WWIV Book 1

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Monday, April 28, 2014

The Real Life Apocalypse

How many of you remember the power issues on the east coast in August of 2003? The power suddenly disappeared and everyone was left in the dark. I should know; my family and I were sitting at a stoplight in Ann Arbor, MI the moment it happened. 

Here are the details of the event: Shortly after 2:00 p.m. (Eastern Time) on August 14. 2003, a high-voltage power line in northern Ohio brushed against some overgrown trees. Because of a number of extenuating circumstances, a fault occurred. This caused the power to shut down in the area and subsequently most of the northeastern US, along with some bordering areas in southern Canada.

Some power was restored to some areas later that evening. For many of the 55 million people affected, the power remained out for two more days. My family and I were virtually stuck in eastern Michigan for those two days. You see, we were low on gas in our 2001 Suburban. Low enough where I knew I couldn’t make the 155 mile drive back to where my daughter lived at the time (Holland, MI). So we had to stay put for those two plus days with another family. The pumps at the gas station are run by electricity in case you were wondering.

At first, many of us were frightened. We were convinced it was another terrorist attack. Remember, 911 was a mere two years prior to this event. Once we received information that it was a local/regional phenomena, and not national, we felt better, more at ease. And then with the eventual explanation given radio people, we finally relax and decided to ride out the storm as best we could.

With first-hand knowledge, I can tell you there was no mass chaos or rioting in the days without power. Oh sure, grocery stores had an instant attack of worried shoppers. But imagine their issues without electricity. No scanners, no price checks, freezers slowly defrosting. Perhaps they felt the impending chaos more than anyone.

We, my family and our hosts, did the best we could. After firing up the propane grill, we ate like kings for the next two days. We knew the food in the refrigerator would go bad quickly. As for the stuff in their freezer? Well, even the prime rib they were saving for some special occasion later was devoured expediently.

Three days later, my family and I made our way back to Holland. There were a few cars dead on the side of the road. Mostly from a lack of gas I suppose. But other than our anxious fears, nothing else bad happened. Nothing really throughout the 50+ hour ordeal.

I honestly don’t believe we will have to endure mass chaos in the hours and immediate days after any apocalyptic event. At least not from what I saw in Michigan back in 2003. The first thing all of us will feel is fear. The fear of the unknown. After that, we will most likely try and band together. This is a natural survival instinct I believe.

As time goes on and we lack the much needed information to enable us to make rational decisions, things will begin to fall apart. I really feel we are safe for the first week or two. Perhaps even as long as a month. But remember this; many have little, very little. Little food, little water, little medical necessities – little hope. Eventually trouble will find all of us. Of that I’m sure. And that’s when you’d better have a Plan B. For survival.

Until next time, keep the faith in mankind. If you need a realistic book on the subject, consider Cormac McCarthy’s The Road.


Friday, April 25, 2014

Worst Part of Writing

I read an article last night about James Patterson. I found it interesting that he actually has a Masters Degree in English Lit. Seems he was preparing for success far before he became successful.

Mr. Patterson had an interesting quote regarding rules in writing. I will paraphrase here because I can't find the magazine this morning; "The first rule is, there ain't no rules." No, wait; that's not right. That's the stupid greaser from Grease. What Mr. Patterson said was this – learn the rules and feel free to break them. Really, he said that (or something close to that). Cool; that's something I can live with.

Let's be clear on something. I have no qualifications like those of James Patterson to fall back upon. I earned a BBA (Bachelor of Business Administration) with a comprehensive major in Accounting a number of years ago. So my qualifications are this: I did graduate from High School, and I actually graduated from College. As you can tell, I'm not quite as qualified (by education at least) as the master himself. Although I did take Writer's Workshop and Writer's Workshop II in high school.

Here's what I know of the english rules of creating a novel:

  • Don't use the passive voice
  • Show, don't tell
  • When at all possible, kill all adverbs and adjectives you can find
That's about it. Three points sum up my worldly knowledge when it comes to writing. Yet, I decided to foray into the self-published world so unprepared (but recall my Writer's Workshop experience).

Passive Voice - I read a lot; I mean a whole lot for someone who works 40 hours a week, has family nearby to visit, writes as much as possible. And I still manage to read about 6 novels a month. In five of those six novels I discover a bunch of passive voice. Too much according to the rules I've read. And still, some of these are very successful authors. So perhaps Mr. Patterson's advice has already been heeded by a number of authors.

