Author of The Gemini Effect - Winner of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Science Fiction / Fantasy / Horror

Monday, September 12, 2016

BRODY4 has a new title...THE ARGUS DECEIT!

Well, it took over a month, and over 80 different title possibilities, but we (the 47North team and I) finally settled on a title that captures the novel perfectly. Look for THE ARGUS DECEIT this spring!

Saturday, July 23, 2016

First Draft of BRODY4 is Complete!

It was after 11:00 p.m. last night, but I finally got to type those two little words that every writer strives for . . . THE END.

The first draft for BRODY4 is complete. My delivery date to 47North is 15 September, so I'm a little early. ;) The story really flowed, and was a lot of fun to write. Now, though, the hard work begins; editing. For the next week or so, my wife and I will be going over the manuscript line by line and making any corrections we think it needs before sending it off to Jason Kirk at 47North.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Reddit Author Spotlight THIS SUNDAY, 17 July!

If you have the time this coming Sunday, 17 Jul, I invite you to join me on Reddit.  I'll be hanging out on www.reddit.com/r/books starting at 11:00 a.m. eastern time. Look for an entry of mine titled "Author Spotlight" and come on in!  Ask me anything about my novels, short stories, or writing in general.  See you there!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Do you want to write a novel? Okay, let’s talk WORD COUNT goals!

You’ve made the decision. You’re ready. You’ve done all your research, outlined, plotted, developed character trait charts, stuck spreadsheets/yellow sitckies/strings-and-tacks all over your plot wall (if you’re one of THOSE writers, which I’m not) and it’s time to sit down at the desk (or kitchen table, or on the couch, or outside if it’s summer, or outside in the winter if you’re a Yeti) or wherever you like to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, and all you have in front of you is an uncharted expanse of BLANK.

It’s time to write your novel.

So. Are you done yet? No? You mean to tell me it’s been seven months, and you’re still stuck at the beginning? What the heck is wrong with you! Are ya ig’nant!? [That last bit is a conversation I’ve had with myself many times in the past … many, many times.]

Before we talk about word count—and setting a daily goal—let’s talk about novel writing in general. There are tons and tons of resources out there to help you with the basics, so I’m not going to delve into any of those (you can look them up yourself, unless, of course, you ARE ig’nant, or a Raiders fan). The biggest thing to realize is that every writer approaches a project differently—some spend hours and hours “prepping the battlefield” with outlines, plot charts, character bio development, etc., and others don’t. The right way to do it, quite honestly, is what works for YOU.

Personally, my prep work isn’t very extensive compared to other writers I know … I do as much as I need to do get a basic soup-to-nuts story arc in my noggin, figure out my character’s basic traits, and BANG goes the starter’s pistol: Write, write, write, edit, edit, edit, write, write, write, repeat until done. Sounds easy, right? Whatever. What’s that old adage? “If it were easy, it isn’t worth doing?” Or is it, “Anything worth doing isn’t going to be easy?” You get my drift. It’s not easy. It’s a challenge. But it’s definitely worth it.

My first self-published novel, THE COMING, took a couple of years to write; started it in 2001, finished in 2003.  My second self-published novel, THE MENGELE EFFECT, took a couple of years as well. Why so long? Writing wasn’t my “day job” then, and it isn’t my “day job” now either. I write when I can, which is usually late at night for a few hours a day. For those first two novels, I didn’t have a set goal in sight for how long I wanted them to be, or when I wanted to complete them. They were done when I typed THE END. In hindsight, that wasn’t the best way to approach it. So … what is?

Set yourself a goal. Pick a completion date. If you’re lucky, and have a book under contract with a publisher, you’ve got a set delivery date. If you’re self-pubbing, you can set that date for yourself. In any rate, that target date is important (at least it is for me).

Some people I know like to say things like, “I just HAVE to write! I can’t help myself! If I don’t get the words out of my head, I’ll go crazy! I have to write for my SANITY! HAHAHAHAHAhaha!” To which, I usually smile politely, and slowly back away. Not only does that sound like they're a prime candidate for suffering some sort of psychotic break, it’s not a problem I have, let me tell you. The words are in my head, but they can stay there, nice and quiet, behaving themselves, until I let them out … when I have the time set aside to do so. Anyway, the words don’t make me crazy, it’s all those damn voices. Wait, strike that. I’m fine. Really. Don’t tell.

So, you have a target date set. Good for you. Now, meet it.

Done yet? No, again? Well let’s talk word count.

In my chosen genre (and where I am in my writing career), 80K words is the “sweet spot” for novel length, so let’s use that for our discussion. To get to that ~80K final word count, figure out what a comfortable daily word count goal would be … for YOU. Personally, I’ve found 600 words-per-day is a comfortable pace. That’s ~133 days total to hit that 80K goal. 600 words is roughly two double-spaced manuscript pages (Times New Roman, 12pt font); doesn’t sound like much, does it? If you tackle that much, every day, day after day, you’ll be amazed at how quickly it adds up. Now, some people partake in “nanowrimo” (National Novel Writing Month, held in November every year) where they pump-out a min-50K novel in 30 days. That equates to (if my cipherin’ is correct) 1,666 words per day (a Satanic pace, kinda), every single day in November. I’ve never done nanowrimo, and more power to those who do and meet or exceed that goal, but it demonstrates how much you can get accomplished if you set your mind to it. And, quite simply, that’s the key; set your mind to it. Write every day, even if you don’t particularly want to. There’s an 80K-elephant in front of you, and you have to eat the whole thing … one bite at a time. Take some big bites, nibble a little here and there, but never stop eating that friggin’ pachyderm. *burp*

