Writing Through the Holidays

Posted in Uncategorized on November 27, 2015 by JE Gurley

As a writer, I write a lot – mornings, afternoons, nights, and in between TV shows I want to watch. I try to make time for my wife and cats, but they all understand, at least the cats do. There are always the inevitable doctor or dentist appointments, trips to the grocery store for food (The cats insist), and the occasional entry into the world of real people to reacquaint myself with actual human beings and social interaction, but writing takes up most of my time (Well, playing music nibbles away a small corner).

Holidays can be tricky events for writers to maneuver, like rapids in a river. It is good to see friends and family, sit down for a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, and remember old times or talk about recent events. It is with such social gatherings that the very fabric of society is woven. I hear some people even venture out on Black Friday, but I write about zombies and apocalypses and have no desire to experience either personally without a weapon, and swords are frowned upon in most Best Buys, though I hear Walmart has a more user-friendly policy.

When writing is impossible, the mind can still function on levels beyond conversation and comments on the mashed potatoes. Entire character conversations can be conceived. Worlds can be created or destroyed. Can Uncle John’s nervous tic become a trait for a new character? Can Cousin Betty’s high-pitched laugh and tendency to slur her words after two glasses of wine make its way into a dinner-table dialogue in Chapter Three? Does Aunt June’s habit of tapping her foot under the table become the sound of a character’s cane along the worn cobblestones on a moonless night in Arkham?

Observing friends, family, and strangers can be an excellent method of adding more depth and realism to your characters. The flow of words during a conversation, or more importantly, the words that are omitted that still allow the listener to understand the speaker’s meaning, can change a dialogue from a boring exchange of words into a spellbinding revelation of information, nuance, and emotion.

Writing is not always sitting at the keyboard or holding pen in hand waiting for the muse to whisper in your ear or, if your muse is a bit heavy-handed, to kick you in the ass. Putting the words on the screen or on paper is important, but developing the story that the words convey is vital. This does not require marathon sessions at your desk. It is possible to create entire novels in your head while smiling and nodding politely, as your second cousin once removed Bob is describing his latest fishing or hunting trip, or the stranger next to you on the train tells you hos lousy his day has been.

Enjoy your holidays. Enjoy your friends and family. Keep writing.



Keys to Success as a Writer

Posted in Uncategorized on July 16, 2015 by JE Gurley

Keys to Success as a Writer

Writing your first novel, or even your fifth, is only the first step in the process of becoming an established author. Sometimes, writing is the easy part. You have to ask yourself 3 big questions:

1. Is this work the best I can do? If the answer is yes, congratulations, but you’re probably wrong. Chances are you can do better. Lay it aside for a while and consider why it isn’t your best work, and then take steps to improve it. If the answer is no, lay it aside for a while think of how you can improve it. Refer back to the first sentence. The first key to success is producing a product – a novel, memoir, or technical book – that the reader can follow or enjoy without tripping over obvious typographical, technical, or continuity errors. To some readers, this is s death knell for a novel.

2. Did I say what I wanted to say? If yes, you’ve discovered one of the keys to successful writing. You’re a rarity. Treasure your ability. Few people actually wind up saying what they wanted to. They ramble, bloviate, or overwhelm the reader with fodder, writing that serves no purpose except to fill the page. Even in today’s modern print media, the writer sometimes takes three paragraphs to tell a story when three sentences would suffice. Purposeful brevity, punctuated by splashes of brilliant exposition, can hold a reader’s attention far longer than page after page of contrived metaphors, similes, or compound sentences.  If the answer is no, decide what you really wanted to say. Then decide why you want to say it and how to say it better.