Show, Don't Tell - Right! You try and describe every scene you create, every characters facial expression, every tree being swept by a light southerly breeze. Trust me, eventually you will write this classic line - "Liza was mad." That doesn't mean your editor won't put his famous "SDT" mark at that point (Show, Don't Tell). Hey, I get it. A better picture can be painted by showing the reader Liza was mad. But maybe, just maybe, your sick of describing every last detail and you need a break. And we all know what a mad person looks like, right? Well, perhaps. 

A special note needs to be added to the SDT rule. It's called, Don't Overdo Your Descriptions. Show us how mad Liza is, but don't over do it. No, right. God forbid I break out into Purple Prose and loose my readers attention that way. So describe, just don't over-describe! Okay, got it.

Adverbs and Adjectives - Quietly, happily, smugly (adverbs); running, jumping, laughing, screaming (adjectives). See them? Now destroy them. At least that's what Stephen King told me in his book On Writing. Further, many great authors have said the exact same thing. 

Adverbs modify the verb (an action word). "John whispered to Anni, quietly." The point is, a whisper is typically done quietly. Thus, no need for the adverb. That makes sense. However, my first drafts usually contain more adverbs than words found in the Old Testament. If I intensely seek out all unnecessary adverbs I might cut my word count by a third. But that's the point; there's just too many, so some have to go.

Same with adjectives. They tend to be sloppy writing. "Randi was running from the house." There's a great sentence. First off, it's passive. Secondly, it has extra words. Try this on for size: "Randi ran from the house." Too simple? Okay, how's this? "Randi loped playfully from the cabin." Better, but did you notice I slipped in an adverb? Playfully modifies the verb loped. Depending on how the preceding sentence reads, I may or may not leave that adverb in place. But, no matter what, the last sentence is a much stronger sentence than the original.

Remember, I'm still learning. This is all second nature to a writer like James Patterson. And, if I listen to his advice carefully, I can break some of these rules. Wow, that makes everything as clear as mud. Thus my final advice, get a great Editor (I have one already, thank you).

So, pick up a book and count the adverbs per page. Or seek out passive sentences. If nothing else, it will drive your spouse nuts while reading at night. Honey, does this sound like a passive sentence to you?


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Book Two of the WWIV Series: An Introduction

I'm going to start by showing you a picture. Then I'll tell you a little story.

What you see above is the location for the second book in the WWIV series. The book will be titled Kids at War.

The picture is of an old farmhouse in south-central Wisconsin. You know the place, America's Dairyland. Wisconsin; home to cows and corn, milk and cheese, beer and brats. But that was in the olden days. Before whatever happened, happened.

I have to tell you, this is a perfect dystopian setting (and picture, for that matter). The actual house is more than 100 years old. Its only heat comes from two wood-burning stoves. The stove in the dining area is an old cookstove, complete with oven and warming bins. It's so cool.

Just look at the exterior. It's seen much better days. And the bare trees along with the grey overcast sky lowers the mood to the right level. You can't possibly expect anything good to happen here, can you?

The book takes place almost six years after the lights went out. Remember, there's no power, no electronic communications, no running cars. None of the neat stuff we are so dependent on today. The only things that have changed since book one (In the Beginning) are the characters and the location. Those, and the fact that humanity has continued its decline for the past number of years.

I want to be very clear about this book. Kids at War has nothing to do with arming children and using them as soldiers. I'm not saying that couldn't happen in this dark world, but that's not my focus. In this book, we will follow one nun, five teens, their special care packages, and the only man serving as their protection. A reclusive drunk named Hunter.

As you would expect, there will be trouble. And it will arrive in many forms. Can a nun and a drunk ever get along? Can five teens be shoved, by the malevolent militia, into a quaint rural setting with little support? Will Hunter be the man they hope he can be? Actually, can Hunter be that man? Will trouble find the group or pass them by? Will the author ever give us a break from the continual feeling of impending doom? (Ha, hardly)

This book is planned for release in about two months. At least I hope it's ready for publishing by mid-June. Worst case scenario, I'll have it ready shortly after the 4th of July. I'm being ever so careful to make completely sure this book is the perfect addition to the WWIV series. Thus, if that takes a little extra time, so be it.

I think you, the reader, are going to enjoy book two. While written in third-person, it comes to you mostly from Theresa's POV. Theresa is our starring nun. I try and focus on the teen's changed lives. How different everything will be for our young people in the "new" world. The novel is still dystopian, and not what I'd ever call Young Adult, but it is intended to remind us of the youthful ability to make the best of any situation. Even one as bad as I present in this novel. 