When I wrote THE PHOENIX DESCENT, I set a 600 word-per-day goal. Did I follow it? Uh … nope. We had a trip to Texas which took some writing days away, and an extended trip to Disneyland which took even more days away … and to top it off, I was lazy. There were periods of days at a time when I couldn’t get myself to plop down in front of my laptop and write. With a delivery date staring me in the face, I ended up writing 14K words in one weekend to get that first draft finished. Some authors I know can—and do—write that much as a rule (crazy bastards), but for me, I was exhausted, brain dead, and suffered from acute caffeine/nicotine poisoning (if there is such a thing)! I swore I would NEVER do that again. I’d tried to eat the elephant too quickly, and the elephant kicked my arse. So, when the time came for me to write my next novel (BRODY4), I took the daily word count goal much more seriously.

What I use to track daily progress (shown below) works for me—there are programs out there that’ll do the same thing, or so I hear, but I use Word. I’m in my 50’s, so give me a break. I still don’t know how a cell phone works either.

The screen shot below is my daily word count tracker for BRODY4, current as of Friday, 1 Jul 16. We’ll go over each part of it. If it helps you formulate something similar to help you meet your novel writing goal, great. If you use something better that works for you, that’s great too. The important thing is having something that shows you exactly where you are, day by day, toward meeting your writing goal.

 If you look at the top of the first page, you’ll see I had about 16% of the 80K novel written when I agreed to terms with the publisher for BRODY4. They originally wanted me to deliver the draft by 1 Aug, but I knew for me that was a non-starter; I’d need more time based on how much I felt I could comfortably write every day. We settled on 15 Sep. So, I had ~ 4 ½ months to get the rest of the novel finished. On 12 May, I sat down in front of the elephant and started nibbling. 14K already written, 66K to go to hit the minimum 80K word count. BANG went the starter’s pistol, on went the Keurig, and *pop* went the Copenhagen cans!

First Column
What this shows is the current date (duh) and how many days are left until delivery (counting down to zero). Weekdays are white, and weekends/days off from work are in gray. Any time away from home (and writing) is light yellow.

Second Column
Daily word count goal. It may seem silly to list the same thing over and over again, but to me it’s a daily reminder that I need to hit that 600-word mark before I get up from my desk and have a beer. And I love beer. I brew it myself, but that’s not important right now …

Third Column
Shows how many words I wrote that day, and whether or not I exceeded my goal, or fell short. You can see that on most days, I’ve gone over 1,000 words per day, but some days I wrote way less that 600 (such as on 2 and 9 Jun). I didn’t really want to write on those days (whine whine whine), but I still wrote SOMETHING, which at the end of the day helped my overall motivation, believe it or not.  Falling short now and then, though, is okay, because of what the next column shows …

Fourth Column
This shows how many words I am over my 600 word per day goal. For example, even though I didn’t write much on 18-20 May, I was still 3.6 days ahead of schedule. This column is a biggie, because it adds up pretty quickly if you exceed your daily goal. For example, look at the entry for 21 Jun 16; I was 25 days ahead of schedule at that point. To me, that’s a motivator. It also lets me know how much wiggle room I have, in case life’s normal events take precedence over writing (which they usually do). If you have a family, a day job, and a mortgage, you know exactly what I’m talking about, right? Right.

Fifth Column
In this column, I formulate my plan for infiltrating the highest levels of government with my army of bald-headed minions and taking over when the time is … Oops. Wrong Fifth Column discussion. Forget you read that part. Now.

What THIS fifth column does is show how many words I’ve written, in total. This is also a motivator for me, because I can see how quickly every 10K block of words rolls by. It also shows me how many words I have left until I hit that min-80K goal. For example, as of 1 Jul, I have 56,147 words written so far; that leaves me with 23,853 to go to 80K. What this allows me to do is calculate a “floating target date” for that 80K mark, based on both 600 words-per-day, and 1,000 words-per-day (which I added-in since I’m usually writing over 1K a day anyway). Using 600 as a guide, I’ll hit the 80K mark on 10 Aug; using 1,000, I’ll hit 80K on 25 Jul (the light green lines). I adjust both of these dates after each day of writing. Again, it’s another motivator for me.

So, that’s it. This type of sheet works for me. You might wonder, though, why I wanted 15 Sep as a delivery date when I’ll clearly hit the min-80K mark prior to that date, maybe even more than a month out? Well, this is all based on hitting that contractually-obligated 80K word mark. Will the novel be completed when I hit 80K words? I have no clue. Using THE PHOENIX DESCENT as an example, when I hit 80K words, the novel wasn’t close to being complete; it actually took me ~32K more words until I got to the ending I wanted (first draft was ~112K words). I also didn’t allow myself enough time to re-work the manuscript as much as I should have prior to sending the draft to my editor. Lessons learned, which I incorporated into my completion schedule for BRODY4. I’ll hit 80K prior to 15 Sep with no problem, and I’ll deliver the completed draft to my editor prior to that date as well, but I have a buffer now from the time I first type THE END until the draft is up to snuff and ready to send.

There you have it. Hope this was helpful in some way. If so, let me know! I’d love to hear from you.

