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Month: January 2014

Intentional Writing

Many of you have heard me speak at writer’s groups about a thing I am calling intentional writing. None of the concepts are new, I’m just pulling them together to try to define something without offending anyone. Because there clearly are at least two classes of writers, and the difference is difficult to define without using generalizations. So for the sake of argument, I will define it as unintentional or not-yet-intentional writers, and intentional writers. So what is an intentional writer?

Intentional Writers Write Every Day. Not only do intentional writers write daily, but they write with specific goals in mind, whether word count, reworking a scene, or editing a portion of a competed work. The idea is not just to write for the sake of getting words down every day, but to write with purpose.

Should be writing

 

Intentional Writers are Held Accountable. What is accountability? It is having someone or a group that not only asks about what you are writing daily, but holds you to goals you have stated or set. Not just asking “How is the work going?” but more specifically asking “Did you make ‘x’ word count today?” If you do not meet goals, accountability partners reserve the right to hold you to your word. The more public you make your goals, the more likely you are to stick to them.

Intentional Writers Welcome Meaningful Critique. There are hundreds of writers groups around the country and the world, virtual and in person, which pretend to offer critique. Too often, they only offer meaningless validation that your work is ‘good.’ An intentional writer understands that harsh critique now saves poor reviews later. If I don’t tell you about your plot issues, the next person to do so will be a reader, or worse a reviewer. Readers (customers) expect you to put your best forward. Once they have paid for your work, their complaints become bad advertising for your book and the rest of your work. An honest, meaningful critique partner makes a true difference in your end productedits reaction2

Finally, Intentional Writers seek to improve their craft through both Education and Experience. There are literally hundreds of books on writing, and while some are better than others, it never hurts to look at someone else’s viewpoint. There are classes, whether community, college, or on-line that talk about specific parts of the writing craft. Writer’s conferences are often a good place to get bite-sized instruction. Wherever they can, intentional writers seek and value education.

And the experience comes from all of the above. When you write daily and hare held accountable to goals, when you welcome meaningful critique and allow yourself to be taught, you gain experience. Remember too that you practice your craft for a game, and the game is publishing. Don’t just write every day and keep filing away those stories and novels. Putting them out there and letting them be read is the game. It’s why we write.

From today forward, resolve to join the community of intentional writers. Your writing will be better for it.

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The Dogs that Got Away

A boy and his dog make a glorious pair: No better friendship is found anywhere

Edgar Guest

102_0259After penning Stray Ally, and in anticipation of its release March 4, I have been mentally reviewing my lifetime canine companions. My experience with dogs began young, and I lost out on much learning due in part to my mother. Part of it was her economic status as a single mother, Christian school teacher with two boys. Part was also her lack of experience with domestic animals, primarily cats, which she loathed, and dogs, who often just need an alpha male to handle them: put them in their place if you will. I don’t blame her, but we often could not keep dogs as long as we wished, and I became a dog lover through experiencing other people’s pets.

Our first was Ricky. Ricky was a black lab, and his being my first may be the reason for my affinity for labs now. He came to us through a cousin, as a puppy. But Ricky had big paws. No, not just big paws. Gigantic paws. Our yard was not fenced, so chaining such an animal seemed cruel, and as he grew he became a burden for our small, poor family. It was like a third mouth for my mother to feed. Luckily we had an uncle who had a fenced yard, and also two boys who would play with him. Ricky became their dog, and I got to see him pretty regularly. When I was in Junior High, already nearly six feet tall, our heads were even when he stood on his hind legs. My mom never could have coped with such a large animal.

Sonny was not my dog. He was a cocker spaniel, and we used to ‘dog-sit’ him while his owners went on vacation. There was only one small issue: Sonny was an escape artist. I knew little of dogs, and their playful instincts, so it took me awhile to figure out that chasing him all over the mobile home park where we grew up, while not fun for us, was quite the game for him. I loved that dog, while at the same time despising his wanderlust. Eventually his owners moved away, and we lost a ready source of summer funding, canine entertainment, and exercise.