Watch for further announcements as release day approaches. And thanks for following my blog (also called ramblings by some in my family).

Keep reading and always challenging your mind.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Great Time Void

***** Quick Note before beginning today: My debut novel WWIV - In The Beginning is now available for free at the review site of Story Cartel. If interested, please download a free copy and leave an honest review in exchange. Free is a hard price to beat.  Thanks! *****

I've read a lot of posts in many blogs about social media. Most, if not all, warn about one thing in common – be careful, social media is a huge time suck. I have a solution for all budding authors, editors and mere mortals for this problem.

Like anyone else, I spend a great deal of time on social media. While I try to avoid the infamous "Buy My Book" posts, I still come up with many other ideas to post hoping to entertain and enlighten my followers. However, posting isn't the problem, is it? No, you lose track of time while reading others' posts (the good, the bad, and the ugly).

Twitter is a great way to reach millions of folks with a mere 140 character entry. Well, maybe a couple thousand. But if you're lucky enough to have generous people repost (re-tweet #RT) some of your posts, your reach increases. But then you start reading other people's posts. Good posts, in my case, from fellow authors offering great advice; bad posts that promise to increase your followers by eight-billion people in mere days; and sometimes the ugly posts. You know what I'm speaking of. Either the angry person who seems to be able to use profanity as an adjective and an adverb (usually in the same sentence), or someone promoting something that will surely "change the world", or even something as simple as a cute and clever video that eats up three minutes of your valuable time.

Now Twitter is not the only place this can happen. G+ is one of my favorites and I can easily use up ten or fifteen minutes cruising through checking up on my various "friends". Or Facebook, where you typically have a personal and an author account. Or Instagram or Pinterest or any of the other dozens of social media sites that may be your favorite.

And before you know it, the hours disappear. You start with a simple post to one of the sites at lunch, and wah lah, all of a sudden it's 3:30 and the kids will be home soon. Or you sneak a quick peek at work before a meeting, and suddenly a co-worker knocks feverishly at your door telling you the group is "waiting on you." Well, the group and the boss (angry boss that is).

Here's what I do. It's not rocket science or astounding or even life changing. It's just how I handle the possible loss of valuable hours from my day.

I get up early and plan my entries for the day. No, I don't arise at 4 o'clock or anything crazy like that. Most morning's it's 6:15 or 6:30. I spend a half hour figuring out what clever thoughts I can spread throughout the day. And then I post on several outlets. (Note – not the same drivel on every outlet; that doesn't help your Google ranking one bit). Then around 11:00 I post a little more, same about 3:00 in the afternoon, and one last time when I get home after 6 o'clock.

How does that work for me? Well, time wise, pretty good. I usually only lose a few minutes roaming aimlessly through the sites (each time I log in of course). Book wise? I have no idea. I know it doesn't hurt, but it's hard to accurately measure the results. But, according to thousands (if not millions) of "experts", you have to have an online presence. Okay, I can check that off my list.

Now I know many of you will tell me all about the various sites I can use to schedule my Tweets, G+ posts, and Facebook updates. Please, save your breath. The fact that I've been able to maintain a somewhat constant presence on these sights is amazing all in itself. Trying to get me to schedule my activities will go as well as trying to get your mother to stop posting cat videos.

Remember, you really can teach an old dog new tricks ... just be sure they are easy tricks.

Have a great Easter break and find a good book to read over the weekend.


Monday, April 14, 2014

Developing Interesting Characters

I'm going to jump ahead a couple of books today and tell you about one of my favorite characters.

Five completed manuscripts sit on my computer right now. One current novel and four eventual. I've probably developed more than 30 characters in the past 15 months. The easiest was one of my first.

In Golden 5, you will be introduced to the White sisters. Five young ladies from Yuba City, CA. Because of the United States' crumbling economy, they are sent ahead of the rest of the family from a friend's house in Minneapolis to a small village in remote northern Wisconsin.

The sisters are nice, sweet girls and vary in age from eight to twenty-four. Katie and Liza are in their twenties, Lori is 12 and Randi is a young tomboy of eight. The character of today's attention is 14-year-old Anni White. The middle sister if you will.

Anni is based on an actual person. Well, I should qualify that statement. The Anni in physical appearance is based on an actual person. Her height, eye color, hair color, and general outward appearance are the same as my muse. However, Anni (my fictional Anni) is the exact opposite of that same muse.

