Getting Civilized

Posted in Uncategorized, Writing on October 23, 2014 by JE Gurley

First, I want to apologize for the infrequency of my posts. I’ve been very busy. I began the year by taking my first real vacation in ten years, a cruise to Mexico with my wife, Kim. No computer, no phone – It was heaven. Then, I went to work. I completed and saw a new Kaiju novel through publication from Severed Press, From the Depths. Since then, I published a new zombie novel also through Severed Press, Jake’s Law. Both are doing great. Now, my second Kaiju novel through Severed Press, Kaiju:Deadfall, has gone through the editorial process and is due out very soon. While all of this was happening, I completed a science fiction novel, Occam’s Razor, worked with my friend, Al Sirois, to produce great cover art, and went through the whole Create Space procedure to complete my first real self-published novel. I’ve gone through Lulu.com a couple of times years ago, but that was amateur. I’m hoping using Create Space will open a new venue for me and expand my publishing horizon. I”m finally beginning to use all the technical options available for writers. I’m becoming civilized.

I’m 60-years old. I solved algebraic equations with a slide rule. I got my first calculator my second year of college. I grew up with a rotary phone on a 6-party line. My first computer was steam-powered. Not really, but it was ancient. I could play Pong on it and the first Zelda game. I’m the guy who refused to buy a Kindle until I was 58-years old, and even then I received it for my birthday. Of course, now I love my Kindle. I have a hundred novels and reference books on it. I even have a cell phone. Unlike Kim’s, it doesn’t text or connect with the internet. I only use it in my truck to ask Kim if I can pick up anything for dinner while I’m out I’m getting civilized or in case of an emergency, like a sudden zombie plague, but I have one.

Most of my novels sell through Amazon, Barnes&Nobel, etc. E-books are my bread and butter. I sell hundreds of e-books for every printed copy. I don’t see e-books replacing print any time soon, but I have accepted that it is here to stay and am trying to take advantage of it. Create Space works for small publishers. I am published by 4 small press publishers – Damnation Books, Severed Press, Angelic Knight Press, and Montag Press. I’ve had great experiences with all of them and wouldn’t hesitate to use small press again. Nor would I object to a fat deal with McMillan or Tor Books. Occam’s Razor is an experiment. I’m hoping it will pave the way for many more self published novels. Other writers seem to be doing well at it. Why not take a chance, I ask?

As we mature, we all throw away the things of childhood and become a little more civilized. I’m too old to ride the merry-go-round and not graceful enough to ride a skateboard. I can use the senior’s discount at the movies. I’m late at joining the technological age. I’ll probably never get a chip implanted in my brain or an LED watch embedded just beneath the skin of my wrist. I might not live to see the flying cars they promised when I was a kid in the fifties. However, I find it foolish to allow my Luddite tendencies to keep me from using every tool at my disposal to become a better author.

Space Age, here I come!

Disappointing Cons

Posted in Uncategorized on August 25, 2014 by JE Gurley

Copper Con: FANtasm in Phoenix kind of snuck up one me this year. Lots going on. I did manage to go Saturday to take a look around. I was very disappointed. I went mainly  to drop off some books that were going to low income and homeless kids. That was worth the trip. The con – not so much.

I’ve attended several times. Copper Con isn’t the largest convention around, but it’s always been informative and lively. This year they moved the event to Avondale on the outskirts of Phoenix for whatever reason. The venue was nice, but when I walked in, I thought I had missed it. Instead of throngs of people milling about looking at displays, buying books, etc., I saw a few people sitting around. I felt like I was in a library. Yes, I like libraries, but they don’t offer much of a party atmosphere. I dropped off a few postcards, bookmarks, and business cards at a table to complement the two or three others that were there. It seemed no one was pushing anything.

The vendors room had one table with used books, a cutting weapons display, some embroidery work, a Star Trek display, a two-person signing table – It would have fit in my living room. Very disappointing. There was a gaming room, which stayed busy, a media/film room, Steam Punk how to build it lectures, writer panels, etc., but all very poorly attended. I went to an Asteroid lecture by David Williams of ASU and NASA fame. Quite good. Then I went to a Finding the Story panel with author Michael Stackpole and was among six people. Same thing happened at a panel with Stackpole, Marshelia Rockwell, and Jeff Mariotte, all great authors. Six people attended and two of those were con promoters. I’m sure the authors were as disappointed as I was.