Then there was J.J. By far the weirdest dog I ever owned, I don’t remember what the J.J. stood for, or if we just picked two letters of the alphabet. He was a cocker-blue heeler mix, medium sized, but full of energy and mischief. The dog could leap from sitting to grab a Frisbee at my head height, by that time about six feet, and would chew up anything. He had a green blanket, pieces of which often decorated his yard leavings.

JJ

He was also an escape artist, the Houdini of dogs. He found a variety of ways to escape our various containment measures, including freeing his own chain from poles, trees, and porches. Often we would find him, dragging his chain behind him, running through the neighborhood. Sometimes a neighbor would call the number on his tag, revealing to us he had tangled himself around their porch, and requesting we come get him. You understand the puzzle of that? He freed himself from our purposeful chaining of him to our porch, only to become accidentally chained to someone else’s.

Finally, we were forced, due to my mother’s work, to move to Arizona, something I was not happy about on many levels. We were moving to an apartment, so J.J. had to go. Fortunately we found a rancher to take him, someone who had acres for him to run on. Just what that dog needed. I hated Arizona, but I think on another level, I hated not having a dog.

I didn’t get one again until I was an adult, and even then, ideal circumstances for dog ownership did not present themselves until the last decade or so. I went through the cat phase, and cats are fine, and have their own merits. But I have always been a dog lover, always will be.

So when I penned Stray Ally, I wrote in all the dogs I have known. Some mine, some belonging to others, some pulled from my dreams. All of mine have been adopted or rescued from some circumstance or in some sense.

Have you rescued a dog who touched your life? Has a dog helped pull you through tough times? Tell me about it at author_at_troylamberwrites.com.

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Wearing Masks

dramamaskAs any dog person will tell you, you can hide a lot from people, but it is much harder to hide tings from animals, especially dogs and cats. This was clearly in my thoughts when I wrote Stray Ally (coming March 4th) But it’s not Halloween. Why am I talking about masks?

Simple. In finishing Confession, the last in the Samuel Elijah Johnson series I recognized a few things about myself, and writers in general, although I hate making generalizations. One of the biggest revelations was about masks, and our love of dogs and cats.

Many of us have worn masks from a young age. Raised in a strict Baptist home, I embraced the religion of those around me at a young age, but as an avid reader, I also began to question it young as well. Since questions were not always welcome (at least not the kind I asked, and the way I asked them) I put on a mask or quiet acceptance. Although in my head my belief was eroding, and I knew some things were wrong, I outwardly accepted them, even endorsed them when necessary.

We realize there is something different about us, and the way we think. Why is that a problem? Because, at least in the generation I grew up in ‘different’ was not a good thing. Example: most of my high school graduating class went on to Bible college. (A Christian school) I chose a state school, and it was not only frowned upon, but I was told I was wasting my talents.

The arts were not prized as a career. I was told I was a talented writer, should write, but I should find another way to make a living. So I put on several masks over the years: manager, soldier, auto parts expert, motorcycle mechanic, and Fed-Ex driver. However, it was not until I took off the mask, and embraced what and who I was that I found happiness. Now, even if I make less, I will gladly struggle, knowing that money, while some is necessary, is not only not the answer, but neither is the level of respect given to my career by society.

approvalMy dogs accepted me the whole time. You may have read my blog recently about my dog, Houston, and the things he and his successor, Indie have helped me overcome. Neither of them ever cared what title or job I held. They both wanted me to come home, throw a ball or play tug of war with a rope, pet them and love them as the alpha of their little pack. When I was frustrated with my career masks, they kept their distance, offering comfort when I was ready. When I was sad, they were sad. When I was celebrating, they celebrated too. My dogs accepted the fact that I was different, and a writer, before I did.