From what I know of the real person, (let's call her the "real Anni") she is wonderful, sweet, beautiful, intelligent and perhaps even a little shy. The real Anni is 18, at least I think she is. Matters not for this post though.

Anni White is 14. If you saw her and her doppelgänger together, you'd say they were twins. That assumption would end the minute Anni White opens her mouth. Her personality could be described as outgoing, and that even falls a little short. First off, Anni knows everything. She's 14, remember? So of course she knows everything. Her anger rises rather quickly, and easily. She has no qualms about pointing out other people's weaknesses, or quirks, or appearance. She's not mean, well perhaps to her sisters she is, she's just direct. Bluntly direct.

Anni's wrath and the main focus of her rage is directed at her sisters for the most part. She considers the older pair, Katie and Liza, "clueless little girls". These two are older, so they see what they are up against in Golden. Three of the four village residents are sweet older people. The fourth resident, one John Smith, scares them. Shaking her head at the older ones, Anni reminds them time and time again that she is not scared of anything. Particularly the gruff and odd Mr. Smith.

The bane of Anni's existence is her younger sisters. Lori is young and very sweet. And very naive to the ways of the world. Any world, much less the dystopian world in which she finds herself. Randi is nothing but a problem for Anni. She's a child, a baby in Anni's mind. At eight, she knows nothing of the real world. Anything that might interest Randi is of absolutely no concern to Anni. Except for the same blood coursing through their veins, they have nothing in common. Anni has no idea how Randi, or even Lori for that matter, will ever live long enough to see fourteen. It's just not possible in her mind.

Here's the crux of this post. I've created Anni White from the shell of a person. I gave her an age, a personality, a meaning to her life. Heck, I even created her sisters for her enjoyment. I gave her a birthdate, a backstory, parents, siblings. I created a set of beliefs that she holds fast to, a moral compass that never wavers, and even her lovely outlook on life that she constantly puts on display.

My sister has read a portion of the rough draft of Golden 5. She's commented several times about what a kick she gets out of Anni White. One of my earliest beta (perhaps alpha) readers even commented on how easy it was for her to envision the sisters, particularly Anni. To state the obvious, Anni is a character. In every sense of the word.

Somehow it was easy for me to envision and create Anni White. I have no idea why. Fast forward several manuscripts to one of the main characters in the second half of my current novel WWIV - In The Beginning. There we meet young Brit McMahon. Like Anni, Brit is fourteen. But she's from a completely different background than Anni. Both 14 and as different as night and day. For some reason, I had a dickens of a time getting Brit properly down on paper. It took me several rewrites before I was comfortable with her portrayal.

I used the approximate same method developing Brit as I had Anni. I was even more experienced at character development by this point. But Brit still didn't come easy. I can't tell you why. And maybe I'll never know the answer. At least I'll have something to ponder in the car each night.

Take care. Remember, reading is fun!


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Chapter One - WWIV In The Beginning - Reading

This post, I'm doing something a little different for you. I am attaching a video of my debut novel, WWIV - In The Beginning, with yours truly reading chapter one.

Please keep all expectations to a reasonable level. This will not sound like James Earl Jones, or Morgan Freeman, or even Tom Hanks reading you the first chapter. They are all professionals. Me? Well, I'm okay, but not as polished as the fore-mentioned group. My goal is to get it done in one take, okay maybe two, and not sound like Forrest Gump in the process.

I wrote this. I've read it about a million times to myself. But still, sometimes practice hasn't gone so well for this live read. I like to invert words. Or simply add and delete others. Remember, your brain moves faster than your tongue.

With all of this in mind, I present to you – Chapter One of my debut novel – WWIV - In The Beginning.

Thanks and always keep reading (it's fun)!


Monday, April 7, 2014

Define your success – And then go for it!

Eleven days ago I unceremoniously published my debut novel, WWIV - In The Beginning, on Amazon. Without any huge announcements, no fanfare, I simply uploaded the book and let it go. Today as I look back on the first eleven days, I realize I've already met my goals for my debut novel.

One of the lessons I learned early on in this self-publishing game is to be realistic in your expectations. Define success on your terms, not others. I have a famous saying that my kids have heard a billion times, and today it rings truer than ever before. Don't measure your life with someone else's yardstick.

Without any advertising, without any heavy promotions, how well could I expect this book to do? I knew several relatives would buy it. So I could count on two or three sales. Maybe someone in my Twitter or G+ groups might purchase a random copy. There's another one or two. But I wanted to see if I could generate any organic sales. Solely based on the book itself. Kind of silly I know, but I just wanted to try it before moving to the next stage.