Now I have to get to work … I haven’t written my 600 words yet today!
[insert sound of a cracking whip *here*]

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Reddit Books Author Spotlight - July 17, 2016

Mark your calendars! Reddit Books has given me the opportunity to participate in one of their Author Spotlight sessions.

On July 17, 2016, starting at 11:00 a.m. EDT, I'll be hanging out here [https://www.reddit.com/r/books] answering any questions about THE PHOENIX DESCENT, my other books, my upcoming novel BRODY4, and writing in general (or whatever the heck you want to talk about).

Yeah, I know, July 17 is over a month away. SO WHAT! I'm kinda excited about this. I'll send out more reminders before the actual event . . . but I'll probably have to use another picture because as soon as my wife sees this one, she'll just shake her head, sigh, and say, "Charlie, you're weird.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Outstanding Pre-Release Reviews for The Phoenix Descent!

Every author enjoys seeing a work earn 5-star praise from a reader, but when it happens before the book is officially released, it's even more special. The Phoenix Descent, to be released on 15 March 2016, has earned two great reviews on Goodreads from early readers so far. Here's a couple of links; one to Raging Book Reviews (which also appears on Goodreads) and another to a Goodreads review.

I certainly hope other readers find The Phoenix Descent to their liking as much as these two did!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Current WIP - "The Coin"

I'm kind of in a lull right now--I have two novel proposals with my editor at 47North, and I'm waiting to hear what he thinks. In the meantime, I've pulled an unfinished short story out of my personal slush pile and started working on it again. As of today, I figure I'm about 1/3 of the way done with the initial draft, and it looks like it'll end up being my second novella-length work.  It's titled, The Coin, and here's a little taste:


Last written word of J. Winstead
Provided by Nebraska State Penitentiary staff, Lincoln, NE


8:54 p.m.

I’ll be dead in a few hours.
It’s an odd feeling, counting down the final minutes of one’s life, knowing full well what’s coming & being completely powerless to prevent it. For me, there’s no more legal wrangling to endure, no useless pleas for mercy. All I have left after seven years in this hell hole is a borrowed pen, a yellow legal pad, and my thoughts.
I don’t expect a last-minute call from the Governor to spare my life. If I were in his shoes, I’d let me die at the hands of the Great State of Nebraska, too. If you happen to read this, Mr. Nelson, you’re not killing an innocent man tonight—you can rest easy knowing that—but you are killing.
I often wondered—once I resigned myself to the fact there was no hope of avoiding my sentence—how it would feel when they carried it out. I’ve viewed these things before, in person.  It’s never pretty, even when it goes off without a hitch. When it doesn’t go according to plan, it’s gruesome. I’ve seen that, too.
I’ll admit, I’m scared.
Some would say I’ve “found God” while in prison, and I suppose that’s somewhat true. It’s a common thing for those who spend their days behind bars. You’d be surprised how many long-term convicts develop a passion for reading the Bible. Crappy timing, but better late than never, right?
When the end comes, some will choose to say something about going home, God forgives, Jesus saves, whatever. There’s no final peace waiting for me, though, no matter what I say.
Have I prayed? Of course I have, but I don’t believe it’ll make a difference. There are some wrongs for which a person can ask forgiveness—and receive it—but there are also crimes that are unforgivable. Even by the Big Man. Even if you beg.


Thursday, January 7, 2016

First Novella - "Splits"

About a month and a half ago, I was working on a new novel when I did something stupid...I started surfing the net, and even worse, started watching random YouTube videos.  I was doomed, trapped in what a friend of mine calls the "YouTube Vortex"--once you get sucked in, it's very hard to get out.

Well, I ran across one particular video that made the vortex pick up speed, and three hours later, I had a new story idea firmly planted in my oddly-shaped noggin.  I put the novel aside, and started on what I thought was going to be a short story.  Little did I know that it was going to turn into my very first novella.

According to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America guidelines for its Nebula awards (so says Wikipedia), these are their word count guidelines for different types of stories:

Novel:  Over 40,000 words (that seems kinda short, but okay)
Novella: 17,500 to 40,000 words
Novelette: 7,500 to 17,500 words
Short Story: Under 7,500 words

Most of my short stories have ended up being 3,500 and 5,000 words, so they fit nicely into their category.  I've also written a ton of flash fiction (short stories that are between 300-1,000 words), but other than my novels, I'd never written anything longer than 5K.

This story, which I titled Splits, ended up at 19K+ words...a novella.  Aaaaaaannnnddd, I loved writing it!  Short stories are a blast to write, and this one was an absolute joy.  I think there might be some more novellas in my future!

Anywhoooo, here it is, if you're interested (and you have to read it to find out what video I was watching):


Kyle Bradford was a meat cutter in a grocery store when the sounds first thundered across the skies, and the world changed forever. The doors had opened, and something was coming through.
Once the initial shock and confusion wore off, and those in charge realized what was happening, mankind seemed to coalesce like never before. National boundaries no longer mattered. Religion, race, color and creed seemed to pass away in a flash. Old enemies put their differences aside. The only thing that did matter was survival.

As a species.

Now, Kyle is on a mission to save what’s left of our world. Or die trying.

Click on the cover to get your copy from Amazon (set at $0.99, which is the lowest they'll let me go).  Hope you enjoy it!

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Year in Review

You know, it's amazing how fast time slips by. I can't believe it's been 10 months since my last post on this page. The Gemini Effect came out on Kindle First in March of 2015, and it's been a steady wild ride since then!  So what's happened since then?  Well, let's see...