Learn from your dog. First, take off your own mask. Let people see what your dog already knows. Second, accept others for who they are. Different is not bad, it just is. The more we recognize and acknowledge the value of others and what they do, the more likely they will be to accept us. That can’t be a bad thing at all.

Has your dog accepted things about you no one else has? Do they offer you comfort when no one else will? Tell me your stories in the comments, or e-mail me at author_at_troylambertwrites.com.

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The Hybrid Theory: A Case for Small Press

I’ve wanted to write this post for a while, but what pushed me to it this time was Hugh Howey’s excellent post about Brenna Aubrey who turned down a six-figure contract deal to self-publish, and found the gamble worked. Sure, her spectacular results are atypical, but I wanted to answer Hugh’s points about self-publishing with a caveat. I have (and will continue to) self-publish, but I also work with publishers. Not the traditional big houses, but small-digital press. Here’s why.

Investment. Brenna spend just over $1800 dollars on the production of the book. Hugh’s point is well taken.

This is a reasonable sum, and should be seen as both an inexpensive hobby, and a paltry start up cost for a small business.

I would add, however, that sometimes an author doesn’t have $1800 dollars (or even the $1000 I tell authors is near the minimum if they self-publish) to invest in just the production of the book. If you do not have at least this much money to invest, you should not self-publish. A small press may be the answer, in part because the shoulder these costs (editing, a cover, and formatting) for you, and since they do them in house, they likely cost them less than what an individual would pay.

Very few books make money. Most self-published books make less than $100. If you have $1800 dollars invested, that is a lousy return, and you have a moderately expensive hobby. However, if you work with a small press it is in their interest as well as yours to promote your work. Simply put, they at least want their money back, in other words your novel to earn what they paid to bring it to market. So although they do not market for you, they will do some things to promote your work, and you can send readers to their website or groups to find your work. For a debut author, this may be an answer.

Hugh’s second point is that pound for pound, self-publishing pays more. True. But this is also a part of a simple business premise. Pay now, or pay later. If you can invest both the time and money needed to self-publish, your return will be better long term. However, if you do not have the money to invest up front, you can pay later by giving up a portion of your royalties to a small press for a few years at least.

This leads to Hugh’s third fact: it is all about ownership. One of the big downsides to the big five is two issues: a non-compete clause (something you should never, ever sign) and the length of their contracts, often seemingly indefinite. My novel Stray Ally will be published by Tirgearr Publishing (a small, digital press) March 4th. The contract is relatively short (5 years) and if I am dissatisfied at the end of it, the rights revert back to me. Also, with a small press you will likely have more input into editing and cover design than you would with a larger house (if you want it).

The final fact presented is that a lot of luck is involved. This is true no matter what path you take. One thing I have observed about authors almost universally is the ones who invest time and money in their work and treat it like a business (it is) tend to be luckier. By using a small press, you can take what precious money you have and invest it in advertising and promotions. Use what works for others, and hire professionals if need be.

Small houses have already seen the light big houses have not. They don’t demand you sign non-compete clauses (I don’t sign one of those when I edit for small presses), pay higher royalties for ebook sales and keep prices lower, and have contracts limited to a number of years.

More writers should be as brave as Brenna. As Hugh has also stated, the Work is the Work, the Path is the Path. Self-publish, work with small presses, or do a little of both (like me). But get your work out there, and together lets change the publishing world.

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Why I Gave Money Away

And what happened when I did.

Happy AfterlifeI’ve been a part of charity anthologies before. I’ve given stories to causes, and even put stories in anthologies just for the exposure. However, I  never actually wrote one of my own stories and decided to see how much money I could raise for charity with it, until “The Angel,” and Happily Ever Afterlife. So how did that go?

