws that dark world view out, and doesn’t even mess with it. Sure, my protagonist has a bit of a habit of not telling other’s 100% of the truth, but it’s not the same thing (It’s not! Don’t look at me that way.) This story is more exciting, more active, and more interesting. So who knows what kind of writer I am. Do I even need to know in truth?

 

First Podcast.. On Mind Mapping

Podcast One is up!

Disclaimer: I don’t know anything about podcasting, and it shows. I’m still learning here,so bear with me. I’m sure it will get better as I go along, but for now.. here you go. I’m still working out the kinks with podcasting plugins, etc. I also recorded this at 6:41 am this morning, so I wasn’t toooootally awake yet.

This Podcast is about ‘Mind Mapping’ and how I use it when I write. Hope you enjoy!

The Physical Needs of Writing

So I was going to make this a vlog. I even recorded it, but it’s already been deleted. I have a confession. I HATE seeing myself on video (or pictures). I avoid getting my picture taken like the plague, and so video and I … not anything I like doing. Maybe I’ll try again sometime, but for now, text, or maybe a podcast. But video.. not gonna happen for now.

But the real thrust of this post is about things you need when writing. Now I know if you trying to write, or you do write, you’ve seen 1001 things on structure and pacing, read more style guides than you care to count, and been offered many different software tools to write with. That is ALL necessary, and needed. But, I realized that there is a section that other “independent” authors seem to gloss over. Two things in fact. the two most import physical needs of writing that I think there are.

A Chair, and a Keyboard.

Bear with me.

A Chair. Not sexy, not interesting. But think about it. Your going to be sitting a lot, typing. And retyping, and then reading what you typed and hating some or even all of it. And through all of it, your going to be sitting. If your sitting in a chair you hate, or sitting in a chair that grows more and more uncomfortable the longer you sit in it, your going to have problems. When I started really writing Oversee of One, I had this chair that I’d had for several years. I quickly realized that while it was fine for sitting at while I was checking email, or even playing a short game, sitting at it for any length of time, and writing was near impossible. It just wasn’t comfortable. I replaced it with this. It was more than I wanted to spend, and I almost didn’t order it. I’m very glad I did. It’s been a great chair to write in. Comfortable, decent back support, and the mesh back, which I wasn’t sure I really would like is awesome for me in the lovely weather of Florida.

Keyboards. Now I’m not a guy who can write much on laptops. Simply put I got big hands, and little keyboards mean lots of mistakes. I’ve tried, but it doesn’t flow as well. I need to write sitting at a desk with a real full size keyboard. Wired or Wireless doesn’t mean much to me, I go wireless simply because it’s one less cable for me to catch my foot/leg on at 11:00 at night when I’m rereading what I’ve written for the last two hours. Some people love mechanical keyboards, especially if you like that ‘click’ sound when you type. It’s very old school, almost typewriter-ish, and I’ll admit are somewhat more responsive than a normal keyboard. However I just use a good quality wireless keyboard. The key for me was finding one my hands felt good with. I went to my local bog box retailer, and pretended to type on every keyboard they had on display. I’m sure the folks working there thought I was a loon, but the fact was, if I was going to be using a piece of equipment to create with, I wanted to make sure it felt good to do it with. I ended up with this one. I’m not using the mouse, just the keyboard. It’s responsive, doesn’t seem to drain batteries like my old one, and just works.

Writing is a very mental act, but it’s important to remember that it’s also a physical one. If the chair you plant yourself in, or the keyboard you use to type both don’t help you in that mental work, it can make the actual act of writing a tedious one.

 

Writing what I don’t know

So as I explore in this new book, I find myself in both highly familiar areas, and some that are different to me. I know IT, the ins and outs, and the personality types that are involved. I see it day in and day out. I’d say roughly 75% of the IT things (and office things) in the new book come from personal experience.  But some, the thriller parts, the law enforcement, the legal parts, those parts I don’t know.

Now, for those who don’t know me (which is probably everyone reading this.) When I don’t know about something, I am a researcher to the extreme. I read everything I can on the subject, I  pretty much drown myself in data for a day, days, or even a week or two. Then go from there. I even read an abridged FBI interrogation techniques manual for this new book. But that’s only half of it, at least in my process.

The other half is to find good fiction in the same basic genre, and read it. Not to steal ideas not to copy, but to see how other’s have handled their pacing, their background building. To make it believable and livable. I take notes, and take the data I have, and seeing how it’s paced in others stories, helps e make it ‘real’ for the reader. The ultimate goal in any story (and least the ones I write) is that I want the reader to ‘be there.’

Back in the distant past, I did a lot of theater stuff. I always remember an acting coach pushing me hard to ‘do not show.’ It’s the same with writing for me. I can put on a show, but does the reader get involved? Can I take that reader and have them feel along with the story. I want them to be not only an observer, but to be linked to the characters.

It’s not easy. It’s not easy in acting, and it’s not easy in writing.

Writing what I don’t know is one hell of a challenge.

 

But damn it’s fun when it works!

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