3. Do I know my market? Key # 3 is often the most difficult to grasp. You have to know who your writing for and how to reach them. Internet search engines allow readers to search for books on any topic or combination of topics they desire. If they are interested in Late 18th century Catholic priests who hunt vampires using alien werewolf acolytes and technology stolen from the future by Vatican time travelers, they can find it. A writer must find his/her niche. The niche can be as narrowly defined or as broad as you wish. The smaller the niche, the smaller the audience, but the easier to reach them.I write horror and science fiction. Horror is a broad-based genre, unless you focus on slasher thrillers, gothic, paranormal, paranormal romance, gay/lesbian, or steam punk. My biggest sellers are apocalyptic, zombie, and Kaiju, or giant monster novels. I have a ready-made audience and use social media, like my website, Facebook groups, my two blogs, Goodreads groups, Twitter, and guest blogs to reach them. I recently participated in a #SummerofZombie 2015 Blog Tour with 37 other zombie authors. Guest blogs, giveaways, contests, t-shirts – it was a full-tilt effort. Each author got multiple opportunities for exposure with each author tweeting, blogging, and share posts around the world. I was able to ride the coattails of more well-known zombie authors like Jake Bible, Joe McKinney, and Jonathan Maberry to reach a wider audience.I also participate in an Authors Supporting Our Troops event each year, where writers donate books to be boxed and shipped overseas to troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, or any other foreign base. I received mentions by my local hometown National Guard, VFW, and American Legion, as well as a write-up in the local newspaper, all well worth the cost of a few books. 

These are the First 3 Keys to success. There are more.

  1. Know your craft. Keep a thesaurus, a Strunk and White, or an Oxford book on punctuation usage handy. You can break the rules, but you need to know what the rules are first. I continuously refer to mine. There’s been a big 1 space or 2 after a sentence on Facebook. I fall into the 1 space follower. It saves pages in a book, reducing cost.
  2.  Use words the reader can understand. It’s okay to send them to the dictionary every now and then, but can easily bog a reader down. Avoid repetition. Don’t use the same word or phrase too often, especially not in the same sentence. If something is the color red, call it red, rust, blood-colored, crimson, fuscia, ruddy, copper, garnet, rubicund, maroon. Don’t use red every time.
  3. Do your Research. Whatever you write about, some reader will know more about the subject than you do. Make sure your technical data. I write about the military and weaponry. If I have a .45 caliber pistol using 200 grain ACP rounds, I need to know that a .45 caliber rifle using 400 grains of gunpowder aren’t the same ammunition and aren’t interchangeable. I write fiction, so I make stuff up, but unless I have sound technical and historical accuracy to base it on, it becomes fantasy and more difficult for the reader to submerge themselves into the story.
  4. Keep a flow chart. You can use a written flow chart, a mental one, or a bunch of Post-It notes, but you need some way to keep track of timelines, characters, and events. I’ve read too many stories with poorly defined flashbacks, scene changes, or POV changes. If flashbacks are necessary to your story, make certain you place them where needed and that they contain the correct verb forms. Otherwise, an unwary reader can get lost. Define scene changes or point of view changes. Too many writers skip in and of character’s minds wily nily when a single point of view would be better. A second or third POV can be espoused for the scene later in a more clearly defined POV change. Rule # 1 – Don’t confuse the reader.

Your novel is completed, edited, and ready to go. You send it to the publisher, and they like it. Now, you sit back and relax or start work on your next novel.

Wrong. Even with a small press publisher, you will have one or more edits to deal with, and possibly a decision on the cover. You’ll need a blurb for the back and maybe a couple of review excerpts from other authors. With Big press publishers, it becomes even more complicated. If you self-publish, it’s all on you – cover art, formatting, editing.

Marketing. This is the point where most writers fail miserably, not from poor writing or an uninteresting subject matter. This is the one place where the Money should flow to the writer, not from him rule falls apart. Marketing can be as simple as word of mouth, a blog post, a posting on Facebook or a Tweet, or can cost thousands of dollars. Unless you believe you novel is heads and shoulders better than anything else out there, I would avoid spending large sums of cash in hopes of a greater return. There are thousands of authors writing thousands of books each year and most readers stick with writers they now.

Don’t sell your novel, sell yourself. Create an author’s platform. Put yourself out there wherever possible. Create an interest in you as a person and your book without hawking it like a sideshow barker – Buy my book!