I left with a bitter taste in my mouth. The officials say they’re going back to their roots, away from the Comicon-type event they had last year, Copper Con: Revolution. They say everyone wants a great convention but few people want to participate in setting up a convention, which is true. I don’t have the time. I write for a living. It is a sad state of affairs when a beloved convention, one of the few local ones, begins to fade. It’s not dead. This is a lament, not a eulogy. It may bounce back and flourish. I hope so. Writers and fans both need conventions. Phoenix needs it, It’s where  an author gets to see his fan base in other than a bookstore setting.

I have to admit I only stayed  from about 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 on Saturday. I may have missed something, but the entire atmosphere seemed very muted. No one seemed to be having fun. If not for fun, what is a convention for? 

Let’s hope Copper Con survives the change in direction.DSCN0355

 

Flawed Characters

Posted in Writing on July 21, 2014 by JE Gurley

In writing, I believe characters with flaws are the most interesting. People who, despite personal, physical, or mental problems, step up and accept the challenge, either to succeed or to fail, like real life. People are not Superheroes. In fact, Superman’s biggest flaw was his love for Lois Lane knowing any relationship would place her in danger. Flaws sometimes define a person.

Captain Ahab’s thirst for revenge against Moby Dick, the whale that had scarred him both physically and mentally, defined him. He may have once been an honorable, God-fearing captain, but his encounter with the white whale changed him.

In some popular myths about Dracula, the suicide of his wife and the Church’s refusal to bury her on holy ground drove him to seek vengeance through the dark side. Speaking of the Dark Side, Darth Vadar falls into that category, following the Dark Side to keep his wife safe.

The flaw can be slight – a fear of the dark, or as in the Indiana Jones series, a fear of snakes. It can be less tangible – the fear of failure or the fear of caring too much. I think flaws of this type, psychological, are the most effective in writing. They can force a character to hesitate at the wrong time or to stop short of his/her goal.

Physical flaws can affect how the character goes about his goal, relying on others more than he/she would like, or overcoming these flaws through self reliance or ingenuity. Flaws, both physical and psychological, often define a character in others’ eyes as bad – retarded, slow, high strung, crazy, a gimp, scarred, withdrawn, handicapped – or as good – scarred and fierce-looking, doggedly determined, reflective.

Flaws can be used by the antagonists to beat down or humiliate the protagonist, allowing the hero to meekly accept the affront or defiantly challenge. Unflawed characters are one-dimensional and predictable and offer little for which the reader can cheer them on.

In writing and in life, approached flawed characters judiciously and with respect, because all of us are in some way flawed.

Winners and Losers

Posted in Uncategorized on April 15, 2014 by JE Gurley

Life is a gamble. You pay your money and take your chances. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. All clichés but all true. Writing is the biggest gamble of all. A writer invests time and emotional energy to place words on paper and faces the inevitable voices of dissent, solely to present an idea or a story to others. Those unsuited for such a demanding life suffer considerable dismay at rejection by friends, peers, and the public.

I’ve written 15 novels to date. None have won Stoker Awards, Pulitzers, or world-wide acclaim, but some had moderate success, if measured by a exposure to sales ratio. My first novels sold a few hundred copies at most, usually by me personally. Later, as my writing skill improved and my social skills developed, I sold a few thousand of some novels. It seemed that elusive 10,000 books sold was within grasp.

Alas, it is still hit or miss. The novels that I really enjoyed writing, the ones I really expected to do well, didn’t. My fault? Publishers fault? Fickle audience? I don’t know. Even after 15 novels. My zombie novels sell well. Zombies are hot right now. Well, most zombies. One novel about Cordyceps fungus zombies was a bust. I guess people like traditional zombies. Horror seems to sell better than science fiction. I don’t think I’m that much better at writing horror, but my science fiction submissions can’t find a home. I keep trying, of course.

If I had thinner skin, I might have given up. Constant rejection is bad for the soul. Having some novels sell and still getting rejections for others is even worse. It raises doubts about one’s ability and makes them wonder if it’s worth the hassle. As for me, I would always write. It’s in my blood. I have to write. Sometimes I think it’s better to write it and then put it away in a dark box rather than try to sell it, but I usually do anyway. I certainly can write better. I hone my craft and vocabulary constantly. Every writer should. Words are tools of the trade, like a paint brush. I tried painting but I’m too colorblind. I play guitar. I’m pretty good, but at 60 I know I’m as good as I’ll ever get. I’ll never be a famous musician. Writing is my legacy, the tales I want people to read and see who I am, who I was. It’s an ego thing, I guess, but without ego, no one would subject themselves to the harsh reality of writing for a living.