- The Gemini Effect has sold ~211,000 copies since March 1, 2015.  Still blows my mind.
- The Phoenix Descent, my second novel through Amazon's 47North imprint, will be released in just a few months (March of 2016).
- After years of unsuccessfully trying to land an agent, and sending out so many query letters that I lost count, an agent reached out to me. After a fifteen minute phone conversation, that was that. I'm represented by Mark Gottlieb of Trident Media Group.
- I decided to remove all my stand-alone flash fiction & short stories from circulation and keep them as part of Scattered Bones. I was able to keep them free on Smashwords, B&N and Apple, but it was an effort to keep them free on Amazon in the US (and almost impossible in the UK). So, I figured $0.99 for a 34,000-word collection was the better way to go. Re-did the cover, too, which I like much more than the original.
- Wrote my first 19,000-word novella, Splits. That was fun...I might just have to write a few more of those. ;)
- Continued work on new other novels; a new work, which I'm calling Brody4, and a much-needed re-vamp of an existing manuscript, which I've re-titled The Chosen.

The Highlights

2015 was an amazing year, and the biggest highlight was watching The Gemini Effect launch on Kindle First. It was a magical feeling waking up on March 1 and seeing the reviews start to come in, and became even more magical when it reached #1 in the US Kindle store a few days later.

Before the book came out, Jason Kirk, my editor at47North, signed me for another novel, The Phoenix Descent. Writing what turned out to be a 112,000-word initial manuscript draft in 4-5 months was one of the toughest things I've ever done (to include a 14,600-word weekend as I pushed to the finish), but I enjoyed every minute. Then, working with Jason again, we trimmed it down below 90K words and--we think--produced a better book than The Gemini Effect. I guess we'll find out in a few more months if we're right! Speaking of Jason, working with him on two novels so far has been a simply amazing experience. I truly hope there's more chances to collaborate on more books in the future.

The reviews for The Gemini Effect have been both a highlight AND a lowlight of the past year...I'll get to that next.

The Reviews

Being first offered through Kindle First, The Gemini Effect was offered to a H-U-G-E pool of readers, some who would like it, and others who wouldn't. Seeing those first few 5-star reviews come in on March 1 was great...and then the bad ones started showing up. And showing up. And showing up. Ten months later, I can honestly say the bad reviews don't bother me as badly as they did those first couple of months, but holy cow, I wanted to crawl in a hole, stop writing, and never come out again. My experience with reviews as a self-published author was different--my reader pool was much, much smaller, and the reviews were almost all good. But now, I had a book out there in the BIG WORLD, being read by thousands of people, and the digital age of "anonymous" communication being what it is, some people had no problem whatsoever telling other readers what they thought. I had to give some of those 1-star reviewers an A for effort, because they even made me laugh! Now, some of those poor reviews opened my eyes to things I could do differently in my writing, and that's awesome. To those reviewers, I say thank you. But, there are others, those who feel the need to pen personal attacks, whom I view in an entirely different light. I think that aspect of swimming in the "big reviewer pool" was the most shocking part. Again, a person behind a keyboard feels anonymous enough to say whatever they want to, and some do. It's the world we live in now, and I get it. In the last ten months, I've been called every name in the book--I'm a gun nut. A bomb lover. A Crichton/Clancy wannabe. A woman hater. On, and on, and on. Very few, however, had the guts to attach their names to the reviews, always relying on "Amazon Customer" or "Anonymous" (in B&N's case). I know I'm not alone when I say writers crave constructive criticism--it helps us improve our craft. But those who spew vitriol without the common decency to attach their name to their words, well...

I did a blog interview at the end of March 2015 where one of the questions was what advice would I give to first-time writers. Regarding reviews specifically, this is what I said:

"...learn to have a thick skin. Be willing to accept constructive criticism, and shrug-off the vitriolic criticism that every writer eventually receives. Is this an easy thing to do? No. Not. At. All. Like everything else, it’s a learning process. To paraphrase Isaac Asimov, there are two types of writers: Those who bleed copiously and visibly at any bad review, and those who bleed copiously and secretly at any bad review. The first time you receive a bad review, it may feel as if you’ve just shown your newborn baby to a stranger—that baby is the most beautiful, precious thing you’ve ever seen—and the stranger says, 'Wow, that is one ugly baby! How dare you bring such a horrid creature into my world!' Then, after the stranger vomits a few times (on your shoes), a crowd gathers, they chase you back to your castle with torches and pitchforks, and everything goes up in flames, especially your confidence as a writer.

One thing to remember is that a review is a message from a reader to other readers—it’s not directed at you. Some authors I know never look at reviews, good or bad. But, if you do, don’t take it personally. Even though someone just called your precious baby ugly, don’t ever let it kill your desire to write, and don’t ever respond. Let me say that again: No matter how badly you want to, don’t respond. Once your story is out in the big bad reviewer world, it has to stand on its own two feet. It’ll get praised, and it’ll get bullied, and you have to stand back and let it happen.

If you do get a nasty one, and it’s bugging you, keep this quote from Teddy Roosevelt nearby (it helps):

'It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

Now, lets talk about the GOOD reviews! I can't tell you how any people have contacted me though my Facebook page and website to tell me how much they loved The Gemini Effect.  It's messages like this one that really make my day:

"Hello. Your book The Gemini Effect is incredible! I started it wheels up upon takeoff in Dallas and when I landed in Miami was about halfway through. I then finished it in a second sitting in the hotel room that very night. Now I've read almost every possible apocalypse/mutant book out there from Tooth and Nail to The Passage and this is by far an incredible read. Thanks for writing it and I look forward to reading your other past and future works."