Send arcs or review copies to reviewers that enjoy your subject matter. Do not bombard every reviewer you can find on the internet. A reviewer of vampire romance or children’s novels isn’t going to gain you an audience unless that’s what you’re writing. Be as specific as possible to whom you send review copies. Be aware some reviewers may take months to get to your novel, if they do at all. To them, it’s a numbers game. To you, it’s your future. There are many small review bloggers out there who would love to review your novel. It’s how they get their reading material for free. Use a link to their blog review of your novel on Facebook, Goodreads, your blog, your website. Make copies to hand out at book signing events.

Contact your local newspaper book reviewers. Local coverage is the best advertising. Build a base close to home and then expand to state, regional, and national levels.

Advertise. Postcards, bookmarks, business cards, and flyers can be an inexpensive way to get word put about your book. Vistaprint, Printrunner, or someone like them can produce posters or anything else for $30-40. Leave them at bookstores, conventions, or libraries. Logo items, such as ink pens are good giveaways. Larger items – coffee mugs, thermos cups, etc. are more costly but make great prizes.

If you aren’t on Facebook, don’t have an Amazon author’s page, Twitter, Goodreads, a blog or a website, do so. It can be free to inexpensive or as elaborate as you want. You can add buy links in your blogs or website to your books.

Keys to Success as a Writer

Zombie Defense Through the Ages

Posted in Uncategorized on June 9, 2015 by JE Gurley

Zombie Defense Through the Ages

As we all know, zombies have been around for a long, long time. To survive a zombie apocalypse, or even a small local undead uprising, knowing your weaponry is essential. The tool must fit the task. In killing zombies, one had two options – long distance or close up. Long distance is safer but sometimes impractical. What effective weapons have zombie killers through the ages employed?

If you were in China during the Qin Dynasty, you had many options, all of which required skill and strength. If you were a poor, malnourished peasant, your chances of survival were low. You would probably become one of the walking dead. The most effective weapon for long-distance zombie slaying was the Gung or bow. An arrow through the head usually did the job. For closer quarters and multiple zombies, the Nu, a semi-automatic crossbow firing 10 bolts in 15 seconds made you a very popular defender of village maidens. Swords were excellent for removing heads. The Jian, a double-edged straight sword, the Dao, a curved, single-edged weapon, the liuyedao, a moderately curved sword, and the piandao, curved like a scimitar or shamshir, and the much heavier niuweidao, a two-edged broadsword.

The Chinese also employed axes, such as the fu, curved double-edged axe, and the yue, a single-edged heavy ax, very effective at lopping off heads or cleaving limbs. Spears (Qiang), and heavy long pole weapons such as the Ji with a sharp metal tip at its base and a curved blade on the other end. The guan dao, pu dao, and tang dao had long, weighted, curved blades whose long poles allowed its user to deliver a powerful blow capable of cleaving both horse and rider, if a zombie happened to be mounted.

Much later, during medieval times, swords, weighted weapons, lances, bows and later, guns kept zombies at bay. The longbow; crossbow, which could fire wooden bolts or spherical metal balls; the arbalest, a heavier crossbow with a 900-yard range; and the hand-held pistol crossbow allowed some distance between zombie and defender. They were especially useful as zombies gathered at moats or closed draw bridges. Knight code of honor required a more intimate approach to zombie slaying. Clubs, maces, war hammers, flails, and morningstars, were all battering weapons designed to crush armor or zombie skulls.  Lances, spears, pikes and javelins were hurled or used for stabbing. Pole arms – glaives, halberds, bariches, correques, and fauchards were similar in scope and use to Chines Dao weapons. The guisame had a hook at the tip to dismount riders. It could be used to bring zombies within sword reach. Halberds had an axe blade on one end, backed by a hook on the other side and a spike in its tip.

Falchons were one-handed, single-edged swords, while long swords were two-handed, doubled-edged swords. Daggers, such as the anelace, the poignard, the stiletto (An Italian favorite), and the rondel made hand-to-hand killing of undead foes close up and personal. The bardiche, the pollaxe, and the throwing axe required less training but were quite effective.