We raised some money. It actually worked, and with a Facebook event, a Facebook page (you can still like the page here) and even before the first royalties we raised some money for Boston Children’s Hospital. Not as much as I would have liked, but the first big chunk of royalties has yet to hit the bank, and sales were good, at least for the first little while. Not bad for an anthology. We actually sold almost 50 t-shirts overall, although the shipping and the set up in the end cost me more than it should have. Not bad for a little anthology.

Not all of the feedback was positive. What follows are actually questions people asked me throughout the campaign:

Why did you give only half your royalties away? A: Well, because I paid for shipping, set up for t-shirts, and spent my time setting up the events. Giving half the proceeds away, I didn’t really make much. And I am a professional writer, so I get paid for my work. How much of your paycheck did you give back last week?

Boston is a long way away from Boise. Why couldn’t you give to something local? First, I didn’t live in Boise when I set up the charity. It took a while for the book to be published. My fans actually chose the charity by a vote. And amazingly enough, people from Boise who need specialized care go to Boston Children’s Hospital too. Would you give if it was a local charity?map

Is this just a gimmick to sell books? I’ve seen other authors do this for publicity. See above. If you gave away half of your paycheck, would it deserve publicity? Hollywood stars and the ultra-rich often give away small percentages of their income and it is a big deal because the amount is bigger, not the percentage. The charity gets money I could not otherwise afford to give. You still get a great book (and a great story) to read. Who loses here?

A final word. Here’s the real deal. I’m a giving guy. I like to help others. I do much of my work for non-profits for pennies on the dollar compared to what they should pay for my expertise. I gave money away because I wanted to, not because of any return, or to raise anyone’s opinion of me.

And I will do it again, with other work in the future. Think it’s a gimmick? Don’t like it? Well, that’s okay. Personally I’ll keep giving until I can’t, even when I don’t always have ‘extra’ myself. If people use the excuse they don’t like the charity, I don’t give enough away, it isn’t local enough, or it’s just an author gimmick so they don’t have to give, fine. It’s not about them. It’s about me giving back to others when I can.

For those who gave, bought books, ordered t-shirts, and just supported the effort, thank you from the bottom of my heart. You guys rock. Haven’t read the book yet? Find it here. Still want to give? The link is here.  Thanks again for all of your support.

BCH T-shirt Logo

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Houston: No More Problems

January 1999

It was a horrible time. I was confused, depressed, and felt rejected by family, friends, and seriously doubted my sanity. Good things came out of that time: I found the woman I am married to still, I started writing again, and I got a new dog. For nearly 10 years, he was one of my best friends.

A friend offered me a room for rent in Prescott, Arizona. She came to pick me up from where I was staying in Phoenix, and had a dog with her. He had no place to sit for the hour and a half journey but on my lap. A friendship started. One eventually filled with hours of fetch, walks, petting, and old age.

Houston was a mutt. I’m not sure how old he was when I got him, and different vets had different guesses, but he was about 3 or 4. I’m sure he was abused, by the way he flinched the first time I grabbed a broom. He didn’t like to be inside much, preferring the freedom and the smells of the outdoors. But that dog would fetch anything I threw, and play the game until I made him stop. His nose was amazing. I even got him one of these.

HyperdogNovember 28, 2008

It was my birthday. Black Friday, and Houston is almost blind. We were living down the street from Walmart. He still played fetch, still managed to find his way around, but this morning he got out of the back yard, and I couldn’t find him.

102_0259

Someone already had. A lady in a Toyota, on her way to find a bargain. She hit him, and took him to the humane society down the road. At least she did that much. He didn’t make it.

My other dog, a lab named Indy, helped me deal with Houston’s passing. It took me a long time to get over it.

September 2012

I was challenged to write a novel. It turned into a thriller about a man and a dog. The whole time I wrote it, I thought of Houston, and how much he helped me through a dark time in my life. A dog named Sparky jumped out of my imagination and onto the page.