I see friends do very well and I’m glad for them. I don’t quite envy them, (Maybe a little) but I do try to determine what they’re doing that I’m not. Perseverance seems to be the key. I’ve had a couple of novels – Ice Station Zombie and Judgment Day – that never leaped into the public eye, but still sell by dribbles. Over the years the sales add up. The more novels on my Amazon Authors Page, the more I sell. Slowly, but surely, the tortoise beats the hare.

If we judge ourselves as writers by winners and losers, we will eventually lose. Very few authors receive that six-figure advance, sell hundreds of thousands of copies, or sells a screen play. Most of us have to be satisfied with writing and selling in modicums. If we don’t love what we write, whether or not it sells, we will always be disappointed. Art for Arts Sake should be our motto. 

Never give up. Luck, serendipity, fate - call it what you will – still plays a part in success, but you, as a writer, have to be prepared for it. Poor writing might sell, but will never build a career. Never lower your standards or your goals. It is better to fail at being better than you could ever be than being less than you could. In a world of winners and losers, be a winner. 

                                                                                                                                                         J. E. Gurley

 

     

Is It Spring Yet?

Posted in Uncategorized on March 25, 2014 by JE Gurley

 I have the good fortune or the foresight to live in Tucson, Arizona. While the rest of the country was experiencing the worst winter in years, still is in places, I complained about 40 degree nights. Here, our winters are short (3-4 days) and the snow is on the top of nearby Mt. Lemmon where I can see it without having to shovel it. I have endured harsh winters – Chicago, Poconos in Pennsylvania, a Christmas visit to Detroit – so I know how it can affect your mental outlook. You have my deepest sympathy. 

As a writer, it is often difficult enough to dredge up scenes from your mind in the best of circumstances. It is only made harder by the often oppressing gloom and darkness of winter. Oh, I know some people enjoy winter sports, but to me if a sport requires more than shorts and sandals, it’s too strenuous. Shirt, sweater, jacket, hooded parka, goggles, and two pair of pants smother the body. I prefer the beach or the pool, or on really cool days (70 degrees), the hot tub. Finding that perfect word or turn of a phrase while beating your arms across your body or holding your feet in front of the fireplace to stay warm doesn’t help. Cold weather slows the blood flow and causes ideas to crystallize between synapses instead of passing through them. Hot toddies or a shot of vodka can help, but too much drinking just lowers your body temperature, although it can often induce wonderful dreams..

Watching people search for beachfront property in Hawaii or other tropical locals on TV can help, but often just causes envy to rear its ugly head. I recently took a Mexican cruise. It was wonderful. NO cell phone, no computer, no news for seven days. Cleared my head. Not everyone can do this. So here’s an idea.

Close your eyes. Try to imagine you’re lying on a sandy beach – Tahiti, Cozumel, Bora Bora – drink in hand (Insert your preference). An umbrella stirrer with fruit would be a nice touch. A gentle warm breeze is blowing across your face. The sound of waves lapping the shore rhythmically lull you to a state of drowsiness. In the distance, a mariachi band or a steel band is playing softly. Perhaps some steel band Pink Floyd. Relaxed? Warm and cozy? Now, let your mind wander down tropical corridors lined with shelves of beautiful words. Reach out and grab the words. Taste them. They taste like pineapple or papaya. You smile. Now. allow your mind to roam freely. Ideas begin to flow. Words appear magically in your mind. Stories spring full blown from your fingertips. You are happy. You are content. You are warm.

Neither rain nor sleet nor gloom of night … It works for writers as well. If your story’s environment can create conflict or add tension, surely your locale can too. Use your mind’s environment to control your environment. You can’t all move to Arizona. I won’t let you. It’s getting too crowded. I saw eight cars on the Interstate during rush hour. Someday, your location will warm again. Unless you live in Canada. There’s no hope for you Canadians.

PS  This doesn’t apply in Arizona. We just have to learn to live in a perfect environment. It’s never too hot in the summer to go inside and chill around the A/C.Image  

Stepping Back

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on March 10, 2014 by JE Gurley

Drop that pen and paper! Step away from the keyboard! I’m saying this for your own good. If you’re a writer, chances are that your mind works differently from so-called normal people. Your mind works continuously, no breaks, no days off. Even dreams and nightmares (especially nightmares) become fodder for your pen. Every time you sit at a restaurant, you’re watching people, listening to snatches of conversation, noting sounds and smells. An airport terminal, even a hospital ER become scenes in your head. How many times have you snapped awake in the middle of the night, jumped out of bed, and jotted down a thought before it became lost in oblivion.

It’s time for a break.