It's people like this for whom I write, and will continue to do so.

As 2015 passes into history, I will personally look back on it fondly as a year where my dream of becoming a published author finally came true. And I'm not done yet.

I wish everyone all the best for 2016, and keep on turning those pages!

Sunday, March 1, 2015

THE GEMINI EFFECT - Kindle First for March!

This morning, I can finally share what I've known was coming for months ... THE GEMINI EFFECT is one of four books selected by Amazon Publishing editors to offer in their Kindle First program for March 2015! 

It's an opportunity for Amazon customers to purchase/download a couple of books (a single book in the UK version of the program) at a reduced price, one month prior to the book's official publication date.  When Jason Kirk, my editor at Amazon's 47North imprint, asked me if I'd like to participate in Kindle first, I found his offer quite difficult to refuse--although it would delay the official publication date by a few weeks, being part of Kindle First would place my silly story in front of potentially hundreds of thousands of readers in both the US and UK.  Being included in Kindle First is a huge deal for an unknown debut author like myself, and to Jason I pass my heartfelt thanks for pushing THE GEMINI EFFECT out to so many potential readers.  I also need to thank him for the words he added to the book's product page (which I saw on the UK page for the very first time when the book popped-up across the pond yesterday evening):

Wow.   That's all I can say.  Just, wow.  Thanks, Jason.

So, how does Kindle First work?  Simple.  You can find THE GEMINI EFFECT HERE on the US site, and HERE on the UK site.  By buying the book at the reduced price during the month of March, you join a free Kindle First email notification program, where each month you'll receive an email listing that month's selections.  Below I've listed the rules for both the US and UK sites:

So ... if you're looking for something to read, click on over and take a look!

Sunday, February 22, 2015

THE PHOENIX DESCENT - Publication Date Finalized

Amazon & 47North have the pre-order page up and running for my next novel, THE PHOENIX DESCENT!  The cover isn't finalized, and it doesn't have any blurb info yet, but the pub date is set at March 15, 2016.  You can see it HERE.  Expect the page to get fleshed-out as the April 1, 2015 launch date for THE GEMINI EFFECT approaches ...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Publishing Journey ... Just Got Better!

Near the end of the editing process for THE GEMINI EFFECT, Jason Kirk, my editor at 47North, asked if I had anything else written that he could take a look at (which is exactly what I hoped I'd hear).  After going back and forth for a few weeks, we both decided to go with something new instead of trying a re-write of my first self-published novel, THE COMING.

I took one of the short story ideas I had--tentatively titled "The Dark"--expanded it into a 9-page synopsis for a novel, and sent it off to Jason.  He pitched it to their editorial board, and received approval to make an offer.  I accepted.

This evening, I signed a contract with 47North for that next novel--THE PHOENIX DESCENT--which will be out sometime in early 2016.

Winning the 2014 ABNA for Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Horror was a dream come true, but in a way this is even better--the team at 47North is willing to take another chance on my writing even before THE GEMINI EFFECT's launch date.

It's a good feeling.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

My back hurts already.

Friday morning radio on the way to work:  "We'll get some rain, and maybe an inch of snow."  Saturday night:  Winter Storm Warning, up to nine inches of snow.  The winds are supposed to pick up later this morning & we'll have blizzard conditions.  I hear the shovel calling ... and my back hurts already.  Meh.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2015 ABNA . . . not meant to be.

This morning I learned--as did a LOT of other people who'd been checking the ABNA page for an announcement regarding the start of the 2015 contest--that Amazon had decided to forgo the ABNAs this year in lieu of their new Kindle Scout program.

I'm a firm believer in the old adage that when one door closes, another opens.  You just have to find it.

To all my fellow indie authors, I share this ( I don't remember where I got it from, but I saved it):

"When one door closes, another opens.
If it doesn't, try the window.
If the window's locked, break the glass.
If it's barred, claw a freaking hole through the wall."

Don't ever give up.  Don't ever stop writing.  Don't ever lose the fire to share your words, and don't ever be afraid to do so.

Now, go find the damn door with your name on it, and kick that sucker down.

- Chuck

Monday, January 12, 2015

2014 ABNA Finalist Covers are UP!

I noticed today that the cover for D. M. Pulley's The Dead Key is finally up on Amazon, so all five covers are out there now.  They all look great!  If you've read my post from Nov 22, 2014, you know how much time & effort went into the cover design for The Gemini Effect, and I'm sure the same can be said for the other covers as well.

If you're looking for a new author to try in romance, general fiction, mystery/thriller, young adult, or SCIENCE FICTION / FANTASY / HORROR (hint-hint), click on over to the ABNA page & pre-order!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Magic of Short Stories

In my post this past Saturday, I mentioned how I discovered flash fiction, and how writing those little short stories really changed my "writing world".  I found that crafting a complete story in less than 1,000 words was really a challenge, but a good one.  Most of my flash fiction stories ended-up at probably 1,500-1,600 words with the first draft, and cutting them down to below 1,000 words really helped me learn how slice and dice unnecessary words, craft shorter sentences, remove any unneeded exposition, etc.  Basically, writing flash fiction taught me how to self-edit much more effectively than what I was capable of before.  And they're fun to write, too!