March 2014

Stray Ally will be released this spring by Tirgearr Publishing. A strange accident on the freeway, accusations of murder, and an encounter in the Idaho wilderness all propel Todd Clarke into a new friendship with a dog named Sparky. But Sparky is no ordinary dog, and there is more going on than Clarke could have imagined.

A military commander he investigated for Aryan activity and links to domestic terrorism is after him, and he’s not sure why until another chance encounter provides the answer.

With Sparky and the help of his canine friends, will he be able to figure out the Colonel’s plan and stop him in time? All Clarke knows for sure is none of it would be possible without the help of his Stray Ally.

And now, when you read the dedication, you will understand who I am talking about.

To my dog, Houston. You were my best friend for a long time, and have been gone for a while, but I still miss you. Here’s hoping you are chasing a ball somewhere in doggie heaven, where there is no more doggie blindness and your nose is a strong as ever.

DogTennisBallHeaven

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The Year in Review: Advice from Working at Home

This was a transition year for me. One from writing at home part time and working part time to writing and working in publishing at home full time. We moved, from a place I love, to Kuna, a small town just outside Boise, Idaho. I miss that place, but in the transition, I learned a few things that have led me to some resolutions, and some advice to authors everywhere, full or part time.

Network. There is nothing like sitting down in person with another author, or talking to them on the phone, away from your keyboard. An in person writer’s group is invaluable. Finding a critique partner like finding a discarded diamond in the gutter: it will change your life and your writing career. So often as writers we feel that we are alone and strange. (sometimes, alone because we are strange) No one will understand you better than another writer who is going through the same things. Find them in your neighborhood, meet with them, talk with them, and share with them. You will all be winners. Find yours this year, if you have not already.

Exercise. One of my biggest concerns going into the New Year is my physical health. It is easy to start working, and sit in front of a screen all day long. Stay fit, eat right, and your writing and the rest of your life will be better for it. Take care of your body, because it houses that wonderful mind of yours, the one that likes to tell stories.

Take time off. My mental health and my work is better when I take time to walk away. Take at least one day off a week (don’t even turn on that computer), and go do things with your family and friends. Story ideas will flow better, writing will feel easier, and those dreaded re-writes and edits will feel less like work. Remember why you do what you do, and take time to appreciate the freedom it provides.

Get help. Hire help, trade for help, beg for help, but get help. Not a good accountant? Find someone who is. Need help with graphic design? Hire someone or trade some of your skills for some of theirs. Need marketing help? Do your research, but consult with professionals. Sometimes the one little piece of advice they offer can save you hours, days, or better prevent you from making an embarrassing mistake public.

Write. Sounds obvious, but there are two aspects to this I have learned this year. First, that stuff written quickly is better. It is more full of emotion, with less thinking. People want to feel through fiction, and thinking is secondary. Write from the heart, and usually that is done faster. Second, writing is why you got into this in the first place. Not to be a social media icon (like George Takei) or a twerking sensation (Miley Cyrus). You got into this to be a writer, so write.

Read. As an author, you read your own stuff over and over. As an editor, I read tons of crap before I find a gem, and I have to dissect even the gems. Want to fuel your passion to write? Read good stories. For every draft you write, for every story you sell, treat yourself to reading a really good book, whether that is one of the classics or a new sensation from an up and coming indie author.

Watch great movies. Great movies are great stories put on the screen Watch, and see how they are constructed. Use what you discover to inform your own work. Besides that, who doesn’t want to laugh at Jackie Chan or watch Sylvester Stallone embarrass himself on screen from time to time?

Lastly, read and watch non-fiction. Call it research. Call it continuing education. I don’t care what you call it, just do it. You will discover story ideas, new developments that will aid your fiction, grounding it better in reality. Browse it in the library. Subscribe to magazines. Watch your friends social media feed for that science gem. But never, ever stop learning.

I plan to do all of these next year, better. Let’s not call them resolutions as much as goals. Tangible, practical, and just plain fun. What do you plan to do? What would you add to this list?

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