Little changed until modern weaponry came along during the Civil War. Swords were still used, but bayonets attached to the barrels of rifles saw more use. Pistols included the Moore’s Belt revolver, which fired 7-.32 caliber bullets, the Smith and Wesson, the Colt, the Remington, the Lemat, which had an over-and-under barrel capable of firing 9-.42 caliber rounds from the top and a 16-gauge shotgun shell in the lower. Two very useful weapons for zombie defense were the Walsh revolver with its 12 shot capacity and the Elgin pistol with its large, curved blade on the barrel. Only two hundred of the Walshes  were made, so finding one was matter of luck.

Rifles included the Hawken Rifle, the Springfield and its Confederate copies, the Mississippi, the Fayetteville, and the Richmond, the Sharps, and the two lever-action rifles, the Henry and the Spenser. The earlier muzzle loaders fired heavy lead Minnie balls of .88 caliber or .69 caliber. Later bullets resembled todays ammunition. What sets this era apart from earlier eras is the introduction of mass killing weapons, the machine gun. The Gatling gun and the Agar gun, each capable of firing hundreds of rounds per minute, would have been very useful in a full-tilt zombie frontal assault.

WWI saw the advent of killing on a massive scale. The ingenuity of the entire civilized world went into the design of new, more destructive weaponry. Rifles improved in accuracy and ease of use. The British Enfield, the American Springfield, and the German Mauser would allow the killing of zombies at long distance, safer and more confusing to zombies. For mowing down groups of undead attackers, the Maxim gun, the German Maschinengewehr, the Lewis gun, the Gatling gun, the French Hotchkiss gun could deliver 800-100 rounds per minute to their targets.

Today, the weapons are much the same as in WWI and WWII. They are more accurate but no more effective. Faced with a horde of deadly zombies, I would prefer a sword, a guan dao, or a crossbow. They are more silent and just as deadly. In a pinch, a tire iron, a baseball bat, or a chainsaw will do the trick.

Killing zombies is not a sport. It is a means of survival. Choose your weapon carefully. Always take into account your skill level, strength, and squeamishness about busted or decapitated heads.

Aim HighShoot Straight

Reign of Evil: A Seal Team 666 Novel

Posted in Uncategorized on May 29, 2015 by JE Gurley

I’ve always been a big fan of military fiction and a bigger fan of military science fiction and horror. I’m also a friend and a fan of fellow Arizonan Weston Ochse. I loved Seal team 666 and thought, “How can he one-up that?” Well, he did.

I just finished Reign of Evil. I don’t know how Weston managed to weave American Special Forces, British Special Forces, Irish Special Forces, Celtic history, ultra-conservative British politicians, demon dogs, witches, and King Author (Yeah, that King Author) into one riveting tale, but damn if he didn’t do it. Reign of Evil  was non-stop action all the way through – pedal to the metal, balls to the walls, take no prisoners action. Weston’s personal military background allows him to inject realism and grunt minds into his military characters, and his slightly demented mind and penchant for meticulous research fleshes out his storyline until you BELIEVE.

Unlike a normal military unit, Weston’s Seal Team 666 takes on supernatural foes throughout the world. The body count is high, and he’s not afraid to kill a few good characters. In war,good people die, and the premise of his world is that we are at war with evil and the people who propagate it. It takes a hard man to do a hard job. Not that Weston isn’t afraid to utilize a few hard women along the way. Reign of Evil just shows the scope of which Weston is capable. He’s done zombies in the Salton Sea, ghosts in Deadwood, and survivors of a world holocaust living on a floating island of rusting ships. He really shines in his military fiction. Snafu, Seal Team 666, and Reign of Evil need to be on everyone’s bookshelf or Kindle.

If you haven’t picked up your copy of Reign of Evil, do it now before he sends the Hunt after you.

Getting in Writing Shape

Posted in Uncategorized on May 21, 2015 by JE Gurley

Getting in Writing Shape

After years of going up and down with my weight, I finally found a method (Not diet) that lets me eat what I like, and combined with portion control, exercise, and some self-restraint, I have lost 52# since January. Yeah, me! (Proper round of applause here). But this story isn’t about losing weight (Your Mileage May Vary). It’s about getting into better Writing shape.