I have a collection of my short stories available at Amazon titled, "Scattered Bones".  From today until November 30th, I'm offering the Kindle version for FREE.  Yeah, I know all the flash fiction I have out there is free on the US Amazon site (haven't broken the code with the UK site yet), but you also get three short stories, "Burial Ground", "Reflections" and "Broken" in this collection, which aren't free.  Nice little read for a long Thanksgiving weekend!

So . . . why do I think short stories are magical?  Below is the intro for "Scattered Bones", which I believe explains it pretty well.  If you'd like to grab yourself a copy, just click on the picture.


The Magic of Short Stories

I always tinkered with the idea of writing fiction while growing up, but never formally put pen to paper until my late 30's. I still remember the moment I decided to start writing; it was April 2001, and I was on a remote assignment for the Air Force in the middle of Alaska, sitting in my dorm room & counting down the days until I could return home to my wife & kids in California. I'd finished reading an absolutely horrid horror novel (pun intended)—the author and title escape me—and thought to myself, "If this joker can write a book, I certainly can!" So, later that night, armed with a boatload of blissful inexperience and a clunky Acer Pentium 75 desktop, I started the draft that would eventually become my first novel, The Coming. I soon discovered writing a novel was far more difficult than I thought, and later realized finding an agent and/or publisher willing to take on a new writer was even more frustrating than I'd ever imagined. The hundred-or-so rejection letters I received for that first novel (including a very special one date-stamped the day prior to the date I sent the query package) never stopped me, though.  I truly enjoy telling stories, and I haven't quit writing since.
For those who've written a novel, you know it's quite an all-encompassing endeavor.  Some writers—those prolific wordsmiths whom I happen to envy—can pump-out a novel in a matter of months, or even weeks.  Sadly, I tend to write much like Forest Gump runs: not very fast, but steady when the spirit decides to move me (I also like boxes of chocolates, and I'm not a smart man, but that's not important right now).  Novels are a time-sucker, and like most writers not named King, Koontz, Patterson or Saul, time to write comes late at night or early in the morning, before or after the normal hours of the day, where one must take care of the annoying day job/rent/mortgage/car payment/eating thing.  More than anything, that simple fact is why I enjoy writing short stories—when it comes to time-sucking, short stories aren't quite as vampiric as the Great American Novel tends to be.
While perusing the titles at Smashwords.com (where I first published The Coming and my second novel The Mengele Effect as eBooks), I ran across a short, flash fiction horror story.  I read it, enjoyed it, and did a little research.  Flash fiction—stories with word counts anywhere between 300 and 1,000 words—seemed like a perfect way for me to put pen (fingers) to paper (keyboard) and give birth to some of the ideas bouncing around inside my misshapen noggin.  They wanted out.  So, I obliged.
My initial venture into flash fiction, titled "Ripple", is the first story in this collection.  I wrote in on a Saturday afternoon, and published it on Smashwords the next day.  For me, the magic of crafting short stories began a few hours later, when "Ripple" received its first review.  Two little words.  One was "Definitely", the other, "disturbing".  With that, I knew I'd hit the exact mark I was aiming for, and the aforementioned spirit gave me a forceful shove.
Most of the stories in this collection—with the exception of "Reflections", "Burial Ground" and "Broken"—are flash fiction pieces, each roughly 1,000 words in length.  If you want a little scare before you head off to work, or before you crawl into bed for the night, a quick dose of flash fiction might just be the ticket.  I'll let you decide.
So, now that I've rambled on for much too long, why do I think short stories are magical, you ask?  If I can take your hand and lead to a different place—if only for a few short minutes—and guide you down that darkened path of the mind where fear and shock await at every turn, then yes, I believe that is surely magical.  If I happen to scare you, shock you, cause you to wonder, or perhaps make you smile a little, the magic, my friend, is there.
Each story in this collection is a small, emaciated bone tossed along the darkened path down which I wish you to travel.  I encourage you to pick them up as you go, touch them, hold them in your hands for a bit, feel the texture.  If I've done my job, you may realize these little scattered bones seem oddly familiar.  As well they should, for down deep—whether you wish to admit it or not—they're part of you.
I hope you enjoy reading these stories as much I as I enjoyed writing them.
After all, I wrote them especially for you.

Chuck Grossart
Bellevue, Nebraska 
November 16th, 2013

So there you have it.  Enjoy the magic, and have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

For All You Potential 2015 ABNA'ers: The Publishing Journey UPDATE!

(UPDATED, 20 Jan 15)  This post has been receiving quite a few hits from Google searches regarding "2015 ABNA", and as such, I decided to add this.  As announced on the ABNA page's comment board today, Amazon has decided to forgo the 2015 ABNA contest in lieu of their newer Kindle Scout program.  You can read my earlier post from today HERE.

I hope the information below can still be of some use for those of you who decide to go the traditional publishing route--the basic steps I've gone through with The Gemini Effect are, I assume, much the same steps one would go through with any novel picked-up by a publisher.  Best of luck, and keep writing!

- Chuck


Wow, has it really been four months since my last post?  A lot has happened since July 21, and it's all been A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  For all of you out there who are considering entering the 2015 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award contest, let me give you two words of advice:  DO IT.  I know there aren't any details on the 2015 contest out there yet (at least I haven't found any), but keep your eyes peeled.  Come January/February 2015, the details should come out (probably here).