My wife and I haven’t had a vacation in ten years. Oh, we’ve gone lots of places, but they all involved conventions, conferences or book signings. Fine for me, but my wife was just along for the ride and to be supportive. Or maybe she just doesn’t trust me alone with a bunch of fellow horror writers. I can’t blame her. We’re a scary bunch prone to doing weird things for fun. This year, we went on a real, honest-to-God vacation, a cruise.

When I head cruise, I said, yeah, that’s like jumping from a burning airplane with a bed sheet for a parachute or rafting a raging river clinging to a rubber ducky. Every time I turned on the news, it was another cruise ship on fire, sinking, powerless with overflowing toilets, or filled with hundreds of sick passengers. Not my idea of a good time. Don’t get me wrong. I love the water and I love boats. I worked on several boats in the Gulf of Mexico when I worked for oil companies. I had a few of those sink and a helicopter splash down, but that was just good times – fun. I’m older, somewhat wiser, and not as athletic now. Why a crusie. I could die just as easily in my own home with less hassle. 

Nevertheless, we booked a 7-day cruise on the Princess Sapphire from LA to Puerto Vallarta, Cabo San Lucas, and Ensenada. It was Wonderful. First, no internet (2.5 hours for $75), no phones, and no writing. I brought my Kindle along to catch up with my large backlog of reading, and managed to read the last half of V-Wars by Jonathan Maberry and friends. Almost 3,000 people aboard, but plenty of privacy. Shows, contests, movies, 10-12 restaurants, bars, games – plenty to do. First, we had a mid-ship outside mini-suite with a balcony. We had room service breakfast on the balcony. The crew catered to all our needs.

I’ve been to Mexico many times. I live in Tucson, so I can buy Mexican goods as cheaply as anyone just down the street with no drug cartel action, but I’ve never been to the pacific side of the country. A tour of Puerto Vallarta included a tequila factory with samples. Very nice. In Cabo I went to Cabo Wabo Cantina for lunch. Unfortunately, Sammy Hagar wasn’t there, but the food was good. The real star of the cruise was the cruise. I’ve never been so relaxed. I thought I would be jonesing to write, but I let my mind chill for a few days. It recharged the ‘leetel gray cells’, as Hercule Poirot is wont to say (Always wanted to write that, just never found the right spot).

The cruise allowed me to clear away the chaff of second-guessing already published books, doubts about re-writes and re-submissions, and the hundreds of ideas for new novels. I came away clear-minded and focused. I jumped right into my next project with newly found energy. So I say to you, fellow writer, or just normal person, step away from whatever you’re doing. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Find something, be it a cruise, a week-end away from home, or a project different from your normal routine. Allow your mind to expand, and then contract like the universe around you, and you will find new energy, new enthusiasm, and new hope for whatever you endeavor. Sometimes, a different prospective on projects and life in general are necessary for long-term survival as a species and as an individual.

PS  I suggest a long cruise.

New Year – New Opportunities

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on January 2, 2014 by JE Gurley

2013 is gone. Dead. Vanished into the mists of time. 2013, the king is dead. Long live the king, 2014.

2013 was a good year for me. Lots of novels written, quite a few sold, and more weird ideas percolating in my brain. The voices are whispering even now. The voices worked overtime this year. God rest ye merry gentlemen, but not for too long. I’ll need your advice soon. I attended several great conventions, saw family and friends, and made new friends .Any problems I had in 2013 are past and not worth remembering. It’s time to look forward.

2014 came in with a whimper for me – no celebrating, no Champaign. It slipped in quietly on soft angelic wings while I scribbled furiously on my new novel. (Actually I use my laptop. I can’t read my own scribbling.) That’s a good way for a writer to celebrate New Year’s Eve. After all, what is New Year’s Eve but a celebration of what we accomplished and a hope for what we might achieve. Dreams are conceived at the death of one year and born with the beginning of the new year. Many die a quick death for lack of perseverance or overreaching. Choose your dreams and New years Resolutions wisely.

I turn 60 in February. (Thank you. Thank you. No applause necessary. It was easy once I realized there are things worth living for and fighting for.) Kim and I are taking a cruise from LA to three Mexican ports. Considering the fate of many ships, I call it a Horror Cruise. I’m brushing up on my Spanish so I can find the bathroom, a priority at my age and with my bladder. I’ll attend several conventions this year, mostly in Arizona, California, and Texas to keep it close. Not sure about World Horror Con in Portland. I’d like to go, but the cruise will cost enough. I’ll be at Tucson Festival of Books with the Society of Southwestern Authors. TFB is always great.

Think of 2014 as a doorway. You don’t know what’s beyond until you push it open and peek inside. Take a bold step into the new year. Write hard. Promote well. Read often.

Have a great 2014. 

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