Here's the results:

Sales - If figured if I could sell half a dozen copies in the first two weeks, I would consider it a success. Actually, a glowing success. As I approach the 20 unit mark, my face breaks into a huge smile. I am so grateful.

Reviews - I expected zero. I mean, come on, I barely mentioned to anyone I'd written a book. Just my family mostly. So maybe, if I was lucky, I'd get a review from one of them. Perhaps the first few reviews would be family members; I could live with that. Yesterday, I received my first 5 star review on Amazon. From a nice guy living in Illinois. Someone, before yesterday, I didn't know from Adam. I actually felt my heart flutter reading his nicely worded 5 star review. Thank you so much Matt!

Then, I noticed on my Goodreads feed that one of the members had also read my novel. Again, someone I didn't know. She rated it; gave it four out of five stars. My smile widened. I don't expect everyone to enjoy my writing, either style or content. But Sarah enjoyed it enough to give it four stars. Again, thank you.

So far this has been an extremely enjoyable experience for me. Enjoyable and very satisfying. I've kept my expectations reasonable, and have thus far met and exceeded every one of them.

This week I move into promotion mode. I hope to have the book up on a story review site soon (like within a few days), and that will hopefully give me more reviews. I've started a small video campaign on YouTube. I'm not real sure what I'm doing there, but we'll see how it goes. And later next week I have a Book Blog Tour scheduled.

I need to reset my goals and think where I want the book to be by the end of April. Again, I will keep all expectations reasonable. With any luck, I might have sold 100 books by May 1st. And I will have five reviews to boot. I don't expect them all the be 5 star, but every review helps.

I'll keep you updated as my journey continues.

Until next time, lose yourself in a book. Remember, reading is food for the brain.


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Research, Research, Research

The key to a good novel, I am told, is first and foremost to write a great story. Huh, that seems simple enough. Makes sense, right?

I have found that one of the best ways to develop a good story is doing proper research. Not just your topic, or your genre, or your location, or characters. All of them need research – everything needs to be researched. And this, my friends, is a lot of work.

Admittedly, my topics seem fairly easy to cover. We have a world, just without any power, computers, or running cars. Except, some cars will still run, according to the experts I've found. Anything without an onboard computer will still probably run. Notice the probably. So I dug in good and hard to make sure I got my facts straight.

No computers equals huge issue. We use computers for everything now days. To quote Bill's next door, know-it-all neighbor Ted from my recent novel, "even ocean vessels run on computers now." Food deliveries are going to be an issue that means. Cane sugar from South America for instance. I know, a minor example, but I'm sure you can think of many better ones.

Oil will no longer flow in any of our pipelines ... anywhere. That means those few working cars are only going to have so much fuel to burn. And with no electricity just how are they going to pump our fuel? The crisis deepens.

I'm not just making this stuff up. I've actually looked into all of it. And the prospects in this disaster are bleak. Honestly, that's making it sound like we actually stand a chance.

In my first few books I plucked physical bodies from my pool of people and those I found on the internet. I changed everyone's name, gave them so new unique quirks, and completely overhauled their personalities (to fit my particular needs). Now days, I make each character from scratch. Height, weight, eye color, hair color, family background, birth dates – everything.

But here's another issue. Certain eye/hair combinations are rare. So I need to make them as close to believable as possible. Do your research. The average American of Scandinavian descent is so tall and weighs so much. More research. And just how much will the average person lose in weight as their caloric intake dwindles? More research.

Sure, I could just make some of this up, but then it would give me a diminished end product. And believe me, someone out there would be more than happy to point out my flaws.

For a recent manuscript, I researched how many cows it would take to feed 7800 people if they were given a quarter pound of burger per week. And what would the birthrate need to be to sustain the herd. How many cows would I need to make this possible? How many bulls are needed to produce a certain birthrate amongst said cows? How about mortality rates for calf births? Now is one thing; what about if they aren't fed as well as they are now? Kind of a quagmire I've created. But I love doing this.

Again, I suppose you can just make it all up. Not me though. I want readers to be able to have confidence that what I produce is realistic. Hopefully it never happens, but at least if it ever does you'll have an idea what you're in for.

In WWIV – In The Beginning I have taken away so many things you have today. And realistically, that's what would happen when whatever happens, happens!

Keep reading people. It gives you something to do beside watch the TV.