First, a little background on my personal history with the ABNAs:  I submitted my first novel, The Coming, in the 2011 ABNA, and it made it to the quarter finals round.  Hoping to improve the next year, I submitted my second novel, The Mengele Effect, which I personally thought was a better book.  Didn't make it past the pitch stage.  Bummer.  In 2013, I submitted it again . . . same results.  Bummer, Part Deux.  Some say a sure sign of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again when the results aren't that good, so, call me insane, but I decided to submit it again for the 2014 contest (after significantly reworking the pitch).  My hopes weren't that high, especially considering the results from the previous two years, but I figured (insanely), what the heck.  And . . .

BAM!  Made it to the second round. (Third time's a charm, I said.)
BAM-BAM!  Made it to the quarter finals.  (Hey that's cool, I said.)
BAM-BAM-BAM!  Made it to the semi-finals.  (Whoa . . . this is getting more cool, I said.)
BAM-DIDDY-BAM-O-RAMA!  Made it to the finals! (Holy keeee-rap Batman!)

My little self-published novel was named the winner of the 2014 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror.  And do you know what?  If I hadn't entered, well . . . you know the rest.

So what's happened since my last post?  This picture sums it up, and we'll go over each part:

On the day I was notified that The Mengele Effect had won (by email; we noticed the missed call from Seattle on the phone a few days later-HAH!), I was introduced to Mr. Jason Kirk, Senior Editor at Amazon Publishing's 47North imprint, which would be publishing The Mengele Effect.  I had no idea what to expect, but immediately got the sense that this was going to be a collaborative process . . . and I was right.  There was no "You must do this," or "You shall change that," not at all.  Every change was discussed in depth, and my opinions & concerns were taken into account throughout the weeks that followed.

Before we dive in, though, let's jump back a bit for a little perspective.  I finished The Coming back in 2003, and received over 100 rejections from various publishers & agents over the next few years.  For The Mengele Effect, which I finished in 2005 or 2006 (I honestly don't remember), I received less than 20 or so  rejections before I decided to take a break from writing for a couple of years.  I'd send out an e-query every six months or so whenever the spirit moved me, but always had the same results:  Sorry, not what we're looking for, good luck, yada yada yada.  Bummer.  My dream of being a writer, which I began pursuing in 2001, wasn't working out so well.  Once I retired from the USAF in late 2008, I decided to pick it up again.  One of the guys I worked with at STRATCOM told me of a local writers group his wife belonged to (Kim Stokely, author of Woman of Flames and Winter Trees), and I decided to give it a try.  I attended the Nebraska Writers Workshop when I could, and always enjoyed listening to all the various genres represented, as well as the different skill levels.  It was there that I first learned about the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, and I submitted The Coming.  One of the NWW members had self-published one of their works on something called Smashwords, and I decided to try it out (it was either James M M Baldwin or Lisa Kovanda, I can't recall whom).  On 1 Jan 2012, I self-published The Coming, followed a week or so later by The Mengele Effect.  When someone actually bought one of my books, I almost fell out of my comfy recliner.  Coolest feeling in the world, it was.  Sales were miniscule, and later dropped-off to almost nothing, but it was still kinda neat.  Later, I ran across something called flash fiction - and my writing world took on a whole new dimension.  But that's a story for another post . . .

So, why did I just dump all that yak on you?  Well, I have to pinch myself just about every day to make sure this whole publishing journey is, in fact, real.  There was a time when I'd given up on being a published author, and now, it's happening.  Sure, I didn't get published the traditional way--finding an agent, or a publisher, though querying, attending conferences, etc.--but here I am, one happy short fat bald man with a novel ready for release early next year.  If it can happen to me, guess what . . . it can happen to you, too.  Let me stress this again; if you're thinking about entering the 2015 ABNAs, don't let your fear of rejection or self-doubts about whether or not your book is good enough keep you from taking the chance.  JUST DO IT.

Okay, let's dive into the details.  After I learned The Mengele Effect had won its ABNA category on July 2, here's what happened:

July 10, 2014
 I received an Amazon Publishing Questionnaire from Jason Kirk; in it, I had to provide the following details:
- Personal details about the short fat bald guy who wrote the book (that'd be me).
- A headshot photo (thanks to Ashley Crawford Photography, I had one).
- A listing of all previously published works.
- A brief personal bio.
- A 1-sentence pitch for the book.
- Who I thought my target audience was.
- A plot synopsis (yep, a synopsis . . . if you don't have one for your book, write one.  Yes, they suck, but you'll probably need it at some point).
- Descriptions of all my main characters.
- A list of plot points that could be considered spoilers.
- Cover design ideas.
- Editing questions; what I thought the editor should look for (potential problems) and identify any stylistic choices I wished to retain.

After this, the 47North team provided a revised "book blurb" that I had the opportunity to cut on, and approve.

July 21, 2014:  Developmental Edit Begins
Being a publishing rookie, I had no idea what a developmental edit was.  I explained it somewhat in a previous post, but think of it as a broad-brush look at the story as a whole, and identifying major adjustments to help take the book where it needs to go.  For me, it involved some character changes, a major sub-plot re-work, and re-ordering/combining chapters.  Jason Kirk provided the feedback he'd received from his team, and we--yes, we--went to work.  Again, this was an entirely collaborative process, made much easier due to the fact that every adjustment Jason suggested was something I'd thought of myself at one point or another (but never got around to fixing).  I felt as if Jason had found the little steel lock box in my head labeled "All The Things I Hope Aren't Noticed With This Story" and broke into it.  I should also point out that my personal writing style had changed somewhat since I first wrote the book, so this gave me the opportunity to go through it line-by-line and change things.  The first pass through the manuscript took about three weeks or so, and after going back and making additional changes/adjustments, we moved on to the next phase in September.