Every writer has to start somewhere. Even Stephen King had bad days, although fewer than most. Some have years of High School and College English in their background. Others barely managed to pass Senior English Lit. This doesn’t affect you r ability to write, only how you approach writing. I’ve read too many books that require a dictionary or a summer refresher course to follow. That’s how some people write, how they learned to write. Personally, I write on a 10th to 12th grade level, using words most people are familiar with, while throwing in a few words that might require a quick Google search to define. That’s how I learned. I grew up reading on a higher level than my age and improved my vocabulary.

I have all the flaws most writers do. I forget how to spell words, forget the proper usage of a word, and tend to use flow more than outline as I write. This means more editing, but it’s my style. I think better off the cuff. It allows me to put more emotion into the words and phrases I choose. Writers have different methods of approaching the task of writing. The method isn’t is as important as the result.

Writing is an art, and like most art, requires preparation. The landscape artist Homer Winslow went to Paris to study before becoming a great American artist. J.S. Bach was born into a talented musical family, but he went to St. Michael’s School in Luneburg, Austria for two years before taking Europe by storm. Only a writer thinks he or she can sit down with a piece of paper and an idea and become the next great writer. It had happened, but not often enough to bank your career on it. Writing takes learning the tools, developing the skills, and avoiding the pitfalls of a new author.

I keep my copy of Strunk and White, my Roget’s Thesaurus, and my copy of Grammar for Dummies handy on my desk. Spellcheck and Word Thesaurus are too limited in scope to rely on solely. If it doubt, whip it out. I use them constantly. Sometimes I even remember what I read for the next time I need it. I have a long way to go to become the writer I want to be, but when I look back on where I was 8 or 10 years ago, I shudder. My Deep South upbringing didn’t help. We tend to mispronounce words, structure sentences awkwardly, and just make shit up when at times. I’ve argued with Spellcheck so many times I’ve wanted to shoot the screen only to find out later it was right and I’ve been wrong for 50 years.

Here are a few tips:

1. Writers should learn and understand sentence and paragraph structure. Learn the rules before you break them.

2. Learn proper punctuation. You can argue the use of the Oxford Comma, but you will have to use it at times.

3. Learn to properly use the most common misused words and phrases.

4. Learn to spell. Spellcheck only knows if you’re spelling a word in some language or the other, not if you’re spelling the one you want to use.

5. Learn proper use of verb tenses. Don’t confuse the reader.

6. Try to avoid -ily words like the plague. Adjectives are fine, but a good active verb can give a sentence more power.

7. Show don’t tell. This should be #1, but as I said, I use flow not outline.

There are probably a lot more rules I’ve forgotten about. I hope I’m using them correctly. I hope you do too. A good editor will look at a well-polished manuscript with a favorable eye.

Note – A well-polished manuscript will not make up for a poor story or a rehashed idea.

Keep writing.

Check out my website at jamesgurley.com

Writing Through Your Emotions

Posted in Uncategorized on April 28, 2015 by JE Gurley

One of the biggest challenges facing a writer is attributing real emotions to our characters, to make them come alive for the reader. I call this writing through your emotions.

The best writing has always been a collaboration between the writer and the reader, a connection between the two that transforms the written word into perceived emotion. Romance, horror, science fiction, thrillers, comedy – all rely on eliciting an emotional response from the reader. Great writers have all had this ability. Carl Sandberg, Walt Whitman, and Maya Angelou created vignettes of life through their poetry, using carefully chosen words and well-crafted rhyme to make us feel what they felt as they wrote. Mark Twain, Stephen King, Robert Silverberg, Ernest Hemingway, John Steinbeck – the list goes on and on. Each one was a master at conveying strong emotion through the written page.

For most writers, this is a difficult task. We often write in a vacuum, toiling away in our carefully constructed sanctuaries, cut adrift from the daily turmoil and tragedy that many must endure each day. We read about it in magazines or the newspaper or see it on television. We hear about it from friends. It can make us angry, sad, or frightened, and yet we have trouble expressing it. We write about pain, agony, and fear, but seldom create it with our language or our words. We are often emotionally crippled.