During this time frame, I reached out to J. Lincoln Finn, winner of the 2013 (and first) ABNA for Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror with her amazing novel, Poe. I asked if it had been all she'd expected, and she answered with a resounding YES.  If you haven't read Poe, please do.  When I say it's amazing, I'm not kidding.  I believe she had a different editor than I, and also had a much quicker production timeline to work with based on the dates of the 2013 contest, but her feedback filled me with confidence about the whole process.  One thing the 2013 finalists got to do that the 2014 finalists didn't, was to travel to Seattle for a Grand Prize Award ceremony (yes, even as a Denver Broncos fan, I would've enjoyed going to Seattle).  I was a little disappointed they didn't do it for 2014, but who knows, maybe 2015 will be a different story.

September 14, 2014: Copyedit Begins
In this phase, Jason provided me a copy of the manuscript that had undergone a line-by-line review (more like a character-by-character review) by a professional copyeditor.  As a self-published author, I've learned that one can look at a work hundreds of times, and fail to see some of the most glaring errors--your eyes will pass over them without noticing (I no there's a few mistaches in this pohst which I haven't noticed, ether).  He found them.  A lot of them.  Apart from being just a spelling/grammar/punctuation review, he also had some suggestions to make the story better.  Again, it was a collaborative process throughout.  This phase lasted a little over a month with a few more passes through the manuscript.

September 16, 2014: Title Change
What?  You want to change my title?  How can that be!  Well, once I understood the reasons why 47North wanted to change the title (mainly due to marketing concerns), and I put my faith in the publishing professionals who know what they're doing, we set out on yet another collaborative process to come up with a new title.  Jason had ideas, his team had ideas, and I had ideas, and together we decided on The Gemini Effect.  I love the title since it captures the story just as well, if not better, than the original, and it enabled the creation of one kick-arse cover design.

September 24, 2014: Cover Designs
Jason provided three different draft designs for The Gemini Effect, and I was blown away.  The main effort was to produce a cover that captured the story, was marketable, and met presentation format guidelines (small or large, color or black and white).  I really wish I could share the earlier designs, but due to copyright concerns, I can't (believe me, they were way, way cool).  Based on feedback from Jason, his team, and me (short fat bald guy), the designer presented a few other designs, and eventually we settled on the one you see on The Gemini Effect's Amazon product page, and I have to say I absolutely love it.  The full cover will look like this (finalized on November 11, 2014):

October 21, 2014: Audio Book Questions
On this date, I learned Phil Gigante would be narrating the audio book version of The Gemini Effect.  Once I Googled him, I was more than pleased.  His resume includes a number of big-name authors, some of whom are my favorites (like Dean Koontz).  He wanted to make sure he was pronouncing some of the character's names correctly, and how to say my goofy last name (GRAH-cert, not gross-art). ;)  I can't wait to hear it.

October 24, 2014: Proofread
Jason provided a pdf copy of the manuscript that had been through a proofread--a final check on the book's production-level formatting & wording.  What made this so cool was I was finally able to see exactly what the book was going to look like.  Those of you who have formatted books for Create Space know what I'm talking about . . . seeing your words as a real book is a neat experience, and seeing them as a professionally-done book is even MORE neat.  Within this copy, there were numerous notes, some for my review, and others for the book designer.  I was amazed by the level of detailed attention paid to every word; for example, some notes to the designer concerned moving one word in a sentence up a line, to improve how the lines looked on the page.  Incredible.  My review took only a few days . . . and with the approval of the proofread copy, and of the full cover on November 11, we were D-O-N-E.

So what's next?  On my end, nothing.  For me, it now becomes a waiting game for that April 1, 2015 release date.  The marketing folks at Amazon Publishing and 47North have some amazing plans for this book's release (which I obviously can't disclose), and I'm incredibly excited for that date to roll around.  All the previous versions of the original The Mengele Effect have been taken down from Smashwords (and their partner platforms, like Barnes & Noble, Apple, etc.) and Amazon (my decision, not Amazon's, in case you're wondering).  The book that rolls out on April 1, 2015 (no foolin') is a much, much better book than the original, and I can't wait to see how it's received.

Finally, let's go back to the original purpose for writing this post: the 2015 ABNAs.  I wanted to show those of you who are considering entering the contest that winning--even for a short fat bald guy who spends most of his off-time in a comfy recliner with a homebrew in his hand and a laptop on his lap--is a possibility.  I can't speak for the four other 2014 ABNA finalists, but for me, this has been an incredible journey.  Like J. Lincoln Finn told me, if you were to ask me if it's all I expected it would be (up to this point), I'd answer with an enthusiastic YES.

Best of luck to those who enter this year's ABNAs.  It could be a dream come true for you, too.  If you want to contact me directly, you can reach me through Twitter, on Facebook. or through my website.  I'd love to hear from you.

DISCLAIMER:  In case you're wondering, neither Amazon Publishing nor 47North asked me to write this post.  I read a few things from previous winners who spoke about their experiences, but the whole publishing process was always a mystery to me--that's why I wrote this post.  Scout's Honor. ;)