Film and stage are both mediums that allow the actor or the director to express emotion through movement, sound, facial expressions, and scenery. Faces are the mirror to the emotions within each of us. How can we as writers present this face to the reader? The answer is surprisingly simple. Before we can convey emotions to others, we must first feel them. We must allow what our characters feel to become part of us, crying, cursing, laughing, or fearing with them and through them. We must become our characters. We must experience what each separate character feels, react as they would react to the situations in which we place them, and then choose the right words to express that emotion so that the reader knows exactly how that character feels. We must allow the reader to draw upon their own emotional experiences, transfer them to the character we create, and become a part of the story. We must allow, no, insist, that they cry, laugh, or feel anger just as our characters do. The written page must become the stage on which our characters act.

We can convey emotions through more than words. Each scene, each encounter can become a tool by which emotions leap from the page into the reader’s mind. Color, scent, taste, and sound are emotional hues available from our palate to paint emotion onto each page.

Show and Tell. These two terms are hammered into a writer’s head throughout their career. In Telling we become a bard, a campfire storyteller, someone who relates a good story to others but invest no emotional energy. By Showing,  by creating fully developed, emotional characters, we immerse the reader in the world we create. Use your anger, your sadness, your uncertainty to channel those same emotions into your writing. Not only will you become a better writer, the process itself is cathartic, freeing you, as a writer, from your own chains.

Death to Serial Movies.

Posted in Uncategorized on November 24, 2014 by JE Gurley

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE good movies. I don’t watch every new movie that comes out, but a few just won’t translate to the small screen and the comfort of your home. They need to be seen and heard on the big screen in all their Dolby-inspired glory, hearing aids be damned. Long movies test my limits. No matter how comfortable the seat or how delicious the popcorn, I easily become bored. I really have to want to see a movie before I simply wait for it to come top Netflix or Pay-per-View. We, as viewers, are constantly bombarded by a stream of sequels, prequels, and alternative endings. It’s too much to keep up with. Now, we have the advent of the cliffhanger movies. The original thirty-minute cliffhangers of the 50’s and 60’s left the viewer eager for the next installment of Buck Rogers or the Lone Ranger. They were just a part of the afternoon theater experience. Lately, they’ve become all-consuming monsters.

I watched all three Lord of the Rings movies. I enjoyed the book better, but I did like the movies, especially the scenery, though I would have been just as entertained without watching every boring mile they walked or rode. I didn’t like paying for three movies just to follow a story. I got snookered again with the Hobbit Trilogy. I will watch the last one under protest. I watched the first two Hunger Games movies. I refuse to pay for two-movie ending. It isn’t worth it.I don’t care that much for completion.

Now, I learn that King’s The Stand will come to the big screen in four movies. Enough is enough. We’re talking about $50 for a re-made television special. Has something changed? Did The Walking Dude win this time? Will Randall Flag have a change of heart and reach reconciliation? Were the original actors so bad that a demand for new talent, new actors with new approaches, is warranted? I don’t think so.

No way in hell will I shell out the cash for this remake. I saw the new The Shining, the new Spiderman, the new Superman, the endless remakes of the endlessly boring Batman movies. Hollywood can take a great movie and destroy it with abandoned glee, but I have yet to see a remake that is superior to the original. Whatever happened to making a movie that doesn’t require a bank loan or an investment of time capital to watch?

Maybe I’m jaded. I still watch old movies whenever I can, even the ones I’ve seen twenty times. Old actors acted. New actors play themselves time after time. I admit Jonny Depp is great. He has a wide range of characters. He’s the exception. Most are like Keanu Reeves – lifeless and wooden.

I don’t mind serial novels. It allows the author to exploit his characters or his world. However, bringing serials to the silver screen is a bad experiment. It’s cheap and easy for a studio to film several movies at the same time and split them up, but the savings isn’t passed along to the consumer. We’re getting screwed. I say Death to Serial Movies!


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